Smiles and Frowns

As I mentioned at the end of my Ghost in the Shell review I am starting a new feature on my blog reviews. Instead of just giving a grade I am going to give each film a smile or frown. I’ve realized that grades mean different things to different people so this will be a simple way of saying good or bad- kind of like the old thumbs up or down from Siskel and Ebert. Then I will give my grade so you will know how strong a smile/frown it is.

I even had these amazing graphics made by my friend Joan at Bitsy Creations.

I thought I would let you know of 2017 new releases I’ve seen so far which are smiles and frowns.

Smile Worthy- (in order of preference)

STEP

Get Out

Lego Batman Movie

The Good Postman

My Life as a Zucchini

My Entire High School is Sinking into the Sea

Wilson

Rebel in the Rye

Smurfs: the Lost Village

Power Rangers Movie

Bright Lights

Tim Timmerman, Hope of America

The Hero

Ghost in the Shell

Beauty and the Beast

Great Wall

Frown Worthy (in order of preference)

The Yellow Birds

Kong: Skull Island

Rock Dog

Before I Fall

Table 19

Lady Macbeth

Surfs Up 2: Wave Mania

Silence

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Ghost in the Shell Review

Today I had an interesting experience. I finally watched the anime film Ghost in the Shell. I had been turned off in the past by the R rated material and it is there but I decided to stomach it today. These iconic anime films can be a bit overwhelming, but I wanted to watch it at least once before seeing the remake tonight. Perhaps I will do a longer review of the anime in a bit but for now I will talk about the new film and how it lives up to the classic.

I should start off this review by saying this live action Ghost in the Shell has familiar images from the anime but the story is completely different. I don’t know if it is similar to the various sequels and series but as far as the original film they have almost nothing in common. That’s not to say this is bad. It’s just different.

Like the original, this Ghost in the Shell focuses on a cyborg named Major who has a human brain but only patchy memories of her past life. She is kind of a super spy who looks into criminals for a shadowy organization.

In the original she is more of a complex character. In this version she is basically a superhero and certainly in that respect Scarlet Johansson is perfect for the role. A lot has been made about them ‘white washing’ the role but because it is more of a simplistic character it didn’t matter that much. I mean any race can be a robot after all?

The visuals and world building are the strongest part of Ghost in the Shell. Director Rupert Sanders does a great job creating a Blade Runnerish world that is bright and dark at the same time. Also the design of the various robots was really neat. For example, a geisha robot featured heavily in the trailers was even cooler in the movie.

For the first 30 minutes of Ghost in the Shell I was honestly struggling. It was pretty boring and I was getting ready to write a style over substance review. However, then it started to pick up for me and it became an entertaining action film.

Fans of the anime will be a little disappointed to see the deeper themes of the original film traded in for a revenge superhero story we’ve seen a lot, but it is executed pretty well, and like I said, Johansson is up to the task when the action is called for.  The original has a bittersweet ending and asks complex questions about what it means to be human where this is a ‘get back at the big evil corporate bad guy’ action movie. At times it almost felt like the Black Widow movie we’ve all been waiting for.

None of the side characters like Batou are that memorable here and the Puppet Master is nowhere to be found, which I thought was a strange choice. Also Juliette Binoche is very miscast as the Major’s doctor.

This version is rated PG-13 and the main difference is the women wear a flesh colored suit to conceal their bodies a little bit. There also isn’t the blood like you get in the original. But there is still a lot of action and intense moments and the body suits don’t leave much to the imagination but it is good enough for the MPAA I suppose!

Basically my thoughts leaving Ghost in the Shell is if you want to see a well made superhero movie than it’s decent. If you want something deeper watch the anime. I certainly think the visuals alone are worth seeing if you get the chance.

Smile or Frown- Smile

I’ve realized lately that there is a problem with my grading system. For me giving something a B- or C+ is a mild recommendation (equivalent of a 6 or 6.5/10) but to other people that is a bad grade. So I am still going to do my grade but I am going to let you know whether the movie made me smile or frown (kind of like thumbs up or thumbs down from Siskel and Ebert).  Let me know what you think

Overall Grade- C+

What do you think about the original anime Ghost in the Shell and does this remake look appealing to you? Does the white washing bother you? Share with me your thoughts. Thanks!

Tim Timmerman, Hope of America Review

One of the concerns I often have with seeing as many movies as I do is becoming overly critical. I never want to be someone that nitpicks and insists everything be perfect to enjoy a film. I say this because today’s review- Tim Timmerman, Hope of America is a flawed film but I thoroughly enjoyed it.

This is a locally made  film by Cameron Sawyer about a Ferris Bueller knock off, know it all, high schooler named Tim Timmerman played by Eddie Perino. Tim has life figured out or so he thinks. He’s going to rule the school as student body president and then head off to Yale. But of course, events happen that start to mess up his plans!

Tim meets a deaf girl named Sydney played by the lovely Chelsea Maidhof. He starts off wanting to use her to improve his chances with her senator father in getting the Hope for America award. Of course, they end up falling for each other like you would expect. He also has a jealous student body co-chair who reminded me of the Jennifer Grey character in Ferris Beuller. There is a principal who is tired of putting up with Tim and an array of geeks, weirdos and stoners who Tim befriends and helps with their problems. They also play a game called Assassins which reminded me of the $2 gag in Better Off Dead. A movie like Tim Timmerman, Hope for America is very easy to criticize. It is derivative, predictable and none of the cast look like they are in high school but it won me over with its charm and positive energy. I was impressed with all the music they got rights too. It’s not a bad 90s soundtrack. It also never becomes mean spirited or judgemental as some high school comedies can be. Being a teen of the 90s it was also very nostalgic for me as it captured the feel and energy of that era.

Cameron Sawyer made this film on a micro-budget with help from kickstarter and it shows, but I didn’t mind that. It’s kind of like Napoleon Dynamite in many ways. Sure it’s a small film but it’s done with such likable characters that it leaves a smile on your face. It won’t be the mammoth hit that Napoleon Dynamite was but that only happens once in a blue moon. Still, hopefully some people will seek it out and support it. It’s a cheerful throwback to the 90s with a very engaging cast. Can’t go wrong with that! It’s also probably the cleanest PG-13 movie I’ve seen in a long time. Definitely family friendly.

Overall Grade- B

Here is the trailer:

They have a form on the website you can request this film in your city. If not look for it on streaming and other services in the next few months and let me know what you think.

 

Smurfs: The Lost Village Review

This seems to be the week for the underdog movie. First, The Power Rangers Movie was surprisingly entertaining and now I’m reporting that Smurfs: the Lost Village is a solid little animated movie. Neither of these movies are masterpieces, but I feel the creative teams behind them really tried to make the best movie they could and it shows.

I should tell you guys about my history with the Smurfs. The previous live action hybrid films are two of the worst movies I’ve ever seen. They aren’t funny and the continual product placement left a bad taste in my mouth. You could say the bar for this new film was very low!

The biggest pro of Smurfs: the Lost Village is the  stunning animation. That might sound crazy coming from a Smurfs movie, but I honestly thought the backgrounds and other visuals were really beautiful. There is a scene where they ride down a floating river that was full of colors and light that dazzled me. It is without a doubt the best animation Sony Animation has ever done.

Even the animation of the Smurfs looked really good especially when you compare them to the live action versions. They are smoother, brighter and more pleasant to look at. When the Smurfs from the Lost Village come into play those are also very nicely animated and designed. It’s amazing all they did with the color blue!

I also liked Rainn Wilson as Gargamel. He was the only celebrity who gave a memorable performance with the campy style needed for such a villain. In a way it is kind of refreshing to have a villain like Gargamel in a world of animated surprise villains. It’s nice to have one brewing potions and planning world domination for once! His interactions with his vulture and cat were also a lot of fun.

That brings me to some of the downsides of Smurfs: the Lost Village. Aside from Rainn, the rest of the celebrity voice casting was completely wasted and unnecessary. Some of the celebrities like Gordon Ramsey as Baker Smurf maybe had 2 lines. Julia Roberts gets top billing and she doesn’t appear for an hour into the movie! What a waste! Why not use voice talent and lower your budget so you can make riskier films? I will never understand it.

There are also some issues that are inherent in the franchise. Much like the 7 dwarfs in Snow White the Smurfs are known by their key skill or trait- Clumsy, Grumpy, Brainy etc. This makes for some pretty boring characters that don’t have much room to grow or move in the story because they can’t escape their label. The dwarfs were side characters so weren’t required to grow much but particularly the quad of Brainy, Clumsy, Smurfette and Hefty are the leads of the movie. They even have a Smurf who’s name is “Smurf who chews on the table”. Hmmm…

The other problem, which is inherent to the franchise is some of the odd moments of gender dynamics. Smurfette is the only female character until they meet a new village. This makes for some weird moments where things are considered masculine or feminine that made me squirm a bit. Granted I think 99% of kids this will go right over their heads but I noticed. Even the design of Smurfette is a little concerning with her high heels and blonde hair. Especially with how she becomes a literal Savior character it made me a little uncomfortable.

Some I am sure will complain this film is generic and predictable. So what? Not everything in the world has to be new and exciting. It moved along quickly enough and Gargamel was fun and the animation was gorgeous. That’s certainly enough to entertain me.

Another quick problem is I didn’t think any of the pop songs worked within the movie. In fact, they took me out of the movie. They were too modern for this fantastical world they’d created.

Smurf’s: the Lost Village would have been so easy to phone in and make it mediocre, so I appreciate the effort Sony Animation put into this film. In many ways it reminds me of Horton Hears a Who. Sure both movies have flaws but especially compared to their predecessors they are successful. I recommend giving Smurf’s the Lost Village a shot- maybe not a full price but a matinee ticket. You’ll be glad you did if only for the visuals alone.

Overall Grade- B

As far as content there is some tense sequences but the kids at my theater all seemed ok. If they could handle Trolls they should be fine with this.

Where Have the Kids Movies Gone?

I have a bit of a bone to pick with movies today! That’s right I’m just going to say it-

WHERE HAVE THE MOVIES FOR KIDS GONE?

I’m not talking about movies you can take kids too. I’m talking about movies that are designed with kids in mind, specific for their intellect and to inspire their creativity. These are such a rarity that most families have consented to taking their kids to more mature films or not seeing movies at all.

The most obvious case of this problem is in superhero movies. Gone are the days when a child could play superman, batman or spider-man and then live those stories at the movies. These days Superman is murdered, Batman is a killer who sleeps with Batgirl and we will see what Spider-man is but it won’t be PG. I can tell you that much. I get that the new thing is R rated superhero movies and that’s fine. But I wish the other end of the spectrum was also having time and thought put into superhero movies for them. The latest Ghostbusters movie tried to do that a little bit but it was ran out of town on a rail.

What really made me think about this is the recent Power Rangers Movie. I enjoyed it and gave it a positive review but if ever there is a franchise which should be for kids you’d think it would be Power Rangers. However, the new movie earns its PG-13 rating with crude humor, violence, adult themes and a skimpy bikini. Why was this necessary? I get we need to update film to a modern audience but why does always mean excluding children?

The Transformers movies are another example of a franchise which should appeal to kids but fails spectacularly in doing so. It’s about freakin toys and yet it is loaded with gratuitous shots of women and mind numbing visual destruction.

In animation we see this trend all the time. In a desperate attempt to entertain parents studios often throw in adults only jokes or content and I hate that so much. For example, in The Minions movie we get an extended sequence with a Minion wearing a thong and having a threesome of sorts with fire hydrants in a spa. Why is that necessary?

And I’m not saying movies for children can’t be dark. My cousin was just telling me that her 3 year old daughter loves Song of the Sea– a movie about a boy mourning his dead Mother. She loves it! I’ve known many kids that love deep movies like Bambi, Wall-e or Dumbo much more than their adult parents. It’s all about balance and creating compelling characters/worlds. I feel the recent Beauty and the Beast sucked a lot of the joy out of the film by having the household objects be responsible for the curse and them dying and all. It’s hard to enjoy Be Our Guest and songs like that as much when this gloom is hanging over the proceedings. I need the humor and happy scenes to balance out the darkness

The only family film from a major studio to my knowledge getting a G rating this year is Disneynature’s Born in China. Everything else is PG or PG-13. Granted the MPAA has made it extremely difficult to get a G rating because of what they call “mild thematic elements” but still so few even come close. It’s very frustrating.  The Peanuts Movie is a lone example I can think of recently that got the G rating.

It’s not even about ratings but the quest for the family film hurts movies because no movie can be everything to every audience. Some movies should be made for children. Why is that such a foreign concept?

Dreamwork’s Home is another example of a movie that awkwardly smashes together themes for adults and children creating a very unpleasant experience. If they had just focused on making a cute alien movie for kids it would have been SO much better. The Angry Birds Movie would also have been much better if they had abandoned the crass adult humor and just stuck with a cute movie for kids.

I’m not even a parent but I would way rather watch something like Many Adventures of Winnie the Pooh that is carefully made for children than most movies which try to please the entire family.

Will nobody think of the children? Sigh…

Power Rangers Movie Review

Last year seemed to be the year of going to super hero movies with high expectations and leaving feeling frustrated. Well, today I had the opposite experience. I went into the new Power Rangers movie with low expectations (secret to happiness in life!) and walked out having had a pretty good time. It’s not a perfect movie by any means but on the whole I was entertained by it.

I should state going into this review I have never watched an episode of the Power Rangers shows. My younger siblings got into it but it was well past my time of enjoying them. So I have no nostalgia for or bias against the film and can only judge what I see on screen (something I try to do anyway). I did try and watch the 1995 Power Rangers Movie last week and fell asleep because it was so boring. I don’t know what hard-core fans will think of this film.  They will either be super hard on it or really love it, but I can only speak for myself.

First off, the casting takes Power Rangers a long way. The 5 fairly unknown leads all do a good job and have a nice chemistry together. I particularly liked RJ Cyler who you might know from Me Earl and the Dying Girl. He plays Billy who becomes the blue ranger and is “on the spectrum” of autism and he makes this work. I think a lot of kids on the spectrum will get a kick out of seeing someone like him as a superhero. Also, Becky G as Trini, the yellow ranger, is good and is a lesbian without making a bit hullabaloo about it.

Also is it just me or does Dacre Montgomery, the red ranger, look exactly like Zac Efron? He was fine, and I liked Naomi Scott and Ludi Lin as the remaining pink and black rangers. They were all good.

The first half of the movie plays like Chronicle, and I think that’s when the movie is at its strongest. The second half starts to have more problems as we start to meet our villain and have more of the conflict but it never turned me off too much.

Elizabeth Banks plays Rita Repulsa and she’s pretty over-the-top and surprisingly violent for a children’s film (it earns its PG-13). She wasn’t the worst villain I’ve ever seen but she kind of reminded me a little bit of Enchantress from Suicide Squad which is never a good thing.

Like Enchantress, she creates a Gods of Egypt-like sphincter who stomps around and destroys stuff. It was pretty bland, but I think kids will have fun with this type of action. I didn’t like that there is very little hand to hand combat. It’s mostly in transformer-like machines and bots. It’s hard to feel tension when CGI creatures are fighting each other.

You also don’t see them morph into the rangers until well into the movie, so that may be a disappointment to some fans. I liked them much better as humans so it didn’t bother me.

Bryan Cranston appears as their mentor Zordon and has a lot of fun with the role and I enjoyed Bill Hader as a robot named Alpha 5.

There is also the most blatant product placement I’ve ever seen. It’s not just in background shots or billboards. No, Krispy Kreme Donuts feature heavily into the actual plot of the movie!

So, there are some negatives. It’s not a masterpiece but I walked away having a pretty good time. It has an engaging and diverse cast. It doesn’t overstay its welcome like the Transformers movies and it keeps the fan service from being distracting. If kids can handle the violence I think they will like it and it should start up a nice little franchise for Lionsgate.

Overall Grade- B-

Dreamworks Blog Series Announcement

Hi friends! So you have voted and decided that my new blog series is going to be reviewing the Dreamworks Animation Canon. I’m not going to lie I wish you had selected some of the other options, but there should be many great films I am going to review. Before I start the series I thought I’d explain a few things about how it is going to go down.

I am not a big fan of Dreamworks’ comedies for the most part. They tend to be a bit broad in the humor and weak in stories for my taste. However, I will go into them with an open mind and hope to be surprised.

Obviously I want this to be a pleasant experience for me, so I have decided to not review the series in chronological order. I have created an order that mixes the comedies and dramas and the weak and stronger films so I will enjoy it more. I have also decided to include the Aardman movies even though I don’t really consider them true Dreamworks films. The series will be more fun if I include them.

So here goes. I will review the Dreamworks films as follows:

Shrek

Prince of Egypt

Over the Hedge

Antz

Road to El Dorado

Spirit: Stallion of the Cimarron

Madagascar

Shrek 2

Shark Tale

Wallace and Gromit: Curse of the Ware Rabbit

Shrek 3

Kung fu Panda

Madagascar 2

Flushed Away

Sinbad: Legend of the 7 Seas

How to Train Your Dragon

Shrek 4

Megamind

Chicken Run

Kung fu Panda 2

Monsters vs Aliens

Madagascar 3

Puss n Boots

Bee Movie

Rise of the Guardians

Turbo

The Croods

Home

Mr Peabody and Sherman

Trolls

How to Train Your Dragon 2

Penguins of Madagascar

Kung fu Panda 3

Are you excited for this project? I hope so.  What do you think of my order and what are your favorite Dreamworks films?

BATB Nitpicking and Over/Underrated Disney Podcasts

I just thought I would share with you guys 2 podcasts I did today.

The first is a live stream I did going over in fine detail the new live action Beauty and the Beast. I know some people just like to go to their movies and have a great time and find this in-depth analysis obnoxious. If this is your case than this is not the podcast for you. However, if you find that kind of thing fun than you will probably enjoy it. For the record, I mildly recommend the film for the large musical sequences and the performance of Gaston by Luke Evans.

So if this is your thing than give it a watch. I’d love your feedback on what I found and what I may have missed (I only took 6 pages of notes!)

Then the second podcast I did was with my friend Conrado where we talked about our most over and underrated Disney Canon films. I have followed Conrado’s blog for years so it was so much fun to actually talk with him vocally on the podcast. We had a great time talking Disney so I think you will really enjoy it. Follow his blog at https://cocohitsny.wordpress.com/

You can also listen to both podcasts on my channel on the SoundCloud app

Please let me know what you think of both as I am continually trying to improve. Thanks!

Beauty and the Beast 2017 Review

It’s an interesting predicament I find myself in with this latest live action remake from Disney, Beauty and the Beast. Because I detested the marketing, some think I have a vendetta against the film and would never like it. On the other hand,  the animation fandom cries “traitor” if I like anything about it. Oh well! Looks like I will just have to be honest with my response as I always am. So here goes…

So far these Disney live action remakes have been a bit of a mixed bag for me. I loved Cinderella and Pete’s Dragon because they felt small and intimate and gave a new vision to the story without bastardizing the original as Maleficent did. Jungle Book I thought was solid and entertaining and the 2 Alice films I didn’t care for. Maleficent I hated with the passion of a thousand fiery suns. Where does this Beauty and the Beast lie? Well, I’d say like the remakes as a whole it is a bit of a mixed bag. The average moviegoer looking to be entertained will be but that doesn’t take from some problems I had with the film.

Let’s talk about strengths first. My favorite thing about the film was the strong production design and the large musical set pieces. I can’t think of a musical in a long time that had such satisfyingly staged musical sequences. Be Our Guest, Belle, and Gaston were the particular highlights. The costumes, scope, dancing and ensemble singing were first rate. It was easy to get swept away in the moments and that’s what you want in a musical.

I also really liked what they did with Gaston. Luke Evans was hilarious in the role and while he may not be the size of a barge it didn’t matter. He worked for the part. They made him a bit more sympathetic without completely changing his character like they did with Maleficent. He’s still the cocky guy we know and love but he seemed to actually be in love with Belle, which I appreciated. Also Lefou was a well done character. I liked his story arc through the film and Josh Gad did a good job in the role. He isn’t just a literal punching bag that he is in the animated film.  By the way, the whole “gay moment” is nothing that should offend anyone in any way. His character arc is satisfying not because of his sexuality but because of how he deals with questions of loyalty and friendship.

They also work in a lot of humor into the script, which I enjoyed. I found myself laughing quite a bit especially with Lumiere and Cogsworth but a lot of the characters were funny.

But that’s about where my positives end and some problems start. My biggest problem with the film is in the character design. All of the household objects were difficult to connect with emotionally. Lumiere and Cogsworth were designed in a way that made it difficult to see their faces and expressions. Mrs Potts was literally flat so you had no sense of movement or personality to her.  It is all left to the voice cast to sell the emotion and they just couldn’t do it. The Beast looked like Krampus and his face was flat and dull. And Harry Potter fans will hate me for saying this but I also found Emma Watson to be flat and wooden in her performance as Belle. There wasn’t much chemistry between the two of them because they were uninteresting and bland, which is a big problem selling this story.

I also had some problems with the new additions to the story. For the most part they didn’t add anything that wasn’t super obvious or predictable. It just made scenes feel stretched out and kind of boring. They should have picked one or two backstories to focus on, but instead they did a lot and none of them feel very developed or satisfyingly fleshed out. For example, we learn something about Mrs Potts’ marriage but it feels very tagged on and not emotional like it should.

The best of the additions is the new peril the household objects face with the curse but I didn’t really like that they are somehow blamed for the Beast’s behavior and the curse. This seemed like a major stretch. I can see blaming parents for the behaviors of a child but servants in a castle? That is tough to believe. It’s certainly a very harsh enchantress.  That’s for sure.

Other new story involving Belle’s mother and the Beast’s backstory just did nothing for me. Also the new songs were very forgettable and flat. They aren’t bad songs but the only reason I remember one of them is because Josh Groban sang it in the credits and I’m a huge fan of his.

Speaking of music, the other major problem I had with the movie was in the singing. Emma Watson’s singing was frankly awful. She not only sounds autotuned but her vocals don’t mesh with the rest of the strong ensemble vocals. It’s one thing for a terrible vocalist to be in Mama Mia or Phantom of the Opera but most of the singing sucked in those movies. Here the ensemble is great and classic Broadway sound, so to have an electronic sound as the lead didn’t work at all. It was such a bummer because if she had been dubbed I think I would have LOVED those songs. If I was Emma Watson I would be very mad with Disney because it is their job to make their star sound good and they didn’t.

Most people will go see Beauty and the Beast and have a great time, and so I have to give Disney credit on that level. There is entertainment to be had here and I think as a whole it is a harmless movie. Does it live up to the 1991 original film? Of course not but it’s certainly not awful. I thought the musical set pieces and Gaston/Lefou were fun enough to recommend the film despite some of my problems and issues. In a way it seems like a bit of a missed opportunity because elements  were there to make it truly great but oh well. It’s not an atrocity like Maleficent so I’m grateful for that.

Overall Grade- C+

Here is my youtube review. I would really appreciate it if you gave it a watch and a thumbs up if you have a minute.  Thanks!