Darke Reviews – Minions (2015)

It is well established that I do not get comedy as a general rule. There are always exceptions, but for the most part comedy and I are at a disconnect that I just can’t quite grasp. I frequently ask people ‘why was this so funny’ (in a non ironic/non-trolling way) and still just don’t get it. I tend to be almost equally picky with my animation and animation styles as well as to what I want to watch and what attracts my eye. I had no desire to see Inside Out from animation to voice, to well everything. Saw it, refuse to review it as I think I am artificially biased against it from some things during the movie.

Much can be the same for Despicable Me and Despicable Me 2. Two films I didn’t think I would enjoy as much as I did and did not see immediately. So when I heard they were making a movie about the Minions I was cautiously optimistic as it was a clear and present money grab yet I had been surprisingly pleased by the first two films.

Did I enjoy myself tonight seeing this? Am I upset at the people who requested that I see this instead of something else tonight?

Well…

The reality is – this is a cash grab. It is a well made cash grab. The script by Brian Lynch (Hop, Puss in Boots) is irrelevant. You can’t understand the characters. DM/DM2 director Pierre Coffin returns with a partner this time in Kyle Balda (The Lorax, and layout supervisor from DM) so they have some credentials to them. I can’t go into too many details here without hitting spoiler land, but what you see in the trailers is more or less what is delivered for the rest of the movie too. It is one of the few times that the trailer is 100% honest on what you see is what you get.

The producers pulled together an amazing voice cast to fill in the humans speaking roles, with Michael Keaton, Allison Janney,  Geoffrey Rush, and friggin Hiroyuki Sanada (I will make you look him up. Suffice to say he is awesome). Of course there is Jon Hamm and Sandra Bullock who steal the show with their characters, Herb and Scarlett Overkill. It is amazing to think that Don Draper is Herb. They are just the right amount of over the top to make it work for a movie in this universe. Just ridiculous enough that you appreciate them and enjoy them but don’t roll your eyes. Coffin himself does the voice of the titular minions as he has in previous films.

You have to admit something here. This movie proves a few psychological studies true. You don’t need to understand someone to understand them. Body language, tone, everything else can tell a story as successfully as dialogue. Coffins voice acting, such as it is, does a rather good job of letting you know what is going through those little yellow freaks heads.

The other half of that equation is the animation. It is top notch. For a money grab they didn’t go the Disney route and give us a half-baked sequel with less quality in the animation. In fact I would argue that some of it has gotten better. The texture mapping is spot on for many materials to the point where I was truly impressed by the details as I have seen movies with the real thing that didn’t look as good. The artistic style hasn’t changed, which is good, but the animations have gotten much better. There’s a smoothness to them that is actually improving. Points there.

Before I hit the TL;DR on this rather short review I will say this – the movie is kinda well flat. I heard some of the kids getting restless, some of the adults too. There were times they laughed as there are jokes for adults in this project and it’s mostly bright colours and familiar characters for the kids. Let me get to it then…

TL:DR?

I didn’t hate it. My movie going partner tonight, and I, knew that walking out; but we were scratching our heads wondering what we had just watched. It was enjoyable, but hollow. It’s pacing was quick, yet empty? I think we just see the quick production and the flaws become apparent, but not enough to detract from the beats that worked and worked really well. The movie *is* cotton candy. Light. Fun. Mildly Satisfying. Leaves an odd, but not unpleasant taste. Instantly forgettable.

That said, there is absolutely a lot of material for adults and children alike here. It is still fun.

  • If you were looking forward to it, I don’t think you will be disappointed. Though, unless the kids really want it, save the money from the 3D. 2D is good enough here.
  • If you haven’t seen the other films, give this one a flyby ghost rider.

This is good alternative fare for those who need something they can take the kids to, which has really been in short supply this summer.

If however…you need to make a financial choice between this and Ant Man – you might want to hold off a week and see how my review comes back on the next Marvel piece.

 

 

 

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Darke Reviews | How to Train Your Dragon 2 (2014)

If I recall correctly, How to Train Your Dragon was one of the first films I did a review on when I began writing reviews again a few years back. I stopped again and started hard core last year. Things that I remember from the review was that my ex and I were some of the only people in theatres in week two of its release and that weeks three and four it picked up even more steam. If you don’t know how rare that is that a movie gets MORE popular the longer it goes, well that just means you are a normal individual who isn’t obsessed with movies. I remember showing people the DVD long after and the general consensus is “I wish I had seen it in theatres”. This is a chance to fix that – sort of.

So how did they do on the sequel?

Well, to be perfectly honest and still spoiler free. They held to sequel rules. If you have a big bad, you need a bigger bad. Check. Call backs to the first film. Check. Take it a bit darker in certain beats? Check. Character Growth? eh…not so much.

This is one of those rare cases where being both Writer and Director works. Dean DeBlois, who gave us the original How to Train and Lilo & Stitch returns in both writing and directing roles. I can see the writing that gave us Lilo & stitch here. I can see the writing that gave us the first How to Train here. I can also see only a slight bit of experience and growth. When the first film became both critically and financially successful ($217mm) in 2010 the sequel was inevitable. I can see that he had a lot of ideas and tried to get some of them in, but not all of them worked.

He did avoid some serious pitfalls most teen characters with a romance in the first movie fall into. THANK YOU. Sorry that verges into spoiler territory, but it was needed. The movie plot wise also does just a few too many call backs to the original in near entire rehashes of some scenes. None of the characters seem to have learned much in the time between movies. Sure they aged, sure they got better at what they do, but did they grow? Eh, not really.

But damn, did they remember how to fly! One of the things of beauty in the first film is the flying sequences as Hiccup and Toothless become friends and partners. They take to the skies in all three dimensions and bring you along the way with the camera in a way that really does bring you with them. Its beautiful, it is magical and it is whimsical. It is magnificent in every sense of the word and they remembered how to do it. They also got better at it. Some of the sequences were just amazingly beautiful that I started to cry from it. The sky dance (not a spoiler) is breathtakingly gorgeous. This is the movies greatest success.

The return of the entire cast of the first is also a success. Everyone reprises their roles from the first as if they have never left. Sadly they don’t get a lot of screen time but the movie wisely doesn’t make more of certain characters since  they have become more famous over the past four years. Adding to the cast is Djimon Hounsou as Drago and Kit Harington as Eret. Finally Jon Snow knows something! Apparently it’s dragons. The irony is not lost on me.

The music is also as engaging as it was in the first. With…one exception. There’s a trend in certain movies to stick a song with vocals over a scene rather than use a score. It’s particularly virulent in childrens movies. The first movie avoided this, sadly this one doesn’t. The song isn’t bad, don’t get me wrong. It has a very Owl City vibe, but I would have preferred the musical queue to be pure music rather than an actual song. It took me out of the moment just enough that it was, to me a bad call.

TL;DR?

The movie made me laugh. Made me cry. Made me smile. Made me catch my breath. What else should a movie do? Some movies are designed to be art appreciated for that. Others are designed to be entertainment. This movie is both artistically beautiful in a literal sense and entertaining.

I know that there were children in the audience you didn’t hear move an inch or utter a word that wasn’t a squeal of joy. What else should there be?

Really nothing. The movie is good. Really good. A few missteps keep it from being great, but I wholeheartedly recommend this film.  I recommend becoming lost in it and enjoying what it delivers.

I also recommend 3D if you can take it. Not required, but it does certainly enhance the movie.

If you go to see a movie this weekend or next, go learn How to Train Your Dragon again. You won’t regret it. This is *the* movie to see with family, friends, children over the next few weeks.

Darke Reviews | Frozen (2013)

What? The Vampire Princess can’t like animation? Honestly, I have a weak spot for animated musicals. I was born in the dark ages of Disney animation where Black Cauldron was one of the highlights. I do remember watching Fox and the Hound, and all the classics. I stared in awe at the animations of The Little Mermaid and had a crush on Aladdin. I cried when Simba’s father died, I dreamed of running through the mountains of western Maryland as Pocahontas and even wanted to find Atlantis and stay there as Milo in Atlantis. I wanted to be taken away by a Beast and live in castle full of books as Belle – He could stay a beast too thank you very much. So obviously this girl had to see Frozen.

I understand there’s some people who are annoyed by the whiteness of it and the fact that many of the character models are rendered using the same skeletons as Tangled. It is true. I would say at least half of the models are re skinned versions of half the side characters of Tangled. Even the sideburns and hair color are there. The two main female characters are also somewhat similar but I am going to outright disregard the criticisms. Here’s why: most of the Disney princess art/characters are so bloody similar to begin with many of them have just subtle alterations anyway unless there are drastic art style changes (Pocahontas/Hercules).

So what?
Does it take away from the beauty? No.
Does it take away from the narrative? Not in the least.
What does it take away from? If anything perhaps a bit of originality.
It makes the toy makers lives easy as they only have to make a few changes and lets be honest folks, Disney is still a company and they want to make money and the movies are giant commercials for the toys for kids. I am ok with this. They don’t really pretend otherwise.

It only takes away if you let it and I won’t let it.

As far as the movie is concerned, lets get to the review a bit. Its a touch light as I am still trying to remain spoiler free.

Frozen is based on a story titled The Snow Queen, by the often adapted Hans Christian Anderson (Little Mermaid as an example), written in 1845. When I say adapted, I mean to say that it involves a Snow Queen, a Reindeer, take place in the far north of Andersons Scandinavia and has snow. This story focuses on two princesses Elsa and Anna. Elsa was cursed with the ability to freeze things with a touch and is forced into isolation from her little sister Anna. The whys and wherefores of the curse matter little. One fateful night, as they often are, Elsa’s secret is revealed and she runs from her castle and her family into the north. Her leaving triggers a massive freeze in the kingdom. Her sister Anna is determined to save her sister even if it means her own life. Along the way she is helped by Kristoff (an ice merchant), Olaf (a snowman) and Sven (a reindeer). Can she save Elsa, herself and her kingdom?

Well you need to watch to find out, duh.

Lets talk writing and direction for a minute since they are the same. Chris Buck (Tarzan) and Jennifer Lee(…nothing before) direct with an additional writing credit from Shane Morris. They’ve taken a tact similar to what other recent Disney movies have done where they went very tongue in cheek with blatant nods to Disneys traditional ridiculousness. An example is Tangled where Flynn Ryder is the only one to be bothered by all the singing and the hyper intelligent animals. Frozen picks on the conceit of love at first sight and has more than one character call attention to how silly it can be. There isn’t a lot otherwise to the film beyond a solid story that at times got a little jumbled. Its solid, but not perfect. The fact that the musical numbers stop a little before the halfway point is a bit disappointing.

The voice actors are spot on with Kristen Bell (Veronica Mars) as Anna carrying the brunt of the voice work. Idinza Menzel (Enchanted, Rent, Wicked) sings her heart out as Elsa. I was pleasantly surprised at Kristen holding her own in a duet with Idina. Both are always fun to listen to through the movie and bring the emotions they need to the performances they have. Jonathan Groff (Jesse from Glee) must have been brought along with Idina from her time on Glee and sadly isn’t used for all the musical potential he has. He does bring a certain charm to the movie and grounds the film where it needs to be. The rest of the cast isn’t really worth mentioning sadly, but the focus isn’t on them. It is, however, worth mentioning that I had expected to be annoyed by the Snowman and the Reindeer and was happily surprised that they didn’t annoy me and actually were quite endearing.

This is where I normally talk effects, shooting, etc. So instead lets talk animation. Yes, the character models themselves are from Tangled. Moving on. The actual “skins” are really quite beautiful with an ever increasing attention to detail on how fabric moves and how hair looks. There is a clear and conscious decision to separate the faces from realism while hyper attention to detail has been placed on the finer details and lighting. The snow is rendered like someone who has been in a blizzard and knows how it moves; while the ice. Wow. It is incredibly beautiful and perfect. Many people will miss how you can see reflections in the ice of all the objects that should be; all the while able to see through it at the proper places. There’s a scene where Elsa makes a dress (that I want) out of ice and walks through a door and you can see how the ice on the walls distorts the image from inside. Even the simple stomp of her foot and the explosion of ice seems to have a weight and gives the ice life like it does if you were to watch something freeze at high speed.

The musical numbers are a mixed bag for me. Some of them truly resonated and I’ve listened to one track twenty times already while writing this review. Others did not and thats all that keeps me from buying the CD right now. It is sad that the musical beats stop about halfway and they don’t use Groffs talents more, I have distinct feeling there are some serious edits to the film as there are a few seconds/scenes in the trailers that didn’t make it into the final film. Live action movies aren’t the only ones who run into that.

TL;DR?

I really enjoyed it. It isn’t perfect by a long shot, but it was a solid film for its two hour running time and I feel right in recommending it for evening or matinees. It is most certainly kid friendly and still enjoyable for adults.

There is a warning of course to those who don’t like cold. If you have a thing about the cold, this is not a good movie for you.

If you are like me and think Ice and Snow are two of the most beautiful things to be surrounded by – I promise during Let It Go (Elsa’s solo) you will stare in awe as I did and fall in love with the beauty and wonder of it as she is.

…Now if you will excuse me I need to see who I can bribe to make Elsa and Anna’s dress for me….

Darke Reviews | Despicable Me 2 (2013)

Ok this one is short. Just finished watching it. I enjoyed the living hell out of it. I hadn’t seen the first one completely, still haven’t but you don’t need to see it to enjoy this one.

It is a kids movie first and foremost so there are plot holes a mile wide so don’t go in with anything other than the kids movie lens. It is completely enjoyable at all age levels.

What did it do so well that Lone Ranger and others I have disliked this summer didn’t? Charisma. I have been talking to my partner in movie crime about this at length and what makes a movie these days. When you have characters, even through voice, bring personality and charm to the screen it’s engaging and brings you in. When you have people playing parts that are filled with heart even though they are surrounded by specatle – its endearing. It makes you want to see the good guys win and the bad guys lose. You want the happy ending and care about it. This movie does that.

Don’t get me started on the minions. I may have to make a Minion costume for halloween this year just for the fun and the challenge of it. They are probably the best answer to the Disney animal side kick and are superior in every way.

I about fell out of my chair with the ending sequence (pre credits).

So in short (too late) – if you were at all interested – this one is worth seeing. If you weren’t, maybe give it a chance you might laugh. I did. Now…where can I find a lipstick tazer?

Darke Reviews | Epic (2013)

William “Rise of the Guardians” Joyce brings us another tale for the kids. Instead of fanciful dreams and Guardians of the children of the world; we are given the miniscule yet potent Guardians of the Woods. While last falls Rise of the Guardians (RozG) was brought to us by Dreamworks and delivered all its trailers promised, this particular fairy tale is delivered to us by Fox and does not deliver all that was promised.

Wait, wait wait. Am I telling you this is a bad movie? No. Not in the least. Point in fact its rather good and will be highly entertaining to its core demographic of 5 to 12 year olds. Adults may get something from the animation and action as well. There is a solid story and it doesn’t once get Ferngully/Avatar levels of preachy on you. It doesn’t get that way at all point in fact. Which is a point I have to appreciate.

SO what doesn’t deliver? The trailer.

Let me give you the original teaser from June 2012

Now as of November of this year, they were still mostly pitching this as an kids actioner befitting the title it has. There were a few more comedy moments inserted and overall you got a better feel for the film that would be coming. In recent weeks Fox, in their usual mis/manhandling of their properties have all but ruined their chances of making back the budget on this one.

We have had trailers over emphasizing the comedic beats of the film that are completely out of context. I mean literally. They changed the music in the trailers from the music of the scene and it alters the tonality as much as it could be. There is also the fact of who they are choosing to play up in the cast. Comic actors (Ansari, O’Dowd) and singers (Beyonce, Steven Tyler) more than any known elements (Hutcherson, Farrell, Seyfriend, Waltz). Name dropping on this scale and style usually means the studio has no faith in the picture or the trailers to draw people in and instead have to use this particular tactic to try to entice parents and their kids to see their favourite funny people and singers – though really does anyone in their target demo know who Steven Tyler is?

That’s the promise failed folks. Once again I find the trailer house and studio grossly negligent in their marketing. Kids will go see this expecting this shiny happy comedic movie with talking animals. They will be disappointed. Kids will go expecting their big stars through the movie, they will be half disappointed.

Granted I know I am not the target demographic and I can’t honestly say what kids may take from the trailer sand expect in the movie, but if I am right you will get back what you put in. The studio idiots at Fox and whomever they contracted for the trailer half assed it and they will get half as much as they could have unless positive word of mouth saves this work.

That being said and my rant done – If you have kids take them to see it. 6 is the youngest I’d take, but 5 might be safe. There’s nothing particularly too dark or scary in it at all. Rather well done that way for kids.

If you are an adult and were curious – Try it out.

I enjoyed it and honestly part of me hopes there are Leaf Men and the Brave Good Bugs out there.