The LEGO Batman Movie: Movie Man Jackson

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Shamone!  In Gotham City, of course, resides Bruce Wayne, aka Batman (Will Arnett). As he’s done for the past 78 or so years, the Caped Crusader defends his city from all of its evil-doers, most notably The Joker (Zach Galifianakis). Despite always “beating” Joker and the rest of Gotham’s criminal denizens, Batman has never fully eradicated, or lessened the city’s crime.

Perhaps it’s because he always works alone. When new police commissioner Barbara Gordon proposes a plan to reduce crime that involves Batman working with the community, he balks. But as The Joker crafts a plan to unleash all of Gotham’s worst at once (and command R-E-S-P-E-C-T) from Batman, The Dark Knight may have to learn how to work together with a team to save the day again.

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Deadpool for a PG-crowd? Not entirely, but The Lego Batman Movie does share some of the same self-referential tone that last year’s movie possessed, not taking itself too seriously and making light of comic book conventions, often to hilarious levels. Heck, it even features fourth-wall breaking beginning and end credit sequences. Overall, it’s a whimsical and all-ages pleasing type of watch.

Lego Batman not only captures all ages, but almost all fans who fall on every notch on the spectrum as it pertains to comic book enjoyment. Sure, the understanding of some jokes and visual shots here and there may lend themselves better to those who are immaculate in their Batman lore, but one doesn’t necessarily have to be a Batman fan to have a good time with this movie. The jokes fly fast, sometimes too fast to completely digest and take appreciation in, but that also means that little time goes by without someone laughing in the audience, lest yourself.

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From a story perspective, The LEGO Batman Movie comes off as the inverse of the movie that preceded it. If The LEGO Movie was ultimately about embracing individuality in a philosophical way, LEGO Batman Movie addresses the importance of teamwork and collaboration using Batman’s immense backstory to often amusing effect. Not a particularly fresh story, but few mainstream animation movies really are. The story gets the job done, but feels like it was written around jokes for a large portion of it. For the first and final acts, Batman’s full foray into Lego Land rarely bogs down, but a fairly significant portion in the middle of the movie does.

Still, the film is a visual treat to look at, even during slow periods. It actually is a notch under the impressiveness that was 2014’s LEGO Movie, if only because the color palette is a little darker (duh) and we’ve now seen it before. But consistency is important, and Chris McKay, animation co-director of the previous film, makes sure that the stop-motion continues to look fluid.

Stealing the show before as a side character, Will Arnett and Batman return as the feature character this go around, with an actual arc. Arnett gives stellar delivery at all times, never missing a beat. This is important, because the rest of the cast isn’t all consistent. Zach Galifianakis isn’t a bad Joker, and Ellie Kemper is memorable in a bit part. Ralph Fiennes is marvelous as Alfred. But some of the other important characters in Robin (Michael Cera) and Barbara Gordon (Rosario Dawson) are a little disappointing. Feels like a missed opportunity to have some notable star power powering the vocals of the other key characters.

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Why so serious? The LEGO Batman Movie isn’t. Mostly fast-paced, light, and committed to its source material, The LEGO Batman Movie may lack in substance, but not in style.

B-

Photo credits go to geektyrant.com, gameinformer.com, and moviepilot.com

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Sausage Party: Movie Man Jackson

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Don’t play with your food, it plays with each other. In a common grocery store, every single food item fantasizes about being purchased by “Gods,” humans who will whisk them away from shelves, freezers, and the like and into “The Great Beyond.” No food truly knows what happens after leaving the store, but the consensus is that a life of freedom and care by the Gods is given.

For Frank (Seth Rogen) and his hot dog (he’s a hot dog, not a sausage) friends, getting purchased means getting to slide their meat into some plump buns. He has always had eyes on Brenda (Kristen Wiig). His mission is almost achieved by getting a coveted spot in the shopping cart, but an incident from Honey Mustard (Danny McBride), begins to put doubt into Frank as to whether the Great Beyond is heaven, or more akin to hell. The better question may be, does it even exist?

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Let’s call it what it is. Sausage Party, mainly from the minds of Seth Rogen and Evan Goldberg (This is the End) is Toy Story (or any other inanimate object, for that matter) in edible form. In R-rated edible form. With that said, though, Sausage Party is rather thought-provoking, and may even be adept at leaving its mark on some viewers long after viewing. Is it funny? That depends.

Sausage Party feels most similar to Rogen and Goldberg’s 2013 comedy This is the End, albeit with a different message. Unlike that movie, which didn’t concern itself with the question of the existence of a higher power or whether a stylized Backstreet Boys-led heaven afterlife was real, Sausage Party actually does. The overall mature elements of the screenplay might just be the strongest element of the entire production written by the longtime duo, plus Jonah Hill this time around. What is also surprising is how we as the audience actually begin care for a few of these characters and their well-being, such as a deformed hot dog in Barry (Michael Cera). As far as technical quality goes, this is no high-budget Pixar offering, but it looks well enough, and ends up making some really memorable set pieces. Yes, set pieces, ones that feature action, horror, and something that would be right at home in the infamous 1979 movie Caligula.

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But even with surprising and pretty well handled themes, Sausage Party is a comedy that is 100% Rogen & Goldberg through and through, full of weed love and penis appreciation. Great news for Rogen fans, bad news for non-fans. Yours truly personally falls in the middle. The premise does allow for some good comedic wittiness that didn’t always appear in their other films, but the hardcore raunch does begin to take its toll after a while. The third act may be better enjoyed under the influence of a substance. It is the 50/50 hit/miss rate towards humor that leaves this comedy a little disappointing.

And while one should assume full responsibility for stepping into a R rated comedy, it can be argued that Sausage Party does veer into the very uncomfortable territory here and there, with one character in particular as a literal douche. Voiced by Nick Kroll, Douche is rarely funny, actually disturbing in some of his actions, and doesn’t really add to any of the plot’s proceedings. Gum is pretty hilarious, however as a clear nod to Hawking.

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Love Seth Rogen’s cut of comedic meat? Sausage Party is one that will absolutely be filling, along with some interesting ideas that are actually satisfying to digest. For all others, its comedy doesn’t fill all of the laugh holes on a consistent basis.

C

Photo credits go to nytimes.com, comicbook.com, and moviepilot.com.

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Finding Dory: Movie Man Jackson

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Forget things much? Not as much as Dory. One year after helping Merlin (Albert Brooks) find his son, Nemo (Hayden Rolence), Dory (Ellen DeGeneres), has really become a part of their family. Dory, unfortunately, was separated from her family as a young fish. She still suffers from short-term memory loss, which can make it more than a little difficult being around her.

The perfect storm prompts Dory’s memory of her parents, and serves as her motivation for braving the big blue sea one more time. With Nemo and Merlin by her side, her journey leads her to the Monterey Marine Life Institute, but separation from each other forces Dory to dig deep into her mental recesses and figure out where her guardians might be—if they are still around.

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Over the next few years, the Pixar studio seems to be all in on sequels, with three out of the next four scheduled movies being continuations of previous ones. Not counting Finding Dory, which makes it four out of five. No, it wasn’t needed, but Finding Dory was probably one of the safest bets this summer and of 2016 to make as far as quality and box office goes. Not spectacular, or water-works worthy, but technically well-made and surprisingly touching.

Co-directors Andrew Stanton (WALL-E, Finding Nemo) and Angus MacLane once again make the ocean a vast and beautiful place. It’s a surprise that little of Dory’s adventure actually takes place there, though. Structurally, it is very similar to its predecessor, but the journey doesn’t feel as expansive, or as paced as efficiently. In a way, it feels very hotshotted at points. One and two great escapes are acceptable and even great, but going to the well multiple times dilutes the experience and makes the feature, animated as it is, more than a little farfetched.

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Finding Dory was an interesting name for Pixar to give its sequel after it became clear in the trailers and story details that Dory was not the one lost and needing to be found. Or does she? While Dory is certainly looking for people important to her just like Merlin did, Finding Dory is as much about Dory finding herself as it is her family. It shouldn’t have been a “Whoa!” moment in the head of yours truly, but it was about midway through that it all started to click and the adventure, again as nutty and goofy as can be (still a little too goofy for my liking), started to hit the feels somewhat.

Dory, voiced by Ellen Degeneres, is a challenging character to put as the lead. Like she is with her friends in the film, she can be annoying to sit through and hear here and there, and the reservations about making her the star appear to be correct early on. But, she does evolve, and her journey from one side of the ocean to another turns out to be heartfelt by the real end of the movie, multiple endings to wade through be damned. Nemo and Merlin return as well, and it is cool to see them back, but they are ultimately props for Dory.

A few new characters absolutely add and aid to Dory’s tale. Whale shark Destiny (Kaitlin Olson) and Beluga whale Bailey (Ty Burrell) have similar journey stories that run concurrent to Dory’s. But it is Hank the Octopus, voiced by Ed O’Neill that comes out of this film as its most memorable character. There’s something about seeing an octopus-err–septopus—in a movie, and for that alone the character is fresh. But Hank is mysterious, self-serving, and yet with all that, a good animal deep down. But, should Pixar decide to do another entry into the sea world, Hank’s character would appear to have a lot of potential, either in prequel or sequel fashion.

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Even an unoriginal Pixar movie is often still a good Pixar movie. The seawater is still quite warm with Finding Dory, and the possibility exists of returning yet again to this body of water.

Photo credits go to comingsoon.net, and YouTube.com.

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The Angry Birds Movie: Movie Man Jackson

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Fly like an eagle. No wings? Use a slingshot. On Bird Island, birds without the ability to fly reside. One of them, Red (Jason Sudeikis), perpetually lives in a mental state of irritability. He’s different from everyone else, as this is an island of perpetual happiness. Needless to say, he doesn’t fit in.

One particular outburst lands him in anger management with other Angry Birds Terence (Sean Penn), Chuck (Josh Gad), and Bomb (Danny McBride). As they attempt to manage their tempers, pigs from Piggy Island make themselves welcome as explorers, and most of the population is accepting. Except for Red, who believes the pigs aren’t as kosher as they appear to be.

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It’s not so much a shock that The Angry Birds Movie is an actual thing (even if it is based on an application), it’s a shock that it has arrived in 2016 instead of striking while the iron was hot, like, say, in 2012 or something. Despite it being as lean as one could imagine a story-less smartphone game app to, Angry Birds the Movie is passable, every enjoyable here and there.

First-time directors Clay Kaytis and Fergal Reilly provide the movie with a vibrant and colorful palette. Sounds trivial, but sometimes a small part of an animated movie’s appeal is simply how well it looks, and the work the duo has done previously in works like Frozen, Wreck-It-Ralph, and Cloudy with a Chance of Meatballs seems to aid them here. A highlight of their particular movie here is the climax, ripping right from the app, loaded with action and good fun.

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Angry Birds‘ script makes clear references to its original intellectual property, from small bits of dialogue to the beats of its plot. It works a little better than anticipated, and even has sort of a message about friendship. The truly cynical type may see this movie leaning one way or the other on the political spectrum, but I look at it more of the inoffensive variety .

But, the film is stretched pretty thin, evidenced by more than a few musical montages and some flashback gags that are not all needed. And, Angry Birds is kind of relentlessly loud. Only few moments of quiet exist; otherwise, the mode is GO! GO! GO! like the bird Chuck. There is some amusing humor to be found, most is slapstick in nature. The crudeness of a few jokes is a little off-putting for a family-targeted flick, however.

The Angry Birds Movie does employ some sound voice work, some being better in an animated movie than others. Jason Sudeikis is reminiscent of his character in Horrible Bosses on a PG-level, with a good amount of quick wit, with the only real complaint being that he doesn’t come off as angry but rather detached and aloof. Gad, Keegan-Michael Key, Bill Hader, and Peter Dinklage are here and noticeable in that way that adds to a character but not to the point where their vocals stand out in a weird incongruence to their characters. On the other end, one could go throughout the entire film without knowing that Danny McBride, Jillian Hall, or Maya Rudolph contributed to the movie. “Easy-money-of the-year while-being-top-billed award” goes to Sean Penn, who grumbles for 98% of his screentime. Must already be working on his post-El Chapo career, not wanting to be seen or definitively identified via voice.

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Not completely flightless, The Angry Birds Movie isn’t exactly flying high in the sky either. But technically as a video game movie, the quality isn’t bad. The real question is what is coming next. Sugar Smash, maybe?

C+

Photo credits go to cgmeetup.net ,thewrap.com, and filmonic.com

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The Peanuts Movie: Movie Man Jackson

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“Good grief.”

If “lovable loser” were in the dictionary, the Chicago Cubs and Charlie Brown would appear right under it. Charlie Brown, his dog Snoopy, Linus, Lucy, and the rest of the Peanuts squad are in full force. Charlie Brown is still the unluckiest of the unlucky, whether attempting to fly a kite, strike a batter out, or kick that doggone football.

When a new little “Red-Haired Girl” moves across the street from him, Charlie is determined to become a new man in hopes of landing her. With help from the ever-versatile Snoopy, who is fighting is own battle in trying to finally take down the Red Baron, Charlie takes steps in getting her attention. But, his best step may be to just continue being Charlie Brown.

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For whatever reason, Charlie Brown and Peanuts as a whole just feels very Thanksgiving-ish to yours truly. If someone asked me for whatever reason to play holiday association with what holiday comes into my mind when seeing Charlie Brown and friends, I’d always say Thanksgiving, despite all of the specials for each holiday. Maybe it is the fact that Peanuts, and The Peanuts Movie, is somewhat like a Thanksgiving gathering with a ton of people. Holiday talk withstanding, the new Peanuts movie is likely to play out as one would expect. Depending on the person, that could be an amazing thing, or a meh thing.

Peanuts is very simplistic and basic from multiple fronts. There’s a notable old-school approach that reflects the effort made by director Steve Martino (Ice Age: Continental Drift, Horton Hears a Who!) and producers to keep The Peanuts Movie in the mold that creator Charles Schultz brought to the comic strip and holiday features. This is seen most clearly in the animation, where less is more with the way characters walk, express emotions facially, and interact with their environment. Think of its CGI as a flipbook filled with sketches. And of course, the Peanuts theme is alive and well, along with other notable series sounds and soft jazz tracks.

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On another front, the simplicity of the story doesn’t work as well as the animation and technical/audio production does. While I wasn’t expecting a story like, say, Inside Out or The Lego Movie, I am legitimately surprised at how uninterested—and at some points, bored—I was with the film’s plot, which feels very reliant on nostalgia at times in lieu of anything really entertaining. And, that goes for both of them actually, as Snoopy’s plot and CB’s are loosely integrated with each other without adding to each other, aside from the occasional chapter title that Snoopy uses when writing his book that also doubles for where Charlie is in his efforts. Perhaps I am too critical, but for a runtime just north of 90 minutes, it isn’t a good thing to start wondering how much time is left. Maybe it was the lack of laughs. And maybe I just need some kids to improve the viewing experience.

Voice work is of importance with any animated feature, but for something such as Peanuts, that importance takes on more weight because so many people have the characters’ voices ingrained in their craniums. As such, any shoddy work would certainly be derided by long time fans, especially because the film is banking on nostalgia. Luckily, there isn’t a weak link voice wise among the cast. Seriously, the voice work is stellar. Whether these kids were born sounding exactly like the predecessors who voiced Charlie Brown, Lucy, Sally, and the rest, or coached to sound exactly like them, it really is an impressive achievement for these youngsters to get it exactly right.

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Yours truly’s five cents on The Peanuts Movie is that it is good nostalgia for fans featuring excellent production, and a nice, if super safe and sometimes mundane introduction to kids unfamiliar to these characters. A little disappointing, certainly, but not a complete whiff like Chuck on a football kick.

Grade: C+

Photo credits go to nydailynews.com, and moviewweb.com.

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Pixels: Movie Man Jackson

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“I’ve been waiting to do this since 1982.”

Hardcore gamers are good for something. Back in 1982, the arcade scene is booming, and adolescent friends Sam Brennan, Will Cooper, and Ludlow Lamonsoff (Adam Sandler, Kevin James, Josh Gad) spend many quarters becoming extremely skilled in various games, with Sam becoming an all-around beast in everything. His brilliance leads him to a showdown, one that is most importantly recorded and sent into space, against equally brilliant but arrogant Eddie Plant (Peter Dinklage), to which he loses.

In the present day, Sam makes an unfulfilling living as a technology installer, Ludlow has become a conspiracy theorist, Eddie is behind bars, and Will has somehow become the president of the United States. During that time that the 1982 feed was floating around in space, extraterrestrials have taken this recording as a signal of war, and have decided to send out harbingers in the form of beloved video games characters that kids controlled to eradicate Earth. To protect and save Terra Firma, the only people capable of doing so are the nerds: Brennan, Ludlow, and Plant.

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It may be best to use some tenets of what generally makes a modern video game good in an effort to state yours truly’s thoughts on Pixels. Does it have great graphics (cinematography/direction)? A compelling campaign (story)? What type of genre is it, and does it have a definitive audience? How about multiplayer (replay/rewatch value)?

Good news first. Pixels, directed by Chris Columbus (Mrs. Doubtfire, Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone), gets a high score visually. Even in the increasingly summer-filled CGI features, this does stand out from the rest. Kudos to Columbus and the producers for actually making these widely known video game entities look like they did in the 80’s but in a 2015 world. It probably would have been real easy to not go the pixelated route, but in doing so at least the movie looks unique. Perhaps it is even better in 3D, and even with the film’s fails, it is fun to look at.

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Honestly though, it may be best to watch this movie on the big screen if watched at all. After the visual aspect, which is really enhanced in a theater, there isn’t a ton else to get behind. The inconsistent trailers that came attached in my theater seemed to foreshadow one of the main problems Pixels has: It doesn’t have a true idea on who it is targeting. The movie is light, and with all of the bright colors and cute characters (especially Qbert), youngsters definitely are a target demographic for this. However, most of those youngsters are just too young to get some of the other stuff, the stuff that relies on knowing the 80’s and the ins/outs of the classic video games. A better question may be: Do those youngsters even care about the classics? Probably not.

The biggest indictment on Sandler’s latest is that the humor, no matter what age group is watching, fails badly. Yes, comedy is subjective, but nothing is written to be gut-busting. At best, a few moments elicit a chuckle. At worst, a sigh and an eye roll. When the funniest thing in the movie is the fact that Columbus and the writers determined it to be a good idea to cast Kevin James as the leader of the free world without any explanation, that is an issue.

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As easy as it is to bash on Sandler at this point, he has brought it upon himself in recent years, and deserves some of the blame for another recent Sandler-produced project being underwhelming or flat out putrid yet again. So let yours truly hop on the bash train. It is true, Adam in this isn’t as bad as he has been, but by and large he is still the same character that he has been trumpeting out in his productions the last few years. What is most disheartening is that the half-assed performance he submits seems to indicate he doesn’t care.

Where there’s Adam Sandler, there’s Kevin James. I’ve said enough about his role. Outside of one, maybe two kind of funny moments, he is unbelievable as the President, mainly because the film never even tries to explain how he got to be it. Josh Gad is more loudly obnoxious and pathetic than amusing. Peter Dinklage provides the most comedy out of the foursome, but it isn’t much. No matter how dumb and moronic Sandler’s characters are, he always gets a love interest. Michelle Monaghan fills that role and nothing else in this feature.

Reaching the game over portion of this post, Pixels is kind of like the game that boasts some stellar graphics, but little to nothing else. A good game, just like a good film, is more than just looking sharp and having one or two fun levels.

Grade: D

Photo credits go to cinemablend.com, rottentomatoes.com, and pointofgeeks.com.

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Inside Out: Movie Man Jackson

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“Crying helps me slow down and obsess over the weight of life’s problems.”

Inside Out proves that Randy Orton isn’t the only guy who hears voices in his head. Eleven-year old Riley is more than content with her family, life, and friends in Minnesota. As life would have it though, her father’s new job forces the family to move out west to San Francisco. Quite the change for a young adolescent.

As such, her emotions, previously centered around Joy (Amy Poehler), make themselves more prominent. Riley begins to experience more Fear (Bill Hader), Disgust (Mindy Kaling), Anger (Lewis Black), and especially Sadness (Phyllis Smith). As much as Joy so desperately wants to make things happy again, all of the emotions have their own ideas as to help Riley through this transition.

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Emotions are cool to talk about, think about, and analyze. And yet, it kind of is surprising that they have never truly been featured in film. Obviously, we know when someone is unhappy, frightened, ecstatic, and enraged, but that is because they are thespians doing their jobs. To my knowledge, there has never been something that does what Inside Out does, which is actually take a look at these respective states of consciousness and how we function as a result of them. It doubles as both profound and rudimentary, but in both scenarios, it is as close to, if not perfect as one could likely want out of a film focused on highlighting emotions.

Speaking to the profound part, Inside Out still carries the second week TV spot and certain home media cover comment stating (paraphrasing) that “it’s fun for the whole family!” Rightfully so, but that doesn’t mean that one age group will not appreciate the thoughts and ideas more than another. With this, it may be easier for people who have lived to at least their teens years to get some of the wonderful complexities, thematic heaviness, and allusions. On the “lighter” end, simple jokes are interspersed, and both visually and technically, the color-scheme is a wonderful aid to distinguish the respective emotions. There is also a nice touch seamlessly done to show how an emotion is loaded more or less and how it comes out through Riley. This is a gorgeous animated feature co-directed by Pete Docter (Monsters Inc., Up) and Ronaldo Del Carmen.

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Not only directed by Docter and Del Carmen, they are credited with writing as well. The two have created a story where it isn’t so much the destination, but rather the journey that is so intriguing. Honestly, most will know how this generally will end. For what the film is hitting on in its message, it is a fitting resolution, just not anything unexpected. But, the voyage to get to there is where most of the fun is had, with the aforementioned allusions and ideas to concepts that PhD.’s probably struggled with during their studies. There is a real attention to detail found throughout the story.

The same can be said for the voice-over work. As Joy, Amy Poehler is a choice without fault, as she almost always seems to be cheerful and positive in real life, just like her character. Lewis Black gets some great lines as Anger, Mindy Kaling is perfectly sassy as Disgust, and Bill Hader injects Fear with a constant anxiety. But for yours truly’s money, the real scene stealer is Sadness, voiced by Phyllis Smith. Phyllis, of The Office fame, always had some of the more underrated moments in the series as the motherly figure of the Scranton paper company. While she isn’t a big name, she is asked to do a lot here, from comedy to the more…sad and touching moments. You’ll want to give her a warm hug, and you’re soulless if you don’t feel that way.

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If all of this sounds like a very light take, that’s because it is. Inside Out is easily one of the best animated films done in recent years, and I honestly don’t know much more that can be said by myself that hasn’t already been mentioned in better detail by others in the cinema blogosphere. There’s a smart and authentic adventure that deserves to be left up to the viewer to experience, whether inside of the theater (preferably), or outside of it.

Grade: A

Photo credits go to nola.com, pixarpest.com, and designtaxi.com.

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Big Hero 6: Movie Man Jackson

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“I am satisfied with my care.”

A note to the U.S. Congress and the administration after seeing Big Hero 6: Do whatever is needed to get Baymaxcare implemented. In the city of San Fransokyo, adolescent Hiro Hamada (voice of Ryan Potter), isn’t your average adolescent. At 14, he is already a high school graduate. Needless to say, he is brilliant in the mind, but lacks the focus needed to truly harness his talents. As such, he spends many a nights competing in Robot Wars-like events while his older, also super-smart brother Tadashi attends college.

Fearing his kid brother’s talents aren’t being cultivated like they need to be, Tadashi introduces Hiro to what smart people in college are capable of, showing that higher education may be what he needs. Most importantly, Hiro is introduced to Baymax, a robot created by Tadashi to provide health care to those in need. The college tour works, as Hiro becomes inspired and gets into university. Things are looking up until an mysterious incident one night recalibrates Hiro’s enthusiasm and he becomes a recluse. Luckily, Baymax is around to give support, and he along with Hiro’s friends begin to discover the truth of what happened.

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With Marvel being under the umbrella of Disney now, it was only a matter of time before Disney would fully dive into the vault and use some source material in a fully animated feature. That time has come with Big Hero 6, an animated feature that succeeds greatly in most places, not so much in others, but as a whole should be quite enough for many.

Really, that whole is made up primarily of the big guy known as Baymax. From his first second on screen, his minimalist appearance and oversized exterior makes it impossible to not have a strong liking towards. All he desires is to provide care for those in need, even to the detriment of his own being. It is a very endearing character, but also an extremely funny one. Voiced by Scott Adsit, the rotund robot speaks in a dry and straightforward tone throughout. Baymax only knows one thing, and his duty to uphold that one thing leads to many hilarious situations. He is the MVP of BH6 without question.

While Baymax may be the most entertaining and recognizable character, Hiro Hamada ain’t too bad either as the Robin to the proverbial Batman in Baymax. What is cool about him is the fact that he isn’t a traditional youngster found in similar animated works. He comes with layers and undergoes more than a few changes across the film’s simple plot. At times, he is even rather unlikable, but for what the character experiences, it is a semi-realistic portrayal of an adolescent still trying to find the way through the world amid tumultuous circumstances.

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For a movie named Big Hero 6 though, the name implies that there will likely be six characters that will be feature. Not exactly the case here; even though BH6 does have four characters joining the two leads to make up the six, at the end of the day these four honestly feel like afterthoughts. They look impressive in battle and have nice design and voiced by sound, but when the movie slows down with all six on screen, it is still the Baymax (and Hiro) show, with only the random, occasionally humorous quip serving purpose to remind the audience that they are not complete wallflowers.

Like other superhero movies, especially the first in a franchise, the “ABC-ish” story present here works fine, and it was a nice tough to show a focus on science. In fact, it isn’t crazy to imagine this spurning youngsters on learning more about the various fields.  But, how the story sets up the event to get where it needs to get to could be seen from far away in the distance. The moment itself is emotional sure, but one can only think that maybe it would have had even more gravitas if it was held off for slightly longer.

This gives the story a rushed feel in spots, sort of like the antagonist here. Visually, he is intriguing and relatively threatening; think a mix of Doctor Octopus, The Masked Magician, and Noob Saibot rolled into one. However, the way he appears with no indication or even small explanation minimizes his impact as well, and when the motivations are finally revealed, the story falters substantially and stays deflated until a very solid climax. A little tighter writing in the aforementioned place may have made a big difference in creating a more well-rounded tale.

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Aside from Baymax and Hiro, the other stars of note are directors Don Hall and Chris Williams, simply because of what they are able to create. San Fransokyo is one of the more fully realized places in film all year, despite being fictional. The hybrid of Tokyo and San Francisco also serves as a perfect backdrop to the action found here. In these set pieces, the feel of the Marvel films is wholly achieved on an animated, bite-sized level.

Big Hero 6 is a very enjoyable flick for the whole family and for solid reasons. But, no reasons loom as large as the lovable, huggable Baymax and his presence. For 102 minutes, yours truly was under the care of Baymax, and I must admit I was pretty satisfied.

Grade: B+

Photo credits go to villains.wikia.com, and realmomsofvegas.com.

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How to Train Your Dragon: Movie Man Jackson

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“I looked at him, and I saw myself.”

In How to Train Your Dragon, if you can kill a dragon, you are a made man (or woman). HTTYD gives a look at the world of Berk, inhabited by vikings. Vikings usually are thought of as tough minded combatants, and they have to be here. Their little village is constantly raided and decimated by fire-breathing dragons.

A young teen by the name of Hiccup (voiced by Jay Baruchel) is the son of village leader and the quintessential Viking Stoick, who leads his people into battle. Hiccup desperately wants to take down and kill a dragon, but his father doesn’t believe him to be physically up to the task. But the youngster is very skilled in weapon crafting, and during a dragon raid one day he sneaks out and is successful in taking down a Night Fury, a breed of dragon that is supposedly the most rare and dangerous.

Having an opportunity to eliminate this beast, Hiccup cannot bring himself to do so. Improbably, he and the dragon, eventually known as Toothless, cultivate a strong friendship. Despite their odd alliance, there still is a war being fought, and Hiccup’s people will not take kindly to his newfound friend.

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It may not be truly groundbreaking, but that does not change the fact that How to Train Your Dragon from being near the pinnacle of animated cinema. It starts with the story. As alluded to,  it may not serve as the most original tale, but the journey is never boring and pretty entertaining. HTTYD does aim to hit emotional wavelengths more so than other similar films, and it succeeds without being too preachy or forceful. Themes such as masculinity, prejudice, and individualism, to name a few, are treated with delicate care. Lastly, the ending is stellar. No spoilers here, but it is simultaneously saddening and uplifting, and a great note to conclude upon.

The relationship between Hiccup and Toothless is obviously the core of the movie though, and it is why this simple story is so endearing. To see the unbreakable link transform over the course of 98 minutes is almost impossible not to like and care about. Hiccup is an OK character if a bit cookie-cutter, but Toothless steals the show without saying a word. His facial and body animations all on their own tell everything that needs to be known about any given situation.

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With all of that said, the real triumph happens to be the breathtaking visuals. Simply put, HTTYD is a technical marvel. Dreamworks has crafted a very lush and crisp world of Berk. I was not able to view this in 3D unfortunately. I find that it often is unnecessary, but after viewing for the first time, I did wish that I had seen it in eye-popping glory, or at least had the option to do so. Amazing cinematography that rivals the best of animated movies and non-animated ones. The effects were so convincing, it is easily forgotten that this is straight animation.

There are a few gripes, but they are mostly innocuous and perhaps more based on personal preference. The voices used for various characters are passable, but unnoteworthy. For some reason, Jay Baruchel’s as the voice of Hiccup came off as odd. It is not a huge issue, more like a minor annoyance. Eventually it just becomes accepted. Other featured voice work features America Ferrera, Gerald Butler, Craig Ferguson, and Jonah Hill. They bring enough life to their characters, just not to the point of being memorable. This may be more of a criticism that should be leveled to the characters themselves as opposed to how they sound. Aside from Toothless, Hiccup, and Hiccup’s love interest in Astrid, everyone else is somewhat underdeveloped, cliched, or both.

Toothless

None of it mars the film in a large way though. How to Train Your Dragon is one of the better animated films in recent memory, possessing a good deal of emotional depth from a simplistic tale and dazzling technical proficiency to boot. Kids will eat it up, and so will most older children and adults.

Grade: A-

Photo credits go to collider.com, fanpop.com, culturemob.com, and howtotrainyourdragon.wikia.com.

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The Lego Movie: Movie Man Jackson

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“You must embrace what is special about you.”

A Lego piece really is quite an amazing plastic marvel if you think about it. So simple yet so complex. They really are one-of-a-kind. But the best thing about these construction pieces is just how original you can be with them. Never has one toy been so synonymous with creativity.

The theme of creativity and individualism is at the core of The Lego Movie. At the start, we are introduced to Lord Business (Will Ferrell), who has just acquired the “Kragle” by forceful means. The wizard and protector of it Vitrivius (Morgan Freeman), describes a prophecy that will see the rise of a “Special” take down the evil baddie. Eight and a half years later, we are introduced to Emmet Brickowoski (Chris Pratt), a nondescript construction worker who lives his life with instructions and not one creative thought in his thinking cap. One day after work he sees a breathtaking woman and loses all sense of awareness (it happens), and subsequently falls into a hole and hallucinates after touching a weird red piece.

Upon waking and now having “the piece of resistance” attached to him, a good cop/bad cop (Liam Neeson) is there to interrogate Emmet on behalf of Lord Business (Will Ferrell) and end the resistance. Before Brickowoski’s impending end, he is saved by Wyldstyle (Elizabeth Banks), and learns of his destiny as the special—master builder—to rise against and stop Lord Business’ plans to eradicate creativity and freedom by encasing everything and everyone in Kragle. Yep, superglue. With no creative juices to speak of, is Brickowoski really the special the prophecy described? And if he is not, can he learn to be?

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For being primarily a kids movie, The Lego Movie really does have something for all ages. The plot is serviceable, not great, but it does have enough to keep your interest. What it does have is numerous movie references and subtleties. I immediately saw The Matrix elements in this film, but Austin Powers, Jurassic Park, The Dark Knight, The Lord of The Rings, 2001: A Space Odyssey and even Fight Club (just my opinion) all either were indirectly mentioned or featured plot elements.

Some of the cultural aspects present in the film, such as media and corporation give a light satire vibe to the film, but not too heavy for the material. It is a bit amusing and dare I say introspective at the same time. I thought the previously mentioned themes were a nice touch. While there is a root message of creativity, it never feels like you are getting beat over the head with it. The Lego Movie does a noteworthy job of showing both sides of collectivism and individualism. While it is very important to be your own person and come up with your own ideas, at certain times teamwork is needed to recognize the greater good.

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This was my first foray into Lego media, as I have never seen a Lego cartoon, straight-to-DVD movie, or played any of the games. For the first five to ten minutes, I was unsure if I liked the animation as it just felt so different from what I am accustomed to seeing in animated films. After those 10 minutes, my concerns were alleviated. The movie looks tremendous, and the stop motion was awesome. While there are some live action set pieces (presumably the fight scenes), most of it is done in stop-motion. To see the water, fire, smoke, etc. all construct and deconstruct with Lego effects is beautiful. I am confident this film would overall not have been as awesome if its effects were realism based. While not a huge advocate of 3D, I feel I have missed a massive opportunity with this film to see it in that way. I’m sure it would have enhanced my viewing experience. The voices for the characters were cast perfectly, and especially high marks go to Will Arnett with the perfect Christian Bale rendition of the Batman voice.

My expectations were somewhat high with this movie after hearing all of its praise. Most did meet them, but a few left me disappointed, namely the plot and the humor. Again, the plot is not terrible, but for the first two-thirds of the film, I just did not find myself engrossed with it for whatever reason. Perhaps it had something to do with me going alone and not with a younger person, as most in my theater were families. I will say that I loved the last third of the movie; I did not see it going that direction but it reminded me of my old man and I when I was a young tyke. As for the humor, while there are some funny moments, a few are hit and miss. I recognize humor is subjective though, so this probably will not apply to most.

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Still, this is the first major hit of 2014. All ages should find something to like about it, and it is a pretty safe movie for families during this time of brooding Oscar films and romantic sappiness. Quite a huge coup for Warner Bros. Animation, which hasn’t had a hit since 1996’s Space Jam. The Lego Movie is the film the world deserves, and the one it needs right now.

Grade: B

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