I Am for Making Friends

Ron’s Gone Wrong got it right. The moment I saw the trailer for Ron’s Gone Wrong, I thought it was a rip-off of The Mitchells vs. the Machines. I know that’s impossible, but they are very similar. Both are computer animated 2021 movies about the dangers of technology and social media obsession. It can’t be a coincidence that Olivia Colman also happens to voice a character in both films. Even the young black tech creator is basically the same. The difference is B-bots. B-bots are sleek spherical smartphones that make friends for kids and have no plans of overthrowing humanity. The villain is actually an evil corporate businessman trying to cover up a glitch in the system.

While The Mitchells vs. the Machines won me over immediately, I was a little more hesitant of Ron’s Gone Wrong. It’s technically a Disney movie, since 20th Century Studios made it with a new animation studio called Locksmith Animation. Although it looked harmless, I wasn’t sure about the crude animation reminiscent of Arthur Christmas. Ron’s Gone Wrong is similar to other “boy and his robot” movies, but its message is universal. Barney is a socially awkward rock loving middle schooler voiced by Jack Dylan Grazer at the height of his fame. He’s the only kid without a B-bot, but all that changes when his old fashioned father and cooky grandmother from the old country get him one for his birthday.

Ron is a typical defective robot voiced by Zach Galifianakis. Ron’s Gone Wrong is immediately funny the moment he’s on screen. What makes Ron stand out are his computing errors, violent tendencies, and ability to buy alcohol. Surprisingly adult for a kids movie. Barney learns to appreciate Ron’s differences and they eventually grow together as friends. Even Ron’s vlogger crush Savannah and prankster bully Rich learn the value of friendship. Ron’s Gone Wrong doesn’t shy away from the dangers to technology, but there’s a good compromise in the end.

Ron's Gone Wrong

Barney hangs out with Ron

Connected

The Mitchells vs. the Machines is your typical family road trip that happens to include a robot apocalypse. Sony Animation is still very hit or miss, but The Mitchells vs. the Machines is a hit that deserves way more attention. It’s got Gravity Falls writer Mike Rianda as the director, The LEGO Movie directors Phil Lord & Christopher Miller as producers, an all-star comedic cast, and the unique animation of Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse. The latter was apparent the moment I saw the first trailer with the painfully generic title Connected.

The Mitchells vs. the Machines is a much better title that reflects the film’s creativity. I knew Into the Spider-Verse would inspire similar animated movies, but the comic book style only works for superhero movies. So the animation is more so inspired by internet memes, doodles, pop art, and even a little live action. It’s another heavily detailed work of art that should’ve been on the big screen. Unfortunately, the Pandemic led to its eventual release on Netflix…

The Mitchells vs. the Machines

The Mitchells drive away from the robot apocalypse

The Mitchells vs. the Machines is a perfect combination of original and familiar that feels like it was made especially for me. And not just cause it features songs from random YouTube videos of the 2000’s like “Nyan Cat” or “Numa Numa.” Like me and my family, the Mitchells are weird and quirky. Katie is a college bound teenager who loves niche movies, making funny videos, and wants to go to film school. Abbi Jacobson is similar to her Disenchantment character Princess Bean since both her and Katie are ambiguously queer.

I’m glad the movie doesn’t call attention to it, because the theme can be interpreted multiple ways. Katie and her dad begin to drift apart due to her unusual interests. Rick is her father who hates technology and loves nature. Danny McBride is funny, but he has a lot of range in the more emotional scenes. The movie is mostly about their relationship, but the rest of the family helps them open up. Linda is a supportive mother who encourages everyone with gold stars. I already know what to expect from Maya Rudolph. Linda is also jealous of her seemingly perfect neighbors voiced by real life married couple John Legend and Chrissy Teigen.

Aaron is an awkward kid with an obsessive love of dinosaurs. My only nitpick is Aaron’s distracting grown up voice provided by the director himself. Aside from the strong bound he has with his older sister, Aaron also develops a back and forth crush on their neighbors daughter who also loves dinosaurs. Monchi is the weird cross eyed dog who completes the Mitchell family. Unlike most animated movies, Monchi is voiced by the real life Doug the Pug. The road trip is supposed to strengthen the families relationship, but a robot uprising seems to come out of nowhere. Eric André voices your typical hip young tech company owner responsible for a device that everybody owns.

PAL is like Siri or Alexa if she turned on mankind. Olivia Colman has the right kind of trusting British voice for the AI. PAL Max robots are like giant smartphones with a sleek design and the ability to trap people in a force field. The Mitchells are humanity’s last hope as they avoid detection in their broken down station wagon while searching for a kill code. The action is a lot of fun, but the comedy is literally laugh out loud hilarious. Abrupt cutaway gags are hysterical and jokes about tech obsession are both funny and relatable.

There’s also a particularly humorous scene involving feral Furby’s. The funniest characters are a couple of malfunctioning PAL Max robots named Eric and Deborahbot 5000 who side with the Mitchells. Though the movie is longer than most animated movies, it’s all worth it to bring the Mitchells together in the end. The Mitchells vs. the Machines should’ve won Best Animated Feature, but the Academy Awards are still fixated on Disney. Luckily Sony managed to sweep most other major award shows. The Mitchells vs. the Machines is weird in the best possible way.

The Mitchells vs. the Machines 2

The Mitchells walk away from an explosion

Clowning Around

Killer Klowns from Outer Space already sounds like an April Fools joke, but it’s a very real movie that I couldn’t make up if I tried. It’s a true old fashioned B movie that delivers what it promises. It’s goofy in a so bad it’s good kind of way. Killer Klowns from Outer Space features clown themed aliens rampaging a small town. Leaving a small group of over-the-top locals to stop the invasion. Klowns use every clown trick in the book.

Their spaceship is a big top circus tent, they use cotton candy ray guns, balloon animal hunting dogs, a compressed popcorn gun, living shadow puppets, and acid throwing pies. Since the Chiodo Brothers are more known for their special effects work, each klown has a funky design that will probably scare people with a fear of clowns. They all have distinct names, but none of them are able to talk. Just disturbing warped alien laughter.

As a PG-13 horror movie, Killer Klowns from Outer Space does get away with light blood and even a comedic decapitation. Although most of the town is killed or cocooned, almost every hero survives in the end. A sequel was talked about for a long time, but Killer Klowns from Outer Space is a rare horror movie with no follow ups to its name. So it remains a stand alone cult film. Killer Klowns from Outer Space is creepy and colorful at the same time.

Killer Klowns from Outer Space

Killer klowns from outer space

Falling Off the Roof

Assassin’s Creed assassinated any hope that an adaptation could break the video game movie curse. No matter how promising it seemed. I’ve never played Assassin’s Creed, but I know how iconic it is. The movie had a very long production with Michael Fassbender always intended to star. Although the games usually followed a different assassin, I’m sure creating original characters was their attempt to keep fans from turning on them. Fans are probably the only people who will understand it since the convoluted plot is barely explained to casual audiences.

Cal Lynch is a modern day death row inmate abducted by the shadowy Abstergo Foundation. His body is hooked up to an advanced Animus rig that uses his DNA to unlock memories from his ancestors. Cal’s ancestor Aguilar de Nerha is part of the Assassin Brotherhood who fight the Templar Order during the 1492 Spanish Inquisition. It’s probably a lot more fun to play then to watch. Since all of his memories play out without him affecting them.

All the wrist bladed fights, rooftop jumping, and leap of faith aren’t as exciting as they should be. It doesn’t help that the signature white Assassin cloaks are a painfully dull grey. Not even a respectable cast consisting of Marion Cotillard, Jeremy Irons, or Brendan Gleeson can save it. The horribly cliché plot centers around the Apple of Eden that can affect free will. I honestly forgot most of the movie because it was so boring. Assassin’s Creed has such a unique premise that’s ultimately wasted on yet another video game failure.

Assassin's Creed

Aguilar de Nerha’s leap of faith

The Future Unleashed Everything

The Cloverfield Paradox is a paradox in and of itself. I could accept the vastly different 10 Cloverfield Lane as part of the franchise, because it was done so well. The Cloverfield Paradox on the other hand, is too convoluted, too confusing, and too overblown. Cloverfield worked as a found footage movie with a lesser known cast and 10 Cloverfield Lane worked as a confined thriller with a smaller respectable cast. The Cloverfield Paradox takes the opposite approach with a bigger cast of relatively well known stars set on a space station.

The international crew of Cloverfield Station consists of: Gugu Mbatha-Raw as a British officer who left her husband back on Earth, David Oyelowo as the American commander, Daniel Brühl as the untrustworthy German physicists, John Ortiz as the Brazilian doctor, Chris O’Dowd as an unfunny Irish engineer comic relief, Aksel Hennie as the untrusting Russian engineer, and Zhang Ziyi as an engineer who only speaks Chinese. Their mission is to activate a particle accelerator called the Shepard in order to end an energy crisis. Earth is shown sporadically, but most of the attention is in space. A lot of bizarre things happen when the Shepard sends the crew to a parallel universe.

That’s when Elizabeth Debicki comes in as a secretly evil Australian engineer. It’s not scary, just very random when people come out of the walls and severed arms move on their own. The Cloverfield connection is so loose that it practically felt like what Prometheus did to the Alien universe. J. J. Abrams once again connected it to a totally unrelated script called God Particle. The only clever thing about the movie was its marketing campaign. A Super Bowl trailer revealed the title and the fact that it would premiere on Netflix immediately after the game. Aside from that, The Cloverfield Paradox may have irreversibly affected the future of the sci-fi franchise.

The Cloverfield Paradox

Crew of the Cloverfield Station

Preceded by: 10 Cloverfield Lane

Monsters Come in Many Forms

10 Cloverfield Lane is a different kind of fight for survival. Although sequels to Cloverfield were discussed, I never would’ve guessed this would be the eventual follow up. 10 Cloverfield Lane is a thought provoking psychological thriller with a limited cast set in a confined space. Connecting it to J. J. Abrams’ found footage film actually happened after the fact. The original script was called The Cellar, but filmmakers felt it was too similar to the spirit of Cloverfield. I’m not sure I agree, because 10 Cloverfield Lane is almost too good for the sci-fi franchise.

The set up is almost the exact opposite with characters taking up a majority of the story and anything alien related happening closer to the end. The small cast consists of Mary Elizabeth Winstead, John Goodman, and John Gallagher Jr. After leaving her boyfriend (voiced by an uncredited Bradley Cooper), Michelle ends up trapped in an underground bunker owned by a farmer named Howard. I didn’t think John Goodman could be scary, but this is one of his all time best performances as the paranoid conspiracy theorist.

He tries to convince Michelle that the air is toxic and it’s never made clear how right he is. Emmett is a more neutral third party who believes Howard’s stories, yet tries to help Michelle escape. They do develop stockholm syndrome, but the movie remains incredibly tense whether aliens are present or not. The writing is so good that I wasn’t surprised to learn Oscar winner Damien Chazelle contributed to it. Despite the title, it is a little jarring to see aliens after all the character drama. That being said, 10 Cloverfield Lane still manages to transcend genre expectations.

10 Cloverfield Lane

Michelle tries to escape Howard’s bunker

Preceded by: Cloverfield & Followed by: The Cloverfield Paradox

For the Glory of Merlin, Daylight is Mine to Command!

Trollhunters: Rise of the Titans is not the epic conclusion it should’ve been. DreamWorks Animation has made several TV spin-offs of their movies over the years, but Rise of the Titans is the only movie spun-off from a TV series. The Tales of Arcadia trilogy is the brainchild of Guillermo del Toro. His sympathetic monsters and gothic style are apparent even in a children’s show. Though intended to be live-action, computer animation was the only way to pull off a series full of trolls, aliens, and other magical creatures. Arcadia Oaks is the mecha for supernatural activity. Streaming on Netflix; Tales of Arcadia consists of the 3 season Trollhunters, 2 season 3Below, and 1 season Wizards. Each show is rich with complex lore, mature storytelling, terrific character development, awesome action, and a great sense of humor.

I was so hooked that I watched all 88 episodes in the span of 8 days. My brother and I watched them separately, but we were both ready to watch the big finale together. Rise of the Titans begins with a lengthy recap for anyone who didn’t watch the shows. Tales of Arcadia featured an all-star cast from the beginning, but the animation has noticeably gotten more ambitious. Elemental Titans rising from the Earth sparks a globetrotting adventure that starts epic enough with everyone working together to fight the evil Arcane Order on a runaway subway train. Characters from Trollhunters consist of chosen Trollhunter Jim Lake Jr, his magical girlfriend Claire, jokester best friend Toby, academic troll mentor Blinky, troll muscle AAARRRGGHH!!!, and reformed changelings Strickler and Nomura.

Characters from 3Below consist of Akiridion-5 alien Queen Aja, her brother Prince Krel, battle ready bodyguard Varvatos Vex, and helpful alien Stuart. Characters from Wizards consist of wizard apprentice Douxie and his black cat familiar Archie. Plus reformed bully Steve and his less nerdy Creepslayerz friend Eli. Although Rise of the Titans tries to imitate the Avengers, 1 hour & 46 minutes is just not enough time for a well deserved conclusion. Character arcs either feel rushed or disrespectful to everything they went through. Heroes die, but really it’s the ending that ruins everything. Through a series of complicated reasons, the Trollhunter travels back in time to undo the entire franchise and make the goofy sidekick the new chosen one. Trollhunters: Rise of the Titans needed more time.

Trollhunters Rise of the Titans

The residents of Arcadia unite

If Secret Agents were Guinea Pigs

G-Force is all about a team of elite special agent guinea pigs. It’s one of many movies I regret seeing in theaters. Considering I was 14 at the time, why would I go see something clearly meant for little kids? I guess I thought it would be the next Cats & Dogs. Of course I was equally disappointed with The Revenge of Kitty Galore released only a year later. The CGI used on the animals is literally the only good thing about G-Force. Which makes sense considering the one-off director is a visual effects artist.

The all-star voice cast consisting of Sam Rockwell, Tracy Morgan, Penélope Cruz, Jon Favreau, Nicolas Cage, and Steve Buscemi isn’t enough to save the movie. G-Force are the most bland generic stock secret agents I’ve ever seen. Darwin is the leader without a personality, Blaster is the unfunny comic relief in charge of transportation, and Juarez is the “tough girl” that everyone fauns over. Speckles is their mole cyber intelligence expert with a deep dark secret that you can easily figure out based on his species. Mooch is a mute gadget equipped fly that does recon for the team.

There’s also Zach Galifianakis as their scientist trainor, Will Arnett as the agent sent to take them in, and Bill Nighy as the villain plotting to take over the world. Their mission is to stop an uprising of appliance robots, but this is a Disney movie. So they’re taken to a pet store with even more potty humor and pointless side plots. Hurley is Darwin’s long lost brother who farts around messing things up. Bucky is a hotheaded hamster and there’s also a trio of idiotic mice. Much like Disney, I like to pretend G-Force never happened.

G-Force

G-Force

Believe the Impossible, Discover the Incredible

Journey 2: The Mysterious Island kept the adventure going without Brendan Fraser. It’s kind of a low move, but it does represent the division between 2000’s Hollywood and 2010’s Hollywood. When Journey to the Center of the Earth (2008) came out, Brendan Fraser was a safe box-office draw. When Journey 2: The Mysterious Island came out in 2012, Dwayne “The Rock” Johnson was on the verge of becoming a major box-office draw. This was his first jungle movie since The Rundown, but far from his last. Journey 2 is also the second sequel to add him in a starring role.

An older pre-Hunger Games Josh Hutcherson is the only returning actor. Even his mother is recast with the more well known Kristin Davis. The Rock plays Sean’s charismatic pec-popping stepfather Hank who has useful Navy experience. As the subtitle suggests, Journey 2 now brings Jules Verne’s book The Mysterious Island to life in the real world. Except this island is also inspired by Treasure Island and Gulliver’s Travels. Sean’s grandfather Alexander Anderson is a fellow Vernian who sends him a message. Michael Caine would honestly say yes to anything at this point.

Sean and Hank travel by helicopter to the mysterious island. They’re accompanied by Vanessa Hudgens as Sean’s strong-willed love interest Kailani and Luis Guzmán as her goofy pilot father Gabato. Just like the book, giant animals are small and small animals are giant. We see giant bees, lizards, and birds rendered with mildly better CGI and somewhat less obnoxious 3D. They discover the lost city of Atlantis, but have to leave before the island sinks. Although I wasn’t expecting it, they do find a way to include Captain Nemo’s Nautilus. Despite the movie teasing a sequel based on From the Earth to the Moon, Journey 2: The Mysterious Island is just another kid friendly adventure.

Journey 2 The Mysterious Island

Hank, Sean, Kailani, and Gabato on the mysterious island

Preceded by: Journey to the Center of the Earth

World Within a World

Journey to the Center of the Earth (2008) is more 3D experience than movie. The late 2000’s were filled with movies marketed mostly for their 3D effects. Aside from Around the World in 80 Days (2004), Jules Verne novels haven’t had too many major theatrical adaptations in recent memory. All the obnoxious in your face 3D made Journey to the Center of the Earth (2008) look bad the moment I saw it. While the CGI is bad and does resemble a video game, it’s really not that bad. In this adaptation, the book Journey to the Center of the Earth turns out to be real.

Vernians study the work of Jules Verne in order to find his discoveries. Brendan Fraser stands in for Professor Lidenbrock as original American volcanologist Trevor Anderson. I don’t buy Fraser as a scientist, but it is nice seeing him as the action hero. 2008 is sadly one of his last years as a leading man. A young Josh Hutcherson plays Trevor’s somewhat rebellious 13 year old nephew Sean. Trevor recklessly brings Sean along on his journey to the center of the Earth. Where they hope to find answers about their deceased brother/father.

The helpful Icelandic guide is now a beautiful and very competent young woman named Hannah. Anita Briem is so young that I wasn’t sure who she was supposed to end up with in the end. Much like the book, the center of the Earth is fraught with peril. Aside from the usual dangers, the group has to deal with high speed mine carts, waterslides, carnivorous plants, and viscous prehistoric piranhas. The dinosaur they face is simply a T-Rex. At least bioluminescent birds are friendly. Journey to the Center of the Earth (2008) is an hour and a half adventure that doesn’t overstay its welcome.

Journey to the Center of the Earth 2008

Trevor, Sean, and Hannah ride a dinosaur jawbone

Followed by: Journey 2: The Mysterious Island