Sing Review

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sing5One of the cool things about 2016 animation is even the middle-tier animated films haven’t been that bad. I’d say films like Storks, Secret Life of Pets and Trolls have all been base hits where the top-tier have been home runs. This stands in contrast to last year where the middle-tier films bombed like Minions and Home. Well, you can add another solid base hit to the 2016 line up with Illumination’s Sing. This isn’t a great movie and I will totally understand the inevitable critiques but I walked away having a good experience.

I got to see Sing as part of a special screening last Saturday meant as kind of a Black Friday weekend promotion. The trailers have not been great for Sing so I went in with low expectations, which may have helped it a little bit (I’m not the biggest Illumination fan). Nevertheless, it ended up being a fun morning at the movies.

sing13Sing is about a koala named Buster Moon who owns a struggling theater that he got after being inspired by a show as a child. He develops a plan to save his theater by hosting a singing competition- ala American Idol type show. This attracts a wide array of characters from a housewife pig with 25 kids named Rosita, to a cocky gambling mouse named Mike, to a gorilla who doesn’t want to be in his Dad’s gang named Johnny. All of these characters love to sing and we see their story play out within the course of the movie.

sing14There are some things Sing really does right. First of all, I liked the characters. It would have been easy to make this a story of angsty teenagers who want to be stars but this has a wide range of character types that are explored better than I expected. Rosita was my favorite. I mean how often do we get a tired, ignored housewife character in a film aimed at children? I thought her arc was really sweet.

I also liked Ash the punk-rock porcupine who has allowed her talents to be brushed aside by her pushy boyfriend. Meena, a shy elephant who knows she is talented but lacks the guts to perform, was also a really nice character. I am sure many people can relate to all 3 of these characters.

sing884The other win for me in Sing was the music. Marketing for the film boasts 85 songs in the soundtrack. I can’t even imagine how expensive the licensing for Sing was but most of those songs are extremely brief. The actual full songs with verses and a chorus I thought were pretty well done. The singing is good and as the movie is about the struggles and dreams of singers they worked to further the story- not just as filler like in movies like Trolls.

This song by Tori Kelly ‘Don’t You Worry ‘Bout a Thing’ was one of my favorites.

Scarlett Johansson gets an original song as Ash and I liked that quite a bit as well.

sing-ash-and-meenaSome people might not like the music but this is just my taste (it’s my blog after all) and I liked it. And I thought it fit within this particular story with these characters. I certainly thought all of the music was as good as Try Everything from Zootopia, which I also liked (Sing is going to suffer in comparison to Zootopia but on this one level I think it wins).

Now there are some definite problems with Sing. First of all, the base story is super contrived. We’ve seen the ‘save the farm, save the school house, save the theater’ plot device a million times and it feels a little tired here. The story is also extremely predictable but the ending still felt satisfying I guess because I liked the characters so much. It also feels a little over-stuffed with tons of characters auditioning and given songs/story time when I just wanted to focus on the characters I liked.  In addition, the humor can be very hit and miss within the film.

The animation is also nothing to write home about. It is standard generic cg animation. There is nothing like the world building or character designs we get in Zootopia or Moana. It works but it feels rather pedestrian. I’d like to see Illumination take more risk with their animation and dazzle us with something new like the hybrid animation did for Peanuts Movie.

sing15The other big problem has to do with some of their character choices. As I said a gorilla named Johnny wants to be a singer. His father runs a gang and he can’t understand why his son wants to be a singer. All of this could have been fine but given the current racial tensions I thought it was in poor taste for them to make all the gang members black. There is even a rival gang and guess what they are? Brown bears…

I wish they had followed the example of Secret Life of Pets and made the gang a variety of animals.

secret-life-of-pets-gangI know this may seem like a small thing but given the racial climate we are in it made me a little uncomfortable.

Still, none of these downsides were deal breakers for me. I walked out humming some tunes and having an over all good time. It’s not a movie I will remember in 5 years but not every movie has to be. This is just an enjoyable base hit with some sweet characters and nice music. I enjoyed it.

Overall Grade- B (just a bit lower than my youtube review)

ps. shouldn’t a koala have an Australian accent? Hmmm…

Movie 56: Moana

moana14Every once in a while a film will be released that I have a personal connection with. It will remind me of a time in my life or a person and those are the most prized films of all. I kind of knew going into Moana that it would be that kind of film, but I had no idea how much I would truly connect with it. I have a deep and abiding love for Polynesia and the islands so just the setting alone seemed made for me but everything else about it struck the perfect note making it a very special experience. However, I don’t think my life experiences are essential in appreciating the film. It’s just a great Disney movie that I think everyone, young and old should experience in the theater while you have the chance.

moana2There are so many great things about Moana I almost don’t know where to begin, but let’s start with the title character. Moana is the daughter of a chief who receives a calling from the sea as a baby. The water in this film is an actual character that watches over Moana and even gives the occasional high five (as a huge ocean fan I LOVED that)!

Despite her connection, Moana is told by her father that she must stay on the island. I liked that she was the next to rule and her sex wasn’t a factor at all. She’s treated like any other character. They are all not allowed to leave the reef. But when the coconuts and island start decaying Moana must go on a mission to return the heart of Te Fiti, the island goddess, to its rightful place. I liked that Moana was a fairly normal looking girl and she behaved like a normal girl. For example, her first attempt to attack the reef and leave the island goes badly. This showed her infallibility and that she would have to work to get everything she got. Yes she has a connection with the ocean but things do not come easy for her at all. moana15To restore the heart, she must find Maui, a disgruntled demigod, who has lost his magic hook that allows him to shape-shift. They are a classic odd couple on a mission but it is executed so well. Maui also has tattoos that interact with him and tell him what to do. This was very clever and funny. Dwayne, the Rock, Johnson was perfect casting for the role of Maui. He oozes charisma out of every pore and aside from not having the greatest singing voice was so much fun even when he was resisting Moana’s arguments. There’s just something so innately likable about the guy even in his voice. Plus, he is from Samoan ancestry and I think you can feel that kind of personal connection in the performance.

moanaAs the two journey, they face all kinds of obstacles like Mad-Max inspired coconut pirates, a lava monster and a giant hoarding crab. These were all very creative and fun foes. I particularly loved the crab Tamotoa voiced by Jemaine Clement, who is absolutely hilarious.

moana12There is a lovely heart to Moana’s journey as she is trying to do something unselfish and kind for her people while also exploring her own identity. If you are someone who didn’t like Elsa running away from her problems (not me!), Moana should be your princess. She faces them head on but she also shows moments of weakness and fear. She was just a tremendous character. Newcomer Auli’i Cravalho was amazing as Moana. What a find they got in her. I loved her vocal performance and her singing. She made me care about the character and her journey throughout the film.

moana-auliiOther standouts of the film are the comedy, which they nailed. The chicken Heihei I thought was a riot and the jokes from Maui and other characters were great. It also never gets too dark or scary, so it is a true family film. Everyone can go and be inspired and dazzled whether you are 3 or 103!

moana-trailer111The music by Lin-Manuel Miranda, Opetaia Foa’i and Mark Mancina (score) was perfect. I loved every song and my only critique is they could have had a few more. The standout song is called How Far I’ll Go. It is stunning.

The animation is beautiful, which is perhaps no surprise from directors Ron Clements and John Musker. I loved the look of the water and island locals. It was so real I wanted to reach out and touch it! They also did creative things I wasn’t expecting. There are some 2D elements and some character designs that reminded me of the Disney renaissance. Moana is as great visually as anything the pair has done and that is coming from someone who LOVES Little Mermaid. It takes advantage of CG animation in a way Disney has never done before. It uses the medium to give a lush and immersive experience that you couldn’t have with 2D.

I really don’t have that much negative to say about Moana. Sure the story embraces certain tropes but I have no problem with a formula story if it is executed well and this is. Plus, it has enough creativity, like with the coconut pirates or Moana’s tattoos, to keep things fresh and exciting.

I suppose a few minor nitpicks for me is The Rock’s voice isn’t that good but it works for the song. They could have used Pua the pig more especially given the marketing. There were also 2 jokes with a modern flair to them that I think took me out of the movie for a second. Those worked in Zootopia but I don’t think in this type of story.

I waited to write this review because I wanted to let it sink in and make sure I wasn’t giving unearned hyperbole. Now after 6 days I can say that for me Moana is not only my favorite movie of the year but it is one of my all time favorite Disney movies. I liked Moana even more than Frozen or Tangled, which are top 10 Disney films in my eyes. I loved just about everything about it. It spoke to me and my life experience in a personal way and made me so happy. I loved the music, characters, animation, setting, everything.

In my opinion, Moana is why we go to the movies- to get swept away in a world and story and to occasionally see a bit of yourself staring back at you on the screen. Moana did that for me. You should all see it and then see it again. Take your kids, especially your girls, and let them be swept away in this latest wonderful Disney Princess story.

Overall Grade- A+

There is also a short called Inner Workings that I loved but will review on its own later.

Current Mini Reviews

Before I review Moana I thought I would give you guys a few thoughts on current films I have seen that I have not reviewed on this blog.

Almost Christmas

A Meyers ChristmasA movie not trying to be anything other than what it is- a cheesy Christmas movie but done well. If you like these types of films you will like it. The cast has chemistry. A lot of the jokes land and it’s overall a cheerful fun movie for the holidays.

Overall Grade- B

Moonlight

moonlightI love movies where I get to live a person’s life and Moonlight is a great example of that. It is about a gay black man in poor inner-city Florida. Understated in its sensuality and very human throughout. Not going to be for everyone but I appreciated it especially the first 2 acts. The final felt a little cloying to me and some of the choices I didn’t completely buy but still good film. Great acting by all involved. The Mother you just want to slap some sense into her!

Overall Grade- A-

Allied

allied-movieWell made movie that I was moderately entertained by. It earns it’s R rating and feels like an odd fit for Zemeckis. The tone doesn’t quite work and it is definitely boring in spots but good chemistry and a pretty good story make it a decent watch. I’d say watch at home as a rental.  It was a lot better than The Walk. You also kind of wonder who it was made for?

Overall Grade- C

Edge of Seventeen

edge-of-17A weird movie to review because it is expertly crafted but I found it kind of unpleasant to watch but I think that was deliberate from the filmmakers. It is about a surly, unpleasant teenage girl who is extremely negative. But let’s be honest most of us have been there as teens at least I know I was. The script and performances definitely mine that time of life for emotional truth with no attempt to be glib like Juno or Mean Girls. Everyone is comparing this to John Hughes and I guess it is like 16 Candles the most but I prefer this. As much as I admire it, I don’t think I’d ever want to watch it again.

Overall Grade- B+

The Space Between Us-

space-between-usKind of a terrible movie that I just can’t quite hate on. It’s heart is in the right place and I can tell they were really trying to make a good movie but it comes across as another bland YA type film. The premise of a boy born on mars is decent and I like the overall hopeful tone- something missing from most YA adaptations like the 5th Wave. But it feels cheap, the acting is kind of awful (one of worst performances I’ve seen from Gary Oldman) and the romance doesn’t work. It becomes a road trip movie that is very bland and feels more like an episode of a show on CW rather than a movie. But if you like YA movies, you might like it. At least it is positive- a rarity in that genre.

Overall Grade- C-

Arrival-

I don’t know I loved it quite as much as many other bloggers and youtubers who are declaring it a masterpiece but it’s good. I like that it really goes for it and has bold ideas. It’s kind of film I want to see several times to really absorb it’s ideas and messages. It looks beautiful and I liked that the story centers on communication and language and how that makes us human. The design of the aliens and alien language were very creative and Amy Adams is great in the lead role. The twist at the end mostly worked but still not sure I understand it completely. Some readers will find the pacing too slow but I enjoy a slow burn scifi film.

Overall Grade- A-

Maggie’s Plan

maggies-plan-movie-postersThe story is admittedly very contrived and stupid but I liked the dialogue a lot. It totally captures the pedantic liberal intellectual crowd perfectly. I found it light and breezy with charismatic performances. I enjoyed it very much.

Overall Grade- B+

Hacksaw Ridge-

hacksaw-ridge-poster-partGoing to be too violent for some of my readers and I totally respect that but if you can stomach the violence it is an amazing film. I LOVED it! At its heart its actually a faith based film about a man who stands up for what he believes in and miracles result. I was very inspired by it and loved pretty much everything about it. I loved all the performances, story and pacing and everything else. If you can take the violence- SEE IT!

Overall Grade- A+

Huntsman Winters War-

huntsman-winters-warA sequel and prequel in one and all bad. Terrible acting. Terrible chemistry. Wasted cast. Muddled story. It’s really as bad as you’ve heard if not worse. If I had seen it in theater I might hate it worse than Alice Through Looking Glass. The dialogue and story was almost so bad it’s good but not quite.

Overall Grade- F

So there you have it! My thoughts on 2016 releases I’ve seen in last few weeks. Sorry I didn’t get a chance to do a proper review on all of them but many like Hacksaw Ridge I did review on my youtube channel so make sure you are subscribed to that http://youtube.com/user/smilingldsgirl.

Also please follow me on letterboxd http://letterboxd.com/smilingldsgirl/

What about you? What did you think about these films? What would your grades be?

Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them Review (Spoiler Free)

fantastic_beasts_and_where_to_find_them_fan_poster_by_hogwartsite-d6mg5we

fantastic-beasts42016 will forever go down as the year of the disappointing blockbuster. Out of the dozens of blockbusters I’ve seen only 5 I would classify as  great films. The discouraging thing is so many films have had such potential. Indeed, they have such potential that I buy into the hype and go into the film expecting something great only to be disappointed when leaving.

Well, my friends, you can add another film to this list.  The newest spin-off in the Harry Potter world, Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them, isn’t awful by any means but it is very disappointing.

I should state outright I am not a die-hard Harry Potter fan. I am more of a casual fan but I have recently done my rewatch of the Harry Potter movies over on my channel and I was reminded that they are a bit of a mixed bag. None of them are awful either but I’d say 4 are successful and 4 really are not. You can listen to our podcasts here.

Fantastic Beasts is particularly disappointing because this was the chance to see JK Rowling write a screenplay without any fear of loyalty to a book or other source material. She could just unleash her creativity on the screen, but it ends up being a mostly frustrating experience.

But there are some good things about the film that give it a mild recommendation.

Good Things-

There are two plotlines in Fantastic Beasts. The first involves Newt Schamander (Eddie Redmayne) getting his suitcase switched with a non-magician (muggle in Britain no-maj in US) man named Jacob. Unfortunately Jacob unleashes some of Newt’s magical creatures onto the city of New York and they have to hunt them down.

This search is a lot of fun and it was surprisingly slapsticky. There has always been some humor in the Harry Potter movies but this was long segments of people falling into mud or getting into other shenanigans with the magical creatures. My friend laughed a lot more than I did but it was pleasant entertainment.

fantastic-beats6I also really liked Jacob and a woman named Queenie played by Alison Sudol. I almost wish the movie had been about the two of them instead of Newt. She lit up the screen whenever she was on it and her ability to read minds was charming and funny.

The music by James Newton Howard was fantastic, capturing the 1920’s speak-easy feel as well as the exquisite costumes by always reliable Colleen Atwood. The beasts were also adorable especially a creature called a niffler. They will probably sell a lot of toys of him at Universal Studios. fantastic-beasts5

I was also never really bored so it’s a harmless film about magic that I suppose hard core fans will love. I wasn’t offended or bored out of mind by exposition like in Miss Peregrine’s Home for Peculiar Children.

fantastic-beasts3Bad Things-

When I first got out of the theater and did an initial thoughts youtube review where I gave it a B- but now that I’ve thought it over I am going lower because there really are a lot of problems.

The first big issue is with the tone. Like I said, they try way too hard to be funny and then combine that humor with some really dark story-lines I won’t spoil. The sort of B story-line involving Ezra Miller as an orphan named Credence Barebone and his head ‘mother’ played by Samantha Morton is unsettling to say the least. It didn’t gel together very well.

There also wasn’t a clear focus like you had in the Harry Potter movies, which even when unsuccessful were still about Harry and Voldemort growing in strength and their eventual meeting. Evidently there are going to be 4 more movies and I really have no idea where the story is going or what the focus on the series is going to be. This film was half spent playing hide and seek with magical creatures for laughs and the other half fighting a dark demon in New York. Where do you go from here? I really don’t like the Hobbit movies but at least the first Hobbit film was a clear start to a journey and series.

Also, the other big problem I had is in the acting choices made throughout the film. Eddie Redmayne in particular mumbled most of his dialogue to the point where I was constantly leaning over to my friend asking her “what did he just say?” Some other actors were laying on the New York accent very thickly and it made them difficult to understand.

A lot of the actors like Colin Farrell are underused. Academy award winner Jon Voight is in like 2 scenes and Ron Perlman is briefly seen. I guess they could appear more in future installments but it’s odd when you have such well known actors in small roles. I guess they will clear things up in future installments but I found myself confused particularly on the B more scary story-line

porpentina-tina-goldsteinIn the end, it’s not a horrible movie but I did walk away feeling disappointed. There is fun to be had with the magical beasts and characters like Queenie but it’s hard to endorse a movie when I can’t understand the lead character most of the time.

The tonal problems and lack of overall compelling story are also hard to ignore. Like I said, in my youtube review I gave it a B- but today I am going with a lower grade.

Overall Grade- C+

Also, I don’t think this movie is going to appeal to kids much. I think they will find it kind of boring. Both my friend and I agreed on that leaving the theater. But see it for yourself and decide.

How Did I Miss That?…

Lately I’ve been wondering about something in regards to my reviews. Now I do two types of reviews. I review previously released films that usually I have time to stew on and ponder. Many times it is a rewatch and there is no sense that I have to rush to get the review out. We saw this with my Disney Canon Series, Pixar reviews or Scrooge Month.

However, there are the reviews to new releases. These I try to get to you as soon as I can so you have some guidance on what to see and not see. The problem with this is I’m not able to ponder about the films as much as I do on the films that aren’t new releases. It’s more of a gut reaction, which is a valid response but not always the most comprehensive of what becomes my true feelings on a film. Some films I give a mildly bad review to like Minions or Independence Day Resurgence but then the more I think about it the more annoyed I get or the more forgettable it feels. I knew they were bad but they become more bad the more I have time to stew on it.

The same goes for certain good films. I respond positively to them but the more I rewatch and see them the more I love them. This year Only Yesterday was that way. I gave it a B+ I believe but the more I have seen it the more charmed I am by it and the flaws become easy to forgive. My initial review is still valid and it’s not inaccurate of my feelings, it’s just I’ve noticed more good things and been able to ignore the problems.  Mad Max Fury Road is another one the more I watched and thought about the more I loved it.

What really got me thinking about this is Trolls. I gave Trolls a C in my review. I felt it was very hit and miss and I think that is a correct diagnosis. However, the more I’ve thought about it the more I’m bothered by certain aspects of the film. Particularly the messaging and what it says about happiness.

I admit part of these new ideas have come from conversations with others who’ve seen the film and some of my fellow youtubers/bloggers reviews. For example, Jim Gisriel makes some great points about how some of the ideas are actually dangerous.

A friend brought up to me that Inside Out is about accepting all emotions and that all feelings are vital to finding joy. Whereas, Trolls is about how happiness exists and is the only correct response to life. There is no sense of the trolls learning from the Bergens about how to be angry, upset, sad etc. It is a My Fair Lady type experiment to teach the bergens how to be happy.

That is alarming.

Angry Birds is even worse where anger is actually the solution to the birds problems and the happy birds are stupid and naive. They literally have to take lessons from Red on how to be more angry….

Zootopia, on the other hand, still holds up as a powerful fable with amazing animation, humor and characters. It’s a richer experience each time I watch it.

This is a problem.

The more I think about these messages the more bothered I am. I don’t know. Is it overthinking the films too much? Should I just go with my initial gut reaction? Should I write up a new review when I have these new revelations or be happy with the initial thoughts?

What do you think? Have you ever experienced this change in your views of a movie or are you pretty consistent?

Blind Spot 11: Looper

looperThis month for my blind spot pick I took a look at the 2012 sci-fi film Looper. To see the rest of my blind spot picks go here. I wanted to pick this movie because I’ve heard good things and director Rian Johnson is doing Star Wars: Episode VIII. I was curious to see if I’d get anything for his style of what was coming to Star Wars and I don’t know that I actually got that but it’s still a decent sci-fi film. It’s really more like Terminator than Star Wars.

Looper is a time travel story about a futuristic society where time travel hasn’t been invented yet but it will be invented in the future. The creative twist is the future uses time travel to send criminals to the past and loopers kill said criminals.  They do this until they are forced to kill their future selves and their careers are over.

looper4Joseph Gorden Levitt plays Joe a looper who has stashed his silver so he can live a good life when his days as a looper are over. Then one day he meets his future self (Bruce Willis) but is beaten up and old Joe flees. He then begins a cat and mouse chase with the crime syndicate that runs the loopers and his future self.

I don’t want to give any more away but trust me there is a lot more going on. It is a very original story that flows nicely without any obnoxious twists or trickery. On the whole I enjoyed it very much.

However, at first I had a few issues. It was leaving me kind of cold and I think the best sci-fi should stir emotion. It shouldn’t feel rote and mechanical. The violence felt impersonal and strong and I wasn’t bonding emotionally with young Joe.  There is a moment where we bond with old Joe but I was still feeling kind of cold and distant.

IMG_2628.CR2And then we meet Emily Blunt’s character Sara and I think that really turned it around for me. She is carrying for a little boy and she really brought the emotion I had been looking for. She was so good in the role and I finally felt like young Joe wasn’t a robot any more, but a real person with feelings.

looper3It’s also a really grounded, normal looking scifi movie. There are hovering bikes but that’s about it as far as world-building. I know this only had a $30 million budget but I kind of wish they had done a few more creative touches to change the world- make it a little more inventive and different from our own.

Also Joseph Gordon-Levitt’s nose prosthesis to make him look more like Bruce Willis didn’t really work for me. It always looked like make-up and I didn’t think he looked anything like Bruce Willis.

looper2But aside from those flaws you have a very original sci-film with a creative premise and story. Particularly in the last act it has something to say about the paths we can go on in life. How one action can take us on a completely different trajectory than another. The acting is good throughout and the brutal violence is well staged if you like that kind of thing.

So, yes I had a few little issues but I’d definitely recommend Looper if it sounds like your kind of film and you can handle the R rated material.

What do you think of Looper? Is it a favorite of yours?

Overall Grade- B+

Animation Pitch Session!

So I just participated in a really fun podcast over on my youtube channel. My friend’s Josh and Mark joined me to do a pitch session for ideas for animated films and series. I got the idea after I was so depressed with the upcoming 2017 slate. So I decided the studios need better ideas and my friends and I could give them some!

The way the pitch session worked is there are 4 sessions. Each of us pitched an idea of why it would be good. Then we could ask questions to flesh out the ideas. Then at the end of the round we each must vote for an idea that is not our own. The idea with the most votes wins the round. Then we do the same thing for the final 4 ideas and a winning idea is selected!

I liked all of our ideas and would love to hear your feedback. Here are polls so you can vote on what you like

We really had a blast doing this so hopefully we will do it again soon. The beginning of the video google hangouts wasn’t switching off the way it should but hopefully you can listen to it just fine.

Anyway, let me know what you think!

Doctor Strange Review

doctor-strange4In some ways the latest Marvel movie, Doctor Strange, has been quite revelatory for me. You see, over on my youtube channel I had a special podcast with a comics expert friend of mine named Trevor at HowtoLoveComics.com. 

This forced me to dive into the comic books of Doctor Strange before seeing the film, something I have never done with a comic book movie. I was impressed with how understanding the lore and comics helped add to the moviegoing experience. It’s something I hope to continue to do for future films.

I don’t think  reading the comic books make you excuse flaws in the movie but it helps you understand the characters on a bit of a deeper level than may be explored in one particular movie.

Anyway, it was an interesting experience that I would recommend to all of you.

As far as the movie, Doctor Strange, I enjoyed it very much. There are 2 reasons to enjoy Doctor Strange:

doctor-strange9First, Benedict Cumberbatch as Doctor Stephen Strange. I am a huge Benedict Cumberbatch fan and feel this is the best use we have seen for him in the movies yet. He manages to capture the brilliance of Doctor Strange while also getting a desperate humble side of him. I’ve heard many people compare his character to Tony Stark in Iron Man but I think he spends more of this movie humbled and weak than we get from Tony for many movies. He’s also much more awkward than Tony ever is.

Iron Man also has more substantial supporting characters than Doctor Strange gets. Pepper is a more active character in the first Iron Man than Rachel McAdam’s Christine and Rhodey is certainly more important to Tony than Wong is to Doctor Strange.

So, it is up to Benedict Cumberbatch and his character to carry the movie, and I think he does so very well. He’s charismatic and likable despite being arrogant and over-confident at times.

doctor-strange12

The second standout is the amazing visuals. I saw this film on IMAX 3D and it was pretty awe inspiring. Doctor Strange learns from the Ancient One (Tilda Swinton) that there are multiple dimensions. The mystical realms are accessed when we learn to manipulate and control these dimensions.

The movie does a great job showing these dimensions and not explaining them to us or the magic that goes along with them. We see it and that’s good enough without understanding the background or mechanics.

A lot of people have compared the visuals to Inception and I can see their point. However, I think they are more dreamlike than Inception. There is something a bit more grounded in Inception’s graphics and something more ephemeral about them here in my opinion.

The one caution I will give about the graphics is as spectacular as they are, they did make me a little motion sick. Some of the sequences towards the end I feel went on a little bit too long, and I started to feel a little nauseated. I have a very sensitive stomach when it comes to such things, so it is probably just me. You will have to make your own determination. That was just my experience.

doctor-strange11A lot of people have complained about the casting of Tilda Swinton as the Ancient One. It is a tricky thing because casting an Asian man like in the comic book could come across as reinforcing stereotypes, so which is the greater sin? Regardless, I think Tilda Swinton does a great job in the role as there is something other-worldly about her. Also her character has a bit more of an arc than I was expecting or was in the comic books I read.

All the rest of the performances are good but they are pretty brief. This is Doctor Strange’s movie and it is his origin story. Some will roll their eyes at another origin story but I didn’t mind it. The movie is well paced, clipping along quite nicely and the tone is carefully controlled. I enjoyed the more thoughtful moments along with the humor.

I don’t know if I liked Doctor Strange as much as Captain America: Civil War, but it is a very enjoyable origin story. I liked the character of Doctor Strange, and I liked the world we were given. That’s about all I needed to be happy. The story was good enough to engage me

I look forward to seeing how Doctor Strange works within the MCU going forward and how the new dimensions of mystical magic help add a new layer to the storytelling at Marvel.

Overall Grade- A-

Here is my youtube review

Christine Review

christineToday I had a little gap of time and decided to see the indie film Christine, and I’m glad I did. This is a film by Antonio Campos about the real life story of Christine Chubbuck who committed suicide on live news television.

As you might guess this is a pretty grim, tragic film and I appreciate that writer Craig Shilowich did not add an ounce of sentimentality to the events of Christine. There is no soaring music as we get to the inevitable event and we are not emotionally manipulated in any way.

christine4The most interesting thing about Christine, played by Rebecca Hall, is she’s at once sympathetic and unlikable at the same time. There is nothing cloying or patronizing about the way her mental illness is depicted here. Often she wants to do do good things but she struggles to convey those desires in ways that others can accept. She’s not surrounded by jerk-offs like you might expect. Quite the contrary. Pretty much everyone is trying to love Christine in the ways they know how. It’s difficult because she is very tough to love.

christine2As a reporter Christine struggles with the idea of writing ‘juicier stories’. She wants to interview strawberry pickers and happy couples but they aren’t the stories that sell. Oddly enough she fantasizes about interviewing Richard Nixon but then most of her pieces are kind of fluffy feeling. She buys a police scanner and follows a fire but then does a fairly conventional story on the man who lights the fire. I completely saw where her boss was coming from on that one.

Many try to reach out to Christine but it all feeds her mania more than stopping it. One example is her office crush George, played by Michael C Hall, who she thinks is taking her on a date but it actually a Scientology like therapy session. He’s not trying to be mean. He’s genuinely trying to be helpful but it is one more shame she has to deal with in her life.

christine5Christine’s mother played by J Smith-Cameron was very good because Christine wants to be mothered as a little girl but also wants them to be equals as adults. She’s also very critical of all of her Mother’s choices including who she dates and how she lives her life. On the other hand, her Mother knows Christine’s mental health history and can tell something bad is coming.

All of those character aspects really work in Christine. Also you get a great sense of the 1970s in both the music and production design. Especially in the last hour tension is built like a ticking time bomb inside Christine’s head ready to explode. I’ve dealt with anxiety and I really thought they captured that feeling without being patronizing or annoying.

The one flaw with the movie is it could try to teach a small lesson. It does leave the viewer kind of empty. I don’t need much preaching but just a moment maybe at a funeral or something to think about her life and how we can do better might have been nice.

Also, the first hour could have been a little bit tighter. There were a few sequences when she is working at the newsroom where I grew bored and started to yawn. However, once the second hour starts it really becomes compelling stuff leading up to the suicide.

This is an extremely mild R rating with just a handful of F words said by Christine’s boss. I definitely think it is worth seeing as a cautionary tale for those of us deal with and live with friends with mental illness. We all need to be aware of these diseases and reach out to folks in the right kind of ways.

Overall Grade- B