Recently I had the chance to see Taika Waititi’s What We Do in the Shadows, a mockumentary about vampires. If there is anything that is more tired than mockumentaries and vampires I don’t know what it is. Even so, I laughed my head off. So I was pretty excited going into Waititi’s latest film Hunt for the Wilderpeople. I saw it tonight and I loved it but I really didn’t laugh that much. It felt like more of a drama to me with moments of humor.
Hunt for the Wilderpeople reminded me a little bit of last years Walk in the Woods but with a better script. Both are about people escaping modern world into the woods for several months, following their journeys.
To be more specific, it’s a pretty simple story. A child named Ricky is taken in as a foster child by a couple in New Zealand. Then tragedy occurs and Ricky and his foster Dad or “Uncle Hec” as he’s called go on the run into the bush escaping the law. They meet eccentric characters and face challenges as they are pursued by child protection officers and others seeking a reward.
There are funny moments with the dialogue and some of the crazy people they meet but like I said I was more chuckling than roaring with laughter. But I really liked these characters and I liked seeing them grow and change together. It was sweet and heart-warming. I like that they never really softened them up that much. You saw growth but it felt natural and believable instead of cornball material it could have been.
The performances from Julian Dennison as Ricky and Sam Neill as Uncle Hec are wonderful and they have chemistry despite not getting along at first. They were people I was rooting for and wanted to see them succeed.
It’s also a beautiful movie with cinematography that will make you want to go to New Zealand! I also really liked the score and other music used.
If you are looking for a film that will make you smile with likable characters than Hunt for the Wilderpeople is a good choice. I really enjoyed it. I just thought it was more of a drama than a comedy, but that’s not a bad thing.
Of all the Disney remakes the one I was the most primed for was Pete’s Dragon. That might sound odd but I’m only a marginal fan of the original. In my opinion, the best remakes are films that are good but could use improvement. I don’t get very excited for remakes on films like Beauty and the Beast which are perfect. Anyway, that was my initial interest but quickly I realized this film was remake in name only. This might be concerning but then I read from director David Lowery and loved everything I heard. Then the trailers came out and I really liked what I saw. Here is movie from an indy director with a passion for the project. It is also made for a low budget of $65 million which excites me greatly as I’d like to see Disney make more artistic low budget films.
So all of those factors led me to greatly look forward to Pete’s Dragon. So I went to see it today and I was not disappointed! This is a really special movie. It could probably be called Boy and the Dragon instead of Pete’s Dragon because it doesn’t have much to do with the original. It’s more like ET, Old Yeller, Black Stallion, Sounder or other movies for children about a boy and his dog/creature. These movies were sweet, emotional and helped teach children important life lessons. Such is the case with Pete’s Dragon. It is impeccably made and seems like something from another era.
The story is pretty simple here and it’s not reinventing the wheel but it executes it so well and with such heart. It’s basically about Pete who is raised in the wild with his dragon Elliot. One day Pete gets discovered by Bryce Dallas Howard’s character and they try to help him. Various characters find out about Elliott and have different responses. It’s got an underlying message of faith and believing in things you don’t see (Elliott can be invisible after all).
The story may be simple but it will tug at your heart strings and make you feel really good. All the performances are winning and warm- even the villain is understandable in his fear of the unknown. The child actors are particularly outstanding with Oaks Fegley reminding me of Jacob Trembley in Room. Robert Redford is great. They are all great.
If Disney is going to do these live action retellings this is the kind I want. I want a small film that is carefully made, not a lazy cash grab like Maleficent. This film does its own thing and tells a type of story I haven’t seen at the cinemas in a long time.
Director David Lowery gives us incredible cinematography and the special effects on Elliott are first rate. It looked as good as anything we saw in The Jungle Book. I personally prefer this film to The Jungle Book because that film dragged when it tried to include songs and moments from the original. This is tight storytelling at its best. In a lot of ways it reminded me of The Peanuts Movie. It is old fashioned and simple but full of heart. I loved both movies! There’s no attempt to modernize the characters or make them hip or cool. There’s no cell phones or lame attempts at humor. It is just a boy and his dragon just like Peanuts is about a boy and his dog.
Just everything they did I loved. Even the music I loved. I would encourage you to go see it on the big screen. Let Disney know that this is the type of movie they should be making. It is definitely one of my favorite films of the year and one that I can’t wait to show my nieces someday.
Here is my youtube review: (I’m almost at a 1,000 subscribers on youtube!)
[My twitter friend Travis Fazekas was kind enough to write up a review of the R rated animated film Sausage Party. Please follow him on twitter at @travisfazekas]
Sausage party is one of the most interesting animated movies in recent memory. The movie starts off with a Disney style musical number called the Great Beyond, which is composed by Alan Menken (yes the same Alan Menken who did the music for many Disney classics) and it is just as catchy as his Disney classics.
The animation is delicious and brought to life by co directors Conrad Vernon and Greg Tiernan who truly give the movie a very bright and colorful look with the supermarkets setup.
The plot to the movie is very good, which we see what happens when food is brought home from the supermarket and what happens next well they discover that it ain’t sunshine and rainbows.
The person who believes this the most is Frank (voiced by Seth Rogen) a hot dog who is in love with Brenda (voiced by Kristen Wiig) a bun. Along the way we meet a various characters such as Sammy Bagel Jr (voiced by Edward Norton with a Woody Allen style voice), Tersea del Taco (voiced by Salma Hayek) who has feelings for Brenda and the villain of the movie Douche (voiced by nick kroll). He is upset at Frank and Brenda for what they did to him.
The pacing is very nice and it truly does not stop with a third act that is very crazy which shows how far Rogen and co writers Evan Goldberg, Kyle Hunter and Ariel Schaffer will go for a laugh.
The voice cast is perfect which also features Rogen usuals such as James Franco, Jonah Hill, Danny Mcbride and others who truly make their characters unique in their own special way. At 89 minute sausage party is one of the funniest movies of the year and is another hilarious effort from Seth Rogen and Evan Goldberg that definitely earns its R rating, which is not for children
Overall Grade A-
[If any of you see Sausage Party put your comments below. Thanks again to Travis for the review]
It’s easy to see the trailer for Florence Foster Jenkins and think you have it all figured it out. It looks like the singing version of Eddie the Eagle. The person with no talent that somehow makes it to the highest stage in their dream career. Eddie it is ski jumping. Florence it is singing. However, as much as I loved Eddie the Eagle I think the comparison is selling Florence Foster Jenkins a little bit short. There are some odd but intriguing elements to FFJ that really impressed me. It’s a special film I am honestly still processing.
Florence Foster Jenkins stars Meryl Streep as the title character, a real life socialite who dreams of becoming an opera singer who performs at Carnegie Hall. The subversive element is she is rich and so is constantly surrounded by yes men who patronize her and tell her how great she is at singing. They even buy off critics and an entire audience to cheer for her singing.
The strange thing about this element is the movie is unclear whether these people are doing something kind or cruel. Plus, I was never quite sure how in on the scheme Florence is. She is a trained pianist but her health doesn’t allow her to play. Surely she must know she isn’t a good singer? Sometimes it seems like she does and other times it doesnt. I found that intriguing.
Her husband played by Hugh Grant is another unusual character for this type of movie. They have chemistry and you can tell they love each other. And yet they also have an agreement with his dalliances from the marriage with Rebeca Ferguson. At times he could be quite lovely and then others I kind of hated him. It’s very unusual for this type of movie. Is he doing a nice thing by enabling others or should he be honest with his wife?
There’s also an interesting element with the recordings of her terrible singing being requested by soldiers on the radio. Why? What is it about her voice that people at that era want to hear? I find that fascinating and I like that the movie doesn’t give you the answer. It just left me wondering.
Simon Helberg is lovely as her pianist who is embarrassed to be playing Carnegie Hall and other venues for someone like Florence. In some ways he stands in for the viewer- both cheering Florence on and being horrified by the charade going on.
There is an uncomfortable element of class the movie doesn’t really dwell on. Florence was famous for a mantra “some may say that I couldn’t sing but no one can say that I didn’t sing”. That is commendable but the only reason she sang in Carnegie Hall at least was because of her money- a poor person would have to be content badly singing in front of their friends. So in a weird way a message of the movie is ‘you can achieve the impossible if you are rich”.
But on the other hand this untidy messaging makes the film more intriguing. It’s one more example of a slightly subversive element to what should be a cut and dry inspirational story.
Get ready for your Oscar ballots because Meryl Streep will be nominated for this. She is completely lovely in the part. Without question the best female performance I have seen this year so far. All the rest of the performances are good and the production design, costumes, hair and makeup are all first rate.
Like I said in the beginning, it might be easy to discount this film as a cheesy inspirational story but I encourage you to give it a chance. There’s a lot more to it than meets the eye. The characters really made me think about their motives and the morality of their choices.
I rewatched the Little Prince since it is being released on Netflix this week. I chose it as my Family Movie Night pick even though I admire it more than I like it. I still think it is worth seeing.
In my original review on my blog I said that I never felt emotionally engaged with the beginning hour of the Pilot telling stories. They didnt grasp me and I got kind of bored despite them being very pretty to look at.
Then the story moves to an astroid where the little girl faces off with these businesses that are trying to erase childhood. I see why many dont like this but for me it worked. I’ve always had a soft spot or interest in movies about work. So to see this little girl be confronted with this dystopian version of adult work was great and it makes her realize what her mother is doing to her. Just like the businessmen she’s stealing her childhood. I liked that.
However, I know I’m an outlier on this one. Most people seem to like the movie more than I do and like the first part best. What can I say? Sometimes that happens. It’s a good film in many ways so I can see why they love it but it’s not a favorite of mine.
Still, like I said, worth a watch if you have Netflix.
Overall Grade C+
Please check out my youtube review and like/subscribe. I’m doing lots of fun content there including a weekly series on Thursdays where I am ranking the 67 animated films ive seen from 2013 to 2016. Would love your support
This week we have Disney’s latest live action remake coming out. It is a very loosely based retelling of the 1977 film Pete’s Dragon. I’m actually looking forward to this remake. The early buzz is great, and I’m excited to see what indie director David Lowery can do. Evidently the working environment was great because Disney has already hired him to work on their Peter Pan remake. He has a passion for the project and if Disney is going to do remakes (which I wish they wouldn’t) I’d like them to pick auteur directors with unique perspectives and ideas.
Since I have never reviewed the original on my blog I thought I would give some of my thoughts. I know for many it is a special film but for me it isn’t one I grew up with or even recall watching as a child. In fact, when I heard they were doing a remake it made a lot of sense to me. In general I prefer remakes to be done of movies that are decent but could be improved rather than masterpieces like Sleeping Beauty. Pete’s Dragon is cute but it’s pretty hokey and doesn’t really impress me that much.
The story of Pete’s Dragon is pretty simple. It’s about a boy named Pete who has a dragon named Elliot. Elliot is an animated creature and the rest of the movie is in live action. Pete loves Elliot because he is an orphan owned by a horrible family called the Gogans and Elliot is his only friend.
While the Gogans are searching for Pete, they go to a village named Passaamaquoddy and meet a man named Lampie who has a daughter named Nora. Nora’s fiance Paul has been reported lost at sea, so she is naturally very upset.
Then we get our villains Dr Terminus and his stooge Hoagy and they want to use Elliott to make potions and elixirs to make money. They are your typical sniveling over the top silly villains.
The rest of the movie is basically a cat and mouse chase between the villains (Gogans and Terminus/Hoagy) and the good guys (Pete, Elliot, Nora, Lampie and Paul).
Pete’s Dragon is perfectly harmless entertainment. The songs are fine but aside from Candle on the Water forgettable. The performances are all nice. The animation of Elliot is first rate. It has its heart in the right place. It’s very sweet enjoyable film. There is a lack of cynicism to the entire enterprise that is very charming.
However, I don’t know if I would say it’s a particularly good movie. The villains, particularly the Gogans, get old very fast. They cross over the hokey line and become out right annoying. Plus, it is strange to have a Disney movie where a character is continually claiming she has the ‘bill of sale’ to a human being. Isn’t that strange?
Dr Terminus and Hoagy are sniveling snarling mustache twirling villains that are fine but don’t do much to inspire me or excite me. Pretty standard rote bad guys.
Like I said, the songs aside from Candle on the Water are nothing special. Let’s put it this way Passamaquoddy isn’t likely to be the next Supercalifragilsticexpialidocious. This music sorely misses the Sherman Brothers. They could do so much with a song like Brazzle Dazzle Day. As it is it’s meh.
The animation is pretty good on Elliot and he and Pete have a sweet relationship. I also appreciate we don’t get any real backstory on Elliot. He just exists and that’s the way it is.
I certainly would put other live action Disney films like Mary Poppins, Pollyanna, Bednobs and Broomsticks, Parent Trap, 10,000 Leagues Under the Sea, etc far above this. I even think Chitty Chitty Bang Bang (not Disney I know) is much better. They are for the most part more engaging and less syrupy than Pete’s Dragon.
But there is stuff to like here and aside from the Gogans nothing to really offend or annoy me, so it’s not a bad watch. It’s fine.
I’ve never been the biggest superhero movie person, but over the years movies like The Avengers and X-Men Days of Future Past have won me over. These movies have clever stories, great scripts and charismatic performances by Oscar level talent. 2014 was a particularly memorable year with only 2 bad superhero movies and 4 outstanding films- Guardians of the Galaxy, Captain America: Winter Soldier, Big Hero 6 and X-Men Days of Future Past. These movies had everything I could want in a superhero movie.
WE WERE SPOILED!!!
Aside from Captain America: Civil War the superhero movies of 2016 have been kind of sucky and unfortunately the latest entry, Suicide Squad does not change that trajectory. Suicide Squad is the latest offering from DC Comics and Warner Brothers and despite promising trailers it fails to deliver on its potential.
After Batman v Superman frustrated many moviegoers in March, Warner Brothers clearly took all the wrong lessons out of the feedback. ‘Make the movies more fun’ is what they heard. So, they rushed David Ayer to write Suicide Squad in 6 weeks and then hacked it to pieces creating a mess of a movie.
That’s not to say there aren’t any redeeming values to Suicide Squad. There are mainly with the casting. All the roles, with 2 exceptions, are well cast. The problem is the script doesn’t give them time to grow as characters or to gel as a unit. Will Smith and Margot Robbie are the standouts as Deadshot and Harley Quinn and I’m curious to see more of them in future films. Viola Davis is also great as Amanda Waller who is an agent forming the Suicide Squad. She is ruthless and you kind of see why she would be interested in super villains.
The story of Suicide Squad is you have this group of villains that are called upon to fight evil metahumans. This is all supposed to be after the events of Batman v Superman but there is never any talk of using the good metahumans like Flash and Wonder Woman (despite briefly seeing Flash in a cameo). And the fact that only 2 of the Suicide Squad are actually metahumans which makes you scratch your head?
The first act of the film starts out clunky with Davis sitting at a table looking through a binder of each of the squad members. Then we see flashback introductions to the characters. It’s kind of like the gossip montages in Ant-Man but repeated over and over again.
But even with that certain characters aren’t introduced at all like Katana. She just walks onto a helicopter and they say ‘oh look it’s Katana. She’s a crazy ninja” (I’m paraphrasing but you get the drift).
So what are they called upon to do? Well, they are supposed to stop an evil being named Enchantress who kind of needs to be worse than the squad in order for the story to work but she’s just not. I normally don’t care about lame villains but she did nothing for me and I felt the special effects were very poor. She creates this ‘brother’ that looked right out of Gods of Egypt. Again, I wouldn’t have cared about a bad villain if I had cared about the rest of the film.
For a movie like this to work it relies on the charisma of the stars and a witty script (this is not a gritty crime drama like The Dark Knight). And the problem with Suicide Squad is the editing is so poorly done that just when characters are starting to interact it cuts away to something that doesn’t matter.
You are supposed to believe that the characters are becoming a family but I didn’t buy it for a second. There’s a moment where Deadshot has to decide whether to hurt Harley Quinn and their relationship wasn’t near built up enough for me to buy his decision. They had one very brief conversation and they are supposed to be big baddies. It didn’t work.
There’s another scene where they are fighting these glob creatures of Enchantress and the creatures stop coming for some reason and they stop fighting evil and have a drink. If the movie had effectively established them as not caring about the mission or stopping the badder guy than I could have bought it but the way it sits it feels random and jarring.
The other confusing part about the movie is why have Enchantress when you have DC’s greatest villain in the film for like 6 minutes? You could have made the Joker the villain and instead you have a lame villain. That would be like Marvel having Loki as a villain for a 5 minute cameo. It makes no sense.
But speaking of the Joker…Jared Leto goes for it as this new take on the character and I personally was not a fan. The Joker is an agent of chaos. He thrives on creating disorder. He is the last person in the world that would want to be an organized crime boss like in this movie. It felt too outright bad-guy where the Joker is supposed to be a believer in the philosophy of chaos. He should be more complex than having damaged tattooed on your forehead!
All that said, if you can go into Suicide Squad and ignore the script and just enjoy the charismatic performances and the fun soundtrack I think you may have an enjoyable time. It’s a lot like Batman Forever. There’s some engaging performances in Batman Forever, some decent music and production design but the story and script are terrible. So if you can enjoy Batman Forever than you will enjoy Suicide Squad.
At the very least I didn’t feel as manipulated as Batman v Superman and it isn’t as gloomy (although the forced fun added by the studio is so obvious). To me the two movies are about equal in quality but it is a case of picking your poison and what types of problems bother you more than others.
It’s probably very generous but I did like it better than X-Men Apocalypse which underserved all of the characters I love and became destruction porn. I gave X-Men Apocalypse a D+.
So for Suicide Squad Overall Grade- C- for Will Smith and Margot Robbie but I’d say it’s a definite skip.
ps. Those people who started the rotten tomatoes takedown petition are morons.
I just thought I would give you guys two quick reviews of films I was able to see this week. Ironically both films star Blake Lively in all her gorgeousness but aside from that they couldn’t be more different. Today we are looking at The Shallows and Cafe Society. Neither will make my best of the year list but they are both solid entertaining films.
Those of us who love Jaws were excited to see what a modern film could do with a killer shark story. In the case of The Shallows we have Jaume Collet-Serra in place of Steven Spielberg and he delivers an entertaining film that isn’t near approaching Jaws but is better than the Jaws sequels so that’s something.
The Shallows stars Blake Lively who looks stunning in her bikini on the beach. She has arrived at a secluded beach in Mexico to swim at her Mother’s favorite spot. It takes a while to get her to the core shark part of the story but since I love the ocean and surfing I didn’t mind that.
However, it was painfully obvious they pasted Lively’s face on another surfer’s body in the surfing scenes. This brings up my major problem with the movie- the visual effects were uniformly poor. I mean look at the shark above. Don’t you think it looks like styrofoam?
When Lively was on the rock and we didn’t know where the shark was then it was tense and exciting (and that’s a lot of the movie) but as soon as they showed the shark it took me out of the film. Collet-Serra should have learned from Spielberg if the shark doesn’t look good don’t show the shark.
It also gets extremely silly towards the end of the movie with Lively lighting the ocean on fire at one point and her spearing the shark with a buoy like a superhero.
Nevertheless, Lively is really good, the ocean looks gorgeous and the survival scenes when she is caring for her leg and trying to figure out what to do were gripping. There’s enough there to give a mild recommendation.
For me 10 Cloverfield Lane is the better small horror movie of the year but if that is too gory for you The Shallows could be just the thing.
Overall Grade- B-
I have to say I had an absolutely terrible theater experience seeing Cafe Society. A group of older women were in front of me being loud and one woman literally looked at her phone the entire time. So, perhaps it says something that I liked it as much as I did.
Cafe Society is the latest film from Woody Allen and it’s not one of his best but it is an enjoyable little movie. It’s pretty simple story about Bobby played by Jesse Eisenberg who goes to LA to work for his big time Hollywood agent uncle Phil played by Steve Carell.
He meets Vonnie played by Kristen Stewart who is lovely and luminous in the role. People need to let the Twilight movies go and give Stewart a chance to act. She’s proven herself in movies like Still Alice, Into the Wild, and this that she can be a good actress with the right material. In this movie she has to compete with Blake Lively and yet you still understand why Bobby is in love with her.
Speaking of Blake Lively, man is she beautiful in this movie. It reminded me of Age of Adaline in how well she wears clothes and graces the screen. She is definitely Woody Allen’s shiksa goddess in this film. I also loved Corey Stoll here. He plays Bobby’s mobster brother and I think I just have a crush on the guy. I like him in everything I’ve seen him in.
As you can probably tell from the photos Cafe Society looks great. The costumes and production design are impeccable and it is a pleasant enjoyable story of old town Hollywood.
That said, certain scenes fall flat like when Bobby hires a Jewish call girl. It’s supposed to be funny but it doesn’t work at all. Also, the whole film feels inconsequential. There is nothing memorable about it. It feels extremely derivative of 30 other better Woody Allen films.
Allen also does the narration in the film which is distracting and helps remind the viewer of all the other films he’s done that are better.
Still, not a bad watch and I’m glad I saw it even with the stupid moviegoers who were with me.
Overall Grade- B
Do you have a favorite animal horror movie like The Shallows? What about your favorite Woody Allen movie? I’d say Jaws is my favorite animal horror movie and Midnight in Paris is my favorite Woody Allen movie with Annie Hall and Blue Jasmine close behind.
It’s no secret that 2016 has been kind of a sucky year for movies, particularly blockbusters. Sure there have been some exceptions but for the most part they have been meh to very disappointing. Such is not the case for indie films! I have even found 3 documentaries that I have loved already this year and one of those is a little gem called Life, Animated. All of you animation addicts need to see it!!!
Life, Animated is a documentary made by Roger Ross Williams, based on a memoir by Ron Suskind. It chronicles the story of Ron’s son Owen who is diagnosed with severe autism at the age of 3. We are introduced to Owen at the age of 23 but there is a great deal of home footage that helps give you an idea of Owen as a little boy.
You see Owen connects to the world through animated films, particularly Disney animated films. And when I say connects I mean it quite literally. There is a heartbreaking section where Owen’s parents talk about Owen not being able to speak anything but gibberish for 4 years. Can you imagine not being able to talk to your son for 4 years? Then one day Ron has a breakthrough using an Iago puppet from Aladdin. I was bawling.
The film uses animation to bring to life segments of the film and it works so well (props to Disney for allowing their catalog to be used in clips and recreated in the animation sequences).
In another instance Owen comes up to his Mother after not speaking for years and says “Walter doesn’t want to grow up like Mowgli and Peter Pan”. They are of course stunned by this and it starts them on a journey of communicating to their son through Disney. He literally has every line from every Disney film memorized!
It is not an easy road working with Owen but the movie doesn’t do the “look how perfect and inspirational I am”. This feels like a real family (because it is a real family) and they acknowledge challenges and blessings in just the right way. I particularly liked his brother who ironically is named Walt! He is honest about his responsibilities in caring for his brother and what that is like. The Dad, Ron, is also vulnerable and strong and lovely.
This is not an ‘I am Sam’ type of film where being a special needs person is better or made to inspire us able bodied folks. No, this is just about one family, one person and how animation allowed him to communicate with the world.
This is perhaps personified most in a recurring animated segment based on a story Owen writes as a child. It’s called the Legend of the Lost Sidekicks. These sections almost reminded me of something Tomm Moore would draw. They were peaceful and gave such insight into the way Owen thinks about life.
Particularly with the current election it is easy to feel discouraged and frustrated, so I am grateful for movies like Life, Animated. They help me to understand others better and remind me that good will always outweigh the bad. Sometimes the fandom cultures of the internet can make you forget how special this art we call movies is. Owen’s story reminded of that. It reminded me to get more joy out of these crazy toons I watch all the time. It reminded me to be myself and notice the sidekicks more. It reminded me to be grateful for my voice, my words and my family. It was a great movie!