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Zootopia – ★ ★ ★ ½ DVD Review

Zootopia35


Disney did it again, and Zootopia took home the Oscar for Best Animated Feature, but I wasn’t overly impressed by it.  Sure the animation was flawless, the characters were good, as was the story, but when I watch cartoons, I want to laugh, and I didn’t laugh as much as I thought I should have for a Disney cartoon.


Judy Hopps (Ginnifer Goodwin) is a bunny, who has wanted to become a police officer since she was a child.  But bunnies are small, weak and timid, so there has never been a bunny police officer in Zootoipa, the land where animals all live together in harmony.  Yes, in Zootoipa prey animals like sheep or bunnies no longer have to fear the predatory animals like jaguars or foxes.  Judy fights against prejudice and works hard to become the first bunny officer of the ZPD (Zootopia Police Department), but a case of missing animals comes up that she must solve within 24 hours or else she must quit the force.  To solve the case she turns to a street hustler fox (Jason Bateman) for help, and the two set off reluctantly together discover how and why several predator animals have apparently gone savage.  Their search leads them through all the habitats of Zootopia and brings them deeper into a web of crime and corruption than they ever expected…


The film naturally has a message as it deals with prejudice and also explores the role of implicit bias in policing, which is good, but I think might have been a bit heavy for the expected target audience.  It may be something that the older kids and parents in the audience will pickup on, but would be completely lost on someone like my five year old nephew.  Judy does solve the case and does get predator and prey animals to once again get along and live peacefully together but not before realizing her own prejudices.  Did Zootopia really need to be Serpico with animals though?  When I watch cartoons (and yes, I watch them fairly regularly and by choice as an adult), I want to go back to my childhood and be amazed and entertained and laugh and maybe even shed a tear.  Zootopia was entertaining, but to me it didn’t have that magic touch.


Bottom Line: Okay, the Shakira song from the film is still kind of stuck in my head….as is the Rock’s “You’re Welcome” song from Moana…. curse you Disney.

Trumbo – ★ ★ ★ ★ DVD Review

Trumbo4.0 Stars


Even though Trumbo is not my usual cup of tea, I felt that I had to watch it because of its Oscar nomination.  Bryan Cranston was a deserving Best Actor nominee for his excellent performance as Dalton Trumbo, a top Hollywood screenwriter who was blacklisted by the industry for his communist leaning political beliefs in the mid 1940s.  Trumbo takes us through the peaks and valleys of the writer’s career; from the beginning when he was writing hit movie after hit movie, to his time in prison, to his underground writing days and then shows us his rise back to the top as one of Hollywood’s elite writers.


Going into the film, I had no idea who Dalton Trumbo was, but of course I had heard of the infamous Hollywood “blacklist” and knew a little bit about it, the “Hollywood Ten” and the McCarthy Hearings.  I had seen the trailer and was intrigued enough to want to watch it, even before knowing Cranston was nominated for an award.  The film was very interesting, and quite informative and even a little bit educational.  Though since the special features revealed that the writer character played by Louis C.K. was an amalgamation of several real people, I’m sure other things were brushed up for the film too.


As I said it was interesting and entertaining, but it was a little dry which was kind of to be expected as this is really just a bio-pic.  While Trumbo was involved in Hollywood at an interesting time in history, he didn’t really live the life of a celebrity.  He didn’t go to Congress and punch out people who disagreed with his political views, he went to Congress to testify and defend his constitutional freedoms.  Not exactly the makings of an action film.  He didn’t face assassination attempts around every corner, he helped get his fellow blacklisted writers work by organizing a system where they could write under pseudonyms and still get paid for it.  Not exactly a suspense thriller.


Trumbo was really carried by the stellar performance of Cranston and that’s what most people will take away from their viewing experience.  The supporting cast was also impeccable, and I particularly enjoyed John Goodman, Helen Mirren performances as well as Dean O’Gorman playing Kirk Douglas.  That being said, it was a nice little history lesson disguised by great performances wrapped up in a movie so that the audiences of today would want to learn it.


Bottom Line: I’m slowly getting caught up.  I think I’m only 12 films behind in my reviews now….

Big Hero 6 – ★ ★ ★ ★ DVD Review

Product Details4.0 Stars


You know, you should never bet against a mouse, even if you’re picking a dragon. Last night was the Oscars, and I forgot that cardinal rule. I picked How to Train Your Dragon 2 over Big Hero 6 and suffered for it. I also forgot that the Academy doesn’t really like sequels. 


I watched Big Hero 6 and really enjoyed it.  It was a super hero story, and it was a Marvel super hero story.  It was a story of brothers, and it was a story of friends.  The outsider finds similar minded people to himself, and a group of heroes are born.  It’s also a story of revenge.  Young Hiro (voiced by Ryan Potter) is a genius, and follows his older brother Tadashi (Daniel Henney) to his “nerd school” where he has created a medical assisting robot named Baymax (Scott Adsit).  Hiro presents an experiment at a technology expo to apply for the school, and impresses with his invention of mentally controlled micro-bots.  He impresses Professor Callaghan (James Cromwell) and rich (and possibly unethical) industrialist Alistair Krei (Alan Tudyk) who immediately wants to purchase the young boy’s invention.  Declining the offer so he can go to school with his brother, Hiro and Tadashi leave the expo just before the building explodes.  Tadashi races back into the building to rescue Professor Callaghan, but neither of the two escape the burning building.  Young Hiro is distraught, and locks himself away from the world, including his new friends from the University: Fred (T.J. Miller), Go Go (Jamie Chung), Wasabi (Damon Wayans Jr.), Honey Lemon (Genesis Rodriguez).  Hiro discovers that his microbots have been taken from the expo wreckage and are being controlled by a villain in a kabuki mask.  When he and Baymax can’t stop him, he finally relents and lets his friends help, and when that doesn’t work, using science, he upgrades their experiments and they become superheroes.


A great origin tale, and a lot of fun.  It was definitely aimed at kids, though it did evoke those classic Disney feelings, where a loved one is killed like Bambi’s mother, or Simba’s father, or in this case Hiro’s brother.  The film really combines Marvel fun and excitement with Disney storytelling and humour.  Baymax is both the heart of the team and the humour; sometimes he is childlike and at others he is the sage old wizard.  The team building is a little rushed, but the film was only an hour and forty minutes, so it was difficult to completely flesh out the cast, but for what it was able to do, I applaud the film.  We do get a pretty good feel as to who the members of Big Hero 6 are, or will be.


The animation was good, though it was fairly standard CGI fare for today.  The characters were a little anime influenced, as we were set in the fictional town of San Fransokyo.  The voice cast was very good, and mixed in a series of fairly recognizable voices that didn’t feel like they were brought in just to add some “celebrity weight” to the cast.  It may not have been The Lego Movie, but it was still very fun, and that Immortals song by Fall Out Boy really stuck in my head after watching it.


Bottom Line:  Don’t forget this is a Marvel movie!  As with all of their films, there is a scene after the credits.

Movie Review – 42: The Jackie Robinson Story

Product Details3.5 Stars


42 is a home run! I figure I need to work on the quotable parts of my reviews, and that was the most obvious quote I could use for a baseball movie, and the movie was quite enjoyable too, so “home run” is a fitting analogy. 42 is based on the true events surrounding Jackie Robinson breaking major league baseball’s colour barrier in 1945. Branch Rickey is the owner of the Brooklyn Dodgers and he wants to integrate black ball players into his team. Rickey’s primary motivation is simple: dollars aren’t black or white. They’re green. And if he has successful black players, he’ll sell more tickets to black spectators. Also, we learn that when Rickey was player-coach in his college days he saw the way the black catcher was treated on his team, despite his being the best player on the field. He felt he didn’t do enough to help the unfairly treated man at the time, and now hopes he can atone for that.


Rickey and the Dodgers’ management put together a list of players and select Jack Robinson as the subject of their “experiment”. Not only did they need a good ballplayer, they needed someone who was strong enough to take the abuse that would be directed at him, and not fight back. If Robinson had fought back, or lost his temper, the Dodgers’ efforts would have been for naught, and further integration of black players would have been pushed back even further.


It is difficult to know how to treat a movie like 42. In ways it is obviously a movie about racism, bigotry and the steps taken to counter them, but it can just be a baseball movie too. I don’t think it can be seen only as a baseball movie given the seriousness and importance surrounding Robinson’s career; but knowing that it is recorded history, and knowing how things work out in end I suppose you could.


42 was almost a highlight reel of Jackie Robinson’s first year in the majors, and by that I mean that it really didn’t teach me anything new, and that’s maybe why it came in sort of “middle of the road” for me. I knew something of some teammates attempts to rebel against integration; I even knew about Pee Wee Reese publicly showing his support by putting his arm around Jackie Robinson while in the infield before a game. I suppose it could be because the story of Jackie Robinson was so important and so big that there is little left to teach a real baseball fan. That being said, the real treat to the movie (for me) was the acting. Harrison Ford was excellent under a prosthetic chin, wig and nose while wearing a “fat suit”.  Ford said he went to the trouble of “disguising” himself that way so that the movie (and his performance) would stand on their own.  The 70 year old star wanted to take a bit more of a back seat role and let the audience watch 42 and not just another “Harrison Ford movie”, which I think is smart on his part.  It is easy to overlook a story (or other cast members) when you are just watching something for the bankable star’s name.  Christopher Meloni as Dodger’s coach Leo Durocher was very enjoyable, but Alan Tudyk was shockingly good with how he played racist Phillies manager, Ben Chapman so convincingly, I wanted Chadwick Boseman’s Jackie to deck him! Hearing some of the racial slurs being hurled was a bit of a shock I will admit.  Boseman himself was a very convincing Robinson excelling at both the dramatic and athletic parts of the role.


Does 42 belong among great baseball movies like The Natural, Field of Dreams, Sandlot or Bull Durham? Perhaps, but maybe only because of the strong performances and the importance to history of the story it tells.

Wreck-It Ralph

Product Details4.5 Stars

I finally got around to seeing another of the films nominated this year for Best Animated Feature, watching Wreck-It Ralph Sunday night.  I must say that I loved it.  A great cartoon from Disney of all people.  That’s right, Disney, not Pixar.  Who would have thought especially since Wreck-It Ralph was CGI?  Now, I haven’t seen Brave, which did win the Oscar this year so I can’t really compare or say what should have won, but I will say that the feel of Wreck-It Ralph reminded me a lot of previous Oscar winner Toy Story 3.  A great message, a great cast of voice actors, and a fun story.

Wreck-It Ralph (John C. Reilly) is the “bad guy” in the video game “Fix-It Felix Jr.”  At the end of every game Ralph gets thrown off a building into a puddle of mud, then carted off for the night to live in a pile of bricks at the dump.  Ralph is tired of being the bad guy.  He just wants a bit of respect; he’s a nice guy who wants to be a “good guy”.  Venturing from his game to another console in his arcade (via the power bar), Ralph enters “Hero’s Duty” in hopes that he can win a medal and get the respect he craves from the people living in his game.  While Ralph does get a medal — not exactly by playing by the rules mind you — things don’t go according to plan.  Crashing out of Hero’s Duty and into the candy oriented racing game “Sugar Rush”  he meets Venelope von Schweetz (Sarah Silverman), a “glitch” character who needs a gold coin to compete in the race.  Taking Ralph’s medal, Venelope enters the race, only to be bullied by the other characters in her game.  Even King Candy (Alan Tudyk) doesn’t want her to enter!  At first Ralph is angry but then seeing what it means for the little girl to enter her race he decides to help her, and help her to win, so they can get his medal back and he can return to his own game with it.  Of course Ralph’s absence from his own game doesn’t go unnoticed.  Fix-It Felix Jr. is placed “out of order”, so Felix follows Ralph’s tracks trying to find him so they can return to the game and save all the characters from the terrible fate that awaits them if unplugged.  Felix (Jack McBrayer) enters Hero’s Duty and meets Sergeant Calhoun (Jane Lynch), and the two team up to find Ralph and the Cy-Bug that escaped with him that threatens to devour everything in Sugar Rush.

There were lots of great things in this movie, the cast was remarkable, as was the animation.  If Pixar has been held to be the “gold standard” of CGI animated films this was certainly a rival for the crown.  John C. Reilly is a personal favourite of mine, and really brought to life the emotion of the character.  The movie is filled with lots of “nerdy” references, from the inclusion of classic video game characters to the graffiti on the walls of Game Central Station that will keep the keen eyed adults watching well amused.  There was a fair bit of product placement in the movie which seems out of place in a cartoon.  A close up of a Subway cup in the arcade was overkill compared to the subtle placement of toys in Toy Story.  I will admit though that I did laugh at a group of chanting guards in the Candy Castle….

A few weeks ago, I watched Paranorman, and I think these two films have a great deal in common.  Both deal with bullying; which sadly has become an incredibly important issue these days, both have outcast main characters, both deal with the issue of accepting who you are and being yourself.

I’m bad and that’s good. I will never be good and that’s not bad. There’s no one I would rather be than me.”

This mantra that Ralph learns at his Bad-Anon meeting is really the core of the movie.  At first he sees himself as just a bad guy who can do nothing but “wreck”, and he wants to change who he is, and in his mind he’s changing for the better.  Eventually Ralph comes to accept who he is, and learns that even his wrecking can be constructive.  Be yourself, play to your strengths, go with what you know; that is Wreck-It Ralph.

Another excellent thing that came from Wreck-It Ralph, was the Oscar winning Best Animated Short Feature Paperman, which I think was the only bonus feature on the DVD release (There may have been a commentary track, but I don’t remember, and if there was I clearly didn’t watch it).  Paperman was a beautiful and touching little piece of animation, and I am very glad that I got to see it.  Do yourself a favour, and check it out.

Firefly…and Serenity

Product Details3.5 StarsProduct Details3.5 Stars

A few weeks ago, after much urging I finally watched Joss Whedon’s Firefly.  The space western cancelled before its time, with only 11 of the 14 filmed episodes actually airing on FOX Television.  Tonight, I wrapped it all up, by watching the standalone movie Serenity which effectively brought closure to the series.  Ambitiously planning the series to run for seven years, Joss Whedon did have an overwhelming (or all-encompassing if you prefer)  story arc in mind for Firefly that could not be completed and left many unresolved subplots.  Thanks to a very dedicated fan base, there was enough support to justify making the movie; unfortunately, that fan base appears to have been rather small, as there was never enough support to justify keeping the show on the air, and the movie (from my quick IMDb glance) appears to have finished off about $14 million in the red.

Both the show and movie were good, but as you can see by my ratings of 3½ stars each, I wasn’t head over heels with either one of them.  The show was enjoyable, and perhaps I would have felt more passionately about it if I had watched when Firefly originally aired, but I didn’t.  I watched the show some ten years later on DVD.  It was already finished; it was finite.  I had no week to week expectations for each new episode, and I had no grand disappointment to come when the show ended without warning.  I knew that the series ended prematurely, and that the movie existed and would probably serve to close things out.

Starring Nathan Fillion as Captain Malcolm “Mal” Reynolds; commanding the Firefly class transport ship Serenity (see where they got the names for everything?); along with his first mate Zoe Washburne (Gina Torres), pilot Hoban “Wash” Washburne (Alan Tudyk), crew member Jayne (Adam Baldwin), engineer Kaylee (Jewel Staite), and their passengers Inara (Morena Baccarin) a “companion” (professional prostitute of a sort), Shepherd Book (Ron Glass from Barney Miller fame) a “priest” with a mysterious past, and fugitives Dr. Simon Tam (Sean Maher) and his sister River (Summer Glau) travel the stars performing any legal or illegal task that comes their way and pays enough to keep their ship spaceworthy.  The show mixes “high tech” spaceships and lasers with “low tech” frontier towns and pistols, with enough of a balance that it really doesn’t fall into the western or science fiction categories completely.  The dialogue from the show was pretty snappy, and the characters were interesting enough, but they didn’t really get a whole lot of development (in my opinion) until the fifth episode, which was really supposed to be the eighth episode (Out of Gas).  Though the Tams were supposed to be a driving part of the plot; Dr. Simon rescued his sister from government experimentation and they are now on the run, hiding out with the crew of Serenity; they didn’t really do a lot.  River would act strange, do something cryptic and then disappear into the background as the crew resolved whatever issue came each week; and Simon would patch up whoever got hurt.  After reflecting on the series, my favourite characters were Mal and Kaylee, and this makes total sense to me as two of my other favourite characters were also a Captain and an Engineer, but their names were Kirk and Scotty and came from that other “wagon train to the stars” show that also has a devoted fan base.

The series had a lot of things going against it: the time slot was changed, and that usually means death for any series; but also, this was a “western” and a “sci-fi” show, two other things that can severely limit the audience.  Add to this that the episodes were not aired in the proper order, that the original pilot “double episode” was deemed unsatisfactory so episode two was used to open the series; well the writing should have been seen on the wall from the beginning.  I personally thought that the intended first episode was a little slow, and that the second episode was much better, but if I hadn’t seen the “proper” first episode, I would have had no clue what was going on.

While many people argue that Joss Whedon is a “nerd god” I’ve been a little let down with my experiences.  While I loved Toy Story that he wrote in 1995, I didn’t enjoy Firefly or Avengers nearly as much as everyone told me I should have.  I’ve never seen Buffy, so I can’t comment on it; but perhaps that’s a good thing.  It seems to me that most people who have seen Buffy, went on to watch Angel, and then went on to watch Firefly and Dollhouse, etc, etc.  They’re almost like Whedon-zombies.  Credit to his fans for being so loyal, but they seem to follow everything he does blindly, and perhaps because they loved the first show so much, they fail to find any fault with anything else he has done.  You can love your favourite shows, actors, directors, and writers; and you should; but you should also hold them accountable when they don’t meet your expectations.  Always be critical in your viewings.  “Cult following” is really just a figure of speech.  Not enjoying their later work as much should in no way diminish the earlier things you loved.  If you know me, you know I’m a gigantic Doctor Who fan.  I love that show.  I always will, but I’ve been quite critical of the last two seasons.  I’ve enjoyed them, but not loved them.  I had reviewed the episodes of this current season as they aired and was not still wholly impressed. I do have strong hopes for the second half as it returns on Easter weekend, and I think that is the mark of a true fan.  I’m loyal, but I’ll also admit when my favourites drop the ball, in fact, it should be the true fans who are first in line to complain as well as defend.

Oh yes, as for the movie Serenity, it did tie up most of the loose ends and still left things open for sequels down the road.  My biggest fault with the movie was that it seemed at times like either a two part episode of the series, or a made for tv movie.  There were scene transitions that felt to me like they were just screaming for a commercial break to be inserted, and in my opinon, that really doesn’t translate well to the big screen.  Another big problem for this movie is that it was entirely made for the fans of Firefly.  If you had not seen the series, you would have been completely lost.  There are no character introductions, and it assumed you know the plot going in, though a very brief recap is shown.

All in all, I enjoyed the series and to a lesser degree the movie.  Unfortunately, the movie has several problems.  I was glad that the series (and hopefully most of the fans) got some closure, but I don’t know if a theatrical movie was the best solution.  Just my 2¢, now to prepare for attacks and defences from the Whedon-zombies…

Tucker and Dale vs. Evil

4.5 Stars

Oh what can I say about Tucker and Dale vs Evil?  I finished watching the film almost two months ago, but have had a hard time putting my thoughts to …. well not paper anymore, but you get the idea.  First, let’s say that this was the first movie that I watched in my new house, after the move; the move that should have taken two weeks, but took six.  It was the first movie that I watched on my new TV as well.  I had just upgraded from a 30-something inch tube set that weighed about a hundred kilos to a nice new flat, HD Samsung LED that I picked up on an early Black Friday deal.  The quality was amazing, and I think I am really going to enjoy the new setup.

Tucker and Dale takes the typical “hillbilly” horror genre and reverses virtually everything.  Now, going into the film knowing that, a lot of things do become a little predictable.  That was okay however, because there were laughs, chills, thrills, suspense and gore enough to keep me interested the whole way through.  Tucker and Dale are two friends living in West Virginia, who are taking the weekend to fix up Dale’s newly acquired cabin, secluded away in the woods.  Now, Tucker and Dale look a little rough around the edges at first, but once you get to know them, they are smart, funny, caring individuals, who have “had a doozy of a day…. minding (their) own business, just doing chores around the house, when kids started killing themselves all over (their) property”.

Tyler Labine takes center stage as Dale, with Alan Tudyk playing Tucker.  These two were perfectly cast, and their chemistry was obvious.  Labine you may recognize from the short lived romantic sitcom Mad Love, and Tudyk from Dollhouse.   I am not a fan of horror movies, and it used to be because quite simply they scared me, which really meant that they did their job well.  Recently though horror seemed to become synonymous with gore.  Gone were the clever twists and building of suspense; and in their place we were presented with how many ways we could be disgusted with killings.  No thanks, not for me.  This trend really makes me appreciate a well written movie even more.  Remember Psycho?  The blood was chocolate syrup, and you never really saw anyone get cut up.  Back then, with a good story (and a legendary director), what you didn’t see, but could imagine, was scarier than anything they could put on the screen.  Lazy plots, poor writing, sizzle over substance really bothers me, but makes me appreciate and enjoy the film that comes along every once in while that can “reset the counter”.  By taking horror and twisting it deliciously into comedy, I would rank Tucker and Dale right along side Shaun of the Dead, Zombieland or Army of Darkness.

Of course there was some gore in Tucker and Dale, but it didn’t seem designed to gross us out, or really even feel uncomfortable, like a “Saw” or a “Hostel” movie.   The effects team did a very good job, but didn’t go too over the top, and the director certainly did not press the effects over the story.  Tucker and Dale vs. Evil was a clever premise, well scripted, well acted, and well cast.  These are the things you need for success in any genre.

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