Quick Review: Kung Fu Panda 3 (dir. by Jennifer Yuh & Alessandro Carloni)


imagesHaving become the Dragon Warrior and the Champion of the Valley of Peace on many occasions, Po (Jack Black) has reached a point where its time for him to train others. All of this becomes complicated when Kai (J.K. Simmons), a former enemy of Master Oogway (Randall Duk Kim) returns to the Valley to capture the Chi of the new Dragon Warrior and anyone else that stands in his way.

The Legend of Korra geek in me hears the character of Tenzin whenever Simmons speaks in this film, only it’s Evil Tenzin vs. The Dragon Warrior. That alone was awesome.

Picking right up from Kung Fu Panda 2, Po is reunited with his birth father (Bryan Cranston), and discovers there are also other Pandas in the world. This, of course, causes a bit of tension for Po’s Goose Dad (James Hong) who raised him up until now. Can Po find a way to stop Kai? The theme of this film seems to be dealing with self discovery (as did the other films), but this focuses more on what we consider our Identity. Are we the role we take on from day to day at work or the role we have at home, or even a little of both? There’s also a nice family element to it as Po discovers what Panda life is like and deals with his Dads. Really young audiences may not exactly catch on to the theme, but there’s enough action and playful moments to keep them occupied.

On a visual level, the animation is beautiful. If you get a chance to see it in 3D, the Spirit Realm is a treat, with rocks and buildings floating around. The action scenes also move in a comic strip format, with the screen split in different ways to catch different elements. If you’re quick enough, you can catch it all. It can be jarring to anyone not used to it, I’d imagine. The Furious Five don’t have too much screen time in this one, save for Angelina Jolie’s Tigress, though it’s cute when you realize that some of the panda children in the village are played by the Jolie-Pitt kids. That was a nice discovery in the credits.

Musically, just like The Dark Knight Rises, Hans Zimmer takes what was a dual scoring effort (at least in the 2nd film) and makes it his. Though he’s assisted by Lorne Balfe (13 Hours: The Secret Soldiers of Benghazi), and drummer Sheila E. (Who worked with him on the Man of Steel score), it’s all Zimmer, really. Kai is given a nice theme to work with, one I can only describe as “Jazz Badass with Kung-Fu Swagger” and I enjoyed the music for the Panda village.

The only problem I had with Kung Fu Panda 3 was that it didn’t feel particularly epic in scope for me. In the first film, Tai Lung wanted to harness the power of the Dragon Scroll. In the second, the Peacock Shen brought cannons to decimate the Valley. This one was more personal and I enjoyed that, but it also felt like it could have been one of the Legends of Awesomeness episodes on Nickelodeon. It moved that quickly. Though it clocks in at an hour and 35 minutes — the same as the other films — it really whizzed by. It’s not a terrible thing at all, really, but I think I wanted something a little more.

Overall, Kung Fu Panda is a fun treat for the kids. While I didn’t go blind out of exposure to sheer awesomeness this time around, it gave me some inner peace and smiles.

Quick Review: Need for Speed (dir. by Scott Waugh)


Need_For_Speed_New_Oficial_Poster_JPostersMy Short Take on Need for Speed –

Reasons to see it:

+ Fast cars doing interesting stunts that don’t feel like a CGI stunt reel. Take the Mustang chase from Drive and stretch it out.

+ It’s a tightly shot film. The chances of saying “Come on, go somewhere.” Are small and the driving camera work does its best to invoke a sense of being in the scene.

+ Imogen Poots steals practically every scene she’s in, and the cast overall seemed to enjoy themselves. Michael Keaton may be the most animated he’s been since Beetlejuice. Aaron Paul sounds like a mix between Charlie Hunnam and Solid Snake.

Reasons to hold off for now:

– It’s not the tightest story in the world. You’ll probably be able to easily call out plot angles as the movie progresses. There is also one scene in the film that never connects to anything after it, leaving something of a hole there. Overall, the film gives you just enough to understand why everyone’s doing what they’re doing, but don’t search for a whole lot of character growth here.

– The Air support moments seem a little implausible, given air traffic rules and what not.

The Long Take: 

Ever since The Fast and The Furious hit the big screen in 2001, you’ve had a number of race related movies. I think the worst I can recall was 2007’s Redline, which tried to throw some wild extortion theme into the mix. The movie adaptation for Need for Speed may actually be a better movie than some of Electronic Arts’ games. It may not be Hamlet, but it handles itself just fine.

The premise for Need for Speed is very simple. A young racer (Aaron Paul, whose voice sounds he’s channelling Sons of Anarchy’s Jax Teller) seeks vengeance against a former business partner (Dominic Cooper, Howard Stark from the Marvel Cinematic Universe) by way of a dangerous high speed race known as the Deleon. He assembles a team of friends, and goes about trying to reach his goal. There you go, all you need. It might sound as bad as this year’s Robocop, but at least the audience laughed along with this one.

Although many know Aaron Paul from his Emmy winning run on Breaking Bad, but he isn’t new to movies. He’s had a great turn in Smashed with Mary Elizabeth Winstead and worked previously with co-star Imogen Poots on The Long Way Down. Here in Need for Speed, I felt he did really well with what was given as racer Tobey Marshall, granted that it wasn’t a whole lot. Still, he sells it as best he can. Poots, on the other hand is as much the bright light in the film as Hayley Atwell was in Captain America: The First Avenger. Overall, the casting was okay here. Dominic Cooper plays the rival role well, though doesn’t come off as sinister in any way and Michael Keaton seems to enjoy himself in this as the host of the Deleon, a high stakes private race. He channels his inner Beetlejuice and is one of the high points of the film. Between he and Scott Mescudi (Kid Cudi to those who know him musically), they have the best scenes apart from the main cast.

The car scenes themselves are okay. You may find yourself leaning back in your seat in some instances, but they don’t quite have the tight feel of say Ronin. Still, you won’t see anything happen in these cars that go beyond the extreme. Truth be told, it’s almost similar to the first Fast and the Furious, save for all the wavy speed lines in the high speed chases. One of the remarkable things about Need for Speed is that it tries its best to avoid throwing too many CGI driving moments. It has a feel that’s similar to Tarantino’s Death Proof or, as the film highlights in the beginning of the movie, Bullitt. This being only his second major film (Act of Valor being the first), Director Scott Waugh gets away with making the racing moments as intense as they can be without getting too crazy…well, almost. It’s cut quick, and there are very few lag scenes as far as I could notice.

If the movie has any bad points, it’s that almost everything happens in a bubble. The plot has someone who is effectively on the run, and yet I would have imagined there’d be more of a police presence, especially given the exposure. Then again, this is Need for Speed, where you only need to avoid the cops or 2 minutes before being given the chance to hide in a cooldown zone (in NFS: Most Wanted, anyway). Fans of the games will see some of those elements in play during the film and they are functional here, if not realistic.

Additionally, there’s one other scene that involves the recruiting of a reluctant team member that goes almost no where. The reason for bringing the person along (having to do with a car issue) never appears to be addressed either visually or verbally. This left me asking, “Well, was it fixed?” and then shaking my head later on. It’s not a terrible mistake to have while munching on popcorn ( you won’t choke for not getting an answer), but someone really could have taken the time to dot that particular “i” on George Gatins’ script.

Overall, Need for Speed is a fun ride. It’s predictable in a lot of ways, and you’ll see some of it coming, but you may also find yourself smiling and swerving in your seats with the traffic.