BARE BONES: RAYA AND THE LAST DRAGON (2021)

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RAYA AND THE LAST DRAGON (2021)

500 years ago the united peoples of the kingdom of Kumandra fell under attack by sinister beings known as the Druun. The Druun turned all they encountered into stone, till the dragons of Kumandra vanquished them at the cost of their own lives. Over the years, the people split into five kingdoms with only the magical dragon gem to keep the Druun away. When treachery splits the gem into five pieces and thus allows the Druun to return, Princess Raya (Kelly Marie Tran) of the Heart tribe must seek out the legendary last dragon Sisu (Awkwafina) to reunite the pieces of the gem and defeat the Druun once and for all. Standing in her way is bitter rival Namaari (Gemma Chan) of the Fang tribe and 500 years of mistrust between the peoples of this fragmented kingdom.

Film is directed by Don Hall (Big Hero 6) and Carlos López from a script by Qui Nguyen and Adele Lim (screenwriter of Crazy Rich Asians) and is a fun and very colorful fantasy adventure. Raya is a noble and likable heroine, if not a bit cocky, and a good fit for Last Jedi/Rise of Skywalker’s Kelly Marie Tran, who voices her well. Awkwafina, is having a blast as the goofy, hyperactive and hopeful dragon, Sisu, who can transform into human form and back at will. They work well together and the characters are a nice balance to each other. There is also a colorful group of supporting characters, both good and bad, and the film movies quickly, as Raya seeks out Sisu and then needs to steal all five parts of the gem to reunite it. This is all done under the gun, as the Druun are quickly overtaking the five tribes and laying waste to all the land. There is adventure, escapes, betrayal and unexpected friendships and even if it is a bit predictable, it’s a lot of fun and has a lot of heart. The South Asian-centric design for both land and characters is visually sumptuous and imaginative and the animation is top notch. A really fun and engaging fantasy tale with endearing characters and a classic quest/adventure storyline that includes a nice emotional center. Fun for the whole family.

-MonsterZero NJ

3 star rating

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REVIEW: FROZEN (2013)

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FROZEN (2013)

I’m not the biggest Disney fan. When I was a kid my parents took me to se things like The Towering Inferno and The Poseidon Adventure and while we did see the occasional Disney flick, my sister and I seemed bored by the traditional kid stuff. So, I don’t have that fixation on their flicks like others do but, I have seen and enjoyed a lot of the new wave Disney stuff that started with The Little Mermaid… though I do prefer Pixar’s stuff more. So, I finally got around to what has turned out to be one of Disney’s most successful cartoons in years and must say I did enormously enjoy it, though, I am still curious why this particular one has had such a massive appeal. The story opens with two young princesses… big surprise there… Anna and Elsa who live in the beautiful kingdom of Arendelle. Elsa has magic abilities to control and create ice and snow and during some exuberant play with Anna, the younger sister is injured. This causes her parents, the King and Queen to sequester her away from others so, no one finds out about her powers or is hurt till she learns to control them. But, when the two sisters grow to be young women, tragedy strikes and their parents are lost at sea. Now it is the powerful Elsa’s job to take the crown and rule but, a fearful Elsa loses control at her coronation and the new crowned Queen unleashes her power on a frightened populace, causing her to flee into the mountains in seclusion and subsequently throw the kingdom into eternal winter. Now it’s up to the spunky and resourceful Anna to find her sister and help her put an end to the endless Winter and lay to rest the kingdom’s fear of her powerful sibling… their queen. Of course, along the way she is aided by handsome ice salesman Kristoff, his reindeer Sven and talking snowman Olaf while being thwarted by the villainous Hans and the weasel-like Duke Of Weselton. Will she save her sister and the land or will the power hungry villains stop the sisters cold? Written by Jennifer Lee and co-drected by Lee and Chris Buck, Frozen is an enormously entertaining fairy tale that is fueled by some very strongly endearing characters and the usual peril, heroics and romance. The plot in itself is traditional Disney fairy tale stuff but, it is the exceptionally lively and colorful characters that put this over the edge and make it special. Not to mention the computer animation is sumptuous in both character design and the spectacular visuals and backgrounds. There are songs too but, most are simply functional though very well sung by the likes of Kristen Bell and Idina Menzel who voice and sing adult Anna And Elsa respectively. The only one that really stands out and is a show stopper is Menzel singing ‘Let it Go’ which is a powerful number supported by some beautiful vocals and animation. I also did like that Lee chose to keep Elsa a tragic figure in that she never turns evil but, is simply too upset and guilt-ridden to fix what she’s done and right what has gone wrong. Other characters become the villains of the piece instead and so we root for both Anna and Elsa to save each other and the day along with the equally endearing Kristoff, Sven and Olaf. And obviously, Anna and Kristof fall for each other, not that they’ll admit it. A really entertaining and fun animated fairy tale/adventure with some very three dimensional and lively characters to populate it. One of Disney’s best animated tales in quite some time… though I did enjoy Tangled quite a lot too. Also features the vocals of Jonathan Groff as Kristoff, Josh Gad as Olaf, Santino Fortana as the devious Prince Hans and the multi-talented Alan (Firefly) Tudyk as The Duke Of Weselton. A delightfully entertaining flick.

3 and 1/2 Olafs… would have been four if not that most of the songs are forgettable save “Let It Go”.

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MONSTERZERO NJ’S SATURDAY NIGHT DOUBLE FEATURE: THOR and THOR: THE DARK WORLD

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Yes, it’s true I have covered both these films before but, with Thor: The Dark World recently being released on home media, I decided to revisit it and the first film together. They actually make a really cool double feature with each film bringing it’s own style thanks to two different directors yet, they still blend very well together with their mix of fantasy and real world adventure. It is also interesting to see Thor as we first saw him, the arrogant hot-head, in contrast to the more noble and humble warrior he has progressed into over the course of the first film and The Avengers. That and his relationship with Jane Foster is resumed as well. A really entertaining night of popcorn entertainment with a little extra courtesy of two contrasting yet equally talented directors.
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THOR (2011)

I’m not that familiar with the Marvel comics version of Thor, so, I have to take the movie at face value and as such, Thor is a lot of fun. The film takes place both on Earth and in Thor’s (Chris Hemsworth) home realm of Asgard and Kenneth Branagh does a nice job of switching back and forth between both worlds and keeping the tone even and the narrative flow fairly smooth (more on that later). The film fits in very nicely with the world created in the Iron Man films and yet has it’s own style and flavor as it tells the story of arrogant Prince Thor and his path from banished and disgraced warrior to hero of both Earth and Asgard. The cast works really well together and in filling their roles. Hemsworth brings a nobility to Thor, as well as, keeps him charming during his arrogant beginings and then makes believable his humble awakening during the course of the film. Natalie Portman is energetic as the pretty scientist and love interest, Jane Foster and she and Hemsworth have a nice screen chemistry together that actually gave their growing relatrionship a realistic touch despite the fantasy story elements. Tom Hiddleston makes a good villain as the devious Loki, Thor’s brother and Anthony Hopkins is a regal and strong Odin. Kat Dennings is cute as Portman’s sidekick, Darcy and her antics are just enough to provide humor without being annoying and Stellan Skarsgard is fine as a fellow scientist, Dr. Selvig who grew up with norse mythology and provides some exposition for those not in the know. And I would be remiss in not mentioning Rene Russo as Thor’s mom. There is plenty of action and the SPFX are top notch especially in the portrayal of the mystical Asgard which is beautifully designed and realized. Thor’s flying was the hardest thing to pull off and they smartly keep it to a minimum and it works withing the context of the scenes. My only gripes are minor. The middle of the film slows down for about 20 minutes… though it does give the opportunity for some nice character interaction… but, soon picks up as the film heads toward it action filled last act. The earth sequences don’t quite flow as smoothly as the Asgard sequences leaving me to believe there was some editing to get the fim under 2 hrs but, it is not jarring. And, finally, the set of the New Mexican town just doesn’t quite look like a real town, it’s layout does make it look like a set, well built, but still a set. But these problems are small and don’t ruin what is an overall very fun and entertaining movie that has some nice fairy tale touches as well as plenty of action. Stay through the credits as usual with these films.

A solid 3 and 1/2 hammers!

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THOR: THE DARK WORLD (2013)

Thor was one of my favorites of the Marvel Phase 1 movies. I loved it’s fun mix of fantasy and real world adventure and thought Hemsworth made a noble and very likable hero. And now the Norse God turned superhero is back in his second solo adventure and a welcome return it is. Thor: The Dark World opens 5000 years earlier with an alignment of the planets being taken advantage of by the Dark Elves and their leader Malekith (Christopher Eccleston) to unleash a weapon called The Aether which will convert all the worlds into dark matter where only the Dark Elves may exist. Thor’s grandfather Bor (Tony Curran) defeats the invaders and they are assumed destroyed and The Aether is hidden away never to be found… or so Bor hoped. But, in the present, the worlds are aligning again and the long dormant Malekith and the remaining Dark Elves seek to destroy all once more and, as fate would have it, Jane Foster (Natalie Portman) stumbles upon the hidden weapon and it is absorbed within her. Now hunted by Malekith, Thor (Chris Hemsworth) brings Jane to Asgard against Odin’s (Anthony Hopkins) wishes and must somehow find a way to stop Malekith, banish The Aether and save the woman he loves and all the known worlds… and the only one who can help him is his devious stepbrother Loki (Tom Hiddleston) imprisoned in Asgard’s dungeons by Thor’s own hand. This second solo adventure is this time directed by Game Of Thrones and Deadwood director Alan Taylor who creates a much grittier and down to Earth version of Asgard then the bright and magic kingdom-ish version we saw in the delightful first feature directed by Kenneth Branagh. It’s still recognizable as Asgard and it blends perfectly with the first Thor but, we get to see far deeper into the city and into it’s halls and pubs and get a more lived in and functional look at Thor’s homeland. The tone of the film is also darker at times and that was a nice change from the upbeat first film and Avengers but, so not to get too dark or grim, the film is punctuated with a lot of fun and humorous sequences especially those involving Darcy (Kat Dennings) and Eric Selvig (Stellan Skarsgard), the latter’s trip to Stonehenge being especially hilarious. I thought the humor and the darker story elements were blended just fine and there was plenty of action and strong drama throughout till the big free-for-all ending set in London where Thor and Malekith finally get to throw down. And the action and special effects do not disappoint, they are top notch as with all the previous Marvel films. The budget is onscreen in all aspects of the production from sets to costumes to FX. Taylor gets good work from all the cast. There are some nice character moments in between the drama and destruction and all the actors are now very comfortable in their roles and work very well together. Hemsworth is once again a noble hero who has grown since his first visit and the battle in New York. He and Portman still have a nice chemistry together and I liked their scenes especially when Thor has to explain where he’s been for two years. Dennings gets a bit more screen time and handles it well getting some of the bigger laughs and Hiddleston is once again scene stealing as Loki. It was also nice to see Rene Russo finally get a big scene and have a bit bigger part this time and Hopkins is still endearing as the weary but, majestic Odin. We also get some nice scenes with supporting characters Heimdall (Idris Elba), Sith (Jaimie Alexander), Volstagg (Ray Stevenson), Fandral (now Zachary Levi) and Hogun (Tadanobu Asano) but, those expecting expanded roles from this bunch will be disappointed. Newcomer to Thor’s world Christopher Ecceleston, is OK as villain Malekith but, he really doesn’t make a strong impression or stay with you after the film is over. To me his somewhat tepid villain is the film’s only real stand out weak point and a stronger villain or more screen time to really establish Malekith as a threat would have made this flick even better. Taylor’s interpretation of Don Payne and Robert Rodat’s script is highlighted by a moody score from Brian Tyler and some nice cinematography by Kramer Morgenthau. Overall, Thor: The Dark World is a very entertaining follow-up that gives us enough of the action, drama and suspense we are looking for and takes it in enough of a different direction to keep it fresh but, not straying too far as to alienate us. It’s not perfect, as stated the villain could have been stronger, there are a few slow spots here and there, especially in the first half and we can tell there was a bit of editing to manage the running time but, for all the entertainment we get, those minor flaws can be overlooked. A fun and worthy sequel to both Thor and The Avengers and certainly less schizophrenic then the mixed bag that was Iron Man 3As with all Marvel films stay through the entire credits for not one but, two additional sequences and keep an eye out for a couple of really fun cameos. Another solid bit of entertainment from Marvel and Disney.

3 and 1/2 hammers!

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