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Moana

Nominated for several awards, among them Best Song, and Best Animated Picture, and winner of the “Best movie for adults that don’t want to grow up” award (I hadn’t heard of it either), Moana has received an unusual amount of critical acclaim, especially for what it is, and how it was marketed.  It is however, a very well made film.

Moana follows the story of the titular character, a young heiress to a Polynesian island chiefdom who, from a young age has felt a calling to the water.  Unfortunately, she lives in a tribe that lives by strict rules forbidding water travel.  Spurred on by her spiritually minded grandmother, but held back by her well-meaning but overprotective father, she is torn by what she sees as her duty to her people, and what she feels in her heart.  When the island’s food supplies begin to dwindle, she decides to venture out and search for Maui, a Demigod who is said to be able to find a special stone, that is the heart of Te Fiti, the island goddess who brought prosperity to the islanders.

One thing that Moana does well is its portrayal of the relationship between Moana and her parents.  They are not stifling, nor do they tear her down necessarily.  They only want to keep her safe, and teach her the importance of serving her people, which she ultimately learns as her quest progresses.

Moana does have a lot going for it.  The movie also offers a decent dose of comedy, an impaired chicken — voiced by Alan Tudyk of all people — being the butt of a good many jokes.  The music is a soundtrack to be reckoned with; Lin-Manuel Miranda’s award-winning anthem “How Far I’ll Go” , promising to be stuck in your head long after the credits role.

With all that said, there is a certain contrived quality to some parts of Moana.  Disney is most definitely cashing in on female empowerment, and while its inspirational message is in itself an important one, some parts of it still feel a bit inorganic.  Honest Trailers said it best, dubbing How Far I’ll Go, “The Let It Go Song”.  Nonetheless, Moana is certainly an enjoyable viewing experience, and a masterfully constructed movie that will entertain, even if it doesn’t necessarily break new ground.

Lego Batman

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Following the success of The Lego Movie, and preceding the release of The Lego NInjago Movie, The Lego Batman Movie is a absolute laugh train from start to finish.  When Batman begins commenting on the movie’s different opening logos, you know you’re in for a fun ride.  The opening sequence is hilarious to say the least, spoofing batman’s existence as a superhero, and cleverly mocking the narcisism behind dressing up like a bat to beat up thugs at night.

The most clever thing about Lego Batman is the way it pokes fun at the duality between Batman and The Joker.  They complete one annother, each a ying to his opponent’s yang.  When Batman declares that he doesn’t need Joker, it sends the clown prince of crime rushing into a quest to prove otherwise.  Speaking of Joker, Zach Galifanakis rendition felt a bit uncharacteristic.  And the writing didn’t help.  He worked fine as a simple storytelling device, but Joker is a character almost as iconic as Batman himself.  Disregarding this, the script rarel makes him the subject of any humor, which I found odd given that Batman’s very nature made for some excellent humor throughout the movie.

However, the movie is exceptionally well done in all other respects, from animation to an epic finale that includes a whole gaggle of classic movie villians, including Voldemort, Sauron, and Agent Smith from The Matrix.  The movie is enjoyable to watch, both as a heartwarming story of a man conquering his fear of being in a family, and as a genre satire, that cleverly mocks Batman, and superhero movies in general.

 

Logan

The following review will likely be filled to the brim with spoilers.  If you are looking for validation of already excellent reviews, or a recommendation, suffice it to say that Logan is a modern masterpiece.  It is a must see for any cinephile, or lover of comics (of age…this is a rough one).

From the beginning, it was clear that Logan was different.  Beside’s its R rating, its first trailer had a much darker tone, but seemed hopeful at the same time.  In the same frame of time, we saw wolverine shish-kebabing a baddie, and holding the hand of a young girl.  I was hooked.  I’ve always been fascinated by Wolverine’s capacity for nurture.  Despite his hard exterior, he played mentor to x-women Kitty Pryde, and Jubilee.

The movie begins near the Texas-Mexico border, with some thugs trying to boost the rims off of Logan’s limo.  He beats them off, as expected, but struggles to do it; later we see him struggling to push the bullets out of their wounds, which anyone who saw Days of Future Past will recall as a fairly easy task back in 1973.  It is easy to let Logan’s healing factor define him, especially for followers of the comics, but the movie does a great job of adding perceived danger, through the continual slowing of his healing.  The average gunshot wound won’t kill him, but it’ll put him out of action for a few seconds, a few seconds he may not have.

The action in Logan is more serious as a result.  I don’t think I’ve seen combat in any movie that made me so uneasy.  Superheroes these days are more or less invulnerable, and its a powerful statement to see a man who is supposed to be inherently impossible to kill struggling at the thing he does best.  There are a couple moments when the movie seems a little too excited to finally be free to show all the blood it wants, but the more intense scenes are rather sparsely distributed, and that’s a good thing.  Logan doesn’t use them as a crutch, but rather as a supplement to the story.

Jackman’s, Stewart’s and Keen’s acting are all superb as well.  Professor X is fascinating this time around as a version of his character gone senile, and unable to control his powerful psychic abilities.  He routinely undergoes episodes of outputting paralyzing brainwaves, that continue until he is given an injection of something to sedate his abilities.  He isn’t all there, but he has moments of surprising clarity, as he is still able to impart upon Logan, wisdom, just as he did all those years ago.  After having dinner with a normal family, he explains that “this is what life is”, and that it is what Logan is missing.

Dafne Keen does an excellent job in this movie.  I was initially uneasy about the prospect of a child actor maintaining an equal role to the likes of Hugh Jackman, but she more than holds her own.  It is not until about an hour and a half into the picture that she speaks for the first time, but her emotions, and motivations are perfectly conveyed from the beginning.  She shows a sense of anger, at everyone she meets, but also the wonder of a neophyte with all of the new experiences she has.  She also has claws on her feet, which is interesting, simply my merit of being different.  Her combat is as wonderful as it is viscous; her primal scream of rage is befitting to a fighting style as brutal as hers.

Wolverine however, begins this story as a shell of his former self.  The apparent extinction of the mutants somehow, has reduced the once strong and virtuous hero, to a bitter, and weak man; driving around in a limo to barely scrape by.  More than just a battle against a robust enemy though, this is a battle for Logan’s soul.  Where he once was a selfless warrior, now he cares only for himself.  Enter X-23, a girl who, while a great fighter, needs his help.  As he helps her, motivated by the money she offers at first, he learns again to put someone else first, and by the film’s finale, he no longer cares about himself, and is willing to do whatever it takes to protect those he loves.  I’m not the type to cheer or clap at the movies, but at about the two minute mark — when mutant children flee evil Transigen gaurds, we hear Logan’s howl, and see him hurtling towards the enemies, the righteous fire within him ignited once again — I desperately wanted to.

We live in an age of cinema that, I think, will be known in 30 years or so as “the golden age of superhero movies” or something to that effect.  Just as in the age of the westerns, I believe that a select few films will be remembered as classics, and the rest cast by the wayside.  Sam Raimi’s Spider Man, Christopher Nolan’s Dark Knight, Joss Whedon’s Avengers, and Captain America Civil War, by the Russo brothers, will likely all be remembered.  Logan, which is not unlike a western itself (James Mangold did direct 3:10 to Yuma) offers up excellent character and emotional development, as well as some satisfactory combat; I think, it will not be forgotten anytime soon.