A Dog’s Way Home Review

There are some movies you should be able to tell if you will enjoy it from the poster alone. A Dog’s Way Home is one of those movies. If the adorable image of the doggie inside a sneaker doesn’t make you go “awwwww” than this is probably not the movie for you; however, if it makes you get all warm and fuzzy than I think you’ll enjoy it.

dogs way home3

A Dog’s Way Home is based on the novel by W. Bruce Cameron and follows the pattern of dog on a journey films such as Incredible Journey and Homeward Bound. (It’s much better than the recent A Dog’s Purpose, which kept killing off the dog 7 times!). Cute little Bella is born in an abandoned lot right across the street from a young man named Lucas (Jonah Hauer-King) who is living with his mother Terri (Ashley Judd), a struggling Afghanistan veteran.

One day a very over-the-top mean property owner comes after Bella and her family of humans, and she ends up getting separated miles away from their home in Denver. Determined to ‘do home’ our intrepid dog spends 2.5 years traveling through Colorado meeting nice and not so nice people, and kind of raising a mountain lion along the way. Each step is as sweet and sentimental as you might guess, and I enjoyed it!

dogs way home2

There are problems with the film. The CGI is atrocious especially for the mountain lion. This would perhaps be more forgivable if his role wasn’t so large. He’s in the movie for a pretty long stretch and it looks so bad.

dogs way home5

Some may also find Bryce Dallas Howard’s precocious voice over for Bella to be a bit grating. Also there is a very weird subplot where Bella is used by a homeless veteran (Edward James Olmos) to help in his panhandling. He’s an unpleasant man who chains Bella down, which is upsetting but then it goes very dark with him. I’m not sure why this needed to be included? I guess it was supposed to show the bittersweet part of the adventure but instead it was awkward and uncomfortable. It’s the one part parents will have to have a discussion with their children about after seeing the film.

dogs way home4

Other than that, A Dog’s Way Home is a perfectly sweet and enjoyable family film. If you have a dog or your kids dream of having a dog they will love it (my niece wants a dog so badly. Poor girl!). The acting is all solid and the message is heartfelt. It’s a movie that reminds us to be grateful for man’s best friend.

Smile Worthy

7 out of 10

smile worthy

Advertisements

Blind Spot 37: Henry V (1989)

henry 5-1

I don’t think it is too controversial to say that in America we are in a bit of a leadership drought these days. Gone is anyone that seems to be able to unite and inspire us to be better than we might otherwise be. You can make the argument this type of dogmatic leader is dangerous, and that is certainly true, but I nonetheless miss it.

William Shakespeare’s play Henry V is perhaps the greatest example of a dynamic leader who through their powerful discourse is able to convince people to do more than they ever thought they could. Now, whether invading France is a good thing is another discussion but Henry still got the men to do it and to win in spite of all the odds. Kenneth Branagh’s 1989 adaptation of Henry V is a visceral and intense version of this story, and I honestly can’t imagine it being done any better.

The film uses elements from Henry IV Part 1 and 2 in a flashback style and adds a narrator billed as Chorus played by Derek Jacobi. This is helpful as particularly the opening actions can be a little confusing.

It always takes me a bit to get into Shakespeare but particularly here as these scenes involve a lot of diplomatic negotiations. I especially found confusing a story-thread with Dame Judi Dench as an innkeeper and Robbie Coltraine as Falstaff. I’m not sure if they are supposed to be comic relief like the Thénardiers in Les Miserables, but I didn’t really get it.

Fortunately for us, Branagh quickly moves on to the soldiers and the battlefield, which is easiest to understand and become engrossed with. First, we get the rousing speech at the city of Harfleur:

“What say you? Will you yield?” I would yield. I can tell you that right now! Then the army continues to struggle through Calais where a member is hanged for stealing from a church. In a great scene Henry goes amongst the soldiers to see how they are feeling and they tell him ‘if his cause be wrong…it will be a black matter for the king that led them to it”:

Then we get up to the battle where they are outnumbered by the French 5 to 1 and it is there that Shakespeare gives Henry one of the most powerful speeches of all time:

“But we in it shall be remembered- We few, we happy few, we band of brothers; For he today that sheds his blood with me shall be my brother…” That’s a leader! With such leadership they fight and defeat the French with Henry becoming King of both nations. It’s all quite riveting and while Branagh’s version is very violent it works to draw you in and build up the stakes of the story.

The easiest modern example to compare Henry V with is obviously Braveheart which follows very similar beats and executes them well. Some may cringe at the glorification of war but where is leadership more crucial (especially in this ancient age of intimate conflict) than in war? Do we honestly believe we would have gotten the Abraham Lincoln or the Winston Churchill in an era of peace and serenity? Not so much. The great leaders are great because they inspire us to be better and to gather together as a ‘band of brothers’ to face the struggles of the battlefield and of life.

henry 5-3

As far as technical prowess of Henry V it holds up quite well. The acting is great across the board (we even get to see a young Christian Bale in a small role). The sets, action and cinematography are all great. The music is soaring and draws you into the battle. Aside from the confusing scenes with Falstaff, it all works very well and is very impressive considering it is Branagh’s directorial debut (he was nominated for best actor and director for Henry V). I think it is even stronger than his a bit bloated version of Hamlet.

It is definitely smile worthy!

8.5/10

smile worthy

What do you think of Henry V? Do you find it inspiring or is it too violent for your taste? Let me know in the comments section. What is your favorite Shakespearean adaptation?

My Best Movies of 2018

Hi everyone! If you are following my youtube channel/podcast you already know my top 15 movies of 2018 list. It was a challenging list to put together and probably not the same as you will hear from anyone else but isn’t that the way these lists should be? So for those that haven’t heard here are my favorite movies of 2018:

15. A Star is Born

When I first heard they were remaking A Star is Born again I rolled my eyes at another cash grab from Hollywood. Then I went to see the movie and I loved it! The chemistry between Bradley Cooper and Lady Gaga was tremendous and the singing/music was so great. I haven’t heard such good singing in a musical movie since Dreamgirls. The ending is very sad but it works because of the chemistry and connection of the actors. The supporting work from Sam Elliott and Dave Chappelle was also great.

14. Sgt Stubby: An American Hero

Every year I like to have a little movie to champion and Sgt Stubby was mine for 2018. Made by a new animation studio, Fun Academy, this true story of WW1 dog and his owner made so many correct choices. They didn’t have the dog talk. He is just a normal sweet dog with a connection to his soldier owner. They didn’t minimize war; nor did they traumatize children with gory details. It hit just the right balance which is no easy task. Plus, they had lovely animation and a score from Patrick Doyle that elevated the production. I hope they keep making movies because it was a very promising start.

13. Instant Family

On the surface Instant Family looked like a tired big studio comedy but then I went to see it and I was shocked how much I liked it. I think what makes it work is the personal connections all involved have with foster care and adoption. The director Sean Anders basically tells his own story about how he and his wife adopted 3 siblings and the blessings and challenges that went along with it. The film does not gloss over how hard it is and how damaged these children are but it all worked for me. The ending when the adoption is finalized and you see the photos of the various crew with their adopted/foster children had me sobbing. I had to compose myself before leaving the theater. It was so good!

12. Incredibles 2

This is why I hate ranking things because I loved Incredibles 2 and yet it ends up at 12. Go figure! I loved this long-awaited sequel because not only is it a terrific superhero movie but it is also a treatise on how hard it is to be a parent. It avoids the pitfalls of the dumb Dad stereotypes by having Bob actually figure everything out. He eventually gets new math and how to help Violet. It’s just super exhausting which is how parenting is! The action was terrific and the animation bold. I loved it!

11. ROMA

Alfonso Cuarón is back with another winner. Everything about ROMA works from the stunning black and white cinematography to the touching story of women in Mexico and their struggles. Yalitza Aparicio gives a devastating performance especially in the scene where she gives birth and in a follow up scene where she gets her anger out at the beach. It may not be super rewatchable but it is a film I won’t soon forget.

10. Ralph Breaks the Internet

Everyone who follows me regularly knows I am more lukewarm on Wreck-it Ralph than the average Disney fan. I like it fine but don’t think it fully delivers on its premise. Ralph Breaks the Internet, on the other hand, elevates itself above its premise.My favorite part of the film is its message of friendship. Ralph must learn to accept Vanellope for who she is, not who he wishes she would be and that is the hardest thing to do in life. I found the ending to be quite touching as they figure out a solution to still love each other but allow them both to be their best selves. Of course, the movie is also very funny and a surprise Alan Menken song secured my love! (Also it basically admits the animators think Ariel is the best!).

9. Anna and the Apocalypse

Anyone knows how much I love Christmas movies and musicals so throw in zombies and I’m a happy girl! This genre mashup was probably the most creative movie-going experience of 2018. It was joyful, exuberant and surprisingly sweet. All the songs are a lot of fun especially Hollywood Ending and Turning  My Life Around. Ella Hunt has huge star potential but the whole cast works together well. It’s definitely a movie I will watch every year at Christmas, and I’m sure it will become a holiday cult classic. Delightful

8. Shoplifters

Ever since I saw After Life in 1998 I have been singing the praises of director Hirokazu Kore-eda. I love all of his movies and his latest Shoplifters is no exception. In what is basically a modern take on Oliver Twist, Kore-eda presents an unusual family  that is very flawed but has the best intentions. You know these people belong together but the law says they are doing the right thing. All the performances are lovely especially our two young children, Yuri (Miyu Sasaki) and Shota (Jyo Kairi). Kore-eda has such humanity for his characters and that allows Shoplifters to be both hopeful and devastating at the same time and it all works.

7. Juliet, Naked

Featuring my favorite script of 2018, Juliet, Naked tells the story of a woman (Rose Byrne) who is beginning to regret some of her life choices when she meets the rock star (Ethan Hawke) her boyfriend (Chris O’Dowd) is obsessed with. I love the Nick Hornby novel and this adaptation is pitch perfect in how it criticizes and yet stands up for modern-day obsession and fandom culture. I particularly love a scene towards the end where Chris O’Dowd’s character tells Ethan Hawke what his music meant to him and how it doesn’t really matter if the artist himself values it. His character is very flawed and the fact the screenplay allows me to still care about him shows how good the writing is. An under-seen gem of 2018

6. Crazy Rich Asians

Romantic comedies have long been overdue a big hit and Crazy Rich Asians is a great film to reinvigorate the genre (unless you’re a Hallmark fan which has been doing romcoms all along!). This film is about as perfectly executed a romcom as you could do. It’s funny, sweet, romantic, with tons of luxury porn and a wedding that will not soon be topped. However, putting that all aside it actually has well written characters who’s character motivations make sense. The mother for instance isn’t just a shrew who hates someone dating her son. She knows the sacrifice the family requires and an upstart, independent American,  in her eyes, isn’t going to able to make that sacrifice. Her POV makes sense. Also Henry Goulding is such a dream boat!

5. Lean on Pete

Lean on Pete is a movie I saw and liked but that stayed with me for weeks after. Director Andrew Haigh has made another stunning film about a boy named Charley (played so well by Charlie Plummer) who saves a racehorse named Pete from slaughter and begins a journey across America. It felt emotionally true and had me weeping throughout. It’s also a portrait of America today with all our heartlessness and humanity. The cinematography, music and supporting performances all work together to make it one of the best movies of the year!

4. Paddington 2

Who can be uncheered by Paddington 2? What a delightful sequel to an already delightful first film! When poor Paddington goes to prison and is waiting for the Browns to visit I felt it and yet he quickly revamps the place and introduces the inmates to the joys of marmalade. Hugh Grant is so great as the foppish actor villain and the rest of the cast is wonderful. It has such a lovely message about family and never losing hope and I just love it!

3. Leave No Trace

I saw Leave No Trace at Sundance and it never left me. Debra Granik fashioned a lovely movie about a father and daughter living off the grid. I’ve hated most of these off the grid stories but this does not try to paint the father in heroic colors. He is a damaged man and everyone knows it. I found it very touching how people try to help them along their way even if it is simply giving them a ride and a cup of coffee. Thomasin McKenizie is wonderful as the daughter who comes to realize she can love her father without making the same choices he makes. The ending has me cheering her as she makes very tough choices. It might sound depressing but it’s actually quite hopeful and invigorating.

2. Spider-Man: Into the Spider-verse

When I first heard that Sony Animation was making an animated Spider-man film I rolled my eyes. Their output hasn’t exactly been great lately and another Spider-man movie? Imagine my surprise when they managed to pull off one of the best animated films of the decade! Miles’ journey is easy to relate to and well written ( I love the scene when his father is talking to him through the door). It had emotion and was a really good coming of age story. Plus, the animation was unlike any I’ve ever seen before. The hybrid 2D/3D was dazzling. I also loved the story of the different Spider people and their own unique animation styles all flowing together. It was funny and sweet. It just has it all and has the potential to be a real game-changer for animated films!

1. Mary Poppins Returns

I know Mary Poppins Returns has received some mixed reviews but this is my list and it is without a doubt the movie that gave me the most joy in 2018. I loved everything about this movie. I loved all of the songs and the great singing and choreography that accompanied them. I loved the 2D animation and found the entire sequence in the bowl to be completely charming. I loved all the performances from Emily Blunt as Mary down to the smallest cameos. I think they nailed the balance of new with an homage to the original. Most of all I loved the message about how family and friends will help you get through the tough times in life. It had huge heart and felt like a kind of Disney magic I haven’t seen in live action in many years. I can’t wait to see the sequel!

So there you have it! My favorite movie list. Let me know what you think. Also I recorded a Best of 2018 Awards podcast with my friend Conrado you might enjoy. Who needs the Oscars when you have our awards 🙂

Exciting News and Almost Best Movies of 2018

So if you follow me on twitter or youtube you already know my big exciting news! Last week I was contacted by a representative from the website rottentomatoes.com asking me if I was interested in becoming an approved critic for their site. At first I thought this couldn’t be real and was some kind of scam but I looked into and sure enough it was real!

I am still in shock about this development because I don’t know how I was selected out of the many talented podcasters and bloggers. I hadn’t applied because my numbers are far under what they say you need to apply. I am guessing they were trying to recruit female critics and somehow I got on their radar but I really have no clue. Maybe they just liked my writing? Who knows?

Anyway, it is a super exciting development for me as it should help me get on press lists I have been dying to get on. It has already got me on the local Disney/Marvel press list which is a dream come true and I’m hoping to get approved for another big local list. It also gives my content more exposure which is a great thing! I just can’t believe it! Dreams do come true!

You can see my profile with a few uploaded reviews

https://www.rottentomatoes.com/critic/rachel-wagner/movies

Then I also posted my ALMOST Best Movies of 2018 List today. These are 15 movies I really loved that I couldn’t fit on my top 15 Best of List. I’d love for you to check out the video (or listen to the podcast) but here are the picks:

16. Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society– great performances by Lily James, Michel Huisman, Penelope Wilton and more. Lovely story with heart and touching moments. Loved the ending and the proposal.

17. Won’t You Be My Neighbor- a documentary that manages to draw you in just telling a man’s simple story. There’s a moment at Congress that had me on the edge of my seat. Inspiring and heartwarming. I also got to attend the premiere at Sundance and another exclusive screening to celebrate our local PBS station KUED. Good memories

18. Mirai– sweet and intimate little anime film from Mamoru Hosoda about a little boy learning to appreciate his new baby sister. He is visited by guests from the future and past to teach him to be kind. Lovely with beautiful animation.

19. Green Book– I love stories of unlikely friendship and this was a great one. Wonderful performances between Viggo Mortensen and Mahershala Ali. Some want this movie to be more than it is, a protest film but that’s not it at all. It’s just about 2 friends and it is full of comedy, tender moments and learning to accept and value someone you never thought you could get along with when you first met.

20. Minding the Gap– Stunning documentary where director Bing Li follows his friends from an early age and weaves in skateboarding into themes of growing up, change, and most importantly how the domestic violence put upon their mothers changes them.

21. The Night is Short Walk on Girl– surrealist, bright and bubbly anime about a girl who goes on a giant drinking bender on a break from college. There are musical sequences, wacky artwork and a sweet love story. A trippy experience but one I thoroughly enjoyed. Very different than any other anime I’ve seen.

22. Game Night– hilarious film about a bunch of friends trying to have a secret game night. The whole cast is hilarious. I especially loved Kyle Chandler in an unusual comedic role. Anyone who has a competitive family with games will relate and it shows well the slight desperation we can feel to socialize as grown ups in our 30s. It’s hard!

23. Three Identical Strangers– A documentary that completely blew me away. I stayed spoiler free so when certain things happen I was shocked! I could never have guessed such twists and turns. It was funny, heartwarming, scary, everything all rolled up into one crazy story.

24. Eighth Grade– I’m usually not a big fan of sullen teenager coming of age stories but this one had just enough humor and heart to work for me. Elsie Fisher was wonderful and her experience youtubing felt totally authentic (I know of what I speak!).

25. Bumblebee– A completely charming film that is the Transfomers movie I have been hoping for all along. I loved the nostalgic feel and the heart with the relationship between Bumblebee and Hailee Steinfeld’s character. The use of music was also brilliant. It’s how to do a great blockbuster/reboot.

26. A Quiet Place- I don’t know how rewatchable this film is but it belongs on this list because of the great performances and what a memorable theater experience I had. The tension of the story and atmosphere they created really worked for me. I was so wound up when I left the theater I kept getting startled by everything around me! Such fun! (It’s also a story at its heart about a family that loves each other).

27. Maquia: Where the Promised Flower Blooms– an extremely ambitious anime fantasy from director Mari Okada. It has all you could want in a fantasy with battles, elves and dragons but at its core is a touching story about a girl becoming a mother and changing as a person in the process. Beautiful animation and music and I can’t wait to see what she does next.

28. Creed II- one of the more underrated films of the year. I really thought it was great. I liked all the performances and thought the story built tension and excitement well. I honestly would have been fine with either Adonis or the Dragos winning the final fight which is hard to do in a boxing movie. If it’s the end of the series it is a good way to go out.

29. The Hate U Give– The greatest thing about this movie is how well it portrays a family. These actors really felt like family and had incredible chemistry together. They did a great job building tension and showing a nuanced and layered view of the situation. I didn’t feel preached at but invested in her story and the family. The school stuff doesn’t work as well for me but I didn’t love that in the book so not especially surprised. Still very good YA adaptation.

30. Isle of Dogs– stunning animation from Wes Anderson and a story with the dogs that was adorable. I loved the attention to detail especially in the backgrounds. Amazing! Some of the human stuff doesn’t work as well but I still thoroughly enjoyed this unique animated tale.

So there you have it: My ALMOST Best Movies of 2018 List. What do you think? Let me know in the comments. Thanks for all your support! Sure love ya!

Highs and Lows of Christmas Movies 2018

My thoughts on the Christmas movie season 2018

Smilingldsgirl's Weblog

The new year is here and I am taking down my Christmas décor. It has been quite the season with me covering every new Christmas movie in 2018 whether on television or feature film. All together I watched 85 new films over Christmas:

Here are some of my takeaways from the season:

Highs-

    1. Whimsy for the Win- whether on Hallmark, Lifetime or Netflix, movies with a little bit of magic and whimsy won me over. I really enjoyed Shoe Addict’s Christmas where Candace Cameron Bure learns the risks she could have taken in her life from the amazing Jean Smart and how she should take more leaps of faith in the future.
      Christmas Perfection on Lifetime was in deed perfection with its story of a girl who gets to live her perfect Irish Christmas over and over again including having her friends and family act just the way she wishes…

View original post 1,392 more words

2018 in Animation

Today I wanted to share with you all a podcast I did with 3 of my friends on the year of animation in 2018. It’s a long one but we covered every release we could from the small to the large.

If you get to listen I would love to hear your thoughts and feedback. What did you think about animation in 2018? Any disappointments or surprises?

My ranking of 2018 animation:

1. Spider-Man: Into the Spiderverse

2. Ralph Breaks the Internet

3. Incredibles 2

4. Sgt Stubby: An American Hero

5. The Night is Short Walk on Girl

6. Mirai

7. Maquia: When the Last Flower Blooms

8. Isle of Dogs

9. My Hero Academia: The Movie

10. Teen Titans Go! To the Movies

11. Tito and the Birds

12. Hotel Transylvania 3

13. Pokemon: the Power of Us

14. Liz and the Blue Bird

15. Next Gen

16. Smallfoot

17. The Grinch

18. Maya the Bee 2: the Honey Games

19. DC Superhero Girls: Legends of Atlantis

20. Early Man

21. Gnome Alone

22. Fireworks

23. Ice Dragon: Legend of the Blue Daisies

24. Sherlock Gnomes

25. Lu Over the Wall

26. White Fang

27. MFKZ

28. Duck Duck Goose