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Animation

Review: Kubo and the Two Strings

Aug 19 // Matthew Razak
[embed]220794:43057:0[/embed] Kubo and the Two StringsDirector: Travis KnightRated: PGRelease Date: August 19, 2016 Kubo is a bit of a departure for Laika both visually and thematically. While their animation style still seeps through Kubo is far more inspired by Japanese art and anime than their previous work. It's also their most serious plot to date. Kubo is a young boy who lives with his mother in a cave hiding from his grandfather, who, when Kubo was a baby, stole his eye. His grandfather is now after his other eye for nefarious reasons. One day, when Kubo doesn't make it home before dark, his mother's evil sisters find him and adventure begins to find three pieces of magical armor in order to defeat Kubo's grandfather, the Moon King. Having to set out on his own, Kubo is accompanied by Monkey and Beetle on his grand adventure. It is a very traditional quest adventure, but the story is infused with themes of family, love and loss. If it weren't for the stop motion animation you would easily thing that this was a Pixar movie the story is so well executed and characters so likable. Kubo's tale isn't just one of high adventure, but also deep sorrow. It, like Pixar films, believe in the intelligence of the children it is geared towards and instead of pandering to them executes and story that engages both young and old.  It is, of course, easy to engage when your visuals are probably some of the most stunning of the year. You'll want to pause every scene to see the clear and crisp details while marveling at just how they could possibly do half the things they do with some lumps of clay. Even the simplest movements seem to stand out more thanks to the stop motion. The painstaking creation seeping through every scene.  Director Travis Knight, who is CEO of Laika but has never directed, paces what could be a very dull story beautifully. Despite the standard set up the story unfolds wonderfully, building tension between the characters fantastically. He also has an eye for pushing scary things just enough. Never letting them get so overwhelming that children won't enjoy it, but actually making villains menacing and powerful. Kubo is also being pushed hard in Dolby's new digital theaters where new projectors bring forth some the sharpest images you'll ever see and surround speakers shake the seats. It is possibly one of the best advertisements for these theaters, though whether or not the fantastically crisp picture and blacker than black blacks are worth the extra cost is up to you. I can only tell you that the movie looked better than anything I've seen outside of true IMAX. It isn't what size screen you see Kubo on or how earth shattering the sound is. Those things can make it better, but what make it great is its imagination. It's a stunning world that's hard to forget, and in that world a poignant story is told. The title may only mention two strings, but it will easily pull on all of your heart strings. 
Kubo Review photo
Stunning
If you know the name Laika then you know they do amazing things with stop motion. They may be the only ones doing it at the scale they do it too. Anyone who has seen Coraline or ParaNorman or any of their other work...

Firefly photo
Firefly

Fan-made animated Firefly series gets a trailer... and not much more


Because our hearts need to break more
Aug 16
// Matthew Razak
Firefly just will not die, and there's very good reason for that. Despite only having one season on the air it has influenced sci-fi for years and created a devoted following. I count myself among that following so it is...
#MakeAmericaBrannigan photo
#MakeAmericaBrannigan

Billy West reads Donald Trump's derp as Futurama's Zapp Brannigan


Make America Brannigan
Aug 12
// Hubert Vigilla
Donald Trump is a repugnant, obnoxious, ignorant goon who embodies everything wrong with The United States today. The rudderless demagogue is like some sentient steaming dump painfully excreted from the backside of my country...

Review: The Little Prince

Aug 06 // Nick Valdez
[embed]220747:43032:0[/embed] The Little PrinceDirector: Mark OsborneRated: PGRelease Date: August 5, 2016  Mark Osborne's (Kung Fu Panda 3) The Little Prince isn't a direct adaptation of its source material. Much like other children's book adaptations such as Where the Wild Things Are and Cloudy With a Chance of Meatballs, Prince creates its own original tale. But it takes an interesting angle as the original story serves as more of a delivery system for the original text. As Little Girl (Mackenzie Foy) deals with an overbearing, but well meaning. mother (Rachel McAdams), she meets The Aviator (Jeff Bridges, who also serves as weathered narrator from the book) who tells her about the time he met a Little Prince (Riley Osborne) who traveled across the stars. Essentially, it's a story within a story. Seeing as how difficult it might've been to translate the obtuse themes from Saint-Exupery's writing, this is probably the best possible solution.  But the main problem with taking this approach is when Prince isn't telling the book's story directly, it falls short. The film has a conventional style with character design resembling most animated films. The thin, angular bodies of Dreamworks, the larger heads of Pixar, all mash together into something resembling Hoodwinked! with a more flexible budget. That's not to say it's not done well, it's just utterly generic when juxtaposed with the incredible stop motion paper sequences directly adapting the book. These sequences are so endearing and artful, it begs the question of why we couldn't get an entire film that way. The score during these sequences is fantastic with a light jazz/French ensemble paying tribute to the book's origin and tone, the packed cast delivers humble, weighted dialogue, giving more weight to themes overall, and no matter how much you see paper style, it remains surprising. But the other 2/3 of the film feels like filler. Rather than emphasize the stop motion sequences, making each one a reward, it's like they're being held at bay.  While adapting the text as a "story within a story" seems like a good solution, Prince unfortunately waters down the thematic resonance Saint-Exupery's text is remembered for. I won't go into too much detail about what exactly it does, but suffice to say when a now adult Prince has to remember his youth, Prince loses all of the beautiful subtlety. The original novella was a fable about holding on to youth and the hope that comes from imagination, but it never explicitly said any of these things. There were slight hints about the troubles of adulthood, but it was left up to the reader to find it. The film crosses over into "preaching" territory as metatext gives way to explicit statements. It's a little too direct for comfort and becomes yet another animated film trying to teach a lesson.  The problem is wondering what could've worked better. Would the film have worked if director Osborne had gone with one style over the other? Would it have succeeded with the original book's vignette narrative? But how would that film work among current animation film needs? It's the best case scenario in a tremulous situation. Rather than encapsulate the spirit of the original text, making it viable for children and adults alike, it's more of a tribute to those who enjoyed the book as a child. In some cases, it's better to please as many people as you can.  The Little Prince distances itself from its source material more than it desired. Treating the original novella with an almost untouchable reverence, it never gives the audience time to enjoy the story and dive into it themselves. Instead Prince tells us how we should feel about it, thereby ignoring what made the original book so memorable. Essentially mirroring the actions of adults we're told to avoid.  In trying to pay tribute to Antoine de Saint-Exupery's The Little Prince, the film mistakes an elephant in a boa constrictor for a simple hat. At least it's a nice hat. 
The Little Prince Review photo
Lost in translation
Antoine de Saint-Exupery's The Little Prince is one of the most famous children's books of all time. Translated into over 200 languages, it's become a treasure worldwide. But as with all adaptations, things were bound to chan...


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Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles done Invader Zim style


Featuring the cast of Workaholics!
Jul 28
// Geoff Henao
Fans of the cult classic Invader Zim can attest to how ridiculous (re: genius) Jhonen Vasquez is. While we might still be lamenting the series that left us too soon (as can be said for a multitude of Nicktoons over the years)...
LEGO Batman Movie photo
LEGO Batman Movie

LEGO Batman Movie San Diego Comic-Con trailer has lots of Robin


Jul 24
// Nick Valdez
After The LEGO Movie pleasantly surprised, it naturally led to a number of planned sequels and spin-offs. With the actual follow up to the LEGO Movie not hitting theaters until 2019, our first taste is a spin-off featuri...
LEGO Batman Movie photo
LEGO Batman Movie

New LEGO Batman Movie images show off Joker and Robin


Jul 23
// Nick Valdez
The LEGO Movie was one of the funnest animated films of the last few years, so naturally we were going to get a lot more of it. Luckily, first on the docket is the great looking LEGO Batman Movie. The first couple of trailers...
Justice League Action photo
Justice League Action

SDCC: First Justice League Action trailer is colorful and fun


Like a pocket Justice League Unlimited
Jul 23
// Nick Valdez
With as wonky of a movie universe it has. DC have really succeeded on the small screen. They've been dominating since Dini's run from Batman: The Animated Series to Justice League Unlimted and now CW's got a whole universe. S...
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Poster for new Ducktales series full of ducks and tails


Life is like a hurricane, full of remake
Jul 21
// Matthew Razak
Ducktales is coming back because there's nothing original anymore. In fairness, if there is any Disney property I'd like to see back in from the heyday of their Saturday morning cartoon glory it's probably Ducktales, and...
Screenings photo
Screenings

See Batman: The Killing Joke for free in theaters


Washington DC screenings
Jul 18
// Matthew Razak
Batman: The Killing Joke is already notorious as a comic book, but now it's landing in the world of animated Batman and it will probably become notorious again. It's R-rated and one of the more disturbing Batman tales ev...

NYAFF Capsule Review: Seoul Station

Jun 29 // Alec Kubas-Meyer
[embed]220639:42977:0[/embed] Seoul Station (서울역)Director: Yeon Sang-hoRating: NRCountry: South Korea 
Seoul Station photo
Hardcore animation is hard
At NYAFF 2012, I saw a movie called The King of Pigs. I wanted to like it, but I couldn't get over the atrociously bad translation. It ruined what should have been a very serious dramatic animated film. Seoul Station is ...

Moana Trailer photo
Moana Trailer

Here's the first trailer for Disney's Moana


Favorite film of 2016, calling it now
Jun 13
// Nick Valdez
Disney's animation studio has been on a Pixar like roll lately with Frozen, Big Hero 6, and Zootopia netting huge critical and financial success. Their newest princess film Moana already blows those films out of the water.&nb...
Angry Birds box office photo
Angry Birds box office

The Angry Birds Movie knocks Civil War from top of the box office


This header image will never die
May 23
// Hubert Vigilla
Over the weekend we saw The Angry Birds Movie duke it out with Captain America: Civil War (#TeamBird v #TeamCap). #TeamCap believes in personal freedom and accountability in the face of a system that may b...

Review: The Angry Birds Movie

May 22 // Nick Valdez
[embed]220589:42956:0[/embed] The Angry Birds MovieDirectors: Clay Kaytis and Fergal ReillyRating: PGRelease Date: May 20, 2016  At the center of The Angry Birds Movie is Red (Jason Sudeikis), a bird with an unchecked anger issue because he's been alone his entire life. He's been separated from the rest of the birds in town until he's forced to spend time in anger management which leads him to his future partners in crime Chuck (Josh Gad) and Bomb (Danny McBride). When a ship full of pigs, led by the sneaky Leonard (Bill Hader), pulls up to bird island claiming to be friendly, Red leaves in search of the legendary hero known as Mighty Eagle (Peter Dinklage) for help. After shenanigans from the pigs, it's up to Red, Chuck, and Bomb to find the hero and save the island.  Before getting into the nitty gritty, I want to take some time out to comment on how much work went into Angry Birds. It is honestly refreshing to see decent production and time on what seemed like a total cash-in project (from its inception to its last couple of trailers the film reeked of things other than quality) has . The animation is slick, the bird designs have a simple, easy to manipulate geometry (utilizing both hard angles and softer, cutesy spherical shapes), and the cast handles the material as well as they can. Sudeikis has already proved his capacity to lead a film time and time again, and now he can add voice over work to that list. Red's as charming as he needs to be without the script resorting to the same types of "kooky" dialogue the rest of the characters are subjected to. None of the actors come across as phony, with the weakest performance coming from Hader's Leaonard. Then again, even a weak Hader is better than you'd expect so it's a roundabout positive.  Once you get past the bread, you realize there's not a lot of meat on this chicken sandwich. Trying as hard as the visuals might, The Angry Birds Movie simply can't shake off how generic it is. It may not have the luxury of a videogame narrative to adapt, but that doesn't excuse a lot of its choices. While the freedom of a creating a whole universe brings about some neat little oddities differentiating it from other animated films (like anger management having weight in the plot, for example), the same is true for the opposite end of the spectrum. Quite a few quirks and dialogue choices should have been reconsidered. At one point, Angry Birds crosses the line into full-on annoying territory when Chuck and Bomb degenerate into incessant noise making machines for two minutes just so it can get a reaction from its kid audience.  The Angry Birds Movie is at a constant state of flux. Battling between originality and what's easier to write, the film is always holding itself back. In fact, it even takes a hit whenever it has to reference the videogame series. Like when the series' famous slingshot is introduced, it feels forced in. But in that same breath, that very slingshot leads to a well storyboarded climax. So it's an odd toss up between the film's potential audiences. Rather than create a film that's ultimately appealing to the widest demographic possible, you have a film that appeals to folks with select scenes. Some scenes will appeal to the two year olds who like to repeat funny sounds, the three year olds who like gross out humor, the adult who appreciates good animation, or that one parent in my screening who lost his mind the entire time. I'm glad at least that guy had a good time.  I'd hate to end a review with nothing more than an "it could've been worse" sentiment, but honestly that's all I feel about The Angry Birds Movie. It came, it went, it's probably coming back (or at least confident in a sequel enough to promote it during the credits and the extra scene available on mobile phones), and yet it doesn't really deserve any hearty emotions.  The Angry Birds Movie is not terrible enough to earn your rage, but it's not good enough to earn your praise either. A decent outcome from a numerous range of negative potential outcomes earns the film a small victory. 
Angry Birds Review photo
Nothing to get too angry at
With videogame adaptations becoming more common, it was only a matter of time before we would end up in this situation. A videogame popular for its gameplay and mechanics rather than its story would get the big screen treatme...

Angry Birds photo
Angry Birds

See Angry Birds early and free


DC, Baltimore and Norfolk screenings
May 09
// Matthew Razak
With Ratchet & Clank flopping hard at the box office we all must turn to Angry Birds to deliver us the children's video game movie we evidently wanted. Wait, no one wanted it? Well, what if you don't have to pay...
Space Jam 2 photo
Welcome to the god damn Jam!
Holy mother of pearl, it's happening. It's really happening. We're about to return to the Jam and Lebron James is coming with us (also Justin Lin). THR is reporting that the basketball star is set to star in the Looney Toons ...

Review: Ratchet & Clank

Apr 28 // Matthew Razak
[embed]220548:42938:0[/embed] Ratchet & ClankDirectors: Jericca Cleland and Kevin Munroe Rated: PGRelease Date: April 29, 2016 There's nothing really wrong with Ratchet & Clank. It's a perfectly standard set up that pulls from all your other favorite science-fiction classics. Ratchet (James Arnold Taylor) is a Lombax mechanic on a remote desert planet who dreams of being like his hero, Captain Qwark (Jim Ward), but when tryouts for Qwark's team of heroes roll around he's laughed out of the building by the man himself. Luckily for him Clank (David Kaye) has just escaped from the evil Chairman Drek (Paul Giamatti) and Dr. Nefarious (Armin Shimerman), who have a dastardly plan to blow up some planets and make a new one. Due to a crash landing Clank meets Ratchet, the two become friends and adventure ensues all culminating in that oh-so traditional children's film lesson that you can be whatever you want with the support of friends and a wide array of weaponry. There is not really much more to it. You can insert almost every standard joke you've come to expect from tongue-in-cheek children's films and then add a few references to the game. They actually really under utilize the latter. For a game that's known for its funky and fun weapons the movie barely plays around with them. There is the expected montage of weapon use, but from there on out most of the action could rely on the basic blaster. Maybe that's a super meta commentary the directors had about the game's gameplay, but I seriously doubt it. That's not the only opportunity missed. One of the mainstays of the games (or the first two at least) was the great dynamic between the excitable Ratchet and the reserved Clank. The film barely touches this. We have to be introduced to the characters separately, of course, but once they're together the action keeps tearing them apart. Their dynamic is sidelined in favor of more Captain Qwark and the Galactic Rangers. This isn't all bad as Qwark has some of the funniest lines, but you still feel like the movie is more about Ratchet on his own than his friendship with Clank.  However, judging a movie for what it is not, especially a children's movie, is a bit unfair. Ratchet & Clank does move along at a perfectly good clip and the plot holes are all within acceptable range for the target audience. There is absolutely nothing wrong with the sight gags, which kids will most likely love, and the screenplay puts in enough jokes to keep any parent relatively entertained even if you've heard almost every one before. This isn't a movie that's out to top Pixar, but it will stand with your more basic Dreamworks animations any day.  The animation itself is good too, though nothing stellar. Having just come off the revolutionary The Jungle Book my eye might be a bit jaded, but just as there's nothing that will wow you in terms of animation there's also nothing that's going to put you off. It's just middle of the road throughout as with the rest of the film.  That goes for the voice acting as well, which was very clearly taken more seriously by some. The filmmakers brought in the game's voices for Ratchet, Clank and Captain Qwark and it shows. The actors' performances stand out among phoned in turns from the "name" actors, especially John Goodman who sounds like he wasn't quite sure what movie he was reading for the entire time. Thankfully those roles are smaller in scale and never bad enough to break the film, just to keep it at its constant level of acceptability.  No one was really expecting stellar things out of Ratchet & Clank and if you go in with that mindset you're going to come out having definitely seen a movie that fit it. I can't see hardcore fans of the franchise coming out of the film upset in any way because the movie is so inoffensive. I can't see anyone really coming out of the theater too excited except for a five-year-old wanting a pet lombax... and then having his dreams crushed when he finds out they don't exist.
Ratchet & Clank photo
Clanking along
Ratchet & Clank is the epitome of a film that doesn't do anything wrong, but that doesn't make it right. I suppose I should start by saying that I have not kept up with the games this movie is based on. I played the ...

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'Batman: The Killing Joke' Trailer Released, Rated-R


Apr 28
// Rick Lash
The trailer for Batman: The Killing Joke has been released and set the stage for a true-to-graphic-novel adaptation. This is the first time a DC Comics movie will be R-rated a fact which is actually not attributable...

Tribeca Review: Nerdland

Apr 25 // Nick Valdez
[embed]220434:42928:0[/embed] NerdlandDirector: Chris PrynoskiRating: NRRelease Date: April 14, 2016 (limited) At the heart of Nerdland is veritable slacker stereotypes, Elliot (Patton Oswalt), an aspiring screenwriter who'd rather spend his days masturbating than write, and John (Paul Rudd), a film blogger who dreams of pursuing an acting career. When the two of them lose their jobs, they decide they've had enough with failure and venture on a last ditch effort to get their work recognized. The two slackers are willing to literally throw their lives away blindly hunting for fame and they'll do whatever to whoever to get what they want.  Nerdland has a strong core concept. Initially setting out to be a parodic take on the new wave of entitlement that's come from the digital age and increased publicity for the 'nerd' archetype, the film shines an ugly light on an ugly subset. This take works for a while as every aspect of the film contributes to this ugliness. The grungy art style and gross out humor establish an icky setting, Oswalt and Rudd adopt darker tones for their voice acting (but Rudd borders on being completely absent), and every character is a vapid shell of some kind. The style is a grand pastiche of the Hollywood/Tinseltown thought era, but all of that goes out the window the second a character speaks. Clearly the film's style and writing weren't developed jointly. There's definitely a better, or even good film lying underneath all of the garbage but it's being crushed.  Nerdland is trying its best to be a quirky dark comedy, but it reaches so far it becomes unintelligible. For one, there's no cemented plot. It's just a set of disjointed scenes with plot points capable of carrying several movies. The main story arc is intended to highlight how far Elliot and John fall, but even that arc is sullied by how nonsensical the plot seems. The character decisions are no longer informed by desperation but by how twisted the plot needs them to be at any given moment. Rather than a sign of devolution, their growth lacks fluidity and always breaks the flow of whatever plot Nerdland wants to cook up at the time. In a weird way, it's like the film realizes its own faults and resorts to just throwing whatever idea they have at a dartboard and hope one of those ideas leaves a lasting impact.  Treating your film with reckless abandon may be worth some credit, but it's absolutely worthless to the viewer. When the film literally becomes a veritable orgy of bad ideas, it's debilitating. There's a scene in Nerdland, about an hour in, so devoid of thought or even dark humor it sapped all good will I had. Since there's no natural progression of character or plot, the scene sticks out so much it's almost as if they created an entire film just to show two minutes of pure inanity. Don't get me wrong, it's not the concept I have a problem with it's the execution. There's an difference between mining a dark subject for humor (and the original thought behind it seems to be exaggerating violence in animation would merit a laugh) in a mature way and focusing on the most juvenile, low hanging fruit of a subject.  I'm not sure where Nerdland went so wrong. It's such a complicated mess of a film, so juvenile, so low reaching that it sets back adult animation for several years. You know, it's not even egregious enough to be offensive. It just kind of happens to you whether you like or not. It's so boring, so paper thin, that Nerdland is offensive to the very people who made it. It'd be a blight on everyone's career if it weren't guaranteed forgotten a few days after its release.  At least Hannibal Buress is good in it. Love that guy. 
Nerdland Tribeca Review photo
Nerds don't rule after all
Nerdland was the first film to stand out to me when I first signed on to cover the Tribeca Film Festival this year. Everything about it appealed to me. It's the first full length feature from Titmouse, an animated company mos...

Angry Birds Movie trailer photo
Angry Birds Movie trailer

New trailer for The Angry Birds Movie is a decent excuse to reuse this Sean Penn image


Angry birds do Angry Birds things
Apr 18
// Hubert Vigilla
Last time we reported about The Angry Birds Movie, we mentioned that Sean Penn will be grunting alongside the rest of the cast as a big red bird. The Sean Penn bird is in this new trailer for The Angry Birds Movie, which feat...

Review: The Jungle Book

Apr 15 // Matthew Razak
The Jungle BookDirector: Jon FavreauRated: PGRelease Date: April 15, 2016 [embed]220509:42914:0[/embed] As a property it's hard to believe that one could bring something new to The Jungle Book. Mogli's (Neel Sethi) story has been told so many times in so many different ways that retelling it again seems a bit redundant. This seems especially true since this version is part of Disney's ongoing effort to remake or reimagine their animated classics as live action films (see: Cinderella or Maleficent). Yet despite the fact that this new version of The Jungle Book once again finds Mogli raised by a pack of wolves and the panther Bagheera (Ben Kingsley), hunted by the villainous tiger Shere Khan (Idris Elba) and eventually hanging out with the laid back bear Baloo (Bill Murray), it feels dramatically different from previous tellings of the story. The plot may be mostly the same as Disney's animated classic, but striking visuals and Favreau's surprisingly fluid direction make it an entirely new experience. Those visuals, though. You will spend half this movie wondering what is real and what isn't while marveling at the individual hairs on Baloo's back or how Baheera moves perfectly or how the fat on King Louie (Christopher Walken) is disturbingly realistic. If ever a film has crossed the uncanncy valley it is The Jungle Book. Yes, there are still some parts that get stuck in the low end of that valley, but overall it is a visual masterpiece. The most impressive part is that they did it all while featuring talking animals in situations that are sometimes entirely human. Everything feels real and yet is somehow full of the magic and wonder that more traditional animation brings. It is this combination of reality and magic that make The Jungle Book work so well. Hats off to Favreau for being able to pull this movie together. His direction is often striking and far more than you'd expect from a traditional children's film. Some shots seem to be pulled from an art house independent while others are pitch-perfect horror moments (still suitable for children). Most impressive though is the fluid way he moves Mogli and company through the jungle. Taking advantage of his almost entirely digital setting, Favreau stitches together fluid shots that make you feel like you're there. It helps that the IMAX 3D is simply breathtaking on the big screen and that digital animation always looks better in that setting. Though Favreau may miss a few beats here and there, they're mostly because he's playing towards a crowd of children who expect certain things from their movies.  The only truly inconsistent thing about the movie is Sethi, who, in all fairness, had an incredibly daunting task before him since he's the only actual person in the entire film. It's clear that he became more comfortable with that fact as shooting went on as his performance varies from absolutely stellar (banging out a rendition of "The Bear Necessities") to horribly awkward (being hypnotized by the snake Kaa, played by an utterly wasted Scarlet Johansson). Still, he performs admirably overall, and it's his animal counterparts who steal the show anyway. Murray's Baloo is both perfect casting and the chance to hear him sing Baloo's classic song would make any movie worth the price of admission. Throw in a rollicking scene with King Louie that has Walken delivering a mafia routine and a chilling rendition of "Be Like You" and it's hard not to be drawn in by the performances not to mention stopping your foot from tapping. Much of their performance can be chalked up to the stellar animation, especially Elba's Shere Khan, who lurks around the screen fearsomely while the actor's silky voice drips with menace.   This is a children's movie overall, however. In the end Disney wants kids to be pretending they're hanging out with Baloo, and the movie plays like that. It's almost a contradiction as they hyper-realism of the film means the darker parts have that much more impact and the scary parts are that much scarier. Often the look and tone of the film don't jive with each other, though that's probably only a complaint an adult would have.  That look is so good, however, that it almost doesn't matter if the tone feels off sometimes. This is a major step forward in what we should come to expect from our CGI, but more importantly to that target audience, it's actually fun. 
Jungle Book photo
More than the bear necessities
At this point in my jaded film critic life it takes a lot to actually impress me with special effects. We've seen Transformers and giant blue aliens and everything in between on screen by now, and great digital effects are al...

Tribeca: Allumette showcases the game-changing potential of immersive VR storytelling

Apr 14 // Hubert Vigilla
[embed]220506:42913:0[/embed] Allumette centers on a girl and her mother who sell large, magical matchsticks around town. The world they inhabit is sort of like Venice by way of Hayao Miyazaki and classic Final Fantasy--a city in the clouds with bridges and tiers, and little docks for the airships that course through the sky. Allumette is essentially a 20-minute silent movie, with the characters communicating in hums and sighs, expressing emotions through body language like classic pantomime. "Alfred Hitchcock said that to be good with spectacle you had to be a simplifier," Chung noted. "Painters and writers can be complicators, but when you're working in spectacle (i.e., cinema and now VR) you have to simplify. So you have to take something and strip it down to its core elements." The heart of the story concerns a mother's love for her child and the sacrifices people make, all rendered with simplicity and sincerity. Even if the core of the spectacle is simplified, there's lots of room for the viewer to explore. The very beginning of Allumette seems to invite a look around. As the opening credits appear against a black background, a window lights up as if watching a building across the street. The window dims. Then another window, then another in your peripheral vision, and then windows all around as you turn in a full circle. It's as if you're surrounded by dots of candlelight, each one a window, and you can walk up and peer in a little closer at the shadow puppet story inside of it. I found myself pacing around the virtual set of Allumette. At first I was trying to frame shots of these characters, like I was cinematographer, leaning in for close-ups, bending down for a slightly different angle, even trying to simulate a slow tracking shot. But every now and then I would feel less self-conscious about the HTC Vive on my face. In those moments of total immersion, I was just a bystander in the imaginary city watching a mother and daughter do their thing. Occasionally I'd stray too far to one side--there are edges to this virtual world--and I'd feel a gentle tap on my shoulder from someone nearby just to get me centered again. The mother and daughter's airship is one of the great elements of Allumette, and a source of wonderment as well. It docked in front of me after I'd watched it descend from above. Just through the headphones I heard Jimmy Maidens, lead technical director at Penrose, say that I could look inside. Until Maidens mentioned it, the thought had never occurred to me. The sense of immersion made me feel like there was an actual boundary between this object and me. My mind thought it was physical, real, like a dollhouse, but I could actually peer into it, as simple as dunking my face into a pool of water. The airship interior was a miniature world within this virtual world. It was one of many strange moments of realization, like when I first looked down at the lower level of the setting in Allumette. I expected to see my feet; instead, clouds and sky and a town square. This mix of emotion and technology seems to fit with Chung's own sensibilities. His mother was a CPA, and his father was an opera singer. "I've always had this duality of left-brain/right-brain all throughout my career, which is important for VR," he said. Even before founding Penrose, the duality is evident: Chung attended NYU Film School and Harvard Business School, he worked in production at Pixar and then became a venture capitalist. Allumette is the second project by Penrose Studios. The San Francisco-based startup is just a few months old but has assembled a team of artists, engineers, and storytellers with backgrounds at Oculus, Pixar, and Dreamworks. The company's previous VR piece, The Rose and I, debuted at the Sundance Film Festival earlier this year and was very well-received. Penrose has other VR projects in the works, though they have yet to announce their slate. They've been experimenting with an interactive component to VR at the moment, though Chung explained it's really a matter of how the interactivity can be used effectively as part of the storytelling experience of a piece. "Presence is that feeling of being someplace else; storytelling is storytelling," he said. He added, "When you're given agency, it changes the way you perceive the story." With the way things are looking, VR might change the world of storytelling.
Allumette VR storytelling photo
An immersive and emotional experience
Watching Allumette is almost like watching a Pixar movie as an immersive theater experience, but even that description seems to sell the film short. It's difficult to describe VR storytelling without using familiar contexts. ...

Review: April and the Extraordinary World

Apr 08 // Geoff Henao
[embed]220489:42898:0[/embed] April and the Extraordinary WorldDirectors: Christian Desmares and Franck EkinciRating: PGRelease Date: April 8, 2016 In an alternate 1870 France, scientists were being mysteriously kidnapped. As it's revealed, Napoleon III was in search of a serum that would turn his soldiers invincible, created by a scientist who successfully injected the serum into two lizards. Frightened by their ability to talk, however, Napoleon III destroys the makeshift lab and everyone inside. The next day, Napoleon IV signs a peace treaty with Prussia. As time passes, notable scientists like Albert Einstein and Alfred Nobel go missing, halting the advancement of science in the late 1800s. By 1931, the world is still reliant on steam and charcoal to run their machinery, essentially creating the steampunk setting of April and the Extraordinary World. The scientist's descendants are on the cusp of re-creating the serum that would essentially grant immortality. However, they are hunted down by a French officer under orders to kidnap them for enlistment into France's weapons program. The incident culminates in the loss of many lives and the family's young daughter, April, left alone with their talking cat, Darwin. Ten years later, April is on the brink of remaking the serum when she suddenly finds herself in the middle of a dark mystery that ties her missing family in with a secret government conspiracy that can change the entire world. April and the Extraordinary World is a mix of Hayao Miyazaki's fascination with machinery and strong female leads, Pixar's overarching theme of strong family bonds, and the distinctly "French" style of animation. As previously mentioned, the art style is more or less governed by steampunk, giving this alternate Paris a very bleak and dull look that permeates beyond the visual elements of the film. Everything is very detailed and looks technically amazing; however, it just lacks that certain "IT factor" that Studio Ghibli films have. The film's plot is very predictable, even down to the plot twists that you know are coming. Given the film's PG rating, there just weren't many risks that could have been taken with its plot. However, despite this, the film is aimed more so at adults, given the strong ties to issues that aren't important or captivating to the normal child. There's much to be said about the political issues at hand, the sci-fi elements of an alternate universe that runs on steam, and the outdated notions of a modern film falling into an all-too-familiar trope, but that's better left for armchair activists and essayists. While April and the Extraordinary World is a solid family film, I wish it explored its "extraordinary world" more. Given its title, one would assume the setting, which is admittedly the most exciting aspect of the film, would play more of a focal point in the film's narrative. All of this isn't to say April and the Extraordinary World isn't enjoyable, it just leaves you wishing for something truly extraordinary.
Review photo
More like April and the Ordinary World.
Animated films are the best, aren't they? They give more life to their worlds than most live-action films do with their mixed use of CGI and human actors. Even as technology advances to the point where CG characters will be f...

Blu-ray photo
Blu-ray

Iron Giant Signature Edition Blu-ray coming in September


A thing of beauty
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// Matthew Razak
Last year we all had the chance to see The Iron Giant, Brad Bird's first and possibly best film, in theaters again with added footage. It was dubbed the Signature Edition and was pretty awesome, especially since many folks di...
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Toonami, Production I.G producing two more seasons of FLCL


FLCL 2: Less Fooly, More Cooly
Mar 24
// Geoff Henao
Excuse me for the brevity of this post, but man oh man. As of an hour ago (at time of publication), Toonami announced that they will be co-producing new episodes of FLCL alongside Production I.G. Together, they will prod...
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The LEGO Batcave looks LEGO awesome in The LEGO Batman Movie teaser trailer


There are no LEGO batnipples, though.
Mar 24
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The LEGO Movie was a pleasant surprise when it came out in 2014, introducing us to a whimsical universe where the Ninja Turtles peacefully co-existed alongside Batman, Shaq, and Lando Calrissian. Given the family-friendly nat...
Jungle Book photo
Jungle Book

Jungle Book character posters full of actors


Idris Elba is sexy with a tiger
Mar 21
// Matthew Razak
When you've packed your movie full of famous people but none of them are going to be seen there's only one solution: take dramatic photos of those famous people and put their animal characters with them. Clearly Disney knew t...
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Paramount drops The Little Prince, Netflix picks it back up


-insert inherent ska joke here-
Mar 18
// Geoff Henao
I've never actually read The Little Prince, but I know fans keep their memories of the 1943 French novella in the warm places of their hearts. Despite a stellar cast comprised of Jeff Bridges (The Giver), Paul Rudd (Captain A...
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Mark Hamill and Kevin Conroy return for next animated Batman film, The Killing Joke


Mar 15
// Nick Valdez
DC and Warner Bros may be struggling with their big budget movies, but they've been dominating the home video and TV space for a long time. After the Bruce and Dini animation era, and after rebooting their animated properties...
Sausage Party Trailer photo
Sausage Party Trailer

First trailer for Seth Rogen's R rated animated comedy Sausage Party


Rotten food belongs in the trash
Mar 15
// Nick Valdez
We got through so many movie announcements here at Flixist that it's hard to take some seriously. When Seth Rogen and Evan Goldberg mentioned they were working on an R rated food comedy, I kind of brushed it off thinking it's...

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