Thursday, December 31, 2015

Pokémon: The First Movie ★★★

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    When "Pokémon: The First Movie" (also known as "Mewtwo Strikes Back") initially swept into theaters all those long years ago, many critics (if not all) panned the picture for its childish nature and for the lack of a theme containing any sort of substance for its target audiencethat being younger viewers, mainly consisting of children under the age of ten. In fact, its alleged vapid construction and its irregular cast of characters even led renown film critic Roger Ebert to comment that "There are times here on the movie beat when I feel like I'm plain in over my head. This is one of those times." (For future reference, he also deemed the storyline to be "idiotic" and branded the film as a poor showing altogether.)

    And yet, there's some kind of innocence about these creatures called "Pokémon." From the miniature, yellow mouse type, and arguably the face of the franchise, named Pikachu to what we are told is the rarest of all of these unique lifeforms, Mew, I can't help but find them appealing. I mean, there is no doubt that the picture thrives on its "cuteness" more times than not, and it unquestionably consists of simple things such as cheesy dialogue, vibrant color palettes, and vacuous Pokémon battles all in an effort to entertain; and, naturally, considering the film is nothing more than an extension of the popular animated television series, it banks heavily on the admiration for its lovable protagonists (and the ever-inept "Team Rocket") to carry what becomes a steep ninety-minute running time. Is it enough to elicit success? The answer is yes; however, one must obtain the right frame of mind if they are to come to such conclusions.

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    Any real attempt to defend this film on rational grounds would be utterly futile. Don't tell me about the one-dimensional characters or about a plot that is unequivocally devoid of profundity. The realm of "Pokémon" was never really concerned with delicate technique or philosophical inquiry before, and it wasn't likely to start in its very first cinematic venture. 

    And this is the danger of viewing movies strictly under a humanistic lens: One must realize that not every picture is going to provide a statement of moral or social worth. On the contrary, most films evade statements of that kind as if they were the plague (mainly in an effort to satisfy the intuitive viewing experience). If anything, "Pokémon: The First Movie" should be berated for its inclusion of an anti-violence motif that, quite frankly, makes little sense when considering the nature of the Pokémon universe. (For, fighting seems to be the mainspring of the entire franchise.) Ultimately, however, "The First Movie" doesn't pretend to be what it isn't, and for this, it deserves a passing grade.

Saturday, December 26, 2015

Alvin and the Chipmunks: The Road Chip ★1/2

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    The "Chipmunks" franchise has done very little to dispel any notions that would see it as an example of empty-headed children's fare. Beyond serving as a revolving door for bland direction and as a pitfall for many writers of quality, Randi Singer being the most recent victim, I'm afraid the franchise's worth has slipped into a nugatory state. (Of course, they are a set of films headlined by anthropomorphic chipmunks who have an affinity for singing and dancing, and this may have something to do with it.)

    It's quite the uphill battle, I think, when contributing to this children's live-action-computer-generated-cartoon-animal-musical-buddy-comedy-fantasy genre, and considering the film's infantile temperament, I can't seem to find even a smidgen of substance for non-prepubescent moviegoers. Perhaps you might care for a chipmunk-infused rendition of "Uptown Funk." I did not.

    The premise: Dave Seville (Jason Lee), caretaker and father figure to our three problematic participants, has gone from struggling songwriter to renown music producer, and this newfound career inescapably leads to romance and to an abundance of nights away from home. (Consequently, this adds to the chipmunks' perpetual uneasiness, which almost always results in mischief.)

    To make matters worse, Samantha (Kimberly Williams-Paisley), Dave's newest sweetheart, has a teenage son in Miles (Josh Green) who finds much joy in torturing his soon-to-be stepbrothersor, at least, that is what Alvin and company fear the most. This assumption of marriage will send these semi-lovable critters on a journey that hardly warrants the qualification of "road trip," and I hate to be curt, but this has to be one of the least eventful plotlines I've ever seen in a children's picture. (They sing, they dance, and that's about it.)

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    Generally speaking, "The Road Chip" can be described as a collection of clichés, banal homages, and mawkish moments, and although Alvin and his gang of miscreants appear to be less irksome this time around, the picture routinely relies on the same unflattering tendencies that plagued previous installments. (This is in reference to the excess of physical comedy, cheap humor and abysmal singing exhibitions that grace our presencemaybe this act was cute in the 1980s as an animated product, but it is just plain inconceivable here.) I would even go as far as to say that it simply encapsulates this year in film, which, regrettably, has been rather mediocre.

    This chapter in the "Chipmunk" universe essentially suffers from the same problem as its predecessors: That is, it lacks a reasonable antagonist. David Cross, who stars in the first few films, was less than tolerable as the autocratic and tyrannical music executive, and our villain in "The Road Chip" is just plumb stupid. (In brief, Tony Hale plays a klutzy air marshal with a chipmunk-sized vendetta; the movie would have been better served without such unnecessary complications.)

    Believe it or not, this is one of those rare times when parents can actually dictate a film's success. (Truthfully, it's a circumstance where parents should know better.) I'm sure that young children have some desire to witness the latest antics provided by this small group of rodents, but one has to realize the effect of these seemingly frivolous decisions. When it comes right down to it, children rarely have good taste in film; as much as we would like to think otherwise, parental guardians have the most sway in this arena. Here is a thought: It's the holidays. Stay inside where it's warm, save your money and turn on "Rudolph, the Red-Nosed Reindeer."