Current Mini Reviews

Today I am back with a small edition of my mini reviews post. Mostly the end of January was taken up by the Sundance Film Festival but I was able to squeeze in a few other viewings which included both new and 2018 releases.

So here goes!

THE BALLAD OF BUSTER SCRUGGS

THE BALLAD OF BUSTER SCRUGGS CR: NETFLIX

At the risk of losing some of my film snob credibility with #filmtwitter I must own I have not enjoyed most of the Coen Brothers recent comedies. They seem to rely so much on setting that they forget to tell a good joke. Films like Hail Caesar didn’t work because instead of being funny they decided to be boring and repetitive. Their early work like Raising Arizona focused on script first, setting and set-pieces second and this is what made it so funny.

Now we get a western themed anthology from them and it has much of the same problems of Hail Caesar. Lately the Coen Brothers seem content to simply pay homage to classic storytelling (in this case the western) instead of crafting compelling scripts within said genre.

For starters, I didn’t think that any of the shorts were funny. A couple were sweet and tender like The Gal Who Got Rattled, but even it, is not something I am going to remember. In contrast, their films like Fargo or Oh Brother! Where Art Thou I will never forget (memorable characters, script and setting!).

The shorts in The Ballad of Buster Scruggs are well made and acted but aren’t memorable nor did they inspire any large emotion from me. Pretty bland I’d say.

4 out of 10

Frown Worthy

MOWGLI: LEGEND OF THE JUNGLE

mowgli

Another missed opportunity came with Andy Serkis and his version of Rudyard Kipling’s The Jungle Book. Of course we all know that Disney hit a real homerun with their 2016 version directed by Jon Favreau. I wasn’t as in love with that version as some moviegoers but it was certainly better than this new version that went straight to Netflix for a reason.

To put it quite bluntly Mowgli: Legend of the Jungle is unmemorable and boring in every way. The child performer Rohan Chand who plays Mowgli is pretty good (perhaps better than the kid in the Favreau version tbh) but the story was not interesting. They go a darker angle which will be too traumatizing for kids but it isn’t compelling enough to entertain adults so it’s just really bland.

Also the cgi, which was so memorable in Favreau’s version, is very hit and miss here. The voice cast is all good but the characters don’t do anything interesting and Mowgli is a jungle boy who stays the same through the movie. I immediately forgot about the movie as soon as I finished watching it, which is a real shame.

3 out of 10

Frown Worthy

FREE SOLO

FreeSolo

This Oscar nominated documentary follows climber Alex Honnold as he attempts to ‘free solo’ climb El Capitan in Yosemite National Park. The directors do a good job creating stakes for the danger of the climb and helping us get to know the free-spirited Alex. This helps his climb during the last third of the film feel wracked with tension!

I couldn’t help but ask myself while watching what all this risk was for? What was the point of going solo? I guess just to prove you can but is that something to be applauded? It’s similar to Evil Knievel jumping over 20 cars through a ring of fire for our entertainment or Philippe Petit walking across the World Trade Towers in 1974. Man always wants to entertain us via risking their own lives and more often than not such stunts are compelling and hard to not watch and applaud.

They had a lot of challenges while making the movie because they couldn’t disrupt his dangerous climb in any way to get either sound or images, so what they accomplish is really quite impressive. If they win best documentary I won’t complain (knowing the documentary branch it will probably go to something more pedestrian like RBG). Regardless you should check out Free Solo while you have the chance.

8 out of 10

Smile Worthy

I WANT TO EAT YOUR PANCREAS

I want to eat your pancreas

I Want to Eat Your Pancreas is definitely the strangest title of the year but fear not! It is not a cannibalism movie after all. In fact, it is a sticky sweet coming of age love story in the vein of A Fault in Our Stars or a Nicholas Sparks film like A Walk to Remember.

It tells the story of Sakura, a teenage girl suffering from pancreatic disease who becomes friends with a sullen teen boy who wants no part in her dreaming and life. Sakura is very much a manic pixie dream girl who exists mostly to inspire this boy (who we don’t even get a name of for most the movie) to live a full and exciting life. She also has a best friend who is very suspect of this new boy in her friends life.

Despite the somewhat tired setup, I Want to Eat Your Pancreas is actually quite sweet with nice moments between the 2 characters that teens will relate with and enjoy. The animation is beautiful throughout using light and a watercolor aesthetic to make Sakura seem all the more angelic and hopeful. I also enjoyed the music and the character designs while fairly generic were pleasant to watch.

Overall, if you like these kinds of coming of age weepies than you’ll enjoy I Want to Eat Your Pancreas, and I’d recommend checking it out.

7 out of 10

Smile Worthy

WHAT MEN WANT

what men want

If you are new to my blog you might not know that I hate the original What Women Want with a passion. I think it is such a putrid terrible lazy excuse for a comedy. Especially with the Marisa Tomei character’s plot I find it quite morally repugnant to be honest. So you can imagine I was horrified to see it was being remade with a gender swap with Taraji P Henson in the Mel Gibson role. Unfortunately the filmmakers couldn’t swap my feelings for the film into enjoying this new version

The positives for What Men Want is it has a funny poker scene where Shaquille O’Neal and other NBA stars get some good laughs. Also Wendi McLendon-Covey is funny in the 3 or 4 scenes she is in.

The rest of the movie is awful. The stereotyping is embarrassing. The laughs are few and far between (and extremely repetitive). The movie is way too long at nearly 2 hours and the lead character is an insufferable, entitled jerk for way too long. Also her skill of reading men’s minds seems to come in and out very conveniently. I know a lot of people hated I Feel Pretty last year but I thought that had way more heart and a way better message than this mess.

Worst of all it wasn’t funny (except for the poker scene). There’s tons of R rated humor and that did nothing for me. (I’m not sure why people think saying the f word a lot is funny. It’s just using a word. You have to do funny things with it). Anyway, What Men Want is trash. Don’t watch it or the original. There’s way better comedies out there to watch. Put on Game Night or even TAG instead.

Please let’s move on from this lazy gender stereotyping movie concept!

1 out of 10

Frown Worthy

Have you gotten to see any of these releases? Let me know in the comments section. Thanks!

Advertisements

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 🙂

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.

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

mary poppins returns1

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.

mary poppins returns2

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.

mary poppins returns5

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!

mary poppins returns3

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.

mary poppins returns6

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.

null

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!

smile worthy

Current Mini Reviews

As many of you know I have been hard at work watching every Christmas movie of 2018 (over 50 new releases already!) for my Hallmarkies Podcast. However, that does not mean I am slacking off on the regular releases. I’m doing the best I can to fit them in as well. I am also still doing monthly obscure animation and Talking Disney over on my other podcast Rachel’s Reviews. We just posted one talking all about Mary Poppins I think you will enjoy.

Anyway, I thought it was about time for another one of my Current Mini Reviews post where I catch you up on the quick thoughts on recent films I’ve seen. Obviously this will not include films like Ralph Breaks the Internet where I have a full written review. Let me know your thoughts on these in the comments section.

widows

Widows

With such an amazing cast and a great director like Steve McQueen it is difficult to go into Widows without very high expectations and maybe that is part of my problem. While I certainly didn’t hate Widows, I found it kind of frustrating. The writing for the characters isn’t deep enough to be a compelling drama and the heist isn’t fun enough to be an engaging heist movie. Instead it is some pretty camera work and good acting that doesn’t have much to say and was a little plodding. I also thought the lighting on the women didn’t do them any favors. It seemed to me it was being shot to take away their femininity and make them look pasty and ugly which is a very strange choice for these stunning women. Even the love scenes felt very masculine and strange. I guess that could be interesting but it didn’t work for me.

Frown Worthy but other people love it so I guess decide for yourself

93 out of 135

christmas chronicles

The Christmas Chronicles-

Netflix has stepped up their Christmas game this year and Christmas Chronicles is a really fun entry from them. Starring Kurt Russell as a kick butt, cool Santa who ends up taking care of 2 kids who have lost their father. It was funny and had a nostalgic charm to it. Some of the bits go on a little too long and the thugs are a bit too violent for my liking but it’s a lot of fun. I also thought the elves were adorable.

Smile Worthy

43 out of 135

creed2

Creed 2

While not as fancy as the first Creed film I really enjoyed Creed 2. I enjoyed all the storylines between Adonis and his fiance and him and Rocky. The match-up with the Dragos really worked and I honestly didn’t know who was going to win the final boxing match (and I would have been happy with either winning which is tough to do in a boxing movie). I guess it doesn’t reinvent the boxing genre but what it does it executes very well. I think it’s a little underrated for this year.

Smile Worthy

19 out of 135

mirai

Mirai-

2018 hasn’t had as many indies and anime films as some years but Mirai is certainly one of the standouts. It’s a very simple movie from Mamoru Hosoda about a little boy struggling to adapt to a new sister in the house. Through a series of magical realism events he learns about his family and that he is loved and it is thoroughly adorable. The animation is so fun and the message sweet it really works. It reminded me a little bit of Takahata’s Only Yesterday, which I love.

Smile Worthy

16 out of 135

power of usPokemon: The Power of Us-

Last year we got a reboot of the Pokemon series with Pokemon: I Choose You and this year we get The Power of Us and fortunately both are solid entries in the series. I Choose You has more stunning animation but the plot in The Power of Us is less convoluted. Either way, I enjoyed both. If you are a fan you have to see it!

Smile Worthy

68 out of 135

green book

Green Book-

I love stories about friendship and Green Book is a great example of how to do it right. Both men obviously have racial differences but they have many other differences including class, sexuality, tastes and everything else. I thought it was great seeing the 2 overcome their differences and become friends through their road trip. Some people are mad at this movie for not starting a movement or telling the entire black experience. That’s not what it was trying to do. It was just portraying this one friendship and it did a great job. I love both lead performances and the script is excellent. Loved it.

Smile Worthy

9 out of 135

everyday

Every Day-

Every Day has an intriguing premise that probably works better as a book than a movie but I still enjoyed this YA film. The idea is our young girl meets a boy who wakes up each day in the body of another person for just that day. Naturally this makes having a relationship difficult but the overall message about loving who a person is rather than their outward appearance is a good one and all the acting is sincere and sweet. In the world of dopey YA films, this is a solid entry.

Smile Worthy

56 out of 135

instant family

Instant Family-

In Instant Family director Sean Anders tells his own story about when he and his wife adopted 3 siblings and the challenges/blessings that went along with that. This film is easy to disregard if you are only paying attention to the trailers with pratfalls and cheap humor but I loved it. It doesn’t shy away from how hard adoption and foster care can be but the emotional sections really worked for me. I was balling when I left the theater. I mean ugly, got to compose myself, kind of tears. These kids are out there and they need to be loved but they can be so hard to love. I liked all the performances and when the credits showed the Anders family and all the other adoption and foster care families involved in the film I lost it. It’s really good.

Smile Worthy

12 out of 135

the grinch

The Grinch-

Illumination Studios is the junk food of animation. They provide commercially appealing, brightly colored films that make a lot of money and are instantly forgotten. Such is the case with The Grinch. It’s not awful like their previous attempt with Seuss, The Lorax, but it’s just super bland and lacking in creativity. None of the jokes landed for me and they change the message from Christmas doesn’t come from a store into loneliness is bad, which is a definite downgrade. It has some nice traditional carols in the soundtrack and there’s nothing offensive about it. It’s just super mediocre and bland.

Frown Worthy

90 out of 135

 

tea with the dames

Tea with the Dames-

If you are an anglophile like myself you have to check out the documentary Tea with the Dames. It’s very simple. They just gather Dame Eileen Atkins, Judi Dench, Joan Plowright and Maggie Smith together to talk about their careers and lives. They have some naughty language and can be very catty but it’s all delightful. It will make you want to call your old friends and catch up.

Smile Worthy

30 out of 135

butterflies

Butterflies-

I actually saw this Turkish film at Sundance but I thought I would give you my thoughts really quick. Butterflies is about 3 estranged siblings who have to journey to bury their recently deceased father. What follows is a bit of a dark comedy with some poignant moments between the very good lead actors and some hilarious bits. I particularly died laughing every time a set of chickens meets their maker (I won’t spoil it for you but it was LOL).

Smile Worthy

24 out of 135

robin hood

Robin Hood-

I was hoping this would be a silly action movie but I don’t know what they were thinking with this disastrous adaptation of the classic story. Almost every choice from the accents, to the action, to the special effects are terrible. I knew it was going to be really bad when the opening sequence is a long Medieval take on American Sniper...Every performance is either bland or way over the top and the story is so dumb. It’s violent and yet the script expects you to care about these ridiculous characters….

Frown Worthy

128 out of 135

Robin Hood is the worst of this grouping and Green Book is the best! Some fun times at the movies. Let me know what you think!

Movie 57: Ralph Breaks the Internet (Spoilers)

(This is the podcast Stanford and I did on the film and we were on the same page with it)

Anyone who has followed this blog since its start knows I am not as high on Wreck-It Ralph as most of the Disney fandom is. I think it is a harmless movie but not one of the greats as I often hear claimed. It gets stuck in Sugar Rush too long and the plot becomes fairly pedestrian. Naturally I was very worried when I heard they were making a rare canon sequel (only 2nd non-package film sequel) and even more concerned when it was all going to be online.

One of my issues with the original is it doesn’t fulfill the promise it makes to explore the arcade and see lots of worlds. Now for the sequel, they would be leaving the arcade all together for the internet? This seemed like a terrible idea and my worries grew stronger when I saw the Princess clip at D23 in 2017. I was also worried that the humor would be too Shrekian and based on parody as opposed to satire and story-based.

However, I always go into any film with an open mind, hoping to be dazzled, and fortunately my worries were relieved. I can confidently say that Ralph Breaks the Internet is a complete delight and better than its predecessor in nearly every way.

In the  original film you have a story of a bad guy wanting to be good, which is fun, but it gets kind of lost in the shenanigans of Sugar Rush. Vanellope’s underdog story becomes more of the focus with a villain reveal that is very predictable (especially now when we’ve seen that trope so many times by Disney and Pixar).

The story in Ralph Breaks the Internet is a lot more subtle and nuanced. Ralph and Vanellope are friends and they love each other but that doesn’t mean they are the same. Vanellope yearns for newness and a chance to get out of Sugar Rush. On the other hand, Ralph likes things to stay the same, day in and day out. This is a conflict I can easily relate to as I am a same stuff  kind of girl. I could eat the same things, wear the same clothes, do the same activities each day and be perfectly fine. I guess this is why I’m fine watching 95 Hallmark movies a year or reviewing 35 versions of A Christmas Carol. It’s just how my brain works. I related to this division between Vanellope and Ralph. You still love each other but you process the world differently.

ralph breaks2

As is easy to do, Vanellope and Ralph deny these differences for a long time not wanting to hurt the others feelings. Then a crisis happens in Vanellope’s game that forces them to go online to try and buy a steering wheel on Ebay. This pushes them to acknowledge their differences and learn to love each other in a new way. I found this much more moving and nuanced than the lesson of the original film. It’s easy to love someone who is the same as you. It takes a lot more work to love someone differences and all (in fact love them more because of those differences).

ralph breaks

As is always the case with comedy, I suspect the humor will be the most divisive part of the Ralph Breaks the Internet. I actually ended up loving it. My worry was that the jokes would be parody and not part of the story but to my pleasure almost every joke is story-based. Whether it is Spamly or KnowsMore giving them directions or the Princesses helping Vanellope with her conflict with Ralph the humor was all part of moving the characters forward as opposed to just throw-away parody jokes.

While I still don’t love the kidnapped and enslaved joke in the princess scene, most of the other humor worked for me. I was particularly happy to see Ariel be lovingly showcased. She is kind of the leader of the girls and got most of the best laughs. There is even an Alan Menken song towards the end, which was a real treat! If you like the humor in Enchanted or Elf you will really enjoy this.

ralph breaks4

I also really enjoyed the scenes in Slaughter Race. The racing sequences were incredibly animated. The only ones better I can think of is from Cars 3. Gal Gadot does a good job playing the leader Shank and her bond with Vanellope is really sweet. They reminded me of the roughians and thugs from Tangled– rough on the outside but sweet on the inside. As she experiences this freer style of racing Vanellope realizes this is where she belongs, but she knows it will hurt Ralph to admit this. This is conflict I can relate to and that most people have experienced as they try and navigate long-term friendships.

ralph breaks5

While Vanellope is in Slaughter Race, Ralph gets an education on youtube. I loved the way they animated the users of the internet. It wasn’t cynical like The Emoji Movie. Most of the time the users were having a nice time and enjoying their time in whatever website was being portrayed. As things broke down they were upset but not as cynical as The Emoji Movie where the kids couldn’t communicate at all without their phones. ralph breaks 6Ralph meets a woman named Yesss who is an algorithm for determining trending videos. I related to all of this youtube (buzztube in the movie) as I am a youtuber. It showcased the highs and lows the medium offers. Ralph gets very excited as his gimmicky but harmless videos make enough money to purchase the steering wheel but then is hurt when he reads the comments and realizes he is a joke. Yesss tells him to never read the comments. While I am small and most of my comments are friendly, I can certainly relate to the toxic side. No matter how strong you are it can still sometimes sting. I appreciate the nuanced and balanced look at the internet Ralph Breaks the Internet showed.

ralph breaks3

I am hearing the ending is divisive but it worked great for me. Ralph is a character very resistant to change. He is giving into his fears and the virus he purchases magnifies those fears. As someone who is also resistant to change, I related to it. These are flawed characters who grow and learn. Isn’t that what we want in scripts? Plus, the tension and conflict was broken up by lots of humor, so it all worked for me. When Ralph and Vanellope learn to accept each other for who they are and come to a new deeper friendship I found it moving and a lovely growth arc for both characters.

It almost goes without saying that the animation is phenomenal. Unlike the original film where we spend 45 minutes in Sugar Rush, here we are zipped around to many different worlds and sites. I loved all of the world building and like I said the racing sequences were amazing! The voice work was also delightful. John C Reilly does a great job with Ralph. Sarah Silverman still isn’t my favorite but she’s servicable in this. I loved Gal Gadot and supporting voice work was all great including all the living princess actors (even Paige O’hara who had aged out of her role was brought back!).

Some may wish for more time with Felix and Calhoun but what we got from them was hilarious so I was satisfied. I even liked the post credits scene which played up on audience expectations and was very funny. I loved Ralph Breaks the Internet. It spoke to me more than the original. It had a more nuanced and powerful message. It was a lot funnier and the animation was better. (It even had a princess song!). I am seeing some mixed reactions from fans of the original, which is to be expected but I can only speak for myself and I thought it was a complete delight!

I never thought I would be saying this but I’d even be up for a 3rd installment!

smile worthy

Fantastic Beasts: Crimes of Grindelwald Review

 

This week I had the chance to see the latest film in the Harry Potter universe- Fantastic Beasts: The Crimes of Grindelwald, and I immediately put up my review on youtube (please subscribe). I was pretty harsh in my initial thoughts but as I have had 2 days to think about it, I don’t think I was harsh enough. I walked out of the theater exhausted and completely baffled. My assumption at the time is this movie must be made for people more aware of the lore than I am, so they will like it. However, I have talked with many hard core fans who are bitterly disappointed, which makes me come to the conclusion that it is just a colossal misfire.

I was not a big fan of the first Fantastic Beasts film but it had some positive traits. I liked Queenie and Jacob’s relationship and story, and some of the setting/new lore was fun and whimsical. My main problems with it was Newt as a protagonist (would have made a better side character), Newt’s mumbling was hard to understand, the tone was all over the place and the final reveal was very underwhelming. That said, this new film makes the first film seem like a masterpiece! (Also I remember being so bored watching Harry Potter Deathly Hallows pt 1. Little did I know how good I had it. I at least understood that one)
grindelwald3

It’s hard for me to tell you all that is wrong with the movie because I was so confused the entire time that my brain hurt. There are so many characters each with their own plots making the story impossible to follow. It kind of reminded me of the Pirates of the Caribbean sequels, which left me with a similar sense of exhaustion.

The original Harry Potter book and movies were  mysteries in the world of magic. Harry was presented with a problem that they had to follow the clues and find the solution for. As they searched their characters grew and the many side characters made the experience rewarding. Despite them being in a series each entry had a sense of of its own story and identity. Not so here.

To begin with, the good parts of the original film are immediately done away with. All 4 of the main characters are divided up and what they do with Queenie and Jacob doesn’t make sense and is underserved at best. Instead of being charming, Queenie was nonsensical and Jacob was just watching stuff happen. They also immediately leave America so what was the point of setting up all that lore and unique identity for American wizardry?

grindelwald4

Then we get to meet Jude Law as Dumbledore, and he does a good job but it didn’t feel like the Hogwarts we know and love. Why is Dumbledore wearing muggles clothing? What is going on? The advertising would have you believe this Dumbledore is a major part of the movie but they cut away from him so much it is at best an ensemble role.

Zoe Kravitz plays Leta Lestrange and we jump around from seeing her as a child and then an adult and back again. Maybe we will get some reveal in the next movie that will clarify things, but I was completely lost by her character. Then we had Tina, Nagini (which don’t get me started on her weird undercooked storyline), Krall, Nagel, Professor McGonagall shows up for no reason, Nicolas Flamel, Newt’s brother is a major character, Credence is a major character that made no sense. The list goes on and on. I haven’t been this baffled by a fantasy film since Warcraft. It’s true…

grindelwald

And then we have Johnny Depp as Grindelwald. I was nervous about his performance because him in white face in fantasy films has gotten so boring. In fairness, he is fine with what is given him but what on earth is he talking about all the time? They are obviously trying to set him up as some kind of Hitler type character but they show scenes from the muggles, which they never do in Harry Potter. His speeches were incoherent gibberish and then I was never clear is he using magic to control people or are they acting under their own agency when drawn to him?

The ads keep telling fans to #ProtecttheSecrets. I legitimately have NO IDEA what secrets we are supposed to be keeping. There is a reveal at the end that I guess is a big deal but it made no sense and the more I thought about it the more it irritated me. I guess it is a secret but it’s a nonsensical secret so no loss there?

In recent years JK Rowling has begun to George Lucas herself. She finished her saga on just the right note and then she started Pottermore and it was all downhill from there. Instead of leaving her world for her readers to imagine and play with she made an alteration here or there. She caved to fans and answered questions that didn’t need to be answered. With each reveal some of the mystery was taken away and the magic lost.

Then the first film came out and she didn’t have a screenwriter to edit her down and it was a bit of a mess. Then she gave her permission to Harry Potter and the Cursed Child to be included as canon and it was very messy. Finally we get this and the universe is seriously damaged. My Potterhead friend was very upset about it, and I feel for her. It’s something we Star Wars fans have dealt with twice now and it is very disappointing.

I know it is technically the creators right to add to their creation as much as they want, but I so wish they wouldn’t. I don’t know if it is greed or a perfectionism that pushes them to make changes but it really hurts the wonder and appeal of the world they have so carefully created. They might think they are helping their fans by providing new content but they are truly breaking their hearts. I know they won’t stop but they should. Sigh…

Some may like spending 2 hours and 13 minutes in this mass of confusion and plotlines and that’s fine. For me, I’m struggling to find a reason to not include Crimes of Grindelwald in my worst of the year list. I still find Newt hard to understand so I don’t even have that to pluck it up like I do with other franchises (Jurassic World Fallen Kingdom or The Meg for example).

It’s just terrible and I’m sad. The end.

Also this is not a movie for children. Take the PG-13 seriously.

frown

 

The Hate U Give Review (Spoilers)

Adapting YA novels can be a bit of a tricky high-wire act to walk. You have to satisfy your fervent teen fanbase while elevating the material to wider audience. The novel The Hate U Give by Angie Thomas was particularly difficult because of its very sensitive and timely subject matter of police violence on African-Americans. Fortunately director George Tillman Jr and his team have done an excellent job with their film The Hate U Give and made one of the best films of the year.

First of all, let me set fans of the novel, like my niece’s fears to rest by saying that they changed very little in the adaptation. At least by my memory, almost everything in the book is in the movie, so yay!

hate u give2 - Copy - Copy

The Hate U Give is about a teenage girl named Starr (Amanda Stenberg) who lives in a tough part of town called Garden Heights. Her father (Russell Hornsby) works as the owner of a small grocery/convenience store and her mother (Regina Hall) is a nurse. To give their children a better life they send them to a richer private school called Williamson High. Here Starr has to put on a face, even for her white boyfriend, so that she is not seen as ghetto.

Unfortunately one Saturday after leaving a party with her friend Khalil (Algee Smith) a tragedy occurs and he is killed by a police officer. This starts Starr on a journey to figure out her place in the world and how she can best use her voice.

hate u give3 - Copy

What makes this script work so well is it is so well-rounded. We hear from so many different perspectives on the situation including Starr’s Uncle Carlos (Common) who happens to be a cop. Anthony Mackie also plays King a local drug dealer who threatens Starr and her family as she gets ready to share her truth.

At Sundance I saw a similarly themed movie called Monster and it was so heavy-handed and full of distracting visual choices from the director. It’s almost like the director didn’t trust the truth of his material. Not the case here. Director George Tilman Jr has faith in his script, and he let’s it tell its story.

hate u give6

The cast of The Hate U Give also really feels like a family. They have chemistry together and they all had unique voices and spirits that meshed well together. I never felt like the teenagers were being one note rebellious or the parents were being bossy. These are people who happen to be related and happen to love each other. It was honestly one of the most believable family groupings I’ve seen in a movie in a long time.

The only part I didn’t love in the movie was some of the school dynamics- particularly with a white girl friend of hers. It didn’t have the nuance of the rest of the movie but to be fair I didn’t like those scenes in the book either.

Obviously with such material there are tense moments and some violence but I would take my family if I had one. It’s not too graphic and the message of family and standing up for who you are is positive and important. The Hate U Give is the kind of movie I would take my family to and then have a family home evening and discuss why injustices happen and what we can do to make our world a better place. I like that it doesn’t sugarcoat the hard truths of life but it also never loses the sense of hope and faith.

It’s great. You should all see it.

Ranked 15 out of 114 Releases for 2018

smile worthy

First Man Review

If you have been following this blog you know my relationship with director Damien Chazelle has been a bit rocky. I always want to love his movies like everyone else but usually leave thinking they are just ok. There is always something in his portrayal of dreamers leaving me wanting more. Wanting more understanding of what drives them to put up with a mad man in Whiplash or leaving their true love to chase their movie dreams in La La Land. So this year with his film First Man, about Neil Armstrong, I was hopeful it would be the first film of Chazelle’s repertoire to move me into the love camp. Unfortunately the opposite has occurred and it is definitely my least favorite of his movies.

first man4

There are some impressive things about First Man. While relying way too much on close-ups (a trend I hate!), the cinematography and space set pieces were very striking. Also the performances by Ryan Gosling, Claire Foy and Kyle Chandler were all excellent with what they were given to do. Unfortunately, those impressive visuals were shot with a handheld camera style and were very shaky. For someone with a weak stomach it was almost too much. However, if you don’t have those problems they are impressive sequences.

first man2

My problem with the film was the script. Aside from a few glimpses of emotion at the death of his daughter, I never got any sense of feeling or personality from Neil Armstrong. I guess they were trying to portray him as being on the spectrum but that doesn’t mean he needs to have the same flat expression at all times. I didn’t feel like I got to know him as a person- his idiosyncrasies, his passions. I don’t even know why he wanted to go to the moon? In Apollo 13 we have the scene where Tom Hanks puts his thumb over the moon and he talks about his dreams. We needed something like that here.

Film Title: First Man

Because I wasn’t invested in Neil Armstrong’s journey it made the movie kind of boring and flat. They didn’t do a good job of building up the characters at NASA like in Apollo 13 and aside from his wife getting upset a couple of times it was all flat and business-like.

I guess when it comes down to it I like my inspirational stories to be inspirational (go figure right?). Some may balk at a movie like Hidden Figures or October Sky and call them pedestrian but I left those movies inspired and wanting to do great things. Surely a movie about Neil Armstrong should give me such a feeling? Are we so elevated these days that we don’t need heroes but they all have to be whittled down to ordinary people who show up for work every day? Even a minor character in Apollo 13 like Gary Sinise’s astronaut who got bumped from the shuttle had an arc and an emotional journey I could relate to. Here I just didn’t get that.

So good job Neil Armstrong. You’re our hero. This movie however didn’t do you justice

(Also the flag controversy was mostly caused because of a dumb interview Gosling gave but it does show an overall scorning of heroic moments by Chazelle, which did not work for me)

Frown Worthy

Ranked 72 out of 114 of 2018 Films

frown