Batman vs Two-Face Review

Last year Batman appeared in 4 films, only 1 of which I liked. It was a throwback to the old 1966 Batman TV show called Batman: Return of the Caped Crusaders. I liked it because it had a sense of joy about it. I felt happy watching it and wasn’t put off like I was the other 3 films. This year so far I’ve seen 2 versions of Batman I really liked- Lego Batman and Justice League Dark. Both were well made and engrossing stories although different in tone. So now, before Justice League comes out, we have a sequel to last year’s best Batman film entitled Batman vs Two Face, and just like the last I enjoyed it very much. In fact, in many ways I think it is an improvement upon its predecessor, which is about all you can ask for in a sequel.

This version of Batman is of course campy and full of big pows and bams when they hit each other. Maybe it is nostalgia talking but I like that style. It’s a lot of fun to watch.

Adam West returns as Batman in his last role, which is neat to hear. It was worth doing this movie just so he could do that one more time! We also get to hear Burt Ward as Robin and Julie Newmar as Catwoman. Some people say that these characters sound old like their voice actors, but I don’t see it that way. They honestly sound like they have always sound to me. I think people have the image of them as old, so that makes the voice sound old but it doesn’t impact me.

But all that said, the real standout is William Shatner voicing Two-Face/Harvey Dent. He is fantastic doing both parts. It’s a shame this wasn’t discovered now because he could have been doing this part for years like Mark Hamill has done with the Joker. He was that good.

The script in Batman vs Two-Face is an improvement upon the original film. It is less episodic and a more of a compelling narrative. They sacrifice some of the jokes, but I was ok with that. They also limit the cameos, which were overflowing in the last film. Here it was really fun to see King Tutt and The Bookworm back with story arcs!

This is not a parody film like Lego Batman or the previous film. This is a Batman movie with a few jokes thrown in. They do a great job showing the two sides of Harvey Dent/Two-Face and the struggle that Batman has over his loyalty to Dent. Is he going to stay true to his friend or will he protect the city from Two-Face? It plays out in a compelling way.

If you like Batman and are open to different interpretations than I think you will really enjoy this film. The animation is good, it clips along nicely, it’s funny and is a great way to say goodbye to Adam West. I recommend it highly.

Content-wise it is fine for kids. There is a little bit of innuendo from Catwoman but nothing too bad.

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Watcher in the Woods 2017 Review

I’ve always said if you are going to remake a movie pick a flawed movie that has potential. Then you have something to improve upon. The 1980’s Disney film The Watcher in the Woods is a good example. The original is entertaining but it is saddled with bad acting and cheesy dialogue. A new version aired last weekend on Lifetime Channel and it does make some improvements to the original. Unfortunately it also makes odd choices that made it less interesting as a narrative.

Spoilers below

If you want to hear my thoughts on the original film here is my review:

The biggest improvement the new film makes is in the acting. Tallulah Evans is a serious step up as Jan. She is beautiful, expressive and a much better actress than Lynn-Holly Johnson. She also looks like she could be Britt Robertson’s doppleganger.

I honestly thought all the acting was better in this new version. The little girl was better. The boyfriend was better. The parents were better. You get the idea.

Anjelica Huston is about as good a replacement for Bette Davis as you could cast. Unfortunately she’s not in the movie near as much. I wonder if they only had her for a few days of shooting? It feels that way. Still she makes good work of the scenes she is in and elevates the film just as Davis did. You feel for her as this wounded mother and yet those big eyes are terrifying.

The story of Watcher in the Woods focuses on a family that moves into an old house with a weird old woman living in the guest house. Years before the woman’s daughter Karen went missing and ever since the woods nearby are full of creepy goings-on. As the family lives in the house, the mystery of the daughter starts to unfold putting them all at risk.

The problem with the remake is it takes this basic premise and makes it very conventional. Where the original made strange choices, that added mystery in this version you see everything coming a mile away. For example, in the original the teens make a conscious choice to hold a seance and experiment with the occult. Then Karen is taken by an alien known as the Watcher. Even though the acting is hokey this is interesting because it was their choice to become involved. It’s hard for Jan and crew to figure out what happened to Karen when it is shrouded in an eclipse with the occult.

In this new version the Watcher is a puritan doctor who was killed by townspeople because they feared he had the plague. Now he stalks the forest waiting for the townspeople to recognize him and the work he did. This is less interesting because it is a monster movie. There is no sense of mystery at why the students had the seance and what Karen was all about. She’s just an innocent girl who was taken by a monster.

There were other little things that were less interesting. Like when the glass shatters it is a cross instead of a triangle. This is probably a nitpick but to me a triangle is more unusual. What does a triangle mean? Where it is obvious what a cross means. Another example is the ‘Nerak’ scenes aren’t as interesting. In the original the little girl randomly writes Nerak backwards before anyone knows about Karen and names her dog Nerak. This is more interesting than writing it on the window 30 minutes in and then waking up and screaming the the name once the investigation has started. It doesn’t leave you as the viewer asking questions which is part of what makes the original scary. This new version has family friendly scares but it’s not as thoughtful a narrative as the original. Oh well.

All that said, if you are looking for a family friendly horror movie you could do worse than the new Watcher in the Woods. It’s a pretty bland movie but it does have good performances and some scary sequences. It’s a little frustrating because with just a few changes it could have been special but it’s an okay watch.

Just barely smile worthy.

My friend AJ did a podcast comparing the 2 films

Loving Vincent Review

2017 has been a banner year for independent animated films. I wouldn’t be surprised if my top animated films ranking at the end of the year has 7 or more indies in the top 10. They have just been that good. All that said, now we get to one of my most anticipated indies of the year, Loving Vincent, and I must own to being a little disappointed. What the animators have accomplished is a great achievement but unfortunately it is not a great movie.

Let’s talk about the great accomplishment first. Loving Vincent is the first animated film to be made entirely with oil paintings. The creators gathered 115 different artists and made oil paintings for all 65,000 frames of the movie! It is a bold, audacious project and visually it pays off. This movie looks gorgeous and the movement of the animation really captures the feel of a Van Gogh painting. You can see in this trailer how amazing the animation is:

They also got a strong vocal cast for Loving Vincent including Chris O’Dowd and Saoirse Ronan.

The problem lies with the story. I’m fine with artistic movies with little plot like A Ghost Story or Knight of Cups; however, Loving Vincent isn’t that kind of art film. No, it has a plot. It’s just not a very good one.

Basically it is about a man named Armand who is assigned the task to deliver a letter to the estate of Vincent Van Gogh. The artist has died via suicide along with his brother Theo. As Armand tries to deliver his letter he begins to suspect maybe it wasn’t a suicide after all…

The problem is it doesn’t have much to say about life, death, suicide, art or anything else. It’s just Armand interviewing a bunch of people and them reciting back facts. If this was a live action film it would never see the light of day. There just isn’t enough meat on the bones here to enjoy the story.

The characters are also not very compelling. Armand is very bland and most of the other characters are kind of cold and cruel. Van Gogh isn’t even compelling because we get so little of him and it is mostly through cliches. This is a man who cut off his own ear and mailed it to someone. Certainly his story must have been more interesting than this?

Loving Vincent is certainly not a bad film and I recommend seeing it if only for the visuals. It’s just disappointing because it could have been great and it isn’t. But hey at least we got something fresh, new and beautiful to look at. I’ll take that deal any day.

Overall Grade- C

DreamWorks 17: Sinbad Legend of the Seven Seas

The DreamWorks film Sinbad: Legend of the Seven Seas is one I had heard about but somehow never gotten around to watching. Secretly I was hoping it would turn out to be a hidden gem that I would find very underrated, but I still didn’t see it. Well, today I finally watched it and unfortunately it’s not a very strong film. It’s certainly not the worst of DreamWorks, but I can see why it has been basically forgotten.

Sinbad tells the classic story of the famous pirate but this time he gets mixed up in the schemes of Eris, the Goddess of Discord. The plot then becomes very convoluted. Basically it involves Sinbad, his friend Proteus, Proteus’ fiance Marina, a magic book and a variety of other adventures.

The problem is those adventures aren’t accompanied by characters I cared much about. Proteus is gone for most of the movie so it mostly relies on Sinbad to carry the film. What can I say about Sinbad but he’s no Jack Sparrow…He’s completely forgettable. Brad Pitt is fine as his voice but the role is super bland.

Then we have Marina and she was a strange character. At times she would be tough but then other times she was very submissive. She was engaged to someone she didn’t love but then storms off with Sinbad at a moments notice. She swings from being a damsel in distress needing rescue to punching Sinbad in the face. She had more personality than Sinbad but it just didn’t quite work. I liked some of their romantic comedy-style banter but it felt a little weird given they were both cheating on the friend who had put his life on the line for them to be together. Awkward…

Then we have the villain Eris who is probably the best thing in the movie. Her design is pretty cool and she is well voiced by Michelle Pfeiffer; although, I was a little unclear what her motivations were. I guess she wanted the Book of Peace because it is powerful or something? It was a little vague. Everything with the book was vague and not very satisfying.

The animation in Sinbad also leaves much to be desired. If we remember this is the same year as Finding Nemo it’s pretty alarming how bad the ocean and sea life look in this movie. At times the animation reminded me of a Barbie movie which is not good for a major studio film.  I wish they had just gone all 2D because the mixture looks awful. For some reason Prince of Egypt and Spirit both hold up in their animation but this looked really bad. It always looked like the characters were floating on top of the backgrounds. Road to El Dorado with its many flaws has way better animation.

The one huge plus I will give Sinbad is the score by Harry Gregson-Williams is terrific. It really helped me get into the action scenes even if I wasn’t sure who was fighting or what was going on. It really worked well for the movie.

I am glad I finally checked Sinbad off my bucket list. It does have some positives but not enough that I can recommend it. I would say watch Spirit or Prince of Egypt instead. Those films have better characters, stories and animation.

What do you think of Sinbad: Legend of the Seven Seas?

(Also I don’t think there was any legends or anything about the 7 seas? Did I miss something It should have been called Sinbad: Legend of the Book of Peace)

DreamWorks 16: Flushed Away

Do you ever have those movies that you feel like you should like so you keep going back to hoping that time will do the trick? Flushed Away is such a movie for me. I love Aardman Animation. I love the voice cast and the story although generic would be fine if the execution worked for me. My nieces and sister  love it so that makes me want to love it. Sadly I watched it again today and walked away  not loving it or even liking it much to be honest. Let me try to explain why. Flushed Away is about a pampered rat named Roddy. He is the pet of a rich family and one day he is flushed down the toliet by a common sewer rat named Sid. This is the first problem. I hate Sid. He’s supposed to be funny but comes across as super annoying instead. Such is the case with many of Flushed Away’s characters.

The second problem is Roddy has no motivation as a character. He’s flushed down the toilet against his will and then spends the rest of the movie trying to get back home, except for him home isn’t family or something like that. It is luxury and fine living. Getting back to the high life doesn’t make for a super compelling character.

Once in the sewer he meets a tough talking rat named Rita who is trying retrieve a stolen ruby from an evil toad. She is doing this for her family, which gives her some motivation but in the end it is a buddy road trip movie and nothing more. I expect more inventive storytelling from Aardman Animation.

The villainous Toad has some fun moments but nothing that made me warm up to the movie as a whole. The animation is also very rough in patches with cgi trying to mimic the look of Aardman’s stop motion, which is  a real shame since I love their stop motion style. There are times when the rendering looks pretty bad. I realize it is way back in 2006 but it is the same year as Cars and Happy Feet- both films with way better animation. The next year would come Ratatouille, which just the Paris cityscapes  alone triumph over anything in Flushed Away.

A lot of the enjoyment of this film will come down to whether you find it funny. I did enjoy the singing slugs. They made me laugh and brought some good tunes into the mix. Unfortunately the rest of the jokes either annoys me or lands flat. Like I said, my sister and nieces think it is hilarious so it depends on your sense of humor I suppose.

I like the overall message about family and that even if they drive you crazy those bonds are special and should be treasured. Single life could have been portrayed with a little more nuance but it’s a movie for small children so I will give them that one. Most people will feel good with the message of the film.

Sometimes with films we just have to say ‘this one isn’t for me’ and that’s the case with Flushed Away. I see why other people enjoy it but it doesn’t work for me. I don’t enjoy watching it and really have no desire to watch it again. I recommend watching Pirates! or Shaun the Sheep Movie instead

Ranking 2017 Animated Trailers

Hey guys! I just wanted to share with you a fun video I did over on my channel. In this one I rank the animated trailers of 2017. I didn’t include some indies or smaller films but still ended up with 22 trailers. This ranking is not indicative of my feelings on the final film, just the trailer. In fact, some of them haven’t even come out yet. It’s a longer video but I think you will enjoy it!

How would you rank the animated trailers this year? I would love to hear your list.

My Ranking of 2017 Animated Trailers 

(watch video to hear explanation!)

  1. Cars 3
  2. The Breadwinner
  3. Isle of Dogs
  4. Rock Dog
  5. Early Man
  6. Lego Batman
  7. Olaf’s Frozen Adventure
  8. Lego Ninjago
  9. Smurf’s: The Lost Village
  10. Animal Crackers
  11. Despicable Me 3
  12. Leap
  13. Coco
  14. Captain Underpants
  15. My Little Pony
  16. Nut Job 2
  17. Ferdinand
  18. Emoji Movie
  19. Boss Baby
  20. Duck Duck Goose
  21. Peter Rabbit
  22. The Star

 

The Stray Review

I always like supporting local films of quality when I get the chance and the recent film The Stray is such a film. It’s a little hard to talk about without spoilers but it follows the longstanding cinematic tradition of heartfelt stories about a boy and his dog except in this case it is an entire family and their dog.

The premise is a couple with 3 kids are struggling while the husband is working long hours in corporate Hollywood. His dream is to write screenplays but pursuing that dream is risky and the corporate approach seems safer. One ay busy with work he makes a promise to his son that they can have a dog if it is a stray that wanders onto their yard. Well, it just so happens that a dog does that very thing and this dog becomes ‘Pluto the Wonder Dog!’.

The family ends up moving to Colorado to start trying to save their marriage and family. You’ll have to watch the rest to see what happens.

There is no doubt The Stray has its heart in the right place and that gets it far. It’s funny because I’m not that fan of dogs in my real life but on the movies I love them. Everything from Old Yeller, to Sounder, to Where the Red Fern Grows are all emotional films led by dogs! This is also emotional and it is faith-based without being too heavy handed (there are no clergy ever seen mostly just a few prayers).

The emotion can be a bit of a double edged sword because The Stray is definitely a tearjerker. As I was leaving the theater a woman said ‘well, that was too sad for my taste’. I don’t mind sad movies but it definitely made me tear up. I guess go into it with the right expectations and attitude and you will probably enjoy it. It definitely might be too upsetting for very small children but could also lead to needed discussion about life, death and making time matter with those we love.

I really loved Sarah Lancaster and Michael Cassidy in the leads. They had chemistry and Sarah is a Hallmark pro so of course she is good! 😉 The kids are also pretty well cast and aren’t very grating.

It’s a short movie which helps to deal with the emotion. You aren’t dwelling on it too long.

Anyway, The Stray is a sold tearjerker for the entire family that I think is worth a watch.

Overall Grade- B-

Blind Spot 22: Donnie Darko

It is time for this month’s blog entry for the Blind Spot series and today we are looking at the cult classic Donnie Darko! So get your black rabbit suits out and let’s talk about this unusual film.

Donnie Darko is directed by Richard Kelly and stars Jake Gyllenhaal as a disgruntled teen who keeps having visions of the future accompanied by a giant black evil rabbit. It also features Jena Malone, Patrick Swayze, and Drew Barrymore.

There are a lot of things I liked about Donnie Darko. First, I liked how it captured a feeling of teenage angst. As a teen I remember feeling that everyone was doing things wrong and if they would just listen to me it would be better. This feeling was compounded by the fact that most people seemed to see teenagers as inherently stupid and annoying. A movie like Donnie Darko validates those feelings and tells teens to follow their instincts and that adults are not always right. This is empowering. 

Second, Donnie Darko is bold and uses imagery and symbolism without feeling the need to explain everything to death. It gives the viewer the opportunity to explain the images they are seeing in their own way- for us all to have a discussion.

My take on the narrative is that it is about mental illness. He spends a lot of time with a shrink that isn’t very helpful. She validates his experiences but doesn’t help provide a solution. Then you have a self-help speaker who is complete BS and other voices claiming they can solve Donnie’s severe psychosis. As his anxiety for the future grows the more desperate he grows until he becomes dangerous. Such is often the case with untreated or poorly treated mental illness.

It reminded me a little bit of what happened to me after I had a panic attack. All of the sudden the idea of bad things became something that would cause panic because I’d already experienced that happening before. Depression and anxiety are literally seen as a black cloud over Donnie and I can confirm that is how it feels.

Also when you are in the midst of a panic attack or severe mental break it feels like the world is going to end, which is a theme of the movie. You both dread and pray for this ending because anything is better than how you are feeling during these episodes.

There are some things, however, I didn’t like in Donnie Darko. My main problem is it can be a bit self-indulgent at times telling us things we already know just to introduce a cool visual or reiterate an already stated point. 122 minutes is far too long for this film and it feels repetitive after a while. It would have worked better if it had the 92 minute run time of this year’s equally abstract A Ghost Story.

I also think sometimes it bites off more than it can chew. It tries to comment on science, religion, politics, mental illness, divorce, teen sexuality, bullying, time travel and more. These many messages can leave it a little muddled and confusing.It’s also very cynical so unless you are an angsty teen who needs that angst to be understood I don’t think you will connect emotionally with it (which I think it wants you to do). I certainly didn’t have an emotional bond with the film.

Still, I admire the risk taking and what it has to say about mental illness. It’s got problems but overall I’d still recommend Donnie Darko.

Overall Grade- B

It is an R rating mostly for language

What is your take on Donnie Darko? I’ve heard all kinds of theories, which I think is a fun part of the film.

 

Blade Runner 2049 Review

I saw the original Blade Runner for the first time last year as part of my Blind Spot series. You can read my initial thoughts here. It’s a very impressive movie and worth watching just for the themes and influence it had on cinema. However, I must own I find it kind of slow and I’ve fallen asleep every time I’ve seen it (which is 5 times now). I saw the new film Blade Runner 2049 in a marathon with the old one and sure enough I fell asleep watching the old one. It’s just too languid in spots.

I did a podcast on the original with my friend Patrick you should check out

With that said, you can imagine my joy that Blade Runner 2049 not only kept me awake but I enjoyed it very much. I think it does the rare thing for a sequel by actually being better than the original film. It looks every bit as good but it is better paced with more engaging characters and action.


Director Denis Villeneuve and cinematographer Roger Deakins do an amazing job creating a world with layers and that feels old and new at the same time. Whether it is sand, rain or snow the atmosphere never fails to be immersive and mesmerizing.

The story is a bit convoluted but basically without spoilers Ryan Gosling stars as K a young Blade Runner who is given the job of retiring older model replicants. As he does this he explores part of his past, a mysterious body and a new organization that replaced the Tyrell Corporation from the previous film.

Harrison Ford is back as Deckard and he’s not in it quite as much as I thought he would but he’s great. It’s definitely one of his better performances and I wouldn’t complain if he got nominated for the role. He’s not just the surly old man he usually plays these days but a wounded desperate man.

There aren’t many cameos in Blade Runner 2049 and it focuses on telling a new story. I loved all the performances with the exception of Jared Leto who I found a bit grating.Robin Wright, Ana de Armas and Silvia Hoeks are all tremendous in their roles and Ryan Gosling is wonderful as the Blade Runner K.

I am not going to tell you I understood everything in Blade Runner 2049 or that it all makes sense but that is part of the fun of a film like this. It has layers you can talk about and interpret differently. It doesn’t spell things out like exposition heavy movies do (except for the Leto character which can be a bit much).

Most importantly I didn’t fall asleep or get bored like I do with the original Blade Runner. I found it engaging and interesting, which was a relief.

There are some issues with the movie. As I mentioned, I wasn’t high on Leto and the plot can be a bit convoluted. Also, it could have definitely had 15-20 minutes cut out and it would have been a little better.

Still, a big improvement over the original so that is a tremendous accomplishment for all involved. Blade Runner fans and non-fans should definitely check it out and enjoy some striking scifi film noire. It’s still not my favorite genre, but I enjoyed it quite a bit.