Dreamworks 15: Madagascar Escape 2 Africa

Some who have been following my DreamWorks series may remember I was not a big fan of the original Madagascar film. I thought it was cliched, unfunny with terrible animation particularly in the character design. DreamWorks often improves their franchises on the 2nd film and I was hoping that would be the case with the Madagascar sequel dubbed Escape 2 Africa but sadly it was not to be. I really thought this was a dreadful animated film.

My biggest problem with this movie is I found it rather mean spirited. At least in the first film you had the lemurs and penguins to bring some humor to the festivities but here that comic relief is used very sparingly. Instead we get an opening number where a baby lion is abducted while his father is shot at. Then you have plane crash that’s pretty intense and an elderly woman is punched in the face repeatedly. It doesn’t sound like a laugh riot to me…

The movie starts showing Alex’s birth family and his father teaching him great lessons while his uncle is scheming for power (because we haven’t seen that plotline with lions before…). The uncle is voiced by Alec Baldwin and I thought he was awful. He was annoying and a villain we’ve seen a million times.

The troop end up getting to Africa and meet their respective species where they all have trouble fitting in. Marty the zebra had a funny sequence where he looks like all of his fellow zebras and doesn’t feel unique any more but the rest including a romantic storyline between Melman and Gloria did nothing for me.

Escape 2 Africa is one of those comedies for children where they think characters arguing and saying mean things to each other is the same thing as telling jokes. It reminded me of the last Ice Age movie in that regard. It just kept getting more argumentative, annoying and mean spirited as it went along until I could barely stand it.

I also didn’t appreciate how we have another movie that treats masculinity as inherently toxic. Alex doesn’t want to fight because he was taught to dance and entertain. Eventually he wins everyone over to his side and they accept him, which is great but it’s just such a tired lesson at this point. Why not have him train and learn to be a better fighter? This wouldn’t just be acceptance but it would be empowering. It would show he could be both the fighter and the dancer, so even better.

The animation also can’t save Escape 2 Africa. It looked remarkably cheap for 2008. The voice acting is good and I do like the penguins when they are on screen. I wish we got much more of them.

I know other people enjoy this franchise but it is not for me (at least so far). I really didn’t like this film much at all.

Overall Grade- D

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My Little Pony and Coco Trailer Response

We got 2 trailers today for upcoming animated films. They both have their pros and cons so I thought I would talk about them here on the blog and see what your thoughts are.

My Little Pony

The first is for My Little Pony: the Movie. This is of course based on the Friendship is Magic series and is a significant improvement from the first trailer and teaser.

What I like about this trailer is it feels like this film knows what it is and isn’t taking itself too seriously. It has a definite nostalgia vibe to it in the Saturday morning style of the animation, plot, and especially the villain. It’s like everything we love about the show but with a little more sparkles and colors to it. I am sure critics will be tough on it like they were Smurfs: the Lost Village, but I think it looks refreshing and fun. I like that they aren’t going overboard with the girl power and making it something that girls and boys can have fun with.

As far as concerns for the trailer I am a little worried they are focusing on Pinkie Pie too much. She has been a focus of the teaser and both trailers and while I enjoy her she can be a little screechy when over-used. I would much rather them focus on Twilight Sparkle or Rainbow Dash. AppleJack is my favorite of the Mane 6 but she is probably better used for comic relief. I also am not a big fan of the focus on the celebrity voices because this film should really be about the ponies. They are the true celebrity here and I hope that doesn’t get distracting.

I just want this to be a sweet, energetic movie for fans of the show of all types and I feel pretty good about where it is going.  What do you think of this trailer and the potential of the film?

COCO

The second trailer is for Pixar’s new film Coco. I am naturally excited for any Pixar film but I am starting to have some concerns about this one. Here is the latest trailer:

The strengths of this trailer are two-fold: the animation and the lovely message. We sometimes take Pixar’s amazing animation for granted but we really shouldn’t. I love the way afterworld sparkles with color and light and how likable all the character designs are. You just want to hug Miguel and his dog the moment you see him. I also think the message of the film is great. My religion places a lot of importance on connecting with our ancestors and honoring them so this theme is really lovely and important to explore.

Now for my concerns. I am hoping it is just trailers but both the main trailers for Coco have seemed tonally off. The first one had this strange narration that felt like something from the 90s. It didn’t feel part of a Mexican culture or style (no accent to the narrator) and it was frankly weird. Now here in this trailer they have a story that is focused on music and a character who dreams of playing music. This isn’t a background point but a key part of the story.

With that said, why on earth do they have Bittersweet Symphony playing in the background of the trailer? They have original songs for this movie. Why have we not heard any of them? One of them is written by Kristen Lopez of Frozen fame and we heard it at D23. It’s a good song. Why is that not accompanying this trailer? Why have we heard more music from Olaf’s Frozen Adventure than from Coco?

And if you are going to pick different music why on earth wouldn’t you pick something Mexican! Bittersweet Symphony isn’t even about a guitar player at least Kubo and the 2 Strings using My Guitar Gently Weeps makes a little bit more sense. Bittersweet is about a symphony!! There are no guitars in symphonies. It just makes no sense to me for the images of the trailer or the story and it makes the tone feel weird.  Why not use a Ricky Martin song or Shakira or something that felt a little bit relevant to the story!

Why are they hiding the music for Coco? Why aren’t they promoting it more? Make no mistake I think this will be a good film and I’m excited but I feel like Disney is really botching the marketing of this movie. I wish they put a tenth of the marketing in Coco that they put into Beauty and the Beast. There’s no way the music can be worse than that auto-tuned mess. Do kids even know Coco is coming out?

I just don’t get it! Am I nuts on this? What do you think of this trailer and the marketing for Coco?

Here’s a video I did on Coco trailer

Blind Spot 21: Manhattan

I went into this month’s Blind spot pick, Manhattan, with kind of low expectations. Despite it being a well regarded film amongst critics and film snobs nobody I know seems to like it much. So perhaps it was these low expectations that left me feeling surprised at how much I liked it. Manhattan is a funny look at how we ruin things by idolizing them. Whether it be relationships, sex, art, literature or even New York City itself, when we place things on a pedestal we take the joy out of what we are admiring.

I can see why many don’t like Manhattan. It has Woody Allen’s classic mannerisms which can be annoying to some. It also has him in a relationship with a 17 year old which can be awkward especially with Woody Allen’s own background.

My favorite part of Manhattan is the script. It shows how ridiculous we are when we love something (or are infatuated). This scene I particularly loved when the group of pedantics are criticizing everything they think is ‘overrated’.

There were a lot of scenes like that which made me laugh and could have been easily criticizing modern internet culture today  just as much as New Yorkers in 1979. These people are trying so hard to appear smart that  it is funny.

Manhattan is also a beautiful movie with amazing black and white photography. I think it is even more stunning than Annie Hall. I don’t know if I can think of a Woody Allen film that looks as good. Maybe Midnight in Paris but this might be even better.

We also see this idolization with Meryl Streep’s character who was Woody Allen’s ex but left him to be with a woman. She looks stunning in this film but she is writing a whole memoir on her relationship with Allen. This is definitely Allen puffing his own ego up but it is also about how we place past relationships on a pedestal and puff them up to protect us from new pain.

My only big problem with Manhattan is I never felt invested in the romance with Mariel Hemingway. She is so sincere and he is more than a little creepy. I think that is intentional but it also wasn’t as funny as scenes with Diane Keaton and others.

In the end Manhattan is about looking at things in our lives the way they really are and taking off the rose colored glasses. But not only that- it shows how silly we all are with those glasses on.

If you would like to purchase Manhattan click here

Overall Grade- A-

PS I didn’t even think of the fact I watched Manhattan on 9/11. How perfect 

DreamWorks 14: Kung fu Panda

Over the last few years DreamWorks has been able to keep a certain degree of artistic legitimacy by the presence of two of their franchises- Kung fu Panda and How to Train Your Dragon. It’s kind of like the Shrek and Madagascar films bring in the big money and the KFP and HTTYD franchises keep them respected by the animation community. Well, that all started in 2008 with the release of Kung fu Panda.On the rewatch it’s a decent movie, but I’d be lying if I said I didn’t have a lot of problems with this first entry in the series.

Kung fu Panda stars Jack Black as a panda who has grown up idolizing a group of warriors called The Furious Five. One day the groups leader Master Shifu is looking for a new warrior that can help them defeat a snow leopard called Tai Lung. Through various contrivances he meets Po and believes him to be the Dragon Warrior.

The rest of the movie plays out as a typical origin story with training montages and small skirmishes until leading up to the climatic battle.

The biggest strength of this movie is the amazing animation. Particularly in a fight sequence at the end it totally holds up. The fluidity of the fighting and the colors are gorgeous. It really looks like the studied martial arts fighters and were able to recreate their movements as they fight.

It also has a nice message for kids about not judging by appearance only and the immense potential each of us have to do great things. It’s a classic dreamers story but it is done well with a lot of heart. However, I do have some problems that bothered me on this rewatch. At just 92 minutes the film feels much longer and it is very exposition heavy. By about the fourth monologue from Master Shifu about courage and dreaming I was pretty bored.

I could have also used way more of the Furious Five. They are supposed to be these great fighters that Po looks up to but we hardly see any of that. I wish they had gotten rid of some exposition and thrown in more fights and character moments from the entire team not just Shifu and Po.

Also, I’ve always had a little bit of a problem with the modern humor in this series. Jack Black’s vocals take me out of the movie because all I can think about is ‘that’s Jack Black’. It sounds so American and so modern that it doesn’t fit this Ancient Chinese setting. I have the same problem with the humor. It rarely lands and so it is distracting from the more traditional story.

Still, it’s not a bad movie. I just didn’t love it like I was hoping too. I think this first entry is definitely the weakest of the franchise as both 2 and 3 give us way more fighting and a lot less talking.

Overall Grade- C+

I’ll give it smile worthy but it’s a mild one.

Rachel’s Reviews on Itunes

Hey guys! This is just a quick update to share some exciting news. This week I finally figured out how to get my podcast on Itunes and was officially approved!  Now you can listen to my discussions with my friends about mostly movies on Rachel’s Reviews Itunes Channel.

Here is a link to the podcast:

https://itunes.apple.com/us/podcast/rachels-reviews/id1278536301?mt=2

I have currently uploaded a lot 49 of my past podcasts with more coming each week. There are discussions on all kinds of films including recent posts- Fall Movie Preview, Chicks on Flicks, Hallmarkies podcast of Hallmark movies and Talking Watership Down. I think there is something for almost any media interest. If you have suggestions for the podcast please let me know or if you would like to participate in a discussion I would love to hear your ideas .

In the next few weeks we are going to be talking about the new and old Blade Runner, My Little Pony Movie, more Chicks on Flicks, Hallmarkies and more. You will definitely want to subscribe and it would be a big help to me if you do. It would also be nice if you would positively rate and review the podcast.

Thanks so much!

If I Gave Out Oscars Now

Hey guys! We have now finished the summer movie season and are beginning the Fall schedule of Oscar and holiday films. I thought it might be fun to share with you what I would pick for Oscar nominations based solely on the films I’ve seen so far. I tried to keep these as realistic picks and not just my favorites. I would love to hear what you would pick and what you think of my selections! (I also haven’t seen every 2017 release though I have seen close to 90)

Best Picture- Personal Shopper, Get Out, Ingrid Goes West, Dunkirk, Detroit, The Big Sick, Logan Lucky, Their Finest, Wonder Woman

Winner- Personal Shopper

Best Director- Olivier Assayas (Personal Shopper), Patty Jenkins (Wonder Woman), Christopher Nolan (Dunkirk), Kathryn Bigelow (Detroit), Matt Reeves (War for the Planet of the Apes)

Winner- Christopher Nolan (Dunkirk)

Best Actor- Daniel Kaluuya (Get Out), Kyle Mooney (Brigsby Bear), David Oyelowo (A United Kingdom), Woody Harrelson (Wilson), Sam Elliott(The Hero)

Winner- David Oyelowo (A United Kingdom)

Best Actress- Rachel Weisz (My Cousin Rachel), Sally Hawkins (Maudie),  Aubrey Plaza (Ingrid Goes West), Kristen Stewart (Personal Shopper), Anne Hathaway (Colossal)

Winner- Kristen Stewart (Personal Shopper)

Best Supporting Actor- Ray Romano (The Big Sick), Bill Nighy (Their Finest), Kevin Spacey (Baby Driver), Will Poulter (Detroit), Bradley Whitford (Get Out)

Winner- Bill Nighy (Their Finest)

Best Supporting Actress-  Kirsten Dunst (The Beguiled), Holly Hunter (The Big Sick), Edie Falco (Landline), Bridget Everett (Patti Cake$), Elizabeth Olsen (Ingrid Goes West)

Winner- Holly Hunter (The Big Sick)

Best Original Screenplay- Get Out, Ingrid Goes West, Brigsby Bear, The Big Sick, Logan Lucky

Winner- The Big Sick

Best Adapted Screenplay- Wonder Woman, Everything Everything, Lego Batman Movie, Spider-Man Homecoming, A Silent Voice (made me realize not many good adaptations this year so far)

Winner- Wonder Woman

Best Animated Film- A Silent Voice, The Girl Without Hands, My Entire High School is Sinking into the Sea, Captain Underpants, Cars 3

Winner- A Silent Voice

Best Foreign Language Film- Baahubali 2: the Conclusion, A Silent Voice, The Girl Without Hands, In This Corner of the World, Mune

Winner- Baahubali 2: the Conclusion

Best Documentary- STEP, The Good Postman, Kedi, Alive and Kicking, Becoming Cary Grant

Winner- STEP

Best Score- A Silent Voice, Wonder Woman, War for the Planet of the Apes, The Girl Without Hands, Dunkirk

Winner- Wonder Woman

Best Original Song- Jump (STEP), To Be Human (Wonder Woman), PBNJ (Patti Cake$), Stay (Everything Everything), Days in the Sun (Beauty and the Beast)

Winner- To Be Human (Wonder Woman)

Best Sound Editing- Baby Driver, War for the Planet of the Apes, Dunkirk, Personal Shopper, Detroit

Winner- Baby Driver

Best Sound Mixing- Valerian and the City of a Thousand Planets, Power Rangers, Wonder Woman, Dunkirk, Kong Skull Island

Winner- Dunkirk

Production Design- Valerian and the City of a Thousand Planets, Ghost in the Shell, Dunkirk, Detroit, The Beguiled

Winner- Valerian and the City of a Thousand Planets

Best Cinematography- Dunkirk, War for the Planet of the Apes, A United Kingdom, A Ghost Story, My Cousin Rachel

Winner- War for the Planet of the Apes

Make Up- Pirates: Dead Men Tell No Tales, Beauty and the Beast, Guardians of the Galaxy vol 2, Valerian and the City of a Thousand Planets, Wonder Woman

Winner- Valerian and the City of a Thousand Planets

Costume Design- Wonder Woman, The Beguiled, My Cousin Rachel, Beauty and the Beast, Their Finest

Winner- The Beguiled

Best Film Editing- Baby Driver, Personal Shopper, Detroit, Get Out, Dunkirk

Winner- Baby Driver

Visual Effects- Valerian and the City of a Thousand Planets, War for the Planet of the Apes, Spider-Man Homecoming, Ghost in the Shell, Kong Skull Island

Winner- War for the Planet of the Apes

So there you have it! What do you think of my picks? Some of them I had lots to chose from and some were slim pickings. What would you pick?

All Saints Review

Before I start my review of the faith-based film All Saints I have a bone to pick with my Mormon/Christian readers. Frequently I will hear or read a refrain that “Hollywood is corrupt and producing nothing but garbage.” I recently was disgusted when a fellow Mormon critic, Jonathan Decker, tried to give advice on Wonder Woman. The vitriol and judgement in the comments of the article was frankly shocking and very discouraging (the comments appear to have been taken down...). Here you have someone who is trying to do a service for them and all they seemed to care about was being his judge and jury.

If I was in a room with these people I would ask them about All Saints, Freetown, We Love You Sally Carmichael, Tim Timmerman: Hope of America, or any number of squeaky clean Christian/Mormon films that have come out recently? Did they support such films? Probably not because they aren’t really interested in following the Lord’s counsel to seek after ‘anything virtuous, lovely, or of good report or praiseworthy.”  No, they want to feel morally superior to others who make such an effort and judge them for seeing films like Wonder Woman. Shame on you!

If you aren’t willing to seek out what is good then I have no interest in your opinion on what is bad.

There I said it…

So let’s get back to the movie at hand. All Saints! This is a faith-based film that is done right. It is based on a true story about a man who becomes a pastor for a small struggling church in Tennessee. He is originally supposed to prepare the church for closing but a group of Karen refugees (Southeast Asia near Burma) join his congregation. They are very needy and one night pastor Michael receives inspiration to start a farm at All Saints church. The movie then shares the experience of growing this farm which is by no means an easy thing just because it is inspired from God.

This film has a 91% on rottentomatoes which is unheard of for a Christian film (not a ton of reviews but still) and there is good reason. Not only is the acting strong across the board but it doesn’t fall into the traps of a typical faith-based film. There really isn’t preaching to the audience or atheist shaming but just an actual story involving human beings that feel real. The Karen are treated very respectfully and the relationships grow in a relatively realistic way. Never did I feel like Christians were shouting at me or that Jesus was magic like you got in movies like War Room.

In a lot of ways it reminded me of McFarland USA, which was another film about gatherers and in that case a white coach who come to understand one another and love their unique community.

A movie like All Saints is not going to change your life or be an Oscar winner but I’m certainly glad I saw it. I feel inspired and uplifted and want to try and reach out to my community after seeing it. I did not feel judged or preached to but merely I had spent 2 hours with some pretty nice people who had a thing or two to teach me.

That’s what Paul taught us to do. “If there is anything virtuous, lovely, or of good report or praiseworthy, we seek after these things.” so I would challenge you to follow this counsel and give All Saints a watch.

Overall Grade B+

Current Mini Reviews

So occasionally I get behind on full written reviews and have to play catch up with a mini review post. Make sure you are following me on my youtube channel. I have started a new series on Wednesdays where I tell you what I’ve seen and how it ranks for the year (and how my ranking has changed over the week).

But let me share with you my thoughts on a bunch of films I have not reviewed on this blog.

How to Be a Latin Lover-

My friend Christina who is from South America really liked this so maybe I am not part of its audience because I did not find it funny. It’s definitely on an Adam Sandler level of humor. The one bright spot was Salma Hayek who glowed like a true movie star. He romantic subplot really worked and I wish the film had been about that instead

Overall Grade- D+

Brigsby Bear-

This is a film the more I think about it the more I like it. It’s a very original unique story about a man who lives in a sealed environment set free in the real world. He must deal with a lot of new stuff and scarring and he does that through making a movie about his childhood obsession with a TV show called Brigsby Bear. It is a very sweet movie with a great heart and it is filmed right in my neighborhood! It is a tribute to the power of creative thinking, movies and movie making.  It does lag in a few spots is my only critique but it’s one I just keep thinking about.

Overall Grade- B+

Ingrid Goes West-

A brilliant movie about our social media addictions but it is more than that. It touches on modern loneliness and our need to be liked by people on social media. It also speaks to our societies complete inability to deal with people facing a mental health crisis (or helping it not get to that point). I related to Ingrid far more than I should have…

Overall Grade- A- (R Rated mostly for language, drug use, mild sensuality and brief violence)

Patti  Cake$-

A sweet underdog story of an overweight New Jersey girl who dreams of being a rapper. It is predictable but I don’t mind that if it is executed well and this is. The performances, particularly the lead, are all strong and a nice example of functioning urban diversity we don’t often see. My only flaw with the film is often the crowd was laughing at things I found sad so I felt like I wasn’t in on a lot of the jokes. It was very odd.

Overall Grade- B (R Rated mostly for language but there is drug use and sensuality)

Leap!-

A harmless animated film that will entertain young girls who dream of being a ballerina. The animation looks nice and they will enjoy it. However, I did have some issues as an adult. I got kind of bored with the predictable story and I thought the lead girl got everything too easily. It’s great to tell kids to dream big but not when the dreams come without hard work. She’s also not punished for being dishonest and unkind on several occasions.

Overall Grade- C (for little girls I’d give it a C+)

Justice League Dark-

Redemption for DC animated films after the disaster that was last year’s The Killing Joke. I really liked these new characters particularly Zatanna and Constantine. They had interesting powers and personalities. I liked Zatanna so much I bought her comic book collection and am reading them right now. It’s dark without becoming dour and depressing. You don’t really need Batman here but I guess DC felt he had to be there. Still very entertaining animated DC film.

Overall Grade- B+

Book of Henry-

A movie you can’t really believe is real while you are watching it. It’s part sentimental family story and part how to murder your neighbor with a little childhood illness thrown in for good measure. Almost every line of dialogue and character choice felt off and the tone is a complete disaster. There’s nothing more funny than a bad movie that is completely sincere so it is definitely worth a watch for the train-wreck it is. I haven’t seen a so bad it’s good movie on this level since Walt Before Mickey.

Overall Grade- D-

The Girl Without Hands-

A beautiful indie animated film basically made by one man- Sebastien Laudenbach. I loved the way the animation moved and flowed together like watching water. It tells the Grimm’s Fairytale of a girl who’s father foolishly sells her to the devil for money. She ends up losing her hands but the devil can’t quite capture her because of her determination. This is animation for adults but not because it is offensive but it is mature with themes of birth, pain, death and sorrow. I really loved it and encourage you to see if you can find it near you. The music is also amazing.  I reviewed it in more detail on rotoscopers.com

Overall Grade- A-

So there you have it. Let me know what you think of these films and what you have been watching lately! Thanks so much for reading my blog. Sure love ya!

Dreamworks 13: Shrek the Third

Let me take you back to 2007 my friends. I was in a tough time of my life, very unhappy in my job and stressed out getting my MBA. I naturally turned to the movies as a break from everything going on, so I thought ‘I could use a laugh maybe I will give the latest Shrek movie a shot?’- Shrek the Third to be more precise. So I took my sister and went to see the movie. Boy did I come out even more depressed then when I started! To say I didn’t like it would be an understatement. I thought it was awful. I’ve been dreading watching it for this series but what would I think about it now, all these years later? Unfortunately I still think it’s awful. It’s unpleasant, mean-spirited, and really boring. Yikes

The biggest problem with Shrek the Third is how played out it feels. The story of Shrek worrying about being a father feels right out of a tired sitcom. Intermixed we have a cliched road trip movie to find Arthur, which feels the same as the previous 2 films, and a villain in Charming that we’ve seen before so he’s not interesting.

They perhaps could have done something fun with the naughty princesses but instead they just fight the entire time making it unfunny and unpleasant.

Watching this film reminded me of Ice Age: Collision Course. Both films seem to think characters insulting each other is a joke. It’s not. It just makes you not care about the characters or what is happening to them.

Arthur as a shy character nervous about being king could have worked but instead it feels like Shrek constantly shouting at him and being unpleasant. There is nothing funny or meaningful in his arc.

The attempts at humor don’t work because we’ve either seen them before or they are reaching so hard for a joke it’s not funny any more. For example, in an early scene they have Shrek and Fiona in Renaissance era wigs and outfits. This isn’t funny because we have never seen anyone wearing these types of clothes in Shrek. Nobody in the audience is wearing them. It is so obviously a ‘you’re supposed to laugh at this’ moment that it isn’t funny.

The greatest crime of Shrek the 3rd is they hardly use the best character, Puss N Boots, at all. Donkey doesn’t even get many lines. Puss N Boots got the most laughs in the 2nd film so I don’t know why they wouldn’t use him more in this film? Instead it’s just scene after scene of characters shouting at each other. Ugh…

Shrek the 3rd is incredibly boring movie with unpleasant characters and a tired, played out story. It only made a lot of money because people loved the 2nd film. This is definitely one of Dreamworks worst movies and one most Shrek fans wish they could forget.

Overall Grade- D