Dreamworks 8: Spirit: Stallion of the Cimarron

I’ll be honest I felt sad while watching today’s Dreamworks film- Spirit: Stallion of the Cimarron. It’s not because it is a particularly sad film; although, there are some sad sequences. It’s actually my 2nd favorite Dreamworks film and a severely underrated animated film. The reason I was sad is because it painted so clearly what we have lost in mainstream animation and will probably never get back again.

In many ways Spirit reminds me of an indie animated film like The Red Turtle last year. The stunning 2D animation let’s nature tell it’s own story without any tropes of current animation.  There is no real villain. No cooky sidekick. No comic relief of any kind. It’s Black Beauty set in the old west- except even better in my opinion. Aside from narration, the characters don’t even talk to each other! There is no way such a project would be greenlit today- especially by Dreamworks and that makes me sad (need proof of that look at the terrible spin-off to Spirit on Netflix that has just aired. It’s the polar opposite of this film and its existence makes me very upset).

I mean just look at this animation! How stunning can you get? Even from Pixar I can’t think of the last time I saw such gorgeous animation from a mainstream studio. It tells so much of the story through those backgrounds and world building. We are immersed in the open wilderness and the Old West from the very beginning and it is breathtaking.

As far as the story goes, for Spirit it is pretty simple. Like Black Beauty, it is the story of a horse named Spirit. We hear a voice-over narration from Matt Damon (a more Old West voice might have been better like a Sam Eliot or someone like that but it works). We then see Spirit get separated from his family, taken by a Custer-like General who thinks he can tame the free spirit out of this horse. Oh how wrong he is! In a lesser movie he would be the villain but he really isn’t here. He’s just a general trying to tame a horse. That’s a different way of looking at the world than Spirit does but not evil.

Spirit then meets a Lakota Native named Little Creek and while he is no more successful in taming Spirit they understand and respect each other better. I really liked the chemistry the 2 had with each other. It was palatable even though it was a horse and a man.

There are other events that happen with the railroad and a female named Rain that all work and are very compelling. Whatever is going on with Spirit in the film it never gets maudlin or preachy. It is bold storytelling at its best. Some don’t care for the Bryan Adams music but I like it. They could have picked something with more of a country vibe but I think it works and the songs are nice.

When I think of The Boss Baby and how devoid of creativity that was and then think of Spirit and how ambitious and beautiful it is, it makes me sad. We have lost something in our desire to sell tickets that I don’t know if we will ever get back again. I hope so but I certainly don’t see it coming back in beautiful 2D anytime soon. It’s really quite sad.

At least we still have Spirit: Stallion of the Cimarron to watch and remember the days when Dreamworks animation tried to make art not just money.

And can we please have this on bluray please!!!

Overall Grade- A+

Pixar 39: Cars 3 (Some Spoilers)

Vrrmmm Vrrmmm! It’s time to head into the world of Cars- Cars 3 to be more specific. Pixar’s latest animated offering was met with groans and derision from many when it was announced, as the Cars franchise is not the most popular amongst some fans. However, I am not a Cars hater and liked Cars and actually had fun with Cars 2(yes I don’t hate Cars 2 despite its flaws. Deal with it). So I met the arrival of Cars 3 with the normal anticipation of a Pixar sequel- curious to see where it would go and anxious for the ideas of the animators.You will never see me not excited about a Pixar film. It will never happen.

Then we got the trailers and they were fantastic! The teaser promised a new tone and feel to the series but then the actual trailers were more standard and showed a sports movie story in the vein of Rocky 3 and 4. I like sports movies so that was fine with me. A side of me was hoping Cars 3 would be a redeeming movie to the franchise that everyone would love but the response has been about 60/40 praising it. Truth is, if you hated the first two Cars movies then it will not win you over. If you liked the first but hated the second you might like it. If you liked both you will definitely like it. I’m in the latter camp and so I really liked Cars 3. I’ve seen it twice now and if anything I liked it even more on the second watch.

The basic plot of Cars 3 has Lightning reaching the end of his racing career. He’s getting older and new, faster cars are joining the circuit. A new rookie named Jackson Storm proves particularly hard to beat and enjoys taunting Lightning for how old he is. Then one day Lightning gets in a horrible accident and must put himself back together for a comeback.

Most of us have seen the crash in the trailer but it was still very impactful especially in 3D. The racing in Cars 3 felt so real and tactile it was very impressive. To see Lightning fly through the air and come to pieces was pretty upsetting especially with the great score by Randy Newman.

What follows for Lightning is a period of introspection where he thinks a lot about his mentor Doc Hudson who was also forced out of racing by a crash. As someone who has always had mentors and people I looked up to I found these scenes very touching. Plus, you get to hear the late Paul Newman voicing Doc using old interviews and clips. I couldn’t believe they were able to find such perfect dialogue from him to match the scenes. Well done!

Another similar moment that meant something to me is when Lightning goes to Rusteze headquarters for training and finds out that Rusty and Dusty have sold the company to a new owner named Sterling. Rusty and Dusty are voiced by Tom and Ray Magliozzi, who are the voices behind Car Talk on NPR. I’m not a car person but their show brought a lot of joy into my life and Tom has since passed away so it was meaningful to me to hear their voices again in Cars 3. All the voicework across the board was great in Cars 3 but these resurrected voices were especially powerful and touching.

Anyway, they have sold the business and Sterling has set everything up with the highest technology to train Lightning and other racers. He has a trainer named Cruz Ramirez, who was probably my favorite character in the film voiced by Cristela Alonzo. She is bubbly and positive while having a bit of a sarcastic, cynical side to her.

I won’t go into the rest of the plot but they meet Smokey, Doc Hudson’s mentor (Chris Cooper), and Lightning learns what he meant to Doc, and they even end up at a demolition derby!It all builds to a really satisfying conclusion worthy of any sports movie. Chariots of Fire here we come 😉

There are many positives to Cars 3. As I said, the animation is first rate. The racing sequences are amazing, and I loved the way the mud splattered and flowed at the demolition derby. It was perhaps the best mud I’ve seen in a cgi film!

Just like all the Cars movies the soundtrack is also outstanding. We get great covers from Brad Paisley, Lea DeLaria, ZZ Ward, Andra Day and more.

People that hated Cars 2 will also be glad to hear it has been completely forgotten in Cars 3. I didn’t even see any Easter eggs or hints to Cars 2. There is also way less Mater and the few sequences he is in worked well- giving Lightning a friend to talk to when he is struggling with training.

As with all Pixar films, I loved the messaging of Cars 3. First of all, the idea of teaching kids that their elders are still people with emotions and stories to share is a good thing. There is something in current pop culture that often portrays old people as worthy of ridicule or mockery. As silly as it might sound, Lightning’s story may just start a few conversations between families about ageism and listening to your elders- just like Lightning did with Doc and then Lightning does for Cruz.

I also loved Cruz’s story arc. She is presented as a character who is told what she can do because she is different- both female and a minority. “You can be a trainer. You can’t be a racer” is drilled into her and if that happens enough most of us eventually believe it is true. For decades women were told ‘these are the careers you can have’ and that is it.

I particularly found it moving during a pivotal moment where Jackson Storm tells her ‘How long do you think you can play dress-up?”. It reminded me of an old article I love called ‘A Pinch of Reality’ by Lynne Tempest. She talks about the women she knows who feel like imposters in their own lives:

“What if I can’t do it? It’s just a matter of time before they discover I really don’t know what I’m doing’. These were common refrains played over in my mind during my first months as editor. It didn’t’ seem to matter that I had been intimately involved in the production of network for 6 years. I knew it was just a matter of time before they found me out. I was scared. I felt alone:

“Why is it so hard for women to accept their own genius? What are we afraid of? And what does it mean when we don’t allow ourselves to relish in a job well done? By denying our own capabilities, we prevent ourselves from fully enjoying what we’ve worked so hard to achieve. ”

When Cruz is told she’s playing ‘dress up’ it’s another way of saying she’s an imposter and doesn’t belong. Women have been told that for centuries and it can be very limiting. I love the way Lightning and the other characters refuse to allow Cruz to give in to these thoughts and feelings pushing her along. I love that Cruz wasn’t always strong but wavered and needed that encouragement. It’s something many women will be able to relate with. In fact, it is something Cristela Alonzo said she related to with her early days as a comedian and how she was treated as ‘playing dress up’ with the guys.

Anyway, it was a touching moment I really appreciated, but Cars 3 is not without its flaws. There are some sequences of training that drag a little bit and the story is certainly predictable. That doesn’t bother me because I think it is executed well but it will probably bother some.  There are also some characters I would like to see more of such as a commenter car Natalie Certain (Kerry Washington) or Miss Fritter (Lea DeLaria) over at the demolition derby. They were a lot of fun and if there is a Cars 4 maybe we will see them again?

It also makes no attempts to explain the world of Cars so if you are someone who can’t let that go then it will continue to bother you. My theory on Cars is that it is all in the imagination of Andy from Toy Story. He has a very active imagination and doesn’t necessarily follow the rules of nature when we see his play in Toy Story 1 and 2. If he is playing with his cars he can make them talk, age, live together in their Car world and even become spies. Cars can be anything he wants! Why not?

Cars 3 is probably my favorite of the Cars movies and the more I think about it the more I like it (who would have guessed a Cars movie would give me so much to think about!). Like I said, it won’t win over new fans to the franchise, but I really enjoyed it and think all involved should be commended on a job well done! Congrats!

Overall Grade- B+ (Right now it is still under Captain Underpants for this year but it could keep rising with more viewings).

My friend AJ joined me to podcast about Cars 3 and I think you will enjoy the insight.

Transformers: the Last Knight Review

So I got to see the latest Transformers film today, Transformers: the Last Knight. You can watch my youtube review above but let me give a quick synopsis of my thoughts. Basically if you are a fan of this franchise then I see no reason why you won’t enjoy Transformers: the Last Knight. It was a chance to change things up a bit with the recent writers room and some of the more zany elements but unfortunately that potential was not met. It’s not the worst of the franchise but it wasn’t a strong film.

Transformers: the Last Knight is directed by Michael Bay and it bears all the hallmarks of a Bay film. The action and explosions are there. The macho dialogue and fist bumping is there. The dippy women and horrible comedy is there. So if you like that kind of thing, then you will like it. The trailer makes you think the King Arthur/WW2 stuff will be a big aspect and that intrigued me but it is very minor- especially the WW2 stuff. Most of it is seen through long stretches of exposition, which isn’t as fun as it could have been.

The action can be fun in a Bay film and there is some here that is enjoyable. The problem is there are so many characters and plotlines it is exhausting. Like there is Optimus turning evil, a Transformers queen riding Unicron that wants to take over the world, the 9th Legion guarding a secret from time of Merlin led by Anthony Hopkins, King Arthur stuff, sexy anthropologist woman, Mark Wahlberg hiding from authorities, a little girl and her robot sidekick, Josh Duhamel hunting down Wahlberg, Tony Hale and scientists following Unicron, Megatron and evil Transformers that are introduced like the Suicide Squad. I could go on…

All of these characters have plotlines and they just keep adding up until it becomes really confusing and exhausting. There’s a long scene in a submarine and I had no idea what that was all about and a staff from Merlin and Mark Wahlberg is the chosen one and Stonehenge is a portal to something. I was lost!

One of the disappointing aspects is visually it seemed a little lazy, which usually that’s at least something Bay gets right. I felt a little nauseated because the aspect ratio on the screen kept changing A LOT and the way it was edited left my stomach upset. There was a car chase in particular that turned my stomach a bit. The transformers look good and there wasn’t any that were annoying like in 2 or 4 but you don’t really spend enough time with any of them (or any other character) to be pleased or annoyed.

The humor also doesn’t really work. I particularly didn’t like a group of ladies who exist solely to make fun of the lead girl’s dating life. I’m not sure why that is funny? Like literally they sit around her apartment just to comment on how lame her love life is. What?  There is also a robot butler that wasn’t very funny.  They even try to go all meta with him and the music in one scene but it was more annoying than funny. They make a lot of UK jokes but it didn’t make me laugh much.

All that said, if you like this franchise then you will like this movie. It’s as simple as that. If you don’t then you probably won’t. I feel like it could have done something crazy and fun with transformers fighting Nazis and King Arthur but sadly it was not to be. Oh well.

Overall Grade- D+

Hit Me With Your Best Shot: The Beguiled (1971)

Just like last week Nathaniel at the Film Experience hasn’t picked a movie for the Hit Me with Your Best Shot series and so I put it out to my twitter to decide. This weeks winner was Jacob Scott who suggested I watch the original The Beguiled from 1971. The remake is coming out any day now and won Sophia Coppola best director at the Cannes Film Festival. I really like doing this each week because it allows me to either reexamine a film from a cinematography perspective or look at something new I never would have seen otherwise.

So what about the original? It’s a weird little movie that I’m glad I saw but didn’t strike me as a classic romantic thriller. For a lot of the film it felt like I was watching a TV movie (the 70s version of a lifetime thriller) but then it would occasionally do cinematic things.

The Beguiled stars Clint Eastwood as John McBurney a Yankee soldier who is taken in by a ladies school run by Martha Farnsworth played by Geraldine Page. At times it feels more like a cult than a school. Nobody is allowed to leave and the girls don’t seem to be getting much of an education.

As John begins to recover he gets to know each of the girls including Martha, who has a very twisted backstory of her own. They don’t really cite scripture but it’s more the civility and social rules of the South are their gospel. They even read through the books of manners like it is the Bible.

Each of the girls approaches John from a different way. One is the innocent virgin, another is the temptress, another is a bargainer, etc. He even gets to know Hallie, the slave, who he bonds with as a prisoner but also is at odds with because he seems to have no power over her sexually. There are a lot of tense scenes in the film and they do a good job making it feel like a pot of water about to boil over. There is obviously sensuality but it is mostly about temptation than actual participation. Envy of course also plays a big role in the story.

In picking a best shot I wanted to go with something that showed both John and the women but it’s a film that has very few group scenes. It is mostly 2-shots and close ups. Often you will have a shot from behind a woman, panning from the woman to John or a fade out where you see a woman and then it fades into John.

So for the best shot I decided to go with a pivotal scene where we see Martha’s back and John and Edwina across the table.

Overall Grade- B

Pixar 38: Lou

I am going to see Cars 3 at least one more time before I write my review but I thought I would go ahead and write my thoughts about the short before it entitled Lou. This was a charming short that teaches a nice message for kids. I really enjoyed it.

I mean how can you not like that face?

The premise for Lou is very clever. Set in a playground at a school, Lou focuses on the lost and found box full of various misplaced items. These items include hoodies, rackets, mitts, baseballs and more. Through some kind of magic all of the items have combined together to make a creature called Lou.

I really liked the look of Lou and the way he flopped around as one cohesive unit while still keeping the individual items separate. It was very creative.  He kind of reminded me of a mixture of Telly and Elmo from Sesame Street. His eyes and mouth had the expressions of a Muppet and his body reminded me of how Hank from Finding Dory moved around the room.

Lou kind of takes ownership of the playground and picks up all the lost items after the kids leave. One day a boy named J.J. starts bullying the other kids and taking away their stuff (toys, backpacks etc).

I won’t give away the ending but Lou finds a way to get to the heart of the bully and help him realize what he is doing.

There is also some nice physical comedy between J.J and Lou that I enjoyed. I liked how the balls of Lou’s eyes bulged out when he was thrown about. It was a lot of fun.

Obviously the message of Lou is something many kids will be able to relate with. I certainly would have related to it very strongly. I liked also that they were able to teach J.J. a lesson without overly shaming him. He just sees what is the right thing to do and makes the correct choices.

Lou was directed by Dave Mullins and features the music by Christophe Beck of Frozen fame, which I enjoyed. I particularly liked how bubbly it was as we see Lou explore the playground and what is happening. You can see a little clip here:

It would have been very easy to make Lou a PSA and not a short but I think they straddled that line quite well. It’s funny, balanced and nuanced enough to work as a story, not just a message. Just Lou’s design and expressions are inventive enough to entertain me.

I don’t really have much to criticize about Lou. It’s not my favorite Pixar short but that’s a high bar to cross. This is sweet and a lot of fun with a nice message kids will love.

Overall Grade- B+

Now I will go off to see Cars 3 again!

Wonder Woman: Am I Just Buying into Hype?

As you guys have certainly been able to tell from this blog I am a huge fan of the recent Wonder Woman film from Warner Brothers. I’ve seen it 3 times and each time I have loved the film. I am aware of flaws and issues but none of those are dealbreakers that stop me from loving the movie. Naturally when anything these days becomes popular there is the inherent backlash against said property. Most people do this politely and I have no issue with such dissenting views. There are many popular blockbusters I wasn’t much of a fan of such as Rogue One and Guardians of the Galaxy vol 2. I try to let people enjoy their films and not be annoying about it but my opinion still remains in the minority. Nevertheless, when I hear these criticisms of Wonder Woman it does make me ask myself- am I just buying into hype? Do I really like it so much? It’s probably a healthy question to ask but I can honestly say- it’s not hype.  I really do love it this much.

I have now seen Wonder Woman 3 times and each time I was weeping throughout the film. Not just crying but this is full on public water works weeping. You can ask my brother if you don’t believe me. There is something about this character and her journey that impacted me emotionally. The idea of a woman coming to grips with human frailty and war was very moving for me and each time humans let her down it was devastating. There is a feeling that the humans really ‘don’t deserve’ her.  It made me wonder if Jesus or an angel came down would it be a similar experience that Wonder Woman had? That’s moving stuff!

When you have such an emotional connection with a film things like wonky cgi do not matter at all. In my podcast I described it like falling in love with a bald man. Sure he’s not my ideal but I love him.  I’ve emotionally connected with him so he is perfect to me. (Bet you never thought you’d hear Wonder Woman compared to a bald man but there it is!). I’ve thought long and hard and I really do believe this emotional response is separate and unique from any kind of hype or publicity. Like I said, I am frequently willing to go against hype or popular films. This is just a case of me happening to agree with the hype.

Part of the problem with hype is when people can’t admit to the problems in a film they love. In the case of Wonder Woman it is true the villains are standard, as well as other things about the plot. However, it did not matter to me because I was emotionally connected to Diana and her journey. In my eyes it took a superhero formula story and told it with real heart and power. Lots of movies do that. You don’t have to reinvent the wheel to make a good movie (in fact, often those ‘original’ movies are awful). There is nothing wrong with taking a tried and true formula and executing it well. That’s what Wonder Woman did.

Aside from just an emotional connection there are aspects to Wonder Woman that make it truly stand out from other superhero movies. While it was meaningful to me to have a powerful female superhero, let’s set that aside for the moment. One of the best things about the movie is the way it tells a feminist message without degrading men. Steve Trevor is a great counterbalance to Diana. He understands the human world and the way things work there. She is clearly the fighter and the emotional voice of the story. She’s the one that pushes him to help people and to fight for good over evil. He’s the military man and she’s the Mother in a way. That’s what made the ending work so well when they both have to sacrifice and fight to get a respite from the war.

Another amazing sequence I will never forget is when Wonder Woman is tired of being told she can’t help people and she ascends the trenches into No Man’s Land. It is in my opinion one of the greatest scenes ever in a comic book movie. I loved everything about it from the special effects down to the music. It was empowering, exciting and everything else.

The opening sequences in Themiscyra were also very memorable. Not only did you see female warriors kicking butt but you saw warriors training and fighting in awesome ways and then when we saw them take on Germans with guns it was awesome! What a great sequence! Throughout Wonder Woman there are real stakes. We lose people we really care about and that more importantly Diana cares about. This is something the Marvel has not been brave enough to do (for the most part). It gave the movie weight and heart it wouldn’t have otherwise had.

I can’t think of a superhero movie that so successfully integrated war in the way Wonder Woman did. Some have claimed Captain America: the First Avenger does but it’s not quite the same. His role is more as a propaganda tool than actually fighting the way Wonder Woman does. If any similarities are problems than pretty much every superhero movie has this problem. Even everyone’s beloved Dark Knight closely mirrors Michael Mann’s Heat in many ways. Is this a problem? No because it executes what it is trying to do well while adding some new elements to keep it exciting.

Some more positives that I think will give the movie legs over the hype is the incredible chemistry between Chris Pine and Gal Gadot. This is far better than any pairing up we’ve ever seen in a Batman movie in my opinion. They had real conversations and we got to know them both in comedic and more heart-felt moments. This is not the damsel in distress or the assistant we so often see in superhero movies. They are equals and the two actors playing the leads worked so well together.

Aside from a brief introduction and closing segment, Wonder Woman is also its own movie. In a world of cinematic universes this is very refreshing. Obviously Wonder Woman is part of the DCEU but you could see it and not have seen any of the other films. It stands on its own as a complete story. This helps movies like Iron Man to last where other films like Avengers: Age of Ultron don’t.  Many superhero movies today feel like you are only getting a piece of the narrative but that wasn’t the case with Wonder Woman. It was Diana’s story and so even if the rest of the DCEU continues to suck I will have this film unspoiled. That will help it to last.

There are a lot of other reasons Wonder Woman worked for me. It was funny, sexy, romantic, a war movie, and a classic superhero story. Some may think I have just drunk the kool-aid but I know I have not. I legitimately love it. It’s cool if others don’t love it. That’s what makes film so great. It is a subjective medium open for all kinds of opinions.

So three cheers to Wonder Woman!!! Ra Ra Ra!

Current Mini Reviews

Hey guys! I hope you are all doing well. I promise I am working on my Cars 3 review but I want it to be in depth like the rest of my Pixar reviews. Sometime next week I should have something for both it and the short Lou. If you want to see some of my thoughts check out the review on my youtube channel here.

In the meantime, I wanted to do one of my mini review posts to catch you up on a few films I have seen but haven’t written a full post on. Here goes!

A Dog’s Purpose-

A Dog’s Purpose was released with controversy because of a video put out by PETA which has been proven to be manipulatively edited and incorrect. It is the dishonesty of PETA that actually made me want to see this film.

So how does it turn out? It doesn’t quite work but it’s not a total disaster either. The premise is a dog is reincarnated into 4 other dogs and you see how a dog impacts all these different people over the years, which is nice to see. The acting is also strong by all involved.

The problem with that premise is you have to watch a dog die 5 times, which is like Marley and Me times 5.

It’s also a very sentimental movie which won’t be for everyone but my biggest problem with A Dog’s Purpose is the narration by Josh Gad. It’s never ending.

Overall Grade- C

A United Kingdom-

United Kingdom does not break any new ground in the world of inspirational biopics but it’s executed so well it works. The movie is about Sertse Khama, the king of a tribe in Africa that marries a white woman in London. Both the English and African people object to their union and they must fight against this prejudice.

David Oyelowo and Rosamund Pike are excellent in their roles as the lead couple and they have great chemistry together. It is also beautifully shot with excellent production values across the board.

It is very predictable but I was invested enough to find it entertaining.

Overall Grade- B


Becoming Cary Grant-

You can watch the documentary Becoming Cary Grant currently on Showtime and I found it to be fascinating. One of the issues I had with La La Land is I felt it presented an idea that dreams would make a person happy. A documentary like this shows achieving creative dreams can leave someone as empty as any other endeavor. True happiness comes from things a career could never give you like relationships and faith. Such is the case with Cary Grant. It goes into his childhood, marriages, career and use of LSD therapy to deal with his trauma. As a film lover and someone interested in human experience I thought it was great.

Also, Jonathan Pryce sounds so much like Cary Grant it’s uncanny.

Overall Grade- B+

DC Super Hero Girls: Intergalactic Games-

I reviewed this for Family Movie Night last week. It’s the second film in the DC SuperHero Girls series which is currently a web series but is getting its own show on Cartoon Network in the Fall.

In this entry we get to see the girls face off against a rival high school in the Intergalactic Games. Unfortunately Lena Luther becomes involved and is up to no good.

Obviously this is designed for little girls but it is done so with a lot of care and love. I enjoy the animation, voice work and simple storytelling. It’s enjoyable to watch!

It’s nice to have something in the superhero camp that is G rated wholesome fun instead of the constant PG13 content.

Overall Grade- B

King Arthur: Legend of the Sword-

I have never been a fan of Guy Ritchie particularly the way he shoots action. Even so, King Arthur seemed like a weird project to tackle but I gave it a shot and it was a big mess.

I appreciate the ambition behind the film but I left wondering if there was an idea Ritchie didn’t use. It feels so over-stuffed and manic that it is an exhausting experience to watch. All the actors try hard but it is a hopeless endeavor.  The dialogue, characters, special effects, story all don’t work.

I left thinking isn’t the story of King Arthur exciting enough without all this nonsense?

Overall Grade- D

47 Meters Down-

On the other end of the spectrum 47 Meters Down was an absolute blast at the theater. I get some of the criticisms of the movie. The script isn’t that great and the acting is so-so but it had me engrossed nonetheless.

In the film 2 sisters get stuck in a shark viewing cage at the bottom of the ocean and that was a tense, scary situation to be in and I felt it. I jumped on several occasions. The movie isn’t too long and builds tension well. The ending will be a bit polarizing but I enjoyed it.

It’s similar to last year’s The Shallows, which I think is better made but 47 Meters was fun nonetheless.

Overall Grade- B

Band Aid-

I almost got to see this indie at Sundance but didn’t make the screening in time and they gave away my seat. So I was pretty excited to see Band Aid. However,  I must own to being pretty disappointed by it.

It may just be that Band Aid  isn’t made for me. I think if I was married I might like it better. The premise sounds great with a couple writing all of their fights into hit songs but that’s not what you get. There aren’t very many songs in the movie- 2 or 3 and none of them are memorable.

Most of the movie is the couple fighting, and I hate watching that. It’s just an uncomfortable, unpleasant experience to watch people fight and be horrible to each other for 2 hours. There are some nice moments but not enough to make up for all that fighting.

Band Aid is also a pretty strong R rating with nudity and profanity so buyer beware

Overall Grade- C-


Blind Spot 18: Paths of Glory

It’s interesting that this month’s blind spot pick, Paths of Glory, just happens to be the second movie I’ve watched this month featuring World War 1 and a No Man’s Land scene. Of course the other film, Wonder Woman, is completely different but it is still a random coincidence as there are not that many World War 1 films made.

Paths of Glory is directed by the great Stanley Kubrick and is a very interesting war movie. In some ways it feels like Hacksaw Ridge combined with Catch 22. I hated the book Catch 22 because it was so cynical. I get the point of the book is to be cynical, but I needed something to latch on to and bond with. It was a very unpleasant experience that was supposed to be funny.

Anyway, I feel Paths of Glory takes this cynical attitude and also  give us intriguing characters that we like spending time with. It’s not a satire like Doctor Strangelove but it does have a cynical sad tone to the events of war.

Starring Kirk Douglas, Paths of Glory, is set in World War 1 and tells the story of a division of French soldiers who are commanded to go on a suicide mission to attack the German stronghold called the ‘Anthill’.

Colonel Dax (Douglas) tries to convince the superiors to hold off the attack because of the heavy casualties and lack of benefit but they insist upon it. The attack goes forward and a group of soldiers refuses to leave the trench. The men are then ordered to fire upon their fellow soldiers, which they refuse without a written order.

The leader, General Mireau, is enraged at the men and blames them for the attack not working. At first he wants to court martial 100 men but 3 are eventually chosen to face trial and execution.

It is this section that Paths of Glory moves from being a war film to a courtroom drama and it is also where you get some of that Catch 22 type of cynicism. It makes sense, after all, when what they are doing to these 3 men is extremely cynical. Taking 3 men’s lives because they wouldn’t turn on their own men shows how twisted war can get.

Paths of Glory is a great film. Somehow Stanley Kubrick manages to mix these two sides together so well. The war scenes are as captivating and disturbing as anything we get in modern war films. And the scenes with the 3 soldiers are sad with a hint of social commentary. It all works.

The cinematography by Georg Krause is a master class using shadows and light in a way only possible with black and white. This is not a film that takes war lightly- the way say Michael Bay might today.  Paths 0f Glory manages to get emotion in every shot even amidst the chaos of Ant-Hill.

The acting is also really strong throughout led by Kirk Douglas. He’s fantastic as Dax who is a hardened soldier with an unsentimental love for his men. He’s basically a good person and a good military man at the same time- a tough balance to pull off.

All the other performances are unknowns to me but they did a great job. I particularly liked a scene where a minister comes to take the men’s last confession. The dialogue and acting was superbly executed.

I only really have one nitpick with Paths of Glory. It’s just that it is hard to get fully immersed in a story about the French army when everyone speaks English without French accents (at least most of them). I wish they had spoken in French with subtitles or at least had an accent.

Other than that, Paths of Glory is a classic for a reason. It gives the viewer a lot to think about without beating you over the head with its cynicism. It’s very well made and acted and over all a great film that I highly recommend.

Overall Grade- A

Dreamworks 7: The Road to El Dorado

Some of these Dreamworks reviews I must own I am not looking forward to and some I’ve already reviewed on this blog. The 2000 film The Road to El Dorado would be true on both counts. Back in 2015 I reviewed the film, and I really hated it. I gave it an F, in fact, which is pretty rare for me with animation.

I have now seen it a second time and is it still the “tawdry insulting junk” of my last watch?  Well, yes and no. I still hate it but it has a few more pluses than maybe I admitted on the first watch. Unfortunately, it’s just hard to give a movie a pass that I find wildly racist and misogynistic which is the case with The Road to El Dorado…

Let’s talk about the positives. First of all, the animation, particularly the backgrounds, are beautiful. Every background has a watercolor feel and is rich with layers and color. They clearly did their homework and captured the Mexican landscape and Mayan temples well.

The score is also excellent by Hans Zimmer and it reminds me a bit of his Pirates of the Caribbean scores.

While no Lion King, Elton John does give us some decent songs including the catchy It’s Tough to be a God

So, that’s my positives. Now for the negatives.

I don’t pretend to be an expert on Mayan culture or anything like that but it really bothers me how the native people are portrayed in this film. I get that white worship actually happened, and I get that the sacrificial tribe is a trope seen in many movies like Indiana Jones and the Temple of Doom and the original King Kong. All of that I understand. However, usually when these rituals are portrayed it is with a certain degree of reverence and solemnity. You feel afraid for the white people because the natives have their beliefs and the two groups can’t communicate anything different with each other. The natives aren’t necessarily wrong. They just have different beliefs that put our heroes in peril.

In The Road to El Dorado, they can communicate and the natives are so stupid and the rituals and culture are treated like such a joke it’s hard for me to watch. For instance, in an early scene you see the natives throwing heaps of gold into the water. Even if you buy they had this much gold there is no sense of gravitas or awe at this sacrifice. It is treated like ‘oh those stupid natives’.

The leader of the natives Tannabok is given so many opportunities to see that Tulio and Miguel are bad news and he never suspects or questions. It made him look really stupid and I felt it was demeaning. Meanwhile, the villain of the movie Tzekel-Kan figures out they aren’t Gods and is treated as a sniveling bad guy when I actually related to him the most! Never a good sign.

Part of my other problem with the portrayal of the natives is I find Miguel and Tulio to be irredeemably unlikable. This makes it super awkward when they are worshiped only because of the color of their skin. They are not friendly or kind but real jerks to all involved (they are even annoying and unlikable to each other).  They have no problems stealing the natives treasure and making all kinds of demands. It makes me very uncomfortable.

You are also supposed to be invested in a female love interest for Tulio named Chel. She is supposed to be strong because she figures out the con, but she quickly becomes a puppet for whatever the boys want to do. She turns on her own people and is willing to steal without much discussion or hesitation. She also wears a pretty slinky outfit and at one point clearly has sex with Tulio, which made me very uncomfortable for a Dreamworks film. Her relationship with Tulio was one of many ways she is a flat character ruled by the whims of the male characters. This movie definitely doesn’t pass the Bechtel test that’s for sure! She was a total miss for me.

Like I said, there are some good things about this film but I find the bad to sink any enjoyment I get out of it. It is unpleasant to watch and I at least can’t get over the racism and misogyny on display. If Miguel and Tulio had been more likable  maybe I could have gone along with it but they aren’t and yet they are worshiped? No thank you! Plus, they are never held to account for all the gold they steal and what they are about to do. They ride off into the sunset having had a great adventure. Never mind the chaos you left behind! Ugh

It’s just not my cup of tea.

Overall Grade- D-