How to Train Your Dragon 2 (2014)

How To Train Your Dragon 2

How to Train Your Dragon 2 Review

How to Train Your Dragon 2 is a 2014 animated fantasy film from DreamWorks Animation. It is directed by Dean DeBlois and stars Jay Baruchel, Cate Blanchett and Gerard Butler. It is the second entry in the franchise and one of the best animated sequels ever.

Five years have passed since the first movie and now dragons and humans live together peacefully. However, Hiccup now must face Drago Bludvist who is creating a dragon army and wants to conquer the dragons. He also meets his mother Valka. The story here is quite different from the original. Whereas the first movie was slower and relied more on drama, this one has more of an epic feel to it, the scope is much bigger and the stakes are much higher. And I loved that about it because sequels are supposed to be bigger and they are supposed to delve  deeper into the mythology of the world and its characters. And this movie did just that which is why it is brilliant and a textbook example of how to do a sequel to an already great movie properly.

The character are amazing once again. And this is a perfect mix of old and new characters with familiar faces being well utilized and even more explored while the newly introduced characters are very well developed as well and they are all so memorable. Hiccup remains a fantastic main character and one of the best protagonists ever in an animated movie. He is again very realistic and also quite unique in his appearance and behavior, but still retains his heroic nature. I loved the choice to go five years into the future and this was perfect most of all for this character because he has aged now and not just in physical appearance (more on that later), but he also matured emotionally, but still his personality remains intact which is awesome. The filmmakers really know how to age the characters which is really admirable. And his conflict is very well realized.

Stoick is again so sweet and likable. The relationship between him and Hiccup remains fantastic, but the relationship between him and his wife is just so romantic and beautiful to behold. And yes, his death is just such a bold choice from the usually risk averse studio and I really appreciated it. That scene was so well crafted and instantly memorable. It is dramatic, powerful and just heartbreaking. Speaking of Valka, she is amazing and did not disappoint. Her relationship with her son is so well done and you can see that they are so alike. But she is also such a strong and unique female character and I loved how they portrayed her fascination with dragons and her backstory is so well done. Also, I really appreciated how they portrayed her as somewhat crazy and wild because that is very realistic given her dragon obsession. That whole theme of humans and animals getting along is once again very well put to use.

Gobber is so funny and everything he says is either adorable or hilarious. I loved his character once again and he remains the best sidekick of the series. However, his coming out scene is really subpar because it is hinted, but in such a subtle, awfully subtle way that not many people would get that. I appreciate that they went into that territory finally, but it was still such a weak way to do it.

Astrid is fine herself, but the relationship between the two is so strong as it continues to be understated and subdued which I love. As for the supporting characters, they are fine, but Ruffnut is the one who really surprised me as she was so funny. Her annoyance with her admirers is funny, but her infatuation with Eret and his muscles lead to so many hilarious moments and I really appreciate this franchise for being so mature. They not only have real consequences and death, but they also have gay characters and sexual humor which is impressive.

Eret is quite a good character. He is not that much used, but serves fine as the villain’s henchman. Speaking of the villain, Drago is great. His appearance is very creepy along with his voice and mannerisms, but I loved that he posed genuine threat to our heroes as he was quite capable. And he also has a fine backstory that ties well into his goal. The dragons are all amazing with Toothless being excellent. I loved that he was manipulated to kill Stoick as that created so much tension and lead to a great scene between him and Hiccup.

The acting is really good. Jay Baruchel continues to surprise me as he is so incredibly good in this role with some of the moments being very well acted on his part. Gerard Butler is very good, Djimon Hounsou did such a great job as the villain with his creepy voice and Cate Blanchett is also superb as she brought Valka wonderfully to life.

Now, let’s talk about the animation. How to Train Your Dragon 2 looks fantastic, that’s for sure. The animation here improved a lot from the last time and it’s always so polished and beautiful to look at. The scenery is absolutely gorgeous with the dragons and ice in particular being incredibly animated. The flying sequences are exquisite and so moving, but the character design is so strong. As I said before, Hiccup and everyone else aged and they did that wonderfully and in such a believable and realistic manner. The attention to detail is overwhelming from the clothes to the dragons to the landscapes all being superb and filled with realism.

The movie has its flaws which are small. One is that the movie is a but uneven because of all the subplots and action on screen. I would have liked to have seen more of the slower moments. And the action is a bit overwhelming later on. That is why the first ‘How to Train Your Dragon’ remains a better movie.

However, How to Train Your Dragon 2 is more entertaining of the two and definitely the more mature and more dangerous one. Also, that action is always phenomenally executed and so incredibly fun to watch, immensely intense and dramatic. And as for the slower moments, there are those present here with the mother-son reunion being a perfect scene, slow and poignant. The death of Stoick also lead to a wonderful funeral which is one of the most emotional moments here. The beginning is also really good. That sport looks too much like Quidditch from the Harry Potter series, but it is still fun.

The scene where Astrid mocks Hiccup by imitating his voice and arm movements is just brilliant and hilarious. The humor is really good and I laughed a lot during the movie. The fights are fantastic and so epic as is the whole movie. I loved how they incorporated the different dragons with the alphas being so cool and the different properties of Toothless being just awesome and well revealed. The movie is solidly paced and structured. The score is once again terrific! It was so beautiful at times and wonderfully accompanied those heartbreaking as well as dramatic moments. The ending in particular is superb. And I loved how the music is Celtic as it perfectly accompanies the time period. The dialogue is strong, the emotion is definitely there, the screenplay is sophisticated, it is unpredictable and bold and the action is very well executed. The movie is also epic, imaginative and ambitious and it wonderfully raised the stakes for the finale which I am anticipating a lot and I hope it is going to be as good as the first two. How to Train Your Dragon 2 is the finest film from DreamWorks Animation after the original’ How to Train Your Dragon‘ and this franchise is undoubtedly going to be one of the very best trilogies of all time.

With simply breathtaking animation, amazing score, wonderfully executed action sequences, mature dialogue, phenomenal script, excellent pacing and intriguingly dark approach, How to Train Your Dragon 2 is epic, smart, funny, devastatingly sad, exciting and heartwarming all at the same time thanks to fascinating characters and some refreshingly adult, dark and heartbreaking scenes. It does what a sequel should do – it gives us new and interesting characters while improving the original ones, it improves the technical aspects and it builds on its mythology and explains a lot of the things we wanted to know, while also laying the groundwork for the finale. It is a one of the very best films of the year and one of the best CGI animated films. It is an almost perfect sequel in a trilogy that is going to be one of the best of all time.

My Rating – 5

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Penguins of Madagascar (2014)

Penguins of Madagascar

Penguins of Madagascar Review

Penguins of Madagascar is a 2014 DreamWorks animated action comedy film directed by Eric Darnell. It is one of the worst films from the studio and one of their most uninspired.

It is a spin-off of the Madagascar franchise and stars just the penguins who were sidekicks in that franchise. You shouldn’t take the funniest supporting characters from the film and give them an entire film for themselves. The characters that are supposed to be there occasionally and always be funny end up being annoying. This is one of the best examples of that and I hate when they continue to do it with these stupid spin-offs.

The characterization is quite weak. The penguins themselves are fine, but don’t get much depth. However, I liked what they did with Private. They showed us his hatching from the egg and then his adapting to the team. First being ignored, he later on becomes a valuable member of the team and that storyline is the most satisfying one here. I didn’t care much for the North Wind characters as they are all pretty forgettable and underused, although interesting when species are concerned. Classified is good and the sequence between him and the penguin on the plane is hilarious. Short Fuse and Eva are both underdeveloped and Corporal is better, but still fails to leave a bigger mark. As for Dave, his persona is typical, but at least they gave him a backstory which is somewhat satisfying.

The acting is excellent. All of the voice actors for the penguins did a great job, but John Malkovich is superb as Dave and Benedict Cumberbatch is really good as Classified. He fits this character wonderfully not only with his voice, but also with his British accent.

The story is weak. I liked the first scenes with Private being born and added to the team, but the whole second half is filled with too much action that was frustrating to follow. Yes, some of it was interesting, but most of the action was uninspired and dull. The film is awfully frenetic and that is its biggest detractor. But I liked the scenes with the villain and the final scene was emotionally satisfying.

The animation is pretty good. The character design is typical, but great for the newly introduced characters with the North Wind crew being interesting and Dave being very well realized. It looks good do watch and is polished, but is hardly inspired at all and isn’t one of DreamWorks Animation’s better animated works.

The humor is the best reason to see Penguins of Madagascar. Yes, they were funnier in the Madagascar franchise, especially in the original film, but they were still pretty good here and some moments were hilarious. The first scenes are pretty funny with the reporter moment being hysterical. But the best sequence has to be the one where Dave calls them on Skype and starts having his villain speech only to realize that the sound is not on. That was so incredibly funny and such a nice parody of action films and villains. And there were enough of these clever and funny scenes to warrant a viewing, but I still wished for more as most of the humor was forced.

Penguins of Madagascar is technically troublesome. The pacing is ridiculously fast and so annoying and the directing should have been better. The acting is great and the imagery is pleasant to watch with some scenes being gorgeous, but the animation is overall not that great or interesting. And the whole movie is like that – uninspired and forgettable. It isn’t DreamWorks’ worst movie, but is one of the worst as only ‘Shrek the Third’ is to me certainly inferior whereas others are debatable. The tone is okay as it does have its heart. It is mostly forced and typical, but it was heartwarming from time to time. The script is unoriginal and predictable, but the dialogue is mostly okay. The score is flat and the action is weak, but at least the humor is pretty good. I overall did not find this film bad, but it isn’t good either and is just mediocre and a forgettable diversion.

Penguins of Madagascar does have its hilarious scenes, the characters are fine and the animation is okay, but the action is uninspired and boring, the pacing is too frenetic and the story is bland and boring. It is an uninspired spin-off that has its moments, but is overall forgettable.

My Rating – 2.5

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Mr. Peabody and Sherman (2014)

Mr. Peabody and Sherman

Mr. Peabody and Sherman Review

Mr. Peabody and Sherman is a 2014 animated science fiction comedy film from DreamWorks Animation. It is directed by Rob Minkoff and it stars Ty Burrell and Ariel Winter. It is, in spite of its flaws, a very entertaining and enjoyable movie.

Mr. Peabody is a dog who has an adopted human son. Together they travel with their time machine through different time periods and he teaches him lessons along the way. I liked the story and the property. The first act or so is a bit rushed, but introduces you to all of the characters well. The third act is very sweet and satisfying whereas the second act is adventurous and filled with different time periods wonderfully explored.

The French Revolution is really well done. What they did with Marie Antoinette is funny and all of it is visually pleasing. Ancient Egypt isn’t as explored as I’d have liked it to have been, but it does have its moments. Now, Renaissance Florence is definitely the finest period here as it is visually breathtaking and so imaginative. Leonard Da Vinci is funny, especially with his toy child, and the flying scenes in particular are beautiful to behold. I wish they were longer though. The Trojan War isn’t as good, but it has some of the funniest lines with King Agamemnon being hilarious.

The New York scenes are also entertaining and dramatic. I liked all those family problems with the adoption and Peabody’s capability as a parent all being delved into a lot. It is definitely a comment on gay marriage and, although I would have liked them to actually go into that territory for once, I still liked this approach as it is an evident parallel to that and it works as both protagonists are well developed.

Mr. Peabody is excellent and I really liked his nerdy behavior and way of speech. But he is also cool and very capable during the action sequences which is a nice change in pace. Sherman isn’t as good and is flat at times, but the relationship between the two is superb and so heartwarming at times. Penny is so mean at first, but she proves herself later on and becomes a much more likable companion and a suitable friend/love interest for Sherman. Paul and Petty are funny as her parents and the scenes where Peabody impresses them are quite funny. Ms. Grubion is typical, but both Da Vinci and Agamemnon are really good and very funny.

Ty Burrell did a really nice job as Peabody. His voice is always recognizable, but he still gave a very good performance. Ariel Winter is also pretty good and it interesting how the casting directors went with both of them having in mind both are from Modern Family. Stanley Tucci did a really nice job, but of course Patrick Warburton is excellent and he is always welcome as a comic relief as he always delivers.

The animation is very pleasing and enjoyable. It is colorful, but not garish and distracting. The character design is excellent and wonderfully simplistic against the backdrop of the backgrounds which are quite detailed. I loved Florence in particular as it is so beautiful to look at and the houses are particularly good. But the water, sky and everything else is very nice to look at and the colors are great. This isn’t one of the most inspired animations, but it is one of the better looking films from DreamWorks Animation and is always wonderful to watch.

Mr. Peabody and Sherman is weakly directed, but well acted. It is so badly paced as it is mostly too rushed and fast paced with too much action and at times even abrupt nature. I am talking about the time travel aspect which is so poorly realized. It is so rushed and convoluted that not even adults could understand it, let alone children. It had so much potential, but everything regarding time travel is very lightly explored here and just rushed upon. We never learn the details of it as they never explain them to us. And the third act in particular is incredibly problematic and just so abrupt and underdeveloped.

Mr. Peabody and Sherman is very entertaining and mostly engaging, but sometimes the action is overwhelming and even tiring at certain moments. It has its heart, but could have been more emotional. It is clever, but not as smart as it should have been regarding its subject matter. The humor is great, I really enjoyed it. It wonderfully makes fun of all these famous historical figures and although the humor is too modern and childish, I was still entertained by it as some lines did make me laugh a lot. Some of the humor is forced, but most is pretty good.

The score isn’t particularly memorable, but is still quite solid. The film is visually great as it has some memorable imagery. The tone shifts from adult to childish in a jarring way, but I still enjoyed how this film is made for those who love history as it does have a geek feel to it. And the dialogue is mostly good, if not that sophisticated. This is a good film in my opinion and is even slightly underrated to be honest. It isn’t one of DreamWorks’ best films, but is certainly one of the better ones as it is their last good original effort for ‘Home‘ was so disappointing a year later. 2014 is the year when DreamWorks Animation released three movies which is a lot and this one falls in the middle – it is naturally inferior to ‘How To Train Your Dragon 2‘, but is so much better than ‘Penguins of Madagascar‘ of course.

Mr. Peabody and Sherman has its flaws including a rushed and too fast paced nature, a convoluted storyline and it should have been smarter, but this is still a very fun film that benefits from a pretty good humor, enjoyable characters, beautiful animation and an engaging time travel plot filled with a couple of wonderfully explored time periods.

My Rating – 4

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Boy & the World (2014)

Boy & the World

Boy & the World Review

Boy & the World is a 2014 Brazilian animated silent film directed by Ale Abrau. It is an abstract and wordless movie that gathered critical praise and awards, but I found it flawed.

It follows a boy whom his father leaves in search of work and the boy embarks on a journey to find him towards an unknown city. This is an abstract, artistic film in the vein of Disney’s ‘Fantasia‘, but whereas that film had no story for the major part, Boy & the World has one which is its strength and weakness in the process. Let me elaborate. While it is definitely better in my opinion for a movie to have a concrete story and this movie does have one, I still found it flawed as it is too simplistic and too ambiguous and never properly explained.

It is thematically rich and some moments are marvelous to behold. The most memorable scene for me was the one in which the two fall asleep and the camera moves away from them and we get a look at the big city. That is a great way to show how in the city that is chaotic and vast, the two found each other and that is all that matters. And the film has those moments to spare, but they are just moments and the overall storyline is quite lacking unfortunately.

I wished to have seen more of it and I wished for better and more clear storytelling as it is too difficult to understand here not only because it’s silent and has no dialogue, but mostly because the approach is too ambiguous. Its political overtones in the second half aren’t as well handled and I enjoyed the first half much more and found the tonal shift at the middle quite jarring to be honest. It starts and ends well with great touching moments, but I wish that the whole movie was like that – intimate and warm.

Boy & the World is a technical marvel. It has such an artistic and unique animation that has wonderful Latin-like qualities while also being effervescent and beautiful to look at. The character design is not my cup of tea as it is overly simplistic, but the simplistic animation otherwise works here and I found the animation of the jobs, towns and abstract scenes the highlights. It is so colorful, but wonderfully so rather than garish which is a great achievement.

The score is one of the best aspects here without any doubt. It is amazing and so catchy and just moving. It is wonderfully Brazilian in essence, but also the kind of music that anyone can enjoy and this is the soundtrack that lifts the whole movie to greater heights as it is that good. The pacing is also solid and although the movie can be tough to sit though due to its nature, it is still not as boring as it could have been and the running time is manageable. The directing is good and the imagery is always fascinating to watch. The movie isn’t original at all in its storytelling, but is rather authentic in its technicalities and especially animation which is one of a kind and so refreshing. It is visually a feast for the eyes and it is worth watching for that alone. But it isn’t engaging and the plot should have been much better realized and that would have made the movie much better. Also, the characters are forgettable and don’t get any development whatsoever. It is the kind of film that is an experiment, but the one that is more interesting and unique rather than truly fascinating or really great.

Boy & the World is technically such an astonishing achievement with such a one of a kind, colorful animation that is a feast for the eyes and the score which is just amazing and so moving, but the plot is anything but that as it isn’t handled properly at all and the film is more of an interesting than a particularly successful experiment.

My Rating – 3.5

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White God (2014)

White God

White God Review

White God is a 2014 Hungarian drama film directed by Kornel Mundruczo. It won the Prize Un Certain Regard at the 2014 Cannes Film Festival. It deserved all of its accolades and critical acclaim as it truly is an authentic and marvelous achievement.

It follows a young girl who has a mixed-breed dog Hagen. One day, her father dumps him on the street and Hagen’s journey starts with him eventually gathering 250 of dogs and they start an uprising against their human oppressors. The plot itself is really good, but it is the approach and execution that makes it great. For once, you get the perspective from a dog himself which is so unique and for once you get a truly realistic and honest look at mixed-breed dogs and the real troubles they go through on the street. It is an important and insightful film for that matter and everyone should see it.

The problems I’ve had with White God are twofold. First of the two is that the film is at times overly brutal. Yes, it was important for us to see that and the film mostly is just a psychological horror which is great, but there are certain times where they’ve gone too far with the blood and killings being particularly unnerving and just too much. Also, that ending, while triumphant and emotionally satisfying, is still too much of a typically happy ending and it is predictable.

However, what isn’t predictable is the film’s first two acts which are fantastic. The first is a great emotional drama and has some excellent character moments between Lili and Hagen and the second is a brutal look at what happens on the streets and an excellent view from a dog’s perspective. It is great how the film is thematically rich and you can take anything you want from it in terms of politics and social commentary, but what is even better is its use of different genres with drama being superb, action being well realized and even horror being present in the end and well done.

Lili is a great, grounded character and of course Hagen is phenomenal. The father is also realistic, but the problem for me was everyone’s hatred towards mixed-breed dogs exhibited here as it was bit too much and difficult to believe. But the character development is solid for this kind of film and of course the acting is superb as all of the actors did a great job and the dogs are all terrific.

White God is technically such a polished film. The cinematography is amazing, the directing and acting are both so phenomenal and the pacing is terrific with just the right amount of running time and an epic scope is definitely there.  There are many memorable sequences here from the ending to the perfect opening to some great dog close-ups. The imagery is great and the movie is so authentic which is its biggest strength. The dialogue is solid and the movie is sophisticated and always fascinating and incredibly engaging to follow. It is also very realistic and its subject matter is not only important but also perfectly approached and realized. The movie is serious and mature in the best way possible while also attaining its emotional intensity and its heart. In a great year for foreign movies, this is one of the better ones and such an original and bold film that is definitely worth a watch.

White God has amazing cinematography, superb acting across the board and it is such an authentic film with an important subject matter wonderfully realized with both realism and brutality and a big heart. Its ending is typical and it is at times too brutal, but this is mostly an original and entirely engrossing film that is emotionally intense and wonderfully dramatic.

My Rating – 4.5

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Big Eyes (2014)

Big Eyes

Big Eyes Review

Big Eyes is the latest film from Tim Burton starring Amy Adams and Christoph Waltz in the lead-roles as Margaret and Walter Keane. This is, after Ed Wood, his second biographical film and it is his best feature in years.

First, the story. I personally found the story fascinating, even from the trailers. It is so refreshing to see Tim Burton doing something different, something serious for a change and he really made an effort here which shows. The whole real-life story is so captivating to me that the whole movie flew by. That is how engaging and I’d add important this story is. It is also very grounded and realistic. Women were like that those days and I am so happy they went in the realistic approach and direction because that transports you to the 50s and 60s perfectly and shows you how women were weak and looked upon those days. The film makes a statement that not a single person would buy art from a woman back there and it is important to watch this film and remember how women struggled in those respective decades. Also, the ending is very satisfying and triumphant when she finally wins and you are happy because you rooted for her the whole way.

The character development in this film is excellent as well as the acting. Both characters are somewhat complex and not just one-note. You start to care for the protagonist and you start to despise Walter and that is all due to some great characterization at display here. The performances from the two are great, but Amy Adams is especially good. She steals the show and she once again gives a terrific performance, after the great performances in ‘Enchanted‘ and ‘American Hustle‘. She is really one of the best actresses in the business right now and she is quickly becoming one of my favorite actresses as well.

The cinematography is great here, it is always so bright and pleasing to the eye. Also, I think the attention to detail is magnificent, especially concerning those eyes. Everything here regarding the technical aspects is excellent. And the directing is superb finally bringing back Tim Burton in the process.

There are a couple of problems that this movie has and those are unfortunately big ones. The movie begins so well and that is why it is such a shame that it almost collapses near the end and that is all due to some actions by Walter’s character which are so over-the-top and even, I have to say, cartoony in nature. Honestly, it is so childish that it kind of ruins the film. His performance in those moments is also very over-the-top and I am not blaming Waltz per say but rather the director because I think he made him act that way, it was his vision for the ending and it was a very bad idea honestly. Instead of that route, they should have gone with fleshing out his character more and adding some thought-provoking dialogues and lines about the whole situation. But those are some bad moments that, no matter how bad, did not however take away the great experience I’ve had with this film.

All in all, Big Eyes has many problems in the execution in the movie’s later parts, but it is overall such an intriguing story that is also very important because there are a few worse things than taking credit for someone else’s work and that is why the movie is so emotional and striking. The direction, the performances and the technical aspects are all very good here and it is great to see the director finally make a comeback after his latest lackluster efforts.

My Rating – 4

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      Interior & Exterior Stills from Big Eyes

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The Skeleton Twins (2014)

The Skeleton Twins

The Skeleton Twins Review

The Skeleton Twinsis a 2014 dramedy film directed by Craig Johnson and starring the wonderful duo of Bill Hader and Kristen Wiig. It is one of the most underrated films of 2014.

Milo and Maggie are siblings who haven’t seen each other in ten years. But when Milo is hospitalized after an attempted suicide, they reconnect and share their problems with each other. She is cheating her wonderful husband and taking birth control pills unbeknownst to her husband whereas Milo is trying to reconnect with his former lover, a teacher who was his first. They are both deeply unhappy people with many problems and are in a great deal of depression. That is the story of The Skeleton Twins and although it does sound and is depressive, the movie still manages to have its fair share of laughs and sweet moments which is tremendous as that is how real life works. Real life is both a drama and a comedy, it has its ups and downs and it is very difficult, but it still has its funny and wonderful moments worth living for.

And that is what I love the most about this film. It works so well as a dramedy which is admittedly rare to achieve. And I absolutely loved both of the movie’s subplots as both explore its characters wonderfully and both are relevant and deeply dramatic. The character development in The Skeleton Twins is remarkable and both persons seem real and their issues ring true and that makes the movie so relatable. Milo is so problematic, he is a lonely and frustrated gay man who tries to have a relationship with a teacher who was his first partner years ago. That story is really important as it happens so often in real life. And the character of Rich is so realistic as there are so many of these closeted homosexual men who pretend to be straight and establish a family in order to have a “normal” life, but are having affairs along the way. And Milo is so suicidal and in a deep depression which is very poignant, but he still retains his sense of humor which is also great and grounded in reality.

But I loved the character of Maggie even more as she was so sympathetic, but also unlikable in some of her actions and behavior which once again makes her real. The stuff she does to her husband is just bad and appalling, but she is still deep inside a good person that is just so flawed and doesn’t know exactly what she wants in life and can’t decide if she wants a baby or not, but also can’t suppress her sexual desires. Those are all relevant issues that are present in so many people. Lance is such a lovable character as her husband and as this extremely good-natured and just plain fantastic person. And the exploration of his character I also loved here as it shows you how these people are their own enemies as the world is full of people who are at least somewhat mean and act that way from time to time which is why they almost can’t survive and are to be heartbroken eventually.

It is such a thematically rich movie as Lance was greatly established, but their mother Judy is also very relevant as this cold and plain bad mother and the relationship between the three is so unfortunate, but still so real. But what I loved about The Skeleton Twins the most is how it shows you what a wonderful bond the sibling relationship is and how that is important, especially at this day and age, and how you shouldn’t just forget about your brother and sister as that relationship can help you a lot in life. And that was most evident in that superb ending which shows the greatly grounded and cliché-ridden nature of the picture once again. Real life does not end well, but also does not end in a tragedy. It is in the middle ground and that is why that finale was so emotional and so satisfying. They both lose their partners and they both attempt a suicide, but despite all that, they at least have each other and that relationship to help them get through life’s endless challenges and dissatisfactions.

The acting is so phenomenal. Luke Wilson is so incredibly good in his deeply sympathetic and eventually heartbreaking role and Ty Burrell is quite good in the dramatic role. He isn’t on the level of the other performers, but he still did a respectable job in an unusual, dramatic role for him. But Kristen Wiig and Bill Hader are awesome, both of them. They just deliver in this one and although both comics in most of their roles, they proved that they can be serious in a drama film and that is so admirable. Bill Hader is believable and he did such a fine job in a not so easy role, but Kristen is even better as she pulled it off from start to finish and had a less comedic character.

That is the only problem I’ve had with this film. It is not as funny as it could have been and Wiig or her character should have been more humorous. Bill Hader is really funny at times, but she is mostly straight-forward and dramatic. The humor when present, is quite good, but it is rarely there unfortunately and the tone is sometimes handled not particularly deftly. Also the movie can be too slow for some, but to me it isn’t and I found its pacing rather good. But the directing is also superb and Craig Johnson is so stupendous in the director’s chair. The Skeleton Twins is also well shot and looks good and the score is solid. I absolutely loved its emotional and heartwarming scenes with the singing sequence in particular being so powerful and so beautiful to watch. The dialogue is sophisticated and the movie’s nature is unpredictable and mature which I appreciated a lot. It is one of the better films in such a strong year for film and it is definitely one of the most underrated movies of that year.

The Skeleton Twins explores the troublesome relationship between brother and sister with strong characterization, really superb lead performances and a great mix of funny and serious tone. It can be sometimes too depressing and Kristen Wiig should have been funnier, but it is largely a very good film filled with poignant themes, relevant issues, a very satisfying ending, some incredibly beautiful sequences and a troubled, yet complex and warm look at sibling bonding.

My Rating – 4.5

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Interior & Exterior Stills from The Skeleton Twins

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Jack and the Cuckoo-Clock Heart (2014)

Jack and the Cuckoo-Clock Heart

Jack and the Cuckoo-Clock Heart  Review

Jack and the Cuckoo-Clock Heart is a 2014 French animated fantasy movie directed by Stephane Berla and it tells the story of a boy who, thanks to his clock for a heart, has to never experience love in order to prevent death.

This is an extremely flawed movie which is a shame because it has a couple of strengths which are really fantastic. First off, the story. It is unfortunately too reminiscent of ‘Pinocchio’ in its concept and somewhat execution. It never feels as fresh as it should have been. However, what makes it interesting is its tone which is very mature and even dark at times and certainly not for children. And the romance is solid, if never as emotional as was necessary. But the mature tone helps this movie a lot for sure making it quite watchable for adults.

As for the characters, they are okay, but never as interesting or as well developed as the script demanded. The acting is good and the characters are definitely not thin, but they are also not particularly well developed as well which is really troublesome. But what is great is its wide plethora of different and unique supporting characters helping the world-building in the process as well.

The animation is by far the movie’s biggest strength. It is way too reminiscent of the style of Tim Burton, especially in the character design, which means it is never particularly fresh, but it is remarkable nonetheless because it is very stylish with evident attention to detail and great world-building and memorable imagery. I particularly loved the different styles that went into production, especially during the singing sequences as those were the finest here. The colors are also great and it very well uses its dark scenery and color palette creating the dark mood which fits perfectly within this dark world, story and mature tone.

What hurts the picture the most besides so-so characterization and unoriginal plot is certainly the music which is uninspired and quite frankly bland and dull. The songs here are so instantly forgettable and unremarkable that it really starts to bother you quickly because they get much of the running time which was a very unfortunate choice. It somehow never belonged to this world as well and the tunes are never catchy or memorable. They should have gotten rid of them for sure and the movie would have been much better.

It is technically a splendid film. The directing is solid as is the voice acting. The pacing is okay and the tone is excellent of course along with the memorable imagery and artistic animation which are the highlights. It is visually great, but emotionally it is quite shallow and distant which is extremely problematic given the film’s story which demanded much emotion. The heart is missing here and one of the major reasons why I never connected with the movie’s characters.

Jack and the Cuckoo-Clock Heart has excellent mature tone and dark feel, it is well made and above all visually stunning with terrific imagery and outstanding, artistic and very stylish animation, but that animation is also too reminiscent to the style of Tim Burton, especially in the character design, the characterization is so-so, the movie is emotionally distant, the plot is similar to Pinocchio’s sometimes too much and the songs are very bland and forgettable. It is an interesting experience, but unfortunately a very flawed movie which is a shame because it had a lot of potential.

My Rating – 3 

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Song of the Sea (2014)

Song of the Sea

Song of the Sea Review

 

Song of the Sea is an Irish animated fantasy film directed by Tomm Moore who previously directed the now famous Oscar nominated “The Secret of Kells“. And he’s got another winner with this film proving once again that he’s quickly becoming a big name in the animation industry.

Like his previous work, Song of the Sea is based on the ancient Celtic myth, this time the one of selkie. I found the story in this film captivating. It really is. It may seem simplistic at first, but I really connected later, especially in the wonderful finale which is filled with emotion. That whole scene is just indescribably beautiful and although prolonged and somewhat too emotional, it is still not only heartbreaking, but wonderful to behold, both emotionally and visually. The whole story is very engaging, well crafted and wonderfully executed making you want to know how it will all end.

The characters in the film are pretty good. They are pretty simplistic, but mostly good. The father is very well developed and the children are really sweet. The relationship between brother and sister is just so endearing to follow. But the character design is excellent, human as well as selkie and that very charming dog that made me smile every time he was on screen. One flaw that this movie has is unfortunately the acting which I think is rather flat sometimes. It is at times good, but often quite weak to the point of a distraction. The pacing is also a bit too slow, but still very leisurely and pulling you in with its story and visuals. The voice acting is the only flaw I found in this otherwise remarkable animated film.

Song of the Sea is incredibly original and the story has such a great mythology and world building to it. It has a big heart and although childlike, it is very mature as well. It has such a great adult and child appeal and is wonderful for the whole family. The tone is deft, the dialogue is pretty good and although I wished for less of it due to the film’s nature, I still loved it. It is wonderfully old-fashioned in its execution and it has such a timeless appeal to it. And it just knows when and how to end which I appreciated a lot. The whole world here is beautiful to stay in for an hour and a half and it is such a moving tale.

Now, the animation. What is there to say other than it is simply marvelous to behold. The hand-drawn animation here is so wonderfully crafted, artistic, almost like paintings.  Especially the scenes at the sea as well as the ending are extremely beautiful and pleasing to the eye. The animators managed to make such a simplistic animation work and they made it seem like art which it really is. It is a technically splendid film which has exquisite animation and I also think the score is terrific, very moving and fitting to the story. Some of the imagery here is just breathtaking to behold. Some of the designs of the characters I wasn’t a huge fan of, bust most of it was pretty good. The animation may seem simplistic, but in a deceptive way as it is incredibly artistic and profound.

When I compare this film with the other animated films of 2014, I would rank it below just “How To Train Your Dragon 2” and “The Tale of the Princess Kaguya” (if you count that movie as a 2014 release, of course). It is better than all the other animated movies released in this particular year and Tomm Moore should be congratulated for making another masterful feature film. I know that critics usually say his previous work is better, but in my opinion, Song of the Sea is quite on par with “The Secret of Kells” and maybe even better and I am so happy for both the director and Irish animation that they are gradually establishing themselves as major players in the animation arena. This charming film is really a feast for the eyes and heart, it is a movie that does not disappoint and every animation fan, like myself, will most likely adore it.

With arresting visuals, emotional finale, breathtaking artwork, superb and charming plot, Song of the Sea is definitely one of the best animated films of the year mostly thanks to its fascinating hand-drawn animation which is really charming and has a lot of heart, it is also artistic and simply fantastic. The movie also has an amazing score and all around brilliant technical aspects. Some character designs could have been better and some of the voice work is stiff, but this is still a very good, exquisite film with a captivating tale and wonderful artistic quality to it.

My Rating – 4.5

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Winter Sleep (2014)

Winter Sleep
Winter Sleep

Winter Sleep  Review

Winter Sleep is a 2014 Turkish drama film directed by Nuri Bilge Ceylan and it is an epic, three hour long movie about social conditions and relationships mostly regarding the poor and wealthy. It also won Palme d’Or at Cannes.

Similar to ‘Boyhood’, the story in this movie is non-existent which doesn’t mean it is a bad thing. Quite on contrary, it is terrific and very smart because the movie is filled with many dialogues, discussions and rows and they are the story, they tell the story and lend to excellent characterization and superb themes along the way. Speaking of themes, they are extraordinary as well as the subject matter. It perfectly explores the troubles of living in a poor town or village as well as the troublesome relationships between rich and poor people and how bitter the poor can get towards them. It also explores the protagonist’s dilemmas with his sister and wife in a moving way while also dealing with his accused arrogance and hypocrisy.

The highlight is the argument between the main character and his sister which is very realistic, it tells so much and is an all around powerful scene, but the sequence near the end with his wife Nihal giving the money to her poor neighbors who have troubles and him just throwing it all in the fireplace is such a striking scene in so many ways. It is perfectly executed, emotionally engaging, superbly acted and above all very realistic and relevant, showing us once again how bitter the poor can be and how some things can never be changed or improved in such relationships. It is a very powerful scene that sticks with you long after you’ve seen the film.

But there are some problems regarding this talkative approach. First and foremost, the running time is definitely bloated. Yes, the movie deals with so many different things and characters and it should have been long, but not this long. Secondly, because of that dragged running time, some scenes do feel repetitive and go for too long. There are literally not too many scenes in this movie which is three hours long which just goes to show how dragged the scenes are. It is great for those powerful sequences, but not with those less interesting ones. Also the beginning could have been better realized and I wanted more scenes with the neighbors and his sister, instead of his relationship and emotional troubles with his wife because those are never as interesting as the former ones.

The character development here is absolutely amazing. You feel like you know each and every character not only because they are so well realized but also because they are so realistically portrayed. Aydin is great as this conflicting writer with troublesome negative attitude towards everyone and you get to explore his behavior and weaknesses through the discussions with other characters. Necla as his bitter and very discontented sister is probably the most grounded character here for her attitude and the way she talks ring true. Nihal is also great both in her relationship with Aydin and of course her part in that striking scene near the end. And the rest of the characters are all very well developed as well. The characterization is along with the themes the biggest asset Winter Sleep has.

The acting is downright superb with each performance being extremely good, but the highlights are of course Haluk Bilginer and Melisa Sozen bringing their characters to life perfectly. As for the direction, it is also very professional as is the cinematography. The editing is of course problematic as I stated before and the tone is not handled that well because it can at times be too difficult and bitter to bear. But it is authentic and realistic in its execution with terrific themes and excellent dialogue.

With amazing subject matter and themes beautifully explored, superb approach with a lot of clever discussions, all around terrific performances and amazing character development, Winter Sleep is a bit too long and it can be too difficult and bitter to bear, but it is mostly a very good and important movie which perfectly explores the troublesome relationships between poor and rich people bringing the necessary emotional intensity, superb acting as well as fantastic dialogue and a couple of truly powerful sequences that stick with you long after you’ve seen the movie.

My Rating – 4

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