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The Emoji Movie Review

*Though I usually try to avoid spoilers in my reviews, this one will contain some spoilers because, well, do you really care?*

“And Sir Patrick Stewart as Poop.”

Seeing those words on the end credits of The Emoji Movie is the best part of The Emoji Movie. When Sir Patrick Stewart was first announced to be voicing a sentient turd emoji, it seemed to (very temporarily) relieve some of the concerns audiences had regarding The Emoji Movie, since it seemed to hint that perhaps the film had some sense of creative fun about it, juvenile though it may have been. Sadly, the classy vocals of Sir Patrick Stewart emanating from Poop is the one tiny spark of inspiration that The Emoji Movie possesses, and even it is wasted, as the good Sir Poop only has a small handful of lines in the film’s entirety.

So the one promising thing The Emoji Movie had going for it is wasted, and everything else, well… it’s bad.

I went to see The Emoji Movie with two of my friends (I didn’t want to suffer alone), whose responses after the movie ranged from “that felt longer than Peter Jackson’s King Kong” to “I feel empty. Not angry, not sad. Just empty.” I found myself actually face-palming during many of the film’s cringe-worthy jokes, and trying my damnedest to not burst out with laughter at the film’s utterly dumbfounding resolution. This, my friends, is one of the worst animated movies ever made (with the only thing preventing me from hailing it as the worst being the fact that I’ve seen Food Fight!, so at the very least, The Emoji Movie has that going for it).

The Emoji Movie desperately – and I mean desperately – wants to be a Pixar-style film. The director, Tony Leondis, is a confessed fan of Pixar films (of course, saying one enjoys Pixar films is like saying you’re a carbon-based, oxygen-breathing life form). In fact, Leondis has admitted that the inspiration for the film stemmed from trying to come up with a modern-day equivalent to Toy Story at the same time he received a text message that featured an emoji.

That already seems like a pretty lazy “eureka” moment, but it also just isn’t an idea that can support an entire movie and have any kind of emotional resonance. Toy Story works because, as children, we love our toys. They help bring life to our imaginations, inspire creativity, and even introduce us to storytelling. Children form bonds with their toys that can sometimes be difficult for adults to remember; but something like Toy Story reminds us exactly why these little plastic objects once meant so much to us, while also telling stories that reflect human emotions even for us adults.

By contrast, emojis are little faces we put into text messages. That’s really it. They can be cute, sweet or funny in certain contexts, but I can safely say I’ve never felt emotionally attached to an emoji. If Leondis really wanted to find the more contemporary equivalent to toys, video games are kind of a thing these days. Though I suppose Wreck-It Ralph already beat him to the punch on that one.

I believe almost any concept can be made into a decent enough movie in the right hands. But there are certain concepts that I think can only be good under more specific circumstances. The Emoji Movie is one of those instances. If this were a parody of Toy Story and its ilk, The Emoji Movie may have been able to find some footing. But in seriously trying to turn a concept like emojis into something in the vein of Toy Story or Inside Out, it just comes off as bottom of the barrel material, and you can’t take it seriously.

Oh right, the plot. So The Emoji Movie primarily takes place in the world of Textopolis, a city inside of the smart phone of a teenage boy named Alex (Jake T. Austin). Here, every emoji only knows one thing: sad emojis are sad, angry emojis are angry, Christmas Tree emojis are festive, and poop emojis… apparently class up the place because they’re voiced by Sir Patrick Stewart.

Anyway, there’s one emoji who’s different from the rest, Gene (T.J. Miller), who is supposed to be a “meh” emoji, but finds himself being far more expressive, capable of showing more emotions than just “meh.” This proves problematic, because every emoji’s job is to stand in a box and make their one specific face when their user needs said emoji. On his first day on the job, Gene panics, and ends up making a weird face instead of the desired “meh,” and ends up being labelled a malfunction. Textopolis’ dictator-esque Smiler (Maya Rudolph), a smiling emoji, then demands that Gene be deleted from the phone.

“Aw sick! That thing has a face!”

Gene then becomes an outlaw, on the run from Smiler’s bots. It’s then that Gene befriends High-Five (James Corden), a disturbingly hand-shaped emoji who wishes to be popular again, after he’s seen less uses in text messages in favor of Fist-Bump. The duo plans to reprogram Gene with the help of an infamous hacker named Jailbreak (Anna Faris), who is secretly a princess emoji, and possibly the most obnoxiously shoehorned example of faux-feminism in recent movie history (complete with blue hair and lipstick, and a hipster beanie, because God forbid a woman be the slightest bit feminine).

No, seriously. This character really is terrible. In one instance she delivers a laughably forced bit of dialogue about trying to break stereotypes of female emojis only being able to be princesses and brides (despite the film already featuring many female emoji who do not fill those roles, including Smiler, the ruler of Textopolis). Besides, aren’t emoji just genderless faces anyway? If an emoji bride or princess looks feminine, that’s only because those are gender-specific positions that happen to be feminine, but the emojis themselves are, again, just stupid little faces. Do people actually worry about this stuff? Jailbreak also accuses Gene of trying to take credit for her ideas “like all men take credit for women’s ideas,” even though he’s simply acknowledging her idea in the scene in question. If acknowledging things were the same as taking credit for them, then I would be taking credit for every movie I’ve reviewed, including this one. And God knows I don’t want to take any credit for that.

Wow, I’m really getting sidetracked. I guess talking about pretty much anything is more fun than talking about the plot of The Emoji Movie. But one must finish what one started.

So anyway, the trio of Gene, High-Five and Jailbreak set out on an adventure through Alex’s phone, in hopes of breaking into “the Cloud,” where Jailbreak can reprogram Gene, and she can finally be free of the stereotypes of Textopolis. Along the way, they plug as many apps as possible; including Twitter, FaceBook, YouTube, Instagram, Candy Crush and Just Dance. Oh yeah, and a “piracy app” which Alex has on his phone for reasons the film conveniently ignores.

Meanwhile, Gene’s meh emoji parents Mel and Mary – whose names couldn’t even be spelled “Mehl” and “Mehry” because that would require some thought – set out on their own journey to find their son in an unnecessary subplot. There is yet another side story involving Alex himself, and his inability to communicate with his crush through emojis (if only there were some way for humans to communicate other than goofy faces on our phones).

Things grow ever urgent as the malfunction of Gene sends Alex’s phone into a fritz (I’m sure the piracy app has nothing to do with it), and Alex makes an appointment to have his phone wiped clean, which would erase all the inhabitant of his phone, emojis included. Why Alex doesn’t try resetting his phone or any other standard method before jumping right into having the whole thing erased, I’ll never know.

How does this all resolve, why, by Gene making a series of faces in a single text message sent to Alex’s crush’s phone which, according to said crush, proves that Alex has a way of expressing his feelings. The two end up together, and Alex decides not to have the content of his phone erased. Damn.

Under any other circumstance, I’d hate to give away any ending. But the resolution of The Emoji Movie is just so bad on so many levels that it would have to be seen to be believed, and I don’t want to put you through seeing this movie. So hopefully my explanation gives you enough of an idea. Again, the kid gets the girl in the end because of an emoji. It’s such a crap ending, it could be voiced by Sir Patrick Stewart.

Sony Pictures Animation doesn’t have the best track record for animated features, but most of their resume is inoffensively mediocre. But The Emoji Movie… this is just bad, bad, bad. Sony Pictures Animation still has the budget to provide clean, colorful animation and a talented (and wasted) voice cast. But not even the shiniest animation or the most acclaimed voice actors could save material like this. There’s not even a joke in the movie that works. Within five minutes we have an Australian-accented shrimp emoji show up who comments how he needs to “get on the barbie.” It never gets better from there.

To sum up The Emoji Movie… 

 

P.S. The poop is voiced by Sir Patrick Stewart.

 

1

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Spider-Man: Homecoming Review

I have to admit I was thoroughly lost during Spider-Man: Homecoming. Throughout the entire movie, I kept wondering how this Peter Parker kid became Spider-Man. I mean, what’s the backstory here? Why does he just have these powers? This is the kind of thing that begs for an origin story.

I am of course joking. Spider-Man’s origin story is such common knowledge that he, like Batman, doesn’t need another cinematic retelling at this point. 2002’s Spider-Man remains one of the best super hero origin story movies (along with, ironically enough, Batman Begins), and there really wasn’t a need for us to hear it again through the less-than stellar 2012 reboot, The Amazing Spider-Man. Besides, super hero films tend to be at their best once the origin story is behind them, with Spider-Man 2 and The Dark Knight remaining at the top of super hero storytelling, as they could focus more on the characters themselves and not have to worry about how their heroes earned their costumes and powers.

Spider-Man: Homecoming wisely does away with re-re-introducing us to Spider-Man’s origin story, with the details of being bitten by a radioactive spider only being mentioned in passing, and the death of his uncle Ben only being implied. So Spider-Man: Homecoming not only serves as another reboot to Marvel’s iconic web-slinger, but also, thankfully, works as something of a self-contained sequel to a narrative we are all beyond familiar with by this point.

This “proper reboot” of the franchise is only one of the newsworthy aspects of this new Spider-Man series, with the other big news being that this newest incarnation is part of the Marvel Cinematic Universe, the most prominent movie franchise not called Star Wars.

We met this newest Peter Parker/Spider-Man (Tom Holland) in 2016’s Captain America: Civil War, where he was part of Iron Man’s team who did battle with that of Captain America. But now we have Spidey’s first solo outing in the MCU, and it actually turns out to be one of the best entries in the mega franchise, due in no small part to the film taking cues from 2004’s Spider-Man 2 by creating fleshed-out, relatable characters in both its hero and villain.

Not only does Homecoming show us Spider-Man still trying to learn the ropes of being a super hero (and often stumbling), but it also dedicates a good deal of time to Peter Parker’s high school life, and the real-world problems and hassles therein.

Meanwhile, the film’s villain is the Vulture, whose secret identity is one Adrian Toomes (Michael Keaton). If the MCU has had one persistent problem – even in some of its better films – it’s that the villains have been largely forgettable, with only a select few standing out, and none of them really being anything more than a villain. What makes Toomes such a winning antagonist (along with Keaton’s excellent performance) is that, much like Peter Parker is depicted as a real kid, Toomes is a very relatable everyman. Tasked with cleaning up the damage that the Avengers leave behind (the film begins with Toomes’ crew beginning reconstruction on one of the set pieces of 2012’s The Avengers), Toomes and his men end up jobless as soon as the government decides to butt in. So Toomes, wanting to provide for his family and to keep his friends doing the same, goes rogue, and leads an underground operation that steals technology left in the wake of the Avengers, SHIELD, Hydra, and any other “super” organization, crafts their own weapons from it, and sells them on the black market.

The fact that Toomes is selling super-weapons to criminals obviously makes him the villain, but he’s also presented as a relatable figure who was wronged and simply wants to set things right. Unlike so many past villains in the MCU, Toomes actually has a strong motivation for his actions.

It’s because of how wonderfully realized both its hero and villain are that ascend Homecoming to being one of the better super hero movies of recent times, though unfortunately, it does suffer a bit from its supporting characters, which can be a bit of a mixed bag.

Peter’s best friend Ned (Jacob Batalon) provides some good comic relief, but some of his actions may not endear him to audiences (the trailers already reveal that he learns of Peter’s secret life as Spider-Man, and he almost outs his best friend’s secret at the first opportunity). Peter’s crush Liz (Laura Harrier) works well enough for the plot, but she doesn’t exactly get a whole lot of character development. They are forgivable though, since their characters have enough likable qualities about them. Less forgivable is the character of Michelle Jones (Zendaya) who, as you may guess by her initials, is to be the MCU’s equivalent of “MJ” Mary-Jane Watson.

Seeing as this is the second cinematic reboot of the Spider-Man franchise, I perfectly understand the filmmakers trying to change up the characters a bit so we can see something we aren’t already overly familiar with. But the Michelle character is simply unlikable. Zendaya’s acting is fine, but what she has to work with doesn’t exactly make Michelle an appealing character. She’s obnoxious, pretentious, brags about not having any friends… She’s basically like a checklist of all the things older generations ridicule millennials for.

But the rest of the characters are all well and fine. This being the MCU, we of course have to have crossover characters involved, though Homecoming is wise to keep them to a minimum as to not take the focus away from the story at hand: Tony Stark/Iron Man (Robert Downey Jr.) returns as Peter’s mentor. Meanwhile, Stark’s former driver and bodyguard Happy Hogan (Jon Favreau) returns to keep an eye on Peter while Iron Man is off with bigger things. And in perhaps some of the best uses of MCU cameos, Captain America (Chris Evans) is featured in public-service announcements in Peter’s high school.

I really enjoyed how Homecoming is a relatively smaller-scale Marvel movie. We’ve seen so many cities get leveled in the Marvel Cinematic Universe by this point, that I’m starting to get more tired of the mass destruction than anything. But Homecoming takes the time to humanize both Spider-Man and the Vulture, while also showing us how complicated the lives of Peter Parker and Adrian Toomes can be. The stakes aren’t to save the planet, or even a city. It’s just about a kid trying to be responsible and to do the right thing, and trying to stop a downtrodden, misguided man who’s caught up in doing wrong. And by this point, that’s pretty refreshing.

Spider-Man: Homecoming doesn’t reinvent the super hero genre, but it does take inspiration from the better films from the genre’s booming early years (most notably Spider-Man 2) to make a film that may not be the most grandiose of super hero outings, but one that succeeds in the two areas where it most counts: story and characters. That’s not to say that it doesn’t have great action set-pieces, because it delivers on just that as well. But for the first time in a while, I feel like the MCU has a hero worth rooting for not just because of a charismatic on-screen presence, but also for his relatability. Just as noteworthy, the same can be said for its villain.

 

8.5

Top 10 Films of 2016

Yes, I am extremely late in writing this. You may think “why bother making a top 10 films of 2016 list by this point? We’re more than five months into 2017 now!” Well, this is my site and I can do what I want on it. That’s reason enough for me.

In all serious though, I intended to write this some time ago, but there were a number of 2016 films that I had wanted to see that I didn’t get around to until much later. Now that I’ve seen them, I can write this with a deeper knowledge of 2016 films.

Of course, keep in mind that this is my own personal list. Ergo, my personal taste will probably make this look wildly different than many other lists. For example, I like movies that actually gain an audience and make money  a lot more than professional award committees seem to. Sure, I’m open to liking any movie if I think it’s good (hell, sometimes I like movies that I know are bad, if they provide enough entertainment). But I’m not going to place some critically acclaimed, artsy films just to make me look more “legit.” I like what I like, so that’s what’s going to be here.

As a whole, I don’t think 2016 was as good of a year for movies as 2015, but it still provided some gems. These are said gems that I really liked.

But first, I’d like to give a shoutout to both Dr. Strange and The Founder, both of which I greatly enjoyed and wish I could place on here as well. But top 10 is the tradition, and it’s a perfect number that appeases my OCD. So they have to settle for runners-up spots. Still, one’s a great superhero movie that changes things up by actually including magic (instead of skipping around it like Thor) held together by Benedict Cumberbatch and Mads Mikkelsen. The other is a surprisingly engaging look into the origins of the McDonald’s fast-food restaurant chain, lead by a great performance by Michael Keaton.

Okay, now onto the top 10.

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Star Wars Day 2017: Why We Love Star Wars

It’s May the Fourth! Star Wars Day! The day in which we celebrate all things Star Wars (except the prequels… and those Ewoks TV movies). I was unsure what to write about to celebrate the occasion. I was tempted to write reviews for some of the Star Wars films, or write a blog about why – contrary to many Star Wars fans – I greatly prefer The Force Awakens over Rogue One. But I think I’ll save those for another day (soon).

Earlier today, I found this video in my recommendations on YouTube. It’s a video of an old television appearance by film critics Roger Ebert and Gene Siskel, who defend the Star Wars films from a rather prudish critic who is less enthusiastic about the franchise.

 

This video inspired me to write about something that I actually intended to write some time ago: Why Star Wars is so special, even in a time when fantasy and sci-fi blockbusters are no longer as rare as they were when Star Wars first made its impact.

Critics of the Star Wars franchise often deride the series for being “all about the special effects” (much like the prudish critic in the above video does, as he makes an incoherent analogy about a dog’s tail to go with it). While it’s true the visual effects of Star Wars were revolutionary, the real treat about Star Wars is its imagination.

All the visual polish in the world wouldn’t mean a damn thing if what it brought to life had nothing to it (just look at all the visual effects movies today that fall by the wayside). What makes Star Wars stand out so much is the imagination at play in its world.

There are countless aliens and creatures, many of which are truly original and inspired to behold. Considering the closest thing Star Wars has to a rival is Star Trek, a series in which the majority of aliens just look like people with varying odd-looking foreheads, the fact that Star Wars was able to bring to life so many unbelievable creatures made it captivating to audiences.

The “wow, look a that” factor, prominent as it may be, is probably the least of Star Wars’ imaginative triumphs. The world (or should I say Galaxy?) of the series is a unique blending of genres that creates something truly original.

Because of Star Wars’ popularity, we often take for granted how inspired its setting is. People who refer to Star Wars as “sci-fi” are only looking at things from face value. Sure, it’s set in outer space, and many of its machines look like something we can only imagine being products of the distant future. But Star Wars, from the offset with the immortal words “A long time ago in a galaxy far, far away…” immediately informs us that it’s more akin to fairy tale than science fiction.

Jedi like Luke Skywalker and Obi-wan Kenobi, as well as Sith such as Darth Vader, are more or less wizards and sorcerers. The Force is their magic, and the heart of the series’ mythology. We also have princesses, animal sidekicks (Chewbacca), and robots who have more personality than real-life humans. If Star Wars were strictly sci-fi, an uppity, whiny droid like C3-P0 could never exist. But with the fantasy and fairy tale elements in play, we can happily embrace the idea of a robot who cracks jokes and has panic attacks.

Star Wars isn’t just sci-fi and fantasy, either. It also has elements of westerns and samurai films, as well as war dramas. It’s a franchise that takes all these radically different pieces, and puts them all together in a coherent whole. Very few franchises even come close to pulling such a thing off.

Of course, these things still wouldn’t mean much if Star Wars weren’t also compelling films in their own right. Though the prequels certainly leave a glaring blemish on the franchise, as a whole, there’s a reason why the Star Wars films have remained the most influential of blockbusters.

I wouldn’t often use the word “purity” to describe the appeal of a film, but I think it’s incredibly fitting when describing Star Wars. Not pure in the sense that it’s completely void of evil (this is a series in which the galaxy is ruled by a lightning-throwing sorcerer). I mean pure in the sense that it has no ulterior agenda. It’s a simple story of good and evil that adopts the iconic “hero’s journey” structure of the myths of old, and uses its wildly original world to introduce us to memorable characters.

Though the likes of Luke Skywalker and Han Solo may be a bit archetypal, they easily stand out over any other characters of their ilk by the simple touches the films (and actors) gave to them. Whatever similar characters existed beforehand have long-since been rendered obsolete. Anyone else who fits into such archetypes is now compared to those found in Star Wars, who are unlikely to be displaced from their pedestals.

Another aspect that makes Star Wars so appealing is that it is a film series anyone can enjoy. In the above video, Siskel and Ebert (rightfully) defend Star Wars’ placement as a children’s film, whereas their opponent John Simon derides it for its childlike elements.

The thing is, Star Wars works because it’s a children’s film, but one that doesn’t talk down to children. It’s fun and imaginative, and littered with memorable characters that could appeal to anyone. It’s the kind of film a kid can (and will) easily enjoy, and the adult sitting next to them can enjoy every bit as much.

A lot of Star Wars fans don’t want to admit that it was always a series aimed largely at children, but that’s exactly what’s allowed it to endure. If Star Wars were a series aimed squarely at science fiction enthusiasts, it’s hard to imagine it would have anywhere near the level of timelessness that it does. Many people (such as myself) have grown up with Star Wars, and new generations are continuously doing the same. It’s a film series made for kids, and because of that, it has managed to break age barriers and be appreciated on a universal level.

In the video, Ebert and Siskel also mention how, back in the early 80s, younger audiences really didn’t have a whole lot of options when it came to quality entertainment. Most kids movies at the time were dumbed down, because they were made for kids. Star Wars, on the other hand, gave children a whole mythology to embrace. It captivated audiences’ imaginations, and continues to do so to this day.

In this day and age, children do have a few more options when it comes to quality entertainment, due in large part to the influence Star Wars had on filmmaking. But while Star Wars may continue to be endlessly imitated, its only really been duplicated by, well, more Star Wars movies.

It’s true, Marvel has put out some great family entertainment, as have a few other studios and franchises. But really, the only better family films around are all in the realms of animation. Disney has been on a hot streak in recent years, Pixar’s resume speaks for itself, and Studio Ghibli sits at the very peak of this mountain. Outside of such animated endeavors, however, Star Wars is virtually inapproachable in its imagination and appeal. Though Star Wars’ storytelling may not boast the sophistication of Pixar or Ghibli, its execution in storytelling easily stands above any of its live-action peers. Even Marvel’s best haven’t come close to being as captivatingly imaginative as Star Wars’ galaxy far, far away.

That’s not to say that the Star Wars films are perfect, of course. Even my favorites of the lot (Empire Strikes Back and The Force Awakens) have some issues. But anything the (non-prequel) Star Wars films may slip-up on, they more than make up for with the purity of their imagination and storytelling. And that’s why it has drawn in so many fans in a way very few – if any – franchises have.

Why so many people love Star Wars shouldn’t even be a question. The real question is why wouldn’t we love Star Wars so much?

“Also Rey is my waifu.”

Beauty and the Beast (2017) Review

Disney has struck gold with their recent string of live-action remakes to their classic canon of animated features. Though their earlier efforts such as 2010’s Alice in Wonderland and 2014’s Maleficent weren’t very good, they still brought in enough box office revenue to ensure Disney would continue with their sub-genre of live-action remakes. 2015 saw Cinderella receive the same treatment, and though it wasn’t great, it was an improvement over the preceding features. It was with 2016’s The Jungle Book where the concept of Disney animations turned live-action really hit a home-run. The Jungle Book was not only a technical marvel, but it was an improvement over the animated original in terms of story and character development. So it seems Disney has now managed to make these live-action remakes worthy of their beloved animated counterparts by this point.

However, there was a large amount of skepticism in regards to what was to come after The Jungle Book, as Disney planned to remake Beauty and the Beast as their next live-action adaptation. This was a risky move for two big reasons.

The first is that, although Beauty and the Beast is twenty-six years old as of 2017, it’s still a much more recent feature than the other animated films Disney has chosen to remake so far, meaning it’s a much larger target for millennial cynicisms and dismissals.

The other reason is that Beauty and the Beast is quite likely the most acclaimed Disney animated feature in history. The other animated movies Disney remade were enjoyable to varying extents, but there was definitely room for improvement (even if the live-action remakes didn’t always achieve that). Beauty and the Beast, on the other hand, is so charming, sweet and entertaining, it didn’t really need a remake. I would even say it was my favorite non-Pixar Disney animation up until Frozen was released twenty-two years later. Disney was taking a big gamble with this one.

I’m happy to say that I ultimately feel this new version of Disney’s Beauty and the Beast is a highly enjoyable movie. Though it never reaches the same heights as the animated original, it’s a more than worthy retelling that does justice in reimagining the film so many of us have grown to love.

The story is nearly identical to the original. A young prince (Dan Stevens) is vain and selfish, and is punished for his ways by an enchantress, who places a spell on the prince that transforms him into a beast, and the staff of his castle become anthropomorphic objects. The only way for the prince to break the spell on himself and his staff is to learn to love another, and to earn their love in return.

Some years later, in a small village not-so-far removed from the castle, a young woman named Belle (Emma Watson) lives with her tinkerer father Maurice (Kevin Kline). Belle doesn’t fit in with the rest of the village, being a well-educated bookworm in a town filled with more simple-minded people, such as the brutish Gaston (Luke Evans) an accomplished hunter and the most respected man in town due to his good looks, who is obsessed with making Belle his wife (due solely for the fact that she’s the most beautiful woman in the village).

One day, Maurice gets lost in the forest on his way to the market, and ends up becoming the prisoner of the castle ruled by the prince-turned-Beast. Belle goes to rescue her father, and ends up taking his place as the Beast’s prisoner. From there, Belle befriends a number of the castle’s staff, such as Lumiere (Ewan McGregor) who has been transformed into a candlestick, Cogsworth (Ian McKellen), who has become a clock, and Mrs. Potts (Emma Thompson), who has become a teapot. The castle’s staff believes Belle could be the one to break their curse, but winning the Beast’s affections is easier said than done.

So the story is lifted almost directly from the animated film. That’s probably for the best (why fix what isn’t broken?), but there are some slight changes to certain scenes in an attempt to add more to them or make them fit more into the ever-so-slightly different tone. Some of these changes are fine (Gaston is more immediately villainous here, as opposed to the comical buffoon who slowly degrades into a monster by the third act). Others, however, can feel a little bit like padding, with the most notable example being a largely out-of-place flashback to Belle’s childhood, which details the tragic events involving her mother, and why Maurice has raised her alone.

I don’t want to sound too hard on the scene, because in terms of emotion, it does a solid job, and actually adds a bit to this version’s take on Maurice’s character. But it also happens at kind of a random moment, and the method in which the film gets us there feels kind of shoehorned.

With that said, the film – as a whole – does retain much of the animated original’s charms. The iconic musical numbers such as Belle, Gaston, Be Our Guest, the titular Beauty and the Beast, and The Mob Song are all here, with most of the cast providing solid recreations of these classics (though with all due respect to Emma Thompson, the kindly vocals of Angela Lansbury just can’t be recreated). Emma Watson does sound a little auto-tuned (at least during her character’s self-titled musical number), which is a little distracting as she’s the main character, but the songs are so great it’s hard to be too critical.

There are also a few additional songs added in this version, and though they’re unlikely to become as immortal as the returning songs, they still make for some great musical sequences. The best of the new batch are probably Days in the Sun and Evermore, the latter of which rectifies one of the few questionable omissions from the original by giving the Beast his own solo number.

The film also follows in the footsteps of The Jungle Book by being an absolute marvel to look at. The CG used to create the Beast and his transformed staff is impressive, and the art direction, set designs and costumes do a great job at bringing the animated source material to life. It’s just a really pretty film to look at.

As enjoyable as the film is, Beauty and the Beast just can’t quite recapture the same magic and excellence of the animated film. Some of that is simply the differences in mediums, with certain elements just not being able to translate as perfectly as you’d wish they could.

For example, in the animated film, when Maurice first meets the talking candlesticks, clocks and teacups of the castle, he’s more curious and delighted by the occurrence than anything, and there’s something charming about that innocence. Sadly, that just wouldn’t translate into live-action, so when Maurice finds a talking teacup, he does what someone would do in real life, and out of fright, tries to get the hell out of there. It makes sense in this version, but obviously that’s a bit of the original’s charm that simply can’t be recaptured in a live-action setting and feel natural.

Another small example (strangely also involving Maurice), comes when we are first introduced to the tinkerer. In the animated version, Belle – after hearing the entire town sing about how she doesn’t fit in – asks her father if he thinks she’s “odd.” He replies – after emerging from under one of his contraptions wearing a goofy helmet and comically large goggles – “My daughter, odd? Where in the world would you get an idea like that?” In this version, Belle asks him the same question, and Maurice’s response remains identical, only this time with a much calmer voice, and he simply continues work on one of his inventions, without the ironic visual gag to go with it.

These kinds of things aren’t too big of deals, and are certainly no deal-breakers. But I do see them as simple reminders that the animated film was perfect as it was, and that there are some elements that simply work in animation, and lose a little something when brought to the realms of live-action.

With all that said, this Beauty and the Beast is a worthwhile retelling of the beloved animated film, which ultimately does a terrific job at bringing its source material into a new medium. All while providing a solid cast (also including Josh Gad as Gaston’s sycophantic lackey LeFou). Emma Watson certainly looks the part of a Disney princess, just as Luke Evans is a perfect match for the vain Gaston. Meanwhile, Ewan McGregor and Ian McKellen are highlights of the film through their banterings as Lumiere and Cogsworth. Throw in some wonderful music both new and old, and some shiny new visuals, and you have a worthy modernization of one of Disney’s most timeless films. Even if it didn’t necessarily require one.

 

8.0

You Don’t Have to Look Like a Character to Relate With Them

Now it’s time for something more controversial. Well, it shouldn’t be controversial, because what I’m about to say is based on individualistic ideals. But in this day and age when everyone is so “politically correct” it seems like it’s considered taboo to see people as individuals instead of simply identifying them by skin color or sexual orientation. But I’m going to say it anyway.

Simply put, I detest this recent idea that people need a fictional character to fit into their demographic in order to relate with them. It serves only to shoehorn characters into media that often have no defining characteristics other than fitting into said demographic, and ultimately only serves for the people who threw the character into the mix to give themselves a pat on the back for how “inclusive” they are.

All this ends up doing is damaging stories and the characters themselves. You can’t simply toss in characters solely for the sake of representing a specific group, and expect there to be anything more to those characters. They just become a token, which is more insulting than anything else.

What I really can’t stand is that media is forcing this idea on people that it’s necessary for movies, games, TV shows, etc. to include such token characters, because if they don’t, then they “aren’t being inclusive” and are “backwards thinking” and crap like that. They insist that entertainment needs these characters in order for people who belong to any given group to relate with them.

That’s a load of BS.

At the end of the day, we’re all people. Things like skin color and sexuality don’t mean a damn thing. We all understand emotion, and any given person can potentially relate to any character, provided there’s an emotional connection to be had.

If you want a good example of what I mean, take a look at Bambi. Bambi is a film where the characters aren’t even human, but it doesn’t stop us from feeling sad when Bambi’s mother is shot by a hunter. It’s a sad moment, one that any human can feel for, even if the characters in question are deer.

These days, you’ll always hear people say how a certain movie or game wasn’t “inclusive” enough, because it didn’t include a character that belonged to X group of people. But why does that matter so much? What should be important are the story and characters themselves (and in terms of games, the gameplay). If you have good enough characters, and are given reasons to care for them, why does it matter what they look like?

Now, I’m not saying anything against the inclusions of such characters, but you can’t just shoehorn them in just to fill a quota. That will only end up hurting the stories they are a part of. They’ll just be empty characters that will exist for the sole purpose of the production crew being able to pat themselves on the back.

It’s entirely shallow to think that someone can only relate with a character if they look similar or have the same lifestyle as themselves, to the point of being insulting.

Going back to using Disney as an example, people are always jumping down Disney’s throat to include more ethnic characters in their animated films (something which Disney has actually continued to do for decades). The great irony here being that you’ll see children of all colors wearing t-shirts with Elsa or Moana on them. Kids don’t give a damn about what color the character is, they (rightfully) just love the characters, and relate with them because of who the character is, not what they look like. And that’s exactly as it should be.

Why do we, as adults, now have this idea that it’s impossible to relate with someone who isn’t like us in appearance? It’s just utter nonsense. If a story is good enough, and the characters compelling enough, anyone can relate to them, because we’re all people. If a movie or game just so happens to not include a character from a certain background, that doesn’t mean that movie or game has anything against people of that background. Stories have to care about stories first. They shouldn’t have to feel the need to mark a checklist of “inclusiveness.”

After all, it would be impossible to manage to squeeze in representation for every existing group of people, and still tell a coherent story with meaningful characters. Should a movie just be an extended clip of people walking in a line, with each person who walks by the screen fitting into a different group? Yeah, that would make for some good entertainment.

Again, it’s incredibly shallow to think someone can’t identify with a character if they don’t fit square peg into the same demographic. People are people, and anyone should be able to relate with a good story and memorable characters. We can all relate to emotion. No one can relate to a token.

Power Rangers (2017) Review

I enjoyed the new Power Rangers movie. So sue me. Obviously, you don’t go into a movie called Power Rangers expecting anything resembling a deep story, you go in expecting to have a fun (if maybe a bit insane) time. And I ultimately felt Power Rangers delivered on that, even if it takes an excruciatingly long time to get there.

Back in the 90s, Mighty Morphin’ Power Rangers was the biggest thing on children’s television. The show was a unique specimen in that it took stock footage from the long-running Japanese series Super Sentai – a super hero show in which a multi-colored team of heroes battled monsters with giant, dinosaur robots – and not only dubbed it, but also filled in the non-super hero-y parts with a teenage sitcom with American actors.

In retrospect, it sounds like the most insane concept ever, and in many ways it was. But it worked. Spinoffs of both Super Sentai and Power Rangers continue to this day in their respective countries. And during the 90s, it was the centerpiece of children’s popular culture much like Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles before it, or Pokemon after it.

I should know, I was about four-years old when Power Rangers came into existence, and like so many children, I was hooked. Again, this is a series that had super heroes, dinosaurs, robots and monsters, and then threw in the stories of a group of teenagers that actually aimed to be relatable (if campy) around it all. What kid wouldn’t like this?

Now, like so many other 90s franchises, Power Rangers has received the nostalgia-fueled Hollywood blockbuster treatment. And while I will certainly say it’s a greatly flawed film, by the end of it I was having a good time. While many such reboots just don’t work, Power Rangers does manage to tap into the nature of its ridiculous source material and give you what you came for.

Suffice to say the story is the best kind of nonsense. As the film’s mythology goes, every planet that houses life has a “Zeo Crystal” hidden somewhere within it, which can grant ultimate power. 65 million years ago, the Power Rangers were a band of aliens trying to protect the Earth, after one of their own, Rita Repulsa (Elizabeth Banks) went rogue and tried to steal Earth’s Zeo Crystal. The dying leader of the Rangers, Zordon (Bryan Cranston), then called down a meteorite to stop Rita from gaining the crystal, and to ensure life would be allowed to continue on Earth.

“They may not be the Super Human Samurai Cyber Squad, but they’ll do.”

Fast-forward to the present day, and the Zeo Crystal’s location is now buried deep under the city of Angel Grove, where five teenagers, Jason Scott (Dacre Montgomery), Kimberly Hart (Naomi Scott), Billy Cranston (RJ Cyler), Trini Kwan (Becky G) and Zack Taylor (Ludi Lin), inadvertently uncover five mystical tokens during one of Billy’s exploits to an abandoned mine, which he does to continue in his deceased archeologist father’s footsteps.

“I don’t know, a simple poster might be a better wall decoration…”

Upon finding the tokens, the teenagers are given newfound strength and superhuman abilities, and eventually uncover a hidden spaceship in the location they found the coins. The spaceship is tended to by Alpha 5 (voiced by Bill Hader), an ancient robot who “uploaded Zordon’s essence into the ship’s matrix.” Zordon then informs the teens that by finding the tokens, they are destined to become the new Power Rangers, with Jason becoming the leading Red Ranger, Kimberly the Pink Ranger, Billy the Blue Ranger, Trini the Yellow Ranger and Zack the Black Ranger. With their new roles as Power Rangers, they must prepare for the return of Rita Repulsa, who plans on constructing a golden goliath named Goldar in order to find the Zeo Crystal (which just so happens to be buried deep beneath a Krispy Kreme).

Yeah, it’s insane.

Honestly, once we actually get to the Power Ranger-y bits, it’s a lot of fun. The grave problem with the film, however, is that it just takes way too long to get there.

The build-up to the teenagers becoming the Power Rangers takes up the majority of the film. This might not be so big of a problem, if this extra time were spent on things like character development. Instead, it all just seems like build-up for the sake of build-up, and a good deal of awkward dialogue doesn’t help things, either.

Now, in its defense, the film does try to give a little bit of attention to its characters’ backstories: Zack has an ailing mother, for example, and Billy is probably the most interesting character, having a form of high-functioning autism that gives him an incredible memory at the expense of basic socializing skills. The problem is that these character moments are very short-lived (especially for Zack and Trini, whose introductions in the film feel incredibly sporadic).

You could compare the situation to the 2014 Godzilla film, in which the whole reason audiences came to see the movie (in that case, Godzilla) doesn’t get nearly the amount of screen time you’d hope for. Though Power Rangers is probably more guilty. At least in Godzilla’s case, its titular monster had origins in a serious drama (let’s not forget Godzilla was originally an allegory for the atom bomb). But Power Rangers was always so ridiculous, that there’s really no reason to try to take things so seriously and hold off on the Rangers, Zords, and giant monster battles.

With all that said, once it all picks up, and the Rangers (finally) don their costumes, ride in their dinosaur-shaped Zords, and have the inevitably ridiculous showdown with Rita Repulsa, it’s a whole lot of fun.

“65 million years never looked so good.”

Speaking of Rita Repulsa, Elizabeth Banks has to be the film’s best singular asset. She seems to be having an exceptionally fun time hamming it up as the evil witch, and just brings a whole lot of energy and humor to the film.

In the end, Power Rangers was never going to be a cinematic classic, nor is it as ridiculously fun as it could have been, since it staves off the good stuff for far too long. But thankfully, the payoff at the end, coupled with Elizabeth Banks’ over-the-top performance, makes it all worth it in the end. And in a time when entertainment is becoming insanely preachy and self-righteous, it’s kind of nice to see a movie that’s okay with just being insane.

 

6.5