This is one of those rare movies (Disney or otherwise) that manages to be sweet without being saccharine, lovely without being kitschy. Probably because, despite the family-friendly message at the core of the movie (ohana means nobody gets left behind), the two main characters are deranged enough to offset any message of universal friendship and love by actually being truly weird and different.
Funnily, at least in the movies, Stitch, the alien bio-weapon from outer space, is the more normal of the two. Lilo is the kind of little girl that enjoys playing Frankenstein, has a collection of photos of ugly tourists (and believes that they are beautiful) and seems to live utterly in a space diverged from normal reality. Sure, behind all that is still a little girl that wants friends and a happy family, but her decidedly weird hands-on approach to solve reality problems (trying to solve Stitch’s violence problems by following the example set by Elvis) feels above all else both genuine character-wise and is really funny.
Stitch on the other hand is just searching for any kind of identity after he has been left in an environment where his inbred tendencies for mass destruction & mayhem (I really love that this is a kids movie by Disney) can’t be brought to bear. Most movies falters when more than one character has a movie-long character arc that is front and center, but Lilo’s and Stitch’s respective journeys perfectly complement each other and lead to a touching finale.
IGIaY is sort of a reverse romantic comedy: two people needing to realize they aren’t meant for each other and then to get their respective right one in the anticlimactic finale. I’m not sure if it was just luck or a brilliant casting choice, but the main male lead is completely unlikeable, his romantic interest (but not his wife) and her obsession with him completely ridiculous and the romantic interest of the main female lead is equally dumb. So three out of four people come off as either entirely or mostly meh.
If the movie had gone completely into reversing romance tropes, this might have worked, but the reverse romantic plot is merely skin-deep. But since most of the characters don’t exactly evoke empathy, the underlying romance structure fails to work too. So, a film that doesn’t know what it wants to be, with actors that feel decidedly mediocre in their roles and an ending that is entirely childish in its attempt to spin a divorce into a romantic everyone gets their real loved one ending. Avoid!
Never change a winning team is one thing, but when a sequel directly hits the reset button to repeat the entire plot structure and character development of the movie it’s following, albeit with minor window dressing to make it look different, that doesn’t look like a receipt for success. The lukewarm reaction to MIB2 was entirely justified and a repeated viewing of the movie (which I saw the first time on the big screen and which left me utterly disappointed) hasn’t changed that impression.
Sequels aren’t by their nature bad, everybody can name a movie or book that improved with its second iteration. But at the same time, their are countless examples of those that didn’t, either straying too far from the original one or like in this case, not far enough. MIB2 starts with J as the senior agent (agent L from the end of the first movie is mentioned in one sentence and then forgotten), a dangerous alien that is after an unexplained mcguffin (and kills various other aliens to get it) and the only one who knows what happened to it retired agent K.
Once J has K back up to speed, the dynamic between the two shifts back to what was established in the first movie: J is the rookie and K shows him how things get done. I did enjoy that in the first movie, but the second one tries to hit all the same notes, without getting it right. Most of all, the movie looks like it was made by a tired committee. No vision, no ideas how to built on the foundation of the first one, no skill to get the pacing right. It’s not even a bad movie in the sense that it looks bad. Just good looking pieces that don’t cohere into a unified experience. With actors phoning it in, though that was probably more due to the script.
This is the kind of movie that couldn’t be made today: anthological in nature with a flimsy framing plot to hold it all together (Donald Duck gets presents from Latin America). Various segments that are either animated or a combination of both animation and life action, with each segment mostly driven by various songs and/or gimmicky ideas (a boy and his flying donkey, a penguin wants to get away from the cold, a surreal love song, etc.), not strong narratives.
I’m not even sorry those kinds of movies don’t get made anymore. While it was interesting to watch, I rather would have seen one good story than seven segments with interesting art but lacking anything else to make me come back. Even the short cartoons from that time period had more content than each of the segments in TTC.
Oblivion is a hollow movie that dazzles you with pretty pictures, but after some time you realize there’s not much under the hood. The story is on par with a generic Outer Limits episode (the twists is something you probably guessed after seeing the trailer, the second twist easily guessed once the movie has started), but the content from 45 minutes stretched to a two hour movie doesn’t manage to offset the lack of a genuine good plot.
I’m not even that disappointed, because I didn’t expect better after seeing the trailer. But I still wished there was more to the movie than evil aliens and a human resistance fighting them. I’m not saying you can’t do anything interesting with that set-up anymore, but it surely has become harder after a century of alien invasion movies and honestly, Oblivion doesn’t even try.
What remains is a human interest story that is acted by Cruise and Kurylenko with as much enthusiasm as both could probably muster. Professional but without any real passion. There are also a few action scenes, but they are scarce enough to disabuse any viewer of the notion that they are watching an action movie.
Oblivion is a quiet and unassuming (despite the world-shattering events) movie that doesn’t try too hard and once you get to the ending doesn’t disappoint too much. Utterly forgettable (nomen est omen is really fitting here).
The first sequel is always the hardest. When part three comes around most people either have lowered their expectations accordingly, walked away entirely or are completely surprised they actually made a third part. I have a dim memory of watching the second Madagascar movie, but it can’t have blown me away, as I don’t remember much. I loved the first one and don’t remember much about the second. So, I wasn’t exactly expecting anything good from the third part.
And just like the first movie, this one proved to be surprisingly and unexpectedly good. As if the writers had lost any fear of failure and just did a great movie for the fun and heck of it. The zoo animals who left for wild nature in the 1st part, reached it in the second now feel like getting home. Which they do, after traveling through Europe with a circus. But upon reaching New York, their learn a big important lesson.
One of the most pernicious elements of western cartoons is the reset button, that allows characters to go back to the status quo with all of their character development erased. I wasn’t sure if going back to the zoo was even a sensible option, but the movie dealt with it beautifully. Sure, the moral might not be all that original (you can’t ever go back home), but I loved how a movie mostly aimed at children managed to integrate it as a major plot point and then went on to reinvent its characters without utterly breaking them and finished off the trilogy with a glorious finale.
Hopefully they don’t do a fourth part and diminish the ending of the third, which was all kind of awesomeness and doesn’t need a further sequel.
While Iron Sky has certainly one of the most outrageous high concepts I’ve seen for some time (Nazis went to the moon before everyone else and established their fourth Reich there) that makes it easy to hook prospective viewers into watching it, it’s not as outrageous as I was hoping. Unique to some extend, certainly, but it wasn’t quite the dark comedy I was expecting. Instead the movie tries the balance act between fluffy entertainment with some easy humor and action and a few plot lines that earnestly try to give the movie more substance, but fail badly.
It’s a movie that is all in high spirits about the far-off core concept (uhu, Nazis with space ships, how funny), it doesn’t take itself seriously, which hurts especially when the movie tries to tackle something more substantial than evil moon Nazis, though it doesn’t help exactly that the simplistic world view eschewed by the movie and every character in it just isn’t the right foundation to make a critic of global politics nor political campaigning.
The characters are just a shallow as the whole movie: the main female character (one of the Nazis from the moon who grew up there and has a considerably different POV what Nazis are than the rest of the world) is stupendously naive, the other “good guy” is a black man bleached white by the Nazis who mostly acts as comedy relief and love interest. The real evil Nazis want nothing less than to subjugate Earth, they are pretty much whole-cloth evil for evils sake. The third party who first sides with the Nazis and later stomps on them is a female US president, who pretty much is Sarah Palin with a different name.
The movie is at its best when its stupid, but whenever it tries to leave the stupid zone, it becomes obvious just how much out of their depths Iron Sky’s creators were. It’s a good movie to watch when drunk and when you just want to have fun, but beyond that, it doesn’t offer much.
I often throw gimmicky around when talking about various movies or books without further explaining what that means in the context of each story. To me it mostly means when you substitute good writing and characterization with a cool-sounding idea or concept for a plot that is used as an excuse not to have the former. Though since my favorite genre is (hard) science fiction, it’s sort of hypocritical, since that’s a genre that often by definition seems to be gimmicky (not that this is always true). And sometimes, a really interesting idea can excuse weaknesses in other departments, at least as long as not someone else with the same idea but stronger writing chops comes along.
In that regard, Cabin in the Woods is entirely gimmicky. But it’s exactly the sort of gimmick that makes me excuse weaknesses in other departments. Sure, the five students going for a fun trip over a weekend that turns into horrorville isn’t exactly new ground covered, and they surely encompass all the cliches and cliched characters we know from similar horror movies. But once the movie really gets going and the bigger twist is revealed, with all the little details that go along with that, it all makes sense.
Sure, the movie always goes for the easy laughs or thrills (mostly blood & gore-related), none of the characters – even with the added twist – are all that realistic, but it’s easy to forgive just because the twist is so brilliant in terms of horror-movies or the horror genre in general. It’s rare to see a truly new spin on a formula that has run its course long ago.
And the movie revels in reversing expectations, playing with all the little monsters it has stored deep inside its guts (quite literally) and once they’re released it’s a non-stop joyride on the horror-train. Okay, enough bad metaphors with horror. Watch the movie, it’s really good.
I would have a hard time arguing that MIB is anything more substantial than a humoristic action movie about a super-secret agency policing aliens on Earth and dealing with any extraterrestrial threats. The most dramatic moment in the entire movie is probably when the later agent J asks agent K whether its all worth it. Still, while it’s nothing more than a comic-to-movie conversion about the eponymous Men in Black that manages to make fun of UFO conspiracy nuts as well as tell a mostly straight story inside of that framework (which is to say, already good for something), it’s a movie that pacing-wise is nearly perfect.
There’s no narrative fat. Each scene manages to convey most of the time at least two of three main cornerstones: action, characterization or setting information. MIB is a very compact movie without appearing dense or overwhelming and it’s also funny without being ridiculous. Which is odd given the pace at which the movie mentions various science fictional ideas with a weird UFO conspiracy spin to give the whole setting texture. There are few movies I know off, that manage to make every scene work, keep me glued to screen for each second and enjoy it again and again. That’s no mean feat, even if the movie as whole isn’t all that deep or meaningful. It’s the perfect popcorn movie, easy to enjoy and very re-watchable.
Sadly, none of the sequels were came even close to MIB’s zany energy.
Dredd uses a very simple trick to show the viewers what to expect from the get go. The main character never strips-off his helmet, never shows his face. Considering how much movies bank on the recognition value of known actors, it instantly signalizes that staying true to the original character was higher prioritized than easy marketability. Not that there isn’t a certain draw in remorseless action heroes, but that audience has clearly shrunk since the heydays of action movies.
On the narrative level, it also tells you a lot about Dredd’s character. This is not like the 95 abomination with Stallone that streamlined the character into insignificance, this is a throwback to 80ies action fests that were all about gory violence and a main character who is utterly uncompromising when dealing with his enemies.
Which really is the perfect summary of who Judge Dredd is. We don’t need to know how he looks like, all we need to know about him is that he’s gunning for criminals until they are dead (or he is). There’s no leeway, no margin for any alternatives. Still, considering his nature (utter male power fantasy crossbred with a fascist supercop), he comes off as somewhat human and not just a caricature. E.g. he does show some scarce moments of humanity when talking about his charge in the end (all in all maybe ten seconds of the whole movie) and his actor never overplays the basic insanity of Dredd’s character. Just a matter-of-fact approach that works surprisingly well.