Welcome to The Morning After, where I share with you what movies I’ve seen over the past week. Below, you will find short reviews of those movies along with a star rating. Full length reviews may come at a later date.
So, here is what I watched this past week:
Jordan Peele’s sophomore outing proves that Get Out was no fluke. Us is a thrilling, gripping horror film that understands its predecessors and uses them to good effect.
Oscar winner Lupita Nyong’o stars as a woman with a fear of the beach. After an incident that happened to her at a young age, she took years to emerge from her silence and now has a loving husband and two wonderful children. The film opens at a carnival where 8-year-old Adelaide gets lost in a fun house mirror maze where she comes face-to-face with her doppelganger. When her doppleganger and those of her family show up at the family’s vacation house, it becomes a fight for her life and for the lives her family as the mysteries surrounding the dopplegangers slowly reveal themselves to the audience.
Peele’s freshman effort, Get Out, was a superb achievement, but Us demonstrates his ability to evoke complex emotions from the audience, weave a fascinating narrative, and call back to horror history in an effort to inform and terrify modern audiences. Nyong’o delivers a stellar performance as Adelaide and her doppleganger Red while the rest of the cast acquits itself nicely for the material.
With heady themes about American identity, class systems, and other fascinating topics, there’s nothing in the film that doesn’t demand to be analyzed. Similar to Alfred Hitchcock’s use of symbolism in his films, Peele delves into the concept with gusto and fills each frame with metaphors, clues, and fear in equal measure.
How to Train Your Dragon: The Hidden World
The final film in the How to Train Your Dragon series ends things with a satisfying and emotional conclusion, bringing the audience full circle in DreamWorks’ single greatest animated achievement.
As Berk becomes overcrowded with dragons, a new threat emerges with an enemy hell bent on controlling their massive horde of dragons while a nefarious dragon hunter uses them to further his aims and hunt down the last of the night furies. Searching for the legendary Hidden World, a place where he hopes the citizens of Berk and the dragons they call friends and family can call home, Hiccup (voiced by Jay Baruchel) finds his quest filled with many dangers and potential joys with his own Toothless coming across a Light Fury to fall in love with.
The voice cast is as strong as it’s ever been, however, it’s the gorgeous animation and the compelling narrative written by director Dean DeBlois that continues to impress audiences about the film. DeBlois rejects a lot of the narrative commonalities of animation history and creates an adventure that feels like it would be at home in live-action fantasy, but fits perfectly within the confines of computer animation as well. It’s a joyous adventure with a bittersweet ending that even the Toy Story series could be envious of.
Laika has produced some of the best animated films in the last two decades with the likes of Coraline, ParaNorman, and Kubo and the Two Strings defining it as one of the greatest animation houses in history. Missing Link is their latest animated endeavor and its best qualities all come down to the terrific depth of animation.
Starring the voice of Hugh Jackman as a self-centered explorer intent on joining a crusty old British explorers society, Sir Lionel Frost has received a letter that suggests the legendary sasquatch is not only real, but is waiting to be discovered in the Pacific Northwest of the United States.
Looking quite a bit like the live-action adventure film Around the World in 80 Days, Laika does a tremendous job evoking the cool blues and greens of Washington state, the warm russets of the will American West, the darkness of a sea steamliner, and the frosty peaks of the Himalayas. The vast landscapes alone are worth the price of admission, but as always, the character animations are superb.
So too are the vocal performances from Hugh Jackman, Zach Galifianakis, Zoe Saldanda, Stephen Fry, Timothy Olyphant, Emma Thompson, and others. The film is perhaps a bit too much like Around the World in 80 Days to feel genuinely original, but as a kid-friendly animated adventure film, it’s very fun. It may not be the best of Laika’s storied history, but it’s still better than a lot of what else is out there in the world of animation.
The Secret Life of Pets 2
The original The Secret Life of Pets was an entertaining mass of pet cliches about what our lovable furballs (and non-furballs) do when we’re at work. The pets then go on an adventure in New York City that was both adorable and humorous, but disposable nonetheless.
With sequels, more of the same isn’t always good, but as the Madagascar series proved, throw in enough twists, turns and new elements and you still get a pretty fun film (or two). This is precisely what Illumination has done with The Secret Life of Pets 2. Back for another go around are Patton Oswalt voicing the slightly neurotic Jack Russell terrier Max, Kevin Hart as the vainglorious bunny Snowball, Eric Stonestreet as the loveable canine dullard Duke, Jenny Slate as the even more neurotic Pomeranian Gidget, Lake Bell as the imperturbable fat cat Chloe, and various other characters. This time, they are joined by Harrison Ford as the gruff Welsh sheepdog Rooster and Tiffany Haddish as the badass Shih Tzu Daisy.
An engaging batch of voice actors make this sometimes too chaotic sequel an enjoyable affair. As the film progresses through three seemingly disparate narratives, it can get slightly convoluted at times whether its Gidget trying to learn to be a cat so she can infiltrate a crazy cat lady’s house, Snowball and Daisy tangling with a malicious circus owner, or our central story involving Max trying to let go of his nervous scratching during a vacation to a farm. All three stories eventually come crashing together and in such a surprisingly effective and hilarious way, the audience can forgive the rather simplistic machinations that take place up to that. The Secret Life of Pets 2 dials up the cute factor in the second outing and there’s just enough here to suggest that a third film wouldn’t be entirely unwanted as long as they can avoid getting bogged down in the trivialities that sank Illumination’s third Despicable Me film.