Jupiter Ascending

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2015

Village Roadshow Pictures/Anarchos Productions/Warner Bros./Roadshow Entertainment

Written and Directed by The Wachowskis

Produced by Grant Hill and The Wachowskis

When it comes to The Wachowskis I think it’s only fair to tell you that their track record with me has been up and down. I really liked “Bound” but thought that “Cloud Atlas” was just okay. To be honest with you, I had to watch that one three times before I got it and even now I’m still not sure. “Speed Racer” I consider a magnificent masterpiece. As a confirmed “Speed Racer” addict ever since I was a kid I feel like The Wachowskis made “Speed Racer” just for me, that’s how perfect a translation from animation to live action I feel it is. Matter of fact, just talking about it gets me so hyped just thinking about it I’m gonna go watch my Blu-Ray of “Speed Racer” just as soon as I finish this review.

And as for “The Matrix” trilogy of films…they’re okay, but I’ve never been as wild about it as I’m sure many of you reading this were/are. They’re solid action films, sure. An exceptional visual style, sure. Outrageous action sequences, absolutely.  But if you’re a fan of science fiction movies, books, Marvel comics and Honk Kong martial arts/action movies for any period of time longer than ten years then nothing in any of “The Matrix” movies was new to you. What I give those movies a lot of credit for is being the first multi-racial science fiction trilogy.

Which brings us to JUPITER ASCENDING. Where would I put it in the Wachowski filmology? Let’s get the obligatory plot summary out of the way and then we’ll get to that, okay?

Jupiter Jones (Mila Kunis) is an illegal Russian immigrant living and working with her family in Chicago. Along with her mother and aunt she cleans the houses of the wealthy and fantasizes about what it must be like to be so rich and live in such luxury. She sees no future in trying to rise above her station in life until she’s rescued from alien bounty hunters by Caine Wise (Channing Tatum) Caine is himself a genetically modified warrior who explains to her that she is the genetic reincarnation of The Matriarch of The House of Abrasax. As such, she is not only galactic royalty but the owner of the planet Earth.

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Caine takes her off Earth and into deep space where Jupiter runs into a bewildering and astounding variety of alien and humanoid races, including her genetic children: Balem (Eddie Redmayne) Kalique (Tuppence Middleton) and Titus (Douglas Booth). All of them are scheming and plotting to get control of The House of Abrasax, which seeded life on Earth millennia ago to finance the family business which is immortality, plain and simple. Jupiter is the pivotal piece in the galactic chess game being played by her treacherous genetic offspring as they each seek to manipulate her for their own ends. Balem hasn’t got time for that felgercarb, though. He’d rather just kill Jupiter and get it over with. Good thing that Caine is there to thwart him at every turn, backed up by his former partner/mentor Stinger Apini (Sean Bean).

I have greatly simplified the plot because believe me, it is a lot more complicated than that. The Wachowskis have gone to a lot of trouble to establish this universe and I give them the highest of credit for it. They aren’t content to simply swipe from “Star Wars” or “Star Trek” in the creation of their universe. Everything looks absolutely incredible. The technology, the architecture (one spaceship looks like a flying Vatican) the fashion…JUPITER ASCENDING’s universe is one of the most complete, detailed and fully realized I’ve seen on film in a long time. The only movie I can think of that comes close is “The Fifth Element”. And indeed, there were moments when JUPITER ASCENDING had the same vibe as that movie.

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But the movie suffers from having two miscast leads who have zero chemistry together. Channing Tatum should have taken his cue on how to act in this kind of movie from Sean Bean. Mr. Bean knows he’s in a B-movie Space Opera with an A-movie budget and plays it accordingly. Channing Tatum and Mila Kunis play it as if this thing were written by Tennessee Williams. Tatum in particular is about as interesting as a tree stump. Considering that he’s got this badass pair of funky anti-gravity boots that let him skate on air and Errol Flynn all over the place, he goes through the whole movie as if he’s got the universe’s worst job. I watched his performance and all I could think of was how Chris Pratt’s committed performance was so integral to the overall fun and success of “Guardians of The Galaxy”. In contrast, Tatum looks he can’t wait to get out this movie and go make another “Jump Street” sequel.

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And I guess that is my main problem with JUPITER ASCENDING. For all the astounding visuals and outrageous action sequences, nobody in this movie looks like they had fun making it and there’s not much fun in watching it. It’s spectacular to look at, yes it most certainly is. But it’s a movie you can wait on for the Blu-Ray or Netflix.

127 minutes

Rated PG-13

American Sniper

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2014

Village Roadshow Pictures/Mad Chance Productions/22nd & Indiana Pictures/Malpaso Productions/Warner Bros. Pictures

Directed by Clint Eastwood

Produced by Clint Eastwood-Robert Lorenz-Andrew Lazar-Bradley Cooper-Peter Morgan

Written by Jason Hall

Based on “American Sniper” by Chris Kyle-Scott McEwen-Jim DeFelice

Say whatever else you want to say about Clint Eastwood’s direction of AMERICAN SNIPER but this you have to admit: the man knows how to clearly put images up on the screen so that at no time are we unclear as to what is happening, who it’s happening to and why it’s happening to them. I would so dearly love to sit Paul Greengrass down and have him watch this movie to show him that movies can be made without the camera wildly whipping around as if the cameraman is drunk. You put your camera down firmly. You put your actors in front of the camera and let them act. What’s so hard about that?

And if your story is strong enough, you don’t need fancy camera tricks to tell it. And the story of Chris Kyle is a strong one. When we meet him, his life is aimless. But then he joins the U.S. Navy and is accepted for SEAL training. His exceptional skill at shooting a rifle paves the way to his ultimate destiny as a Navy Seal sniper.

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The movie follows Chris Kyle (Bradley Cooper) through four tours of duty in Iraq. He proceeds to rack up an extraordinary number of kills. So many that he earns the nickname of “Legend” Its a nickname he’d rather not have. Between his tours, he returns home to Texas and his wife Taya (Sienna Miller) and their children and tries to settle down to normal life. But there is obviously something going on with Chris that he either will not or cannot verbalize. When he’s Iraq he misses his family. But when he’s in America he is filled with a guilt that turns him into an emotional cripple. Chris feels a personal obligation to take out Mustafa (Sammy Sheik) an enemy sniper whose skill and commitment to his craft is just as powerful as Chris Kyle’s. The two men have a war of strategy going on in their brief, but deadly encounters and Chris will not consider his job done until Mustafa is dead.

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Besides the outstanding direction by Clint Eastwood, the other reason to see this movie is Bradley Cooper’s amazing performance. I gotta give Mr. Cooper a standing ovation. Here’s a guy who could easily coast along on his good looks and charm. Which he has more than his share of. But he makes some very interesting acting choices ranging from the action fest “The A-Team” to science fiction thrillers like “Limitless” the romantic comedy “Silver Linings Playbook” and the “Hangover” comedy trilogy. It’s gotten so that he’s one of those actors on my list I’ll watch in anything because even if the movie if crap *coughAmerican Hustlecough* I know without a doubt that he’ll be terrific.

I liked how he played Chris Kyle as a man who does not revel or delight in his exceptional talent at sniping. It’s a talent that saves lives, but also puts him somewhat alone. There are several instances where he leaves his post as a sniper to get down on the ground with Marine troops as they conduct house by house searches. Does Chris feel that he should be taking equal risks along with them even though those men are more than willing to go on missions knowing that “Legend” is out there with his sniper rifle watching their backs? It’s a question the movie doesn’t answer and I’m glad it doesn’t. It’s enough that the movie shows us how others view Chris and how he views himself. It’s two very different views.

I wish I could recommend the other performances as well. Sienna Miller gets to play Taya in a manner we’ve seen in a dozen other war movies. She’s got the job of staying home with the kids and being the loyal wife. The rest of the supporting cast is competent and professional, but that’s about it. There’s really no one I can single out as we never really get to know anybody else in the movie except for Chris Kyle.

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Should you see AMERICAN SNIPER? It’s a movie that has already generated a lot of heat on The Internet, but I’m not going to get into that here. I’m not here to debate the politics of this (or any) movie. I simply give my opinion on a movie’s entertainment value. And on that basis, AMERICAN SNIPER is well worth your time and money.

138 Minutes

Rated R

Taken 3

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2014

20th Century Fox/EuropaCorp Distribution

Directed by Olivier Megaton

Produced by Luc Besson

Written by Luc Besson and Robert Mark Kamen

TAKEN 3 is a perfect example of why I turn my hearing off when I hear whining about spoilers. If you’ve seen the trailers for it (and don’t you dare say that you haven’t) then you know that the murder of Famke Janssen’s character Lenore and the framing of her ex-husband Bryan Mills (Liam Neeson) for that murder is what sets the plot in motion. That’s actually the only surprising thing that happens in TAKEN 3 and it was spoiled in the trailer. So don’t flood me with emails screaming; “Spoilers!” because not only TAKEN 3 but 90% of movie trailers are nothing but spoilers and if you’re going to gnash your teeth and wail about them, then direct the wailing and gnashing at the studios who put the trailers together.

Why did I lead off with that mini-editorial? Because the plot of TAKEN 3 is so slight and slim that I figured I have enough wordage to veer off into a digression and still have plenty of wordage left over. And it is a slim plot. Lenora is murdered, Bryan is framed and he spends most of the movie staying one step ahead of the LAPD, led by Inspector Dotzler (Forrest Whittaker) who mistakenly believes Bryan killed his ex-wife. The police are also keeping an eye on Bryan’s daughter Kim (Maggie Grace) and Lenore’s husband, Stuart St. John (Dougray Scott) Kim of course knows that her father didn’t kill her mother and acts as Bryan’s inside man, keeping tabs on what the cops are doing. Bryan rounds up his three golf buddies for backup, all of whom we’ve seen in the previous two movies. All are ex-CIA Special Ops who now run their own security firm. So they have access to high-tech weaponry, computers and gadgets they are more than happy to loan out to Bryan. So it’s pretty clear that the LAPD is outmatched right from jump street.

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It’s not that TAKEN 3 is a bad movie. It’s professionally made and by this time Liam Neeson and Maggie Grace have got their characters down so well that they seem more than ever like father and daughter. And I liked that Lenore’s death has real resonance for the characters and they’re allowed to have moments of emotional impact as they deal with how she died. In most of these revenge driven thrillers, the poor dead soul whose demise is the reason for all the subsequent mayhem is totally forgotten about halfway through the movie. Not here. Both Bryan and Kim have moments separately and together where they get the chance to react to Lenore’s murder. As always, TAKEN 3, like it’s two older brothers benefits greatly from the performance of Liam Neeson. Getting an actor who actually can act was the smartest move of this franchise. He elevates the material and gives it more gravitas than such a thin story deserves.

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If there is one actual thing I didn’t like about the movie is that it takes place in Los Angeles. The first two “Taken” movies were filmed in France and Istanbul and for me, thrillers filmed in Europe seem to have extra weight to them, more meat on the bones.  Having this one filmed in L.A. just makes it look like another cookie-cutter action movie. For me, what made the “Taken” movies different from other action movies were their exotic locations and that in each movie there was somebody kidnapped that Bryan Mills had to rescue. Allegedly, Liam Neeson agreed to do TAKEN 3 only if there was no kidnapping involved. As a result what we’ve got is a pretty standard action movie that reminded me of half a dozen other movies. This is supposed to be the last “Taken” movie and on one hand that’s really a shame as TAKEN 3 ends the series on a definite whimper and not a bang. On the other hand, this frees up Liam Neeson to bring his Bryan Mills character to the next “Expendables” movie.

So should you see TAKEN 3? You won’t be wasting your time if you’ve got a couple hours to kill and can see this for matinee prices. But don’t feel you’ve got to rush out and see it. It’s always good to see Liam Neeson in action hero mode but TAKEN 3 can be enjoyed in your own home when it comes to Netflix if you prefer to wait.

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108 Minutes

PG-13

 

Annie

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2014

Village Roadshow Pictures/Overbrook Entertainment/Columbia Pictures

Directed by Will Gluck

Produced by Will Smith, Jada Pinkett Smith, Shawn “Jay-Z” Carter, Caleeb Pinkett, James Lassiter, Lawrence “Jay” Brown and Tyrone “Ty Ty” Smith

Screenplay by Will Gluck, Aline Brosh McKenna and Emma Thompson

Based on the comic strip “Little Orphan Annie” by Harold Gray and the stage musical “Annie” by Thomas Meehan

So how did I end up seeing ANNIE you may well ask. Especially as I had no burning desire to see the movie in the first place. Having to listen to “It’s The Hard-Knock Life” for the past two weeks didn’t help either. Not that I don’t mind listening to Patricia sing. Not at all. She has a delightful singing voice. But hey, listening to to two weeks of anything puts a damper on my enthusiasm. But the real deal breaker was the name of Jamie Foxx’s character.

“What’s wrong with his name?” Patricia wanted to know.

“It ain’t Daddy Warbucks,” I replied. “And if it ain’t got Daddy Warbucks then it ain’t ANNIE far as I’m concerned.” What can I tell you? I’m a traditionalist. If I’m going to see a movie based on Little Orphan Annie, I want to see Daddy Warbucks as well as his loyal bodyguards Punjab and The Asp who were in the 1982 movie with Punjab played by the late great Geoffrey Holder. However, in our PC mad world today, I knew there was no chance those characters would be in the new movie. So I was prepared to be disappointed.

My interest was piqued by the very clever opening scene in a classroom which believe it or not, reminded me of the scene in “Django Unchained” where Jamie Foxx and Franco Nero meet briefly and there is a subtle passing of the torch. The same thing happens here where there is a subtle passing of the torch from the classic Little Orphan Annie to the Annie of the 21st Century (Quvenzhane Wallis) Things like that will earn my respect for the filmmakers and what they’re doing as they’re demonstrating their respect for what came before in their acknowledgment of the source material.

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Ten year old Annie Bennett is a foster child living in Harlem with four other foster children. Their foster parent Colleen Hannigan (Cameron Diaz) is a frustrated and bitter alcoholic who continually rebuffs Lou (David Zayas) the owner of the corner bodega who has a massive crush on her. Annie never gives up hope that her real parents will one day return for her and she spends her days singing and bringing good cheer to all. Her ability to brighten anyone’s day is put to the test when she meets Will Stacks (Jamie Foxx) billionaire communications mogul. Stacks is running for mayor of New York but his disastrous campaign is in the toilet and about to be flushed for good. All that changes when he rescues Annie from being hit by a truck. Stacks’ campaign advisor Guy (Bobby Cannavale) sees this as the perfect opportunity to improve Stacks’ image with the people as he’s an unlikeable workaholic germophobe. Stacks’ assistant Grace Farrell (Rose Byrne) arraigns for Stacks to become Annie’s temporary guardian.

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Being no fool, Annie agrees to help improve Stacks’ chances of being elected mayor if his bodyguard Nash (Adewale Akinnuoye-Agbaje) will use the resources of Stacks’ communications empire to find her parents. Guy arranges all sorts of public outings for Annie and Stacks, making sure to take advantage of social media to turn Annie in a star and Stacks’ public image rapidly improve along with his chances of actually winning the election.

All this is well and good but slowly Annie, Stacks and Grace come to realize that maybe the family they all are looking for and desperately want is right in front of them. Stacks discovers that he and Annie have more in common than he would have believed. Meanwhile, behind his back, Guy hooks up with Miss Hannigan to concoct a scheme that will make the both of them very rich. But will also destroy the relationship and trust that has grown between Annie and Stacks.

ANNIE is not a movie made for cynics or for those of you who insist on your movies being dark, depressing and realistic. This is very much a Musical in the tradition of classic musicals. Even down to the fact that everybody in the movie understands that they live in a musical universe where it is normal for people to break out in song and dance to express how they feel. There’s never any doubt that there’s going to be a happy ending and no matter how bleak things seem, nobody stays worried for very long because there’s another song to cheer them up.

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From start to finish the movie is owned by Quvenzhane Wallis. She’s just as captivating here as she was in “Beasts of The Southern Wild” a movie I totally loathed but loved her performance. Her Annie is funny, twice as smart as any of the adults in her life, compassionate, loving, generous, gutsy and resourceful. In other words, she’s a movie kid. But Quvenzhane makes Annie believable. She never steps over the line and makes Annie an adult in a kid’s body. At the right times she reminds us that for all her smarts and confidence, Annie is still a kid. It’s a wonderful performance that is complimented well by Jamie Foxx’s performance. In between the songs Foxx shows us that in a lot of ways, Stacks is still a damaged kid himself.

Cameron Diaz comes close to stealing the movie as Miss Hannigan. Her incarnation of the character is not as depraved or as insane as the Carol Burnett version. Diaz’s Miss Hannigan is more sad and pathetic and we never fear that the girls may very well come to harm at her hands. Unlike the Carol Burnett version who seemed as if she’d actually strangle one of the orphans in one of her drunken rampages. I’m glad that Rose Byrne is in a movie where she gets to use her own voice and doesn’t have to use an American accent. She and Quvenzhane have a nice number together; “I Think I’m Gonna Like It Here” It’s not a show stopping number like “It’s The Hard-Knock Life” or “Tomorrow”  but it is quite charming and cute.

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So should you see ANNIE? I say yes. I have a great affection for movies that are designed to do nothing but make you feel good and for two hours put a smile on your face. ANNIE does that. It’s not High Art or innovative filmmaking and it doesn’t have to be. It knows what kind of movie it is and its content to unashamedly be that kind of movie. It’s nothing but pure family entertainment and if that’s what you’re looking for then enjoy with my blessings.

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PG

118 Minutes

 

Top Five

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2014

Written and Directed by Chris Rock

Produced by Eli Bush, Barry Diller and Scott Rudin

IAC films/Scott Rudin Productions/Paramount Pictures

“Sometimes it’s just a movie”

“It’s never just a movie.”

Those lines of dialog are spoken by the two main characters in one of the first scenes of TOP FIVE: The first line is spoken by Chelsea Brown (Rosario Dawson) a journalist from The New York Times who is assigned to interview the speaker of the second line; Andre Allen (Chris Rock). Andre is the hottest comedian in America, having made a fortune and success in film with his “Hammy The Bear” series in which he plays a cop in a bear suit. Andre is eager to break out of comedy and show what he can do as a dramatic actor. The same day he is being interviewed by Chelsea is also the day his new movie “Uprize” hits the theaters. It’s a movie about the Haitian Uprising and Andre has pinned all his hopes for his future career on this movie. At the same time he’s preparing for his wedding to Bravo’s reality TV star Eric Long (Gabrielle Union). It’s going to be quite a day. And thankfully for us, the audience it’s going to be a very funny and even thought provoking one as well.

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Those two lines are repeated a couple of times in the movie and I have to believe that as the writer of the movie Chris Rock wants them to stand out and not let us forget them as we watch TOP FIVE. Because yes, it is just a movie but at the same time it’s not just a movie. For 102 minutes Chris Rock makes us laugh until we pee in our pants, sure. But in the same movie he also has some extremely insightful and perceptive things to say about reality TV, addiction to not just alcohol but to fame, the joys and fears of being a celebrity, race, politics and relationships as well. Halfway through the movie it suddenly hit me what it reminded me of; Woody Allen’s “Stardust Memories” which itself was influenced by Fellini’s “81/2.” Not a bad pedigree if you ask me.

And much like “Stardust Memories” even though there’s a lot of extremely funny scenes in TOP FIVE it can’t rightly be called a straight up and down comedy. There’s a lot of pathos and brutal honesty in scenes such as when Andre returns to his old neighborhood so that Chelsea can interview his ex-girlfriend (Sherri Shepherd) and some of his boys (one of them played by Tracy Morgan). They claim that Andre was a lot funnier when he was drunk or high and Andre is pretty much sure that they’re right. He quit drinking after a harrowing weekend in Houston with Jazzy Dee (Cedric The Entertainer) but the stress of the wedding and the movie opening is causing him to seriously think about throwing sobriety out of the window. It’s a concern to his faithful boyhood friend and now bodyguard Silk (J.B. Smoove) who is trying to bag himself a date with every full-figured woman he meets while keeping an eye on his boss.

As Andre and Chelsea go through the day with Andre preparing for the wedding and doing interviews for the movie, they talk about their lives, their families and what exactly it is that they’re doing with their lives and why. It’s serious stuff, yeah, but there are some downright goofy moments that have you gasping with laughing such as the bachelor party where Whoopi Goldberg, Adam Sandler and Jerry Seinfeld give Andre marriage advice. Or Chelsea explaining her boyfriend Brad and his sexual preferences.

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It’s refreshing to be able to say that I truly didn’t think that there’s a single bad performance in the movie. Maybe it’s because most of the cast members are only on screen for a few minutes at a time and so were able to give their best, which they certainly did. Chris Rock certainly put together a diverse and eclectic cast. Besides those I’ve already named you also have Luis Guzman, Opie and Anthony, Taraji P. Henson, Gabourey Sidibe (who shows here as she did in “Tower Heist” that she has a definite talent for comedy) Ben Vereen and Kevin Hart. And there’s a really surprising cameo that takes place in a jail cell that is not only downright surrealistic but for me, was the biggest laugh in the movie.

So should you see TOP FIVE? Without a doubt, Yes. It’s vulgar, it’s gross at times (watch out for that scene in Houston) and it shifts back and forth between comedy and drama with no warning at all and may make you wonder at times as if you should be laughing at what you’re laughing at. But it also manages to be a psychological study of a talented man still trying to figure out what he wants his life to be and a really interesting romantic story as well. Not many people can claim to be able to look at their own public image and explore it objectively but I think that’s exactly what Chris Rock is doing in TOP FIVE and he does it very well. I’m eagerly looking forward to seeing what he does next. Go see and enjoy with my blessing.

Rated R: And that R rating ain’t just for show. There’s drug and alcohol use, male and female nudity, fairly explicit sex and raw language. This is most definitely NOT for the kids so if you’re going to go see it, stop being cheap and spring for a babysitter. Leave the kids at home. And if you’ve got sensitive ears and eyes you yourself may want to give this a pass.

102 Minutes

My Favorite Movies Of 2014

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December is here and I figure that I would get ahead of the usual end of year lists. Mostly because everybody always asks me; “So Derrick, what do YOU think were the best movies of the year?

And I really don’t like “Best” lists because they’re so subjective. One man’s treasure is another man’s trash. Your classic is my WTF. So that’s why I prefer to call my list My Favorite Movies of 2014. These are the movies I got the most satisfaction out of and left the theater feeling like I’d seen a damn good MOVIE, daggone it.

One thing I should point out…please don’t email me and ask me; “Well what about __________(Fill In The Movie Of Your Choice) because if it’s not on the list either I haven’t seen it or I didn’t think it was memorable enough for ME to put on this list.

I also reserve the right to modify, add or otherwise mess around with this list as much as I like because I’m pretty damn sure there will be a whole lotta you folks who will recommend movies to me that should be on this list.

Okay? Okay. And now, here we have My Favorite Movies Of 2014:

300: Rise Of An Empire
A Million Ways To Die In The West
A Walk Among The Tombstones
Big Hero 6
Brick Mansions
Captain America: The Winter Soldier
Dawn of The Planet of The Apes
Draft Day
Edge of Tommorow
Fury
Guardians of The Galaxy
Gone Girl
John Wick
Lucy
Mr. Peabody & Sherman
No Good Deed
Sabotage
The Expendables 3
The Grand Budapest Hotel
The Lego Movie
The November Man
The Theory of Everything

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Big Hero 6

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2014

Walt Disney Pictures/Walt Disney Animation Studios/Walt Disney Studios Motion Pictures

Directed by Don Hall and Chris Williams

Produced by Roy Conli and John Lasseter

Screenplay by Robert L. Baird, Dan Gerson and Jordan Roberts

Based on “Big Hero 6” by Man of Action

The funny thing is that Patricia and I weren’t planning on seeing BIG HERO 6 today. Our initial movie of choice was “Nightcrawler.” But in between the time we made that decision and when we actually got on the road to head for the movie theater a couple of things happened. Nothing major or life threatening, I assure you. But it was a couple of things that indeed were bummers and kinda put a hurt on the good mood we were in. So instead of “Nightcrawler” I suggested we go see BIG HERO 6 instead as I figured that a light-hearted, family friendly superhero movie would do much more to lighten our mood than a dark and nourish crime drama.

Now I’m not going to say that we came out of the theater holding hands singing “A Whole New World” but I’d have to say we made a good choice in seeing BIG HERO 6. It’s bright, colorful and most of all, fun to watch. Yes, it does have some heavy moments of darkness but it makes sure to balance them with moments of triumph and joy.

In the futuristic city of San Fransokyo, Hiro Hamada (Ryan Potter) is a 14 year old whose brain power is off the chart. He’s already graduated high school and makes money hustling suckers in underground robot fights, beating larger and fiercer robots with his rather goofy looking littler robot. Hiro’s older brother Tadashi (Daniel Henney) who is even more brilliant than Hiro, takes him to The Institute of Technology to show him how his intellect can be used in more productive ways. Professor Callaghan (James Cromwell) is Tadashi’s mentor and offers Hiro a challenge to come study at the Institute.

Hiro also meets Tadashi’s friends: Fred (T.J. Miller) who plays the Institute’s mascot. GoGo Tomago (Jamie Chung) a hyperathletic adrenaline junkie whose specialty is electromagnetic energy that she’s applying to building better and faster bicycles. Wasabi (Damon Wayans, Jr.) is a laser expert who despite his hulking appearance is actually quite gentle and slightly on the neurotic side. Honey Lemon (Genesis Rodriguez) is a chemical genius in the tradition of great old school mad scientists.

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Hiro does indeed apply to the school, presenting his latest and greatest invention: microbots. They’re hordes of tiny robots that can link together to create anything the user can imagine, thanks to a mental link via a headband. Hiro is admitted to the Institute but his achievement is blackened by an unexpected tragedy. One that he chooses to deal with by secluding himself from Tadashi’s friends and his Aunt Cass (Maya Rudolph) Hiro’s interest in life is reawakened by two major events. The first is his discovering his brother’s greatest invention: Baymax (Scott Adsit) an inflatable healthcare robot who immediately adopts Hiro as his patient.

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The second event is Hiro learning that his microbots, which he had thought destroyed are being used by a mysterious man in a kabuki mask. The masked man has some sort of vendetta against Krei Tech, a technological company experimenting with teleportation. Hiro upgrades Baymax with battle armor and a memory chip that teaches Baymax karate and goes after the masked man. His first attempt fails miserably but after upgrading GoGo, Wasabi, Honey and Fred to give them superpowers based on their areas of technical expertise, the six of them become a superhero team determined to find out who the masked man is and why he’s bent on destroying Krei Tech.

big-hero-6-team-disney-1024x576BIG HERO 6 is an origin story, yes, but I wasn’t bored because this is a team I’m not familiar with and characters I don’t know. Even though it’s based on a Marvel comic book (and so I suppose it can be considered part of the MCU) the characters in the movie differ greatly from the ones in the comic.  And it’s not a terribly complicated origin story at that. I wish we had time to get to know more about the other characters but this movie is all about Hiro and Baymax and their relationship. Not that that’s a bad thing. Baymax is a wonderful character whose motivation stems from his being programmed to help others and if healing Hiro of his psychological wounds means that Baymax must allow himself to be weaponized into a high-flying, rocket-fist powered fighting machine, then that’s what he’ll do. But after going through all the trouble of creating such interesting and visually striking characters such as GoGo, Wasabi, Honey and Fred, I did want to see and know them better. We do get to find out something truly surprising about Fred that gets the biggest laugh in the movie and like any other Marvel movie, you’ve got to wait until after the end credits for it. But it’s worth it, trust me.

BIG HERO 6

The animation in BIG HERO 6 is nothing less than amazing. Maybe it’s because I don’t go out of my way to see a lot of computer generated animated movies and so I’m not jaded by the movement and detail. It’s still magical to me to simply look at. And it’s helped immensely by the kind of superhero story I love: the characters become superheroes because they honestly want to help people and make the world a better place. And if they can have some fun while doing it, why not? No, BIG HERO 6 is no “Guardians of The Galaxy,” the other big Marvel movie of 2014 and it wisely doesn’t try to be. It’s got its own brand of superhero fun. One well worth seeing. Enjoy.

102 Minutes

Rated PG