Tag Archives: Review

The Lego Batman Movie, And Why It Outclasses Despicable Me

Pandering doesn’t have to be a bad thing, but neither does it have to be stupid.

After siting through a commercial for Despicable Me 3, and then immediately following it with The Lego Batman Movie, I got to thinking. What’s the difference between these two family movies? Why do I find one infinitely more tolerable?

I’d ask why I find the other one utterly obnoxious and loathsome as well, but I’ve already kind of answered that question before.

The Lego Batman Movie has many of the same kinds of jokes (butts, low-hanging fruit jokes, etc), but in addition to poking fun at the angsty dark knight, it also satirizes the film industry as a whole while having its own complete, engaging story. It also has many jokes that adults can appreciate on multiple levels, such as poking fun at the 60’s Batman show and other lovingly nerdy references.

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Based on the trailer, and my experience from watching the other movies, Despicable Me 3 appears to be mostly silly slapstick. While the dialogue might sound more mature than The Lego Batman Movie, the very presences of the minions makes me picture Illumination Entertainment dangling shiny keys over the audience and making silly noises.

Sadly, this seems to work for most people.

We have a supervillain who is pretty much Vector/Victor from the first movie. He wears silly clothes, dances in a ridiculously outdated way, and generally acts “too cool for school,” except now we should be making fun of him for that, rather than being charmed by it. Gru still sucks at being a bad guy, and now sucks at being a good guy too, and not even working off the genuine charm of Kristen Wiig can help him. I sort of laughed at him beginning to sing after accidentally mooning an office birthday party, but that was about it.

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The Lego Movie and The Lego Batman Movie speak to my inner child far more than the bright colors, quirky shapes, and loud noises of Illumination Entertainment films, and not just because of my personal ire. I didn’t own legos as a child and didn’t play with them much when I did get my hands on them, but the dialogue and story progression of these movies harkens back to play sessions with any kind of toy. Barbies, action figures, horses, dollies, or what-have-you, most kids made up stories like this, sometimes even more elaborately. It’s a pleasant, nostalgic reminder of the unfettered creativity of childhood while still having adult structure and thought applied to it, and the slapstick jokes (as overdone today as the pie-in-the-face of yore) are mingled with actual intelligence, humor, and wit.

Hell, my boyfriend and I laughed at the opening credits. The only other movie that got us to do that (that we can remember) was Deadpool.

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You may be skeptical watching the trailers, and perhaps rightly so; I certainly wasn’t sure the first few times, even after hearing how well the first film was received by critics and general audiences. But I definitely believe that these movies deserve more praise and affection than those made by, if you’ll pardon my bluntness, marketing whores and rip-off artists with barely half of that remarkable talent. That’s just instant gratification, in my opinion, and until I see some vast improvement, I shall continue to scorn and ignore Illumination Entertainment and its kindred.

You’d think a movie about legos would seem like the more blatant marketing exercise, but not so, somehow. It’s very fun and genuinely funny. Even the jokes that weren’t my typical cup of tea didn’t get so much as an eye-roll from me.

The Lego Movies may look iffy, especially to older folks, but if you take the risk, you may just find yourself well-rewarded. If nothing else, it’s cute, and you, your kids, and your grandkids will enjoy it together.

 

8/10

*Any images used in this post do not belong to me, but are being used for the purposes of review and satire.

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Pop Music Icons Summed Up in 10 Words or Less

Who has time for long-winded, ego-stroking think pieces anymore? Certainly not my generation. According to every article I’ve seen in the past ten years, millennials have the attention spans of lab mice, which is why we flock to short, punchy bursts of instant gratification like Vine and Twitter.

Well, allow me to continue that supposed trend today. I’m basically going to take tweets (succinct opinions) and publish them wholesale here. Let’s mock us some pop stars just in time for the Grammys, the most pretentious, inbreeding, self-aggrandizing excuse for an award show to ever grace cable television!

Let the mocking begin!

 

Carrie Underwood.

Queen of Modern Country. Breaks up the sausagefest.

 

Justin Bieber

Bearable since his bitter little balls dropped.

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Lady Gaga

Madonna-wannabe. Wish she’d just sing.

 

Beyonce 

Gifted. Gorgeous. Must have God-awful taste in men.

 

Ed Sheeran 

Wordy ginger brit with major feels.

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Taylor Swift

Whether mad, sad, or glad, that chick be boy-crazy.

 

Rihanna

That one friend who never takes a vacation.

 

Silentó

NOT A REAL ARTIST. SORRY NOT SORRY.

 

Meghan Trainor

GLEE’s Amy Winehouse. Insufferable. Arrogant. “Hollywood fat” at best.

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Drake

Asleep at the mic. Stream of consciousness.  No new friends.

 

Adam Levine.

Thinks he can pull off Justin Timberlake.”Maroon 5 who?”

 

Bruno Mars

Retro-fitting the 21st Century, and I’m okay with that.

 

The Chainsmokers

Hoping you’ll forget this one sometime soon:

 

Lukas Graham.

‘Nough said…no really. You’d think it’s just one guy.

 

Katy Perry.

Like Miley Cyrus but with autotune and no Disney shackles.

 

One Direction.

Not as bad as they were, in nearly every way.

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Nick Jonas. 

Discount Justin Timberlake. Still better than Adam Levine.

 

Sia.

Iggy Azalea’s phony accent with actual pipes to back it.

 

Justin Timberlake. 

Remember NSYNC? He pretends not to. Lonely Island represent!

 

The Weekend.

Half of Justin’s range while singing through their noses.

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DJ Snake.

Usually more fun away from the mic.

 

Adele. 

Gorgeous voice. Still not convinced she’d move on.

 

John Legend.

Doesn’t sound like he belongs to this decade.

 

Jessie Jay.

Discount Katy Perry.

 

twenty one pilots.

Good points. Depressing music. Seem like they need Linkin Park.

 

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Ariana Grande.

Still can’t get over “bwake fwee.” Sorry. Nice voice though.

 

Selena Gomez.

Boring music. Like Ariana, she looks 13.

 

Demi Lovato.

More boring. Still can’t escape the mighty shadow of Disney.

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Lil Wayne.

Weird looking. Jerk to women. Still gets women….?

 

Chris Brown.

Scumbag. Decent voice. Awful. Has awful fans.

 

Mariah Carey.

Amazing pipes. Pissy diva attitude.

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Skrillex.

The sound keys make in the dish washer.

 

P!nk.

My favorite artist. Needs a new live show routine though.

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*Please note: this is not meant to be a serious stab at anyone other than Chris Brown. 

 

 

A Series of Unfortunate Events: Dreadfully Delightful

Be warned: These spoilers will wreck your evening, your home life, and your day. Every single spoiler is nothing but dismay, so look away!

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After my pre-show thoughts post, I spent the better part of my weekend binging this show, thinking about it, and enjoying the hell out of it. My favorite episode, by far, is The Reptile Room parts one and two, as they have hands-down the most likable guardian, the most joy that the Baudelaires experience so far, and the most clever and amusing hijinks and sleuthing of all of Season One.

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I was surprised by how much Count Olaf’s henchmen add to every scene. It is funny how stupid and incompetent they are while still managing to avoid police custody, and their genuine awe and frank admiration when the children (or anyone else) outsmart them is charming. Neil Patrick Harris’s Olaf has grown on me immensely; while I still don’t find him the most intimidating, I have come to find him extremely charismatic. He has become likable and unlikable at the same time.

That is quite an accomplishment. I still believe that Jim Carrey brought a much more genuinely sinister presence to the role, but Harris does very well, and tends to be a bit more balanced. It’s very funny when he frequently forgets his own ruses, barely recovering before any nearby adults grow wise to his schemes.

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On a side note, something about Stephano reminds me of Dana Carvey’s turtle guy. Olaf is perhaps the best worst actor out there.

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As for the other actors, new Violet reminded me a lot of movie Violet, except for her accent and Hot Topic fashion sense. She also seems a bit smarter than movie Violet, because she has a few lines where she tries to lie or otherwise disguise her true feelings, and she does so pretty well. There is still plenty of “let’s tell the villain exactly what we plan to do to stop him” moments going on, but I get the sense that carries over from the book. It’s less obnoxious in the tv show, so I appreciate that.

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I think I like movie Klaus better than new Klaus, if only because Liam Aiken reminds me more of a real boy at Klaus’s age, regardless of voracious reading habits, but new Klaus is perfectly fine. New Sunny and movie Sunny both have as much personality as a baby with subtitles can, and I like both very much. I like to imagine Tara Strong coming into the studio just to record a few odd gurgles and coos for new Sunny and that makes me chuckle. I wonder how well she gets paid for that.

I’m not crazy about the obviously fake effects, but I admit that they lend to the overall tone of the series quite well. They are forced, much like some of the indifference, stupidity, and unwitting cruelty of many of the adult characters. It contains some realism, but is biased and over embellished, much like a child’s world view. Violet’s inventions, as well as the other effects that stand out like sore thumbs, show how the Baudelaires rise up and face their challenges, putting themselves on as equal footing as possible with the walking-caricature adults who try to determine their fate without them. It’s interesting, to say the least, so I can only complain so much.

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One thing that I can complain about, based on what little I know of the books, is the decision to include Jacquelyn, Mr. Poe’s secretary and recurring Volunteer Fire Department member. While I like her a lot, I think she detracts from both the tone of the series and the children’s accomplishments by her mere existence. The characters from the 2004 movie had no such possible bail-out (and apparently neither did the book Baudelaires), and even though she appeared more sparingly towards the end of Season One, Jacquelyn takes away from some of the tension.

The reveal of “the parents” not being the Baudelaire children’s parents was a nice touch, if a little extra cruel. For a non-book reader, it was not altogether unexpected, but still something of a kick in the guts moment. They have been mostly on their own up until now, and you know now that they definitely still are, if not more so, no matter how many shadowy V.F.D. people claim to be looking after them. It helps to counteract what Jacquelyn unwittingly takes away.

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Also, hi Robin Scherbatsky! If you don’t want me to see Barney Stinson playing Count Olaf, maybe don’t bring in buddies from How I Met Your Mother, huh, Neil?

The music is great. It’s manic and energetic, but also off-putting and depressing at times. Sometimes, it delves into both areas at once.

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Patrick Warburton has grown on me quite a bit, much like Harris, although I still can’t fully un-hear Kronk or Joe from Family Guy. The sets are nice and somewhat reminiscent of the movie, which is a plus for me.

There is more time for jokes and dialogue, but every once in a while, this can make a scene go on a little too long. For example, watch the scene where Klaus figures out Olaf’s plan involving The Marvelous Marriage. 

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Book fans will definitely find more loyalty here than they did with the 2004 film, but as usual with adaptation, there are still many liberties as well. Hopefully, the new elements will keep it from being stale or too predictable for them. For the rest of us, the show tells us to expect to be made miserable, and then proceeds to raise and lower our hopes on and off again throughout eight episodes. It’s very much like a rollercoaster, but despite the grim topics and disturbing bits here and there, it’s a family friendly romp that anyone can enjoy.

I’m definitely excited for a second season. I’ve enjoyed it a lot so far, and I’d like to see where this goes from here.

In the meantime, I suppose I should start reading the books. 🙂

 

*None of the images used in this post belong to me. 

 

Kubo and the Two Strings Review

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While I firmly believe that ParaNorman is still Laika’s strongest film to-date, Kubo and the Two Strings is yet another solid masterpiece from the incredible studio.

Without getting into too many spoilers, the story follows a young boy named Kubo, the child of a Moon princess and a human samurai warrior. The Moon King and his other daughters scorned this union, and in their anger, they attacked the family, killed Kubo’s father, Hanzo, and stole one of Kubo’s eyes. Kubo’s mother Sariatu, managed to survive and fled with him to safety, but she suffered a head injury that rendered her occasionally weak and forgetful, most often during the day.

Years later, Kubo and his mother live in a cave on a seaside cliff outside of a small village. He uses her shamisen and his own inherited magic to manipulate paper, telling the stories his mother told him to the local village with fluidly-changing, seemingly-alive origami. He takes care of his mother, and does his best to heed her warning not to stay out after sundown, as that is when his grandfather can find him, but when the time comes for a local festival honoring dead relatives (Obon), Kubo lingers a little too long in the graveyard and is promptly discovered by his aunts. Sariatu sacrifices herself so that Kubo can escape, and she tells him that his only hope of defeating his grandfather is reassembling the three scattered pieces of his father’s armor.

Many times throughout the movie, I found myself thinking back to The Tale of the Bamboo Cutter, also known as The Tale of Princess Kaguya. Afterwards, I was pleasantly surprised to learn that I was not the only one.

 

While I wasn’t thinking about “spiritual sequels,” I did think that Kubo and the Two Strings must have drawn some inspiration from the classic fairytale. In both stories, the people of the moon don’t seem to understand or appreciate all of the complex emotions of those who live on Earth. They see mortal life as an endless parade of pain, suffering, death, and filth, and honestly think that it would be kinder to “liberate” people, or erase all of their memories and take them away from it all.

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But whereas The Tale of Princess Kaguya had themes of inevitability and tragedy, leaving her with no choice but to return to the moon, I can’t help but think of this story as a slight refute to traditional Buddhism. Or, similarly, and perhaps more relevant to western audiences, the philosophy in Christianity of trying to distance oneself from the very things that make us human, in order to be more “Christ-like.” Kubo doesn’t get too much into the nitty gritty, but it does point out that mortal life can offer us beauty, joy, and deep connection with one another.

Kubo and the Two Strings has lots of adventure, humor, and fun, but it is also about perspective, family, maturity, grief, acceptance, and forgiveness. It achieves all of this in such a wonderfully timeless way, too; there are no pop-culture jokes and nothing is just easily spoon-fed to the audience, but the story still manages to be approachable and sympathetic. It’s reminiscent of Spirited Away because of its “foreign intrigue” and appeal, but also because of its likeable, complex characters, and when you boil the plot down to its bare bones,

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(pun intended)

it’s a very familiar coming-of-age journey for a young hero. What kid couldn’t get behind that?

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I also adore that, without name-dropping much of anything, the movie references so much of actual, real-world Japanese culture. As a Japanophile myself, I appreciate that immensely. In fact, I’m struggling to keep from geeking out about it right now.

As I’ve said, ParaNorman had a stronger, less obvious message to impart, and Coraline will always be my personal favorite, but Kubo and the Two Strings is definitely a close contender in my book. It was enthralling from beginning to end, in a setting and situation that is so close to my heart that it hurts. Watching the scene where a child cares for his rapidly mentally deteriorating mother, all without a word of dialogue, was heartbreaking, but it is something that many people in the world have gone through, perhaps even young viewers,  and it could inspire them to wonder, and reflect on what love really means to them. It could help them see that they are not alone, and that by itself is worth the price of admission.

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Overall, despite only having four feature films to its name, Laika is proving to be an exceptionally talented animation studio, perhaps even on par with Pixar. It clearly has the power to make an impact; to ensure that its movies will be well-loved and remembered. Even Boxtrolls, which was bizarre and downright mean-spirited at times, as its charm and universality.

The stop-motion characters are unique in design and not too polished and pretty like they tend to be in traditional animation. The stories are creative and moving and definitely warrant the time it takes to bring them to the big screen. I’m stunned near to tears at the sheer amount of effort put into every frame, and eagerly look forward to the day when I can show films like these to my own kids.

They can have their visual junk food too, for sure, but if they’re anything like me, they’ll enjoy not being talked down to, and instead being talked up, every once in a while.

 

8/10

*Pictures and other media used in this review do not belong to me. The majority of them belong to  either Laika and Studio Ghibli.

Bride Wars and Identity Thief: Setting Womankind, Comedy and Storytelling Back at Least 20 Years Each

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Today we have a double review; two of my least favorite movies ever made and, as the title suggests, giant stains on the film industry and the world of femininity as a whole.

Bride Wars was released in 2009, starring Anne Hathaway and Kate Hudson as best friends Emma and Liv, who end up squabbling because their weddings get scheduled for the same day. It’s a “wacky” chick-flick at heart, but it also tries to present a biting satire of women’s ideals about marriage, which results in a confused but highly mean-spirited tone and a hollow ending message.

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But at least where it failed, Bridesmaids succeeded.

Identity Thief, which hit theatres a mere 4 years later, was aimed at a more diverse audience, but no less confused in its efforts to create comedy. Jason Bateman plays Sandy Patterson, an accountant who gets his identity stolen by a scammer named Diana, played by Melissa McCarthy. To rectify her wrongs, he essentially must hunt her down himself and bring her to justice, and all the while she uses her status as a woman to create misunderstandings with onlookers, and her sob story as a means to garner sympathy and even convert poor Sandy to the dark side.

Griffin The Invisible Man (David Spade), Murray the Mummy (Ceelo Green), Wanda (Molly Shannon), Wayne (Steve Buccemi), Frank (Kevin James) and Mavis (Selena Gomez) in HOTEL TRANSYLVANIA, an animated comedy from Sony Pictures Animation.

As far as I know, nothing has succeed where this movie fails.

Comedians will often say that anything can be humorous, even the most taboo topics we hold as a society. While I agree that nothing should be off-limits, I think that jokers have to strive all the harder to find ways to make these subjects funny. Creativity is the solution, as well as an important element of comedy itself, and in its absence, you might as well be slinging insults on the playground.

Both movies fail in a similar regard, which is why I chose to review them together. They present situations where comedic things can happen, but they don’t, and all you’re left with is stereotypes and unpleasantness.

Let’s look at Bride Wars first.

From the first series of frames, the writers try to convince us that Liv and Emma are best friends. From early childhood days, they played and unhealthily fantasized about marriage together, with Emma being more soft-spoken and taking a backseat to Liv’s antics.

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They then grow up into catty, spoiled, unpleasant young women, with Emma being proposed to by her boyfriend (Sir Barely-Appears-in-this-Film-Except-to-Look-Uninvested) while Liv discovers her ring in the closet and confronts her boyfriend (Sir Pussy-of-Whipped) when she gets impatient.

The only sympathetic things we learn about either woman is that Liv’s parents died early on in her life and Emma has a lower-paying job than Liv. Otherwise, Emma is mousy but cunning and passive-aggressive, and Liv is an aggressive control freak. One of the first scenes we see of them as adults is them snidely remarking that their friend’s wedding isn’t as good as their dream weddings will be, and then the scene fades out as they both prepare to fight for the bouquet.

Charming.

When their other friends hear of their engagements, they give us a few lovely vignettes of depressed women stereotypes, particularly eating unhealthy foods like Ben and Jerry’s.

Also charming. Tell me, writers, am I meant to feel insulted and disgusted when I watch this?

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Liv and Emma seek out a famous wedding planner played by Candice Bergen for both their weddings, and they both schedule at the Plaza Hotel, at opposite ends of June. As you can guess, stupid, implausible shenanigans ensue that force their weddings onto the same day. Are they ecstatic that, as besties, they can share their special day together? If not, does Liv, a lawyer, think of suing Candice Bergen for the (albeit accidental) breach of contract?

No, their first thoughts are to stalk and pester the women who took Emma’s day, but not before threatening Bergen’s fired secretary for her information when Bergen refuses to give it to them.

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The whole situation is stupid for reasons I won’t even go into, but wow. What likeable main characters we have here! I definitely want to keep watching to make sure they get their happily ever afters!

When that plan fails, they attempt to passive-aggressive one another into forfeiting the day. And when that fails, they make rude comments and sabotage each other’s wedding planning, like all best-friends-til-the-end do.

 

Other shenanigans are, but are not limited to:

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…Again, have you ever seen the show Bridezillas? I know it’s a tad old at this point, but the whole reason anyone watched it was to see spoiled prima donnas have massive meltdowns because their gowns are “pearl white instead of off-white!” and other stupid things like that. We are definitely NOT meant to sympathize with them. At best, we should be laughing at the absurdity.

But Bride Wars is not the same. This is a feature-length film that is clearly trying to get us to not only believe that these two girls are best friends, but that they are somewhat identifiable with us, the viewing audience. We are meant to see their positives, which keep us rooting for them even when they are extremely negative.

It doesn’t work when the negative is so overly emphasized that it’s not realistic anymore. Or, you know, when the negative is horribly, irredeemably unlikable.

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Liv’s fiance puts up with her psychopathy while Emma’s actually confronts her. The movie, of course, tries to paint him like a callous douchebag, but I’m sorry, writers; Fletcher (her fiancé’s name, for all two people who care) is perfectly within his rights as a partner to tell her that she’s being stupid and that he doesn’t like this side of her. I’m firmly a believer in the idea that someone who loves you should confront you when you’re going down a self-destructive path or hurting someone else for a petty reason. Love isn’t easy, but theoretically,  it should bring out the best in people and inspire them to make up what they lack as much as they can.

Also, I love how Kate Hudson, the producer of the movie, is set up to get a happy ending with her unrealistically perfect man, while Anne Hathaway is going to get the most negative consequences. They are both equal players in this “war,” but nuh-uh. Can’t ruin the producer’s fantasy, can we?

The plot reaches its pathetic crescendo on the double wedding day, and after a massively mature wrestling match in the aisle of Liv’s room,

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Emma and Fletcher break things off.

At first, the writers give him a few lines to make us think he’s controlling, and after he leaves, Emma answers Liv’s concern with, “If Fletcher and I were meant to be together…we’d be getting married and we’re not.” Um…no. Liv, you pretty definitively played a major role in your best friend’s break-up and the millions of dollars her family wasted on the wedding. And it’s amazing to me how even at this point in the movie, Emma pretty much refuses to take any personal responsibility for this situation. At least Liv has something barely resembling self-reflection.

The ending is utterly meaningless, as Emma gets a tacked-on relationship and off-screen marriage with Liv’s brother, who she shared maybe one conversation with during the entire movie. The writers took the only interesting, different, and actually poignant moment of satire in the whole film and rendered it meaningless within 5 minutes. Yay.

The two women find out they are both pregnant and expected to deliver on the same day, and Candice Bergen gives us some narration about “sometimes the person who knows you sometimes better than you know yourself is the person who’s been standing beside you all along.”

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Wow again, writers. Way to miss the entire point of the movie YOU WROTE! These friends in no way stuck by each other through thick and thin. They purposely set out to make one another miserable! They barely acknowledged their damn fiancées because they were so self-absorbed, and they only made up after taking eons to come to their meager senses!

This film is an insult to women everywhere. It can’t decide what it wants to be, so it flip-flops back and forth between poking fun at an (arguably) common tendency in women getting married and celebrating it with over-the-top, mean-spirited spectacle. Both the leads are unlikable, horrible people who do bad things to others and to themselves, all because they care more about a one-day ceremony than THE ACTUAL PERSON THEY’RE MARRYING.

This could have been a great cautionary tale  if the writers had just gone all out on the characters’ horribleness and the mean-spirited plot, but they probably worried that wouldn’t test as well with their vapid target demographic. Real, lasting, meaningful conflict is too much for their simple minds to deal with, so let’s just slap some “best friends forever” message at the end.

Meanwhile, over in Identity Thief land…

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This movie doesn’t even need a play-by-play with in-depth analysis explaining why it’s so putrid. A criminal does terrible things that ruin people’s lives, but we the audience are supposed to understand and condone her actions when we find out that she was a foster child who still doesn’t even know her real name. Boo-hoo.

The actress and the plot are not even remotely funny enough to overshadow how despicable they are. I’m sorry, but a sob story only gets you so far, and does absolutely nothing at all when you are not even remotely repentant of your actions. Diana (McCarthy) seems to think that how she was treated as a child justifies ruining many innocent lives, possibly lowering them to being in a very similar position that she was, and meanwhile, she is enjoying ill-gotten money and material goods. Sandy (Bateman) is a good if somewhat lame person, and he is constantly punished for simply trying to get his life back in order, because he is daring to oppose Diana.

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I’m not even sure how they could have made this funny. It’s too real and nightmarish for most people. No amount of “feminism” is going to get me to go, “Yeah! You go, girl! Use everything you have at your disposal to abuse the system and carelessly affect others!”

Hell, you would think that Diana, someone who was poor and without home and family, would become a Robin Hood-type and use her “powers” to help someone other than herself. At least then, she could have been more compelling.

But no. Credit cards and merch it is. Once again, empty-headed, shallow woman who I’m meant to identify with.

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Both these movies are lowest-common-denominator comedy garbage with horrible implications and messages that we are meant to find endearing. They do nothing but insult me, and every other lady out there, on every possible level; too serious at times, and not serious enough at others.

Thankfully, they are both highly, rightfully panned.

 

.2/10

 

 

 

 

 

 

Despicable Me: Much Stupider than People Give it Credit For

I’m sure this is way too late for any kind of meaningful, relevent review, but with The Secret Life of Pets theatrical release behind us now, I feel now was as good a time as any to talk about my issues with Illumination Entertainment, as well as its “magnum opus.” Massive air-quotes implied.

Chris Meledandri founded the production company back in 2007, and its first ever film was, you guessed it, Despicable Me.

From the trailers, the plot looked basic enough: Steve Carell plays Gru, an evil mastermind intent on being, well, despicable. He has a bunch of little minions who look like mutant Kellogg’s Corn Pops, and he likes to steal things for the hell of it.

I went to go see the film particularly after the raving reviews from friends, family, and critics. “It taps into your inner child,” people said. “It was so much fun,” they said. “The littlest girl screams, ‘It’s so fluffy, I’m going to die!’ and isn’t that just adorable?” they said.

Well, with the exception of that last one, I fervently disagree.

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While I can accept that something like My Neighbor Totoro is a great film and just isn’t my personal taste, I genuinely don’t understand why anyone loves Despicable Me.

There is nothing despicable about the character of Gru. His character makes virtually no sense, and the only impression I got of him was that he’s too awkward to function. This is probably Steve Carell’s flattest, least funny delivery; for me, he’s either really awkward funny or just really stiffly awkward, and here, it was most definitely the latter.

His minions are obnoxious. They just chatter and say random words with no rhyme or reason to them (which, contrary to popular belief, is not automatically funny), and they are a fairly obvious rip-off of the Toy Story aliens. This is especially bitterly funny today, given that The Secret Life of Pets looks to be a straightforward rip-off of Toy Story as a whole. The only appreciable difference is that it involved pets, rather than toys.

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Literally; a dog gets replaced by what he assumes his owner thinks is a better dog, here to ruin his perfect life. Shenanigans ensue when said new pet gets him into trouble and takes him far from home.

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Yes! Yes it f@&%ing is! That was the first thing I thought when I first saw the damn trailer!

Pixar should totally sue over this. I’m not even kidding.

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Anyway, Jason Segel plays Gru’s….rival? – I guess that’s what he is – named Victor/Vector, an obnoxious, pandering “cool kid” who’s more of a dork than he realizes. Take a drink every time a character from Illumination Entertainment films air guitars or acts like a stupid hipster douchebag. It’s not funny, and it’s definitely not endearing; it’s just annoying.

He’s also virtually identical to their Captain Planet villain in The Lorax, and even to their version of the Onceler.

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The little girls are probably the best part of the movie, although I don’t know why they have old lady names. I guess that’s the joke, that the orphanage cares so little about them that they gave them names that most kids would probably make fun of them over, but if that’s so, it’s not communicated very well. It’s just a pointless quirk, really.

Agnes is adorable and Margo is understandably jaded by the system in which she has to live, but Edith? Outside of the generic “rebellious” attitude, she has no character to speak of. She’s simply “there” to fill a slot, I guess.

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Poor middle children. You never catch a break, am I right?

Gru ends up adopting the girls to help with his scheme of…stealing the moon, but then starts begrudgingly falling in love with them.

I’m not opposed to a “type” of story like this; after all, parental love doesn’t get a ton of focus in kid and family movies. It’s just that everything about Gru is forced, from his awkward fliting with Ms. Hattie to the way he says “liiiiiiiiiightbulb” every time he gets an idea. If he was charmingly awkward, this might work better, but I think the writer just wanted to make him as weird as possible.

Also, we never address his issue with parental neglect, or the real reason why he’s chosen to be so tepidly despicable. We’re just shown the scenes and then…nothing.

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That may make sense on some level, but it’s not the strongest or most compelling motivation. I sympathized more with the tortured serial killer from Red Dragon than I did with this droning, walking Eastern European stereotype.

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The weakest part of the film has to be when Gru’s sidekick, Dr. Nefario, who barely shows up at all, finally decides to try to get the orphanage to come take the girls back. Gru has been warming up to them so much, and seems to have no real reason to fight his emotions, and yet, as the girls are upset and begging him not to send them back, he just…stands there. He doesn’t even seem to be hesitant so much as he seems to have just gone brain-dead. It’s not really clear why he’s doing and saying nothing because, again, he’s a really weak character. The girls have every right to hate and not trust him for this, because at least they seem emotionally and intelligently competent on some level.

But everything is resolved. Happy ending, whoop-de-fricken-doo.

I kind of hate this movie.

I don’t hate it as much as The Lorax adaptation, which devotes precisely 5 minutes to the original book’s story and message before spiraling into grandiose stupidity, chock full of celebrity-voice, stereotyping, and ironically moronic evil corporation bullshit. That was an insult to its source material, so it is far more egregious and odious in comparison to this film personification of white-bread, crust-cut toast.

But it still highlights a trend that I would like people to acknowledge: Illumination Entertainment is lazy. They leap-frog off the shoulders of more talented writers and studios in order to pander and reap the full rewards.

For evidence, look at The Lorax. Look at the minions themselves, who got a whole movie despite being unable to hold it up on their own, strictly because they were so popular in the marketing.

Two things that make The Lorax even more hateful: the swami swans, humming fish, and bar-ba-loots are basically just the minions with a texture swap; and all of the stupid, detrimental, hilariously ironic marketing for The Lorax – indeed, the very reason for its existence – was to raise enough money to fund Despicable Me 2 and Minions.

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If you like these movies, I can’t fault you. I don’t understand the appeal of Despicable Me AT ALL, but if it makes you happy, or you get something out of it that I don’t, that’s great. And of course, when I have kids, I would never keep them from watching something unless it is total garbage that I’m sure is actively making them stupider.

*cough* Lorax *cough cough*

I’m also not crazy about the animation style they use, but maybe I just associate it with their ridiculous, insipid writing.

…And I feel the need to point out that pandering isn’t always a terrible thing.

But this production company is a poser. Even their new logo card, with the minion squeeing and shouting “Illumination! Illuminatioooooooooooon!” is so obviously pandering and thoughtless. It’s like they really think that’s what everyone is thinking anyway. “Oh look, minions! Let’s buy everything with their faces on it! OH MY GOD!”

 

They are certainly no Disney or Pixar. I barely respect Blue Sky Studios and their abject refusal to let Ice Age die after a decade or so, but even they are not so mediocre yet inexplicably successful as Illumination Entertainment.

And I say this completely ignorant of any charity or other good work they do. I’m not judging them based on any moral grounds, but strictly by their work as an animation studio.

Only time will tell if they stop being lazy and actually come into their own. They have a few Dr. Seuss titles in development, and I can only shudder with dread to think of how they will mutilate those beloved works. But then again, the live action movies are pretty terrible, so they can only do so much worse than those.

...Still....this is an atrocity to the name of Dr. Seuss and the human race in general.
…Still….this is an atrocity to the name of Dr. Seuss and the human race in general.

 

All I can do is roll my eyes at all of the praise critics and audiences alike give their works. Even before The Secret Life of Pets came out, many t.v. shows and news outlets were already stroking its ego, and I think that is all thanks to people having this strange, reverent regard for Despicable Me. As if it’s anywhere near as groundbreaking as Frozen, or even Toy Story, the movie that this latest “romp” is so shamelessly copying…twenty years later.

Hell, people were angry when Pharrell William’s upbeat but extremely generic song “Happy” was beaten by “Let It Go” at the Oscars! It’s the perfect metaphor for the first Despicable Me movie: sugary, feel-good, but ultimately devoid of any real substance or creativity.

I try not to ruin Despicable Me for the people I have met in person who like it, but it’s not just that I don’t see what the big deal is. I feel like I’m in Oz, and somehow, I’m one of the only people who sees that man behind the curtain.

And when I try to point it out to someone, they just shrug or say, “But I love the illusion! It’s soooooo pretty!”

I can only sigh.

….at least Sing looks decently original, I guess. But I liked The Secret Life of Pets better when it was called Toy Story, and not just because I was growing up with Andy, Woody, and Buzz when the films came out. There was something there that The Secret Life of Pets doesn’t have: a greater message about growing up and the passage of time. It’s about enjoying the present, and acknowledging and honoring your childhood without holding onto it too tightly.

…wait….

 

4/10

*None of the pictures belong to me. You figure out who they belong to, because I am loathe to give any sort of real credit to these coat-tail riders.

Pet Sematary 2: Just….Why?

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I’m on a roll with reviewing things I detest recently, so here’s another one!

Even though I have raved for several pages about Pet Sematary, I really do hope that I’ve communicated that it’s by no means a perfect story. While some issues in the book are due to poor and goofy execution, the film in particular can come across as weak because it doesn’t illustrate or explain enough.

A movie adaptation should be able to stand on its own, and the people who have gripes about Louis’s “stupidity,” or other things like Judd falling asleep when he’s supposed to try and stop Louis from resurrecting his son, aren’t wrong. The book typically implies when the burial ground’s influence is at work, whereas the movie often leaves you guessing at how far it can travel and how potent it can be. Leaving things up to interpretation can create all new scares, but it can also cause distraction, most often in the form of plot holes. 

That said, the sequel is absolute garbage.

An actress dies during a low budget film production, and for some reason, her son and divorced husband move to the town where she died: Ludlow, Maine. The father, Chase, takes over at the town’s vet clinc, and the boy, Jeff, befriends a local kid named Drew, who has an abusive stepfather played by Clancy Brown (who, for shits and giggles, I will now refer to as the Kurgan).

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The Kurgan is an obnoxious, small-town cop who was a boyfriend of Jeff’s mother in high school, and his presence clearly unsettles Chase.

The Kurgan kills Drew’s dog Zowie one night for messing with his rabbit pen (even though he electrified the cage and it worked just fine in discouraging the dog), so Drew employs Jeff to help him take the dog beyond the pet sematary, where it will be resurrected. On Halloween night, the Kurgan begins beating Drew for sneaking out, only to be killed by the new and “improved” Zowie. The kids take him to the Micmac burial ground and he comes back as stiff, weird, and rapey, but nicer to Drew for some reason.

Goofy, stupid things happen. Jeff goes insane for no reason and employs the Kurgan to help him resurrect his mother, who apparently has not decayed in all this time. Zowie attacks random people and things, as well as popping up in Jeff and Chase’s home somehow to growl menacingly with glowing eyes. A bully constantly berates and annoys Jeff, seemingly because he’s offended by him having a dead mother. The Kurgan kills the bully and is seen by Drew doing it, so he suddenly goes kill-crazy and uses his car to run Drew and his mother dead-on into a potato truck.

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That’s a weird way to go in a horror movie.

It’s silly, gory, and not the least bit scary; a B movie in every sense. I almost really enjoyed it for that, but it felt the need to keep reminding me that Pet Sematary exists, with tons of pointless, stupid throwaway lines and visual callbacks that didn’t even look the same as the first movie. Even if I weren’t irritated on behalf of Stephen King and his original work, it’s not a good idea to remind me constantly in your crappy film that I could be watching a better film.

And hey, if this is a sequel, is Rachel still “alive” and wandering around killing people? They hint that some time has passed, since Ellie is now apparently institutionalized, but they didn’t even have the gall to continue the story from Pet Sematary’s ambiguous ending. That probably would have still insulted and detracted from the first film, sure, but at least it would have been interesting and made some kind of sense as a sequel.

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It’s not like Taken 2 or The Hangover: Part 2 or their sequels, which might have benefited from a character shuffle at some point.

Instead, they just name drop copyrighted things for their stupid little zombie story. Why not just make it a generic zombie story then? Their burial ground isn’t even consistent; it initially changes what the Kurgan comes back as, leading the kids to wonder if the burial ground differs depending on what someone was like prior to death, only to throw that out the window shortly afterwards!

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Again, if they took the name Pet Sematary off this movie, it would have been more interesting, if not more fun. Cribbing off of a serious and thought-provoking horror story just for a cheap and frankly bizarre cash-in (I don’t think this movie was ever super big or popular) is just shameful, and especially when it comes from the same goddamn director of the original film.

The line “sometimes, dead is better” comes up, of course, and of course it’s twisted and stripped of its original meaning. If I didn’t know better, I’d say the filmmakers were playing it for laughs. At least when the makers of South Park did it, it was clear that they knew the source material and were trying to make a funny point. Maybe if you don’t want someone to do something unholy, you shouldn’t tell them about it and give them directions on how to get there.

Shame on you, Mary Lambert. Shame on whoever greenlit this majestic flaming turd. Pet Sematary the novel showed me that books can be just as terrifying as movies, and the film adaptation, while inferior, had its own chilling charm. 

This, on the other hand, is just crap. Unlike its predecessor, it in no way deserves to carry the name.

 

4/10

*Pictures belong to whoever. This movie isn’t worth crediting, but you know the drill. Not mine.