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!

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Despicable Me 3 Review

If you have followed my blog you know my feelings about the minions. Those little yellow gobbledegook speakers have been the bane of my existence the last few years. I hated Minions and have been meh about the other movies. So you can imagine my trepidation going into Despicable Me 3 but I still try to go in with as much of an open mind as possible. And what did I think of this latest entry from Illumination? It’s a mixed bag but I didn’t hate it like Minions so that’s a plus.

Let’s talk about the positives first. The film divides its characters up into smaller subplots. If you read my Guardians of the Galaxy vol 2 review you know I don’t always love this approach but in that film I love the group dynamic. Not so much here.

Anyway, I thought a couple of the subplots worked. I liked seeing Lucy trying to figure out how to be a Mom to the girls. As someone who champions adoption this was a nice element to share and I wish they had devoted more time to it. Kristen Wiig in the vocal performance is also great as Lucy.

I also liked getting to spend more time with the girls as I’ve always found them more enjoyable than the minions. Here Agnes is looking for a unicorn in the forest. It doesn’t have anything to do with rest of story but it was cute.

There was also a few laughs in the movie unlike Minions. 80s loving villain Balthazar Bratt had a couple of good jokes and I admit the minions even made me laugh. There is a gag where they sing Modern Major General from The Pirates of Penzance that made me laugh.

But that is where my praises end. While some subplots worked, the major plot of Gru meeting his twin brother Dru really didn’t at all. The two of them interacting weren’t funny or engaging in any way. Dru was kind of annoying and didn’t grow much as a character. They kept trying to make it emotional between the two brothers and I wasn’t feeling it at all.

Also, as much as I enjoyed some of the subplots they don’t tie into together well. Particularly the minions feel like they are in an entirely different movie. In fact, sometimes the story would be chirping along and out of nowhere we’d move over to a minions segment. It was really odd considering the popularity of the characters. It almost felt like they had made a movie and then afterwards added the minions in but that can’t be the case?

And even though I did laugh a few times there were a lot of gags that fell flat and felt very tired. I also do not appreciate Illumination’s love for butt and boob jokes. Enough already!

In the end, Despicable Me 3 feels like average passable entertainment but nothing you will remember in a few months. It’s on the same level as The Angry Birds Movie last year but that movie at least had better animation. There’s nothing that stands out or is special. There’s no great message you will be talking about or animation that tries something new.

I’ve often said Illumination is the fast food of animation and Despicable Me 3 is no different. It’s a passable, average, forgettable film that will probably make a lot more money than it deserves. At least I enjoyed it a little bit.

Overall Grade- C

Sing Review

sing5One of the cool things about 2016 animation is even the middle-tier animated films haven’t been that bad. I’d say films like Storks, Secret Life of Pets and Trolls have all been base hits where the top-tier have been home runs. This stands in contrast to last year where the middle-tier films bombed like Minions and Home. Well, you can add another solid base hit to the 2016 line up with Illumination’s Sing. This isn’t a great movie and I will totally understand the inevitable critiques but I walked away having a good experience.

I got to see Sing as part of a special screening last Saturday meant as kind of a Black Friday weekend promotion. The trailers have not been great for Sing so I went in with low expectations, which may have helped it a little bit (I’m not the biggest Illumination fan). Nevertheless, it ended up being a fun morning at the movies.

sing13Sing is about a koala named Buster Moon who owns a struggling theater that he got after being inspired by a show as a child. He develops a plan to save his theater by hosting a singing competition- ala American Idol type show. This attracts a wide array of characters from a housewife pig with 25 kids named Rosita, to a cocky gambling mouse named Mike, to a gorilla who doesn’t want to be in his Dad’s gang named Johnny. All of these characters love to sing and we see their story play out within the course of the movie.

sing14There are some things Sing really does right. First of all, I liked the characters. It would have been easy to make this a story of angsty teenagers who want to be stars but this has a wide range of character types that are explored better than I expected. Rosita was my favorite. I mean how often do we get a tired, ignored housewife character in a film aimed at children? I thought her arc was really sweet.

I also liked Ash the punk-rock porcupine who has allowed her talents to be brushed aside by her pushy boyfriend. Meena, a shy elephant who knows she is talented but lacks the guts to perform, was also a really nice character. I am sure many people can relate to all 3 of these characters.

sing884The other win for me in Sing was the music. Marketing for the film boasts 85 songs in the soundtrack. I can’t even imagine how expensive the licensing for Sing was but most of those songs are extremely brief. The actual full songs with verses and a chorus I thought were pretty well done. The singing is good and as the movie is about the struggles and dreams of singers they worked to further the story- not just as filler like in movies like Trolls.

This song by Tori Kelly ‘Don’t You Worry ‘Bout a Thing’ was one of my favorites.

Scarlett Johansson gets an original song as Ash and I liked that quite a bit as well.

sing-ash-and-meenaSome people might not like the music but this is just my taste (it’s my blog after all) and I liked it. And I thought it fit within this particular story with these characters. I certainly thought all of the music was as good as Try Everything from Zootopia, which I also liked (Sing is going to suffer in comparison to Zootopia but on this one level I think it wins).

Now there are some definite problems with Sing. First of all, the base story is super contrived. We’ve seen the ‘save the farm, save the school house, save the theater’ plot device a million times and it feels a little tired here. The story is also extremely predictable but the ending still felt satisfying I guess because I liked the characters so much. It also feels a little over-stuffed with tons of characters auditioning and given songs/story time when I just wanted to focus on the characters I liked.  In addition, the humor can be very hit and miss within the film.

The animation is also nothing to write home about. It is standard generic cg animation. There is nothing like the world building or character designs we get in Zootopia or Moana. It works but it feels rather pedestrian. I’d like to see Illumination take more risk with their animation and dazzle us with something new like the hybrid animation did for Peanuts Movie.

sing15The other big problem has to do with some of their character choices. As I said a gorilla named Johnny wants to be a singer. His father runs a gang and he can’t understand why his son wants to be a singer. All of this could have been fine but given the current racial tensions I thought it was in poor taste for them to make all the gang members black. There is even a rival gang and guess what they are? Brown bears…

I wish they had followed the example of Secret Life of Pets and made the gang a variety of animals.

secret-life-of-pets-gangI know this may seem like a small thing but given the racial climate we are in it made me a little uncomfortable.

Still, none of these downsides were deal breakers for me. I walked out humming some tunes and having an over all good time. It’s not a movie I will remember in 5 years but not every movie has to be. This is just an enjoyable base hit with some sweet characters and nice music. I enjoyed it.

Overall Grade- B (just a bit lower than my youtube review)

ps. shouldn’t a koala have an Australian accent? Hmmm…

Secret Life of Pets Review

So I’m back friends from Spain!!! I hope you guys enjoyed art book reviews while I was gone. I enjoyed writing them very much and if there are any art books you would like me to review in the future let me know. Being gone for 12 days I naturally missed a number of movies, which I will now need to play catch up.

The first one that needed to be looked at was of course the animated film- The Secret Life of Pets. This is made by Illumination, a company which I have not been a fan of.  I particularly did not care for their entry last year Minions. But I enjoyed the teaser trailer for Secret Life of Pets and was excited to see something from Illumination without little yellow men in it…

And I saw the film and you know what I actually enjoyed it.  It’s a ring down from Finding Dory and Zootopia but I was charmed by the film.  Here is my youtube review.

I also had the honor and privilege yesterday to be a guest host for the Rotoscopers podcast!  I have followed the podcast for some time and am a patron so this was really neat. I hope you guys like my contribution.  Please give the video some love and maybe they will invite me back again someday.

Anyway back to the movie.  Let’s go over some of the pros and cons of the film.

The first thing that struck me right away about the movie is how great the cityscapes and NYC skyline looked.  It is the best NYC has ever looked in a film IMO. Not that many films are set in a city so I really enjoyed the urban environment. It reminded me a little bit of NYC in Oliver and Company.

pets pets2I am not a dog owner but the whole premise of the secret life of pets is adorable. What do pets do after their owners have left the house after all? Unfortunately the movie abandons that premise for a generic search and rescue pretty early on but I still liked the set up. I liked that it wasn’t just dogs and cats but all kinds of pets like guinea pigs and birds as well (even a crocodile at one point!).

pets7I didn’t mind the lead characters Duke and Max but my favorite were the side characters particularly Chloe and Gidget. They were very funny. The writing for these side characters was on point and I laughed quite ae bit.

gidget pets3Overall I was engaged in the story and thought it was a charming film.

But there were some cons so let’s talk about them.

A big problem many will point out is the similarity to Toy Story. As you can tell by my love for Good Dinosaur I have no problem reusing storylines from other films; however in this case I feel they missed out on a few things that make Toy Story special. The movie never achieves an emotional moment like the Toy Story films do.  There is a weak attempt to do so with Duke’s former owner but it doesn’t work. I think what would have worked better is if their owner Katie had realized they were gone and was upset missing them.  That would have given the movie more emotional heft than just a search and rescue film.

pets6Also they make Duke a little bit too unlikable. One of the things that makes Woody so jealous of Buzz is how much everyone loves him. We never get any moment to see what makes Duke special or why we should love him.  He’s just the annoying new presence in Max’s life and nothing more.  Also when they do become a team working together it doesn’t feel earned.

pets4My other problem with the movie is the Underbelly section with Kevin Hart bunny planning a revolution against the humans.  There was actually some funny writing and jokes in this section but I found Snowball to be an annoying character. Every line he gives it feels like he is shouting and clenching his fists. I wanted to say ‘calm down for half a second’.  The whole underbelly sections of the film feels generic and didn’t do much for me.

I also feel certain characters don’t really fit like Tiberius the hawk voiced by Albert Brooks. Maybe I’m too attached to that voice from Marlin in Finding Dory but it didn’t work. Other characters like Pops we don’t really get to see enough of to make him an effective character.

However, like I said the banter between Gidget and Chloe is very funny and I liked Max as our lead hero.  There’s also some good laughs throughout and our second animals driving a car scene for the summer.  I also felt the music cues and score by Alexander Desplat really worked well.

So overall The Secret Life of Pets did have problems but I left feeling happy I have seen it and charmed by the film.  I think your kids will enjoy it; although there are some moments of pet peril so be forewarned. It’s not a film you have to jump in the car and see but I liked it. It’s definitely Illumination’s best film by far.

Also the Mower Minions I can do without! Get them out of here!

My end grade on Secret Life of Pets is a B-.  What would you give it and what did you think of the film? Let me know in the comments section.