Recently over on my youtube I posted my Disney canon review of Hunchback of Notre Dame. My friend Christine mentioned it is her favorite Disney movie so she agreed to join me and discuss the film. I thought it was a cool experience to see both sides of a polarizing movie without things getting mean like so often happens online (see it can be done folks!). I had a great time and think you guys will like this video. Check it out!
Sometimes it pays to go out of your comfort zone. Other times- not so much. I got free screener tickets to the horror/thriller Morgan and my brother and I decided to give it a shot. It is directed by Ridley Scott’s son Luke and I was hoping it would be like last year’s Ex-Machina that I really enjoyed. Unfortunately Morgan pales in comparison and was a pretty lame film.
Morgan stars Kate Mara as Lee a business executive sent to research ‘the asset’ at a facility designing the next AI. After the dopiness of Jurassic World I am suspect of the term ‘asset’ in any film. When Lee arrives she finds out that the asset named Morgan has attacked a caregiver and she is going to research why.
Morgan is played by Anya Taylor Joy and she is no Alicia Vikander. The movie keeps us at a distance from her and you are never sure what the movie is trying to say about humanity or life like you were with Ex-Machina. There is no care in the script to bond Morgan with Lee. We are merely told she is ‘friends’ with the staff but we never really see that relationship play out.
Paul Giamatti then comes in as a psychiatrist who is evaluating Morgan. To say his behavior is non-sensical is an understatement. He seems to not be aware that she has just attacked a woman and he eggs Morgan on for no real reason.
All this would be fine if it was surprising or I cared more about the characters, which I didn’t. The big twist at the end you see coming a mile away. Also the characters have skills that come out of the blue and that make the story make no sense.
Honestly I fell asleep twice and my brother had to elbow me awake. Never a good sign on a movie. I’m pretty easy to spook so if I wasn’t scared that’s saying something. My brother is very familiar with the horror genre and he liked it even less than I did.
So basically for Morgan you get one part predictable story, one part characters I don’t care about and one part boredom and you have your mediocre thriller. Too bad but I guess Ridley’s stardust didn’t rub off on his son (or maybe he was watching during Exodus: God’s and Kings. Peeuw!).
As far as content grade it is pretty bloody and there is a little bit of language.
Overall Grade- D-
It is a great time to be an animation fan! Not only are major studios producing tremendous work like Zootopia, Kubo and the Two Strings and Finding Dory but smaller indy films are there to dazzle us! We already had April and the Extraordinary World earlier in the year and today I want to talk about Phantom Boy. From the creators of A Cat in Paris (which I love), Jean-Loup Felicioli and Alain Gagnol give us a lovely little 2D animated film with tons of humor and heart.
Like I said, I love A Cat in Paris, and while I don’t think Phantom Boy is quite as good as that film it is still a very enjoyable effort. It may even be the best superhero movie of 2016!
In New York there is a boy named Leo who is very sick.
But Leo like all superheroes has a special ability. He can float out of his body passing through walls and flying through the city of New York. This is freeing for him as it is his only respite from his sickbed. You feel a sense of calmness and lightness of being when Leo leaves his body. It’s hard on his body to leave but worth it because of the freedom he experiencces.
At the hospital Leo meets a cop named Alex who is recovering from an incident he had with a mob boss known as The Man with the Broken Face. Leo gets to know Alex and eventually offers his superpower to help track down Broken Face. This is important because Alex’s boss won’t listen to any of his ideas or intuition about the case. Leo can be the invisible spy in the investigation!
Broken Face is also not as scary as the mob boss in A Cat in Paris. He’s more silly here but the comedy worked. I laughed quite a bit. I particularly liked anything to do with Broken Face’s dog and his needing to feed and take care of him. You never think about Marlon Brando walking his dog in The Godfather after all! Ha!
The final character is a woman named Mary who is a journalist who works with Leo and Alex in the investigation. She is probably the character that gets in the most peril for the investigation as she can leave the hospital in her normal body. She’s strong but not too brave.
I think the main difference between A Cat in Paris and Phantom Boy is the character development. I really felt for the Mother in Cat and the twist with the burglar worked for me. The characters didn’t behave the way I thought they would. Also, like I said, the mob boss there was a lot more menacing than Broken Face is here, but he still has his scary moments. However, the characters in Phantom Boy are still good. I really liked the bond that grows between Alex and Leo. It felt like a genuine friendship. With Leo being sick it definitely pulls at the heartstrings a bit and Broken Face with his goons made me laugh.
As you can tell from the images Phantom Boy is gorgeous to look at and at under 90 minutes I don’t think anyone will be bored. The reason Leo’s story works when many superhero stories haven’t this year is there is heart behind his powers. He wants freedom from his hospital bed and the power is a result of that yearning. It’s not for ego or some burden. Quite the reverse actually. It’s a gift that frees him from his unhappy life at the hospital and it just so happens it can be useful in taking down a bad man. Shouldn’t more superhero movies be like that? I certainly think so!
The US dubbing is also great featuring Fred Armisen, Vincent D’Onofrio, Jared Padalecki, Marcus D’angelo, Melissa Disney and Dana Snyder. It feels seamless and I don’t think someone would know it has been dubbed if they weren’t aware of it.
If you can find Phantom Boy at a theater near you check it out. If not, put it on your must watch list when it comes out on DVD. It’s funny, sweet and beautiful to look at. Something the entire family can enjoy watching together that doesn’t try to teach a message or sermonize but just tell a good superhero story about an 11 year old who is the Phantom Boy!
Overall Grade- A-
We are at the 8th in my monthly Blind Spot series and this month I check another anime classic off of my list, Hayao Miyazaki’s comedy-adventure Porco Rosso. This is a completely charming, delightful and a little strange comedy!
The main appeal to this movie is the stunning animation, funny dialogue and quirky weird characters. The lead is named Porco Rosso and he has been cursed to look like a pig. The movie treats this with a refreshing candor. He’s just a pig and that’s that!
The setting is post WWI and Porco is a bounty hunter who relaxes on the beach and likes doing things his own way. One day he gets a call to face off some pirate gangs. This leads to his plane being damaged by a man named Curtis and him landing in Milan to get it fixed.
In Milan there is a girl named Fio who Porco reluctantly hires to fix his plane (all the men have left Milan to find work elsewhere during the Depression). Fio is a great character who won’t take any crap from Porco but who also is vulnerable in moments.
There is also Gina who is love with Porco and yes they play it completely straight that she is in love with a pig man. He’s such a rogue and so confident it kind of makes sense! Unfortunately Curtis is also in love with Gina and it brings the two into conflict.
Curtis and Porco end up in a bet, that ends up in a race, that ends up in a fight. Fio makes the deal that if Porco wins than Curtis must pay off all of Porco’s repair bills and if he loses than Curtis can marry her. They don’t really explain why Fio wants to marry Curtis but it works. The race and then fight go on for perhaps a bit too long but I thought they were very funny.
I really enjoyed Porco Rosso. I liked how different it was and how it made me laugh. I liked the way nobody thought twice about a man with a pig face and they made it work because he was such a grumbling funny character. You could see why he was charismatic enough for people to forget the nose.
There also is some heart to the story when you finally get to hear Porco’s backstory and a little bit of a subtle Beauty and the Beast moment that is handled perfectly.
They had a terrific dubbing cast as well with Michael Keaton, Cary Elwes, Susan Egan, Brad Garrett, David Ogden Stiers and Kimberly Williams-Paisley in the leads. The music by Joe Hisaishi is of course great as well.
I guess Porco Rosso may not be for everyone but I would think of it as Hayao’s Wes Anderson movie. It totally has that same quirky weirdness about it. It’s great!
What do you think of Porco Rosso?
Overall Grade- A
Just thought I’d share this with you guys. I did a collab with some of my youtube friends of my favorite Disney villain sidekicks. Watch the video to find out reasons for my picks
10. Helga from Atlantis: The Lost Empire
9. Diablo from Sleeping Beauty
8. Joanna from Rescuers Down Under
7. Mirage from Incredibles
6. Pain and Panic from Hercules
5. Lafoux from Beauty and the Beast
4. Hiss from Robin Hood
3. Horace and Jasper from 101 Dalmatians
2. Mr Smee from Peter Pan
1. Kronk from Emperor’s New Groove
Hi friends! I just wanted to quickly share with you my videos on the 1959 classic and current version of Ben-Hur. The video above has both reviews in it, but let me summarize my thoughts.
Based on the popular novel, Ben-Hur tells the story of Jewish Judah Ben-Hur and his Roman friend Messala. The two friends become estranged when an accident occurs and Messala fails to come to the defense of his friend. Judah becomes vengeful towards Messala and his family suffers greatly under Roman rule. Eventually Judah escapes from a prisoner’s ship and races Messala in the famous chariot race. The death of Christ on the cross comes and Judah experiences the miracle of redemption and is able to let go of his hatred.
This is certainly an epic movie, perhaps the most epic ever made. It took me two days to watch it but I don’t think that is necessarily a bad thing. Charlton Heston is great as Judah as is the rest of the cast and I found the characters compelling enough to sustain the narrative. Each part of Judah’s journey feels important to the story. It’s in some way’s more like a miniseries more than a movie.
Because we have spent time with these characters and know them so well the more melodramatic moments work and I thoroughly enjoyed watching the film. It’s definitely a classic for a reason. Oh and the chariot race still holds up. Amazing!
Overall Grade- A
Despite what some may say this is not a total train wreck. If I was an average movie-goer who didn’t analyze films so much I would probably be entertained by the film. It’s well made and the acting is good all around.
The problem is I’m not an average moviegoer so the problems are more apparent to me especially when comparing it to the 1959 classic. My main problem is story changes they make which lessen the power of the narrative. For example, they make Judah marry Esther, which makes her role in covering up the leprosy of his Mother and Sister non-existent. The entire plot point of the leprosy is an after-thought here when it is so moving in the original.
Also they lessen Messala’s ruthless choices. It’s complicated but in the original Messala has a choice to betray his friend and he does it because he knows betraying a friend will strike fear in hearts of the Jewish people. In here he does it because Judah disobeys a technicality. It’s not as strong; therefore, making Judah’s desire for revenge not as strong.
Also they use a ton of shaky cam which I hated. Still, the chariot scene isn’t half bad and like I said the performances are pretty good.
Because of the weakened story elements the ending is a big problem. They have the cleansing rain like in the original but that’s enough for them. They have to make everything hunky dory and that annoyed me. It’s too bad really because it actually had potential to be a good remake.
Overall Grade- C-
There’s no denying 2016 has been an underwhelming year for movies, particularly blockbuster films. However, there have been some wonderful films like any other year. We live in an era of hyperbole where something has to be a masterpiece or trash and little in between. I fall victim to that line of thinking as much as anyone else.
However, recently I have been thinking about the push-back we sometimes give on classics over modern films. For example, I think that Zootopia is the best non-musical from Disney since 101 Dalmatians. (Sorry Wreck-it Ralph fans but that’s what I think). Some people didn’t like the movie as much as I did and that is fine but some people seem to take an affront to the very idea a modern film being considered with classics like 101 Dalmatians. Why?
Is it beyond the possibility of consideration that Disney could release a film today that is on par with the quality they used to release? Why is what has come before inherently better than what we produce now? In my Pete’s Dragon review I said that it reminded me of movies like Black Stallion and Old Yeller. It may not be quite as good as those movies but it did remind me of them. It may not have for others but this is just my opinion. Part of what I liked about it so much is we don’t see many films like it these days, and I thought it was so well executed for the type of movie it was trying to be. Those movies are not perfect either so I don’t see the comparison as a problem.
I saw this last year where friends loved Ex-Machina. I liked it but it didn’t make my top 10. However, I have no problem with a friend who listed it in his top 100 movies ever made. What’s wrong with that? Why can’t a new science fiction movie be as good as your Blade Runner or Terminator? Sure those movies have time to marinate and debate but I don’t think they are inherently better than something we could produce today.
Let’s take Rogue One as an example. Let’s just say it is spectacular. It could suck. I have no idea. There are people no matter how great it is wouldn’t put it over any of the original trilogy. Why? Nostalgia is part of it but I also think some film fans just think old=better and they don’t allow for the idea of a new classic. Star Wars: the Force Awakens is my favorite Star Wars movie. Some freak out about that but I think it took everything the original trilogy did right and improved upon it. Made it better. It’s not a perfect movie but as I say neither are the originals.
Some people like the new Jungle Book better than the old one. I disagree but I have no problem with their view. To me they are close.
Let’s use Moana as an example. Let’s just say it is also spectacular. There are some that no matter how great it is would never put it with the Renaissance classics like Little Mermaid and Beauty and the Beast. Part of that is probably a bias towards 2D animation but I’d like to think Disney is as capable of producing a masterpiece today as they were in 1990. Yet for some no matter how good it is they will never give it such high praise.
I think part of it is we don’t tend to nitpick the classics the way we do current films. Hate to break it to you folks but the original Star Wars trilogy for example are not perfect. I love them but they aren’t perfect. Same with the Disney Renaissance films.
Just because it is old doesn’t mean it is inherently better and I have no problem saying that!
I think Sing Street is as good if not better than anything John Hughes ever did. Shock! Scandal! Sorry it’s true.
I think Love and Friendship is better than Ang Lee’s Sense and Sensibility and may be my favorite Jane Austen adaptation.
I think Mad Max Fury Road is better than the original Mad Max.
I think Inside Out is better than Finding Nemo, Incredibles, Wall-e and Toy Story 2 and 3.
I think Frozen is better than Aladdin
I think Dark Knight is much better than Tim Burton’s Batman.
I think Rescuers Down Under is a million times better than The Rescuers
I think Spotlight is better than All the President’s Men
I think Prince of Egypt is better than The 10 Commandments
I liked the new Ghostbusters about the same as the old one.
You can debate with me about specific films. What I am objecting to is the seeming impossibility of a ‘new classic’. Why is that such a problem for people? Do we not still have creative minds at work and is there not still the potential for greatness?
I remember when Richard Roeper said Forgetting Sarah Marshall was one of the top 20 comedies and people freaked out. I haven’t seen that film so can’t say but why can’t he see a comedy now and think it is one of his top 20 favorites? What’s wrong with that? Is it an impossibility that someone could find a modern comedy as funny as the classics?
What are some movies you feel are modern masterpieces and live up to or surpass classics in their genre? I don’t even know if I am making any sense but do you see what I am saying? Do we have a tendency of putting classics on an untouchable pedestal current movies can never reach? Are they inherently better? Why?
Anyway, I know this is rambling but just something I have been pondering. I would love your insight and feedback.
ps. Something is also not inherently better because it was released by Criterion (they released Armageddon…) but that’s a post for another day.
2016 has been a very strong year for animation in my opinion. Zootopia, Finding Dory, Little Prince, Only Yesterday, April and the Extraordinary World, Kung fu Panda 3 are all special releases. No we get Kubo and the Two Strings and it may be the best yet. What an amazing animated stop motion adventure. It took my breath away but I was also engaged in the story and loved the lead character, Kubo.
The film tells the story of Kubo who is a little boy with magical powers. He can make origami paper come alive and tell stories. He even at one point is able to build an entire boat with his paper. Each day he tells stories to the villagers but he only has one problem- he can never think of good endings to the story.
His Mother is a sickly woman who he has to care for. He has to cook for her and even feed her she is so weak. However, his Mother warns him to not be out after dark or he will be in great danger. Unfortunately one night he ends up outside and spirits begin calling for him “Kubo, Kubo, they call”. As he follows them he ends up on adventure to get the armor of his father that will protect him and his Mother.
Along the way he meets a monkey and a beetle who help him on his journey. One thing I liked is I was never sure where they were headed or what the next step was going to be. This is not like Lord of the Rings where the clear goal is Mordor and the destruction of the ring. Without a clear roadmap the film was very unpredictable and surprising.
The dialogue is also very well done. Monkey and Beetle are funny together and have a lot of sarcastic jabs at each other without being too modern or hip. In fact, Kubo is probably too old-fashioned for its own good. It would probably be easier to market if it had the wise cracking modern sidekick like Mushu in Mulan.
Nevertheless, I loved the characters, especially Kubo. Much like Judy Hopps in Zootopia this year, there was an earnestness and sincerity to Kubo that won me over immediately. He is blind in one eye but that eye is expressive and his smile made me very happy. I wanted him to be happy. I was rooting for him to succeed, which is probably the greatest compliment I can give to a character. He was brave and strong but felt real and vulnerable at the same time.
Do I even need to say the visuals are stunning? Yes, the visuals are stunning! There were so many moments when you can’t believe it is stop motion. The character movements are so fluid and the fast paced movements and lush landscapes are like something I haven’t seen before. It is without a doubt the greatest looking stop motion animated film I’ve ever seen.
It also has a great emotional reach. There are moments that will make you smile, laugh, cry and get a little scared. I don’t think it is too scary for most kids but maybe if they aren’t able to handle darker Disney villains like Maleficent than it isn’t for them. My theater was full of kids and they were totally engaged (unlike so many animated films I’ve seen in last few years because with the good comes the bad too…).
Mostly the film just has a huge heart that wins you over to the story, characters and world-building. I loved it and I fully intend on doing a detailed spoiler review once I get to see it more than once like I have done with Zootopia and Inside Out.
Unfortunately, it looks like this film is pegging to open at 12 million this weekend. That is so discouraging. It really is a masterpiece. I don’t want to live in a world where The Angry Birds Movie does better than Kubo and the Two Strings and yet there it is. What’s wrong with America?
Please let’s prove these prognosticators wrong! Go see this film. Take your family. Take your friends. It’s great for all ages. It’s great for all interest levels. It’s a great movie. You don’t want to be the one who missed 2016’s masterpiece do you? See Kubo and the Two Strings. It’s that special.
I wouldn’t recommend the 3D as it didn’t do much to enhance the experience. Just see it in 2D and enjoy a truly special animated adventure.
Overall Grade- A+
Recently I had the chance to see Taika Waititi’s What We Do in the Shadows, a mockumentary about vampires. If there is anything that is more tired than mockumentaries and vampires I don’t know what it is. Even so, I laughed my head off. So I was pretty excited going into Waititi’s latest film Hunt for the Wilderpeople. I saw it tonight and I loved it but I really didn’t laugh that much. It felt like more of a drama to me with moments of humor.
Hunt for the Wilderpeople reminded me a little bit of last years Walk in the Woods but with a better script. Both are about people escaping modern world into the woods for several months, following their journeys.
To be more specific, it’s a pretty simple story. A child named Ricky is taken in as a foster child by a couple in New Zealand. Then tragedy occurs and Ricky and his foster Dad or “Uncle Hec” as he’s called go on the run into the bush escaping the law. They meet eccentric characters and face challenges as they are pursued by child protection officers and others seeking a reward.
There are funny moments with the dialogue and some of the crazy people they meet but like I said I was more chuckling than roaring with laughter. But I really liked these characters and I liked seeing them grow and change together. It was sweet and heart-warming. I like that they never really softened them up that much. You saw growth but it felt natural and believable instead of cornball material it could have been.
The performances from Julian Dennison as Ricky and Sam Neill as Uncle Hec are wonderful and they have chemistry despite not getting along at first. They were people I was rooting for and wanted to see them succeed.
It’s also a beautiful movie with cinematography that will make you want to go to New Zealand! I also really liked the score and other music used.
If you are looking for a film that will make you smile with likable characters than Hunt for the Wilderpeople is a good choice. I really enjoyed it. I just thought it was more of a drama than a comedy, but that’s not a bad thing.
Overall Grade- B+
Here’s the trailer