Blind Spot 37: Henry V (1989)

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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.

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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?

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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…

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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

 

2019 Blind Spot Picks

Since 2016 I have participated in the Blind Spot project, which is a monthly series where I watch and review a popular film I haven’t seen yet. So far I have reviewed 36 films in the series and it has been an amazing experience! Some I have loved like Tron and others weren’t for me like The Green Mile. Nevertheless, it is always interesting to watch and review these classic films.

So it is with great pleasure I announce my 2019 Blind Spot Picks:

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January- Henry V

This Shakespeare adaptation put Kenneth Branagh on the map and got him 2 Oscar nominations. I’ve seen the play once at the Utah Shakespeare Festival but it is not one I am super familiar with so I am looking forward to watching this film.

garden state

February- Garden State

Hailed by hipsters everywhere as a classic, it’s about time I saw Garden State. I’m hoping for a fun sweet romantic comedy for the month of love.

usual suspects

March- The Usual Suspects

I know this movie has a double bad name to it with Kevin Spacey and Bryan Singer in it but they won’t make much money from my rental so I figure it’s time to check this ‘neo-noir mystery film’ off of my list.

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April- Scott Pilgrim vs the World

Directed by Edgar Wright this quasi comicbook movie/romance (it’s a genre mashup I am told) should be a lot of fun to finally visit.

brief encounter

May- Brief Encounter

For May I am going to be checking off the art house favorite 1945’s Brief Encounter starring Celia Johnson and Trevor Howard. It’s about a bored housewife who happens to meet a doctor while doing errands and the brief encounter turns into more than they bargained for. Sounds intriguing!

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June- Gidget

Sandra Dee became the ultimate girl next door in Gidget. She plays a young woman who finds surfing and a handsome surfer named Moondoggie Matthews all in one summer at the beach! I love the beach and romances so this should be a lot of fun.

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July- The Best Years of Our Lives-

Hailed as one of the greatest films to win best picture, The Best Years of Our Lives has long been on my radar. It’s just so long at nearly 3 hours that I hadn’t gotten around to seeing it but I am really looking forward to checking this post-World War 2 family drama off of my list.

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August- Take Shelter-

I love director Jeff Nichols films but I haven’t gotten around to seeing his film Take Shelter. It tells the story of a man played by Michael Shannon who starts getting apocalyptic visions and what he does to protect his family. Jessica Chastain is also in it and it looks very intriguing.

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September- The Pianist-

I have avoided this movie because of my distaste for director Roman Polanski but it seems like a perfect choice for the blind spot project. Adrien Brody won an Oscar for his role, and I know it is a moving Holocaust story which are always edifying if difficult to watch.

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October- Cowboy Bebop: the Movie-

Now that I have finished the Studio Ghibli films it is time to expand into other anime and Cowboy Bepop: the Movie is definitely something I have been curious about for some time. The story of intergalactic bounty hunters seems very creative and I look forward to checking it out.

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November- The Man Who Shot Liberty Valance-

I like to have a good variety in my blind spot picks so why not pick a classic western! The Man Who Shot Liberty Valance stars 2 of Hollywood’s greatest leading men in Jimmy Stewart and John Wayne and it is directed by the master John Ford. That’s enough to sell me!

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December- Tokyo Godfathers-

My Christmas pick for blind spot is the anime film Tokyo Godfathers. It has been one I’ve been wanting to watch for a while. I’m just always so busy during the holidays to watch it! The story of 3 homeless people who find a baby on Christmas Eve is supposed to be really special and I look forward to seeing it.

So there you have it! What do you think of my picks? Have you seen any of these films and are you going to participate in the Blind Spot project? You all should! It’s really fun and rewarding

Bumblebee and Aquaman Thoughts

I recently had the chance to see 2 big blockbuster films that are trying to boost failing franchises: Bumblebee and Aquaman. One I liked. One I did not like. As opposed to doing separate reviews I thought it would be fun to compare the two and explain why one worked and one didn’t.

bumblebee

The Transformers series has always been discouraging because the lore and characters has so much potential for an engaging blockbuster. Unfortunately the franchise was saddled with Michael Bay for five movies and the only thing he could produce is exhausting films that tried to be funny and exciting in the most cringe-worthy ways.

Finally Paramount has come to their senses and replaced Michael Bay with Laika’s Travis Knight to create a Bumblebee spinoff film. In what feels like a reboot Knight takes the character of Bumblebee and crafts an immensely satisfying, heartfelt film that the entire family will enjoy.

You could make the case that Bumblebee is derivative of films like E.T. and The Iron Giant and you would be correct; however, I have no problem with films that pull from earlier projects, even heavily so, if it is done well and this is. It’s a simple story of Hailee Steinfeld’s Charlie, a lonely teenager missing her father, who finds an old VW bug who it turns out just happens to be Bumblebee!

The decepticons are looking for Bumblebee and they trick the government into believing he is the enemy not them. Then Charlie must find a way to save Bumblebee from the government and all the while feel love again from their new friendship.

It’s very simple but completely charming. I loved all the interactions between Charlie and Bumblebee and was rooting for them during the entire film. The decepticons, Shatter and Dropkick can be a little annoying but compared to the Bay films they are a joy to behold!

Bumblebee represents the best kind of blockbuster film. It has fun action, sweet moments, beautiful special effects and characters I care about. Go see it!

Smile Worthy

aquaman

Now let’s talk about Aquaman. In many ways Aquaman is a frustrating film because it has so many positive elements. I feel like it should work much more than it does. Like Knight, director James Wan, clearly put his all into creating a beautiful and epic film. Unfortunately where Bumblebee told a simple and sweet story, Aquaman’s script is plodding and lacking the emotional weight or character development it needs to draw the viewer in.

The strengths of Aquaman is the casting of the leads. Jason Mamoa is a serviceable actor that definitely looks the part of the hunky rebel from the sea. He has nice chemistry with Amber Heard’s Mera and together they were able to elevate some very clunky scenes. I liked the witty banter between them and in particular when they are searching for a magic trident in the desert it was engaging.

I also liked Nicole Kidman as Aquaman’s mother Atlanna. Her story had heart and it worked as a comic book fairytale. In fact I wish the movie had just been about her life and relationship with the lighthouse keeper.

Where Aquaman loses me is the endless exposition. The script is loaded with scenes of various Atlantean leaders talking about the government and who is going to rule. Didn’t James Wan learn anything from The Phantom Menace? These types of discussions are not interesting. I really don’t care if Patrick Wilson’s Orm or Dolph Lundgren’s Nereus rules the underwater world. The base question of which brother, Orm or Aquaman, should rule could have been interesting but we need some kind of human connection: Some idea of the cost the people, or the rulers will face if they chose different rulers and I did not get that at all here. Instead it was seemingly unending dialogue about Atlantean policies, customs and lore. What a snooze.

If you want to see a good example of this type of conflict done well watch this year’s Black Panther. In that film, we see the backstory of Kilmonger and we understand what he wants for Wakanda in comparison with what T’Challa wants. The stakes are clear. The political discourse is concise and the emotional pull behind the different choices draws you in. The only part of Black Panther where I was bored was when T’Challa is off screen and that’s because the screenplay does such a good job with his character motivations.

In contrast, the screenplay in Aquaman does everything it can to bore the viewer. Even the action is repetitive and dull. It’s just fight, crash into a building and then repeat. At least Black Panther had some variety to the type of fighting and the fighters involved to keep it interesting.

As for Aquaman other people may enjoy the fantasy world building and the charismatic lead performances enough to get them through the exposition but that wasn’t enough to carry me through Phantom Menace and it’s not enough here either. But if you want a 143 minute trip into Atlantean politics with bland action it is the movie for you…

Frown Worthy

So there you have it. Go see Bumblebee. It’s the by far superior action blockbuster out this weekend.

Worst Movies of 2018

It’s that time of year when I present my worst movies of the year list and this year I decided to do things a little bit differently. Instead of a strict bottom 10 I chose to spread the wealth and talk about a bunch of groupings of films I disliked. You can watch the video above to hear more of my explanations but here they are for the blog

Blockbusters that Stunk!

bad movies1

My first category is big studio releases that fell flat:

The Meg– disappointing shark movie that took itself seriously when its trailers promised camp. Instead of being fun it was mega-boring

Pacific Rim Uprising- removed any of the artistry or interesting choices of the original and replaced it with loud hard to visualize action filled with annoying characters

The Nutcracker and the 4 Realms- I was so hoping this would be a fun surprise but it was a dud. There was no conflict and most of the Clara was watching stuff happen (even on stage sometimes). Boring!

Once Upon a Deadpool- I’ve never seen either of the Deadpool movies and judging by this PG-13 version of Deadpool 2 I don’t want to. It was boring, unfunny and the acting by many was weak

Fantastic Beasts and the Crimes of Grindelwald– This whole movie was a crime. I felt exhausted after I saw it. There were so many plot threads and characters and none of it made a lick of sense to this muggle. Worst fantasy film I’ve seen since Warcraft.

bad movies2

Romantic Comedy Duds-

Everyone knows I love romantic comedies but when they fail, they fail badly:

Destination Wedding- what everyone hates about romcoms all in one movie. Both characters were miserable and irritating and did nothing but argue for 2 hours. No chemistry and one of the least sexy sex scenes I’ve ever seen.

Little Italy- the leads were decent but the humor fell so flat with its constant sex jokes that were not funny. The stereotyping and plot were terrible. Yuck!

The Kissing Booth- an awkward film where the director seemed to linger the camera over its teenage protagonist in uncomfortable ways. Both male leads were terrible especially her BFF who was the worst

The Spy Who Dumped Me- this film has some decent action but it swings so strongly between slapstick comedy and extreme violence that I was very turned off by it. Let’s just say it was not for me

bad movies3

Adaptations that Bombed-

Some of my favorite novels were adapted in 2018 but unfortunately not adapted proficiently:

Wrinkle in Time- what a disappointment. With such a cast, budget and promising director to get this dud. They failed to capture the spirituality of the novel and put in place speechifying where Meg is told she is a warrior instead of coming to realize it herself. The plot was muddled and George Wallace irritating. It just failed

Little Women- I’m up for a modern take on Little Women but not one where they turn Jo into an obnoxious judgemental jerk, which is what this version did (amongst other problems)

Sherlock Gnomes- after Sherlock series 4 sucked so badly I guess everyone decided it was time to follow suit with awful Sherlock Holmes stories like Sherlock Gnomes. This movie was irritating in so many ways especially the villain

Ophelia- I kept having to thwart my laughter at this ridiculous feminist take on Hamlet with Ophelia outwitting all and storming the castle along with the Queen’s secret twin who lives in the forest brewing potions…Embarrassing

Robin Hood- could have been a dopey action movie but it wasn’t even that. Everything from the costumes to the action to the script to the terrible acting was so misguided. I don’t know what they were thinking?

White Fang- some nice animation is hurt by a long, brutal exploitative dog fight sequence I could not forgive. The child next to me was in tears. It was way too much. No thank you

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Gravitas that Failed

My next category is films that were presented with gravitas as great and innovative that failed to entertain or please me in any way. Unpopular opinion time!

Annihilation- some claim this scifi/horror film is a masterpiece but I thought it was a slog that couldn’t decide what it was trying to say so it just keeps piling on metaphor after metaphor to the point of exhaustion. None of the character motivation was well done and aside from pretty visuals it didn’t work

Fireworks- this anime is obviously trying to rip off Your Name (one of my favorite movies) and it failed. It is all over the place storywise and the characters make strange choices. The romance feels off. The animation is pretty and then terrible at spots. Just bad.

Bohemian Rhapsody- Freddie Mercury should be an interesting character but in this film he is so bland and generic rebel rocker it irritated me. Plus the script was so bad having his wife explain his sexuality to him and have him reunite with a boyfriend, make up with his family, and play Live Aid all in the afternoon. Give me a break

Gotti- John Travolta decided to play mob boss Jon Gotti as a ill treated persecuted civil servant in this ridiculous movie. The non-linear storytelling doesn’t work. The script, makeup, cinematography and everything else is terrible. Not even so bad it’s good.

Winchester- a haunted house movie with potential but instead it was just very boring

Life Itself- the movie that put me to sleep so hard I actually started snoring. It was a snooze but it was also surprisingly cynical and not hopeful abotu life at all. Everyone either gives up or kills themselves. What a heartwarming message…

MTKZ- some people think total chaos is creative. I don’t. This movie was completely random from the first image. Everything from the characters to the story to the visual choices felt like an assault on the viewer and was exhausting.

Sorry to Bother You- I was with this movie for the first 30 minutes and then it went completely off the rails once they get to this party. The movie felt like it was trying to be 12 different movies and especially once it went equine it completely lost me

Journey’s End- a war movie where the soldiers talk about rations a lot. I never need to hear about rations again. It was so boring.

The Party- a comedy with no jokes. Like seriously I didn’t see why any of these pedantic twerps talking at this party was funny. I just didn’t get it.

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More Animation I Hated-

I mentioned some animated films I disliked already but these 3 were not great:

Duck Duck Goose- the worst movie I saw in 2018. It is garish and unpleasant in every way. The jokes with the Chinese people and the cat were bizarre and I just wanted the whole experience to be over as soon as I started watching it

Lu Over the Wall- a movie that is so spastic and insane that it made me nauseous. This director made another bonkers movie this year The Night is Short Walk On Girl that really worked for me but this one was too much. Plus, the story that it had felt like a ripoff of Ponyo so I didn’t even have that.

Ice Dragon: Legend of the Blue Daisies- a weird fantasy animation made to teach lessons to evangelicals but if you aren’t in that group it will not engage you either with the songs, story or morality.

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Two Bad Comedies

Finally I will end with 2 comedies that didn’t make me laugh:

Night School- Tiffany Haddish is not on my good side after both of these films but especially Night School where she shrieked her way through her performance.

Uncle Drew- I know other people found this funny but I didn’t laugh one time. The lead character is unlikable and I wasn’t interested in the sports story. A real dud.

So there you have it! There are my worst films of the year

If you are dying to know what the actual bottom 10 is here goes:

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Disney Magic and Why ‘Mary Poppins Returns’ is So Special

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Years ago I read an article which said at Disney “magic is made by optimizing the mundane.” I can’t think of a more perfect description of what Walt Disney tried to do in his career. For example, if we look at Disneyland: at its core is Main Street USA but it is executed in such a charming and idyllic way that it feels magical. I can’t think of any other corporate experience where I would enjoy sitting and taking in the ambiance like I do at Disneyland. What’s fascinating is I didn’t realize how much I missed this experience in Disney films until I walked out of Mary Poppins Returns. To say I was swept away in an experience of pure joy would be an understatement. It was true Disney magic and I LOVED it!

This is not to say I haven’t loved many recent Disney films. I loved Moana, and Coco was my favorite film of last year, but there’s something different about Mary Poppins Returns. It truly does optimize the mundane by taking the trials and pressures of life and reminding the audience to ‘trip a little light fantastic’ and smile a little more through your struggles. It’s one of the most joyful and effervescent experiences I’ve had at the cinemas in a long time.

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Obviously trying to make a sequel to the masterpiece that is Mary Poppins is a tall order and already I’m seeing many who are claiming this film is either too close the original or too far away. I thought they nailed the perfect balance of homage and newness. Emily Blunt is phenomenal as Mary. She gets that mixture of rigidity and whimsy just right (taking the mundane nature of child care and making it magical). She can also sing, which with recent Disney offerings like Beauty and the Beast isn’t always the case (it takes away from the escapism if the singing is bad).

Lin-Manuel Miranda is a delight as Jack, a lamplighter that could be seen as similar to Bert but he only has one job and he has a little bit of a budding relationship with now grown Jane (Emily Mortimer who is delightful). He gets the best song of the movie with ‘Trip a Little Light Fantastic’, and brings his broadway skills to all the choreography and jubilant musical sequences.

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And speaking of music, the songs are such a delight. I’ve been listening to the soundtrack for weeks and it never fails to make me smile. Marc Shaiman and Scott Wittman did such a great job paying homage to the original while writing new and catchy tunes for a new generation to love. ‘The Place Where the Lost Things Go’ is sweet and touching. ‘Turning Turtle’ is a fun little number featuring Meryl Streep in her small role. ‘Nowhere to Go But Up’ gives us Angela Lansbury and the whole cast floating away in a whimsical melody. ‘Underneath the Lovely London Sky’ immediately welcomes the audience to this magical, charming take on London. I love it!

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The 2D animation sequences are also a complete delight. I don’t know what else to say about them except that I had a huge smile on my face while watching Emily, Lin and the kids dancing amongst 2D animated animals and flowers. It simply made me happy.

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There is also a different message in Mary Poppins Returns than the original film. It has certain trappings that are the same like both involving a bank and a father but the take-away is quite different. In the original Mr Banks thinks he has everything figured out. He even sings about it in the ‘The Life I Lead’. Then Mary teaches him all that stuff he had neatly arranged means nothing and doesn’t last. Without a true bond with his children his life has no meaning. Mr Banks comes to this conclusion after hearing Bert’s advice in ‘A Man Has Dreams’ and as he goes to fly a kite with his kids happiness is promised the Banks family. (Again the ordinary task of kite flying made magical).

In this story, it’s a little different. Michael (Ben Whishaw who is wonderful in the role) has experienced great loss. Unlike his father he doesn’t think he has it all figured out. In fact, he knows he doesn’t. His wife has died and the house is going to be repossessed if they can’t find a bank share certificate from his father. He is reaching his rock bottom and I can relate to this more than the confident Mr Banks of the original film. He is a man in need of rescue, and he knows it. (Again, his father had no idea he was missing out on so much). This is when Mary Poppins comes along to help Jane and Michael (and the children too!) once again. As so often is the case in life, Michael’s friends and family come to help him through his trials and find happiness again. What a beautiful message.

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But it is not a morose film. Quite the contrary. I can rarely recall a more joyous and optimistic film than Mary Poppins Returns. Sometimes life can get me down and it is Disney magic that often gives me that lift I need to try a little harder and keep dreaming. That’s what this movie reminded me of. It spoke to me of the joy of dreaming and how art can uplift even the most mundane of days.

I have not been a big fan of most of the Disney live action remakes. They feel cold and clinical and usually have bad singing. However, with Mary Poppins Returns I was transported in a triumph of music, dance, optimism and animation. I loved the costumes (Sandy Powell with another triumph), perfect production design, old fashioned score and pretty much everything else being great. I guess it could have been edited a bit more judiciously but I was fine with the length because I was enjoying myself so much. I’ve a feeling hard core Disney fans will appreciate this movie more than most, as it definitely feels like a movie Walt would have loved. It’s straight from the heart and pure Disney magic!

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