DISNEYNATURE 9: BORN IN CHINA

This review is very exciting because it is has been 2 years since my last Disneynature review! Back in 2015 I reviewed the Disneynature canon finishing off with Bears. It was a lot of fun so I anxiously awaited their next release this year’s Born in China. Fortunately, the wait was worth while as this is a charming entry in this series of nature documentaries.

The last Disneynature release was 2015’s Monkey Kingdom which is one of the weaker entries as much felt staged but it still was entertaining. However, I was glad to see Born in China get back to more authentic feeling animal footage. In this case we are following 3 animals in China- a giant panda, golden snub-nosed monkey and snow leopard.

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The word to describe Born in China is adorable. Nearly everything about this movie is adorable. The animals are so cute and the story they create is very charming.

Some people might think it is a bit cloying with the narration by John Krasinski but I like how they create stories and characters (as long as it isn’t too staged like Monkey Kingdom).It keeps the nature documentary from getting boring because we have a story to draw us in. Yes, sometimes they go a little bit too far with the narration but I still enjoy it.

We follow these animals for an entire year and see the cycle of their lives. This does include some sobering realities but never too long. It shouldn’t be traumatic for kids. African Cats is the most traumatic of these Disneynature films.

The cinematography and footage they are able to get is remarkable. Especially in the leopard footage I couldn’t help but wonder how they kept themselves safe with these fierce animals that are very hungry! It’s amazing how close up to the animals they get. I realize that is from lenses but still it is very impressive.

Disneynature gives a portion of this week’s ticket sales to conservation efforts so if you can see it go to the theater. It will be a good experience for the entire family and would make a great family home evening. The kids in my theater were eating it up responding with big gasps and awes throughout the film.

I wouldn’t say Born in China is my favorite Disneynature film. That is still Crimson Wing and Chimpanzee but it is still very enjoyable and worth seeing.

Overall Grade- B+

Here is my youtube review. I would love if you took a look and gave it thumbs up.

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Spark: A Space Tail Review

Did you know an animated film was released in over 1,000 US theaters last weekend? No it is not My Entire High School is Sinking In the Sea (which I highly recommend).  No it is Spark: A Space Tail. This is a film out of Korea and is the same studio that brought us The Nut Job…

That may sound like a sassy introductory paragraph but a side of me wants to be easy on Spark: A Space Tail. I see potential with it and other foreign CG films that I wish I could nurture and develop. Too many are quick to discount these smaller studio efforts as immediate garbage but I try to have an open mind. In fact, I really think if you could get some writers involved who know what works for an American palate they could be successful. Movies like Spark, Wild Life, Rock Dog and more have solid animation, voice acting but suffer from poorly developed scripts.

Spark is my least favorite out of those 3 films. I was hoping I would enjoy it like I enjoyed Ratchet and Clank (yep, I liked that film). Unfortunately it was not to be.

There are some positives to Spark: A Space Tail. First of all, I enjoyed the animation and the world building. It may not be on a Pixar level but it was bright and full of colors. I also liked the various alien designs and how they moved and flowed in unique ways.

I also thought the voice cast was solid featuring Jace Norman, Jessica Biel, Susan Sarandon, Patrick Stewart and Hillary Swank.

The problem with Spark is I frankly found it extremely boring. The story felt so rehashed from other films and nothing was compelling or drawing me into the story. This kind of space adventure should be fun and nostalgic but it wasn’t. I’ll be honest I fell asleep and not just my normal nods. This was full on sleep for 5 minutes or so…Nothing interesting was happening and the story doesn’t even get really started for an hour into the 90 minute movie. The villain was super lame and felt like a rip-off of Mojo Jojo from the Powerpuff Girls and was shouting most of the time. The teenage angst of Spark didn’t interest me and everything about the story was so predictable and boring.

I hope in the future studios try to make their films more appealing to an American audience if they want their work to take off.  In Spark: A Space Tail I didn’t care about the characters or what was going on and I don’t think kids will either. They will be bored along with their parents and start begging to watch Star Wars again instead and I wouldn’t blame them!

Still, I hope these smaller studios can figure things out. Start selecting better scripts and make the good movies I can see in their future. The potential is there!

Overall Grade- D

Monster Trucks Review

monster trucks

We live in the era of nostalgic films and most of the time that means lazy retreads of what we know and love. Movies like Jurassic World or Kong Skull Island provide momentary pleasure but none of the lasting enrichment of the films they are attempting to imitate. They leave me feeling empty and the victim of corporate movie-making.

These misfires are why it is frustrating when people really try to do nostalgia right and it still doesn’t quite work. This is the case with the recent box office bomb Monster Trucks. It starts out as a real charmer but then devolves into a tedious exercise that belongs on CW more than a feature film.

The film revolves around a high schooler named Tripp Coley played by Lucas Till. Tripp is the typical angsty teen of these types of movies who works at the local junkyard. One day he meets a octopus like animal he names Creech. He also has a girl who is in love with him played by Jane Levy. All of this actually works in the first act as a nostalgic throwback to movies like The Goonies and even ET. Neither of the leads look like they are in high school and the villains are one note but it was winning me over.

Then the monster gets in the trucks and it all goes downhill from there…

I guess if you like car chases then you might like the last 2 acts of this movie but I grew very bored. Most of it is scene after scene of Tripp and Creech being chased by bad guys and causing all kinds of destruction along the way. There are so many scenes where cars are crashed into and piled upon. In one scene an entire car dealership is plowed through with the entire lot being destroyed.

Another long sequence involves a wall of fire and a giant platform car taking out car after car. There are people in some of these cars but it is all taken at a very slapstick silly level.

It really is a shame because Chris Wedge had some charming ideas here and the special effects on Creech are impressive. You can feel the love that went into making Monster Trucks but I can’t deny I was bored with those car chases and very tempted to fast forward the video.

Danny Glover plays a man in wheelchair who is kind of a mentor of Tripp but he seems wasted. As is Amy Ryan as Tripp’s mother. Also it kind of annoyed me that Jane Levy exists only to fawn over Tripp despite his complete lack of interest in her. She is presented as this strong, smart girl and yet is a complete ninny when it comes to Tripp. Groan (one part of nostalgic films I could do without!).

A part of me wants to tell people to see this movie just to support people that were really trying to make something special but unfortunately I just can’t. Too much racing and chasing for my tastes!

Overall Grade- C-

frown

Summer 2017 Box Office Predictions

Anyone who follows this blog knows I am notoriously bad at predicting the box office, but nevertheless it is still fun to take a crack at it- especially at the beginning of the big summer season. Last year I  got 6/10 right with misses from TMNT: Out of the Shadows, Independence Day Resurgence, Pete’s Dragon and Sausage Party.

Last year I just went with my gut feelings where this year I have actually done some research. It will be interesting to see which method fairs better.

My predictions are based on domestic grosses not international because many movies are released out of the summer internationally.

So here is my predictions for 2017 Summer Box Office:

  1. Guardians of the Galaxy vol 2- There is so much enthusiasm for this movie. People literally cheer in the theater when a trailer comes on. The first film did surprisingly well and this will do even better. I think it will open at 175 million similar to Beauty and the Beast and it will have legs. Baby Groot!
  2. Despicable Me 3- Summer 2014 only had 1 animated film in the top 10 and 2017 will be the same. Illumination has not had a miss at the box office yet and nearly every child I know is looking forward to DM3.
  3. Spider-Man Homecoming- The Amazing Spider-man 2 made $202 million despite it not being very good. This film is coming off of Civil War that people loved. It has Iron Man in it, Michael Keaton as the villain and a new younger Peter Parker. It will do very well
  4. Transformers 5- The last Transformers movie made $245 million domestic despite it being awful and having terrible predecessors. Last Knight has Transformers, King Arthur, Nazis and time travel so there’s no reason to think this will be any less successful.
  5. Wonder Woman- I know some are cynical about DC but despite the last 3 entries not being very good they still made a lot of money including Suicide Squad that was barely a movie. Wonder Woman has had good trailers and will hopefully appeal to both boys and girls
  6. War of the Planet of the Apes- The last Apes movie made $208 million and this looks fantastic. I can’t wait for it so I think it will do very well!
  7. The Mummy- This is a bit of a risk because Tom Cruise had a misfire with Jack Reacher 2 and Dracula Untold didn’t do well. But I’m thinking this will draw in the Mission Impossible crowd with its stunts and scope.
  8. Dunkirk- Interstellar made $188 million and this looks to be more of a traditional narrative from Christopher Nolan. He is the big draw here because it does seem like an odd release date for what should be an Oscar season movie?
  9. Baywatch- Last year the Rock did well for me with Central Intelligence so I’m betting on him again. He has so much charisma and promotes his films so much. A big factor on this film is if it is funny or not. We’ll see.
  10. Rough Night- There are 3 raunchy female-led comedies this summer, so I have to believe one of them will crack the top 10. My pick is Rough Night with Scarlet Johansson and Kate McKinnon. Bad Moms made $179 million and this will do similarly well.

Dark Horse Contenders- All Eyez on Me, Captain Underpants, Cars 3, Emoji Movie, Baby Driver, Atomic Blonde, Pirates 5, Snatched, Valerian and the City of a Thousand Planets, Alien Covenant 

Obviously it won’t make the top 10  but I am hopeful the documentary STEP does well for a documentary. They just released the trailer and it has a lot of hits for an indie doc. I just love it so much!

My Entire High School Sinking into the Sea Review

I’ve mentioned it many times on my blog that I’m not particularly excited about this years animated films. Depressed would be a better word but one of my hopes is that indie animated films would swoop in and save the day. Well, the first promising indie entry comes to us from distributor GKIDS and animator Dash Shaw called My Entire High School is Sinking IUnto the Sea.

On first glance it is easy to dismiss this film as indie hipster crap but I think that is selling it short. In High School… you get a good script with engaging dialogue, some inventive animation and nice riffs on the disaster and teen movie genres.

The animation has a rough quality, which I enjoyed. Some will find it too simplistic and juevenile for them, but I appreciated the different approach.

The narrator of High School… is a boy named Dash (Jason Schwartzman) and his best friend Assaf (Reggie Watts). They are both hard workers in the school newspaper and intent on getting the big scoop at the school. To start off the movie the two friends get in a quarrel over an article and a girl named Verti (Maya Rudolph). This seems very petty but isn’t that the way high school is? Full of petty arguments?

Dash becomes convinced he needs to find the next big scoop and diescovers the high school is built on an earthquake fall and my be sinking into the ocean. Unfortunately before he can do anything about this the high actually does start sinking!

It’s at this point High School… becomes a parody of disaster movies with Dash, Assaf, Verti, a gir named Mary (Lena Dunham) and Lunch Lady Lorraine (Susan Sarandon). With each floor the group faces new obstacles from sharks to anarchist students. It is pretty entertaining and surprising. The dialogue is also sharp and reminded me of other indie hits like Juno and Napoleon Dynamite.

 

High School… also reminded me of Me Earl and the Dying Girl especially the character of Dash who was very similar to Greg in Earl. He’s sarcastic and comes dangerously close to being unlikable but he just wins you over. Same thing with Assaf. They both can be pretty selfish which makes sense in a disaster when you are thinking mostly of yourself.

The voice cast felt very Wes Anderson inspired to me and they all did a good job. Even Lena Dunham who I normally can’t stand was fine in this. Her character is pretty minor. I liked Susan Sarandon as the lunch lady. She got some really fun lines responding to all the sassy teens.

You have to give a lot of props to Dash Shaw for this movie because he wrote, directed and produced it. I liked how he never let the disaster stuff overpower the student body stuff. This allowed it to still be a sharp teen movie and a riff on a disaster movie. Dash Shaw did a tremendous job on this and I will be excited to see what he comes up with next!

The soundtrack by Rani Sharone is also very catchy and fits the style and tone of the movie very well.

If you are willing to try something small and unique then I would say give My Entire High Scool is Sinking into the Sea a shot. I think you will like it. The film is rated PG-13 and there are some crude elements but nothing too harsh.

If you are open to new and different styles of animation and a more adult story (PG-13) I think you will like My Entire High School is Sinking into the Sea. It’s a long title to a fun movie! Only real downsides is the harsh language and sarcastic tone may bother some more sensitive viewers.

Give it a shot! Support independent movie theaters in your area! Try something with an indie flare and I bet you will be glad you did!

Overall Grade- A-

Dreamworks 2: Shrek

So, I’m just going to rip the band-aid off guys- I don’t like Shrek. Is it awful? No but on the whole I don’t think it is a very good movie, and I will attempt explain in this review why.

It all started for me back in 2001 when I first saw Shrek and thought it was pretty funny. Particularly Eddie Murphy as Donkey made me laugh and since I wasn’t high on Disney then the parody of Disney films was funny. With anticipation I got it on vhs eager to repeat my positive experience, but to my surprise when I watched it again I realized- it wasn’t that funny any more.

Truly great comedies I can watch again and again laughing with each watch. For example, Monty Python and the Holy Grail I have seen I can’t tell you how many times and I still laugh. Even other parody films like Airplane! still make me laugh. From way back in 2001 that was never the case for me with Shrek.

And unfortunately when you take out the humor there isn’t that much going for it. The animation isn’t that great. Some of the voice work is shoddy (cough Cameron Diaz cough) and the story is actually pretty pedestrian and predictable.

Now that you all hate me let’s talk more about the movie.

Shrek is about an ogre in a fairytale land who likes living in his swamp by himself. One day he gets besieged by fairytale characters that have been evicted from the land by the evil Lord Farquaad. In order to get rid of said characters Shrek makes a deal that if he can rescue the Princess Fiona then he will clear his land.

Shrek goes on the quest with a sidekick donkey who drives him crazy but they put up with each other and they find her pretty quickly. Then the Princess and Shrek form a bond and she it turns out has a curse where she turns into an ogre every night. She must be kissed by her true love to break the spell. Fortunately at the end Shrek storms the castle and admits his love and she ends up remaining an ogre as her truest form.

I don’t know if you noticed reading that description that even with all its parody Shrek follows the basic princess movie formula perfectly. You have the damsel in distress that is rescued, cooky sidekick,  evil villain, forced marriage,  dramatic declaration of love and the breaking of a curse. I think this is why the jokes really aren’t that funny on rewatch because the story surrounding the jokes all becomes rote quite quickly. Real humor that lasts isn’t just parodying things of the moment but they tap into universal truths and themes any age can relate to. Again to use Monty Python as an example, their skits and movies will be funny for generations because they aren’t merely parodying but they are making fun of timeless institutions like marriage, love, warfare, sex, sports, and more.

The funniest scene in Shrek that still gets a laugh out of me is the gingerbread interrogation. This is because it is making fun of torture and torture scenes in movies we still often see today and it was separate from the more pedestrian narrative. It feels more surprising and relevant than the other humor.

As more of an adult, I also notice things that make me a little uncomfortable in Shrek like Snow White being described as “not easy”, Robin Hood making a joke about he likes to get laid, and Shrek teasing Lord Farquaad about his size and “do you think maybe he is compensating for something”. I hate that kind of humor in fairytales marketed to children.

I like Eddie Murphy as Donkey and Mike Meyers is fine but as I hinted at earlier Cameron Diaz is not a strong vocal performer. Her line readings sound the same whether she is happy, sad, angry, whatever. I really wish they had gone with a professional voice actress.

Other issues with the movie is the soundtrack. It has not aged well. Using pop music of the era by Smash Mouth and others immediately dates the movie. It would have been so much funnier if they had used the music to parody the Disney musical. This seems like such an obvious choice it is kind of baffling. Plus, the oddly sober choice of ‘Hallelujah’ thrown into the film does not fit at all.

The animation in Shrek is fine for 2001 but it is nowhere near the quality of Monsters Inc from Pixar that yea.  In that film, Sully’s fur was so lush and vibrant and the world building still feels fresh and fun. There is no scene, for example,  in Shrek that mirrors in animation quality the scene racing through the doors at the end of Monsters Inc. Not even close.

I also resent Shrek because I feel its success has really hurt animation. Ever since it became a phenomenon we have so many movies that put humor ahead of story, caring more about cheap cultural references and celebrity voice casting than crafting real art. Imagine in an alternate world if Prince of Egypt had been the Dreamworks’ film to really take off? Animation would be in a much better state than it currently is.

Oh what might have been…

Overall Grade- C-

Talking Disney Princesses

Just thought I would share this podcast my friend Christine and I did called Talking Disney Princesses. It ended up being a long one but it was a lot of fun:

In the podcast we go over each of the Disney princesses and give them scores on story, example, beauty and music. When I rated the princesses that way my ranking turned out a little different than I expected. Here is the table:

Princess Story Example Beauty Music Total
Cinderella 5 5 5 5 20
Mulan 4 5 5 5 19
Moana 4 5 5 5 19
Belle 4 4 5 5 18
Ariel 5 3 4 5 17
Rapunzel 5 4 4 4 17
Elsa 4 4 4 5 17
Anna 4 3 4 5 16
Tiana 2 5 4 4 15
Aurora 3 3 4 5 15
Snow White 4 4 5 2 15
Jasmine 3 4 4 3 14
Merida 2 3 5 3 13
Pocahontas 2 2 4 5 13

Let me know what you think!

Your Name in Theaters this Weekend

This weekend the anime film Your Name comes to US theaters. This was my favorite film of 2016 and I saw nearly 150 releases. But don’t take my word for it. I compiled this video of a bunch of youtubers talking about why it is so special.

And here is my original review:

At least by me Your Name is getting a pretty big roll-out and is in 4 theaters, so hopefully that is emblematic of other places across the country. If not ask your local theater to carry it. This actually can make a big difference. I communicate with my local theater all the time about releases I want to see and more often than not they end up getting them if only for one weekend.

Your Name is the kind of film that doesn’t happen very often. It has layers of enjoyment. It’s funny, sweet, tragic, exciting and everything else. The animation is stunning and it’s one that gets better each time I watch it.

If you can please see it and support it.

BLIND SPOT 16: FROM UP ON POPPY HILL

Sometimes people think I have seen every animated film but in truth there are many I haven’t seen. Particularly in anime I have many holes. Well, this month for my monthly blind spot series I am checking a Studio Ghibli film off of my bucket list. Today we look at the 2011 film From Up on Poppy Hill.

This movie was directed by Gorō Miyazaki, who I still think was treated way too harshly for Tales from Earthsea which I enjoyed. However, this film is a definite step up for him as a director. It was written by his father Hayao Miyazaki but it reminded me the most of Isao Takahata’s film Only Yesterday. Both are films about the simple stories of every day people.

From Up on Poppy Hill will not be for everyone. Some will find it’s rather mundane story to be boring. I like slice of life films that let you walk in others shoes so I found it quite charming. It does not have supernatural characters or exciting events like many of the more popular Studio Ghibli films but sometimes I like gentler more calming films.

This tells the story of Umi and Shun. They are teenagers going to a boarding school who begin a sweet little relationship only to find out they are connected in unexpected ways. They are both children of single mothers and Uni’s mother is gone abroad most of the time. It is easy to see why these two are drawn to each other and have a connection.

At the same time there is an old building on campus where various clubs and organizations meet. The school wants to tear down the building and redevelop it into something new. The students meet and voice various ways to stop this from happening. Some are anarchists, some are more democratic and some want to protest. The girls suggest they fix up the building so that there is less reason to tear it down, which is what they do.

The animation From Up on Poppy Hill is gorgeous. I loved the watercolor feel to everything and the way the characters were designed in such approachable ways. There was nothing acerbic or strange like other Studio Ghibli films. This is just an extremely gentle, peaceful film.

There are some flaws with From Up on Poppy Hill. The music is a little too ever-present and a bit overbearing at times. Also the story does fall into melodrama on occasion but I didn’t mind that. It worked for the kind of story it was. After all, life can get melodramatic at times! Especially when you are dealing with love and romance!

So I would definitely recommend you watch From Up on Poppy Hill. It’s a sweet, simple movie about likable people growing up and figuring out who they are. I enjoyed it very much and it is beautifully animated to boot.

Overall Grade- B+