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Movie Review: ‘Coco’ is a Sweet Mix of Music, Family, and Fantasy

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There was talk amongst the parents at the screening about that other animated film about the Mexican holiday, the Day of the Dead. It took them a moment to remember, but it was 2014’s The Book of Life. For approaching this mythology once more in animated form, Pixar’s Coco already has a comparison for that old argument amongst animated movies of which came first. Thankfully, Coco not only outshines The Book of Life in art and story but is surprisingly meaningful, emotional and perfectly timed for a Thanksgiving release, given the heavy themes of family.

coco-hector-miguel-singing-dancingIn a small Mexican village, the 12-year- boy Miguel Rivera (Anthony Gonzalez) has a dream of music, but one his family does not share. Music has apparently been a burden on the Rivera family, dating all the way back to great-great grandpa who left his family to pursue a music career. He is so despised by the family that his photo has been ripped from their Day of the Dead tribute and his name never spoken. The Riveras are more proud of their successful shoe business. All except Miguel, who’d instead pick up a guitar.

Aiming to play music at the local festival, he borrows the guitar of the famed singer/actor Ernesto de la Cruz (Benjamin Bratt), a famous man whom Miguel believes to be his great-great grandpa. It turns out the guitar magically sends him to the Land of the Dead, where the spirits of the dead reside without skin. To find his way back home, he needs the blessing of his ancestors, but the only ones present forbid him to go back and play music. Surely Ernesto will respect Miguel’s love of music to send him back.

One significant advantage that Coco has over The Book of Life is that there’s a more grounded vision of the Land of the Dead. Clear rules are established for how the afterlife functions. On the Day of the Dead, spirits can cross a bridge into the Land of the Living, but only if their picture is displayed by the family on that day. Not only can spirits not crossover if their photo isn’t placed in tribute, but they pass away to another realm for being forgotten. Visiting mortals cannot crossover either without a family blessing, and too long a visit will result in their death, as Miguel slowly starts turning into a skeleton. This creates a real goal and consequences for Miguel. There’s also enough of an incentive for the forgotten Hector (Gael García Bernal) to help him out for the trade of placing Hector’s portrait in tribute in the mortal world.

The tale is mostly a family drama with Miguel peeling back the mysteries of his lineage as he traverses the colorful world of the dead. Though some obvious twists are foreshadowed in the film’s opening exposition by Miguel, I was surprised how twisty and revealing the story became of the Rivera family’s history.There’s some fun to be had, as when Miguel outsmarts the LoD authorities by disguising himself as a skeleton and later teaming up with Hector for a musical performance. The little details of how this world works, from the facial recognition system for guiding spirits to the swanky clubs for elite souls, are fantastic and wondrous, even if there isn’t much an explanation how the neon spirit animals work. I guess you to slam some cute animals in there somewhere.

In the same way that Inside Out explored how it’s okay to feel sad, Pixar’s Coco stresses the importance of family and the remembrance of legacy. It’s a grand theme, but well-presented with gorgeous animation and heart so full that the touching climax is bound to make the audience cry. There are many animated films out there that can be classified as more kid-friendly than family friendly, but Coco is the very definition of a family film, featuring and acknowledging characters of all ages. It’s complex without being convoluted, silly without being frenetic and somber without being dark. This is Pixar at their finest, crafting stunning new worlds with powerful writing behind them.

[author title=”About the Author” image=”http://popstermedia.com/wp-content/uploads/2015/07/mark_mcpherson-300×221-150×150.jpg”]Movie Reviewer Mark McPherson has been all about movies since working at a video store in his youth. His talents range from video editing to animation to web development, but movies have always been his passion to write about.[/author]


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Review: “Happy Death Day 2U” Goes From Clever to Confounding

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The sequel to 2017’s fresh and giddy horror concept of Happy Death Day comes crashing in with the least remarkable discovery: why the time loop that kept making one college student repeat the same day? The previous film was interesting and clever for featuring Jessica Rothe as the college student Tree, infected with Groundhog Day syndrome where she keeps reliving the same day until she cracks the mystery of her killer. It was a unique play on the murder mystery scenario without getting bogged down in specifics. Happy Death Day 2U, unfortunately, tries to explain the looping in a manner that is as clunky as it is unnecessary.

The story catches up with Tree, relieved that she has solved the case. But now science student Ryan (Phi Vu) is infected with the looping, once more being slaughtered by a mysterious figure in the iconic baby mask. Ryan explains this to Tree who is ready to go all Edge of Tomorrow on this scenario and stop the killer again. But due to a very convoluted smattering of multiverses, time travel, dimension hopping, and time devices assembled from technobabble, Tree soon finds herself right back where she started; same day, same events, but a new killer and new relationships.

And here is where the film loses sight quickly of its fun. We spend far more time trying to decipher the logic of Ryan’s time experiment that has caused Tree’s curse than we do with the drama and comedy of a different universe. And with so little time to enjoy it, the script concocts a quick and cheap method of tying all this together. Somber moments are assembled as corny melodrama, where Tree’s loving embrace of her now-revived mother carries far less gravitas than her fiercer moments of bitterly forcing herself through the motions. Playing with the dimension shifting and repeating lives grinds to a halt of exposition because Tree hasn’t watched Back to the Future and needs to be brought up to speed. Oh, and that whole murder mystery aspect? Yeah, the baby-masked killer is still lingering but the mystery behind the new attacker seems so secondary to the time loop nonsense its easy to forget that Tree has to crack this case because she honestly doesn’t have to. What’s the point of foiling the bad guy when the whole timeline will be reset one way or another?

Clearly, the film is going more for a comedic angle than a terrifying one in how it treats time-loop scenarios and horror situations with a knowing wink. But the gags spun from such a story come off decent at best and datedly drivel at their worst. Imagine my shock when in order to steal the keys from a cartoonish campus official, an acting student puts on the most stereotypical of French outfits and poses as a blind student that gets into all sorts of wacky slapstick as she babbles in damsel-style French. I started having bad flashbacks of similar scenes from the sequel to Porky’s. The more clever bits of Tree skydiving without a parachute and taking a chug of drain cleaner in the supermarket are sadly overshadowed by the lamest of kooky college kid antics that seem as though they were ripped directly out of a forgettable 1980s teen comedy or a rejected sitcom pilot.

Happy Death Day 2U is maddening for all the potential it squanders. Think about how much more unique the story could have been if Phi Vu took control of the story with Rothe the teacher of all things murder and death, ala Edge of Tomorrow. But the story aborts too quickly and decides to once again make the story about Tree, torn between deciding on a reality to favor when there’s little time to care about any of her crucial decisions among cartoony antics. And that off-the-rails ending left such a nasty aftertaste that I’m already dreading the inevitable Happy D3ath Day, where I fear Rothe’s keen sense of rage and roar will only grow hoarse.


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“Lego” Makes Little Splash at #1 For Weekend

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As we head into February, a larger crop of films are headed to the theater to take the top spot away from films that have been dominating the top 5 for quite some time. And while most of the older films were knocked a few spots down, the champions of the weekend didn’t exactly have the grandest of debuts for being so high on the charts.

While it’s no surprise that The Lego Movie 2, the sequel to 2014’s surprise hit of an animated film, was at #1, it wasn’t by as hefty an amount as the previous movie. The animated sequel premiered at $34 million, surprisingly weak considering how strong the last film did on its first weekend. Still, it’s by far the highest of the weekend box office. Just below it at #2 was the gender-based comedy What Men Want, starring Taraji P. Henson and Tracy Morgan, coming in with $19 million. And just below that was the thriller Cold Pursuit, starring Liam Neeson and Laura Dern, at #3 with $10.8 million. And debuting even further down at #6 is the new horror film The Prodigy with a weekend debut gross of $6 million.

Aside from the thriller Miss Bala taking the biggest dip of the weekend at 60%, most returning films took very low drops in box office. The lowest drops were for the heartwarming dramas of The Upside and Green Book, only dropping 16% and 18% respectively. Finally being knocked out of the top 5 was Aquaman with a current domestic gross of $328 million and Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse with $179 million.

Check out the full top 10 for the weekend below:

The Lego Movie 2: The Second Part ($34,400,000)

What Men Want ($19,000,000)

Cold Pursuit ($10,800,000)

The Upside ($7,220,000)

Glass ($6,422,000)

The Prodigy ($6,004,403)

Green Book ($3,567,000)

Aquaman ($3,300,000)

Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse ($3,040,000)

Miss Bala ($2,725,000)

Next weekend will be Valentine’s Day weekend where romantic comedy will do battle against futuristic cyborgs and bloody curses. Isn’t It Romantic, the romantic comedy satire starring Rebel Wilson, will hit over 3,300 theaters. Happy Death Day 2U, the horror sequel about a woman who can’t stop by dying, will premiere to 3,000 theaters. And Alita: Battle Angel, the dystopian sci-fi adventure based on the classic manga, will premiere to 3,700 theaters.


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Review: “The LEGO Movie 2” Builds More of the Same

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There’s was such an inspiring surprise behind 2014’s The LEGO Movie that resculpted the landscape of property-based movies. LEGO already had several animated features on home video but the first theatrical film of the classic and still-popular toy brought things to a whole new level of entertainment. It managed to merge a positive message about family and creativity while still being a self-aware showcase of various franchises. But with The LEGO Movie 2, the originality mostly evaporates by following too close to the manual.

The problem is that this sequel tries to double itself up in the wrong areas. It begins where the first film left off, with the younger-targeted Duplo toys invading the LEGO world. They seem friendly and innocent at first but then terror strikes and the world is sent into chaos. Five years later, the LEGO community has grown defensive against the Duplos as a more Mad Max society. It’s an identifiable landscape for the likes of the hardened Wildstyle (Elizabeth Banks) and the goofily-gritty Batman (Will Arnett) but not for the plucky Emmet (Chris Pratt). Even in the face of war threatening all that is brick, Emmet still jams to his tunes, drinks sugary coffee, and holds out for a better life.

The Duplos seemed to have evolved as well. A spaceship kidnaps most of the key characters and brings them to the questionably devious Queen Watevra Wa-Nabi (Tiffany Haddish) of the Systar System. The Queen wants to marry Batman in hopes of bringing about some secret plan she assures everyone is not evil, which Wildstyle doesn’t buy so easily. It’s up to both her and Emmet to save their friends and the LEGO universe by halting the wedding with the help of the space outlaw, Rex. If they don’t, an evil prophecy could be fulfilled of Ar-mom-ageddon where everyone will be banished to the bin of Storage.

All the verbiage comes with the obvious referential gags that don’t surprise much past what the first film accomplished. The story obviously steers towards the live-action tale of a brother and sister learning to come together with age. A sweet lesson but one that can be seen coming a mile away without any twists, despite a solid supporting performance by Maya Rudolph as the mother. Within the LEGO world, however, there are a handful of twists that don’t rattle the cage but at least give it a good kick. We learn more about Wildstyle’s background, Emmet’s desire to be tougher, Batman’s feelings about settling down, and the true plan of the girly toys. And while the twist of all these characters are telegraphed, they’re at least presented in a manner manic enough to keep up with the fast and frantic pacing of the comedy and action.

What didn’t let me down as much were the songs which are more abundant and pleasing than the previous film. Even though the film’s new catchy song is literally called “Catchy Song” with the lyrics “This song is gonna get stuck inside your head” repeated over and over, I can’t deny there’s a twinge of truth to its absurdity. I also really enjoyed a revision of “Everything is Awesome” and a bouncy song by Haddish about trying to make Batman jealous.

The LEGO Movie 2 proceeds as most sequels do by repeating what works, only providing a few more dashes of absurdity and surprise. But after two LEGO theatrical spin-offs since the first film, the bag of tricks is starting to wear thin, to the point where cameos must literally be pointed out to the audience with the guest characters addressed by celebrity name and profession. And that winking nature can only go so far, even when pointing out the sloppy logic of time travel and how all of this is just within the imagination of a boy. There’s still a bit of fun to be had within the knowing and playful nature of the picture but the age is certainly showing as it may be time to pack this franchise up for storage before it gets too weird for its own good.


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