Avengers: Infinity War Review

So Avengers: Infinity War has come and gone and I am left with mixed to positive feelings. I gave my review on my youtube channel last night and I would love if you guys would watch and give the video a thumbs up if you have a chance. But let’s talk about Infinity War:

Most of Infinity War is pretty awesome. I have a great affection for Marvel and have enjoyed almost all of their movies. Guardians of the Galaxy Vol 2 is really the only one that left me deflated. The original Avengers is still one of my favorite superhero movies of all time because of the way it blends the great characters with snappy dialogue and energetic action. Having Loki as your villain also never hurts! That film was the culmination of 5 films with their heroes into one epic team-up film.

Now with Infinity War Joe and Anthony Russo have the mammoth task of culminating 18 previous films into 2 epic films. One of my big worries going into it is if all of the many characters would be able to shine (how could they?). Naturally the directors have to pick and chose characters to focus on, but I felt like almost everyone got a good line or moment to shine. The dialogue was snappy and funny like I have come to expect with Marvel films. I also thought the action was uniformly entertaining and enjoyable.

They were very smart with how they teamed characters up. I loved seeing Starlord and Thor take jabs at each other. Doctor Strange and Iron Man were great together. There’s an awesome scene where Black Widow, Scarlett Witch and Okoye fight a female henchman of Thanos I loved. All the team-ups worked and didn’t make me annoyed at the characters like I was with Guardians of the Galaxy vol 2 although Drax is still kind of irritating if you ask me.

Thanos played by Josh Brolin is a good villain although I certainly don’t think he is better than Loki. Many villains have wanted to purge the earth and start anew. Most recently we had this same motivation in Apocalypse in X-Men Apocalypse but this is handled about a billion times better. At least he has some motivation rather than being a evil man in a suit like many Marvel movies. I also liked that all of Thanos’ henchman were really strong and not just mindless drones.

So over all, this is a fun film. It has witty banter and great action with people that I really like. My only real problem was the ending. I hate movies where I feel like the creators think I am stupid. I remember feeling this way at the ending of Batman v Superman. We all knew Superman was coming back for Justice League so when they try to play off that he is dead it is hollow and manipulative rather than moving.

Something happens at the end of Infinity War that you would have to be a moron to believe is actually going to stick. So this left me frustrated rather than moved, which I think the filmmakers wanted to me feel. How do I cry when I know it isn’t real? It’s not going to last? When Steve Trevor dies in Wonder Woman it felt real so it was tragic and I cried. What happens here is not real and it made what is going to happen in part 4 incredibly predictable and obvious. Also it kind of gives them a massive out for the stakes we were promised which is a problem.

Without giving away spoilers it’s hard to go into details but under no planet is what happens at the end of this film going to stick. Also, it was executed in a way that was really confusing. I wasn’t sure until I got home what had actually happened. It was weird.

It’s frustrating for me because I feel they were so close to having something great but then they didn’t stick the landing. Granted this isn’t the real landing as the final movie is the true ending but still I think they wanted me to feel devastated and I didn’t because I know it isn’t real.

Oh well. It’s still mostly a good movie. (But I prefer Black Panther tbh)

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Rampage Review

Often when I don’t respond favorably to movies like Jurassic World, San Andreas, Geostorm and Kong Skull Island I am asked with derision “Rachel, why can’t you just turn off your brain and enjoy a dumb movie…?” Well, my friend I can enjoy dumb fun but not when it is uninspired and boring as the 4 movies listed above. When the film can provide charismatic performances, new visuals or an energetic pace/tone I can enjoy a stupid film. Case in point- Rampage.

What Rampage gets right is pretty simple. First, the two main lead actors, Dwayne Johnson and Jeffrey Dean Morgan are charismatic as heck. They are both funny, engaging and Johnson and the Gorilla have a nice chemistry together. There is a believable relationship between the gorilla and Johnson that works and gives heart to the film.

The second reason it works is the CGI monster-fest was actually something new and fresh. I have seen a million dinosaur scenes like in Jurassic World (snooze) but I haven’t seen a giant wolf fight an oversized gorilla and crocodile creature. That’s novel and enjoyable. The movie also gets pretty grisly which was kind of refreshing. Several named characters are eaten by the monsters and in one scene the wolf gets his teeth right up next to the character and stays there before snapping. Pretty memorable moment!

The science in Rampage is stupid but it isn’t dwelt on too much. It’s basically some magic genetic goo that gets the plot going. Rampage is a blessed 107 minutes and doesn’t waste our time trying to justify the ‘science’ of giant monsters fighting each other. Most of the movie is a fun cat and mouse type chase to capture these giant creatures.

Unfortunately there is one part of Rampage that seriously holds it back. Malin Akerman and Jake Lacy play corporate execs who want the genetic goo to do something with, and they are SO AWFUL. Every scene they are in is like nails on a chalkboard. I am sure Akerman is a lovely person, but I honestly don’t know why she has a career acting. She has been terrible in every project I’ve seen her in, and she’s terrible here. Every scene they are in is painful to get through, and they are in quite a bit.

Naomi Harris also does not work as the female scientist who agrees to help Johnson out. She seemed like she was in a different, more serious, movie than the rest of the cast.

Still, if someone asked me to recommend a ‘dumb fun’ movie to enjoy with friends on a Friday night I might go with Rampage. It had engaging performances with some heart and gave me new images and spectacle to enjoy. That’s all I’m asking for folks. It’s really not that complicated.

Blind Spot 28: The Cat Returns

When I announced my 2018 Blind Spot picks I was planning on reviewing one of the last Studio Ghibli films for me to check off my list, The Cat Returns, in June but it ended up being the Studio Ghibli Fest selection for April, so I am swapping my picks and will review The Green Mile in June instead of April. (On a side note, if you aren’t seeing the Studio Ghibli Fest films you totally should! It’s an amazing opportunity to see these anime films on the big screen).

So what did I think of The Cat Returns after seeing it on the big screen? Well, while not the greatest Studio Ghibli film by any measure, I was thoroughly entertained by the creative and strange story of a young girl and her adventures in a world of cats.

The Cat Returns is directed by Hiroyuki Morita and is his only feature for Studio Ghibli . It is evidently based on a manga and is a pretty strange story. Like many Ghibli films, it focuses on a young girl as the lead character. Her name is Haru and one day she saves a cat from being hit by a truck. Unbeknownst to her she has rescued Lune, Prince of the Cat Kingdom. In an effort to repay her she is taken to marry Lune, and she even starts to develop cat-like qualities such as whiskers and a tail.

Fortunately there are two cats who come to her defense and help her find a way out of the Cat Kingdom before it is too late: a suave debonair cat named the Baron (also featured in Whisper of the Heart evidently) and an overweight white cat named Muta.

These characters were a lot of fun. I thought the Baron had a bit of a Sherlock Holmes vibe to him. He is cocky, not very self-aware and loves to make a special kind of tea. Muta is a curmudgeon who gets a lot of the comic relief of the film.

The Cat Returns is definitely an odd film, but I found the world-building to be very unpredictable in an appealing way. It is also witty and unlike some Ghibli films, it doesn’t take itself too seriously. This is just a strange, comic fantasy, and I enjoyed it on that level. At 75 minutes it also doesn’t outstay its welcome and become boring.

The music by Yuji Nomi almost seemed too orchestral and grand for such a silly story but it is beautiful. The animation is of course great, and I loved the way the characters moved and flowed through scenes. Plus, there is something cute about all these cats!

It doesn’t have the emotional complexity that the great Studio Ghibli films like My Neighbor Totoro or Princess Mononoke have, but I still enjoyed The Cat Returns. It’s a fun little creative, strange romp through a world of cats! It kind of reminded me of Porco Rosso in a way- a comedy with anthropomorphic animals/human merging in together in unusual ways.

I did see it with the English dub that has Anne Hathaway playing Haru, Cary Elwes as the Baron and Peter Boyle as Muta. They all do a good job and are perfectly fine in their roles.

Overall Grade- B

Only one more Studio Ghibli film for me to see (Whisper of the Heart) and I will be finished their entire canon!

What do you think of The Cat Returns?

I Feel Pretty Review

Last night I had the chance to see the latest Amy Schumer comedy I Feel Pretty. I walked into the theater having only heard negative reviews but trying to have an open mind as usual. I also had no bias against Amy Schumer as this is the first movie or TV show I’ve seen her in. What was my response? Well, I am happy to say I really enjoyed I Feel Pretty. It is a sweet and consistently funny romantic comedy film that I think critics are being way to harsh on.

The conceit of I Feel Pretty reminded me of a Penny Marshall film from the 90s. In fact, they even show a clip of Marshall’s film BIG, which inspires some of the magic that takes place.

Amy Schumer plays a 30-something woman named Renee who is happy enough with a boring but decent job and a nice group of friends; however, she has settled on not trying for the great life she wants because of massive insecurities she feels about her appearance.

Some have criticized I Feel Pretty and claimed it is ‘fat shaming’ given Amy Schumer is only overweight by Hollywood standards. However, I disagree. The film is not saying that Schumer is fat. They are saying that Renee feels insecure about her entire body. She feels insecure about her skin, hair, clothes, weight everything. In contrast, I Feel Pretty also shows women who are bigger than Schumer who do not struggle as much with body imaging and women slimmer that have their own insecurities, so I found it to be quite accurate to the struggles most women have.

I loved Aidy Bryant (who was also great in The Big Sick) and Busy Phillips as her best friends. They were not as insecure as Renee but still had their own struggles. I also like that they told her the truth when she is too much of a diva on them. They in many ways were the most confident characters of the movie.

There have been many body-switching comedies over the years (a favorite genre of mine) but one thing I liked that I Feel Pretty does differently than most is they never actually body swap. We never see the beautiful woman that Renee is seeing in the mirror. This is an improvement upon films like Shallow Hal where we see Gwyneth Paltrow in the fat suit and then her beautiful self. Seeing Renee feeling confident, empowered and beautiful as just Renee helped convey the message that she was the best version of herself all along.

There are a couple of scenes where Renee is shown as too fat to ride a bike at a gym that are a little over-the-top, but I didn’t care as they worked into the plot quite nicely.

I really liked Rory Scovel as Ethan, the new boyfriend Renee gets because of her confidence. She assumes she is way above him and that’s impresses him. He’s the one who is shy and insecure and a confident Renee teaches him to loosen up. I thought they had pretty good chemistry and were sweet together.

Michelle Williams is practically unrecognizable as a cosmetic heiress who is insecure about her voice and who envies Renee’s speaking abilities and innovative ideas. I’m so used to seeing her as an indie darling that it was fun to see her flex her comedic chops again.

My only criticisms are minor. I kind of wish they hadn’t set the movie in the fashion world because it created a strange dynamic. Renee is confident because she believes she is beautiful but at the same time the very industry she is working for is partly responsible for her lack of confidence in the first place. At the end there is a rousing speech but it would have been more inspiring if it wasn’t also a product pitch for makeup. It’s an odd juxtaposition.

But overall, I thought I Feel Pretty was charming. It made me laugh a lot and the message was very sweet.If I had a teenage daughter I would take her to see this film, and I think we would have a lot of laughs. We would also talk about the importance of confidence and how no matter what we look like we have value to God and this world. It worked for me! I guess you could say I feel pretty 🙂

There is some nudity and sensuality and a little language. PG-13 film.

Overall Grade- B+

You’ve Got Mail Podcast

Anyone who follows this blog knows one of my all time favorite movies is the 1998 film You’ve Got Mail. I love pretty much everything about it especially Nora Ephron’s witty dialogue. It is perhaps my favorite remake ever and one of the best romantic comedies ever made. Recently my friend Christine sat down with me to talk about the film and why we love it and what it has to say about work, life, love and the human experience. It’s a really fun podcast that I think you will all enjoy. Give it a listen 🙂  You can also listen on itunes here.

2018 Summer Box Office Predictions

I bet you didn’t know that Summer starts in April. Well, at least it does for the movie season. Marvel studios moved Avengers: Infinity War up into April and that forced us all to get ready a little earlier than we had planned. For the second year in a row my friend Conrado and I have gotten together to share our predictions for this year’s Summer box office. You can listen to the podcast above or on itunes/youtube.

I must admit my list is kind of bland this year. Last year I had a few more odd ball/risky picks but nothing stood out to me as a real dark horse or wild card pick. There are a few that could possibly make it like Mamma Mia 2, Eighth Grade, Christopher Robin, Teen Titans Go or Uncle Drew but I don’t see them as big challenges. We will see.

My Top 10 Summer 2018 Box Office Predictions

  1. Avengers: Infinity War
  2. Incredibles 2
  3. Jurassic World 2: Fallen Kingdom
  4. Solo
  5. Deadpool 2
  6. Ant-Man and the wasp
  7. Mission Impossible: Fall Out
  8. Hotel Transylvania 3
  9. Skyscraper
  10. Oceans 8

You’ll have to listen to the podcast to learn why we picked what we picked and how our lists compare We would love your feedback.  Thanks!

 

Why I Liked Ready Player One But Prefer the Book (Spoilers)

“The book is better…” is an oft hurled accusation thrown at the world of cinema. I have no doubt those that love movies over literature tire of being told their medium of choice is always a second class substitute. Normally I stay clear of this conversation and try to appreciate both endeavors on their own merit; however, in the case of Ready Player One the book has been so unfairly maligned by many who have often read mere pages I decided it was worth an entry in my blog. I enjoyed Ready Player One as a fun adventure mystery movie but it is a step down from the book, and the more I thought about it the more changes bothered me. So, here goes…

There are two huge differences between the book and movie Ready Player One. The first is the time spent in the real world. The first third of the book is spent mostly in the real world of the Columbus Ohio stacks. This allows you to get to know Wade as a character in a way that the movie doesn’t. Wade is your classic nerd and in the movie he is much more of a cool, confident character. This helps make his bond and admiration for Halliday feel more understandable in the book. He knows there is something Halliday has to teach him through this quest and that’s what makes him continue when others have long since given up.

The search for the first key is all done in the real world in the book. He puts together all the pieces from the different parts of Halliday’s life and tries to find what is special or memorable about them. This is a lot more interesting to me than a race. In the book there is a book called “Anorak’s Almanac’ which lists all of the things that Halliday enjoyed (something that has been very criticized but never bothered me… It’s all part of the story of Wade researching to figure out the clues). In the movie they have “Halliday’s Journals” and the process of the research there feels easy and so you see less growth from Wade as a person. This makes his end takeaway when he meets Halliday not as impactful as the book’s ending. Wade comes to understand Halliday in the novel as a full person, and even a reflection of himself in many ways

In the book, Wade struggles with the fame he achieves when he gets the key which is interesting for a person who is literally surrounded by pop culture and knows so much trivia (which isn’t really trivia in the Oasis but survival knowledge). Wade is a character I loved in the book and was rooting for where in the movie he is a standard cocky teen male lead.

The other big difference is the changes to all the side characters. In the movie Art3mis is a standard avatar that doesn’t stand out much from the other avatars aside from her telling Perzival that he would be disappointed by her. One of my favorite things about the book is the reason Art3mis stands out to Perzival in the game is she is so confident and real. She is one of the few characters in the Oasis who has a realistic avatar. She doesn’t go with the sexed up version of herself and Wade finds that very attractive. I wish they had worked this into the movie more. She’s a positive yet still kick-butt character and in the YA literature world where every woman has to be a warrior I really appreciated her.

Much has been made about the pop culture ‘nostalgia porn’ of the movie and book. I personally think this criticism is a very surface-level analysis and misses the point. It’s like criticizing a Western for having too many horses. The pop culture is just the setting which the mystery takes place in. It’s not the story but where the story lives. That’s why in the book setting up the Oasis and all of the parameters of Halliday’s quest makes so much sense. We are in the real world and see all the research that Wade has to do so when we see the cornucopia of images in the Oasis it’s not just fun visual candy but clues Wade is ingesting and processing.

For example, in the book the jade key requires Wade to figure out he needs to recite the movie War Games, play a text game Zork (to get the key), unlock a Voight-Kampff machine from Blade Runner and play a game of Black Tiger (to unlock the gate) and more. This was exciting to read because we knew what Wade had been studying and it was unpredictable what would be asked of him next. Thus making the pop culture part of the puzzle/mystery more so than in the movie.

The other thing that wasn’t nearly as effective in the movie as the book is the villain. In the movie they make Sorrento a former intern who is generally resentful of Halliday and the Oasis. In the book it is more the world as a whole that is against Wade with them being envious and trying to stop him from winning. Sorrento is in the book but not as cartoonishly bad as he is in the movie.

Halliday and Morrow’s friendship is a lot more developed in the book and so their separation is more profoundly felt. It’s one thing to fall out of favor with a business associate as shown in the movie. It’s another to lose your best friend from childhood who you played Dungeon and Dragons with (making the first challenge being playing DandD all the more meaningful). Halliday’s clues are about his life not just nostalgia porn IMO.

The book also treats Aech very differently than the movie. He/she is more of a nerd who builds things and has a chat room as opposed to a warehouse. In the book none of the High 5 meet until very late in the story but it’s just all more layered, with harder clues, and characters than the movie. Aside from Art3mis giving herself to the loyalty center in the movie nobody else does much to find the clues or beat Sorrento like in the book. You even get a whole sublot with Daito and Shoto being hunted down by Japanese authorities in the book that adds to their story.

The last line of the novel is “It occurred to me then that for the first time in as long as I could remember, I had absolutely no desire to log back into the Oasis.” This makes sense because Wade was only in the Oasis because of his connection with Halliday. Now that he has finished his quest he’s done. The mystery is solved. All the research, study, thought is done. That is the fun part of the novel and what makes Wade a great character. The movie ends with him as a moderate user of the Oasis and says that real life is important as well. That’s fine but not as satisfying as the ending of the book.

It might seem like I hate the movie Ready Player One but I don’t. I liked it quite a bit; although, it was not as satisfying on the second watch as the first but still good. Unfortunately, they changed a lot from the book and it makes the movie less special as a result. I enjoyed it and will defend it but probably won’t remember it like I remembered the book.

The reason I loved the book is it was finally a YA novel that felt positive and hopeful. Most of these novels are cynical and depressing but here we had Wade trying to make his life better and trying to understand another human being in Halliday. We had him seeing the beauty in Art3mis and she being confident in her own unique identity. All of these things were hopeful and positive. You had fun characters and a mystery that was fresh and new. Yes, there was the nostalgia but that was just the unique setting like the maze in Labyrinth or Middle Earth in Lord of the Rings. It was an imaginative, inventive narrative where good won over evil, and that is hard to find these days. Most YA novels have characters limping towards the finish line having sacrificed all that was important to them at the beginning (cough Hunger Games cough). Not Ready Player One and I loved the novel for it!

So in the end, my opinion on Ready Player One– the movie was good, fun ride that especially kids will love (although The Shining sequence may be over their heads)

But the book was great. That’s my story and I’m sticking to it

Talking Disney Episodes 1-4

Hey guys! I just wanted to let you know real quick that I have started a new podcast with  my friend Stanford. Each month we are selecting a Disney Canon film to talk about and give our analysis of its strengths and weaknesses. We just published our 4th entry in this podcast, and I’m proud of every last one of them. We are doing them in a random order to avoid the dead periods of a chronological rewatch. I would love your feedback as we are continually trying to improve. They are also available on Itunes and youtube at Rachel’s Reviews.

  1. Talking Cinderella

2. Talking The Great Mouse Detective- we had some technical difficulties in the last 20 minutes that impacted the sound quality but hopefully it is listenable

3. Talking Lady and the Tramp

4. Talking The Jungle Book

Isle of Dogs Review

I feel like reviewing Wes Anderson’s latest film Isle of Dogs is almost an exercise in futility. Any filmgoer should know by watching the trailer if this film is your cup of tea or not. Anderson has his own unique style that does not appeal to everyone, but fortunately it appeals to yours truly and since animation is my thing I had to review it! (One of my friends from church asked me if I was going to see ‘that horrific looking dog film’ so that shows you how different the response can be to the trailer!).

Isle of Dogs is Wes Anderson’s second foray into the world of animation; his first being the 2009 animated film Fantastic Mr Fox. I recently did a collaboration with my friend Justin on his channel where I shared my thoughts on that film, so check that out:

While I enjoy Fantastic Mr Fox a great deal, I think I actually preferred Isle of Dogs. It’s weirder and more simplistic narratively but I laughed more and found it more charming to watch. I really thought Isle of Dogs was a great time at the movies.

Isle of Dogs tells the story of a dystopian futuristic Japan that has banished all dogs to a Trash Island. This is done out of fear over a dog flu which is hyped up by the tyrannical rule of Mayor Kobayashi. This was hilarious for me because the company I work for is called Kobayashi America, a branch of Kobayashi Pharmaceuticals in Japan,which is mentioned in the film! Luckily everyone I work with is completely lovely. No dictators present!

Anyway, Kobayashi is made a ward over a nephew named Atari who he then sends his beloved dog Spots to Trash Island. Atari, desperate for his dog, steals a plane and flies to Trash Island. Upon landing he meets 5 dogs: Rex, King, Duke, Boss and Chief. They are all eager to help find Spots except for Chief who is cynical and just trying to survive another day.

The rest of the story is pretty simple with the dogs and Atari traveling to find Spots and facing various challenges along the way. The joy of the film is the droll dialogue from the dogs and the sweet moments between boy and dogs. There is also a subplot with an exchange student named Tracy who investigates Kobayashi but the real fun is spending time with the dogs.

There are so many things to praise about Isle of Dogs. First, the animation is just tremendous. I honestly don’t know how they were able to do the fur and make it seem so lush and textured. These are not the clay figures of Rankin Bass or other old-school stop motion animated animals. It blew me away. I also loved the textures in all the backdrops and props. There are a lot of scenes behind walls of glass and the colors reminded me of a Chihuly art glass exhibit. Simply stunning! They could have used bare-bones backgrounds but they chose to go the extra mile and fill the screen with textured details and color.  If the Academy wasn’t so closed minded I could see it getting nominated for best production design.

The voice cast is also fantastic with many Anderson regulars such as Bryan Cranston, Edward Norton, Bill Murray, Jeff Goldblum, Greta Gerwig, Tilda Swinton and many more. It is narrated by Courtney B Vance and the music is superb by Alexandre Desplat.

I suppose if someone were to push me for flaws in Isle of Dogs I would admit that a white savior trope is applied to the story in an unnecessary way. Anderson makes the choice to have the Japanese characters speak Japanese with little to no subtitles, which I thought was really neat. However, it necessitated having an English character confront Kobayashi so that we would know what she was doing. I’m not sure how he could have gotten around that, but I can see why some would complain about it.

It’s also not supposed to be an accurate depiction of Japanese life. It reminded me of anime in that regard. Films like Akira or Ghost in the Shell also use Japan as a dystopian futuristic background to tell their stories, so any cultural appropriation should be taken with a massive grain of salt. Any culture should be allowed to have a wide variety of takes and stories set in it, so I don’t think it is a problem but I’m not Japanese. It will be interesting to see the response to this film over there. I could see them being offended or flattered.  It was cool at least that Anderson took some risks with language and storytelling that made it unpredictable to watch.

Like I said in my intro, if you watched the trailer for Isle of Dogs and responded positively to it then you should definitely see it. I’m certainly glad I did, and I look forward to seeing it multiple times. Incredibles 2 has a tall order to top it in my best animated film of the year list. We will see!

Overall Grade A- Smile Worthy

Here is a podcast I did with my friend Conrado on the film

https://soundcloud.com/rachel-wagner-350487958/talking-isle-of-dogs-with-conrado-falco