Kung Fu Panda 3

January 29, 2016 by  
Filed under Kiko, Reviews

Starring: Jack Black, Bryan Cranston, J.K. Simmons
Directed by: Jennifer Yuh (“Kung Fu Panda 2”) and Alessandro Carloni (debut)
Written by: Jonathan Aibel (“Kung Fu Panda 2”) and Glenn Berger (“Kung Fun Panda 2”)

How do you make the third installment of an animated panda bear series even more adorable than the first two movies? Add a handful of fat baby pandas to the mix and give them plenty of dumplings to devour. Such is the case with “Kung Fu Panda 3” as hero panda Po (Jack Black) teams up once again with the Furious Five – Tigress (Angelina Jolie), Monkey (Jackie Chan), Mantis (Seth Rogen), Viper (Lucy Liu), and Crane (David Cross) – to defeat an evil villain set to run amok across China.

While the aforementioned cast does another fantastic job with their voice work, specifically Black as the clumsy leader whose on the job training as the Dragon Warrior is working out pretty well, it’s the new talent brought onto this sequel that really makes it memorable. This includes recent Oscar-nominated actor Bryan Cranston (“Trumbo”) as Li, Po’s long lost biological father who finds Po and returns him to his panda roots, and Oscar winner J.K. Simmons (“Whiplash”) as Kai, a villainous bull set on stealing the life force (“chi”) of anyone who gets in his way. Also, keep your eye out for the scene-stealing and hilarious Mei Mei (Kate Hudson), a female ribbon dancing panda bear who takes quite a liking to a less-than-interested Po.

The narrative is warm and light enough in “Kung Fu Panda 3,” although much of the story isn’t what anyone would really consider original. What still stands out, however, is the incredible animation DreamWorks has been able to create with this franchise. The world of “Kung Fu Panda” is even more visually striking than it was when the original film hit theaters in 2008. The animation studio’s perfect combination of computer generated and 2-D work is brilliant and each character, old and new, feels fresh and exceptionally vibrant. Some of the most impressive animated scenes, much like in the last two movies, take place when animators slow down the action right in the middle of a fast-paced fight sequence so audiences can see the finer points of the battle – the splintering of a wooden pole that just got punched or someone getting a roundhouse kick to the jaw.

An overall comparison between “Kung Fun Panda 3” and its predecessors would leave this recent animated movie lagging behind in storytelling, although the father/son messaging is pleasant enough, but there’s no denying DreamWorks is making a stand against powerhouses like Pixar and Disney. Just as long as they can stop producing schlock like last year’s ill conceived “Home,” DreamWorks will still be in the conversation when the big players are mentioned.

Goosebumps

October 16, 2015 by  
Filed under Jerrod, Reviews

Starring: Jack Black, Dylan Minnette, Odeya Rush
Directed by: Rob Letterman (“Monsters vs. Aliens”)
Written by: Darren Lemke (“Shrek Forever After”)

“Goosebumps” books and the Robin Williams movie “Jumanji” are two memories I have of youth in the ‘90s. Not me, mind you; I was a teenage nerd more into Space Ghost and “Mystery Science Theater 3000,” but the younger people that I’ve come to know over the years who embraced those things are apparently the ones who have made BuzzFeed and Jimmy Fallon who they are today, with their brightly-colored ‘90s nostalgia powering the internet away from my beloved absurd comedy. But I digress. We’re here to talk about the film adaptation of R.L. Stine’s kid-targeted horror books and how big a debt it owes to “Jumanji,” since it, too, is full of decently-realized CGI creations that rampage through a city while a somewhat faded comedy superstar looks to reign in the chaos. This isn’t high praise, but the formula will likely turn the movie into a fondly-remembered experience for any kids in the crowd.

After moving to a new house in a new town (of course), Zach (Dylan Minnette) struggles to fit in at his new school. Making things more difficult in the popularity department is his mom (Amy Ryan) being the school’s new vice principal. As luck would have it, though, Zach meets a cute girl next door in Hannah (Odeya Rush), who takes him on a nighttime adventure into an abandoned amusement park. Not amused, however, is Hannah’s mysterious recluse father (Jack Black), who forbids Zach from seeing Hannah again. When Zach later sees what seems to be her father abusing her, Zach calls the police on Hannah’s father. Finding nothing unusual, Zach and his new friend Champ (Ryan Lee) break into the house to rescue Hannah, only to find out her dad is hiding a spooky secret: he’s horror author R.L. Stine and all of the monsters he’s conjured up on the page over the years are in fact real, and they’re itching to escape into the real world.

Though frenetic and paper-thin at times, “Goosebumps” comes alive when the monsters do. From a ventriloquists’ dummy named Slappy (also voiced by Black) to an army of garden gnomes to a levitating poodle, the creepy creations are more fun than most anything the generically bland Minnette and the the cute-but-underwritten Rush turn in. Black handles himself fine as a fictionalized version of R.L. Stine, though the magic behind the story – why the things Stine writes come to life – is so woefully under explained it’s basically a giant shrug. Still, though, the movie has enough charm when the various creatures are onscreen with Danny Elfman’s Halloween-ready soundtrack bouncing along in the background to power past the (goose)bumps in the story.

Year One

June 20, 2009 by  
Filed under Reviews

Starring: Jack Black, Michael Cera, Oliver Platt
Directed by: Harold Ramis (“Groundhog Day”)
Written by: Harold Ramis (“Analyze This”), Gene Stupnitsky (TV’s “The Office”), and Lee Eisenberg (TV’s “The Office”)

Just when you thought terrible comedic parodies were recently monopolized by the two-headed monster known in Hollywood as filmmakers Jason Friedberg and Aaron Seltzer (“Date Movie,” “Epic Movie,” “Disaster Movie,” etc.), director Harold Ramis (“Groundhog Day”) tosses his name into the mix for at least one satirical take on a genre that really hasn’t seen the light of day since Universal Pictures ruined “The Flintstones” with a pair of live-action duds.

Before that, prehistoric comedy was rocky at best with movies like 1981’s “Caveman” starring Beatle Ringo Starr and 1992’s “Encino Man” about a thawed-out Neanderthal who is taught how to party hard. Now we have “Year One,” a timeline-jumping spoof starring Jack Black (“Nacho Libre”) and Michael Cera (“Juno”) that feels 20 years too late and a handful of well-executed gags short of keeping anyone’s attention.

In the film, Black and Cera play Zed and Oh, two simpletons who are shunned by their tribe for their inadequate hunting and gathering skills. Tired of being ridiculed by the other tribesmen and rejected by the tribeswomen, Zed decides to take a bite out of a forbidden apple from the Tree of Knowledge. When the rest of the tribe finds out he has broken the law of the land, he is cast out of the village for fear that he is cursed.

With nothing to live for back at the village, Oh joins his hairy friend on a road trip by foot through undiscovered lands and time periods. During their adventure, the odd couple dive into the Old Testament where they meet Biblical characters such as Cain and Abel (Paul Rudd and David Cross in an unfunny exchange of sibling rivalry and violence) and even stop Abraham (Hank Azaria) from sacrificing his only son Isaac (Christopher Mintz-Plasse, AKA McLovin of “Superbad” fame). Later on, Abraham reveals he is the mastermind behind circumcision when he recommends to Zed and Oh that they should allow him to perform the surgery because “it’s going to be a really sleek look that’s going to catch on.”

The rest of the film follows our journeymen to the unholy city of Sodom (described here like a first century version of Las Vegas) where they travel to save the women they love after they are captured and forced into slavery. It’s a storyline that is knocked out of sync by one uncreative skit after another.

Relying on cheap and childish jokes (most revolve around bodily excrement and an oily Oliver Platt) and unmemorable one-liners, “Year One” falls face first somewhere in the rear of the evolution line (maybe between the amoeba and the chimpanzee). It’s a primitive, pun-filled hodgepodge that screams Monty Python without any of the wit or style.

Tropic Thunder

August 24, 2008 by  
Filed under Reviews

Starring: Ben Stiller, Jack Black, Robert Downey  Jr.
Directed by: Ben Stiller (“Reality Bites”)
Written by: Ben Stiller (“Zoolander”), Justin Theroux (debut), and Etan Cohen (TV’s “King of the Hill”)

If you know who director/screenwriter Aaron Seltzer is, then you probably know that his contributions to movie spoofs in the past 12 years have been some of the lamest attempts in the comedy genre. From the superfluous “Scary Movie” sequels to bombs like “Date Movie” and “Epic Movie,” Seltzer has in someway been involved in a major portion of Hollywood’s parody awfulness.

So, when a movie like “Tropic Thunder” comes along and proves that satirical jokes can have a bit more snarky bite behind them, you have to scoop it up and consider it a nice surprise at the end of the summer movie season.

As a director, actor Ben Stiller doesn’t have much proof that he can carry a film like this. Although “Zoolander” had its moments, his only other outings as a filmmaker were with 1996’s “The Cable Guy” and 1994’s “Reality Bites.” Those films, however, didn’t have what Stiller is working with here, namely Robert Downey Jr. Yes, Downey Jr., like he does in his summer blockbuster “Iron Man,” steals the show.

In “Tropic Thunder,” Downey Jr. plays Kirk Lazarus, a multi-Academy Award-winning actor, who undergoes a controversial procedure to darken his skin for a role in a Vietnam War movie. The movie within the movie, “Tropic Thunder,” is having major production problems starting with its novice and frustrated director Damien Cockburn (Steve Coogan) and its pre-Madonna cast.

Along with Kirk, the role players on the set are Jeff Portnoy (Jack Black), a drugged-out comedian who relies on his half-wit humor in Hollywood to earn him a paycheck (hope you’re watching Eddie Murphy), and Tugg Speedman (Stiller), an action movie star whose latest role as a mentally retarded man earns him career-damaging criticism.

When Damien is confronted by Four Leaf Tayback (Nick Nolte), the real life war hero portrayed in his film, he decides that the only way he is going to get true performances out of his cast is if he shoots the movie deep in the jungles of southeast Asia, which are overflowing with dangerous drug lords. He’s also getting pressure from film producer Les Grossman (Tom Cruise, who shows his critics that he doesn’t always have to be stone-cold serious; remember “Goldmember?”), who’s demanding the crew finish the big-budget war epic without bankrupting the studio.

When Downey Jr., who is downright entertaining, is on screen, is when “Tropic Thunder” is its best. As a mixed bag of exaggerated comedy and action, I’d recommend “Pineapple Express” before this. Still, everyone involved in “Tropic Thunder” is never afraid to poke fun at all things taboo in Hollywood, and sometimes being that ballsy goes a long way.

Kung Fu Panda

June 1, 2008 by  
Filed under Reviews

Starring: (voices of) Jack Black, Angelina Jolie, Dustin Hoffman
Directed by: Mark Osborne (TV’s “SpongeBob Squarepants”) and John Stevenson (TV’s “Father of the Pride”)
Written by: Jonathan Aibel (TV’s “King of the Hill”) and Glenn Berger (TV’s “King of the Hill”)

Let’s not kid ourselves when it comes to recognizing the leader in animated feature films. Although Japanese anime like “Spirited Away,” has been a strong contender for the last few years, very few others can hold their own against Pixar Animation (DreamWorks Animation with their “Shrek” trilogy would beg to differ).

Since the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences created a category to honor animated features in 2002, Pixar has won three out of the seven years and been nominated a total of five times (“Monster Inc.” and “Cars” failed to win during their respected years against “Shrek” and “Happy Feet”).

Leave it up to DreamWorks to revisit the fat, loveable character-driven underdog story to return them to grace after not so great showings with “Bee Movie” and “Shrek the Third.” In “Kung Fu Panda,” the animation company proves that Pixar doesn’t have a monopoly on the industry (even though deep down they are all really scared about how groundbreaking “WALL-E” might be later this year).

“Kung Fu Panda” tells the story of a lazy panda bear named Po (Jack Black) who would rather learn the secrets of his favorite kung fu masters than sell noodles with his loosey-goosey father.

Po gets his chance when Oogway (Randall Duk Kim), a wise, old tortoise choose him to fulfill an ancient prophecy over a group of real animal warriors known as the Furious Five – Tigress (Angelina Jolie), Monkey (Jackie Chan), Mantis (Seth Rogan), Viper (Lucy Liu), and Crane (David Cross). This happens much to the chagrin of their kung fu master Shifu (Dustin Hoffman) who doesn’t understand why Oogway has chosen Po to protect them.

With the evil snow leopard Tai Lung (Ian McShane) looking for revenge against the village, there is no time to waste training a fat, uncoordinated panda bear to fight a vengeful kung fu expert. Or is there?

The great work with “Kung Fu Panda” starts where it should with perfectly cast voice work by Black, Hoffman, and Kim. The humor ranges from flavorful jokes for adults and silly slapstick humor that doesn’t go overboard for kids. To top it off, animators pay special attention to the action and fighting sequences, which are high on energy and detail (the slow-motion animation is especially brilliant). “Kung Fu Panda” is a smart and funny homage to martial arts classics of the past and is the best animated feature so far this year and Po is definitely a character you can cheer for.

Be Kind Rewind

February 22, 2008 by  
Filed under Reviews

Starring: Jack Black, Mos Def, Danny Glover
Directed by: Michele Gondry (“Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind”)
Written by: Michele Gondry (“The Science of Sleep”)

It’s always refreshing when you realize that filmmakers like Michel Gondry are still out there putting on a show in their own exceptional way. Originality and distinctiveness aren’t always on the same page, however, especially with Gondry’s newest dark comedy “Be Kind Rewind.”

In the film, video store employees Jerry (Black) and Mike (Def) realize that Jerry’s body has become charged by an electric tower and has caused all the tapes to erase. With the city proposing to demolish the store to build condos, the dorky duo sets out to remake all the films they destroyed. 

Recruiting some people from the neighborhood to help with the production, “Rewind” fast-forwards through a montage of amateur filmmaking including Jerry and Mike’s take on “Ghostbusters,” “Driving Ms. Daisy,” and “Rush Hour 2.” At the same time, director/writer Gondry seems to hit cruise control and turn “Rewind” into a film school project patched together at the last minute.

It’s a great idea for a movie, but Gondry thematic sense and timing is off. Where he hopes to speak on the importance of community and friendship, he can’t seem to nudge “Rewind” out of the impersonal narrative pothole it wallows in for a majority of the picture. Without any real magnetism (not counting what’s flowing through Jerry) between creator and characters, the film simply disconnects.