Tomb Raider Review

After the disaster that was Warcraft you can imagine my hesitation in going to see another action video game-based film but I wanted to support a female-led action film so I went to see the latest Tomb Raider movie. This is directed by Roar Uthaug who undeniably has the coolest name in movies today, and overall its an ok film.

I must admit that I struggled with Tomb Raider for the first act. There was a ton of set up before she gets to the island and aside from a fun bicycle chase it was not engaging me. I even fell asleep and my friend had to elbow me to wake me up…Yikes.

But when she got to the island things got much better, and I particularly enjoyed when they actually got into a tomb and did some raiding! There were some horror elements, and I liked the various booby traps and puzzles. There is a sequence with a key to a door that is particularly entertaining. These scenes are the kind of fun B movie material I expect in a movie called Tomb Raider.

On the other hand, a lot of the movie could have used more silliness. It is way more violent than it needs to be with people getting shot at close range and other pretty brutal moments. All the characters are taking the movie very seriously even down to nobody questioning the validity of a cursed tomb. You think there would be one person saying ‘you are all nuts to believe this hokum’?

Even the bad Indiana Jones movies are pretty sarcastic and funny, and I wish there had been more of that spirit in Tomb Raider. I realize not everything can be Indiana Jones but even more of National Treasure I would have appreciated. I guess that is more my style for this kind of movie.

That said, my friend did say that it emulated the game very well so I’m sure fans will appreciate those details. And it is an overall entertaining film. It will probably have a low rottentomatoes score, but I bet if you read the reviews they will be on the edge of fresh. It felt similar to last year’s Power Rangers Movie in that regard (I prefer Power Rangers because it had a lot of heart but I think review-wise they will be similar). I would find it hard to believe anyone saying it is Warcraft level bad. It’s solid, watchable adventure movie. I just would have made it a little more fun but that’s me.

The cast also helps elevate it. I really enjoyed Alicia Vikander as Lara. She is a kick butt character but she is also vulnerable and gets beat a lot. I also liked that she has a moment of shock when she realizes she killed a man. It’s in self defense of course, but still I appreciated they had her acknowledge what she had done. You don’t see that in many action movies. Walton Goggins is scary as the bad guy (like I said. He’s pretty brutal) and Daniel Wu is great as Lara’s friend. If they had thrown in one character for comic relief or to be the skeptic (ala Simon Pegg in Mission Impossible) that would have been perfect but it was still good.

Overall, if you saw the trailer for Tomb Raider and it looked like a good time I think you will enjoy it. It’s not perfect but there is enough entertainment there to justify a matinee ticket price. I hope it does decently because now they have set up the world and her skills, I think Lara’s next adventure will be much better.

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Pixar 40: Coco

I know I can hear you guys yelling at your screen ‘finally! She posts her review of Coco!’. It is long overdue, but I wanted to do it right because it is a movie that I loved. In fact, Coco was my favorite movie of 2017, and I saw nearly 150 new releases!

One of the great things that Disney has always done for little kids is help them understand the tough things of life. They have never been a studio that is satisfied to just make kids laugh. They took on themes of death, despair, frustration and anger in movies like Bambi, Dumbo, Lilo and Stitch and more. Pixar has also carried this torch with moving films like Up, Toy Story 3 Inside Out and Finding Nemo. Coco continues this proud tradition by being an important film about forgiveness, family and death. It is honest with children about the struggles of family life while still telling an engaging story with a likable protagonist.

Coco tells the story of a boy named Miguel who wishes to sing more than any thing else. Unfortunately his family is against singing and forbids him from entering a local talent show. On the Dia de los Muertos, Miguel decides to take the guitar from his grandfather Ernesto de la Cruz’s mausoleum to use in the show. This act of theft takes him into the World of the Dead where only his dead relatives can see him. He must get a blessing from a relative in order to return to the living and this is where the majority of our story lies. His dead relatives also hate music and want him to disavow it as part of their blessing. Then Miguel meets a man named Hector who is about to lose his spot in the Land of the Remembered unless his picture is placed on the offrenda.

In some ways Coco is predictable. We know that certain story beats are coming, but I thought they were executed really well and so they still worked for me. For example, when Ernesto proves to not be the person he is praised to be on earth it isn’t surprising but it still works because it feels surprising to Miguel. His response feels so genuine and sweet that it involves you into the story and his journey. I also love the way his relationship with Hector grows in a sweet and authentic way.

One of the things that has always bothered me about Bambi is we have this gut-wrenching scene of Bambi‘s Mother getting shot and then she is never talked about again. This is not a problem with Coco. The whole point of the movie is memories and how memories keep those we love alive in a tangible way. The song Remember Me tells us as much:

Though I have to say goodbye
Remember me
Don’t let it make you cry
For even if I’m far away I hold you in my heart
I sing a secret song to you each night we are apart

Remember me
Though I have to travel far
Remember me
Each time you hear a sad guitar
Know that I’m with you the only way that I can be
Until you’re in my arms again
Remember me

My Grandfather died in 2001 and to this day when I think of him I start to cry. I miss him now as much as I did those many years ago. There was never a person like him in my life and there will never another. When I remember it helps me feel him close by and that our love has power to make my life better.

Honoring and finding out more about our ancestry is something that is also a very important part of my religion so the themes of Coco really rang true for me. Miguel begins to understand this importance as he grows increasingly desperate to save himself and Hector. When he is pleading before Grandma Coco it is one of the most emotional moments I’ve had watching a film in a long time. Please Grandma Coco! Don’t forget!

The artistry in Coco is also phenomenal and I love that they introduced me to a whole new culture. Yes, I have seen The Book of Life but that didn’t feel as immersive in Mexican culture as Coco (partly because it is narrated by a white tour guide…). Everything from the marigold petals to the offrendas was moving, beautiful and interesting.

Fortunately, Coco is also very funny with wonderful skeleton gags that will definitely make you smile along Coco’s cute dog Dante getting into trouble. For people that thought The Good Dinosaur was too drab and Cars 2 was too silly, Coco gets the tone just right making it a joy to watch.

Some of Miguel’s family can be a bit off-putting but I think it is similar to the families in movies like Footloose or Dirty Dancing where they don’t want the children in their lives to grow up and make mistakes. They think they are protecting them when they are actually limiting their joy. This is why Miguel’s victory in the end has added meaning and power. He has come to know for himself who he is and what really matters in life- family, tradition, music and love.

In some ways Coco reminds me of Coraline. Both movies are about young children who must learn to love and forgive their imperfect families and go into a magical world that tempts them to throw off that family. They both must fight for who and what is right (and they are both visually stunning films to boot!). Miguel just like Coraline learns the value of a single human soul and once he understands that he will do anything to save Hector. It’s the connection with the Other that separates us from the animals and this connection continues after death with our memories. This is the message of Coco.

Coco is a triumph in every possible way. The message is beautiful. The animation is stunning. The music is touching. The look at Mexican culture is immersive and wonderful. It’s the last original film we will have from Pixar for a little while, and I am going to treasure it.

Overall Grade- A+

A Wrinkle in Time Review

For years I have heard the novel Wrinkle in Time is ‘unfilmable’, and I always wondered if this was true. The book is very special and not something that I fell in love with until I was an adult. It was too out there for me as a child but I read it about 5 years ago and was deeply moved by its story and the journey of forgiveness that Meg goes on.

I have read so many YA novels that have felt cold and cynical (cough Hunger Games cough) but Wrinkle in Time is the opposite. In many ways it is like The Giver, a story infused with hope and a character that comes to see their divine potential. Unfortunately like The Giver, the introspection that makes A Wrinkle in Time work as a novel is difficult to translate to the big screen. I was very hopeful that Ava DuVernay would be able to make it all work but sadly the new film from Disney is a frustrating experience.

A Wrinkle in Time tells the story of a girl named Meg (Storm Reid) who’s father has left on a scientific quest and has been gone for 4 years.  She has a younger brother Charles Wallace, who is a genius, and a boy named Calvin whom she has a crush on (Calvin is so great in the book but just kind of there in this film). Unfortunately with the loss of her father, Meg struggles to connect with other students, and is angry with her life situation. One day she is surprised by 3 magical visitors, Mrs Witch, Mrs Whatsit and Mrs Who, and she is led by them to help rescue her father.

This is all in the movie but it isn’t executed in a compelling way. In the book Meg is forced to make choices that cause her to grow and most importantly forgive. Here she is more told she is great and a warrior  but without having to make the hard choices. The ending of the book is much more convincing because it is her choice to confront the evil (even against the advice of others). In this film, it is more like she is presented with images, speeches and emotional things but never grows as a person. She feels the same at the end as at the beginning just more tired.

I said on twitter that it kind of reminded me of a Terrence Malick film but with a scifi story wedged in. I suppose one could go and enjoy A Wrinkle in Time on a visual level like a Malick film but at least his films have consistent characters who you follow throughout the art piece. Here we are introduced to characters that are then given very little to do besides present options to Meg and give speeches.It all becomes kind of tedious and frustrating.

A movie with a similar goal that works way better is 2009’s Where the Wild Things Are.  This is based off of the Maurice Sendak children’s book and sends its child on an existential fantasy. However, Max is forced as king to make real choices and his character grows so that he’s ready to forgive his Mother at the end of the movie. All the characters in Where the Wild Things Are give speeches but they also are well developed with conflict and personality traits that they struggle with. It makes the existential stuff work because we love the characters so much where A Wrinkle in Time let’s us down in that department.

I might also compare A Wrinkle in Time to 1981’s Time Bandits. Both films are messy and try to offer existential lessons (with similar villains) to kids. However, at least to me, Time Bandits is actually funny which makes it more enjoyable. Kevin has to face off against Evil but that is only after he has proven himself to be the smartest person in several time periods. He actively doesn’t take the advice of those around him but has to figure things out himself, which is very empowering to little kids.  By the end, he has become an independent character that is able to see past the greed that blinds so many others and defeat Evil. Time Bandits is also written by the Monty Python folks so it is at least has some humor in its favor.

Sadly A Wrinkle in Time wasn’t able to make Meg’s journey a compelling one. I struggled to stay interested as she was presented with advice and speeches but never asked to make choices. It’s frustrating because I love the source material and it had so much potential with a great cast and production values. Unfortunately, the script just couldn’t get there.

My advice is watch Time Bandits or Where the Wild Things Are instead or even better read A Wrinkle in Time!

Overall Grade- C-

I should add that the diversity in the cast is amazing and should be encouraged in future films.

Modern Mouse Radio: Life Lessons of Disney Princesses

Hey guys! I hope you are all doing great! Most of you know that I have a little podcast called Rachel’s Reviews  that I am extremely proud of. If you aren’t subscribed you should be because I produce pretty engaging content, much of it focusing on Disney and animation. Well,  last week I had the tables turned and I got to be interviewed on a podcast for once!

Josh over at the Modern Mouse podcast asked me to join him and talk all about Disney Princesses both official and not quite canon. In particular, we asked the question ‘which of the ladies carry the most social change and the best life lessons.”

I personally think all of them can teach you something and be a good example for kids but it was great having the discussion with Josh.

https://itunes.apple.com/us/podcast/life-lessons-disney-princesses-modern-mouse-radio-185/id1118717435?i=1000404142734&mt=2

https://www.stitcher.com/podcast/network-1901/e/53506883

Current Mini Reviews

I haven’t done one of these mini reviews posts since the end of December so I have a lot of catching up to do. Make sure you are subscribed to my youtube channel because sometimes I review films on there that I don’t talk about on this blog (and vice versa).

The Shape of Water

I finally decided to see The Shape of Water, which I had been reticent to see because of the content, which is pretty strong. In the end, it is a good movie that felt like a fairy tale for men. It has most of the beats of a classic fairy tale but there is a masculine energy to it that was very interesting. Sally Hawkins is fantastic as the lead girl who cannot speak but grows an attachment with a fish creature. Some of the other characters were a bit one note but if you think of them as fairy tale archetypes they make sense.

Overall Grade- B+ 63/147 for 2017 releases

Smile Worthy

Peter Rabbit-

I went into this movie dreading it as the trailers made it look like an assault on my childhood. Going out of it I was pretty neutral. It’s fine and has some marginal entertainment value for kids but it felt very random to me. The characters are inconsistent and go from hero to antagonist and then back again. The jokes are hit and miss. The animation is sometimes impressive and sometimes awful. The music is all over the place like the story. Some parents were upset about an allergy joke, which is understandable but probably blown a bit out of proportion.

Overall Grade- C 18/25  for 2018 releases

Frown worthy barely

Forever My Girl-

I love a good or even silly romantic movie. I have a podcast with my friend Amber where we review all the Hallmark movies and other content each week and it has really taken off. As a bonus I reviewed Forever My Girl for that channel and it’s not a movie I can recommend but I’ve seen worse. Jessica Rothe is a star in the making and shines as the lead girl but the boy played by Alex Roe is too unlikable for too long. He also could use a shower. He didn’t look very attractive for most of the movie which takes away some of the fun of a silly movie like this.

Overall Grade- C 20/25 for 2018 releases

Frown worthy

Phantom Thread-

A very well made movie by Paul Thomas Anderson with good performances; however, I didn’t connect with it. The characters, especially the girl played by Vicky Krieps, were inconsistently written. Sometimes they were loyal and soft-spoken and then other times they were erratic, cruel and boisterous. The music and costumes are superb. I wish the Dressmaker had gotten the attention this got last year because that movie was way more fun with equally amazing fashion.

Overall Grade- C+ 69/147 for 2017 releases

Smile Worthy for performances and style

Faces Places-

Such an adorable documentary that follows an installation artist JR and veteran actress Agnes Varda around France setting up art. I loved the two of them and you learn a lot about Agnes’ life and get little pictures into the people they are doing the art for. I also really liked the art. It was a joy to watch. My only flaw is we don’t learn much about JR which might have been nice to know.

Overall Grade- A 18/147 for 2017 releases

Smile Worthy!

Annihilation-

I walked out of Alex Garland’s film Annihilation very frustrated. It was pretty but kind of a grueling experience and for what? I couldn’t for the life of me figure out what it was trying to teach me. As Natalie Portman and a group of female scientists go into a mysterious area called ‘the shimmer’ they encounter a lot of pretty lifeforms and horrible life forms. At times it seemed to be commenting on female sexuality. At other times it was about evolution (especially the ending) and how lifeforms mutate. At other times it was about loneliness and the isolation of modern life. All of those things are paid homage to but not explored in a satisfying way. It becomes a creature horror movie but to long and drawn out to be enjoyed on that level. Even if movies like Blade Runner 2049 and Arrival were a little bit obtuse and boring I still had a handle on what the movies were trying to say. Not here. Unfortunately Alex Garland has made a self-indulgent scifi film that is muddled, empty and a bit of a slog.

Overall Grade- C- 16/25 for ranking 2018 releases

Frown worthy

Winchester-

The premise for Winchester has potential and could have made for a creepy haunted house movie but instead it is bland in the extreme. Helen Mirren isn’t even in the movie that much like the poster would make you believe. It’s really boring and not scary in the slightest.

Overall Grade- D- 22/25 for 2018 releases

Frown Worthy

Game Night-

Game Night is a very silly movie but in all the right ways. It’s a very simple comedy about a game night for adults that gets out of hand. With movies like this I have a very simple criteria- did it make me laugh? That’s a comedy’s job, to make me laugh and this did in spades. There is a scene where Jason Bateman tries to clean blood off a dog that had me in stitches. The cast has great chemistry and if you grew up in a competitive family you will be able to relate to it like I did.

Overall Grade- A- 7/25 for 2018 releases

Smile Worthy

The Post-

I was honestly kind of dreading this movie as it looked like it would be super preachy but Steven Spielberg manages to put entertainment value ahead of message to make a fun film. Streep and Hanks are great but the supporting actors are also great and it builds tension well and you really feel for all the characters involved. It perhaps feels a little forgettable but especially compared to the hugely overrated Bridge of Spies The Post is a fun time at the movies. However, it does not hold a candle to the film Spotlight.

Overall Grade- A- 17/147 for 2017 releases

Smile Worthy

Paddington 2-

Anyone who knows me knows how much I adored the first Paddington film and so it is with great joy that I tell you the sequel, Paddington 2, is as good if not better. Both Paddington movies may be the perfect family films.  They are warm, funny, sweet, and extremely warm-hearted. I really can’t imagine disliking Paddington 2. No wonder it has a 100% on Rottentomatoes. I loved Hugh Grant as the villain and all the scenes in the prison with Brendan Gleason. I swear they could screen Paddington 2 as cures for depression. It just makes you feel good about the world.

Overall Grade- A+ 1/25 for 2018 releases (US releases that is)

Smile Worthy

The Commuter

I’m not sure if it is just I haven’t seen a lot of these Liam Neeson action movies but I felt way more positive about this than the general consensus. The Commuter is a tightly edited, engaging thriller. It was well shot and clipped along quite nicely. Neeson is great in the role and it never got too silly. I thoroughly enjoyed it.

Overall Grade- B+ 6/25 for 2018 releases

Smile Worthy

Have a Nice Day-

I reviewed this film for rotoscopers.com and it is a visually inventive animated film. Director Liu Jian brings a comic book sensibility to a crime movie with mixed results. There are creative moments but the characters are thin and the story is cliched. Also crime movies just aren’t my cup of tea. However, if you like crime movies than you might enjoy this because it is different and unique.

Overall Grade- C+ 105/146 for 2017 releases

Personally Frown Worthy but if you like the genre give it a shot

Moomins and the Winter Wonderland-

I reviewed this for rotoscopers.com. An adorable animated film out of Scandanavia about the Moomins fixing things to get ready for Christmas. They used old stop motion animation and created a new story in a very clever way. I love the vintage style and the vocal performances all are sweet. It’s probably best for small kids who like Winnie the Pooh and characters like that. Very innocent and sweet.

Overall Grade- B+ 61/147 for 2017 releases

Smile Worthy

So there you have it! Follow me on the Stardust app at smilingldsgirl and on letterboxd to get more small reviews right after I see films.

What did you guys think of these films? Let me know in the comments section.

2018 Oscars Who Will and Should Win

The big night for movie lovers is coming up this Sunday with the Academy Awards announcing their Oscar winners. I honestly find it a pretty underwhelming group with a bunch of movies I like but don’t love and won’t likely to remember long.

I am notoriously terrible at predicting the Oscars but it’s always fun to give it a try. Last year I tried to research and see what was trending and almost every time I went against my gut it failed. So this year I thought I would try a different strategy and not over-think it too much.

That said I will still give you what I think should and will win in each category.

Best Picture

Call Me By Your Name

Darkest Hour

Dunkirk

Get Out

Lady Bird

Phantom Thread

The Post

Shape of Water

3 Billboards

What will win- 3 Billboards unfortunately…

What should win- Get Out (it’s only one of these nominees that I love)

Best Director

Christopher Nolan for Dunkirk

Jordan Peele for Get Out

Greta Gerwig forLady Bird Review Lady Bird

Paul Thomas Anderson for Phantom Thread

Guillermo del Toro for The Shape of Water

What will win- Guillermo del Toro for The Shape of Water

What should win- Christopher Nolan for Dunkirk

Best Lead Actor

Timothee Chalamet for Call Me By Your Name

Daniel Day Lewis for Phantom Thread

Daniel Kaluuya for Get Out

Gary Oldman for Darkest Hour

Denzel Washington for Roman J Israel Esq (haven’t seen)

What will win- Gary Oldman for Darkest Hour

What should win- Daniel Day Lewis for Phantom Thread

Best Lead Actress

Sally Hawkins for The Shape of Water

Frances McDormand for 3 Billboards

Margot Robbie for I Tonya

Saoirse Ronan for Lady Bird

Meryl Streep for The Post

What will win- Frances McDormand for 3 Billboards

What should win- Sally Hawkins for Shape of Water

Best Supporting Actor

William Defoe for The Florida Project (haven’t seen)

Woody Harrelson for 3 Billboards

Richard Jenkins for The Shape of Water

Christopher Plummer for All the Money in the World

Sam Rockwell for 3 Billboards

I’m honestly not a huge fan of any of these performances but…

What will win- Sam Rockwell for 3 Billboards

What should win- Richard Jenkins for Shape of Water

Best Supporting Actress

Mary J Blige for Mudbound (haven’t seen)

Allison Janney for I Tonya

Lesley Manville for Phantom Thread

Laurie Metcalf for Lady Bird

Octavia Spencer for Shape of Water

What will win- Allison Janney for I Tonya

What should win- Laurie Metcalf for Lady Bird

Animated Feature

The Boss Baby

The Breadwinner

Coco

Ferdinand

Loving Vincent

What will win- Coco

What should win- Coco or The Breadwinner

Animated Short

Dear Basketball

Garden Party

Lou

Negative Space

Revolting Rhymes

What will win- Dear Basketball

What should win- Lou

Adapted Screenplay

Call Me By Your Name

The Disaster Artist

Logan (haven’t seen)

Molly’s Game (haven’t seen)

Mudbound (haven’t seen)

What will win- Call Me By You Name

What should win- Disaster Artist

Original Screenplay

The Big Sick

Get Out

Lady Bird

The Shape of Water

3 Billboards

What will win- Get Out

What should win- The Big Sick

Best Documentary

I’ve only seen one of these films Faces Places

Abacus

Faces Places

Icarus

Last Man in Aleppo

Strong Island

What will win- Faces Places

What should win- Faces Places

Sound Editing

Baby Driver

Blade Runner 2049

Dunkirk

The Shape of Water

Star Wars: The Last Jedi

What will win- Dunkirk

What should win- Baby Driver

Sound Mixing

Baby Driver

Blade Runner 2049

Dunkirk

The Shape of Water

Star Wars: the Last Jedi

What will win- Dunkirk

What should win- Dunkirk

Production Design

Beauty and the Beast

Blade Runner 2049

Darkest Hour

Dunkirk

The Shape of Water

What will win- Blade Runner 2049

What should win- Blade Runner 2049

Best Score

Dunkirk by Hans Zimmer

Phantom Thread by Jonny Greenwood

The Shape of Water by Alexandre Desplat

Star Wars: the Last Jedi by John Williams

3 Billboards by Carter Burwell

What will win- The Shape of Water by Alexandre Desplat

What should win- Phantom Thread by Jonny Greenwood

Original Song

Mighty River from Mudbound

Mystery of Love from Call Me By Your Name

Remember Me from Coco

Stand Up for Something from Marshall

This is Me from The Greatest Showman

What will win- This is Me from the Greatest Showman

What should win- Remember Me from Coco

Make Up and Hair

Darkest Hour

Victoria and Abdul

Wonder

What will win- Darkest Hour

What should win- Darkest Hour

Costume Design

Beauty and the Beast

Darkest Hour

Mark Bridges

The Shape of Water

Victoria and Abdul

What will win- Phantom Thread

What should win- Phantom Thread

Visual Effects

Blade Runner 2049

Guardians of the Galaxy vol 2

Kong: Skull Island

Star Wars: the Last Jedi

War for the Planet of the Apes

Who will win- War for the Planet of the Apes

Who should win- War for the Planet of the Apes

Cinematography

Blade Runner 2049 for Roger Deakins

Darkest Hours for Bruno Delbonnel

Dunkirk for Hoyt van Hoytema

Mudbound for Rachel Morrison

The Shape of Water for Dan Laustsen

Who will win- Roger Deakins for Blade Runner 2049

Who should win- Roger Deakins for Blade Runner 2049

 

Best Documentary Short

I haven’t seen the nominees but I will go with Heroin(e) for my guess for winner.

Best Live Action Short

I haven’t seen the nominees but I will go with The Silent Child for my guess for winner

 

Best Foreign Language Film

I haven’t seen the nominees but I will go with A Fantastic Woman for my guess for winner

 

So there you have it! That is my Oscar ballot. We will see how things shake out but I really don’t care that much because very few of the films I liked in 2017 are being celebrated. It’s a pretty boring, bland group of nominees if you ask me.

My friend Conrado and I did a podcast on the nominees you might find interesting

Black Panther Review

Black Panther is the latest entry in the Marvel Cinematic Universe and it is taking the world by storm! It has already made more in its first 4 day weekend than Justice League made in its entire run! Holy cow! It is also one of the most highly praised superhero film ever with a 97% on rottentomatoes.com.

So is it worthy of such results?

Yes, for the most part I would say that it is. With Black Panther you have a thoughtful, extremely well cast comic book movie that feels different and fresh. In much the same way director Ryan Coogler injected energy into the Rocky franchise with Creed, he has done  with the Marvel Cinematic Universe and Black Panther.  It isn’t as funny as Thor Ragnarok, which I prefer but it feels unique and engaging.

The best part about Black Panther is the characters. We were introduced to T’Challa (Black Panther) in Captain America Civil War but here we see him as a young, insecure ruler who is just discovering the burden and secrets his father had to shoulder as king. His father has chosen to protect the beautifully realized kingdom of Wakanda from the rest of the world. They have an asset called vibranium (which if we remember in Age of Ultron Ulysses Klaue was after and we see him again played by Andy Serkis) If this vibranium gets into the wrong hands will cause great destruction, so it makes sense why they want to hide it away from the world.

However, the Wakandans are still using the vibranium to develop new and powerful technology.  This is mostly led by T’Challa’s sister Shuri (Letitia Wright who is adorable in the role).There is also a powerful flower that grants strength to whomever earns the mantle of leadership.

Unfortunately for T’Challa conflict comes into Wakanda in the form of Michael B Jordan’s N’Jadaka or Erik ‘Kilmonger’ Stevens. He has a different philosophy of leadership. He believes that Wakanda is a disgrace for hiding from the world and failing to help those who are suffering with their wealth, technology and vibranium. It’s a totally valid point of view that makes the conflict between the two interesting. It kind of reminded me of the conflict between Koba and Caesar in Dawn of the Planet of the Apes.

Kilmonger has a point of view.  The problem is he takes it to a hateful place of wanting to conquer others and not just help the despondent. This always makes for an interesting villain when the kernel of their motives is true but they take it to a dark place. It then becomes interesting to see how the various members of Wakanda respond to Kilmonger’s leadership and philosophy. Some remain loyal to country and some loyal to T’Challa. That to me was fascinating.

Like I said earlier, the casting for this film was amazing. I loved Chadwick Boseman as T’Challa, Michael B Jordan as Kilmonger (so hot), and Daniel Kaluuya (from Get Out) as W’Kabi who has an interesting character arc. The women were all awesome. Lupita Nyong’o as Nakia is the love interest, Letitia Wright as brainack Shuri, Angela Basset as T’Challa’s mother Ramonda and many more. I would love to see a whole movie about the main 3 ladies of Wakanda!

Some people have complained about the cgi and the action. Honestly, just like with Wonder Woman, I could care less. If the characters are good that’s what matters to me. I was absorbed and entertained so much that it didn’t bother me.

My only real problem with the film is there is a section in the middle where Black Panther is gone and that’s where things began to drag a bit. I really missed T’Challa and his interactions with the women, Kilmonger and others. It began to feel a little exposition heavy in those moments.

If they had tightened things up a little bit and added a touch more humor than I would have it in my top 5 Marvel movies. As it is, I have it solidly in my top 10.

Black Panther is on the violent side for a Marvel movie so I would not recommend it for kids under 8. But for older kids go and then talk to them about the themes of the movie and what they think good leadership does. Do you hide away and protect your people or do you open yourself up to others in order to serve? It’s an interesting question from a darn good comic book movie!

Overall Grade- A-

Early Man Review

One could easily make the argument that Aardman animation is the most consistently great studio working today. Even more so than Pixar, their films have an amazing track record for being smart, funny and visually delightful. It is with this reputation that I was eagerly anticipating their latest release Early Man and it is also part of the reason why I left feeling disappointed.  It’s not a terrible movie but it is probably my least favorite of their films.

The trailers for Early Man make it seem like the film is going to focus on Dug (Eddie Redmayne) and his group of cave dwellers as they come to interact with more civilized people led by Lord Nooth (Tom Hiddleston). Unfortunately that is not entirely the case. After a brief introduction to the cave dwellers, Dug and Lord Nooth meet and challenge each other to a soccer (or football as the Brits say) match. Almost the entire movie is then this game.

If you are super into soccer you might find the jokes funnier and the game more interesting, but I really didn’t. I hardly laughed at all.  It’s also really hard to have dialogue or develop meaningful characters within the confines of a soccer game. I honestly started to yawn at a point and grew restless in the theater- something shocking to say about an Aardman film. If I didn’t look up the information I couldn’t tell you a single character name or what was important about them. That is definitely not the case with Wallace and Gromit, Chicken Run, Shaun the Sheep or Arthur Christmas that had such memorable characters. Some don’t like the Aardman film Pirates: Band of Misfits but the jokes with the monkey alone in that film stand out way more than anything in Early Man.

There are some cute moments between the characters and the animation is adorable so it’s enjoyable on that level. The theme of teamwork is nice to see and you can root for the underdog like any sports movie. The voice acting is all good and if you like soccer you will probably get a lot of jokes that went over my head (there are jokes about DC United and teams like that which Brits will get).

In the week since I saw it I have kept looking for excuses for Early Man because I love Aardman so much. However,  if I am going to be tough on studios like DreamWorks and Sony Animation I have to be tough here to:

They made a boring movie that I didn’t think was funny (Sorry Aardman!)

Overall Grade- C

Blind Spot 26: The Palm Beach Story

February is the month of romance, so I thought it would be fun to pick a classic romantic comedy for my blind spot selection. There aren’t many romcoms I haven’t seen but one I hadn’t gotten around to is The Palm Beach Story by director Preston Sturges- the king of the 1940s romantic comedy! Fortunately, it proved to be not only romantic but also somewhat shocking (for the day) in its themes and story.

The first thing to keep in mind with The Palm Beach Story is to watch the opening credits! There is a montage throughout them that comes into play later in the movie. It’s a neat touch that starts things off feeling fresh and inventive.

Claudette Colbert is amazing as Gerry, a woman struggling with a marriage that can’t seem to get above water financially. Her husband Tom (Joel McCrea) has grand ideas but can never make a steady paycheck. Through various contrivances Gerry ends up on a train down to Palm Beach where she hopes to meet a rich man who can be her second husband.

To her great fortune she meets a man named John D. Hackensacker III (Rudy Vallee) who becomes smitten and insists on showering her with all kinds of clothing and gifts.  Of course when Tom hears about this he is furious and goes to Palm Beach to try and stop it.

Things get further complicated when Hackensacker’s sister Princess Centimillia (Mary Astor) becomes interested in Tom (who Gerry says is her brother Captain McGlue!). With so many half truths it gets pretty nutty and even a little surprising.  It’s also very easy to see how this film influenced movies like White Christmas and Some Like It Hot in many ways.

As with all of Preston Sturges’ movies the true star is the terrific script. He was so great at crafting frank and honest dialogue spoken from compelling characters. The banter between McCrea and Colbert is snappy and very fast paced but thankfully the actors are up for the task. Colbert is as good here as she is in It Happened One Night, and she has good chemistry with McCrea. They even manage to keep her likable despite her taking advantage of Hackensacker and not being very honest. Not an easy task!

I was impressed with how modern the script was in both tone and candor. Sex, marriage, divorce, infidelity, loneliness and depression are all discussed in ways that must have made the censors blush back then. Sturges even asks the question ‘is marriage necessary or a good thing?’. Of course, the answer is yes but it’s still a bold question for 1942. Later on in Unfaithfully Yours he will explore these themes even more, but I appreciated there was nothing cloying about the relationships in this script.

The only real downside is not all the physical comedy worked for me. All the actors are up for it but I preferred the more dialogue-based humor. Also, I don’t know that I completely buy the ending, but I don’t know that we are supposed to. I think it is meant to be a little bit of a poke at traditional romances with perfect happily ever afters. He even adds an ‘or not’ at the end to reinforce his point.

I definitely recommend checking The Palm Beach Story out if you like classic romances with great dialogue. It’s a wonderful choice for Valentine’s Day and a whole lot of fun! Also, studios should take a look at this film and consider remaking it or paying homage to it. The story and script is definitely still relevant and it would be interesting to see the themes of marriage explored even more so with modern characters.

Overall Grade- A