Dreamworks 2: Shrek

So, I’m just going to rip the band-aid off guys- I don’t like Shrek. Is it awful? No but on the whole I don’t think it is a very good movie, and I will attempt explain in this review why.

It all started for me back in 2001 when I first saw Shrek and thought it was pretty funny. Particularly Eddie Murphy as Donkey made me laugh and since I wasn’t high on Disney then the parody of Disney films was funny. With anticipation I got it on vhs eager to repeat my positive experience, but to my surprise when I watched it again I realized- it wasn’t that funny any more.

Truly great comedies I can watch again and again laughing with each watch. For example, Monty Python and the Holy Grail I have seen I can’t tell you how many times and I still laugh. Even other parody films like Airplane! still make me laugh. From way back in 2001 that was never the case for me with Shrek.

And unfortunately when you take out the humor there isn’t that much going for it. The animation isn’t that great. Some of the voice work is shoddy (cough Cameron Diaz cough) and the story is actually pretty pedestrian and predictable.

Now that you all hate me let’s talk more about the movie.

Shrek is about an ogre in a fairytale land who likes living in his swamp by himself. One day he gets besieged by fairytale characters that have been evicted from the land by the evil Lord Farquaad. In order to get rid of said characters Shrek makes a deal that if he can rescue the Princess Fiona then he will clear his land.

Shrek goes on the quest with a sidekick donkey who drives him crazy but they put up with each other and they find her pretty quickly. Then the Princess and Shrek form a bond and she it turns out has a curse where she turns into an ogre every night. She must be kissed by her true love to break the spell. Fortunately at the end Shrek storms the castle and admits his love and she ends up remaining an ogre as her truest form.

I don’t know if you noticed reading that description that even with all its parody Shrek follows the basic princess movie formula perfectly. You have the damsel in distress that is rescued, cooky sidekick,  evil villain, forced marriage,  dramatic declaration of love and the breaking of a curse. I think this is why the jokes really aren’t that funny on rewatch because the story surrounding the jokes all becomes rote quite quickly. Real humor that lasts isn’t just parodying things of the moment but they tap into universal truths and themes any age can relate to. Again to use Monty Python as an example, their skits and movies will be funny for generations because they aren’t merely parodying but they are making fun of timeless institutions like marriage, love, warfare, sex, sports, and more.

The funniest scene in Shrek that still gets a laugh out of me is the gingerbread interrogation. This is because it is making fun of torture and torture scenes in movies we still often see today and it was separate from the more pedestrian narrative. It feels more surprising and relevant than the other humor.

As more of an adult, I also notice things that make me a little uncomfortable in Shrek like Snow White being described as “not easy”, Robin Hood making a joke about he likes to get laid, and Shrek teasing Lord Farquaad about his size and “do you think maybe he is compensating for something”. I hate that kind of humor in fairytales marketed to children.

I like Eddie Murphy as Donkey and Mike Meyers is fine but as I hinted at earlier Cameron Diaz is not a strong vocal performer. Her line readings sound the same whether she is happy, sad, angry, whatever. I really wish they had gone with a professional voice actress.

Other issues with the movie is the soundtrack. It has not aged well. Using pop music of the era by Smash Mouth and others immediately dates the movie. It would have been so much funnier if they had used the music to parody the Disney musical. This seems like such an obvious choice it is kind of baffling. Plus, the oddly sober choice of ‘Hallelujah’ thrown into the film does not fit at all.

The animation in Shrek is fine for 2001 but it is nowhere near the quality of Monsters Inc from Pixar that yea.  In that film, Sully’s fur was so lush and vibrant and the world building still feels fresh and fun. There is no scene, for example,  in Shrek that mirrors in animation quality the scene racing through the doors at the end of Monsters Inc. Not even close.

I also resent Shrek because I feel its success has really hurt animation. Ever since it became a phenomenon we have so many movies that put humor ahead of story, caring more about cheap cultural references and celebrity voice casting than crafting real art. Imagine in an alternate world if Prince of Egypt had been the Dreamworks’ film to really take off? Animation would be in a much better state than it currently is.

Oh what might have been…

Overall Grade- C-

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Talking Disney Princesses

Just thought I would share this podcast my friend Christine and I did called Talking Disney Princesses. It ended up being a long one but it was a lot of fun:

In the podcast we go over each of the Disney princesses and give them scores on story, example, beauty and music. When I rated the princesses that way my ranking turned out a little different than I expected. Here is the table:

Princess Story Example Beauty Music Total
Cinderella 5 5 5 5 20
Mulan 4 5 5 5 19
Moana 4 5 5 5 19
Belle 4 4 5 5 18
Ariel 5 3 4 5 17
Rapunzel 5 4 4 4 17
Elsa 4 4 4 5 17
Anna 4 3 4 5 16
Tiana 2 5 4 4 15
Aurora 3 3 4 5 15
Snow White 4 4 5 2 15
Jasmine 3 4 4 3 14
Merida 2 3 5 3 13
Pocahontas 2 2 4 5 13

Let me know what you think!

Your Name in Theaters this Weekend

This weekend the anime film Your Name comes to US theaters. This was my favorite film of 2016 and I saw nearly 150 releases. But don’t take my word for it. I compiled this video of a bunch of youtubers talking about why it is so special.

And here is my original review:

At least by me Your Name is getting a pretty big roll-out and is in 4 theaters, so hopefully that is emblematic of other places across the country. If not ask your local theater to carry it. This actually can make a big difference. I communicate with my local theater all the time about releases I want to see and more often than not they end up getting them if only for one weekend.

Your Name is the kind of film that doesn’t happen very often. It has layers of enjoyment. It’s funny, sweet, tragic, exciting and everything else. The animation is stunning and it’s one that gets better each time I watch it.

If you can please see it and support it.

BLIND SPOT 16: FROM UP ON POPPY HILL

Sometimes people think I have seen every animated film but in truth there are many I haven’t seen. Particularly in anime I have many holes. Well, this month for my monthly blind spot series I am checking a Studio Ghibli film off of my bucket list. Today we look at the 2011 film From Up on Poppy Hill.

This movie was directed by Gorō Miyazaki, who I still think was treated way too harshly for Tales from Earthsea which I enjoyed. However, this film is a definite step up for him as a director. It was written by his father Hayao Miyazaki but it reminded me the most of Isao Takahata’s film Only Yesterday. Both are films about the simple stories of every day people.

From Up on Poppy Hill will not be for everyone. Some will find it’s rather mundane story to be boring. I like slice of life films that let you walk in others shoes so I found it quite charming. It does not have supernatural characters or exciting events like many of the more popular Studio Ghibli films but sometimes I like gentler more calming films.

This tells the story of Umi and Shun. They are teenagers going to a boarding school who begin a sweet little relationship only to find out they are connected in unexpected ways. They are both children of single mothers and Uni’s mother is gone abroad most of the time. It is easy to see why these two are drawn to each other and have a connection.

At the same time there is an old building on campus where various clubs and organizations meet. The school wants to tear down the building and redevelop it into something new. The students meet and voice various ways to stop this from happening. Some are anarchists, some are more democratic and some want to protest. The girls suggest they fix up the building so that there is less reason to tear it down, which is what they do.

The animation From Up on Poppy Hill is gorgeous. I loved the watercolor feel to everything and the way the characters were designed in such approachable ways. There was nothing acerbic or strange like other Studio Ghibli films. This is just an extremely gentle, peaceful film.

There are some flaws with From Up on Poppy Hill. The music is a little too ever-present and a bit overbearing at times. Also the story does fall into melodrama on occasion but I didn’t mind that. It worked for the kind of story it was. After all, life can get melodramatic at times! Especially when you are dealing with love and romance!

So I would definitely recommend you watch From Up on Poppy Hill. It’s a sweet, simple movie about likable people growing up and figuring out who they are. I enjoyed it very much and it is beautifully animated to boot.

Overall Grade- B+

Dreamworks 1: The Boss Baby

So I announced a few days ago that I am going to be starting a Dreamworks series of reviews. In that post I gave a schedule for the reviews because I am not going to review them chronologically. However, I haven’t been able to post my Shrek review yet so I am making a change and having their latest release The Boss Baby as my first in the series. You guys all know how little I was looking forward to The Boss Baby, so let’s tear off this band-aid and talk about it.

The Boss Baby is extremely loosely based on a picture book by Marla Frazee. Since seeing it I’ve been trying to imagine the board meeting where this concept was pitched. “We are going to make a movie about a baby that’s a boss. It will be a big hit”. These people are going to devote years of effort and millions of dollars and yet somehow they decide a talking baby movie is a great idea? How does that happen?

Anyway, how does the movie turn out? There are positives: the lead character of The Boss Baby is a little boy named Tim who leads an idealistic life with a wild imagination. Occasionally the movie will dive into this imagination and those segments are bright, colorful and a lot of fun.

The animation on the whole is as good as we have come to expect from Dreamworks. I also enjoyed the music from Hans Zimmer and Steve Mazzaro and there are a few nice moments of emotion between the two brothers.

You see little Tim’s ideal world is disrupted by a new baby brother who is delivered in a taxi cab, wears a suit and talks like Alec Baldwin. Tim’s parents are completely fine with their baby looking like this and arriving in this way, which is odd. It is such a strange way to start off a movie but it gets even stranger.

It turns out that in the world of this movie babies are made on an assembly line with some going to families and others to “management”. The lucky chosen babies for Baby Corp are taken directly from the assembly line to a cubicle in a vast office building where they will spend the whole of their lives. This seemed incredibly sad to me. I hated corporate work-life so much that I can’t imagine being stuck in a cubicle from the time you are born and never being mothered or loved. All they want is the great corner office. This felt sooooo strange coming from a baby. And this is never really resolved in the film. At the end Baby Corp still exists and the babies are still working in those cubicles…Yikes

A lot of the appeal of this film will depend on how funny you think it is to see Alec Baldwin take his Jack Donaghy shtick from 30 Rock into a baby. There are a few decent laughs but for me it was more annoying than humorous. At the very least it is extremely repetitive and the only other humor is of the toilet variety.

The other weird aspect of The Boss Baby is the idea of babies competing with puppies for love. At one point in the film, Boss Baby presents the babies with a chart showing babies losing love to puppies and how that is hurting the bottom line of Baby Corp. His goal is to spy on Tim’s parents who work for Puppy Corp and find out about a new breed they are releasing.

On one level this plot could be effective as children often fear losing love of their parents when a new sibling comes into the picture. Unfortunately here the wrong message is shown because a finite or limited amount of love is shown and never really resolved by the film. In real life of course, love doesn’t have limits. We can love 2 kids and then we get another and we can love 3. Love expands that way. So the idea that puppies will steal love from babies is just not true and could be kind of confusing for kids. Children need to know there is plenty of love for them not that there are limits.

But all of that wouldn’t matter if it was funny or engaging in other ways but The Boss Baby just isn’t. It quickly falls into a poorly executed Toy Story/Secret Life of Pets copy. After all, you have the main character leading the perfect life and then the newcomer disrupting it. They hate each other and then must learn to work together. Sound familiar…

Particularly the last 30 minutes go completely off the rails with a boring villain, chases, races, and a trip to Vegas. It just doesn’t work and becomes pretty generic and boring.

Here is my youtube review. I would really appreciate it if you gave it a like or subscribed to my channel if you haven’t yet:

But I don’t know if I could ever personally get over the weird premise and a baby that’s a boss. It’s just not for me. If the trailers appeal to you then maybe you will enjoy it. I definitely think it goes with Home and Shark Tale as one of the worst Dreamworks films.

Overall Grade- D+ and yes I’d rather watch Rock Dog than this…Get it together Dreamworks!!

 

Smiles and Frowns

As I mentioned at the end of my Ghost in the Shell review I am starting a new feature on my blog reviews. Instead of just giving a grade I am going to give each film a smile or frown. I’ve realized that grades mean different things to different people so this will be a simple way of saying good or bad- kind of like the old thumbs up or down from Siskel and Ebert. Then I will give my grade so you will know how strong a smile/frown it is.

I even had these amazing graphics made by my friend Joan at Bitsy Creations.

I thought I would let you know of 2017 new releases I’ve seen so far which are smiles and frowns.

Smile Worthy- (in order of preference)

STEP

Get Out

Lego Batman Movie

The Good Postman

My Life as a Zucchini

My Entire High School is Sinking into the Sea

Wilson

Rebel in the Rye

Smurfs: the Lost Village

Power Rangers Movie

Bright Lights

Tim Timmerman, Hope of America

The Hero

Ghost in the Shell

Beauty and the Beast

Great Wall

Frown Worthy (in order of preference)

The Yellow Birds

Kong: Skull Island

Rock Dog

Before I Fall

Table 19

Lady Macbeth

Surfs Up 2: Wave Mania

Silence

Ghost in the Shell Review

Today I had an interesting experience. I finally watched the anime film Ghost in the Shell. I had been turned off in the past by the R rated material and it is there but I decided to stomach it today. These iconic anime films can be a bit overwhelming, but I wanted to watch it at least once before seeing the remake tonight. Perhaps I will do a longer review of the anime in a bit but for now I will talk about the new film and how it lives up to the classic.

I should start off this review by saying this live action Ghost in the Shell has familiar images from the anime but the story is completely different. I don’t know if it is similar to the various sequels and series but as far as the original film they have almost nothing in common. That’s not to say this is bad. It’s just different.

Like the original, this Ghost in the Shell focuses on a cyborg named Major who has a human brain but only patchy memories of her past life. She is kind of a super spy who looks into criminals for a shadowy organization.

In the original she is more of a complex character. In this version she is basically a superhero and certainly in that respect Scarlet Johansson is perfect for the role. A lot has been made about them ‘white washing’ the role but because it is more of a simplistic character it didn’t matter that much. I mean any race can be a robot after all?

The visuals and world building are the strongest part of Ghost in the Shell. Director Rupert Sanders does a great job creating a Blade Runnerish world that is bright and dark at the same time. Also the design of the various robots was really neat. For example, a geisha robot featured heavily in the trailers was even cooler in the movie.

For the first 30 minutes of Ghost in the Shell I was honestly struggling. It was pretty boring and I was getting ready to write a style over substance review. However, then it started to pick up for me and it became an entertaining action film.

Fans of the anime will be a little disappointed to see the deeper themes of the original film traded in for a revenge superhero story we’ve seen a lot, but it is executed pretty well, and like I said, Johansson is up to the task when the action is called for.  The original has a bittersweet ending and asks complex questions about what it means to be human where this is a ‘get back at the big evil corporate bad guy’ action movie. At times it almost felt like the Black Widow movie we’ve all been waiting for.

None of the side characters like Batou are that memorable here and the Puppet Master is nowhere to be found, which I thought was a strange choice. Also Juliette Binoche is very miscast as the Major’s doctor.

This version is rated PG-13 and the main difference is the women wear a flesh colored suit to conceal their bodies a little bit. There also isn’t the blood like you get in the original. But there is still a lot of action and intense moments and the body suits don’t leave much to the imagination but it is good enough for the MPAA I suppose!

Basically my thoughts leaving Ghost in the Shell is if you want to see a well made superhero movie than it’s decent. If you want something deeper watch the anime. I certainly think the visuals alone are worth seeing if you get the chance.

Smile or Frown- Smile

I’ve realized lately that there is a problem with my grading system. For me giving something a B- or C+ is a mild recommendation (equivalent of a 6 or 6.5/10) but to other people that is a bad grade. So I am still going to do my grade but I am going to let you know whether the movie made me smile or frown (kind of like thumbs up or thumbs down from Siskel and Ebert).  Let me know what you think

Overall Grade- C+

What do you think about the original anime Ghost in the Shell and does this remake look appealing to you? Does the white washing bother you? Share with me your thoughts. Thanks!

Tim Timmerman, Hope of America Review

One of the concerns I often have with seeing as many movies as I do is becoming overly critical. I never want to be someone that nitpicks and insists everything be perfect to enjoy a film. I say this because today’s review- Tim Timmerman, Hope of America is a flawed film but I thoroughly enjoyed it.

This is a locally made  film by Cameron Sawyer about a Ferris Bueller knock off, know it all, high schooler named Tim Timmerman played by Eddie Perino. Tim has life figured out or so he thinks. He’s going to rule the school as student body president and then head off to Yale. But of course, events happen that start to mess up his plans!

Tim meets a deaf girl named Sydney played by the lovely Chelsea Maidhof. He starts off wanting to use her to improve his chances with her senator father in getting the Hope for America award. Of course, they end up falling for each other like you would expect. He also has a jealous student body co-chair who reminded me of the Jennifer Grey character in Ferris Beuller. There is a principal who is tired of putting up with Tim and an array of geeks, weirdos and stoners who Tim befriends and helps with their problems. They also play a game called Assassins which reminded me of the $2 gag in Better Off Dead. A movie like Tim Timmerman, Hope for America is very easy to criticize. It is derivative, predictable and none of the cast look like they are in high school but it won me over with its charm and positive energy. I was impressed with all the music they got rights too. It’s not a bad 90s soundtrack. It also never becomes mean spirited or judgemental as some high school comedies can be. Being a teen of the 90s it was also very nostalgic for me as it captured the feel and energy of that era.

Cameron Sawyer made this film on a micro-budget with help from kickstarter and it shows, but I didn’t mind that. It’s kind of like Napoleon Dynamite in many ways. Sure it’s a small film but it’s done with such likable characters that it leaves a smile on your face. It won’t be the mammoth hit that Napoleon Dynamite was but that only happens once in a blue moon. Still, hopefully some people will seek it out and support it. It’s a cheerful throwback to the 90s with a very engaging cast. Can’t go wrong with that! It’s also probably the cleanest PG-13 movie I’ve seen in a long time. Definitely family friendly.

Overall Grade- B

Here is the trailer:

They have a form on the website you can request this film in your city. If not look for it on streaming and other services in the next few months and let me know what you think.

 

Smurfs: The Lost Village Review

This seems to be the week for the underdog movie. First, The Power Rangers Movie was surprisingly entertaining and now I’m reporting that Smurfs: the Lost Village is a solid little animated movie. Neither of these movies are masterpieces, but I feel the creative teams behind them really tried to make the best movie they could and it shows.

I should tell you guys about my history with the Smurfs. The previous live action hybrid films are two of the worst movies I’ve ever seen. They aren’t funny and the continual product placement left a bad taste in my mouth. You could say the bar for this new film was very low!

The biggest pro of Smurfs: the Lost Village is the  stunning animation. That might sound crazy coming from a Smurfs movie, but I honestly thought the backgrounds and other visuals were really beautiful. There is a scene where they ride down a floating river that was full of colors and light that dazzled me. It is without a doubt the best animation Sony Animation has ever done.

Even the animation of the Smurfs looked really good especially when you compare them to the live action versions. They are smoother, brighter and more pleasant to look at. When the Smurfs from the Lost Village come into play those are also very nicely animated and designed. It’s amazing all they did with the color blue!

I also liked Rainn Wilson as Gargamel. He was the only celebrity who gave a memorable performance with the campy style needed for such a villain. In a way it is kind of refreshing to have a villain like Gargamel in a world of animated surprise villains. It’s nice to have one brewing potions and planning world domination for once! His interactions with his vulture and cat were also a lot of fun.

That brings me to some of the downsides of Smurfs: the Lost Village. Aside from Rainn, the rest of the celebrity voice casting was completely wasted and unnecessary. Some of the celebrities like Gordon Ramsey as Baker Smurf maybe had 2 lines. Julia Roberts gets top billing and she doesn’t appear for an hour into the movie! What a waste! Why not use voice talent and lower your budget so you can make riskier films? I will never understand it.

There are also some issues that are inherent in the franchise. Much like the 7 dwarfs in Snow White the Smurfs are known by their key skill or trait- Clumsy, Grumpy, Brainy etc. This makes for some pretty boring characters that don’t have much room to grow or move in the story because they can’t escape their label. The dwarfs were side characters so weren’t required to grow much but particularly the quad of Brainy, Clumsy, Smurfette and Hefty are the leads of the movie. They even have a Smurf who’s name is “Smurf who chews on the table”. Hmmm…

The other problem, which is inherent to the franchise is some of the odd moments of gender dynamics. Smurfette is the only female character until they meet a new village. This makes for some weird moments where things are considered masculine or feminine that made me squirm a bit. Granted I think 99% of kids this will go right over their heads but I noticed. Even the design of Smurfette is a little concerning with her high heels and blonde hair. Especially with how she becomes a literal Savior character it made me a little uncomfortable.

Some I am sure will complain this film is generic and predictable. So what? Not everything in the world has to be new and exciting. It moved along quickly enough and Gargamel was fun and the animation was gorgeous. That’s certainly enough to entertain me.

Another quick problem is I didn’t think any of the pop songs worked within the movie. In fact, they took me out of the movie. They were too modern for this fantastical world they’d created.

Smurf’s: the Lost Village would have been so easy to phone in and make it mediocre, so I appreciate the effort Sony Animation put into this film. In many ways it reminds me of Horton Hears a Who. Sure both movies have flaws but especially compared to their predecessors they are successful. I recommend giving Smurf’s the Lost Village a shot- maybe not a full price but a matinee ticket. You’ll be glad you did if only for the visuals alone.

Overall Grade- B

As far as content there is some tense sequences but the kids at my theater all seemed ok. If they could handle Trolls they should be fine with this.