Liev Schreiber

148: Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse

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(If you like what you see, you can go to camseyeview.biz to see more of my work on video game reviews, editorials, lists, Kickstarters, developer interviews, and review/talk about animated films. If you would like, consider contributing to my Patreon at patreon.com/camseyeview. It would help support my work, and keeps the website up. Thanks for checking out my work, and I hope you like this review!)

If you saw my editorials, talking about what I would like to see change in the big budget US animation scene, I talked about how certain studios should and could use a “shot in the arm” with trying out more ambitious storylines and visual styles. Animation is such a wonderful medium that is hamstrung by studios not bothering with stepping out of their comfort zones. Thankfully, Sony Pictures Animation decided to be a brave individual, and show that not only do you not need to spend triple digit millions, but can also make massive long-term profit and award acclaim with Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse. Directed by the trio of Peter Ramsey, Bob Persichetti, and Rodney Rothman, Spider-Verse was released back in December to universal acclaim, winning a massive pile of awards, and has certified itself by a team of me, myself, and I, as the best US animated film of 2018. Shall we swing into the review?

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The story revolves around Miles Morales, voiced by Shameik Moore. He’s a high school student who lives in a world where Spider-Man exists. Nothing is really all that different here in this universe. Spider-Man, voiced by Chris Pine, is loved, Miles dad, voiced by Brian Tyree Henry doesn’t trust Spider-Man, and Miles doesn’t really care about going the distance in becoming a better person. After hanging out with his uncle Aaron Davis, voiced by Mahershala Ali, Miles encounters Spider-Man attempting to stop King Pin, voiced by Liev Schreiber from using a giant machine to cause some supposed chaos. Luckily, Spider-Man sort of stops the machine from working while fending off Green Goblin and The Prowler. The bad news is that Spider-Man ends up getting killed by King Pin. The city is then swept over by sorrow from the loss of Spider-Man, and Miles feels responsible for the death of his universe’s Spider-Man. That is, until he encounters a much more self-defeated Peter Parker aka Spider-Man, voiced by Jake Johnson, from another universe. As the two try to find a way to get the alternate Spider-Man back to his own dimension, they encounter other Spider-Men from different dimensions. This includes Spider-Gwen, voiced by Hailee Steinfeld, Spider-Man Noir, voiced by Nicholas Cage, SP//dr, a Japanese anime-style Spider-Man/robot pilot voiced by Kimiko Glenn, and Spider-Ham, voiced by John Mulaney. They team up to try and stop King Pin, along with his lackeys Prowler, Tombstone, voiced by Marvin Jones III, Doctor Octopus, voiced by Kathryn Han, and Scorpion, voiced by Joaquin Cosio, from starting up the machine again, and possibly destroying Miles’ universe.

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Like a couple of times in my reviews, I want to talk about the animation first. This was the first big selling point when everyone saw the first teaser trailer for Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse. The visuals are literally jaw dropping. You will lose your jaw, and then have to go get it surgically reattached with how incredible and striking the visuals are. Everyone has said it, and it’s true, it looks like a literal moving comic book. The bright colors, the many details you would see in most comic books, the textures, the lighting, the designs, and how it all meshes well. Not one character from the different dimensions stands out in a bad way. Everything flows and gels well. I have seen some people argue that the animation is bad, but I’m sorry, that’s just objectively wrong. If you follow animation, then you know Spider-Verse does not have bad animation. The slower framerate and movements are there for a reason. If everything moved as fast as say, Sony’s Hotel Transylvania franchise, it would be an eye sore with all the bright and multi-colored visuals. It’s a style of animation that is used in other parts of the world, like in The Painting and Zombillenium. It’s used to work with the unique art style and not a budget limitation. When you see as much animation that varies in both budget and quality, you can see what is style and what is bad animation. Norm of the North is bad animation. Spider-Man into the Spider-Verse is good animation. End of lecture.

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In terms of the story, Spider-Verse has one of the most complex and complete stories out of most animated films in 2018. It’s the best told story among the US-made films. Films like Incredibles 2 and Ralph Breaks the Internet felt like they either didn’t go far enough with their themes and story, or only went at them in ways where they only go 50% and not 100%. Spider-Man fully commits to its multi-verse storyline mixed in with themes of coming of age, finding your own identity, not being fixated on events from the past, what it means to be a hero, and the harsh realities of being a hero. Every character works well with one another, and they treat everyone as characters. Sure, you can argue and nitpick and say that three of the six Spider-Mans don’t get as much development as the other three, but all six aren’t the main focus. The real focus is on Spider-Gwen, Miles, and Jake Johnson’s Peter Parker. Even Miles’ parents and Parker’s Aunt May are easily some of the best characters out of the movie. It’s so shocking to see an animated film treat everyone with actual dimension and not as one-note archetypes. While you can say that this film’s version of King Pin is not as good as the Netflix one, that isn’t really fair. This is one movie, whereas the Netflix one had three seasons to flesh out the character. It’s not really a perfect one on one comparison. However, you still get why King Pin is doing what he’s doing in the movie, and that’s pretty good. I also like how the film skims over origin stories. We really don’t need another Spider-Man movie that takes 40 minutes of its runtime to flesh out what happens. At least, it’s not a 100% origin story with the exception of Miles Morales, who has probably one of the best developments and stories out of any superhero movie.

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The voice cast for this film is perfect, and everyone seems to be on board and on the same level as everyone else. This isn’t like Venom or The Meg, where everyone, but one or two people know what kind of movie they are in. The talent is crazy good with Shameik Moore, Brian Tyree Henry, Mahershala Ali, Hailee Steinfield, Nicolas Cage, John Mulaney, Liev Schreiber, Jake Johnson, Lily Tomlin, Luna Lauren Velez, Kimiko Glenn, and as usual, seeing the late great Stan Lee in one of his last cameos is touching and endearing. The music is also incredible with plenty of amazing pop and rap songs that fit the tone perfectly. I even bought the soundtrack after I saw the film. I still listen to Vince Staples’ track.

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I really have no complaints about this movie. It’s truly the best US-made animated film of 2018, and congrats to Sony Pictures Animation for their successful 2018 line-up of animated features. Sure, I have minor gripes, but they really don’t matter when everything else is so strong. I highly recommend checking this film out, or getting it on blu-ray the day it comes out. It’s smart, funny, endearing, action-packed, and a blast. I think anyone who thought Sony Pictures Animation should just shut down and “drop dead” need to go crawl under a rock and never come back. Now then, before we hit 150, let’s keep making sure everything is awesome with LEGO Movie 2: The Second Part. Thanks for reading, I hope you all enjoyed the review, and I will see you all next time.

Rating: Criterion/Essentials

123: Isle of Dogs Review

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(If you like what you see, you can go to camseyeview.biz to see more of my work on video game reviews, editorials, lists, Kickstarters, developer interviews, and review/talk about animated films. If you would like, consider contributing to my Patreon at patreon.com. It would help support my work, and keeps the website up. Thanks for checking out my work, and I hope you like this review!)

I honestly won’t get tired of thinking this, but I’m surprised more directors in Hollywood don’t direct an animated feature. While there are pros and cons doing an animated feature or a live-action feature, one thing that always catches my eye about animation is that you can have literal control over a mass majority of the production. You don’t have to worry about sets, lighting, physical performances, and a lot of elements that plague live-action films. Really, the one major downside is that you then have to make everything from scratch. It’s why I love seeing directors known for their live-action films go into animation and vice versa. It’s fun to see them bring their personality into a new medium of filmmaking, and why today’s review is of Wes Anderson’s critically acclaimed Isle of Dogs. Released to the world on March 23rd, 2018, Isle of Dogs gained critical acclaim from film festivals, and won a couple of festival awards before starting its US release. While people did fall in love with this movie for a lot of good reasons, some critics have criticized it for its implementation of Japanese culture. As usual, it’s hard to talk about a movie, when there is some controversy attached to it. I will talk about it, but for now, let’s begin the review. Actually, before we begin, a friend of mine showed me a fun little secret about the title. Say it three times in a row quickly, and the title changes to a wonderful sentiment.

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Isle of Dogs takes place in Japan 20 or so years in the future. An outbreak of diseases affecting dogs has plagued the country, and the mayor of Nagasaki, played by Kunichi Nomura, has decided to ban all dogs to a trash island. Six months pass, and the dogs live there in small packs, trying to survive on scraps and garbage to get by. One pack includes Chief, voiced by Bryan Cranston, Rex, voiced by Edward Norton, King, voiced by Bob Balaban, Duke, voiced by Jeff Goldblum, and Boss, voiced by Bill Murray. One day, they see a kid named Atari Kobayashi, voiced by Koyu Rankin, crash his plane on the Isle of Dogs, who is there to find his bodyguard dog Spots, voiced by Liev Schreiber. Chief and his gang decide to help him as they try to find Spots, and try to uncover a grand conspiracy plotted by the mayor.

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Usually, when I love a movie, I want to talk about the positive aspects, because that is what deserves the most attention. I don’t see why I need to change tradition here. The stop-motion animation seen in Isle of Dogs is amazing. I mean, it’s the same studio that made Fantastic Mr. Fox, so I shouldn’t be surprised, but I was constantly impressed with the animation throughout the entire film. This includes making Trash Island visually interesting. Sure, it’s all garbage, but you would be amazed at how visually creative they got with the locations on the island. There are bright colors, terraformed landscapes, rusted out vehicles and buildings, and you get the idea.  Even down to little details, like how the dogs moved, reacted, their fur gently moving in the breeze, and even having little fleas running around at times shows that they paid very close attention to detail with the animals. I work at an animal shelter, and I see animals twice a week there, and dogs and cats there have their own spirit to them. No one animal is alike. The detail to the dogs is also shared with the humans. While moving like they did in Fantastic Mr. Fox, their animation was also fluid and full of little fun bits that made the artificial look of everything so alive. They even have some cool 2D sequences that are used when showing off characters on a TV screen.

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I love the characters. I mean, it’s a Wes Anderson film, what do you expect from the characters? They are quirky, they have their own personality traits, and when he decides to drop it on the viewer, can be emotionally engaging. While there are definitely a lot of characters, the bond that holds the entire film together is between Atari and Chief. Their bond is fantastic, and it was fun to see Chief grow fonder of helping Atari when he is shown kindness by the boy. Many of the characters work well off each other, as the entire cast of dogs is stacked with actors who felt very natural with one another. Edward Norton, Bob Balaban, Bill Murray, Jeff Goldblum, Scarlett Johansson, Harvey Keitel, F. Murray Abraham, Liev Schreiber, and Tilda Swinton all have their memorable moments and, of course, very funny lines. The human characters are also well acted, with Koyu Rankin, Greta Gerwig, Kunichi Nomura, Akira Yakayama, Yoko Ono, Frances McDormand, and Courtney B. Vance. They might have smaller roles, but they do not feel out of place with the overall weird world in which Anderson has put us. No one feels like they are simply playing themselves, and although some have very distinct voices, just because I knew who each character was played by, I was never taken out of the film. The story itself is simple, but it’s all in the execution, as the story carries themes of mass hysteria, government corruption, fear mongering, being outcasts, love, honor, friendship, and being against animal abuse. As in most Wes Anderson productions, the music is fantastic. It’s composed by Alexandre Desplat, who also did the music for Fantastic Mr. Fox and other Wes Anderson productions like The Grand Budapest Hotel, and recently won an award for The Shape of Water. Of course, much  of the music has plenty of Japanese musical flair that you would hear in old samurai flicks (figuratively and literally). The main song, I Won’t Hurt You by The West Coast Pop Art Experimental Band (that’s a mouthful), was quite wonderful.

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So, let’s talk about that controversy that this film is receiving. Multiple online articles by Asian/Japanese-American critics and online users are calling out the film for using cultural appropriation with Japan and the people of Japan for the backdrop, and the dogs, voiced by white actors, along with Greta’s character, are the heroes. There are other issues, but that seems to be the biggest problem that is causing an issue for some. Now, as I partly jokingly said in my Have a Nice Day Review, I am a white guy from Texas, what do I know? I will never have the full understanding of the pain and anger of seeing my culture misused or taken advantage of (though I wish reality shows would stop making Texas out to be nothing but ranch owners, and saying we all wear ten gallon hats). I can’t pull that card. I understand, to the best of my knowledge, why people are having an issue with it, and to an extent, I agree with some of the issues. However, if I had to look at the whole film from my perspective, I don’t think it’s not as bad as say, Ghost in the Shell or the incident with the Hellboy Reboot from last year. I felt like Wes Anderson did not intentionally set up this film to be punching down on the culture or its people. Even one of the actors who played the mayor was a consultant on the story. He said that he was fine with a lot of it, but did chime in from time to time. I also disagree with the criticism of how the script has the Japanese characters talk. Unless there is a translator nearby, all the Japanese human characters speak Japanese with very little English or subtitles. The issue I see talked about is that they are limited to saying simple, to-the-point lines. I don’t agree with this criticism, because if you aren’t going to be using subtitles 100% of the time, what the characters say needs to be short and to the point. I also feel like that just ties in with Wes Anderson’s style. In the end, I could break it all down from what I have seen, and all I can say is, I don’t fully agree with the backlash this film is getting, but I do understand that Wes Anderson does tow the line in paying respect and tribute in this fantastical setting, because he wanted to make a film that was set in Japan. If you have an issue with how he uses the culture, then by all means, have an issue with it. I do agree with some aspects of the criticism.

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So, what did I not like about the film? Well, I wish we had more time with the side characters. Chief’s group of friends vanishes at one point, and we don’t see them for a good, maybe 10-15 minutes before we see what happened to them. They could have used a bit more to them outside of certain quirks, like Rex wanting order among the pack, Duke being a lover of gossip, Boss being played by Bill Murray, and so on. They were really fun to be around, and I wish they could have been there more. The female characters are also not handled well. Not terrible, but underdeveloped. Scarlett Johansson is barely in the film, and is set up as this weak pseudo love interest for Chief. Though the one that people and I have an issue with is Greta Gerwig’s character, an American foreign exchange student who kicks the pro-dog rally into overdrive. She’s a strong character, and has her own personality, but I do think there is a problem with her ethnicity. I think a lot of the problems people have with the film would be gone if they didn’t make her American. Maybe instead, they could have made her a Japanese school girl, voiced by Rinko Kikuchi or another young Japanese American actress to play her. Because you can definitely see the whole, “Hey, the American student is brave, while the Japanese people are easily manipulated by their government and afraid to rebel” angle people have with her character.

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I respect the issues some are having with the film, but they do not detract from my personal enjoyment of the film. I love this movie, and until said otherwise, Isle of Dogs is the best animated film of the year. I loved the animation, the humor, the heart, and everything about it. Once it opens in wide release, please go see this movie. I want more people to see this film and support an original idea. It’s not like anyone here is going to go see Sherlock Gnomes or Duck Duck Goose. You shouldn’t see those, and again, go see Isle of Dogs. Well, speaking of gnomes, next time, before we get to Sherlock Gnomes, we shall look at Gnomeo & Juliet. Thanks for reading! I hope you enjoyed the review, and I will see you all next time!

Rating: Criterion/Essentials

The Other Side of Animation 103: My Little Pony the Movie (2017) Review

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(If you like what you see, you can go to camseyeview.biz to see more of my work on video game reviews, editorials, lists, Kickstarters, developer interviews, and review/talk about animated films. If you would like, consider contributing to my Patreon at patreon.com. It would help support my work, and keeps the website up. Thanks for checking out my work, and I hope you like this review!)

You know what? It seems like a lot of times, movies are not surprising anymore. You usually know or can predict how a movie is going to turn out if you look at the overall picture. Of course, seeing it in person and predicting how it is going to turn out are two different things, and if you want to have a solid base for your opinion on a film, you should watch it. Sometimes, you get a nice little surprise, but most of the time; you kind of know what to expect. It makes it all the more important when something you were expecting to not be all that great, turns out to be a solid fun time. This is where My Little Pony the Movie comes into play. For the record, I have not watched this show in years. I lost interest, and from what I remember, while I think the show itself was actually pretty good, I was not looking forward to this. On the other hand, this is the first 2D American-animated film we have had in almost a decade. It’s a good idea to support it if you are tired of CGI animated films. It’s a gamble, since I can understand how some filmgoers who are probably older teen-young adults would be hesitant to purchase a ticket by yourself, unless you have a young niece or nephew who wants to see it. Then again, I don’t think you need to be 100% a kid to enjoy this, but I should probably just start talking about the movie.

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The story follows our lead character Twilight Sparkle, voiced by Tara Strong. She is having trouble setting up a Festival of Friendship, due to personal self-esteem issues of being a good princess and wanting everything to go as planned. Unfortunately, as we see the arrival of the big guest at the festival, Songbird Serenade, voiced by Sia, the kingdom is under attack. The individual in charge is a unicorn with a broken horn named Tempest Shadow, voiced by Emily Blunt. Tempest Shadow works for a powerful individual known as the Storm King, voiced by Liev Schreiber. Twilight and her friends, Rarity, Rainbow Dash, Pinkie Pie, Fluttershy, and Applejack flee the kingdom and must go on a magical adventure to find a solution to save the kingdom, and take down the evil Storm King.

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A lot of animated films this year have been underwhelming for many reasons, but a major point of interest for me, was the fact that most animated films this year didn’t really know what they wanted to be. Despicable Me 3 wanted to be a big laugh-out-loud comedy, but clumsily tried to have a story arc between the lead and his brother that went nowhere. Cars 3 was meant to be this hugely emotional experience, but it couldn’t focus or stay committed to its more mature ideas, and played its trump card too early. Batman and Harley Quinn couldn’t balance out dark comedy with the heavy amounts of violence. It’s like some of these films had an idea of what they wanted to do, but either quit halfway through, or the writers didn’t know what to do, or maybe execs stepped in. I don’t know what happened, but do you know what is the most refreshing aspect about My Little Pony the Movie? It’s the fact that it knows what it wants to be. It wants to be a fantasy adventure film, and that’s perfectly okay. It wants to have the leads go through exotic and dangerous lands, and meet new characters. It wants to have a few solid action sequences, and it does so. It’s not a complicated movie, and I like that. I admire that, while simple, it’s a film that knows what it is.

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What I like a lot about this film is the fact that it is the first mainstream 2D animated film released in theaters. We haven’t had this happen since 2011. Sure, 2D is slowly making a comeback, but it wasn’t just a side gimmick, or a neat fact. Now, in terms of the 2D animation, it’s really nice. The movements are fluid, and everything is way more expressive than the TV show. It wasn’t something like previous movies based on TV shows in theaters, where it was just a slightly higher budgeted episode of the show. Now, technically, it’s not fully 2D, since they use CGI models for buildings and certain things, and I do have some comments about that, but overall, the animation in My Little Pony the Movie is high quality. I was concerned with how much of the advertising was showing off the big named celebrities, and that the main characters of the show were going to get sidelined, but thankfully, the main six characters do take up a majority of the film. You follow them throughout most of the film, while sometimes cutting back to the villains. A lot of the writing and jokes are pretty good, and I found myself laughing and chuckling throughout the entire film. I remember the show being charming with its writing and characters, and that carries over into the movie. I like the chemistry all the characters have, and I found it engaging. I think it helps that the voice cast from the show came back to voice their characters. Tara Strong, Ashleigh Ball, Andrea LIbman, Tabitha St. Germain, and Cathy Weseluck hold their own against the celebrities like Emily Blunt, Michael Peña, Taye Diggs, Zoe Saldana, Kristin Chenoweth, Uzo Aduba, and Sia. Even the original songs by song writer Daniel Ingram are actually pretty good. They are catchy and well-composed. I found myself humming the villain’s song after watching the film.

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Sadly, one of my concerns about the film, the huge celebrity names attached to it, partly came true. A lot of the celebrities don’t have a lot of screen-time, and some of them don’t have a lot to do. Sia pretty much appears at the beginning and the end of the film for the big dance party. Uzo has a fantastic voice, but her character doesn’t do much, and that goes for Kristin Chenoweth as well. The only celebrities that have something to do are Michael Peña, Emily Blunt, Taye Diggs, and Zoe Saldana. That’s a huge shame, because in the movie, you will rarely see Liev Schreiber, who is the lead villain. He has some of the best lines in the movie, but he doesn’t feel as big of a threat as he should. Emily Blunt’s character is more imposing than Storm King.  It leads the final fight to be well-animated, but it rings hollow when they defeat him, since he was played up for more comedic moments than anything else. The story also hits some familiar story elements that will probably annoy older viewers. The kids probably won’t mind it, but it does lead to some of the film’s few pacing problems. The only other major complaint I could come up with is that the CGI and the 2D animation do not mix well. There are many times where you see the fluid 2D animation interact with the CGI buildings or backgrounds, but do not gel, and it’s very obvious. It makes me wonder what kind of budget they had, to not be able to do full 2D animation.

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It’s by no means a grand or super amazing film. It’s not one of the best fantasy adventure films like Castle in the Sky or April and the Extraordinary World, but it’s a solid and harmless movie. I see no harm in going to see it. You would think they would simply bank on the popularity of the show, but they didn’t. Yes, they could have expanded on some elements better, I wish the characters with big celebrities behind them had more to do, and yeah, I could see some arguments about how it probably shouldn’t have been in theaters, but it’s a solid film. Go see it if you have a niece, or go enjoy it yourself. I can think of much worse animated films that are in theaters or on Netflix than My Little Pony the Movie. Well, we are almost ready to review some spooky films, but I need to get through some animated films first before doing so. Next time, we are going to check out Napping Princess. Thanks for reading, I hope you enjoyed the article, and I will see you all next time.

Rating: Go See It!