Monday, July 20, 2015

Bite-Size Reviews: Ant-Man, Avatar: The Last Airbender, and More

It's summer, which means that all of the big-budget flicks are dropping at once.

But unfortunately, I don't have a big budget, which means I've only seen one live-action movie in theaters since arriving back in the States.  I have, however, explored more stories than those that can be found in the movie theater.

Before I go on, let's start with the first of the lineup:


Four and a half stars.

One sentence: In an origin story reminiscent of Marvel's Phase One, Ant-Man embraces the superhero tropes - but plays on them too, creating a very fun and surprisingly good blockbuster.

Yes, Ant-Man is something of a standard comic book movie.  It's about a man searching within himself to become a superhero, it deals with his daughter as his motivation, and the world is in danger (again.)

But where Ant-Man really shines is in twisting these tropes, even if just slightly.  Much of the movie works as a satire on the superhero genre.  Paul Rudd wreaks havoc as the Ant-Man, only to have the camera pull out and show us just how small-scale the conflict is, to great comedic effect. (Speaking of comedy, this is possibly the funniest movie Marvel has made.  The humor is amazing.)  Paul Rudd himself plays a quirkier, more down-to-earth superhero who has no delusions of grandeur.  His wants are remarkably simple.

And simple is a good way to describe this movie.  It is not complex, it is not bright and flashy.  It approaches the subject with simplicity and more than a little wit, creating a movie that is not exactly amazing, but ends up being a whole lot of fun.


Four stars.

One sentence: Though the animation style is jarring at first, it proves suitable for a movie that, though plagued with inconsistent narrative, also feels alive with Celtic magic.

The Secret of Kells is an utterly unique animated movie, made with a particular style of 2D animation that I've never seen before.  Indeed, the style was at first a drawback, and one of the reasons I had never watched it before. 

Thea actual story drew from Irish legends and a bit of history to create their world, making it rich and full of magic.  The bright parts were full of wonder; the darkness, legitimately scary.  It is one of those stories that tells more with the eyes than it does the ears; the dialogue does not carry the movie, but instead the art and the soundtrack bear it onward. This became something of a problem; the narrative is inconsistent and lacks a clear focus and clear story beats, which makes it drag in places.  

Even so, the imagination present in the film was enthralling, and in several places it was made manifest most by the absolutely stunning - and even haunting - soundtrack.  In the end, for all its flaws, it left me with a feeling that I had just watched something really and truly beautiful.


Five stars.

(The following review is my initial reaction to this show.  I intend to write a much longer post later on.)

One sentence: Avatar: The Last Airbender succeeds in telling a story that feels timeless and ancient, a marriage of Eastern mythology to Western storytelling—and does so in three flawlessly constructed seasons that build up to a truly epic finale.

Reading that sentence might give you the wrong impression, however.  It is well and truly intense.  And it is chock full of emotion and great storytelling.

But it is also light.  It is, in fact, a TV show "for kids," in the most Pixarian sense of the phrase.  It is hilarious, at times flippant, and sometimes has little hints of the melodrama of Disney Channel.

That is, however, part of the genius of this TV show: an easily accessible and humorous animation that is not only clever and inventive, but meaningful and subtle.  It draws from Eastern mythology, among other sources, to maintain a timelessness, but also transcends it to become something that is not Eastern, but not Western either.  And perhaps the greatest achievement of this show is in its restraint: the scope is large, but not too large to lose sight of the main plot.

From the very first episode, the very last episode is in mind.  It does not meander, in the strictest sense of the word; even where it wanders, it often involves elements of the story that will come up later.  It is one story made up of over sixty individual episodes, an achievement I have not seen topped anywhere.  And that makes it something truly special.


Rachelle O'Neil said...

Well, having not yet seen Ant Man, I'm glad to hear a good impression of it. :) I do love Marvel, so I have no doubt that I'll enjoy this latest installment.

As for Avatar, I haven't seen that either, but my curiosity is definitely building. You've got me sure I'd probably like it.

Good reviews, Jake!

Emmarayn Redding said...

I love Avatar: The Last Airbender! In my opinion, it's one of the best children's cartoon shows ever written. :D I loved how it could be so hilarious and lighthearted one moment, and then filled with plot depth and emotion the next. The character arcs were fantastic, and the climax lived up to my expectations beautifully.

I've always meant to watch Secret of the Kells, but I haven't gotten around to it yet. And Ant Man is on my list of movies I want to see in theaters.