The Box Trolls

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Stop motion used to freak me out as a kid. I blame the Wallace in Gromit shorts (which are wonderful by the way) which had some creepy imagery that stayed with me through most of my childhood. Over the years however, I’ve grown to appreciate it as a brilliant way of telling stories through animation. Heck some of my currently favourite animated films are stop motion (including The Nightmare Before Christmas and The Pirates: Band of misfits). Laika studios (the creative minds behind Coraline and Paranorman) help keep the art of stop motion alive and well with their latest animated feature, The Box Trolls.

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The Box Trolls’s main attraction is the animation. It’s really, really, REALLY good, and it’s hard not to marvel at it. The characters and the environments are given the finest details, and it really shows that the creators take attention to detail very seriously. There’s always something going on in every frame, wether it’s in the foreground, or a simple background joke. It’s nearly impossible to look away (save for a few intentionally disturbing scenes) and it’s incredible to see how much the animation is capable of, especially in the action sequences. I could only find one shot of the film that had a CGI effect in it, and it was towards the end. Everything else appears to be completely made by hand, and it’s stunning.

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The two main characters, Eggs and Winnie, aren’t the most engaging leads. They aren’t painful to watch or anything, and Winnie does get a few good lines here and there, but I couldn’t help but feel that I had seen these character types in countless other films. Most of Egg’s arc plays out like a fish out of water story and it’s not any more interesting here then it was the last time we saw it. The reason I take issue with this is because there are so many other interesting characters in this movie that I would rather spend time with, but don’t get as many chances to. The plot isn’t terribly original either, mostly playing out like a fish out of water storyline that feels predictable. The rest of the characters however, are a ton of fun. With the four villains, Archibald Snatcher (Ben Kingsley) and his three henchmen Mr. Trout, Mr. Pickles and Mr. Gristle (my personal favourite) being the most entertaining to watch. They’re diabolical and hilarious antagonists that really carry film. The Box Trolls themselves are interesting and fun to watch as well, although they did often remind me of the Minions found in Despicable Me.

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The Box Trolls isn’t my favourite Laika film (that honour goes to Coraline) but it’s a solid and fun ride that has a great cast, some memorable characters and a fantastic sense of humour. Some of the imagery may be too intense for younger viewers, but most kids above the age of 7 should be fine with it. Animation fans should have a field day with this one, and I hope that Laika continues to improve and make fun stop motion films in the future.

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Casper: A Spirited Beginning

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In theory, Casper: A Spirited Beginning should be the worst movie of the bunch. It has almost nothing in common with the first film, has some pretty bad special effects for the ghosts, and has cheesy acting across the board. This film has almost nothing going for it, except for nostalgia and that optimistic and traditional Casper charm that appears in all the films. I hold this  cheep made-for-tv movie near and dear to my heart, and today I’m hopefully going to explain why I think so fondly of it.

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To start things off, let’s look at this film’s history.  The first Casper film was a hit, but not a big enough hit for universal studios to invest in making a sequel. The rights were given to Fox kids, which produced the amazing “Spooktacular adventures of Casper” cartoon, as well as two direct to video prequels of the first Casper movie. This was the first of those two prequels. Although I use the term “prequel” loosely, because there are way too many continuity errors in this film for it to be considered a prequel to the original. From Casper turning into a ghost in the present day (or in this case, the late 90’s) to the Ghostly Trio not even being directly related to Casper, to the different location of the house (Hope you didn’t enjoy Whipstaff manor too much in the first film, Cuz it’s not coming back). I like to think of this movie as a alternate reality that completely separates itself from Casper movie. If viewed in that context, the film works better.

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Casper: A Spirited Beginning begins on a ghost train (more on that later) where we see Casper (now voiced by Jeremy Foley) and 4 other ghosts going to Ghost Central Station, with Casper being completely oblivious to the fact that he’s a ghost. On the train, he irritates another passenger and gets thrown out the window, landing in a little town called Deedstown. From there, he meets the Ghostly Trio and a lonely young boy named Chris who’s father is often absent. The two form a bond, and Casper helps Chris with his problems, while Chris convinces the Ghostly Trio to teach Casper how to be a real ghost. Meanwhile, the king of all ghosts, Kibosh (voiced by none other than James Earl Jones) takes notice of Casper’s absence at the training school, and sends his henchghost Snivel (Pauly Shore) to track him down. It’s not a story that’s going to win any awards, but for a harmless little halloween flick for the kiddies, it works. It’s innocent and inoffensive while still managing to be entertaining.

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What I like about this film is the way Casper, the Ghostly Trio, Kibosh and Snivel are portrayed. While not nearly as polished or as impressive looking as they were in the first movie (this is due to a much, MUCH lower budget.) The four original ghosts remain memorable and likeable while the two newcomers, Kibosh and Snivel, prove to be fun if underdeveloped villains. Casper’s friend Chris isn’t as interesting as Kat, but he’s not a horrible character. His teacher, Sheila Fistergraff (played by Lori Loughlin), gets a few laughs as well as a few cringeworthy lines and the chris’s father (Steve Guttenberg) comes off as pretty unlikeable, but I get that that’s what they were going for. As for the special effects, they’re not very convincing this time around. The voice actors do the best they can, but the ghosts aren’t as expressive or impressive as they were in the first film. One effect that I LOVE about this film though is the ghost train. The style is very cool , and the mood of every scene is really effective. It’s not realistic, but it sure is awesome. The music is serviceable, with a few catchy tunes, but nowhere near as grand or iconic as the original.

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Casper: A Spirited Beginning is a fun trip down memory lane for me. Out of all the Casper films, this is probably the one I watched the most. It’s not as grand or as well written as the original, and comparing the two is no contest whatsoever. But it’s Cute, fun, and has a great Halloween atmosphere that really gets you in them good for the holiday. Don’t expect anything on par with the first one, but it’s a fun film regardless, and one of my childhood favourites.

Casper

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Doing justice to a film you love just by writing about it is hard. At least in my experience. There’s always so much that I want to talk about and so many corners of the film that I want to explore to express why I adore it. But then I risk ruining the film for those who haven’t seen it, or I sound totally biased. Casper is one of those movies. Anyone who knows me well knows it’s one of my all time favourites, and that Casper as a character played an important part in my childhood. As I said in my introduction, he was a great role model. (As well as an awesome imaginary friend.) So today, I’m going to attempt to explain why I love Casper so much and why it’s still one of my favourite films of all time. (A fair warning: There are a few spoilers, so if you haven to seen the film, I suggest you do so before reading this review.)

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For starters, Casper is one of those movies that carries a strong “movie magic” vibe throughout (at least for me). It’s top notch effects make it feel limitless, and it’s memorable characters and solid story give it substance. Casper is the story of a friendly ghost who lives with his three uncles (Strech, Stinkie, and Fatso) in the abandoned whippstaff manor. When a Ghost therapist (Bill Pullman) arrives with his teenage daughter Kat (played by Christina Ricci), Casper (voiced by Malachi Pearson) sees the opportunity to finally make a friend. After some time passes the two of them have a strong bond, and Casper soon develops feelings for the human girl. The story of Casper is almost tragic. At it’s core, it’s a love story. Not just romantic love (although Casper’s relationship with Kat does get some focus here) but the love you have for your family and for your closest friends.

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One of the best scenes in the film is when Casper remembers his life before becoming a ghost and recalls his father and some other memories from his childhood. It doesn’t last too long, but it’s impactful, and makes the movie very heartfelt. It never goes overboard, since this is a film that was based off a comic strip and a cartoon, there’s still plenty of slapstick and comedy sprinkled throughout the movie too. But it’s the extra bits of emotion that make this movie feel complete. And that brings me to another point; Casper’s relationship with Kat is quite possibly one of the most tragic love stories i’ve ever seen. Casper clearly has feelings for this girl, and she grows fond of him too, but the fact of the matter is…he’s a ghost. This creates a wall between the two characters that only manages to crumble towards the end when he becomes human for only an hour. It’s a tragic love story, and I love it.

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But Casper and Kat aren’t the only characters who get the spotlight. The Ghostly Trio make their film debut here as well, and their execution is perfect. They come across as the loveable jerks of the movie that also provide alot of the film’s comedy, which is handled like a live action cartoon, and it works, since the source material WAS a cartoon to begin with. Kat’s father Dr Harvey is also an interesting character, with his odd profession (a ghost therapist) and his infractions with the Ghostly Trio are highly entertaining and stand as some of the movie’s impressive effects-heavy sequences. The only characters that feel a little unnecessary are the villains. Carrigan (Cathy Moriarty) and Dibbs( Played by the one and only Eric Idle). They are create a subplot that involves some hidden treasure hidden somewhere in Casper’s home, and while it’s entertaining, it does slow the movie down a little bit, and I don’t think this movie necessarily needed a villain. (although their subplot does start off with a cameo by Ben Stein, who would later go on to cameo in the next few Casper films as well) I think The Ghostly Trio cause enough conflict in the story.

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The music in this movie is beautfaul and Like the movie, it’s one of my favourites. It can be whimsical, it can be heartbreaking, it can be scary, it can be funny, and it can be romantic. Very few scores manage to make me emotional like Casper’s does, and it’s just wonderfully done here. As I mentioned before, The special effects in this film are great. The Ghosts are all very expressive and look like they’re really there in every shot. Whipstaff manner itself is a sight to behold, and it’s one of my favourite film sets as well as one of my favourite haunted houses in film. (Was I the only one who thought it looked like then ouse from Tales From the Crypt opening? Huh, I guess that explains why the Crypt Keeper was in that one scene.)

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Casper is not a perfect movie. But it’s a movie with engaging characters, great comedy, lots of heart, outstanding special effects (that still hold up!) and a wonderful atmosphere. I keep telling people it’s one of my favourite movies of all time, and if you haven’t seen it, there’s no better time then halloween to change that. It’s a highly entertaining film for all ages and it continues to impress and sweep me off my feet me to this day. Recommended!!

Let’s Be Cops

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The buddy cop genre is one that I’m definitely not a fan of. With very few exceptions, (the only one that comes to mind right now is Hot Fuzz.) It never feels like any of these comedies offer anything new. It’s just the same old thing over and over again. Let’s Be Cops ALMOST had something with the story, but once this movie drops the ball, it rarely picks it up again.

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Let’s Be Cops has a premise that actually has a bit of potential. Two down on their luck friends decide to go to a costume party dressed in police uniforms. They soon learn that everyone around them thinks that their real cops, and they take advantage of this every chance they get. But when the bumbling duo get pulled into a case involving a gang of criminals, their fun begins to turn into danger. Now this is a premise that I thought sounded pretty funny. It’s kind of a clever idea. Unlike the characters in the movie however the film rarely takes advantage of the premise and resorts to cheap unfunny jokes that could be found in any given buddy cop comedy. I was bored watching these two characters act like idiots because the movie seemed bored with itself.

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The only characters worth mentioning are the leads. Jake Jonson and Damon Mayans Jr. play Ryan and Justin and they don’t have nearly enough chemistry that a movie like this needs to stay on it’s feet. I know that I bashed 22 Jump Street a few months ago, but what saved that film was the meta humor and the chemistry between the two leads. This movie doesn’t have either of those, so I can’t even give them an A for effort. The rest of the characters are just there to serve the jokes or act as plot devices (such as Justin’s love interest,Josie, who has very little impact on the plot and could’ve easily been written out of the movie entirely, and there would be almost no difference. This movie, like it’s characters, was just boring.

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I realize that this has been a very short review, and I apologize for that, As I usually enjoy going more in-depth when discussing movies. But there is just nothing more I can say about this movie without repeating myself. It could have been something unique, but instead it resorts to a generic and forgettable movie that just didn’t make me laugh or appeal to me in any other way. If you like buddy cop comedies, that’s great. You’ll probably love this. But for me, It’s just another forgettable, boring, and unfunny buddy cop movie.

But hey, at least the film opens with Backstreet Boys song “I want it that way”. That’s got to count for something. …Right?

Casper Month: Introduction

 

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Part of the reason why Fall is my favourite season is because it feels like it begins and ends exactly when it needs to and it never seems to linger or arrive too early. I love the sense of new beginnings it brings out in me, and I might go as far to say that the first week of fall feels more fresh then something like the first day of January. So naturally, Halloween is one of my favourite holidays. And with Halloween comes truckloads of films and shows that I could talk about that relate to the holiday. Last Fall I discussed a few random films that I enjoyed watching at this time of year, but this year I wanted to do something a little more focused. I wanted to cover a franchise or a series of films that I had grown up with and knew a lot about, that also had a strong connection to Halloween and/or fall in general. I had quite a few properties to choose from, but the one that seemed like a no-brainer and I ultimately settled with happens to be the friendly ghost himself, Casper.

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I’ve been Watching Casper since I was in kindergarden and next to Godzilla, he is one of my favourite fictional characters. I can’t really pinpoint an exact reason why I find the character so endearing, but I think that it might have something to do with the fact that he was a great role model. Growing up, I wanted to be like Casper. Optimistic, Open minded and of course, kind.  While some adaptations of the character fare better then others, Casper has remained mostly consistent and reliable with only a few exceptions. This month, I’m going to cover all five of the Casper movies. Content for this month won’t be limited to just Casper related stuff however, as I’ll still post my normal movie reviews alongside them.So for the month of October, let’s take an in depth look at the friendliest ghost you’ve ever seen.

 

My Little Pony: Equestria Girls: Rainbow Rocks

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Last summer’s “Equestria Girls” received mixed reactions from critics and fans alike. The general condenses seems to be that it wasn’t as good as the show, but it wasn’t the train wreck that some were expecting either. I myself was pleasantly surprised by it, and thought it captured the magic (pun intended) and charm that the show had to offer while still being it’s own thing. Despite the better-than-expected reception, there was certainly no outcry or demand for a sequel, at least not anywhere I could see. So when Hasbro and DHX announced Rainbow Rocks, fans were worried all over again. How does it hold up?  Not only do I think it’s a highly entertaining film in it’s own right, I think it exceeds it’s predecessor in nearly every way.

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So what makes Rainbow Rocks the better film? I think the most important and obvious aspect is it’s story. The first movie told a fairly simplistic narrative focusing on Twilight and her friends retrieving her crown. In Rainbow Rocks however, we are given a much more layered storyline that gives each of the characters their own sub-arc. In some cases this might make the story seem a little crowded, but it all flows together nicely. Sunset Shimmer’s story arc (I’m hesitant to call it a subplot, because Sunset really does feel like the main character in this one) Is absolutely brilliant. Friendship is Magic has reformed villains before, but it’s never come off quite as believable or effective as it does here. The events that took place in the first film come back to haunt her, and it’s clear that a majority of the school has not forgiven her actions. Its wonderfully done, and makes Sunset Shimmer the most interesting character in the movie. The story also has a darker tone, thanks to the stakes being raised and the conflicts the main cast has with one another Overall The film’s story is sharply written (save for some of the dialogue) and is a marked improvement over the first film.

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The antagonists (Adagio, Aria and Sonata) are good, if a little on the obvious side. There is nothing subtle about them, it’s it’s clear that they are evil just for the sake of being evil right from the start. What saves them from being generic is their backstory that ties into Equestrian lore, as well as their Fantastic vocal performances and entertaining personalities (for example, Sonata is the cutest and most adorable thing ever and I totally want one.) This movie features a lot of fan service, which consists of an endless supply of background character cameos (as well as the speaking debut of a fan favourite.) Some of the references may fly over newcomers heads, but the hardcore fans will have a field day spotting all the cameos and references in this movie. This may be the most reference filled film I’ve seen since the Lego Movie.

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It probably sounds like I loved this movie, and I did. But it’s not without it’s flaws either, with Some being more major than others. Two of my biggest problems are the writing and the screen time for Spike. Let’s cover the writing first, shall we? The film was written by Meghan McCarthy. The current head of the show and the writer for many episodes (Including  Party of One, Lesson Zero, A Canterlot Wedding, The Crystal Empire and more). I think that Megan is great at coming up with concepts and stories, but her dialogue writing could use a little more work. Another issue I had with the film is the lack of Screentime For Spike. As a fan of the character, I was disappointed to find that he was barely in the movie, Despite the fact that he played a prominent role in the first film. Also, Flash sentry (Sunset Shimmer’s ex-boyfriend and Twilight’s love interest.) once again has little to no impact on the plot, and if you were to remove his character entirely, hardly anything would change.

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Two aspects that I need to cover is the animation and the score. The animation is, in a word, BEAUTIFUL. This is  the best animation the show has seen in a while, and a major step up from the last movie. Everything from the lighting to the facial expressions shows a great attention to detail and the show has never looked better. The soundtrack is also a joy to listen to, featuring some very catchy tunes that stand alongside some of Daniel Ingram’s best work. A perfect example of how good the songs AND the animation are is the climax, which is a truly epic merge of sight and sound.

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Rainbow Rocks is a highly entertaining film for all ages.  Nearly Everything from the first film has been improved. It’s More engaging, darker, the animation’s better, the songs are fantastic and it has heart. Fans of the show owe it to themselves to give this one a watch, and while newcomers might not get the full experience without some knowledge of the source material, I think it will still  prove to be an entertaining and enjoyable ride for them. Oh, and remember to stay after the credits! Not only is there some wickedly cool concept art, but also a extra scene that leads into the next movie. Marvel Studios Style.

Ghostbusters

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Some of you may recall that in my “top five most anticipated movies of fall 2014” list, I put the 30th anniversary re-release of Ghostbusters at number five and stated that I would review the movie shortly after I saw it on the big screen. Sadly, I didn’t get a chance to see it. The theatre in my town wasn’t screening it, and the closest town that was showing it was still two hours away. That being said I still recommend if you have the opportunity to see this movie on the big screen. In my opinion, There’s no better way to celebrate the 30 year legacy of the Ghostbusters. Despite that, I still re-watched the film last night on TV, and have provided a review nontheless. So without further ado, let’s get started.

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Sometimes Reviewing a film that I enjoyed is far more difficult than reviewing a film that I disliked. When I review something that I like, my main goal is to give the reader an understanding of two things, A bias take on Why I loved it, and an unbiased take on why I think that what i’m reviewing is generally great. When reviewing a classic, like Ghostbusters, however, The way I approach film critiquing feels like it would backfire. the problem here is that nearly everyone knows everything about Ghostbusters. It’s one of those movies where even if you haven’t seen it, your aware of it, as well as the entire franchise. It’s hard to do something that iconic justice, but since this year marks the film’s 30th anniversary, I feel like I owe it to this classic to at least give it a second look.

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Although Ghostbusters is remembered as one of the comedy greats, I had forgotten just how subtle most of it’s humour is. Alot of the jokes rely on callbacks and references to events that took place earlier in the movie, And it goes to show just how great the chemistry is between the characters. I think Peter (Bill Murray) made me laugh the most, but Ray (Dan Aykroyd), Egon (Harold Ramis) and Winston (Ernie Hudson) all have moments to shine. There’s also a ton of side characters that don’t get too much screen time, but make every second count and remain just as memorable as the main cast.

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As expected with a title like “Ghostbusters”, There are plenty of ghosts and ghoulish creatures that lurk around the film. Most of the effects hold up pretty well (with only a few minor effect shots coming off as rather dated) but what really sells is is the creature design. The monsters in this movie range from looking cartoony and hilarious to menacing and frightening. I I had to choose a favourite, I would go with either the terror dogs or Mr. Stay Puft. latter greatly appeals to me due to the Godzilla references, while the terror dogs give the film an effective element of horror without going overboard (as well as having fantastic designs). The soundtrack is also very good, providing lots of lighthearted tracks that balance out nicely with a few more sinister ones. And of course, there’s that theme song. It appears frequently throughout the film, and will not leave your head.

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Ghostbusters is a genre defining film. I’d go as far to say it’s one of the most successful horror comedy mashups out there. This ambitious movie is just dripping with frighting atmospheric sequences coupled with some truly memorable characters and lines. It’s a film that deserves to be seen at least once by everyone. If you haven’t seen Ghostbusters yet, see it. You are guaranteed a great time.