Hidden Gem- Something Wicked This Way Comes

something-wickedOver on my youtube channel I have been doing a Disney Scares month for Family Movie Night. With October being a 5 Monday month I decided on Black Hole, Watcher in the Woods, Frankenweenie, Something Wicked This Way Comes and Dragonslayer. It’s been particularly fun to watch these films from the 80s that hardly seem like Disney films at all. Watcher in the Woods has some questionable acting but the rest of the production is fantastic. Black Hole ended up being more of a sci-fi movie than horror but I really enjoyed it. It reminded me of a good episode of Star Trek more than a horror movie like I was expecting. But this Sunday I will post my review of Something Wicked This Way Comes and spoiler alert I LOVED IT!

Rarely do I watch a movie that excites me as much as Something Wicked This Way Comes did. If you like Stranger Things than rent this film. I think you will really love it. It’s not hokey fun like Watcher in the Woods but just chilling and thoughtful and extremely well acted.

something-wicked5Something Wicked This Way Comes is based on a novel by Ray Bradbury and it focuses on 2 boys named Will Halloway and Jim Nightshade from a small isolated town where everyone knows each other. The boys are a bit rebellious but there is also an innocence to them. They are instantly likable without being too adorable child-actorish. Will is particularly interesting because his father is an older man (Jason Robards) who worries he can’t play ball and be there for his child the way he wants. To me it was interesting to have a parent more insecure about his child than the child. Usually in most movies it’s the unaware, workaholic parent and the damaged child.

something-wicked3The movie does a great job setting up insecurities of many of the townspeople. The school teacher who was once beautiful. The storekeeper who lost limbs in the war but was once the town football star. These aren’t just cliches but characters we grow to care about in their brief screen time. They all have this mixture of innocence and darker desires that the movie explores.

Then one day a carnival comes into town- something wicked you might say! This is ran by a man named Mr Dark who is played brilliantly by Jonathan Pryce. This is the kind of role that Tim Burton would muck up with exposition and a tragic backstory. Not here. We get very little about him, which makes him unpredictable and scary.

something-wicked-this-way-comesThe carnival at first seems like an innocent diversion but it of course is not. I don’t want to give away too much but it was so surprising. Each step of the carnival was both a temptation and curse. Some things like a carousel which can change your age appear very appealing but as always is the case there is a price to be paid. The trailer says “never whisper your dreams” and that is such a good tagline for this film. Dreams are where we are often most vulnerable.

something-wicked-2What was so great is not everything was explained and I’m sure someone could point out plotholes and inconsistencies but we are dealing with dark magic here. It really worked. There are some incredibly chilling scenes with everything from psychological scares to creatures in the night. Some scares were even quite devastating like when Will’s Dad is confronted with his insecurities as a father or the school teacher in her lost youth. I cried which is saying something in a scary movie.

Everything works in this film. The cinematography by Stephen H Burum is perfect mixture of Americana and Burtonesque carnival scenes. The music by James Horner is quiet when it needs to be. The sets and special effects held up and were scary and the acting is top rate. Jason Robards, Jonathan Price, Diane Ladd, Pam Grier, and all the small roles including the boys Vidal Peterson and Shawn Carson are all fantastic.

I loved this movie. I mean loved it. It builds tension so well and draws you into the story and characters. I just wanted to give you guys a heads up if you are looking for family appropriate Halloween fare to check this out. It is definitely one of Disney’s most hidden gems.

I will go into more detail on my youtube review on Sunday but trust me on this one. It is a fantastic film. Have any of you seen it? Were you as impressed as I was? Let me know in the comments. Thanks

I’m Depressed About 2017 Animation

Since I started this blog in 2014 I have had a goal to see every animated film released in the year. For the most part this has been an awesome experience with even the bad films giving some context to help really appreciate the good.

But I’m seriously debating about whether I should reconsider my goal for 2017. 2016 has been a stellar year for animation with great films coming from big studios and indies alike.

2017 what are we getting…

Yes, I get it. Any movie can be good but a talking mafia baby movie? It just sounds so awful and the trailer was one of the worst I’ve ever seen. It’s honestly reminding me of 9 Lives but less creative and the animation looks atrocious. It seems like an SNL skit of a bad movie come to life. It reminded me of the Jack and Jill trailer where you just sit baffled at how this actually is happening. I mean who saw Baby Geniuses and thought ‘we need that in 2017’ but make him a mob boss baby? And can we put that person in jail?

And what else do we have to look forward too? (heavy sarcasm in that sentence)

Well, really only 3 films right now. I am looking forward to Coco from Pixar. It’s a musical with a Day of the Dead theme and that has huge potential for creativity. (And yes they have done The Book of Life but I think if we have a million Christmas movies we can have more than one Day of the Dead movie).

I am also looking forward to Lego Batman as I loved The Lego Movie and the trailers were amazing.

The Breadwinner from the studio that brought us Song of the Sea has potential and My Little Pony could actually be a commercially successful 2D film and I really like the Friendship is Magic TV show.

I also don’t hate the Cars movies like some so Cars 3 could be good. I’m hoping it will be better than Cars 2, which I don’t hate but don’t love either. I mean it is kind of sad when Cars 3 is one of my more hopeful entries of the year…

So really I have Lego Batman, Coco and Breadwinner in the excited for camp. My Little Pony and Cars 3 in the ‘I hope it will be good’ camp. Not much to hang my hat on for the year…

That’s about all the good I have to say. Let’s go over some of the other gems that have me depressed. In addition to Boss Baby we have:

Blazing Samurai- which has a giant cats butt on the poster and from the team that brought us the recent bomb Max Steel..

Captain Underpants- yes the studio that once brought us Prince of Egypt has sunk to talking babies and a Captain Underpants movie. I’m depressed

Ferdinand- I don’t know if this will really happen in 2017. We haven’t seen any concept art or a poster or anything about it

Despicable Me 3- You guys know how much I dislike the minions and their yellow annoyingness all over everything. Now we get another entry in the highly overrated Despicable Me series

Emoji Movie: Express Yourself- Yes the horrors continue with the emoji movie. We have a character in a major studio animated film named Poop Daddy. Let that sink in for a second. Plus the female character Jailbreak is a complete copy of Lego Movie’s Wyldstyle

Lego Ninjago Movie- The short for this before Storks was completely forgettable and lame. It seriously lessened any enthusiasm I was feeling for this movie.

Nut Job 2- The original was horrible and so the fact this sequel is happening brings me even more into depression. And it was supposed to come out in 2016 which isn’t a good sign

Smurfs: the Lost Village- This has potential but I’m not a fan of Sony Animation in general and I hated the 2 recent live action films.

The Star- This is evidently a nativity movie but I don’t know much about it  I must admit. I guess it could be good.

So yeah, forgive me while I go into a corner and cry at what I have to look forward to in 2017…Sure there may be a few pleasant surprises in there but right now I am feeling extremely discouraged about it.

But then when Kubo and the 2 Strings makes 67 million and Ice Age 5 makes 404 million worldwide I guess we get the movies we deserve.


Long Way North Review

long-way-north2For the most part the 2016 animated blockbusters have been excellent. Even the middle tier films like Storks and Secret Life of Pets weren’t half bad. That said, I wish I could convince more people to enjoy the equally strong indie animated scene of 2016. We have had great films like April and the Extraordinary World, Only Yesterday (which grows on me more I see it), Miss Hokusai Phantom Boy and now Long Way North!

Directed by Rémi Chayé, Long Way North, is like nothing else you will see this year in animation. It is a small 2D animated adventure that uses color blocking to create a unique visual style.

long-way-north5Rémi said about the style:

“What interests me is the emotion. I want animators to spend time on the characters’ emotions. I don’t want them to spend time tracing details or pulleys. That’s why the graphic style is so simple. No buttons, no laces, no folds in the clothes. So for the ship, the train, the dog sleds, the carriages, we made 3D objects”

This was so beautiful to watch!

The story is set in 1882 Russia where a girl named Sacha is worried about her grandfather who left for the North Pole and never returned. His failed expedition has become a joke and her family is disgraced. She then sets out on an expedition to find her grandfather and redeem her family name.

Adobe Photoshop PDFMy favorite part of the story was Sacha as a character. She is a strong female character but not in a cliched way. She has diva moments where she doesn’t want to let go of her aristocratic ways and I liked that. She felt human and was fallible and grew over the course of the movie.

long-way-north-sacha-voiced-by-chloe-dunn-in-the-northI also liked once they got to the North Pole how things didn’t play out exactly the way I thought they would. Honestly I could have spent even more time there as the adventure really got going then.

long-way-north-still-3-sacha-voiced-by-chloe-dunn-in-a-scene-from-long-way-northThe animation is stunning. I loved, loved, loved, loved it. There was a roughness to the lines and a brightness to the color palate that was so refreshing and beautiful. I think Rémi is right. The simplicity did help me to focus on the emotion of the scenes and Sacha as a character. It’s funny with everything trying to be realistic these days (ala Jungle Book) I get much more emotional truth out of animation like this that is mostly shape and color.

I also really enjoyed the music by Jonathan Morali and a rock band called Syd Matters. It felt modern but as Sacha was a modern voice in this world it worked for me.

long-way-north-sacha-voiced-by-chloe-dunn-and-katch-voiced-by-tom-perkins-set-sailUnfortunately, there were some negatives to Long Way North. I love a good adventure story but some will find Sacha’s story to be predictable.  This wasn’t a big problem for me but I do think they could have introduced more conflict earlier to make it a bit more interesting. For example, it does not take the narrative risks that April and the Extraordinary World takes.

Also I think the middle segment in the boat lasts a bit too long and I got a little bit bored (also that section was the least visually interesting in my opinion). Once they get to the North Pole it picks back up again and I was engaged.


Even with a few issues, I think it is a very strong feature film for Rémi Chayé and he and his 2D animated team deserve tons of applause. Long Way North is a 100% European production with a studio in Paris of 20 animators, 15 layout artists and 20 cel painters and the staff is equally male and female (how refreshing is all of that!). I love what they produced here and can’t wait to see what comes next!

We need independent visually unique voices in animation so I hope you will seek out films like Long Way North and give them your support. Don’t be surprised if you hear about this one come Oscar season!

Overall Grade- B+ (I’ve gone back and forth between B and B+ but it is so pretty I will go with B+)

Miss Hokusai Review

miss hokusaiSome films are harder than others to describe and critique in a review. Usually these are the unique films that fail to fit into an easy category or genre. Such is the case with the recent GKIDS distributed film out of Japan called Miss Hokusai. It is perhaps the most Japanese movie I’ve ever seen and I think your tolerance for observing other cultures will indicate the appeal of this film.

Based on a historical manga of the same name, Miss Hokusai is about a woman in 1814 Tokyo named O-Ei. She is the daughter of a famous painter named Katsushika Hokusai. She watches him paint and instruct his 2 apprentices, on finding the passion behind the painting. It turns out that O-Ei is actually quite skilled at painting and she challenges her father and the apprentices to up their game. Her father is also very strict with her and insists she only produce the best art.

hokusai3There is a lot of fun banter between O-Ei and the other characters and it is neat to see their artistic processes unfold. At times you literally dive into the famous paintings of her day.

misshokusai_bThe movie is definitely not for everyone. It is extremely episodic, mostly a grouping of short stories. If you require a structured traditional plot than this film is not for you. It also assumes a fair amount of base Japanese cultural knowledge on the part of the viewer.  There were moments that felt a little confusing and overwhelming even though I’ve been to Japan and am decently aware of Japan and its traditions.

hokusai2O-ei figures that she wants to paint in a modern kind of way.  Part of the problem with that is her life experience is simple and naive according to her superiors. She tries to gain experience at certain points which end up being more awkward than anything else.

She does have a younger blind sister that she helps in some lovely scenes. Like in one scene she introduces her sister to the idea of snow, which is very exciting.

misshokusai_aBecause I am not an expert on Japanese culture, there were some confusing segments- such as there is a long run in a geisha house and I didn’t really understand everything that was going on with that. And the narrator doesn’t really take time to make it more digestible.

Still, it was inspiring to see Miss Hokusai continually improve and find new  art she  believes in. The visuals and the sound design are also gorgeous from every turn. You feel like you could dive into these paintings and few times you actually do just that. The main message is the piece of your soul you give up in creating art.

miss-hokusai3If you like a non-linear plot that focuses on a small number of characters than Miss Hokusai is for you. It’s emotional and will make you think about art in new ways. It’s a soft and simple film without a ton of drama or gravitas.  If you can’t watch a foreign film and really think about your life than this isn’t for you.

Miss Hokusai is not a match for the Studio Ghibli films but it stands on its own as a beautiful, simple story of a female artist in 1814’s Japan. That’s certainly not a timeframe I know much about but I think they do a good job filling in those details for the uninitiated while continuing on with the short stories.

It’s not going to be for everyone because of its pacing and episodic feel but if you want something different and have patience it might just be for you.  It’s a little meandering and all over the place, but I’m certainly glad I saw it.

There is also some mature content so adults only for this one.

Overall Grade- B

Blind Spot 10: Unbreakable (Spoiler)

unbreakableFor this month’s blind spot review I decided to check a film by my least favorite director, M Night Shyamalan off the list, Unbreakable. This is the film that everyone said was ‘one of the good Shyamalan films’. I had my doubts as I don’t like Signs which most seem to love but I figured it was worth a shot. Now that I’ve seen it I think it is an okay dopey thriller but not much more than that.

This post will have spoilers as it is impossible to talk about the pros and cons of this movie without talking about key plot points and another Shyamalanian twist!

unbreakable2Unbreakable stars Samuel L Jackson as Elijah Glass a man with a debilitating bone disease. His bones are very fragile and will shatter easily. He just might be breakable….Then we have Bruce Willis as David Dunn, a security guard who starts to wonder about his own strengths after he is the only survivor of a train crash. He just might be unbreakable…(subtlety is not Shyamalan’s strength).

So, the train crashes at the beginning of the film and it seems completely unlikely that all 131 passengers would die on this train. This is not a plane where that would make more sense. I’ve never heard of a train crash ever killing all the passengers. Nevertheless, you have to go with that (hey at least it’s not killer grass like in a later Shyamalan film…)

Elijah invites David to meet with him and he suggests that David is a superhero like we see in the comic books. David dismisses the idea but then realizes he has never been sick his entire life (something it seems like you would realize before this) and that he can lift 350 lbs on a bench press (something I would think you’d realize as a former athlete).

unbreakable3David also learns he has one weakness which is water and begins to hone his super skills, which includes the power of learning what crimes people have committed by touching them. I’m not sure this skill makes much sense or would be very helpful when we all break speeding limits and other unlawful behavior. How does the skill decide what is a ‘crime’ and what isn’t? It could be self defense after all or an accident or any number of murky crimes?

Nevertheless, in one scene he goes to a train terminal where an unusual number of criminals seem to be gathering, but he follows a janitor who has murdered parents and then gone back to work for some strange reason with the children still handcuffed to the bathroom wall. Doesn’t that seem strange that he would go back to work when friends, family, anyone could come and free the girls, see the murder? It makes no sense that such a man would return back to the scene of the crime. The only reason is for the script to provide him with a confrontation with David.

This fight is David’s first heroic act and soon after we get the big reveal (it’s a Shyamalan movie after all. Of course there is a big twist!). It turns out, Elijah is the one who caused the train wreck in the first place, so he could find David. This really makes no sense. In the world of comic books there are handfuls of supers for millions of normal people. The likelihood that a super would be on that train at that moment makes no sense. If there was some proof that Elijah had been following David for years but needed a final conclusive evidence than that might make sense but like I said a train crash would rarely have such casualties or produce such definitive proof.

The point of the story is that now Elijah has his purpose as the super villain against David’s superhero. Ok. I can buy that but it is the road to getting there that doesn’t really work.

That said, if you turn off your brain it’s a well made decent movie. The problem is Shyamalan thinks he is being so clever, so it’s a little hard to accept as a dopey fun thriller. His camera work is very distracting with odd angles and movement for no discernible reason. We also get the M Night cameo that made me roll my eyes.

The acting is pretty good from both Willis, Jackson and Robin Wright as David’s wife. It is also better paced than many other Shyamalan films.  I was never really bored and it’s a pretty creative twist on the comic book genre. Unfortunately I appreciate it more for the potential than the end result.

Overall Grade- C+ Shyamalan Grade- A

The Dressmaker Review

dressmakerThere are some movies like The Lego Movie that I don’t understand people disliking and then there are others like The Dressmaker that I totally get. It is a weird movie and in some ways I wonder if only people who see lots of movies like I do will dig it. When you see 15-20 movies a month they do start to feel repetitive. Then you see something that’s totally different and nuts like The Dressmaker and it is kind of exciting.

The Dressmaker is directed by Jocelyn Moorhouse and it is an Australian film starring Kate Winslet. It is about a woman named Tilly who returns to her hometown to try and remember the trauma of her youth that caused her to be an outcast. She has been away training to be a tailor and quickly makes her impact on the town with her high end dresses but her past creeps back into her life. There is also love with the hunky Teddy played by Liam Hemsworth.

dressmaker3The Dressmaker is part campy soap opera, part romance, part revenge drama, part uproarious comedy. It has violent moments that shocked me but also times I was really laughing hard. It’s hard to remember a movie that is more tonally dissonant but I think that is intentional. It gives the film a unpredictable feeling. At first I thought it was going to be Chocolat but with fashion (mysterious stranger comes in and teaches town how to live!). But just when I got comfortable something shocking would happen and then I would be taken in a new direction.

And Kate Winslet. Wow…

dressmaker2She is just fantastic in this movie and is so beautiful but also heartfelt when she needs to be. I had no problem with her being with the 15 years younger Hemsworth. I mean after all men are frequently that much older than their female counterparts, and how the romance resolves is extremely surprising. I’ve always been more of a Chris Hemsworth fan but Liam is HOT in this film.

dressmaker5Judy Davis is also fantastic as Tilly’s mother. It’s one of the strongest supporting actresses performances I’ve seen this year.

judy-davis-the-dressmakerHugo Weaving gets some great laughs as a cross dressing cop and I also liked Sarah Snook as a mousy town girl who is transformed by Tilly’s dresses.

And speaking of the dresses…Holy cow are they beautiful! If this film doesn’t get nominated for best costumes than that is a real travesty. It is completely stunning work by Margo Wilson and Marion Boyce. It reminded me of the costumes from My Fair Lady designed by Cecil Beaton. The costumes are so beautiful they have an entire exhibit with them on display in Australia. How often does that happen?


dressmaker4The Dressmaker won’t be for everyone. Like I said it is very strange and the tone goes all over the place but I kind of dug it. It continually surprised me and all the performances are so campy and fun that it worked. It looks so gorgeous and sometimes it’s nice to see something different.

It’s in general a mild R rating with just a few jarring scenes of violence and a little bit of language.

Overall Grade- B+

Here is the trailer to see if it looks like your cup of tea:

Movie Monday: Underrated Disney Films

There is a new series I am participating with other youtubers called Movie Monday! In this series we get topics and give 5 movies that fit that topic. This last Monday the topic was underrated films, so I decided to narrow the focus to Underrated Disney Films. I wanted to do 5 that most people haven’t heard of or are more obscure.

Here’s my list:

  1. Rocketeer- Charming superhero movie set in the 1930s with charismatic cast and a stand a lone story. This is refreshing to see in the days of the cinematic universes.
  2. Iron Will- a nice heart filled story about a boy who is trying to save his family farm and go to college enters a dog sled race in the great North. This is engaging and sweet with good performances and a nice inspirational ending.
  3. North Avenue Irregulars- very funny madcap comedy featuring some of the funniest ladies ever including Cloris Leachman and more.
  4. Pirate Fairy- I think all the Tinker Bell movies are underrated but this is my favorite one. It has the most links to the original Peter Pan which is fun and a nice story not centered on Tinker Bell. I like seeing the fairies loose their skills and having to figure out new skills. It’s just a lot of fun.
  5. John Carter- underrated space opera that has good battle scenes with a charismatic lead from Taylor Kitsch. I think people think because it was a box office bomb it must be a terrible movie but I don’t think this is terrible. In fact, I think it is a lot of fun!

So there are 5 underrated Disney films.  What do you think of them and what would be your 5?

How to Fix Tim Burton

Earlier this year I did posts on how to fix Superman and Alice in Wonderland. Now I am taking on a great visionary like Tim Burton. In my opinion aside from his animated films he hasn’t made a good movie since Sweeney Todd in 2007. I’m sure he is rolling in his money somewhere but if anyone were to ask my advice here’s what I would say.

tim-burton1. STOP ADAPTING THINGS!– Tim Burton comes from an animation background and his animated films (both producer and director) have still remained great. What’s unique about them? They are original properties!  They come from Tim Burton’s brain!

Let’s look at his track record with adaptations:

Planet of the Apes- clunky, awkward, boring, and aside from Rick Baker makeup Tim Burton’s visual style nowhere to be found.

Charlie and the Chocolate Factory- they replace all the whimsy of the Gene Wilder classic with a Michael Jackson version of Wonka. I hated this film so much in the theater.

Alice in Wonderland- long, boring adaptation that trades in the Wonderland nonsense for a prophecy and chosen one with a apocalyptic battle scene and Crispin Glover being creepy, Helena Bonham Carter screaming

Dark Shadows- based off of cult TV show feels like each performer is in a different movie. The tone is all over the place. I didn’t laugh once.

Miss Peregrine’s Home for Peculiar Children- just like so many YA adaptations it gets bogged down in exposition instead of creating compelling characters. I was so bored.

So there you have it. STOP DOING ADAPTATIONS!!!!

2. Animate Again– I don’t know how good Burton’s relationship with Disney is after Frankenweenie but I’m sure he can find a studio to work with again. In my opinion Frankenweenie and Corpse Bride are by far the best thing he has done since Ed Wood.

You could say that’s just because I am an animation addict and that would be true but Tim Burton started in animation and some of his most personal projects have been in that medium. His short Vincent feels practically autobiographical.

vincent06The other thing is animation takes time. A live action film can be filmed in as short as a month. Animation is multiple years process and I think Burton needs that to refine his scripts and make sure they are more than style over substance.

I’m not saying never do live action again but let’s get the Burton mojo back with animation. I’m sure Laika would work with him again and that would be awesome.

3. Collaborate- In my opinion Tim Burton’s best movie, The Nightmare Before Christmas, isn’t actually directed by him. It is directed by Henry Selick. Sometimes I wonder if Tim Burton and Zack Snyder both need collaborators.

They are both visionary storytellers. There’s no doubt about it but left to their own devices the stories are muddled and boring.

ed-woodI don’t have any proof but I’ve got to imagine in the early days of Burton he was reigned in a lot more than he is now. At the very least I know Ed Wood was a very collaborative effort between writers Larry Karaszewski, Scott Alexander, director Tim Burton and producer Denise Di Novi.

Working with his muses such as Johnny Depp and Helena Bonham Carter (who has evidently been replaced by Eva Green) you would think would invite collaboration but it does not appear to be the case. Perhaps you get too comfortable and that leads to uninspired work.

Animation is a very collaborative medium so it is no surprise his best work has been there.

4. NO CG-  Now I don’t really mean no CG, but I think CG has kind of ruined Tim Burton.  I can only imagine how much cooler his Alice in Wonderland would have been if he had to literally create the world.

If you think about Edward Scissorhands, Burton created an entire world. Just as an example, his version of suburbia in Edward Scissorhands is full of color and makes a statement about the life just in the color of the paint and the way the castle floats above the small houses.

edward_scissorhands_hillIn his recent Miss Peregrine’s Home for Peculiar Children the suburb is just normal houses that look like any other houses.

peregrine-houseThe one part I liked in Miss Peregrine’s was the skeleton scene which is made to look like stop motion! It was like a little peak at what might have been.

skeleton5. REMEMBER THE EMOTION– Most of Tim Burton’s early films work (for me at least) not because of visual splendor but because I am emotionally attached to the characters. Big Eyes is the only one of his recent live action films I have connected with on that level (I so wish Christoph Waltz hadn’t ruined that movie with his overacting). Sweeney Todd has it because of the Sondheim music but other than that Tim Burton has had one flat protagonist after another.

Alice's expression through most of Wonderland...
Alice’s expression through most of Wonderland…

Ed Wood is a great movie because we care about Ed making his horrible movies. He is so happy doing what he is doing and that makes you root for him. Edward Scissorhands is heartbreaking. Jack Skellington is likable despite stealing christmas. Frankenweenie breaks your heart in two and I’m not even a pet owner.  The list goes on.

edward-scissorhands2Even a silly movie like Pee Wee’s Big Adventure you laugh but actually care a little bit about him finding that darn bike. I’m not the biggest fan of Burton’s Batman films but particularly Batman Returns has a lot of emotion in it. I mean Penguin’s story is a complete tragedy. I wish we could get a tenth of the emotion from Penguins funeral with the birds walking him into the water in films like Alice in Wonderland or Dark Shadows.

And you don’t have to make the character have Daddy issues to get emotion. Just have a character experiencing something that matters to them. Put on that Danny Elfman score and you’ve got my attention! Corpse Bride gets emotion out of me in Victor playing a piece of classical music. It’s a moment of human connection. That’s all it takes.

corpse-bride-victor-playing-pianoI really do think that Tim Burton is a talented man, a genius when he is on his game. I LOVE Corpse Bride. I LOVE Ed Wood. I LOVE Edward Scissorhands. Pee Wee’s Big Adventure is genius. I thought Sweeney Todd was terrific. Frankenweenie made me bawl my eyes out. I want to like a new movie from him so badly!

So, that’s my opinion on that. You are welcome Mr Burton for the free advice😉

Queen of Katwe Review (Spoilers)

queen-of-katwe-posterOne of my favorite trends in the house of mouse is their live action sports section. In my opinion, they have made one great inspiring movie after another including Miracle, Million Dollar Arm, The Rookie and most recently McFarland USA which I especially loved.  Some may view these films as trite and cheesy but I love them. They are the only thing keeping Disney small. Oh how I wish they would have a similar small animation department. Their recent entry, Queen of Katwe, cost only $15 million and it is very special.

queen-of-katwe-8I said on twitter about Queen of Katwe “If you like this kind of thing you will love it. If you don’t like this kind of thing, you might still love it”. I don’t know if it is just because it is about chess but if there was ever a sports movie that could please everyone this is it. Sure it hits the predictable ‘inspirational true story’ notes but then it also went places I didn’t expect it to go.

Queen of Katwe tells the true story of Phiona Mutes (Madina Nalwanga) a young Ugandan girl who becomes a chess master. She grows up in the slums of Katwe where she sells corn and other vegetables to make ends-meat rather than going to school. Her mother Nakku Harriet (Lupita Nyong’o) is a widow and trying desperately to keep her family together both spiritually and physically.

nullOne day Phiona comes across an after school type group set up by Robert Katende (David Oyelowo) and she starts learning how to play chess. As she grows in her skills she also is taught by Katende’s wife how to read and think for herself. The movie does a good job showing the how hope can be a good and bad thing and how Phiona’s life isn’t anything but peaches and rainbows after her successes in chess.

The slums aren’t sterilized for a Disney audience like you might expect. There is a landfill close and there is a devastating scene where a flood comes through and nearly takes Phiona’s brother away in the water.  There is another scene where Nakku sells her mother’s dress to a skeevy man who propositions her, which I thought was pretty brave for a Disney film. disneys-queen-of-katwe-champion

Lupita Nyong’o’s Nakku is not the perfect mother you might expect from this film. She is scared, gritty and weak at times. There is a brutal scene where her son is in a hospital and she can’t afford to pay the bill so she removes the IV and sneaks him out only to come to their shack and be evicted by the landlord. If that doesn’t pull at your heartstrings you have more self control than I do. It’s not just that these events happen but that I felt for these people. They felt real and whole with flaws. lupita-grabMadina Nalwanga is also excellent as Phiona who goes from shy and awkward to a bit of a diva to completely devastated and back around in the film. There is a devastating scene where she asks David Oyelowo’s Robert Katende if good things are for the city kids because things hadn’t changed and then he tells her about losing his mother. It was really moving stuff! queen-of-katwe

Some will say this film is predictable and by the numbers but at least for me it went places I wasn’t expecting it to go. We learn about Phiona’s sister Night (Taryn Kayze) who is basically with a pimp for the lifestyle perks. Nakku is spiritual but not preachy. She is prideful but also weak, particularly when it comes to Night and Phiona.

There’s a great scene where Nakku thinks her children are being trained to gamble instead of competing in chess. Nyong’o’s ferocity in that scene is awesome. David Oyelow is also tremendous as the chess coach who is real but also ready to give the pep talk.

There is also basically no time spent with the rich kids bullying the Katwe teams. That was very refreshing. Also we get only a brief scene of the ‘jerk governing body embarrassed by the poor team’ like you typically get in these movies (think John Candy ‘they’ve earned the right’ speech in Cool Runnings).  There are also basically no white people in the cast except a couple briefly seen chess competitors. So no white savior storylines this time around.

Director Mira Nair has done a wonderful job taking the inspirational movie formula and creating something special. Go see it. I know you will love it!

Also, I normally hate the ending scroll text in these movies telling you the rest of the story because it takes me out of the movie, but in this case I thought they handled it just right.

Here is the trailer to give you an idea for the film:

Overall Grade- A