Loving Vincent Review

2017 has been a banner year for independent animated films. I wouldn’t be surprised if my top animated films ranking at the end of the year has 7 or more indies in the top 10. They have just been that good. All that said, now we get to one of my most anticipated indies of the year, Loving Vincent, and I must own to being a little disappointed. What the animators have accomplished is a great achievement but unfortunately it is not a great movie.

Let’s talk about the great accomplishment first. Loving Vincent is the first animated film to be made entirely with oil paintings. The creators gathered 115 different artists and made oil paintings for all 65,000 frames of the movie! It is a bold, audacious project and visually it pays off. This movie looks gorgeous and the movement of the animation really captures the feel of a Van Gogh painting. You can see in this trailer how amazing the animation is:

They also got a strong vocal cast for Loving Vincent including Chris O’Dowd and Saoirse Ronan.

The problem lies with the story. I’m fine with artistic movies with little plot like A Ghost Story or Knight of Cups; however, Loving Vincent isn’t that kind of art film. No, it has a plot. It’s just not a very good one.

Basically it is about a man named Armand who is assigned the task to deliver a letter to the estate of Vincent Van Gogh. The artist has died via suicide along with his brother Theo. As Armand tries to deliver his letter he begins to suspect maybe it wasn’t a suicide after all…

The problem is it doesn’t have much to say about life, death, suicide, art or anything else. It’s just Armand interviewing a bunch of people and them reciting back facts. If this was a live action film it would never see the light of day. There just isn’t enough meat on the bones here to enjoy the story.

The characters are also not very compelling. Armand is very bland and most of the other characters are kind of cold and cruel. Van Gogh isn’t even compelling because we get so little of him and it is mostly through cliches. This is a man who cut off his own ear and mailed it to someone. Certainly his story must have been more interesting than this?

Loving Vincent is certainly not a bad film and I recommend seeing it if only for the visuals. It’s just disappointing because it could have been great and it isn’t. But hey at least we got something fresh, new and beautiful to look at. I’ll take that deal any day.

Overall Grade- C

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DreamWorks 17: Sinbad Legend of the Seven Seas

The DreamWorks film Sinbad: Legend of the Seven Seas is one I had heard about but somehow never gotten around to watching. Secretly I was hoping it would turn out to be a hidden gem that I would find very underrated, but I still didn’t see it. Well, today I finally watched it and unfortunately it’s not a very strong film. It’s certainly not the worst of DreamWorks, but I can see why it has been basically forgotten.

Sinbad tells the classic story of the famous pirate but this time he gets mixed up in the schemes of Eris, the Goddess of Discord. The plot then becomes very convoluted. Basically it involves Sinbad, his friend Proteus, Proteus’ fiance Marina, a magic book and a variety of other adventures.

The problem is those adventures aren’t accompanied by characters I cared much about. Proteus is gone for most of the movie so it mostly relies on Sinbad to carry the film. What can I say about Sinbad but he’s no Jack Sparrow…He’s completely forgettable. Brad Pitt is fine as his voice but the role is super bland.

Then we have Marina and she was a strange character. At times she would be tough but then other times she was very submissive. She was engaged to someone she didn’t love but then storms off with Sinbad at a moments notice. She swings from being a damsel in distress needing rescue to punching Sinbad in the face. She had more personality than Sinbad but it just didn’t quite work. I liked some of their romantic comedy-style banter but it felt a little weird given they were both cheating on the friend who had put his life on the line for them to be together. Awkward…

Then we have the villain Eris who is probably the best thing in the movie. Her design is pretty cool and she is well voiced by Michelle Pfeiffer; although, I was a little unclear what her motivations were. I guess she wanted the Book of Peace because it is powerful or something? It was a little vague. Everything with the book was vague and not very satisfying.

The animation in Sinbad also leaves much to be desired. If we remember this is the same year as Finding Nemo it’s pretty alarming how bad the ocean and sea life look in this movie. At times the animation reminded me of a Barbie movie which is not good for a major studio film.  I wish they had just gone all 2D because the mixture looks awful. For some reason Prince of Egypt and Spirit both hold up in their animation but this looked really bad. It always looked like the characters were floating on top of the backgrounds. Road to El Dorado with its many flaws has way better animation.

The one huge plus I will give Sinbad is the score by Harry Gregson-Williams is terrific. It really helped me get into the action scenes even if I wasn’t sure who was fighting or what was going on. It really worked well for the movie.

I am glad I finally checked Sinbad off my bucket list. It does have some positives but not enough that I can recommend it. I would say watch Spirit or Prince of Egypt instead. Those films have better characters, stories and animation.

What do you think of Sinbad: Legend of the Seven Seas?

(Also I don’t think there was any legends or anything about the 7 seas? Did I miss something It should have been called Sinbad: Legend of the Book of Peace)

DreamWorks 16: Flushed Away

Do you ever have those movies that you feel like you should like so you keep going back to hoping that time will do the trick? Flushed Away is such a movie for me. I love Aardman Animation. I love the voice cast and the story although generic would be fine if the execution worked for me. My nieces and sister  love it so that makes me want to love it. Sadly I watched it again today and walked away  not loving it or even liking it much to be honest. Let me try to explain why. Flushed Away is about a pampered rat named Roddy. He is the pet of a rich family and one day he is flushed down the toliet by a common sewer rat named Sid. This is the first problem. I hate Sid. He’s supposed to be funny but comes across as super annoying instead. Such is the case with many of Flushed Away’s characters.

The second problem is Roddy has no motivation as a character. He’s flushed down the toilet against his will and then spends the rest of the movie trying to get back home, except for him home isn’t family or something like that. It is luxury and fine living. Getting back to the high life doesn’t make for a super compelling character.

Once in the sewer he meets a tough talking rat named Rita who is trying retrieve a stolen ruby from an evil toad. She is doing this for her family, which gives her some motivation but in the end it is a buddy road trip movie and nothing more. I expect more inventive storytelling from Aardman Animation.

The villainous Toad has some fun moments but nothing that made me warm up to the movie as a whole. The animation is also very rough in patches with cgi trying to mimic the look of Aardman’s stop motion, which is  a real shame since I love their stop motion style. There are times when the rendering looks pretty bad. I realize it is way back in 2006 but it is the same year as Cars and Happy Feet- both films with way better animation. The next year would come Ratatouille, which just the Paris cityscapes  alone triumph over anything in Flushed Away.

A lot of the enjoyment of this film will come down to whether you find it funny. I did enjoy the singing slugs. They made me laugh and brought some good tunes into the mix. Unfortunately the rest of the jokes either annoys me or lands flat. Like I said, my sister and nieces think it is hilarious so it depends on your sense of humor I suppose.

I like the overall message about family and that even if they drive you crazy those bonds are special and should be treasured. Single life could have been portrayed with a little more nuance but it’s a movie for small children so I will give them that one. Most people will feel good with the message of the film.

Sometimes with films we just have to say ‘this one isn’t for me’ and that’s the case with Flushed Away. I see why other people enjoy it but it doesn’t work for me. I don’t enjoy watching it and really have no desire to watch it again. I recommend watching Pirates! or Shaun the Sheep Movie instead

Ranking 2017 Animated Trailers

Hey guys! I just wanted to share with you a fun video I did over on my channel. In this one I rank the animated trailers of 2017. I didn’t include some indies or smaller films but still ended up with 22 trailers. This ranking is not indicative of my feelings on the final film, just the trailer. In fact, some of them haven’t even come out yet. It’s a longer video but I think you will enjoy it!

How would you rank the animated trailers this year? I would love to hear your list.

My Ranking of 2017 Animated Trailers 

(watch video to hear explanation!)

  1. Cars 3
  2. The Breadwinner
  3. Isle of Dogs
  4. Rock Dog
  5. Early Man
  6. Lego Batman
  7. Olaf’s Frozen Adventure
  8. Lego Ninjago
  9. Smurf’s: The Lost Village
  10. Animal Crackers
  11. Despicable Me 3
  12. Leap
  13. Coco
  14. Captain Underpants
  15. My Little Pony
  16. Nut Job 2
  17. Ferdinand
  18. Emoji Movie
  19. Boss Baby
  20. Duck Duck Goose
  21. Peter Rabbit
  22. The Star

 

The Stray Review

I always like supporting local films of quality when I get the chance and the recent film The Stray is such a film. It’s a little hard to talk about without spoilers but it follows the longstanding cinematic tradition of heartfelt stories about a boy and his dog except in this case it is an entire family and their dog.

The premise is a couple with 3 kids are struggling while the husband is working long hours in corporate Hollywood. His dream is to write screenplays but pursuing that dream is risky and the corporate approach seems safer. One ay busy with work he makes a promise to his son that they can have a dog if it is a stray that wanders onto their yard. Well, it just so happens that a dog does that very thing and this dog becomes ‘Pluto the Wonder Dog!’.

The family ends up moving to Colorado to start trying to save their marriage and family. You’ll have to watch the rest to see what happens.

There is no doubt The Stray has its heart in the right place and that gets it far. It’s funny because I’m not that fan of dogs in my real life but on the movies I love them. Everything from Old Yeller, to Sounder, to Where the Red Fern Grows are all emotional films led by dogs! This is also emotional and it is faith-based without being too heavy handed (there are no clergy ever seen mostly just a few prayers).

The emotion can be a bit of a double edged sword because The Stray is definitely a tearjerker. As I was leaving the theater a woman said ‘well, that was too sad for my taste’. I don’t mind sad movies but it definitely made me tear up. I guess go into it with the right expectations and attitude and you will probably enjoy it. It definitely might be too upsetting for very small children but could also lead to needed discussion about life, death and making time matter with those we love.

I really loved Sarah Lancaster and Michael Cassidy in the leads. They had chemistry and Sarah is a Hallmark pro so of course she is good! 😉 The kids are also pretty well cast and aren’t very grating.

It’s a short movie which helps to deal with the emotion. You aren’t dwelling on it too long.

Anyway, The Stray is a sold tearjerker for the entire family that I think is worth a watch.

Overall Grade- B-

Blind Spot 22: Donnie Darko

It is time for this month’s blog entry for the Blind Spot series and today we are looking at the cult classic Donnie Darko! So get your black rabbit suits out and let’s talk about this unusual film.

Donnie Darko is directed by Richard Kelly and stars Jake Gyllenhaal as a disgruntled teen who keeps having visions of the future accompanied by a giant black evil rabbit. It also features Jena Malone, Patrick Swayze, and Drew Barrymore.

There are a lot of things I liked about Donnie Darko. First, I liked how it captured a feeling of teenage angst. As a teen I remember feeling that everyone was doing things wrong and if they would just listen to me it would be better. This feeling was compounded by the fact that most people seemed to see teenagers as inherently stupid and annoying. A movie like Donnie Darko validates those feelings and tells teens to follow their instincts and that adults are not always right. This is empowering. 

Second, Donnie Darko is bold and uses imagery and symbolism without feeling the need to explain everything to death. It gives the viewer the opportunity to explain the images they are seeing in their own way- for us all to have a discussion.

My take on the narrative is that it is about mental illness. He spends a lot of time with a shrink that isn’t very helpful. She validates his experiences but doesn’t help provide a solution. Then you have a self-help speaker who is complete BS and other voices claiming they can solve Donnie’s severe psychosis. As his anxiety for the future grows the more desperate he grows until he becomes dangerous. Such is often the case with untreated or poorly treated mental illness.

It reminded me a little bit of what happened to me after I had a panic attack. All of the sudden the idea of bad things became something that would cause panic because I’d already experienced that happening before. Depression and anxiety are literally seen as a black cloud over Donnie and I can confirm that is how it feels.

Also when you are in the midst of a panic attack or severe mental break it feels like the world is going to end, which is a theme of the movie. You both dread and pray for this ending because anything is better than how you are feeling during these episodes.

There are some things, however, I didn’t like in Donnie Darko. My main problem is it can be a bit self-indulgent at times telling us things we already know just to introduce a cool visual or reiterate an already stated point. 122 minutes is far too long for this film and it feels repetitive after a while. It would have worked better if it had the 92 minute run time of this year’s equally abstract A Ghost Story.

I also think sometimes it bites off more than it can chew. It tries to comment on science, religion, politics, mental illness, divorce, teen sexuality, bullying, time travel and more. These many messages can leave it a little muddled and confusing.It’s also very cynical so unless you are an angsty teen who needs that angst to be understood I don’t think you will connect emotionally with it (which I think it wants you to do). I certainly didn’t have an emotional bond with the film.

Still, I admire the risk taking and what it has to say about mental illness. It’s got problems but overall I’d still recommend Donnie Darko.

Overall Grade- B

It is an R rating mostly for language

What is your take on Donnie Darko? I’ve heard all kinds of theories, which I think is a fun part of the film.

 

Blade Runner 2049 Review

I saw the original Blade Runner for the first time last year as part of my Blind Spot series. You can read my initial thoughts here. It’s a very impressive movie and worth watching just for the themes and influence it had on cinema. However, I must own I find it kind of slow and I’ve fallen asleep every time I’ve seen it (which is 5 times now). I saw the new film Blade Runner 2049 in a marathon with the old one and sure enough I fell asleep watching the old one. It’s just too languid in spots.

I did a podcast on the original with my friend Patrick you should check out

With that said, you can imagine my joy that Blade Runner 2049 not only kept me awake but I enjoyed it very much. I think it does the rare thing for a sequel by actually being better than the original film. It looks every bit as good but it is better paced with more engaging characters and action.


Director Denis Villeneuve and cinematographer Roger Deakins do an amazing job creating a world with layers and that feels old and new at the same time. Whether it is sand, rain or snow the atmosphere never fails to be immersive and mesmerizing.

The story is a bit convoluted but basically without spoilers Ryan Gosling stars as K a young Blade Runner who is given the job of retiring older model replicants. As he does this he explores part of his past, a mysterious body and a new organization that replaced the Tyrell Corporation from the previous film.

Harrison Ford is back as Deckard and he’s not in it quite as much as I thought he would but he’s great. It’s definitely one of his better performances and I wouldn’t complain if he got nominated for the role. He’s not just the surly old man he usually plays these days but a wounded desperate man.

There aren’t many cameos in Blade Runner 2049 and it focuses on telling a new story. I loved all the performances with the exception of Jared Leto who I found a bit grating.Robin Wright, Ana de Armas and Silvia Hoeks are all tremendous in their roles and Ryan Gosling is wonderful as the Blade Runner K.

I am not going to tell you I understood everything in Blade Runner 2049 or that it all makes sense but that is part of the fun of a film like this. It has layers you can talk about and interpret differently. It doesn’t spell things out like exposition heavy movies do (except for the Leto character which can be a bit much).

Most importantly I didn’t fall asleep or get bored like I do with the original Blade Runner. I found it engaging and interesting, which was a relief.

There are some issues with the movie. As I mentioned, I wasn’t high on Leto and the plot can be a bit convoluted. Also, it could have definitely had 15-20 minutes cut out and it would have been a little better.

Still, a big improvement over the original so that is a tremendous accomplishment for all involved. Blade Runner fans and non-fans should definitely check it out and enjoy some striking scifi film noire. It’s still not my favorite genre, but I enjoyed it quite a bit.

 

 

Romantic Movies I Like That Most Hate

As a serious devotee of cinema one of the things I get a bit of clack for is my love for romantic movies- particularly romcoms. I am an unabashed fan. I even recently started a new podcast with my friend Amber where we review the Hallmark Movies which are pretty much all romances (we are having an absolute blast by the way). It’s a new channel so if you are interested we could use new subscribers! Anyway in honor of the podcast I thought I would share with you some romantic films that I enjoy, which are often hated on (hate may be too strong of a word but you get the idea).

In no particular order

Last Holiday

Everyone knows I especially love a good romantic Christmas movie and Last Holiday definitely fits the bill. Queen Latifah is warm and lovely as a woman named Georgia who finds out she has a month to live, so she decides to start living her dreams. This includes staying at a fancy hotel in Europe, eating good food instead of Lean Cuisine and buying the prettiest party dress.

LL Cool J plays her co-worker who is impressed with both versions of Georgia and they have terrific chemistry.

Romeo + Juliet

I honestly might like this film even better than Moulin Rouge. I enjoy Baz Luhrmann’s creative take on Shakespeare. He obviously gives it is his own flair but the core story remains in tact. The production design is great and the Shakespeare manages to feel natural.

Most importantly Claire Danes and Leonardo DiCaprio have fantastic chemsitry and the supporting cast including Brian Dennehy and John Leguizamo are great.

No Strings Attached

In 2011 two films came out that dealt with casual relationships. I prefer No Strings Attached. This is directed by Ivan Reitman and it has his charm and engaging scripts. I find myself laughing out loud throughout the film. My favorite parts are when Adam is trying to impress Emma and he makes her a period cd full of songs like Bleeding Love. That always makes me laugh.

It’s no secret that Ashton Kutcher is not the greatest actor but I honestly think he is fine in this and Natalie Portman has never looked sexier in a film. This is a fairly strong R rating but I like it. Mindy Kaling is fun as her roommate.

A Walk in the Clouds

Like Ashton Kutcher, Keanu Reeves is also not the greatest actor in the world especially when he is trying to be sincere; However, there is so much else going for A Walk in the Clouds that I can deal with his performance. Directed by Alfonso Arau this movie looks gorgeous with vineyard cinematography and intimate camera work. I love all the other performances including Aitana Sanchez-Gijonb and Giancarlo Giannini as Reeves’ pretend wife and her strict father.

Win a Date with Tad Hamilton

Is this movie loaded with contrivances? Sure but at its heart are 3 good people who I want to see happy. I will put up with so many contrivances if a romance can give me that. Plus, I love Topher Grace. He is perfect in this role and Kate Bosworth and Josh Duhamel are great too. Charming, charming, charming!

Wild Hearts Can’t Be Broken

I admit there may be a bit of nostalgia in this pick. This is a very sugary romance from 90s about a blind girl who becomes a horse diver despite the odds. It’s cheesy but I love Gabrielle Anwar and Michael Schoeffling. She is stunning and they have great chemistry. It’s a breezy 88 minutes and I love it!

Some Kind of Wonderful

I admit this one is a bit of a cheat as a lot of people like this movie but I feel like it is constantly overshadowed by Breakfast Club and 16 Candles and I like this better than both those films. It is fairly predictable story but underneath that plot are 3 very well written and acted characters. I particularly like Lea Thompson’s Amanda who should be the cliched judgy popular girl but she’s not. She has a personality and makes interesting choices. The chemistry between Watts and Keith is so strong. I love it!

The Rewrite

The Rewrite was one of my favorite movies from 2014 and everyone I have shown it to has also liked it. It’s the kind of movie we never get any more but it’s really well executed. Hugh Grant is in top form as a screenwriter who is demoted to a teaching position in a small town. It has something to say about love, work, writing, movies, stories and more. The cast is tremendous with Allison Janney, JK Simmons, Marisa Tomei and more. It’s funny, thoughtful and sweet.

The Longest Ride-

This is probably my toughest sale of this post but I will try. Most Nicholas Sparks movies are awful because they are so emotionally manipulative usually killing off a major character just to make you cry. In The Longest Ride they don’t do that! They get close but then don’t do that. I liked Britt Robertson and Scott Eastman in this. They have great chemistry. I liked seeing them work out their differing career ambitions and I also liked the older couple played by Alan Alda, Jack Huston, and Oona Chaplin. I get why many don’t like it but I enjoyed it.

Serendipity-

Some romances soar on the chemistry of its stars. Such is the case with Serendipity. Kate Beckinsale and John Cusack  are so great together and I like them both so much that I enjoy going on this silly ride with them. The whole cast is actually solid with Molly Shannon, Jeremy Piven, John Corbett, Eugene Levy and more. New York never looked better and it’s easy for me to get swept away in the romance.

Just Wright-

Another underseen romance from Queen Latifah on this list. She is beautiful in this film and is a nice contrast to the stunning but vapid Paula Patton (yet still likable in a kind of unlikable role). Latifah and Common have great chemistry and it’s another romance where we like both of them and want to see them happy.

The things that separate them are somewhat contrived but I was invested enough to not care.

Beautician and the Beast-

I suppose this film is a bit of a guilty pleasure for me. I know it is super contrived but I still enjoy it. Timothy Dalton is hilarious as the uptight dictator and I’ve always loved Fran Drescher. In fact, The Nanny is one of my favorite shows ever and this  is basically a movie version of The Nanny. They have decent chemistry and it makes me laugh. Beauty and the Beast combined with Fran- what more could you ask for? LOL

So there you have it- my list of romantic films which aren’t appreciated enough. What about you? What are some romances you like that most people don’t? I’d love to hear your list.  Thanks!

Frozen Musical Review

I am writing this blog from good old Denver Colorado! My friend Phaedra and I decided to make the drive to see the new Disney Frozen: The Musical. It’s the latest in a long line of Broadway adaptations from Disney that started with Beauty and the Beast and has included The Little Mermaid, Aladdin and more. Frozen will open on Broadway next year so this was just a preview screening but we decided we should check it out!

One cool thing I got to experience was to wear my Elsa cosplay to the play. There were tons of little girls dressed up as Anna and Elsa and they got a real kick out of a grown-up Elsa running around. It really made me feel pretty and special  to have all these girls smiling and waving to me (or Elsa!).

I was also able to go with my friend Phaedra and fellow youtuber Larry from LC Screentalk. We had a great time hanging out and  all 3 of us loved the musical. It was bright and colorful, had great songs and was a faithful recreation of the hit movie. I don’t think it will win over new fans but it was a very good play.

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There were a lot of things that worked in this musical. First of all, the casting was spot on. I loved the women playing Anna and Elsa. They were both tremendous singers. I also thought the man playing Olaf was an uncanny imitation of Josh Gadd from the film. They decided to make Kristoff an African-American character which I thought was cool (and he did a great job). Hans was also a terrific singer and convincing at playing both hero and villain.

The spectacle of Frozen: the Musical was also great. Let it Go is everything you could want it to be with one of the most amazing dress changes I’ve ever seen.  Also Sven and Olaf were a ton of fun using puppets. Both were expressive  and worked seamlessly within the story. I loved the way they showed the ice and Elsa’s magic working it in some cool special effects. The sets and costumes were all outstanding and immersive.

They also gave us some new songs. Elsa sings one called ‘Monster’, and Kristoff has a song called ‘What Do You Know About Love?’ that I liked. The Young Anna and Elsa were excellent and sang 4 songs. There was only one song I did not like called Hygge that went on too long and had elements of comedy I didn’t care for.

Frozen: the Musical is not the kind of broadway musical you go to in order to be provocative or challenged. It takes the film and makes small but meaningful changes that I think most people will really enjoy. It’s a musical you can take the whole family to, both boys and girls will like it, and have a great time at. It’s got spectacle, heart and some great songs.

When Frozen:the Musical comes by you I encourage you to see it. It’s a lot of fun and I think will do very well when it does come to Broadway next year!

Overall Grade- A-

Here is my review for my youtube channel with my friend Larry