Monday, 28 November 2011

The Muppets (A Review)

WARNING: This review is being written by an insanely huge fan of The Muppets, so I’m already kind of biased. That being said, it’s clear that this movie was aimed at crazy Muppet fans like myself, so everything kind of works out. 
Yes, The Muppets. That wonderful gang of fur and felt are back after 12 years without a movie. And after much online love in the form of viral videos, trailer parodies, and other goodies, the true next Muppet movie is here. So how is it? Does this movie have a true “Rainbow Connection?” Or should you be “Movin’ Right Along.” (Muppet fans see what I did there? Wocka wocka!)
The plot fits perfectly for how long The Muppets have been out of the limelight. Basically sometime ago the Muppets split up, and now it’s up to Gary (Jason Segel,) Mary (Amy Adams,) and Gary’s brother Walter (a new Muppet/superfan of the Muppets) to work with Kermit to reunite the old gang and raise enough money to save their theatre before the evil tycoon, Tex Richman (Chris Cooper,) tears down the theatre to drill for oil. The “get the gang back together” story has been done before, but it works so well here because…well….it’s the Muppets! And that comes with what you’d might expect from the Muppets! Tons of forth wall breaking jokes, vaudevillian type slapstick, celebrity cameos up the wazoo, and emotional songs that know exactly how to tug on the heartstrings. It’s hard really to go into too much detail without spoiling some of the jokes, but there were some great moments with some of the new songs, written by one half of Flight of the Conchords, Bret McKenzie, and an extended cameo by Jack Black. 
But of course, the true stars are The Muppets themselves, and the plot makes it so they’re in a situation where they flourish. It’s back to the basics: a bunch of crazy weirdos trying their best to put on a show, only this time the steaks are much higher. I felt a unique blend of excitement, nervousness and nostalgia going into the third act that I don’t think I’ve ever felt from a movie before. 
That being said, let’s call this movie out for what it truly is: Muppet fan servis. There are countless references and in jokes from past Muppet works, specifically to the Jim Henson years of The Muppet Show and the first Muppet movie. Hell! Even the choice of Muppets to get screen time was very specific, choosing not to have newer fan favorite characters like Pepe the King Prawn to have much screen time, instead bringing back characters that haven’t had time to shine in years! Characters like Marvin Suggs and Uncle Deadly!
Yes! Uncle Deadly! This guy! Obscure, yes. Awesome? Double yes.
The point being this was written by a rabid Muppet fan (good ol’ Jason Segel) for rabid Muppet fans. Hell! Even the new Muppet, Walter, is a rabid Muppet fan himself! So of course we’re going to immediately love him.
All in all, the bigger fan of the Muppets you are, I feel the more you’ll love this movie. And if you’re not a fan of the Muppets? Well…you’re reading the wrong review then. I’m also really curious to see how kids will react to this movie; kids who have never even seen a Muppet movie before! I hope it manages to capture the same wonder and fun that I experienced as a child. So go see this movie already! It’s pure concentrated Muppety fun!
Welcome back Muppets. It’s about damn time! 
- Moo

Sunday, 13 November 2011

Green Lantern: The Animated Series (Pilot Review)

It’s really hard for me not to be emotionally tied to the success or failure of this franchise. I suppose a little context is needed: I’m a huge fan of superhero comics. One of my favorite books as both a kid, and now as an adult has to beGreen Lantern. I always wished that the property would expand beyond the comic books, but sadly the travesty that was the 2011 Ryan Reynolds Green Lantern movie taught me to be careful what I wish for. But lo and behold! Mayhaps this cloud has a silver lining after all…
When Tim Burton’s Batman film was released in 1989, Warner Brothers made an animated series to be released alongside the feature to further expose the character to the world and increase the character’s already incredible popularity. The show, produced by Bruce Timm, was simply called Batman: The Animated Series, and it was a massive critical and commercial hit. Personally speaking, it’s probably the best superhero cartoon ever produced, and I dare even call it one of the best animated series of all time. (Totally high praise. I know.) The success of that series led to numerous other DC cartoons, includingSuperman: The Animated Series and Justice League. All were tied in continuity wise with each other and were produced by Timm, making what fans affectionally call the “Timmverse.” Now with Green Lantern arguably more popular now than he ever has been, it only seemed logical to release an animated series of his very own, entitled Green Lantern: The Animated Series. So how is it? Is it as good as the Batman epiosdes of yesteryear, or is it worse than the live action movie?
…ok, I’ll save you some time with that last question. It’s better than the movie, but that’s not really hard to do.
I suppose I have to address the elephant in the room first. This is the first Bruce Timm/DC animated project that is fully done in CG. I don’t really know why. Maybe it’s cheeper to do CG than traditional animation, or maybe they wanted a more “modern” look. It doesn’t really matter why they used it, cause either way it’s here to stay. And I hate it. I wish I didn’t, but to me this art style looks either one of two ways: ugly or boring. Which is odd, cause you can clearly tell that the characters are still designed in that signature Bruce Timm angular, geometric style that I loved so much in previous shows. I guess it just shows that there certainly are strengths and weaknesses in both CG and traditional animation, and what works in one doesn’t always work in the other. It’s incredible how in 2D this art style looks bold and dynamic, yet in CG it looks flat and lifeless.
This is the same criticism I have with the current CG Star Wars: The Clone Wars animated series, in which they adapted Genndy Tartakovsky’s character design from the other (and frankly, better) animated series, which was 2D. I see nothing wrong with stylized human characters in CG, but unless you have a high level of detail on par with The Incredibles (which I’m sure would cost much, much more,) the characters will just look too plain and dull. The shininess of the character models doesn’t help either. I want to feel like I’m watching a show about super-powered space cops, but I feel like I’m watching a show about action figures that think they are super-powered space cops. And let’s be honest, Buzz Lightyear did that already.
Ok, ok. Enough raggin’ about the art style. Cause if the show has a solid script, I can at least look past that and enjoy the show on some level. With that said, the hour long pilot episode of the show, entitled Beware My Power, is…not bad. It’s not at the same level of quality as past DC cartoons yet, but it definitely has some potential. Our hero, Hal Jordan, is perfectly characterized here, displaying both his cocky atitude and his hard pressed stubbornness in full force. Also, one of my favorite characters, the tough as nails Kilowog, looks to be a central character in the series, (thankfully making up for his lack of screen time in the feature film.) They even planted the seeds for some very interesting backstory with Kilowog revolving around the tragedy that happened with his home planet.
However, even with the story, they made some very interesting, somewhat questionable, decisions. For one, this show clearly is built on a complete overarching plot. While some of Timm’s past DC works have an underlying, ongoing plot (Justice League comes to mind) most of the episodes were singular “one and done” adventures. It’s by no means a bad thing, but it is different than what I was expecting. Time will tell if it will pay off. I also don’t know if this series is tied into the “Timmverse” at all ( being the only DC show done in CG,) but I sure hope it is. How awesome would it be for Hal Jordan to eventually meet up with other cosmic DC characters like Lobo, the New Gods, or even Superman?
Speaking of over arching plot, now might be a good time to introduce the overarching villains of the show. The franchises’ main over arching villain, Sinestero, looks to be absent from this series in any form, possibly cause the movie wanted to have first dibs on the character if they ever decide (God forbid) to do a sequel, so instead we have the Red Lanterns. Looks like it’s time for MORE CONTEXT!
The Red Lanterns are still a relatively new group of villains in the Green Lantern comics. They are a rage-fueled version of the Green Lantern Corp, who are characterized as being violent and vengeful beasts. In the comics, the Red Lanters mostly act like mindless monsters except for their leader, Atrocitus, who has a personal vendetta against the Green Lanterns. The biggest change made is that all Red Lanterns now have the ability to think, talk and reason with each other clearly. They are also substantially less violent than their comic counterparts; they don’t even do their signature move of vomiting a napalm-like blood (yeah, comics are both weird and badass.) This does make the concept of “rage incarnate” villains feel a little neutered by comparison. I understand that some changes had to be made to make the show “kid friendly,” but without being mindless, angry monsters the Red Lanterns feel much more generic as villains. They don’t really have that spark that makes them unique. But again, it might be too early to judge. The writers might have something planed with the villains, particularly Atrocitus, that could be very entertaining.
All in all, the pilot wasn’t bad. I know that doesn’t sound like a glowing recommendation, but it does look like a show that has room to grow. There are some odd choices put into place so far (the choice to go CG being the biggest of the bunch,) but if you look past that, there might end up being a good show here. Only time will tell if Timm and his team will take advantage of the wealth of great stories and characters that DC’s history has to offer. I can only hope that this will be a good introduction to the Green Lantern universe for new audiences and hopefully new fans. It’s too early to say, but I’ll be watching closely and hoping the best.
No evil shall escape my sight.
- Moo

Thursday, 10 November 2011

Puss in Boots (A Review)

Oh Puss in Boots! You are in an interesting position, aren’t you? You’re a spin-off of the Shrek franchise, which in my eye (for better or for worse) represents Dreamworks Animation as a whole (kind of like how Toy Story is the embodiment of Pixar.) But after 3 progressively worse sequels, and multiple shorts and holiday specials (Shrek the Halls? ugh…) the franchise is looking a little stale at this point. The only logical next step was to have a character spin off from the main franchise in hopes that it might bring a breath of fresh air to the company’s flagship fairy tale franchise. Enter Antonio Banderas reprising his role as the ever charming Puss in Boots, now in his own feature film.
It’s no surprise to say that after this Shrek overload, many people, including myself, have gotten a serious case of franchise fatigue. So does this adorable swashbuckler have enough substance to pull us back into their fairy tale littered world?
Probably the first thing to mention is that the movie isn’t a laugh out loud riot, and it clearly doesn’t mean to be. It’s not to say that it isn’t funny; the character of Puss is still his awesome mix of suave machismo meet cutesy adorableness, but that’s mostly at the beginning of the movie, and a little bit at the end. Most of the time this is a straight up action/adventure flick. That’s not a bad thing, but it does make the film feel slightly bi-polar, not really knowing if it wants to be funny or serious. A great example is my personal favorite segment of the movie, where we see Puss’ childhood growing up with Humpty Dumpty (played with earnest feeling by Zach Galifianakis.) Everything about the segment is great, and it shows some really dramatic moments, but before and after the flashback we have Puss’ new partner for the movie, Kitty Softpaws (a “meh” performance by Salma Hayek,) undermining the story in an attempt to get a small laugh in before and after the extended ”serious” part of the movie. The character’s disinterest (which I’m sure is supposed to be played as a joke) before and after the segment just doesn’t fit with the tone they’re going for in this part of the movie, and as a result it kind of ruins that nice dramatic moment we just had.
For the new characters, it does kind of feel like this film got the “left over” fairy tale characters that the Shrek franchise hasn’t already used, but they definitely made the most of it. The real issue here is the story, which is fun, but I can’t help but nitpick a lot about it. In the film Puss teams up with his ex-friend Humpty and new partner Kitty in a quest to get the magic beans from the “Jack and the Beanstalk” tale, which leads them to a castle in sky where they find a goose that lays golden eggs. There are plenty of good things in this tale, such as Puss’ quest to reclaim his honour. The fight and action scenes are a blast to watch. The art design for the giant’s castle in the sky is breathtaking. But for all this eye candy, the subsense of the story is lacking. Without revealing too much, there’s a twist in the third act that doesn’t make all that much sense, followed by a quick twist back for the final battle. Again, it’s like this movie wants to do something serious, but they’re afraid to stray too far from their formula. 
What it all boils down to is Puss in Boots is a good movie. But with a little more polishing and bolder story decisions could have been a great movie. I always thought Puss would make for a good spin-off character as he never was all that essential to the plot in Shrek movies to begin with (let’s face it, even though he had some of the biggest laughs in the Shrek franchise, he could have been easily taken out of the movies and the plot would have been the same.) Sadly, this movie is pulled between wanting to do a comedy or an adventure instead of finding a happy harmony of the two. And even the jokes get a little tiring after a while, reusing gags over and over again (Kitty stealing from Puss without Puss realizing was funny the first time…and only the first time…) And be prepared for A LOT of cat jokes and puns, of which I kind of got tired of near the end of this 90 minute feature. However, if you are a cat person, be prepared to fall completely in love with every gag and joke in this movie. 
After growing more and more tired of the Shrek franchise, I was pleased that this movie didn’t continue the downward trend in quality of those movies. However, after viewing Puss in Boots I still can’t shake the feeling that there were a lot of missed opportunities here. There’s lots of little things holding it back, almost as if it was afraid to try something new. And they really shouldn’t be! New is what they need! The bombardment of Shrek sequels have gotten so old, stale and crunchy. I’d love something new! And I almost got it with this spin-off, but at the end of the day we still end up with a very “Dreamworksy” animated movie here. One that has tired jokes, and that always has to end with a pop song and a dance montage. Always.
- Moo

Wednesday, 2 November 2011

Top 5 Animated Moustaches

Well, November has crept up once again. And what does that mean? Well gents, it means it’s time to grow out a moustache for Movember! For those not in the know, Movember is when gents grow a moustache during the month of November to raise money and create awareness for mens health, mostly focusing on prostate cancer. It’s a worthy cause to grow out the ol’ upper lip, but many guys are hessitent. Well, that’s what I’m here for!
To attempt to inspire more folks to grow out some striking facial hair, I present to you my list of the top five moustaches to grace an animated character! If this don’t inspire you, nothing will! So let’s see who made the list, eh?
5) Captain Hook
The flamboyant Captain may not know a thing about capturing/killing children, but does he ever know a thing or two about moustaches! Look at that sucker! It’s pointing straight up! It’s more expressive and sinister looking than his eyebrows! This gravity defying stache puts Salvador Dali to shame. 
4) Ned Flanders
Stupid sexy Flanders and his stupid sexy moustache. This neighborino’s thick push-broom moustache is such a part of this character, it’s hard to think of one without the other. Truly, he was made for his moustache. Plus, this do-gooder does a great job in reminding us that moustaches not only look good on sinners, but saints as well.
3) Dr. Robotnick 
As photoed here accepting his degree in kick-ass moustachology. More specifically, I’m picking the Robotnick from the inexplicably insane Adventure of Sonic the Hedgehog cartoon, as this Robotnick stache was more manic disheveled. Just like a mad sciences moustache should be. 
2) Snidely Whiplash
So, you wanna be a villain? You want to tie hapless damesels to railroad tracks on a near daily basis? Well then, you best follow Mr. Whiplash’s footsteps and grow one of these curly suckers. Because, honestly, what’s the use of doing despicable villainy if you don’t have a proper moustache to twirl while doing so, ‘miright?
1) Yosemite Sam
It must be tough to be Yosemite Sam. He’s a high-tempered, gunslinging shorty who constantly get outwitted by a rabbit. But hey! When you have a moustache that is more than two thirds your own hight, you must be doing something right with your life. Kudos Yosemite. At least in this category, you came out on top. 
- Moo