The Rachies- 2014 Animation Awards

The Oscars are coming up this weekend and I have seen every animated film that came out in 2014.  I’ve seen all the big, medium and tiny films I could get my hands on.  20 in total.  Needless to say I love animation.  It is my favorite medium of film because it literally is art on the page and for the most part it is family friendly and well rounded (comedies, dramas, comic book movies, the whole 9 yards).

So, I’m going to give some of my own awards for animation this year.  Here goes…

Overall Best Animated Film- Song of the Sea

song of the sea4Best Mainstream Animated Film- Lego Movie

the_lego_movie_2014-wideBest Use of Music and Animation- Tale of Princess Kaguya

princess-kaguyaBest sequel- How to Train Your Dragon 2

how to train your dragon castFavorite Character- Baymax Big Hero 6

baymaxBest Villain- Archibald Snatcher The Boxtrolls

Boxtrolls-Ben-KingsleyBest Adult Animated Film- Rocks in My Pockets

rocks in pockets4Worst Movie- 3 way tie Legends of Oz: Dorthy’s Return, Nut Job and Hero of Color City. All stinkers don’t see!

Downloads2Best Comedy- Penguins of Madagascar

penguins1Best Tragedy-  Wrinkles– I cried my eyes out but in a good way.

wrinkles-graphic_1Most Beautiful World Creating- Book of Life

The-Book-of-Life-5Better Than I Expected It To Be-  Mr Peabody and Sherman

mr peabodyBest Direct to DVD- Pirate Fairy

pirate fairy3Shoney’s Award- Not Good but Not that Bad,  Planes Fire and Rescue

PLANES FIRE & RESCUEBest Hidden Gem- Miniscule: The Valley of the Lost Ants

MinusculeBest Steampunk Movie- Jack and the Cuckoo Clock Heart

jack--the-cuckoo-clock-heart_32261404703551Best Song Sequences- Rio 2

rio2-2Best Sunday Inspirational Movie- Henry and Me

henry and me9There you have it!  All the animated films of 2014.  What tremendous variety and what a great experience I had watching them all.  It will definitely go down as one of my favorite years ever. Happy time to be an animation buff.

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Henry And Me Review

henry and meDo you like baseball?  More to the point- do you like the Yankees?  If the answer is no than Henry and Me may not be the film for you.  I wouldn’t say I’m a baseball fan but I don’t mind it on occasion and I appreciate baseball’s place in movie history.  I’d say of all the supports baseball has produced the best movies although Hoosiers and Hoop Dreams are tough to beat.

Baseball has such a nostalgia and history attached to it that it produces a wide spectrum of movies- everything from comedies like A League of Their Own and Major League to tender sentimental gems like Field of Dreams and Pride of the Yankees. Recently baseball has taken a big hit and lost some of its luster with steroid scandals and star players getting suspended but the history and connection to great American cities is perfect for storytelling.

The animated film Henry and Me taps into that nostalgia big time and produces a pretty sweet, sappy but pleasant movie.  Red Sox fans will hate it but I found it very appealing.  It is about a boy named Jack who is fighting cancer (another pretty sad animated movie for 2014).   He has started to get discouraged as he is sent to another surgery with IVs and surgeons all around him.

henry and me4Jack is a die hard Yankees fan and we see brief glimpses of his room covered in Yankee memorabilia   A nurse played by Cyndi Lauper gives Jack some medicine to knock him out and tells him he will have ‘great dreams’.

Next we see a man named Henry voiced by Richard Gere who has a magic Yankees pin that takes Jack on a train where at first he refuses to engage fearing he is not well enough.

henry and me 6Henry finally convinces Jack to believe in himself and the train stops in old Yankee stadium surrounded by corn.  Here Jack meets a young Babe Ruth who gives him some advice for facing trials.

henry and me7Then we get to a different version of Yankee park and Jack is put as pitcher for Mickey Mantle.  He must strike him out but he doesn’t believe he can do it.

henry and me5Then the story continues as Jack battles with the cancer and meets George Steinbrenner (voiced by his son Hank), Lefty Gomez (Luis Guzman) and Thurman Munson (Paul Simon).

henry and me 3Then there are a slew of former and currently living Yankees that do their own voice work including Reggie Jackson, Nick Swisher, Yogi Bearra, Hideki Matsui, Michael Kay and Joe Girardi to name a few (evidently they are now selling the film at Yankee’s concessions and I totally see why).  It was neat to see all these great ballplayers in animation and doing their own vocals!   And of course there is more to Henry than Jack first realizes.

It’s a short movie at only 68 minutes and it is pretty simple.  Just a kid who gets a chance to meet the Yankees and be inspired by those interactions. It’s corny and sentimental but I liked it.  The main point is to give hope to a kid with cancer and I teared up on a number of ocasions.

The hand drawn animation looks great.  I wasn’t as thrilled with the CG backgrounds which looked odd with the hand drawn pasted over it but I’ve definitely seen worse in 2014. I liked the Cyndi Lauper music as it seemed to fit the overall tone quite well.  Here’s one segment that is pretty emotional.

It is a bit of a downer for long sections with one segment actually sending Jack to Heaven to look around and see what it is like. He also gets frustrated and angry at his treatment which is understandable but tough to watch at the same time.

What can I say?  I enjoyed it. It’s kind of like Fox and the Hound but with baseball instead of pets.  Not a masterpiece but sweet and simple and easy to enjoy. henry and me 2If you like baseball and especially if you like the Yankees than it is the film for you.

Henry and Me would make a nice Sunday movie when you are looking for a very clean film with a nice inspirational message.  Like I said they even go to Heaven in it (but it is not a Christian film- more of a baseball heaven (phrase I never thought I would write)).

If any of you get a chance to see it let me know what you think.

Overall Grade- C+

Now I have seen all but 2 of the animation films submitted to the Academy for consideration.  The other 2, Cheatin and Giovanni’s Island are proving a challenge to find but doing my best.  Cheatin doesn’t get into American theaters until April so I may go-ahead and do my overview of the year in animation before seeing it. If there is anything I am missing let me know and if there is an animated television show you would like me to review put it in the comments.  I’ve heard great things about Gravity Falls and Over the Garden Wall but not sure where and how to watch them.  Let me know!

My Oscar Predictions

Boyhood-poster-quadI thought I might help you out and share with you my Oscar ballot.   We will see how I do come Oscar night but if Boyhood doesn’t walk away with a lot I will be very disappointed (well as disappointed as you can be with a stupid awards show…).

Here goes!

best picture

American Sniper
Birdman
Boyhood
The Grand Budapest Hotel
The Imitation Game
Selma
The Theory of Everything
Whiplash 

I still think Boyhood will win.  Birdman is too independent in feel for older academy voters and Boyhood has universal themes and was so groundbreaking I think it will win. I think it will be like when the academy went with King Speech over Social Network (a decision I actually agree with as I think SN is majorly overrated).   I could see The Theory of Everything coming in as dark horse as the academy loves those ‘real life’ portrayals.  I have seen all but 2 but hopefully will get to the rest in the next few days.

Will Win: Boyhood
My Vote:Boyhood

My review of Boyhood

Best Director

Wes Anderson (The Grand Budapest Hotel)
Alejandro Gonzalez Iñarritu (Birdman)
Richard Linklater (Boyhood)
Bennett Miller (Foxcatcher)
Morten Tyldum (The Imitation Game)

I know Inarritu has won some leading up to awards but Linklater is due a statue and what he did in Boyhood is astonishing.  It’s certainly one of the most profound movie going experiences I’ve ever had. For him to direct a film over 12 years how can you not give him the directing award and to make something so beautiful to boot.  Come on!

Will Win: Richard Linklater
My Vote: Richard Linklater

Best Lead Actor

Steve Carell (Foxcatcher)
Bradley Cooper (American Sniper)
Benedict Cumberbatch (The Imitation Game)
Michael Keaton (Birdman)
Eddie Redmayne (The Theory of Everything)

I have actually only seen 2 of these movies! I am going to try to get to American Sniper and Imitation Game this week but we will see.  It looks like Eddie Redmayne is going to win and I think it is deserved.  Cumberbatch love could come into play and the academy always does have soft spot for veterans like Keaton.  I actually think he deserves to win even though I have issues with Birdman.  His performance was very good. Redmayne is great as well.  You forget he isn’t Stephen Hawking in the performance.

Will Win: Eddie Redmayne
My Vote: Michael Keaton (If I could give it to anyone it would be to Tom Hardy in Locke which was unforgettable)

Best lead actress

Marion Cotillard (Two Days, One Night)
Felicity Jones (The Theory of Everything)
Julianne Moore (Still Alice)
Rosamund Pike (Gone Girl)
Reese Witherspoon (Wild)

I have actually only seen 2 of these movies and to be honest wasn’t that crazy with either Rosamund Pike or Felicity Jones performances.  Julianne Moore will win.  It’s her 5th nomination I believe and she is evidently great in Still Alice.

Will Win: Julianne Moore
My Vote: Weak year for female performances.  I guess my favorite was Emily Blunt in Edge of Tomorrow. I can’t pick either of the 2 I’ve seen because I didn’t think they were good.

BEST SUPPORTING ACTOR

Robert Duvall (The Judge)
Ethan Hawke (Boyhood)
Edward Norton (Birdman)
Mark Ruffalo (Foxcatcher)
J.K. Simmons (Whiplash)

Whiplash was a very engrossing movie . I had some problems with the character motivations but it was great. JK Simmon is unforgettable and should and will win. I wish Andy Serkis had been nominated for Dawn of the Planet of the Apes.  His ACTING blew me away.

Will Win: J.K. Simmons
My Vote: J.K. Simmons

BEST SUPPORTING ACTRESS

Patricia Arquette (Boyhood)
Laura Dern (Wild)
Keira Knightley (The Imitation Game)
Emma Stone (Birdman)
Meryl Streep (Into the Woods)

This award should and will go to Patricia Arquette for Boyhood.  She did something that no other female actress has done in showing how a woman ages.  We don’t talk about that.  We hide it away but there she was at 28 and there she was at 40.  She is the reason I loved the movie so much because she never really gets a chance to commit to her life and family.  She just lives and makes some bad choices along the way.  When Mason is leaving for college and she realizes her life in a sense is over it is completely devastating.  I will never forget it.  I would also have nominated Jessica Chastain for Interstellar.

Will Win: Patricia Arquette
My Vote: Patricia Arquette

Best Original Screenplay

Birdman (Alejandro G Iñarritu, Nicolas Giacobone, Alexander Dinelaris, Armando Bo)
Boyhood (Richard Linklater)
Foxcatcher (E. Max Frye, Dan Futterman)
The Grand Budapest Hotel (Wes Anderson)
Nightcrawler (Dan Gilroy)

I think will be where they award Grand Budapest Hotel.  It really is Wes Anderson’s most approachable movie I’ve ever seen.  It’s funny and mellows down the ‘quirky factor’ which many of us find annoying in his movies.

Will Win: The Grand Budapest Hotel
My Vote: The Grand Budapest Hotel

best adapted screenplay

American Sniper (Jason Hall)
The Imitation Game (Graham Moore)
Inherent Vice (Paul Thomas Anderson)
The Theory of Everything (Anthony McCarten)
Whiplash (Damien Chazelle)

This is a race between Imitation Game and The Theory of Everything, which is silly because the script in Theory was really quite weak.  The only other one I’ve seen is Whiplash which would probably be my pick.  If I could pick any script I would go with Dawn of the Planet of the Apes because it was the script that moved me the most.  It made me think and I loved it.

Will Win: The Imitation Game
My Vote: Whiplash (Dawn of the Planet of the Apes if I could pick)

best cinematography 

Birdman (Emmanuel Lubezki)
The Grand Budapest Hotel (Robert Yeoman)
Ida (Ryszard Lenczewski, Lukasz Zal)
Mr. Turner (Dick Pope)
Unbroken (Roger Deakins)

I would be stunned if Emmanuel Lubezki didn’t win for Birdman and he deserves to win; although I want to give it to Dick Pope just because of how cool he was when his name was slaughtered during his big moment.  (Seriously you think they’d go over that with that lady?)

Will Win: Birdman
My Vote: Birdman

BEST PRODUCTION DESIGN

The Grand Budapest Hotel (Adam Stockhausen)
The Imitation Game (Maria Djurkovic)
Interstellar (Nathan Crowley)
Into the Woods 
(Dennis Gassner)
Mr. Turner (Suzie Davis)

The Grand Budapest Hotel will win and it deserves to win.  I wish Paddington had been nominated as I loved the sets of that movie but oh well!

Will Win: The Grand Budapest Hotel
My Vote: The Grand Budapest Hotel 

best costume design

The Grand Budapest Hotel (Milena Canonero)
Inherent Vice (Mark Bridges)
Into the Woods (Colleen Atwood)
Maleficent (Anna B. Sheppard)
Mr. Turner (Jacqueline Durran)

I am going to go out on a limb on this one and say that Colleen Atwood will win for Into the Woods.  It was the best costumes I saw all year.  She’s has name recognition (nominated 11 times and won 3) and I think if in doubt people will vote for her and the great costumes in a fairytale movie.  But I admit it is my out on a limb so you may want to put Grand Budapest Hotel on there because Milena Canoero has also won 3 times (quite the club of costume designers!).  The costumes were great in GBH.  I just think a little better in Into the Woods.

Will Win: Into the Woods
Should Win: Into the Woods

BEST FILM EDITING

American Sniper (Joel Cox)
Boyhood (Sandra Adair)
The Grand Budapest Hotel (Barney Pilling)
The Imitation Game (William Goldenberg)
Whiplash (Tom Cross)

Boyhood will win with American Sniper being the next most likely.  Whiplash is probably the best editing I saw all year with those drum sequences put together so seamlessly.

Will Win: Boyhood
My Vote: Whiplash

Best Makeup and Hair

Foxcatcher
The Grand Budapest Hotel
Guardians of the Galaxy 

Another going out on a limb and going to pick Guardians of the Galaxy because that makeup made those characters not CG.  Foxcatcher could also come in because of the prosthetics (haven’t seen it).  Grand Budapest Hotel is probably the odds on favorite but you have to take a few chances in your ballot because there are always a few surprises.

Will Win: Guardians of the Galaxy
My Vote: Guardians of the Galaxy

BEST ORIGINAL SCORE

The Grand Budapest Hotel (Alexandre Desplat)
The Imitation Game (Alexandre Desplat)
Interstellar (Hans Zimmer)
Mr. Turner(Gary Yershon)
The Theory of Everything 
(Johann Johannsson)

It does seem time for Alexandre Desplat to win but Johann Johannsson has won early awards and they are all pleasant scores.  I actually didn’t care for the loud overbearing score in Interstellar so I hope that doesn’t win.  I wish Joe Hisaishi had been nominated for The Tale of Princess Kaguya.  It was one of the best scores I’ve ever heard.

Will Win: Theory of Everything
My Vote: Out of those I’d pick Grand Budapest Hotel but I would have given it to Joe Hisaishi Tale of Princess Kaguya

best original song

“Everything is Awesome” (The LEGO Movie)
“Glory” (Selma)
“Grateful” (Beyond the Lights)
“I’m Not Gonna Miss You” (Glen Campbell: I’ll Be Me)
“Lost Stars” (Begin Again)

It will either be Everything is Awesome or Glory and I think Glory is a solid hip hop anthem.  Both movies should be honored.  Lost Stars is probably the best written song of the group but Everything is Awesome is my favorite.

Will Win: “Glory”
My Vote: “Everything is Awesome”

best sound mixing

American Sniper
Birdman
Interstellar
Unbroken
Whiplash 

I think this will and should go to Whiplash.  My understanding of sound mixing is rather limited but what I do know it is putting together different sounds to make a scene work and nowhere was better than that than Whiplash.

Will Win: Whiplash 
My Vote: Whiplash 

best sound editing

American Sniper
Birdman
The Hobbit: The Battle of the Five Armies
Interstellar
Unbroken

American Sniper will win this award.  It’s a lock.  Only seen one on this list.  (All the movies come out at the same time so it takes me most of the next year to see them all!).

Will Win: American Sniper
My Vote: Only seen Birdman and I wouldn’t give it to that.  I would give it to Whiplash

best visual effects

Captain America: The Winter Soldier
Dawn of the Planet of the Apes
Guardians of the Galaxy
Interstellar
X-Men: Days of Future Past 

My review of Apes

All of these movies have amazing  visual effects.  I would be happy if any of them win.  I wish that every last one of them was nominated for best picture.  It was such a strong year for comic book movies and I’m normally not a huge fan.  These movies were immersive experiences with well written characters and story arcs you don’t normally see in big budget movies.  It was awesome. I think Dawn of the Planet of the Apes will win for best visual effects and I think it should win.

Will Win: Dawn of the Planet of the Apes
My Vote: Dawn of the Planet of the Apes

BEST ANIMATED FEATURE

Big Hero 6
The Boxtrolls
How to Train Your Dragon 2
Song of the Sea
The Tale of the Princess Kaguya

I like all of these movies and I’ve seen all of them.  I actually gave A’s to all of them.  I think How to Train Your Dragon 2 will win and it is a great movie.  It is a rare sequel that is better than the original.  It had an epic feel to it and I loved the heart of the mother character and the flying sequences were amazing.  However, I think both Dragon and The Boxtrolls are weaker than Lego Movie even though I loved them.  My favorite would be Song of the Sea but I loved Big Hero 6 and Kaguya. I would be happy with any of them winning.  The one thing that makes me pull for Dragon is DreamWorks really needs a win right now.  They’ve had huge layoffs, closed their major studio and there upcoming releases do not look promising.  The strangest thing is that all 3 of their films last year made a healthy profit so I don’t know what is going on?

For me 2014 had only 2 theatrically released animated stinkers.  It was such a great year.  The diversity of the characters, scope of animation and heart-felt topics covered I will never forget. 2015 looks pretty sad in comparison.

Will Win: How to Train Your Dragon 2 
My Vote: Song of the Sea

Best Foreign Language Film

Ida (Poland)
Leviathan (Russia)
Tangerines (Estonia)
Timbuktu (Mauritania)
Wild Tales (Argentina)

I haven’t seen any of them but Ida is nominated for best cinematography so I would go with that. Why is it that animated films never get nominated for best foreign film? Tale of Princess Kaguya or the Latvian Rocks in My Pockets would have been worthy entries.

Will Win: Ida
My Vote: Haven’t seen any but I’d give it to Rocks in My Pockets

Best Documentary

Citizenfour
Finding Vivian Mayer
Last Days in Vietnam
The Salt of the Earth
Virunga 

Pour sad Life Itself is not nominated.  Baffling. I haven’t seen any of these but I will be disgusted if Citzenfour wins and we reward anything to do with the scumbag Edward Snowden but I wouldn’t put it past leftist Hollywood.

Will Win: Citizenfour
My Vote: Life Itself

Short Categories

The animated shorts are actually really strong.  The other one’s I haven’t seen but I am going with the major predictions

Animated Short: Feast
Documentary Short: Joanna
Live Action Short: The Phone Call 

There’s my ballot.  Hope that helps you out when getting ready for your office polls and the like.  Occasionally they do give the right movie the award (Slumdog Millionaire for example) so let’s all hope for Boyhood!  But if it goes to Birdman than cheers for Hollywood’s misogyny in full force!

And here are my best and worst of the year videos.  I have seen some I would have included but it’s still movies I love.

Interstellar Review

interstellar-poster-3I just finally got back from seeing Christopher Nolan’s sci-fi space movie Interstellar and my response is WOW! In a way my experience with this movie was kind of unique when compared with other bloggers and reviews you might see.  Most people were extremely excited for this movie and then when it was different and more challenging than they expected they were disappointed (at least most people I know).  I on the other hand because I had waited had the opposite situation.  I was expecting to be bored and was totally engrossed.  So perhaps chalk it up to low expectations but I thought it was great!   I am also not a Christopher Nolan fangirl.  I love Inception but his other very popular movies I am more mixed on because I do not like scary or violent movies.

interstellar3I also am a huge fan of 2013’s Gravity and I wondered if I could tolerate another space movie since that one was done so well.  Well in my opinion Interstellar is an entirely different experience from Gravity.   It is like a combination of 2001: A Space Odyssey and Wrinkle in Time (wrap your brain around that).  Gravity is more of a thriller in space where this is a sci-fi drama.

I will try and tell you the plot but I actually don’t think the plot matters that much.  It’s about the experience of characters more than the intricacies of black holes and tesseracts. It’s kind of like in Star Wars we didn’t need to know all the  mumbo jumbo about midi-chlorians  and how the force works.  We just need to see that it is working.  We didn’t need to know about trade alliances and intergalactic treaties.  We just needed to know these are the good guys, this is the obstacle and these are the bad guys.  That’s the difference between the prequels which fail and the originals that succeed (and terrible acting, special effects and writing…)

With Interstellar I do not need one more minutia explained to me.  I just need to see it happen and how the characters react as they face challenges.  That’s it and it does it very well with stunning imagery and relationships that feel genuine and sincere.  Some have said it is boring.  I honestly did not feel that way.  I was engrossed the whole way.  To me Interstellar checks every box of a great sci-fi film.  It has characters I like, cool setting, action, mounting tension and strong allegorical or teaching plot elements.  Again, I do not need to know anything about the science. It could be complete hokum and it wouldn’t matter because within the world of the movie it works.  A lot of people hate the ending but I found it emotionally moving and again right what I wanted in a good sci-fi movie.

interestellar5The heart of the movie is a man named Cooper played by Matthew McConaughey.  He is an engineer/farmer who lives in Texas with his 2 children and father in-law (Mackenzie Foy, Timothee Chalamet and John Lithgow respectively).  It feels like a real family and the movie does a good job building up their relationships in the early sections.

interstellar6They are living in a dust-bowl world where crops are dying and the human race is in danger.  It is unclear what the timeframe for the world’s destruction is but again that doesn’t matter.  All that matters is we have an ending and a reason to go into space. Cooper had been a skilled pilot and through various means he and his daughter named Murphy meet a man named Prof Brand played by Michael Cain and his daughter Dr Amelia Brand played by Anne Hathaway.   They have been operating NASA under secret with a plan to dive into a wormhole to find 3 potentially habitable planets.  The hope is they can move the human race to these planets as earth is dying.

interstellar4Cooper is recruited to lead the mission but he knows going into the wormhole will likely mean his family will age ahead of him because of the theory of relativity.  His daughter Murphy tries to get him to stay but he goes and she is very bitter for some time.  Eventually she grows up to be both Jessica Chastain and Ellen Burystyn who actually all look a lot like little Mackenzie Foy so it works.  Casey Affleck plays the son Tom as an adult. He stays hopeful longer but eventually is forced to give up on his father but he stays in the old home running the farm.

interstellar7Amelia, Cooper, 2 other astronauts and 2 robots (who I loved. They have different comedy and truth telling settings. I kept waiting for them to be creepy robots but they weren’t)  are on the mission. Fairly quickly they get through the wormhole and must decide what planet to try and visit first (astronauts had been sent to all the planets previously).  They end up meeting up with another astronaut played by Matt Damon and have one challenge and adventure after another.  Their relationships are tested and they have to make difficult decisions to save themselves, their family and the human race.  Now that is drama!  I don’t want to give much more away about the plot.  But again I really thought the ending worked for this kind of story and movie.

The robots
The robots

It hopefully goes without saying that the special effects are astonishing and they feel palatable and real not like a green screen world.  There is humor mixed in with tense scenes where I honestly did not know what was going to happen.  That’s a real accomplishment in 2014 to make a sci-fi movie that surprises people.  There are very few character tropes and contrivances needed.  Just a story about relationships, family and exploration in space!  It’s like the Lewis and Clark of space movies.

intestellar2Most movie fans that I know look back at 1969 Oscars and wonder ‘how the heck did 2001: A Space Odyssey not get nominated for Best Picture?”.  I mean it might not be everyone’s cup of tea but to not even get nominated is ridiculous.  After all, how many people are still talking about Oliver! these days!  I have a funny feeling we will have the same experience in 2061 with Interstellar.  We will wonder what the heck were they thinking nominating a forgettable movie like The Theory of Everything over Interstellar? It’s kind of sad actually.  I only wish I had waited to do my best of 2014 because this and several other recent views would certainly have made the list.

The only problem I had with the movie was I did not care for the score.  Hanz Zimmer is great but I found the  music to be overbearing, too loud and at times distracting.  I would have gone with a more soft, subtle score like they had in Gravity which had long stretches with no music at all.

But that is a very small complaint.  I loved it! A great sci-fi movie.

As far as content there isn’t much to offend.  It does have tension and maybe one swear that I noticed but it’s pretty clean.  Kids might find it hard to follow but it just depends on the kid.  If they like sci-fi movies than they may love it. It’s certainly always good for kids to see movies that challenge them and make them think in new ways.  Interstellar will totally do that.

Overall Grade- A+  Content Grade- A

Birdman: A Review

sq_birdmanRecently I had the chance to watch the Oscar nominated film Birdman: or the Unexpected Virtue of Ignorance and I’m afraid, like with Gone Girl ,my opinion is not as positive as the public at large….It has many strengths but some problems I have a hard time ignoring.

images

Let’s start with the positives. Birdman is about a man named Riggan Thomson played my Michael Keaton who used to be a superhero action star for a franchise called ‘Birdman’.  Evidently at one point he could have done Birdman 3 but stepped away from the franchise out of artistic integrity and his career never recovered.  Now years later he is trying to make a comeback in a broadway play based on a Raymond Carver short story.

Edward Norton also stars as a young, high strung method actor who thinks he’s better than Riggan and condescends to be in the show because of his friendship with a first time actress Lesley played by Naomi Watts.  Emma Stone plays Riggan’s daughter who is recently out of rehab, Andrea Risenborough is his girlfriend and Zach Galifianakis is his lawyer and best friend.

birdman-film-review

Birdman has very good performances especially from Keaton.  He is great, vulnerable, believable, authentic and tragic.  The whole rest of the cast is great and nuanced in their roles (although actors playing actors may not be that much of a stretch…).

Birdman’s cinematography is also a huge accomplishment.  It is edited to look like the whole film is done in one take so there are very few cuts from one person shot, to 2 person shot like in a normal movie.  The camera just moves fluidly from a scene to another scene as if someone was walking from one area of the hallway to another hearing different gossip along the way.

Here’s my issue with the film.  It really bothered me the way women are treated.  Now before you roll your eyes at another feminist movie review hear me out.  I don’t care if a movie has weak, shallow women.  That’s fine and certainly the strong empowered woman can be equally clichéd.  However, I do have a problem when every female in a picture is weak, shallow, mean, petty and shrill.

Let’s go over quickly the women we get in Birdman.

birdman andrea1. Andrea Risenborough as Riggan’s girlfriend Laura who pretends to be pregnant in order to manipulate him into committing to their relationship.  She is shrill and judgmental and a real jerk

naomi watts

2. Next we get Lesley played by Naomi Watts who has always dreamed of being on Broadway.  The movie seems to judge her for this dream as if Riggan’s is the realist and Lesley is the naive simpleton.  We see so little of her acting that it is hard to say one way or another.  What really upset me is in an early scene Edward Norton tries to force himself on Lesley in an attempted rape on stage so that he can be “in the moment” and then the movie forgets about this far too quickly.  It was extremely distasteful.  I’m not saying the movie endorses Norton’s choice but it doesn’t take it seriously enough.

birdman kiss

3.  There is a lesbian kiss between Lesley and Laura which I felt was only there to titillate men not for any plot device or importance.  To be clear I am not offended by the kiss but haven’t we moved on from when gay/lesbian kisses and relationships were included to sensationalize or for comic relief? Apparently not.  There is no relationship between them and it means nothing.  I saw no reason to include it and it was never discussed again.

Birdman-Movie-Emma-Stone-Sam

4.  Emma Stone playing Sam, Riggan’s daughter, is probably the best female character in the movie but she is still very judgmental and preachy to her father.   Can’t she see that he is trying to do something important and good?  You would think she would appreciate that but instead she lectures him about how he is worthless and nobody cares.

Birdman-Amy-Ryan

5.  Amy Ryan has a few scenes with Riggans as his ex-wife who hates Riggan but is still attracted to him.  She’s very shrill with a couple softer moments. (not in the movie much).

birdman theater critic5. The worst of it all is a woman named Tabitha Dickinson who is a famous theater critic from the New York Times.  She knows she can make or break a Broadway show by her review and she tells Riggan she is going to destroy him and his play before even seeing it.  She feels this way because she resents celebrities infringing on the Broadway scene.  This was outrageous.  Maybe I’m naive but I don’t think there is a critic worth their ticket stub who would decide on a review before seeing the play.  And if they did they certainly wouldn’t admit it to the show creator and star.  That sounds like a good way to lose your job. There is a little redemption for her character but still she was unbelievable from the start.  And why did she have to be a woman?  Couldn’t the movie have made one judgmental jerk a man?

Again, it’s just another example of the shrill, judgmental, mean-spirited women the movie seems to think are the rule.

The men on the other hand are more positively portrayed.  Zach Galifianakis is the good friend who still believes in Riggans despite all the junk he does.  Edward Norton is a pig but has softer moments with Emma Stone.  Riggans is a sympathetic character surrounded by all these maniacs.  He is depressed and mentally ill, hallucinating and running around in his underwear in Times Square but is still likable.

I don’t know.  I just couldn’t get passed these depictions of women throughout the film- especially Lesley’s near rape and Tabitha’s condescending review threats.  It made the movie  unpleasant and frustrating.

It also has lots of profanity, some nudity, and mature content.  Adults only.  It took me two go-arounds to watch the whole thing because I wasn’t invested in it.

I know many love it and it may win Best Picture (a travesty if it does IMO) but I didn’t care for it.  Sorry!

Overall Grade- C- (only because of the strong performances and cinematography). Content Grade- F

My Grading Rubric

grades

Hey guys! I thought I would just do a quick post explaining how I come up with my grades and what they mean.

The first thing is there is a difference between my regular film grades and my Disney Canon reviews. If I was judging the Disney Canon on the same level as other films I would give even more A’s (I gave 22 as it is).  The fact is I like something about all of the Disney Canon movies (yes all).  So for example, Peter Pan got a C+ on my Canon review.  I also just gave The Pirate Fairy a C+.  Clearly the original Peter Pan is better than the Pirate Fairy but you can’t look at it that way.  Peter Pan when looked at in comparison with the other 54 films in the Canon is a C+- meaning I think it is right in the middle. This is why it got #32 in my ranking.

For another example, The Hunchback of Notre Dame is certainly better than Pirate Fairy despite it getting a D from me. Again, the D is in comparison with the other Disney Canon films.  For me Hunchback is on the lower end of the spectrum.  Same thing with Pocahontas, Pinocchio, Bambi. All would get much higher grades if I was comparing them to the general films.

The same is true for my Scrooge Month reviews.  I didn’t give grades for those reviews but my praise is in context within the 37 films I saw not movies as a whole.    I love Christmas Carol so much nearly every version would get a decent grade.  I hope that makes sense.

This is why it is important to read the review not simply look at my score.  I try to be as clear as possible about the strengths and weaknesses of all the films I tackle.  There may be a film which doesn’t ring as special to me but in reading the review you may think it sounds like your type of film.  For instance, I often read reviews of Christian films where the criticisms the writer gives actually sound like strengths in my worldview and preferences.

Another point to quickly bring up is I try to only review films I have at least one nice thing to say about.  If they are total garbage it isn’t worth my time.  I know some people like those kind of reviews but I personally am kind of sick of the ‘angry critic’ shtick, and I don’t think I’m particularly witty at writing those type of reviews.  This is why you will rarely see an F on this site.  The one exception is the Disney Canon and other Disney releases such as Maleficent.  Given this is a Disney focused blog I will post reviews of Disney’s rare F’s.

But when I’m trying to decide what grade to give a film here is what I take into account.

A+  Had a top notch viewing experienced.  Flaws were few and far between, as good as it gets.

A  One or two minor quibbles but loved it

A- 3 or 4 minor quibbles but loved it

B+ Maybe a scene didn’t care for or character but overall loved it.

B  Really good movie if not perfect

B-  Strong movie, really enjoyed it but several aspects didn’t care for.

C+ Above average.  Strong recommendation if imperfect.

C Average film. Didn’t love it, didn’t hate it

C- Mild recommendation but major flaws

D Really did not care for it but a few strengths. Still worth a watch

D- Hated it but liked one or two scenes

F  Hate it. Don’t waste your time.

The fact is I love movies so I’m not inclined to be super critical.  It’s just the way I see things.  I think you also have to consider what the filmmakers had to work with.  For example, I was pretty praiseworthy of Flintstones Christmas Carol.  Does that mean it was a masterpiece?  Heck no but I do feel like given huge limitations what they came up with was pretty clever, so I give  them some props for that.  I’m going to be much harder on a movie like Maleficent or Brother Bear because they had every resource and potential to be great and squandered it. The same is true with the recent SpongeBob Movie.  It should have been awful but they were creative and made it pretty good.  I give them props for that.

I try to not let nostalgia come into play but if I do I will state it openly in the review (another reason to actually read the review not just look at the grade).  If there are other mitigating factors like high expectations or a difficult audience which effect my enjoyment I will talk about that in my review.

My grades are also a fluid thing because my opinions are not set in stone.  I may be tough on a film one year but when approaching it at a different time in my life really respond to it (Atlantis is a good example).  I actually think that is a good thing to be open to seeing films in new ways, with a new perspective.

In the end, I try to be fair and keep an open mind.  I want to be an advocate for film because I believe movies are the great storytelling device of our era.   A lot of bloggers seem very negative and quick to judge rather than praise.  I take the opposite approach.  Praise first, criticize last.  I guess that doesn’t make me a very good ‘critic’ because I’m not.  There are of course  movies I completely hate but they are few and far between and usually I won’t blog about them. Recently I was interacting with a friend and he seemed to feel such vitriol and anger over certain popular movies it surprised me. When this happened once it was understandable but when we got to our 4th or 5th conversation with him ranting about how stupid everyone was for liking this movie or that movie,   I wondered to myself why not start reading or writing or doing something else that gives you joy? It certainly didn’t seem like the movies was making him happy but to each their own.

I know we can all have passionate feelings about these films and I hope you all know I respect you.  I hope you can respect me as well even when we disagree.  I am probably a little too free and loose with my A’s but that’s just the way I see the world.  Good to have all kinds of perspectives.  Never worry about offending me or bothering me and unless your language becomes negative or you are personally insulting me I will engage.  I want to talk with you and hear your point of view.  There is no right or wrong way to see a film.  It is an opinion and they are all valuable.  There is a point when we start making the same points over and over again, which is when I will typically call an ‘agree to disagree’ truce.  Nevertheless, please comment and thank you for reading my silly thoughts.

As the great Roger Ebert said:

“We all are born with a certain package. We are who we are: where we were born, who we were born as, how we were raised. We’re kind of stuck inside that person, and the purpose of civilization and growth is to be able to reach out and empathize a little bit with other people. And for me, the movies are like a machine that generates empathy. It lets you understand a little bit more about different hopes, aspirations, dreams and fears. It helps us to identify with the people who are sharing this journey with us.”

Pirate Fairy: A Review

pirate fairy5In 2014 20 films were submitted to the Oscars for consideration.  Of that 20 I have seen 17 (including the film reviewing right now).  Of the remaining 3, one should be coming up in the next week or so and two I have found impossible to find (Cheating and Giovanni’s Island. If anyone knows a way clue me in!).  Three I am not reviewing on this site because they are garbage and I try to only review movies I have at least one positive thing to say about aside from the Disney Canon which I reviewed all of them.  If people really want me too review them let me know.  The three garbage films are Nut Job, Legends of Oz: Dorothy’s Return and The Hero of Color City.  If you want to read a review tearing apart three movies I will do it but only if by request (this is a hobby after all, so it should be something I enjoy). 🙂

But today I get to review the 6th installment in the Tinker bell series produced by Disney Toons, the mostly direct to video wing of Walt Disney. My blogging friend over at Animatedkid is reviewing the entire Disney Toons Canon (bless his heart…). The movies are terrible but his reviews are great so check it out.  The Tinker bell movies may seem like masterpieces by the time he gets to them! https://animatedkid.wordpress.com/

I’m actually excited to talk about this movie because the entire Tinker Bell series are way better than you might at first think. They are pretty well animated, have decent stories and good voice performances.  Are they Oscar worthy?  No but they really are  entertaining, well made movies.

And I’d say The Pirate Fairy is the best of the series I have seen.  It’s a cute little  story which I think girls will love.

pirate fairy2The story for The Pirate Fairy is centered around a fairy named Zarina (voiced by Christina Hendricks of Madmen fame).  She is a curious fairy and is easily bored doing her job as a dust-keeper (in the Fairy world all the pixies have distinct roles like Animal Keeper, Spring Fairy etc).

The Dust Keepers make pixie dust for all the other pixies to use and they have an assembly line that follows time tested methods for making yellow dust that is magic out of concentrated blue stones.

dust keeper homeZarina wants to know why they do things the way they do and she begins experimenting with different combinations of dust causing different reactions.  Unfortunately one of those reactions causes a kind of explosion and Zarina is forbidden from being a dust keeper.

After Pixie Hollow celebrates the seasons, Zarina runs away and takes the blue dust with her. Tinker Bell (Mae Whitman), Silvermist (Lucy Liu), Iridessa (Raven-Symone), Rosetta (Megan Hilty), Fawn (Angela Bartys) and Vidia (Pamela Adion) go after her . It’s a fun collection of girls and personalities- kind of like the fairy world Avengers ;).

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When they find Zarina it turns out she has become a pirate (captain no less) on a ship with James Hook (voiced by Tom Hiddleston!). He is of course up to no good!

pirate fairy9The rest of the movie is a back and forth between the girls, Hook and the pirates.  Eventually Zarina realizes Hook is just using her to get the pixie dust so his ship will be able to fly. The girls have to defeat Hook, rescue Zarina and get back the blue stones.

pirate fairy4So yes The Pirate Fairy doesn’t reinvent the wheel but there are a lots of little winks to the original Peter Pan movie like showing the origin of the clock in the crocodile or how Hook met Mr Smee.  The girls have fun personalities and Zarina is very likable.  Hiddleston hams it up as Hook and overall it’s not a bad watch. It’s not quite special enough to be worthy of a B but still a strong recommendation especially for the target audience.

I think girls 5 and under will love it and it has a nice message about being curious, smart and valuing everyone’s unique gifts.

The animation is pretty good with the pixie dust sparkling all over the ship and characters.  As I said the voicework is good and Joel McNeely does a great job with the music.

If you have a young girl I think they will really enjoy The Pirate Fairy. For what it is trying to be it does it very well.

Overall Grade- C+  (Not every movie has to be a masterpiece for me to heartily recommend it).

Song of the Sea Review

song of the sea4

I have been hunting down the hidden animated gems from 2014.  Today is probably the most prominent hidden gem as it has an Oscar nomination: The Song of the Sea.  It is from Cartoon Saloon and distributed by Gkids Films directed and written by Tomm Moore.  It is the same team who made the lovely Oscar nominated Secret of the Kells in 2009.  As wonderful as Kells is I think Song of the Sea is even better.

I can’t remember the last time I cried so much in a movie and in a good way.  In a ‘I love these characters and I’m involved in the story’ kind of way. It is the 3rd animated film in 2014 to deal with subjects of death, grief and loss in a mature and beautiful way.  I was really moved by it and wish more people would see it.

There will be some spoilers but I will try to keep it to a minimum.

song of the seaThe main story is about a family that lives on a small island running a lighthouse.  At the opening little boy Ben loses his mother to childbirth with his sister Saoirse.  We then quickly move up and find out she is an odd child who at 6 has never learned to talk.  Ben resents his sister and he constantly carries around his mother’s book of Celtic legends.

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The stories focus on a myth called the selkie which if you’ve ever seen The Secret of the Roan Inish it is the basis for that movie as well.  The selkies live as both seals and humans and they have a power which animates everything including other magic like fairies.

The characters then go on a journey where they face peril, meet an Owl witch, some more friendly fairies and learn much more about Saoirse, Ben and their Mother. (I really don’t want to give much else away).

song of the sea3As you can tell from the photos on this post the animation is gorgeous. It flows and never makes the easy choice.  Everything has the feel of a wave because that is the power of the selkie myth.

song of the sea7There is a scene where Ben must say goodbye to his Mother and just writing about it now makes me tear up.  It really moved me.  The only thing I can think to relate it too is in Harry Potter when Harry has to stop looking in the Mirror of Erised and has to say goodbye to his parents.  It’s that kind of emotion.

song of the sea10
The Mother in the story

In front of me at the theater there were two little girls maybe 4 and 6. They were very chatty but it was kind of interesting to hear their reactions.  It definitely scared both of them at certain points and they were pretty upset.  Song of the Sea also has some jump scares and very tense moments that build.  They were asking their Mother if so and so character was going to be ok, very worried.  That’s really the only downside to Song of the Sea is it is pretty sad and scary in spots.  Characters go a lot of the movie heads hanging down in mourning.

This would not be the movie to put on for the kids birthday party or for a lively sleepover.  However, it would be good for a Sunday night movie viewing where there is time to discuss more challenging concepts with kids and get their thoughts. Save comedies like Lego Movie, Penguins of Madegascar or Spongebob for the parties and use Song of the Sea for a quieter softer parenting moment.

fairies song of the seaIf you can get out to the theaters and see it I would implore you to go.  Support hand drawn and smaller animation at the box office.  Movies like Song of the Sea deserve a wider audience.  I would love if we could get out of having a 2 system animation world and embrace lots of different studios and ideas.  That would be amazing!

I loved it.  I was really moved by it.  It made me cry and laugh on occasion. It’s sad but it is not a downer.  It is so hopeful and peaceful even in the sad moments that you don’t feel manipulated with your tears.

It was stunningly beautiful and even though I got lost from time to time in the Celtic lore it didn’t really matter because I knew enough of what was going on to root for our heroes.  The voicecast is also good with David Rawle, Brendan Gleeson, Fionnula Flanagan, Lisa Hannigan and Lucy O’Connell.

song of the sea5

I just wish more people would see it.  I went into Song of the Sea wondering if it was worthy of the nomination over Lego Movie (which I loved).  They are so different but yes Song of the Sea deserved it over Lego (Boxtrolls which I also loved should have been left off).  Song of the Sea is one of the best animated films I’ve ever seen.  Yep.  I will use that hyperbole.  I loved it!

The music by Bruno Coulais and Kiia is pitch perfect.  Like I said the only thing to really consider is if it might be too sad for very young children and when is the best time for a more thoughtful picture for our kids.  I bet they will love it too!  I think it is better than Princess Kaguya in both artistry and story and that’s saying a lot.

Overall Grade- A+

My youtube review.  Got emotional talking about it.

Most Romantic Disney Movies

Happy Valentines Day friends!

valentinesTonight I am going to see Song of the Sea at the theater but I thought I might give you some romantic inspiration Disney-style.  There have been many great couples in Disney but which one’s are the best for Valentines Day?

Here we go!

12. Nightmare Before Christmas-

Got to pick something different but the love story between Jack and Sally is actually quite sweet. Gives us hope that even the strangest of us have a match.

jack and sally2

11. Bambi

I don’t give enough Bambi love on the blog.  It really is beautiful.  The instant love trope would be brought out so many times by Disney but this was the first and it introduced us to being twitterpated long before twitter!

10. Rescuers Down Under

I think the only Disney Canon with a proposal in it? Help me out if I’m wrong.  Bernard tries over and over again to propose to always be thwarted. I love how Bianca has such faith in Bernard even with the rugged Jake around.

Proposal-in-The-Rescuers-Down-Under

9. Snow White and the 7 Dwarves

Hoping your prince will come?  Why not watch Snow White sing about it?  Have a little hope on Valentines if you are currently single. When the Prince sings One Song it is one of the more underrated Disney musical moments.

8. Tarzan

Tarzan and Jane have lovely chemistry together as they try and understand each other’s world view. Hey and maybe it will help you ladies think twice about those ape-men in your life 😉

tarzan and jane

7. Aladdin

The whole movie is basically a guy trying to impress a girl who has sworn off men.  Perfect for Valentines Day!  We also get a magic carpet ride, A Whole New World and one of the best Disney kisses.

aladdin and jasmine

6. Cinderella

I feel like you almost have to put Cinderella on a list like this.  I mean it’s Cinderella finding her Prince Charming…but I actually think it’s more about a woman getting rescued from an unhappy life.  But it is a beautiful princess falling instantly in love with her Prince and getting married at the end.  Can’t go wrong with that.

Another underrated Disney song-

Pretty much these next 5 are equally loved by me so they are ties for first place!

5. Tangled

Disney’s stab at a romantic comedy and it is great. The banter between Flynn and Rapunzel is so well written . They have great chemistry and we see them grow together the entire movie.  When they get to the lanterns it is such a lovely moment.

tangled flynn and rapunzel

4. Lady and the Tramp

Probably includes the most iconic Disney romantic moment and the scene that made spaghetti synonymous with a hot date.  It is such a sweet and gentle movie that will make even the most grumpy person smile.  I dare you not to smile!

3. WALL-E

Another one I think you might have to be made of stone to not appreciate.  Wall-e simply loves Eva. It’s as simple as that.  He will do anything for her and it is sweet and innocent and completely lovely.  As Hello Dolly tells us in the movie ” it only took a moment
To be loved a whole life long”

walle and eva

2. Beauty and the Beast

Tale as old as time, tune as old as song.  Bitter sweet and strange finding you can change. Learning you were wrong. Certain as the sun rising in the east…Beauty and the Beast.   Yep. It’s the time when one heart understood another despite him having a ‘hideous’ appearance. We all hope someone will see our heart and love us flaws and all.  No movie exemplifies that hope better than Beauty and the Beast.

1. Up

Usually if people ask I tell them Up is my favorite movie.  It’s certainly in the top 3.  It’s a movie I could watch once a week for the rest of my life and never get sick of.  What it does in the first 10 minutes is my favorite moment of film ever. To show a whole life of a couple is something that always makes me tear up and I’ve seen the movie a lot.  But what moves me even more is how Ellie remains a palatable force in the movie.  Carl talks to her and you feel her presence.  When I first saw Up it was like a hug from my Grandpa who I miss dearly.  It reminded me that he is close by and rooting for me.

up cake
This is how much I love Up. I had this cake made for my housewarming/birthday party when I moved into my house.

If you want to go live action either of the Parent Trap movies are excellent choices with great chemistry from the leads.  Why not have a party and watch both!

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What are your favorite Disney romances? What did I miss?