The Lost City of Z Review

There are some movies I feel bad for giving a negative review to. In a world of bland board meeting films I especially want to love passion projects and movies where all involved had ambition and a grand scope. However, that ambition can only get you so far and the movie has to be able to stand on its own. James Gray’s recent The Lost City of Z is such an ambitious miss and it pains me to say it. There is a lot of good but in the end I can’t recommend it mostly because of the poor script that let’s the whole movie down.

The Lost City of Z is based on a book about a man named Percy Fawcett who at the turn of century led several expeditions in Bolivia to find the  ancient Lost City of Z. This might sound exciting but in truth this film is more like The Treasure of the Sierra Madre than an exciting exploration movie. You might also be able to compare it to the Revenant in the way it explores the harshness of another climate and culture. However, both Sierra Madre and the Revenant have something Lost City of Z does not have- a concise narrative and compelling script (especially Sierra Madre which has a masterful script).

In Lost City of Z we get the entire life of Percy Fawcett. This not only makes the movie very long but also quite sprawling in nature. We get 3 expeditions and a long war sequence wedged in between. If the movie decided to focus on one of these expeditions it would have been so much better. It would have had a clear goal and the accompanying challenges, heroes, villains, etc.  Here it seems like every time the movie gets momentum you are back in London, or off to war, and then back again to the Amazon.

It’s the same way with the characters. Sienna Miller is good as Fawcett’s wife but we see her so intermittently that she basically becomes a ‘ra ra’ character for him. Robert Pattinson is good as his first mate but the script doesn’t really allow us to get to know him either. At one point in the story they are starving and we see suffering but I was left asking questions- why did they not bring enough food, what happened to the food, why did they not fish or hunt, what exactly are they looking for etc. If I was more invested in the characters than I wouldn’t have been asking those questions.

I also thought the dialogue was very clunky. Charlie Hunnam tries his darnedest but he always felt like he was giving speeches not talking like an actual person. There is one scene where he argues with his wife about her coming on the expedition that felt real and human. (Sadly that is undermined by it coming out of nowhere for her character). Aside from that, everything he said just felt so wooden and clunky to me.

For example, towards the end he has a chance to say something emotional and meaningful to his son (Tom Holland). Instead of sharing a memory or a personal story of his life he says something like ‘we’ve got to fight on until the end because we are explorers’.  It was stale when it should have been raw and emotional.

I know I have been very tough on this movie- probably more so than it deserves, but it has so much potential it is frustrating. I honestly think if the script had gotten a few more run-throughs and was made a little bit better it could have been one of the best of the year. As it is, it is an ambitious miss.

Overall Grade- C

Advertisements

Colossal Review

** Some that are very spoiler sensitive might find spoilers below but I tried to keep it clean

2016 seemed to be the year that original indie films didn’t work for me. Movies like Swiss Army Man and The Lobster that others loved I found repetitive and frustrating. So, it was with a little trepidation I went to see the latest creative ‘science fiction comedy’ Colossal (which btw is a hard word to spell…). While it is admittedly uneven, I walked out having enjoyed myself and can recommend the film.

I don’t want to spoil anything in the movie so I will just tell you the basic premise. Anne Hathaway plays an alcoholic who is dumped by her boyfriend played by Dan Stevens. When she goes back to her hometown she meets old friend Jason Sudeikis and realizes she has a connection with a monster or kaiju that appears in Seoul Korea. For example, when she scratches her head or bends over etc so does the monster.

There are a lot of positives in Colossal. First of all, Anne Hathaway is great in the lead role. She has to play a lot of notes as Gloria and she pulls them off well. I also liked Dan Stevens as the boyfriend who can’t take living with the alcoholic any more. Jason Sudeikis is ok. He starts out great and then his character kind of goes off the rails in ways I didn’t care for but as an actor he is ok.The movie also says a lot (maybe too much) and I feel like it is one I could watch several times and get new things out of. It has something to say about bullying, toxic masculinity, addiction, technology, communication, news, our worldwide connectiveness etc. I liked that Gloria has a messy life and even when she has turned things around she still is kind of a mess. That felt real to life.

Colossal looks great with convincing special effects and cinematography. It had a real sense of place. Everything is always gray and cold and it just suits the story. The designs of the kaiju looked terrific especially on an indie movie budget. It reminded me a little bit of Gremlins in the feel and style of the creatures.

All that said, there are some negatives. For about 20 minutes the movie goes into ‘creepy stalker guy’ material that felt right out of a generic horror movie. This made me roll my eyes and was disappointing because everything else had been so creative.

Also I’m not really sure what the movie is trying to say about addiction? Gloria overcomes her addiction pretty quickly and makes some decisions that seemed completely out of left field. For example, she starts up a relationship with someone that made no sense and I didn’t understand what the movie was trying to say with that? Is the kaiju symbolic of addiction? I think it can be symbolic of many things but it got a little muddled.

Some people have had issues with the ending. I didn’t mind the ending because I felt it got out of the lame creepy stalker horror movie section that I didn’t like. It was back to the weird scifi stuff I do like. I found her solution to be innovative and clever. It worked for me.

Overall, Colossal has some problems but it is still entertaining and worth a watch. I’d be interested to see more from director Nacho Vigalondo as it showed a lot of potential for someone who has mostly done shorts up to this point (the shorts before the movie were terrible btw).

Have any of you seen Colossal? What did you think? What do you think it was trying to say and what messages did you take from it? Share in the comments section. Thanks!

As far as content it is rated R for language and it is on the mild side I’d say.

Overall Grade- B

Disney Release News

I don’t often talk about news on this blog but a post appeared on twitter today that I just had to talk about.

All right. Let’s talk about each of these items

Untitled Disney Fairy Tale (live action)- We have all been wondering what the heck this was supposedly premiering in July. Well now it is next August but surprising they won’t just announce the title?

Ralph Breaks the Internet: Wreck it Ralph 2- Disappointed to hear this awful title is final but moving it from March to November is caused by the changes to Gigantic. This is fine for me.

Wrinkle in Time and Magic Camp- Wrinkle in Time is taking Wreck it Ralph 2’s spot. I love the book so I am soooooo hoping it will be good. Magic Camp is now officially announced and I’m very curious about it. I hope it will be fun!

Gigantic- Here’s the tragedy. Our update on Jack and the Beanstalk with music from Robert and Kristen Lopez is being moved from 2018 to all the way to 2020. I’m so sad 😦

Star Wars: Episode IX- They are moving it from December to May and while I do like getting our Star Wars episodes sooner I kind of liked having a Star Wars surprise at Christmas. I wonder if we will get an animated Star Wars or something like that at Christmas? That’d be cool.

Indiana Jones- So this has moved to 2020. I bet this has more to do with Steven Spielberg than anything else with projects like Ready Player One working on right now. But seriously how old is Indy going to be in this movie!

Lion King (live action)- We have a date for this “live action” Lion King remake. The only weird thing is that another live action Disney movie is coming out the next month which seems very close together.

Frozen 2- I think most of us knew Frozen 2 was coming in 2019 but this is the official announcement and date. I know what I will be seeing Thanksgiving 2019!

The rest are all untitled projects so not much to say about them except I am curious what that Untitled Pixar Animation is!

No word on Disneytoons film which was previously announced for April 12, 2019. I still think it is going to be an Elena of Avalor movie because she is so popular but it could also be Star Wars. Who knows?

I am also surprised they announced this now and not at D23/Star Wars Celebration. It seems a little random but whatever.

The biggest bummer is Gigantic.  😦

What do you think of these announcements? Would love to hear your thoughts

Dreamworks 3: Prince of Egypt

Today in my 3rd Dreamworks film we are going to look at what in my eyes is their one and only masterpiece- The Prince of Egypt. Not only was it their first animated film but it hits on every level. The animation is stunning. The music both score and songs is nearly perfect. The story is classic but told in a fresh, awe-inspiring way. It just all works and it is one of my favorite movies.

So, we all know the story of the 10 Commandments and Moses from the Bible. Charlton Heston played Moses in one of the most famous movies ever made (that I love) and there have been other versions over the years. It’s the most cinematic Bible story because it has so many layers. There’s obviously religion, but culture, miracles, family, love and more. However, what I love about Prince of Egypt is it tackles the story with a spirit of reverence. While certainly full of drama, the writers chose to forgo most of the vibrato of earlier versions and in return gave us an intimate portrayal of 2 brothers and their goings-on with God.

Prince of Egypt starts out by establishing the 2 sides of Rameses and Moses. We get Deliver Us from the Hebrew slaves with Moses being left in the basket by his mother and then Rameses and Moses as teens racing in chariots.

This establishes the rivalry between brothers but also the humility that will become Moses and the pride of Rameses. It is here that Pharaoh first tells Rameses to “not become the weak link”, which leads to much of his pride (such a great script!).

I’m not a huge fan of the celebrity voice casting in the Dreamworks films and some of it is distracting here but I love Val Kilmer and Ralph Fiennes as Moses and Rameses. I also love they got Amick Byram to sing for Val in a seamless transition (and the amazing Brian Stokes Mitchell to sing for Danny Glover). Well done! These voice actors feel like brothers but also like they are somehow from different worlds. It is perfect!

Of course, Moses finds out about his Hebrew heritage and the way that is handled is so good. You get the mania he must be feeling especially when he sees the hieroglyphic art depicting what his father Pharaoh did to the Hebrew slaves. Sandra Bullock is a little modern as Miriam here but I still think it works for the role.

Stephen Schwartz is certainly no stranger to religious musicals with Godspell and Children of Eden but I love his songs for Prince of Egypt even more. Aside from Playing with the Big Boys Now I love every song here. I love the vocal performances, harmonies, choral hooks, everything. Hans Zimmer’s score is one of his best full of quiet moments of wonder even in scenes like the plagues.

One of the highlights of the film is the iconic burning bush sequence. It is the best I’ve seen of this moment on film. Again, it has such a spirit of reverence and peace about it. You understand why Moses would be overwhelmed and yet it is small and ephemeral. It’s exactly how I imagine it really happened.

After he is called, Moses goes to confront Rameses, his brother, and we get the plagues which is presented perfectly. You can feel the tension between them personally grow with each new plague.

And then we get the parting of the Red Sea. I mean what is there to say but perfection. It is some of the most jaw dropping animation I’ve ever seen. Some don’t like there is a shark in the Red Sea but I kind of feel sorry for them. That they can’t just get caught up in the moment of sound, color, and story. It’s breathtaking

The only real flaw in Prince of Egypt is Playing with the Big Boys now which feels like an attempt to pander to kids and doesn’t fit with the tone and feel of the rest of the movie. I was looking on rottentomatoes and the rotten reviews said it wasn’t ‘fun’ enough. It’s those kind of morons that get us Guy Like You in Hunchback or Big Boys in this. Shame on you!

Anyway, I love this movie. I watched it today trying to analyze it and be objective (and I think I was) but I really don’t see many problems. It has great characters, story, music, animation and everything else. My only regret is that Shrek came along and sent Dreamworks away from making films like Prince of Egypt and down the path of lame comedies. Sigh…

At least they started out with a bang!

Overall Grade A+

 

 

 

 

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.

This slideshow requires JavaScript.

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.

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-