Exciting News and Almost Best Movies of 2018

So if you follow me on twitter or youtube you already know my big exciting news! Last week I was contacted by a representative from the website rottentomatoes.com asking me if I was interested in becoming an approved critic for their site. At first I thought this couldn’t be real and was some kind of scam but I looked into and sure enough it was real!

I am still in shock about this development because I don’t know how I was selected out of the many talented podcasters and bloggers. I hadn’t applied because my numbers are far under what they say you need to apply. I am guessing they were trying to recruit female critics and somehow I got on their radar but I really have no clue. Maybe they just liked my writing? Who knows?

Anyway, it is a super exciting development for me as it should help me get on press lists I have been dying to get on. It has already got me on the local Disney/Marvel press list which is a dream come true and I’m hoping to get approved for another big local list. It also gives my content more exposure which is a great thing! I just can’t believe it! Dreams do come true!

You can see my profile with a few uploaded reviews

https://www.rottentomatoes.com/critic/rachel-wagner/movies

Then I also posted my ALMOST Best Movies of 2018 List today. These are 15 movies I really loved that I couldn’t fit on my top 15 Best of List. I’d love for you to check out the video (or listen to the podcast) but here are the picks:

16. Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society– great performances by Lily James, Michel Huisman, Penelope Wilton and more. Lovely story with heart and touching moments. Loved the ending and the proposal.

17. Won’t You Be My Neighbor- a documentary that manages to draw you in just telling a man’s simple story. There’s a moment at Congress that had me on the edge of my seat. Inspiring and heartwarming. I also got to attend the premiere at Sundance and another exclusive screening to celebrate our local PBS station KUED. Good memories

18. Mirai– sweet and intimate little anime film from Mamoru Hosoda about a little boy learning to appreciate his new baby sister. He is visited by guests from the future and past to teach him to be kind. Lovely with beautiful animation.

19. Green Book– I love stories of unlikely friendship and this was a great one. Wonderful performances between Viggo Mortensen and Mahershala Ali. Some want this movie to be more than it is, a protest film but that’s not it at all. It’s just about 2 friends and it is full of comedy, tender moments and learning to accept and value someone you never thought you could get along with when you first met.

20. Minding the Gap– Stunning documentary where director Bing Li follows his friends from an early age and weaves in skateboarding into themes of growing up, change, and most importantly how the domestic violence put upon their mothers changes them.

21. The Night is Short Walk on Girl– surrealist, bright and bubbly anime about a girl who goes on a giant drinking bender on a break from college. There are musical sequences, wacky artwork and a sweet love story. A trippy experience but one I thoroughly enjoyed. Very different than any other anime I’ve seen.

22. Game Night– hilarious film about a bunch of friends trying to have a secret game night. The whole cast is hilarious. I especially loved Kyle Chandler in an unusual comedic role. Anyone who has a competitive family with games will relate and it shows well the slight desperation we can feel to socialize as grown ups in our 30s. It’s hard!

23. Three Identical Strangers– A documentary that completely blew me away. I stayed spoiler free so when certain things happen I was shocked! I could never have guessed such twists and turns. It was funny, heartwarming, scary, everything all rolled up into one crazy story.

24. Eighth Grade– I’m usually not a big fan of sullen teenager coming of age stories but this one had just enough humor and heart to work for me. Elsie Fisher was wonderful and her experience youtubing felt totally authentic (I know of what I speak!).

25. Bumblebee– A completely charming film that is the Transfomers movie I have been hoping for all along. I loved the nostalgic feel and the heart with the relationship between Bumblebee and Hailee Steinfeld’s character. The use of music was also brilliant. It’s how to do a great blockbuster/reboot.

26. A Quiet Place- I don’t know how rewatchable this film is but it belongs on this list because of the great performances and what a memorable theater experience I had. The tension of the story and atmosphere they created really worked for me. I was so wound up when I left the theater I kept getting startled by everything around me! Such fun! (It’s also a story at its heart about a family that loves each other).

27. Maquia: Where the Promised Flower Blooms– an extremely ambitious anime fantasy from director Mari Okada. It has all you could want in a fantasy with battles, elves and dragons but at its core is a touching story about a girl becoming a mother and changing as a person in the process. Beautiful animation and music and I can’t wait to see what she does next.

28. Creed II- one of the more underrated films of the year. I really thought it was great. I liked all the performances and thought the story built tension and excitement well. I honestly would have been fine with either Adonis or the Dragos winning the final fight which is hard to do in a boxing movie. If it’s the end of the series it is a good way to go out.

29. The Hate U Give– The greatest thing about this movie is how well it portrays a family. These actors really felt like family and had incredible chemistry together. They did a great job building tension and showing a nuanced and layered view of the situation. I didn’t feel preached at but invested in her story and the family. The school stuff doesn’t work as well for me but I didn’t love that in the book so not especially surprised. Still very good YA adaptation.

30. Isle of Dogs– stunning animation from Wes Anderson and a story with the dogs that was adorable. I loved the attention to detail especially in the backgrounds. Amazing! Some of the human stuff doesn’t work as well but I still thoroughly enjoyed this unique animated tale.

So there you have it: My ALMOST Best Movies of 2018 List. What do you think? Let me know in the comments. Thanks for all your support! Sure love ya!

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Pixar Review 25: Up

up_posterIt’s really hard to write about your favorite movie, or at least it is really hard for me.  So has been my challenge for the last week or so as I’ve faced writing about Pixar’s beautiful film Up, my favorite movie (animation or not).

To this day I have never met anyone in my real life who doesn’t like Up, and it is both my brother and my favorite movie and we are as different as can be.  It was also nominated for best picture not just animated film and receives  wide-spread acclaim from critics and fans with a 98% on rotten tomatoes with only 5 rotten reviews and 276 positives.  On the notoriously tough to please imdb Up has a 91% of user reviews a 7 or higher, which is truly remarkable.  You get the idea. I’m not alone in loving this movie!

I like Up so much when I threw my dream party look at the cake I had made (it was an open house).

up cakeSo why do I love it so much? It’s tough but I will do my best to describe.

Have you ever lost someone you love? Have you ever felt the pangs of regret that you wish you had said something or done something differently with the person who is gone?  I certainly have and that is the message behind Up.  It is what makes it special.  It is what moves me so much.  It is also a reminder that we need not feel such regret because the people we love are an active part of our lives as long as we live their dreams and make them proud.

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To begin with in Up we get introduced to Carl and Ellie as little children.  Carl is watching a filmstrip about Charles Muntz his hero.  He tells the audience “adventure is out there”.  This energizes Carl and he gets a balloon which is a hint of things to come. On his way home he finds a girl named Ellie in an abandoned house.  She also loves Muntz and dreams of going to Venezuela and seeing the Paradise Falls. She chronicles all her dreams in an Adventure book and has a section called ‘Stuff I’m Going to Do’.

up17 up15This is another theme of the movie- adventures and the power of big dreams to motivate us whether they are accomplished or not.

Ellie tells Carl he must take her to Paradise Falls ‘cross your heart. Cross it!’.  Then we see what happened with that promise.  A full life plays out and this is my favorite section of film ever. If you think of it from both the journey of a couple, of a life, and from Carl’s perspective of not keeping his promise to his beloved it is so moving.  I’ve seen it so many times and it still makes me cry each time.

The thing is about regret is it can make you bitter and resentful.  So has happened to our elderly Carl.  He is lonely and talks to Ellie as if she was sitting right beside him (I love that throughout the movie because I believe the dead are with us cheering us on).  A commercial developer has taken over the land near his house and they want him to sell.  He tells him “you can have the house…when I’m dead”.  You get the feeling he is just waiting to die and he see’s Ellie’s ‘Stuff I’m Going to Do’ and is overwhelmed with guilt at never having taken her to the Falls.

up18Through various contrivances he is going to be forced to assisted living but he decides to instead embrace the spirit of adventure and use a million balloons to take his house to the Falls.  This is so beautiful when it is first taking flight.

Unfortunately for Carl he is not alone in the house but his neighboring boy scout Russell is a stow away.  Russell is a lonely but eager kid who wants nothing more than to get his final badge in assisting the elderly.

up13There’s some dangerous weather but they eventually make it close to the Falls where they come in contact with a rare bird and some talking dogs!  Some people don’t like the dogs.  I do and think their fascination with squirrels is very funny especially when their voiceboxes go bad.

The most friendly dog is named Dug and he bonds with Carl and Russell quickly.

up9Russell names the bird Kevin and it turns out it is the very bird that Charles Muntz has been hunting all these years.

up kevinCarl gets to meet Charles Muntz and it turns out he is not the hero of his youth any more.  Originally they were planning on the eggs of the bird be youth serum for Muntz but it was taking up too much of the plot so they decided to leave the Muntz/Carl plothole feeling audiences would forgive them one such problem and for the most part they do.  I certainly do! Plus, our villain Charles Muntz is voiced by the great Christopher Plummer so I can’t complain about that.

up10The key is through all of these adventures Carl never looses his purpose of honoring Ellie.  He talks to her throughout and is even willing to abandon Russell in order to get the house to the Falls for his beloved.  I just love that.

Again, you can feel the weight of his grief melting as he goes on this adventure. And then he looks at the Adventure book and see’s for the first time a note from his wife.

up6Here’s the scene in French but you get the idea.  “Thanks for the adventure.  Now go have a new one”.  Make my heart melt.

In that moment Carl knows he did keep his promise to his Ellie and to me that is just as moving as the opening section.  I cry every time (like literally I just watched it again and cried). He forgives himself and has a whole new energy to go and save Russell from Muntz.  It’s a perfect scene in my book.

To me Up is a perfect movie.  The emotional journey Pete Docter takes you on should be something anyone who has lost a loved one can relate too.  I certainly do. Every time I watch it I feel like I get a hug from my Grandpa who I miss everyday of my life. He was my hero and I hope he is proud of me and my little life adventure.

It’s not only incredibly moving but also funny and sweet.  We get a lot of humor from the dogs, Russell and Kevin.  The relationship between Russell and Carl is sweet and grows organically through the story in a believable way.

up4The voice performances from Ed Asner, Christopher Plummer, Jordan Nagai, Bob Peterson and others are first rate (how has Ed Asner managed to play the grumpy old man for the last 40 years!).  And the music by Michael Giacchino is one of my favorites in all of movies.  It is literally pitch perfect.

It is obviously not the most realistic stories.  For instance, it would take much more than one night to blow up all those balloons but if you can just go with it you are in for something special.  The script is the typically witty dialogue of a Pixar movie.  It is funny and sweet and will take you on a journey if you will let it.

Ever since Inside Out I’ve been thinking about Up and how both movies are about memories.  How we deal with those memories and not have them become debilitating is a challenge whether you are 11 or 71 (or however old Carl is!).  And I just love how we learn in Up the adventure of life is the greatest tribute we can give those who have past on.  We never forget but we keep on living and embracing whatever comes our way!  It’s the spirit of adventure!

It’s so rare a movie will teach you something about life and be a true moment of clarity.  Those films are more than just entertainment.  They are practically scripture in my life.  Up is such a movie.  It teaches me about loss, love, marriage, grief, adventure, life and everything else.

So yes Up is my favorite movie.  It is a movie I could watch every day for the rest of my life and never get tired of.  It’s just that kind of movie to me.  Something that comes around a couple times in a person’s life and is a true inspiration.

Thanks to the entire Pixar team for making such a beloved movie!

Overall Grade- A+

Character Profile 6: Holly Golightly

breakfast at tiffanysI just had a neat experience.  Cinemark movie theaters have a Cinemark Classics series where about 3 times a month they show on the big screen a classic movie.  I recently enjoyed It’s a Wonderful Life on Christmas Eve and today I saw arguably my favorite movie (definitely in top 3) Breakfast at Tiffany’s.

It might surprise you that a good little Mormon girl from Utah loves a movie about a call girl and a male slut who get drunk and make terrible life choices.  That’s the thing.  I don’t need my characters in books and movies to make the same choices I would, or even be admirable.  They just need to teach me something and Holly Golightly does that in spades.

I will put it out there that I think Holly Golightly is one of the most complex characters in movies. She’s a puzzle and every time I see the movie I learn something new about her.

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I love characters that are contradictions and Holly is full of them from the moment we meet her.  Of course her first scenes are in the iconic black dress and costume jewelry looking in the windows at Tiffany’s and eating a croissant.  She looks like she could be off to the Oscars tiara and all.

breakfast at tiffanys11Then the next scene is her letting Paul into her dumpy apartment with no furniture in an oversized shirt. Too top it off we learn she is going to visit a man in prison and gets $50 to go to the powder room from men.

She has strange philosophies on life like not naming her cat and fighting what she calls the mean reds:

“The blues are because you’re getting fat and maybe it’s been raining too long, you’re just sad that’s all. The mean reds are horrible. Suddenly you’re afraid and you don’t know what you’re afraid of. Do you ever get that feeling?”

And what does she do when she has the mean reds? Why go to Tiffany’s of course!

“Well, when I get it the only thing that does any good is to jump in a cab and go to Tiffany’s. Calms me down right away. The quietness and the proud look of it; nothing very bad could happen to you there. If I could find a real-life place that’d make me feel like Tiffany’s, then – then I’d buy some furniture and give the cat a name!”

Isn’t that interesting?  The woman who throws crazy parties and plans to marry for money twice in the movie likes Tiffany’s not for the diamonds because it is quiet and calming. See what I mean about a complex woman?

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Holly is also the woman who can look like a star in minutes to go to a prison.

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But is probably the most honest in a scene where she is simply strumming a guitar looking like she is ready to clean the house. Actually she is honest in both scenes.  That’s what makes her so interesting. As OJ Berman says “she’s a phony but she’s a real phony” or in other words she’s like all of us.

breakfast at tiffanys2We find out she has been running in her life.  She ran from her child bride husband Doc (probably for the best but it isn’t as cut and dry as you’d think).

breakfast at tiffanys wild thingI love this scene when she tells Doc she’s a wild thing.

“You musn’t give your heart to a wild thing. The more you do, the stronger they get, until they’re strong enough to run into the woods or fly into a tree. And then to a higher tree and then to the sky”

If we think about the end when Paul tells her about being a wild thing it is so perfect. To use Holly’s lingo she’s ‘just a scared little mouse” .  In a way she has become used to fear, proud of it even if it gives her the mean reds from time to time.

“I’ll never get used to anything. Anybody that does, they might as well be dead”

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Of course Audrey Hepburn is the star of the picture but George Peppard is lovely too as a man who has given up. He’s settled for a convenient love, living and life. It is such a contrast to Holly but both are equally lost. I think that is why she gives him a new name. It is the only way she who wears so many faces can relate to this person.

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In a way it is an extremely hopeful picture as all love stories really should be. That no matter how screwed up we are (and aren’t we all) there is someone out there who will love us for it. That is why I love the ending so much.

breakfast at tiffanys end

Holly tells Paul “I’m not going to let anyone put me in a cage.
Paul: I don’t want to put you in a cage. I want to love you.
Holly: It’s the same thing.
Paul: No it’s not.
Then she throws out the cat and he gets up to leave. And this is my favorite speech in all of movies.

“You know what’s wrong with you, Miss Whoever-you-are? You’re chicken, you’ve got no guts. You’re afraid to stick out your chin and say, “Okay, life’s a fact, people do fall in love, people do belong to each other, because that’s the only chance anybody’s got for real happiness.”

You call yourself a free spirit, a “wild thing,” and you’re terrified somebody’s gonna stick you in a cage. Well baby, you’re already in that cage. You built it yourself. And it’s not bounded in the west by Tulip, Texas, or in the east by Somali-land. It’s wherever you go. Because no matter where you run, you just end up running into yourself.”

Both of these characters have been lost but in different ways and he is absolutely right ‘no matter where you run, you just end up running into yourself”.  That’s why it is so important we find people who love us and who will help us get out of those cages.  Help us deal with the mean reds and the often strange choices we make. People who will love us no matter what.

That’s the hope of Breakfast at Tiffany’s.  That all humans can be redeemed from our various transgressions through love.  It’s kind of like in Les Mis when they say ‘to love another person is to see the face of God”.

breakfast at tiffanys4Anyway, I love Breakfast at Tiffany’s and I love Holly.  She’s so much fun and yet fascinating at the same time.  The only part of the movie I don’t like is the embarrassing racist performance of Mickey Rooney as a Japanese photographer who lives upstairs from Holly.  I so wish that character didn’t exist. It’s just awful for a white man to be playing a person of another race and the makeup, voice, and teeth make it even worse if that is possible.

But I try to ignore that part because the rest in my eyes is perfect.  It is also one of the few adaptations that actually improves upon the original source material which despite being written by Truman Capote isn’t nearly as nuanced and tough to pin down as the script by George Axelrod.

The great Blake Edwards deserves a lot of credit for his direction which is so appealing and then garish when it has to be.

Finally the music by Henry Mancini is perfect. I love they didn’t dub Audrey.  It helps add a vulnerability a more polished singing performance wouldn’t have had.  I could listen to Moon River all day and sang it for voice lesson recital a while back.

It’s such a beautiful song because it captures the contradictions in the movie. It’s a dream maker and heart breaker at the same time.  And then it ends just as the movie ends with hope for our heroes.

“Two drifters off to see the world.  There’s such a lot of world to see.  We’re after that same rainbow’s end, waiting, round the bend”