STORKS (2016)

Review by Derrick Carter

Running Time: 1 hour 27 minutes

MPAA Rating: PG for mild Action and some Thematic Elements

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Directed by: Nicholas Stoller & Doug Sweetland

Written by: Nicholas Stoller

Voices of: Andy Samberg, Katie Crown, Kelsey Grammer, Keegan-Michael Key, Jordan Peele, Anton Starkman, Jennifer Aniston, Ty Burrell, Stephen Kramer Glickman & Danny Trejo

In the world of theatrical animation, it seems that certain companies hold significant sway on the moviegoing public. These include: Disney, Pixar, DreamWorks, Sony Animation and (to an extent) Blue Sky.  One studio that’s had many underperformers in the past, but seems to be rising in recent popularity is Warner Bros. Animation. Released in a gap between two different LEGO movies, STORKS wasn’t a giant box office hit with audiences or critics. However, this is a fun comedy with vibrant animation, tons of solid jokes, and a heartwarming message.

STORKS, from left: Tulip (voice: Katie Crown), Junior (voice: Andy Samberg), 2016. © Warner Bros./

Storks have delivered babies for centuries, but that service is a relic of the past. Today, storks deliver packages for online retailer Corner Store. When ambitious stork Junior (Andy Samberg) is offered a high-profile promotion from his intimidating boss Hunter (Kelsey Grammer), he soon discovers that the position comes with strings attached. Junior is ordered to fire 18-year-old orphan Tulip (Katie Crown), a former baby that got lost in the company’s system. Unable to go through with her termination, Junior reassigns Tulip to the abandoned mailroom…just as lonely 10-year-old Nate (Anton Starkman) puts in an order form for a sibling. Mismatched pair Junior and Tulip are soon thrust into a hazardous adventure to deliver the newborn baby…while evil Hunter and his pigeon lackey (Stephen Kramer Glickman) are hot on their trail.

STORKS, Pigeon Toady (voice: Stephen Kramer Glickman), 2016. © Warner Bros.

STORKS has colorful animation and wears its heart on its sleeve. It’s clear that lots of love and effort went into making this film, even though it follows a familiar formula and has its share of clichés. The animation style reminded me of CLOUDY WITH A CHANCE OF MEATBALLS and MEGAMIND, meaning that it was pretty darn great to look at. There are plenty of jokes sprinkled throughout that adults will catch and lots of kid-friendly humor that viewers of all ages will enjoy. The film’s biggest highlight for me was Pigeon Toady, a brown-nosing runt of a baddie that has a Donald Trump hairdo. One conversation with Pigeon and Junior in an elevator had me cracking up, especially with a final so-stupid-it’s-hilarious punchline.

STORKS, from left: Beta Wolf (voice: Jordan Peele), Alpha Wolf (voice: Keegan-Michael Key), 2016. ©

Much of STORKS works because the wacky sense of humor makes up for any ill will that one could have towards this film’s problems. The characters are running from place to place and coming across various obstacles as they try to deliver a baby to her family, kind of like ICE AGE with a stuck-up bird and a red-headed inventor. The plot is familiar, but many of the jokes significantly raise this story’s entertainment value. Other stand-out moments include: a quiet fight (because the baby is sleeping) against a group of penguins, and frequent encounters with a pack of shape-shifting wolves. These scenes may be childish, but that doesn’t make them any less funny.

STORKS, center: Hunter (voice: Kelsey Grammer), 2016. © Warner Bros.

As far as the voice cast goes, STORKS includes a few notable names. The Lonely Island’s Andy Samberg voices Junior, a character who seems overly familiar and still has a good enough emotional arc. Katie Crown (who is mostly an unknown) is great as Orphan Tulip, gaining laughs purely from her line delivery in certain scenes. Kelsey Grammer is well-cast as the intimidating big bad boss. Meanwhile, Ty Burrell and Jennifer Aniston play the parents of little Nate. Key and Peele are also hilarious as the aforementioned wolves.

STORKS, from left: Henry Gardner (voice: Ty Burrell), Nate Gardner (voice: Anton Starkman), Sarah

Besides utilizing a familiar formula, STORKS encounters a couple of other problems that hold it back from being great. Nate’s subplot of wanting a sibling and his workaholic parents bonding with him both feel slightly out-of-place in this wacky adventure. This brings me to another problem with STORKS: the pacing. This movie rushes past the viewer in under 90 minutes. Sometimes, that can be great for an animated feature that doesn’t wish to overstay its welcome. However, STORKS plows through important plot points before they’ve even had time to develop. This is especially true of a would-be emotional moment that doesn’t leave much of an impact because it’s resolved less than five minutes later.

STORKS, from left: Junior (voice: Andy Samberg), the baby, and Tulip (voice: Katie Crown), 2016. ©

Even with its flaws, I had a blast watching STORKS. The humor really elevated this film in my eyes. You could predict where the plot was going from the get-go and the film’s pacing compromises a few moments that should have been lingered on, but the humor is plentiful and the animation is pleasing to look at. This may not reinvent the wheel of animated family comedies and might not be up to the levels of many popular CGI family-comedies from other big studios, but STORKS is highly entertaining. If you’re in the mood to laugh or need to pick a quick flick to stick in front of your kids, STORKS should fit both of those needs just fine.

Grade: B

FINDING DORY (2016)

Review by Derrick Carter

Running Time: 1 hour 37 minutes

MPAA Rating: PG for mild Thematic Elements

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Directed by: Andrew Stanton

Written by: Andrew Stanton & Victoria Strouse

Voices of: Ellen DeGeneres, Albert Brooks, Hayden Rolence, Alexander Gould, Ed O’Neil, Kaitlin Olson, Ty Burrell, Diane Keaton, Eugene Levy, Idris Elba, Dominic West, Michael Sheen, Andrew Stanton, Bill Hader, Sigourney Weaver, Willem Dafoe, Brad Garrett & Stephen Root

Ever since Pixar was bought by Disney, the studio has produced more sequels and less original films. We’ve had a third TOY STORY installment (which was amazing), CARS 2 (their worst film thus far), MONSTERS UNIVERSITY (an okay-at-best prequel) and still face a growing horde of follow-ups on the horizon with TOY STORY 4, CARS 3, and THE INCREDIBLES 2. 2003’s FINDING NEMO seemed highly unlikely to receive a sequel and stood perfectly fine by itself as one of the Pixar’s finest films. Still, here we are. Thirteen years after NEMO’s original theatrical run, we have FINDING DORY, which is a surprisingly solid second installment.

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A year has passed since the events of FINDING NEMO. Clownfish father Marlin (Albert Brooks) and his son Nemo (Hayden Rolence) are peacefully living in their sea anemone home, now with forgetful blue tang Dory (Ellen DeGeneres) as their neighbor. Things have settled down for Marlin and Nemo, but that suddenly changes when Dory is struck by a resurgence of long-lost memories. It turns out that Dory has a family and lives somewhere in the California area. Desperate to be reunited with her formerly forgotten parents, Dory makes her way across the ocean with Marlin and Nemo in tow. However, her adventure becomes complicated when an aquarium “saves” Dory and the two clownfish are forced to go on an improvised rescue mission.

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Like most sequels in any genre, FINDING DORY doesn’t quite measure up to the quality of its predecessor. The plot follows a story that’s noticeably similar to the first film. When Dory is “rescued,” Marlin even exclaims “Not again!” as if to call attention to this. However, this sequel avoids simply repeating old plot points by introducing new characters, changing the setting and bringing a different set of stakes. One fantastic tweak in the story are emotional flashbacks to Dory’s childhood. Besides baby Dory being Pixar’s cutest creation ever, the blasts from this blue fish’s past lay out certain details in advance and give the audience a deep desire to see Dory happily reunited with her parents. These flashbacks don’t feel forced or heavily loaded with exposition either. They contain the right mixture of clever dialogue, heartwarming humor, and utter cuteness.

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FINDING DORY surprisingly doesn’t stumble into the typical sequel pitfall of trying to reincorporate too many characters from the original film. That film was chock full of unforgettable fishy friends and each served a distinct purpose in the movie’s storyline. DORY has a few returning faces (the singing Stingray, surfer turtle Crush, and a great after-credits cameo), but it mainly relies on a new handful of underwater characters that are just as entertaining to watch and contribute to the plot in their own special ways. Surprisingly, these come in voices from MODERN FAMILY and IT’S ALWAYS SUNNY IN PHILADELPHIA.

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Ed O’Neill is perfectly cast as Hank, a grumpy red octopus with a heart of gold. Ty Burrell lends his unique vocals to beluga whale Bailey and provides one of the funniest story arcs, while Kaitlin Olson voices gentile whale shark Destiny. Diane Keaton and Eugene Levy serve as Dory’s forgotten-but-now-remembered parents in the many flashbacks throughout. Meanwhile, Dominic Cooper and Idris Elba are hysterical as two territorial sea lions. Even though FINDING DORY only brings back the “Mine!” seagulls for a very brief moment, these sea lions officially made up for that and had me laughing every single time they were on the screen.

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My only complaint with FINDING DORY comes from its changed environment. While the first film was an adventure that spanned across half the ocean and packed in lots of excitement, a majority of this sequel takes place within a California aquarium. This smaller location offers new characters, new jokes, and a more contained set of emotional stakes, but definitely lessens the exciting adventure aspect of the story. FINDING DORY is a very different film than FINDING NEMO in this regard, yet still can’t help but feel like a slight downgrade due to the crazy amounts of danger that the fishy protagonists faced in the first film. The only hazards Dory, Marlin and Nemo come into contact with are aquarium procedures, disgruntled staff members, and one angry sea creature (which felt a tad lazy).

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This complaint is very small in the overall scheme of FINDING DORY. The animation is exactly what you’d expect from Pixar at this point, which is to say it looks amazing, colorful and vibrant. The writing is smart and engaging, even if the adventure aspect is lessened from the first film (which seemed like an insurmountable predecessor to begin with). The emotions are spot-on as Dory’s past is built upon through adorable, heart-warming/wrenching flashbacks. DORY’s non-linear storyline never once feels forced or dull either. FINDING DORY shows that Pixar can still crank out great films, even if those movies happen to be sequels (a feat that had only previously been seen in TOY STORY 2 and 3).

Grade: A-

EVOLUTION (2001)

Review by Derrick Carter

Running Time: 1 hour 41 minutes

MPAA Rating: PG-13 for Crude and Sexual Humor, and for Sci-Fi Action

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Directed by: Ivan Reitman

Written by: David Diamond, David Weissman & Don Jakoby

Starring: David Duchovny, Julianne Moore, Orlando Jones, Seann William Scott, Ted Levine, Ethan Suplee, Ty Burrell & Dan Aykroyd

EVOLUTION is a movie that can be summed up in three words: GHOSTBUSTERS with aliens. Don’t believe me? This movie is even directed by the same guy who brought both GHOSTBUSTER films to the screen. He’s treading familiar cinematic waters with a fresh cast and a different monster. I don’t distinctly remember the level of excitement that this film had upon release (I was 10 years old at the time), but I do remember it being a regular sleepover movie (at least, for me). So it had some sort of impact on kids and adults at the time, going as far as to receive a short-lived animated series as well.

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When a meteor crashes into Earth and winds up at the bottom of an 80-foot crater, it appears to be the discovery that Ira Kane and Harry Block, two college professors and friends, have been waiting for. They cut off a sample of the space rock and find that there’s extraterrestrial life contained in some goo from the meteor. What’s even more peculiar is that this goo seems to be evolving at a rapid rate with single-celled organisms becoming worms in the space of three days. Soon enough, the U.S. military arrives to steal Ira and Harry’s discovery. This annoyance becomes the least of their problems, because hostile alien creatures begin to invade nearby areas and attack civilians. It’s up to Harry, Ira, Wayne (an idiot fireman-in-training) and Allison (a clumsy scientist) to take down the alien menace before we go extinct…

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EVOLUTION has a number of famous faces in the cast, but these were the early days for a few of them. David Duchovny was coming fresh off of X-FILES and that seems to be the sole reason for his presence. As the main lead, he’s bland and delivers his lines in a wooden unenthused sort of way. Starring alongside him is MADTV regular Orlando Jones, who easily stands out as the best part of this movie. Jones nails nearly every one-liner he receives and has a hilarious highlight as scientists try to capture an alien bug inside of his colon (without the aid of lubricant). Jones never went on to have the career that he really deserved, but he’s easily the best part of this whole film. Ted Levine and a (far younger) Ty Burrell serve as inept military officers. They aren’t played for laughs, but do play off each other well as dickhead human antagonists. Seann William Scott (coming off AMERICAN PIE) is hit-or-miss as the would-be fireman. Dan Aykroyd is sadly underutilized as the city’s Mayor, while Julianne Moore is wasted on a one-joke character. The joke is that she’s clumsy and the movie gets all the mileage it can out of her tripping, dropping stuff, and running into things.

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The story itself is predictable. You won’t have a hard time at all guessing how everything will play out, but that’s doesn’t necessarily make the whole film bad as the encounters with the aliens themselves are fun. Some of the effects haven’t aged well over time, while others look impressive. One monster coming out of a lake is Syfy level quality of CGI these days, but looked pretty cool at the time this film was made. The alien designs are also creative with a green-skinned dog-like creature, winged dinosaurs, and blue-skinned apes being highlights. The movie too often relies on cheap, obvious humor, but even these moments can get still get a few laughs out of me.

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EVOLUTION is pretty much a shameless remake of GHOSTBUSTERS under a different name, complete with a climax involving characters wearing matching jump-suits to take down a giant otherworldly menace. The cast is a mixed bag with certain actors being highlights and others being wasted on bland characters. The aliens themselves are cool to look at and the scenes of our heroes fighting them are enjoyable. I won’t deny that my vision of this film might be slightly clouded by a nostalgic haze (I watched this a lot when I was a kid), but EVOLUTION stands as an entertaining guilty pleasure.

Grade: B-

THE SKELETON TWINS (2014)

Review by Derrick Carter

Running Time: 1 hour 33 minutes

MPAA Rating: R for Language, some Sexuality and Drug Use

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Directed by: Craig Johnson

Written by: Craig Johnson & Mark Heyman

Starring: Kristen Wiig, Bill Hader, Luke Wilson, Ty Burrell, Boyd Holbrook & Joanna Gleason

SKELETON TWINS is a dramedy that leans more on drama than comedy. This emotionally honest slice of depressing life tackles dark material with sometimes quirky dialogue. Driven by a sincere honesty that’s rarely captured this well on film, SKELETON TWINS might turn off anyone expecting a light-hearted romp or even a full-blown dark comedy. The film is much more of a family drama with dashes of witty banter. Though its been marketed as something totally different from what it actually is, SKELETON TWINS is a mostly fantastic indie drama for those seeking something out of the ordinary and challenging.

THE SKELETON TWINS, from left: Bill Hader, Kristen Wiig, 2014. ©Lionsgate/Courtesy Everett

Milo and Maggie are twins who haven’t spoken to each other in 10 years. After two coincidences botch subsequent suicide attempts (Milo slicing his wrists, Maggie almost swallowing a handful of pills), Maggie is tasked with taking care of Milo after his hospital stay. The two bond over their lives not turning out quite the way they imagined and both deal with their own unique set of baggage in very different (not healthy) ways. There’s not a full-on story per se, but rather a severely dysfunctional sibling relationship being repaired in odd circumstances. Interactions between Milo, Maggie, Lance (Maggie’s naïve nice-guy husband) and Rich (a mysterious figure from Milo’s past) make up the structure of the movie. As a result, the story plays through a natural series of encounters that take their toll (both negative and positive) on the twins.

THE SKELETON TWINS, l-r: Kristen Wiig, Luke Wilson, 2014. ©Roadside Attractions/courtesy Everett

Besides a very well-written script, the driving force of SKELETON TWINS lies within the performances of the twin characters themselves. Kristen Wiig and Bill Hader (both known for raunchy comedies) take far more somber and melancholy turns as emotionally damaged Milo and Maggie. Fantastic performances are where the actor or actress inhabit their character. After a while, you don’t see that performer, you see that character. This is exactly what happens watching Wiig and Hader interact with each other. Their strained sibling relationship is entirely believable. Though he may be slightly underused, Luke Wilson is unusually great as Maggie’s innocent and lovable husband, Lance. Ty Burrell plays the film’s wild card character as Rich, who is a complete mystery until puzzle pieces reveal the complex (and uncomfortable) connection he had/has with Milo.

THE SKELETON TWINS, l-r: Bill Hader, Ty Burrell, 2014. ©Roadside Attractions/courtesy Everett

SKELETON TWINS a sad real-world aspect in a believable manner that I haven’t seen executed this well on film for a long time. Though Milo and Maggie make their share of bad decisions, they can admit to their faults. The characters might not gain your sympathy during certain actions and revelations, but they’re so believable that you can understand why they might feel the need to confront each other or dig a bigger hole for themselves within their problems. There is a steady handful of laughs to be had, but they aren’t necessarily at the expense of the misguided characters. These funny moments are derived from enjoying the little things in life to make circumstances seem less harsh.

THE SKELETON TWINS, from left: Kristen Wiig, Bill Hader, 2014. ©Lionsgate/Courtesy Everett

Though its overall depressing overtones might turn those wanting an outright comedy (or even plain dark comedy) away, SKELETON TWINS feels remarkably honest and bittersweet. The performances from Hader and Wiig need to be seen to be believed as they come off as completely different people and show serious action chops they haven’t received many opportunities to flex. The only flaw comes in a small stretch of film that does feel like its dragging its feet, but everything else is so fantastic that it overshadows that minor problem. SKELETON TWINS is a wonderful film that feels completely natural in everything it does and comes highly recommended!

Grade: A-

MUPPETS MOST WANTED (2014)

Review by Derrick Carter

Running Time: 1 hour 52 minutes

MPAA Rating: PG for some mild Action

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Directed by: James Bobin

Written by: Nicholas Stoller & James Bobin

Starring: Ricky Gervais, Ty Burrell, Tina Fey, Steve Whitmore, Eric Jacobson, Dave Goelz, Bill Barretta, Peter Linz, Zach Galifianakis, Salma Hayek, Tom Hiddleston, Frank Langella, Ray Liotta, James McAvoy, Chloe Grace Moretz, Danny Trejo, Stanley Tucci & Christoph Waltz

In 2011, those lovable oddball puppets known as the Muppets appeared in the aptly titled THE MUPPETS. While I liked that film to a certain degree, it was a tad underwhelming and never really focused on what made the Muppets so successful to begin with. With MUPPETS MOST WANTED, the humans play side characters and the Muppets themselves take center stage for this caper-adventure-musical. It’s far from perfect, but it’s a great romp nonetheless!

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“The End” remains in the sky formed from fireworks at the closing of the last film. The cameras are still rolling. This obviously means that the studio wants a sequel (as Gonzo sings “at least until Tom Hanks does TOY STORY 4”). So the Muppets meet with a manager, named Dominic Badguy (pronounced Bad-gee), and sign up for a worldwide tour. Meanwhile, a criminal frog named Constantine escapes from a high-security prison in Russia. Kermit accidentally runs into him and Constantine cleverly switches places. Posing as the host of the Muppet show (and doing a bad voice impression of Kermit), Constantine is in cahoots with Badguy. Together they are pulling off a series of intricate heists and using the Muppet tour to avoid suspicion. With Kermit locked away in the Russian slammer, it’s up to a small group of Muppets to rescue Kermit, take down Constantine, and save the day!

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Though the opening musical number states that “sequels aren’t ever quite as good”, I found MUPPETS MOST WANTED to be a significant step up from the predecessor. Considering this is actually the eighth installment of their theatrical films, the Muppets haven’t lost their witty humor and still know how to win over a crowd. Keep your eyes peeled and you’ll spot a ton of celebrity cameos throughout. None of these are distracting. I’d dare say that some of them are nothing short of brilliant. One of which actually got a cheer from numerous people in my theater. The Muppets (though undeniably puppets) have a charming lifelike quality that is just as effective as the living people surrounding them. Certain humans stand out more than others. Ricky Gervais is clearly having a blast playing Badguy and provides a lot of solid laughs. The relationship between Ty Burrel’s Interpol agent and CIA agent Sam the Eagle that was my favorite part of the film. Those two cracked me up constantly and it was almost like the Muppets do a cop drama with the intended hilarious results.

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Some people have praised Tina Fey’s performance as the singing Russian prison officer. I actually didn’t like her character much and found her to be more annoying than anything else. The songs, while catchy in the context of the film, didn’t stick with me after I was done watching it (unlike other Muppet films). The running time of almost two hours long feels a tad stretched too. I never got bored, but I could feel that some scenes were going on a little longer than they needed to. It’s the one of same problems that 2011’s THE MUPPETS suffered from and I did enjoy MUPPETS MOST WANTED so much more than that initial let-down. These flaws take things down a notch, but it remains solid wholesome entertainment for the entire family.

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Though I did have some problems with the film, MUPPETS MOST WANTED is ultimately a cheerful upbeat tale that will delight both adults and children alike. The songs work in the film and it’s clear that all the stops were pulled out to treat this caper as a legitimate adventure…that just happens to have Muppets. MUPPETS MOST WANTED ranks just behind MUPPET TREASURE ISLAND (which still remains my favorite film starring this group of oddballs). The never-ending sense of humor and rapid fire pace of the jokes themselves (though the plot could have used a shorter running time) are both enough to warrant a solid recommendation. Welcome back, Muppets! You’ve been missed!

Grade: B

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