Emoji Movie Review

We live in divisive times. Folks are arguing over politics, relationships and even sports. What’s one thing everyone seems to agree on? Well, that the Emoji Movie sucks. This is a clear fact but do I agree?

There was a side of me hoping Emoji Movie would be a pleasant surprise. Unfortunately it is not a strong film. I don’t know if I can cosign the worst of the reviews but I can see where they are coming from. It’s just not a good movie.

There are some positives. I liked the animation for the most part. It was bright and colorful and some of the world building in the phone looked cool. Also the voice cast was fine. I particularly liked Steven Wright and Jennifer Coolidge in their roles.

Unfortunately there are major problems. The biggest is The Emoji Movie is incredibly derivative. It borrows or shares similar elements with Inside Out, Minions, Wreck-it Ralph, Zootopia, The Lego Movie, A Bug’s Life, Sausage Party, Trolls, Angry Birds Movie, Sing, Secret Life of Pets, Toy Story and more.

Sometimes having a derivative story isn’t a problem. Many criticized The Good Dinosaur for being derivative of The Lion King but it had enough creativity, heart and beautiful visuals to engross me. The Emoji Movie doesn’t have anything like that to distract you from the reused plot points so it ends up feeling kind of dull.

The lead character Gene doesn’t fit in and has to go on a journey to learn to be himself. This is tired enough but along the way he meets a cool talking girl and a snarky boy (Jailbreak and High 5). These sidekicks do nothing to build a compelling story and are mostly annoying.

The movie could be saved by its laughs but they aren’t there. Some of the jokes don’t even make sense. From the marketing you would think Sir Patrick Stewart as the Poop Emoji would get big laughs but he really doesn’t. He is in 3 or 4 scenes and that’s it.

In Inside Out the world was constantly morphing and changing depending on what happens to Riley and the emotions. Here the emojis journey annoys the teen Alex but that’s about it. Plus, the idea that kids don’t talk to each other at all is a little hard to believe even for the greatest of cynics. At the very least Alex had to talk to the girl he likes to get her phone number and she sends him a text to begin with!

There is some creativity in the world of the apps but the problem is most of the time they feel completely superfluous. Like they spend a segment in youtube and another in spotify for no reason and they didn’t quite get the spirit of what those apps are all about to begin with.

The villain is pretty annoying and everything plays out just as you expect. There is also a plot with Mr and Mrs Meh that did nothing for me.

The Emoji Movie isn’t the worst animated film I’ve seen but it’s not good. There’s nothing offensive about it (except maybe the glaring product placement) so you can take your kids and they will be moderately entertained but why do that when they can watch Captain Underpants or Cars 3 instead? Those are far superior films than The Emoji Movie. I guess at least I wasn’t offended like I was after watching The Killing Joke (reaching here).

In the end, it’s not epicly bad to be memorable like Norm of the North but it’s far from good. It feels like a waste of time and resources when they could have made something that said something about communication and our phones. Even if it just had better jokes that would have been watchable but alas it was not to be.

Here is my youtube review:

Now I want to forget about The Emoji Movie and move on to the next animated film of 2017. Oh wait, that’s the Nut Job 2 🙁

Overall Grade- D

A Ghost Story Review

In a world of blockbusters it is easy to forget that film can be art. We can ignore plot and/or characters and look at a film as an art piece if in the right hands. This can be very obnoxious like Jean-Luc Godard’s Film Socialisme or it can be powerful like Terrence Malick’s Tree of Life. I have long been a bit of an apologist for these kinds of films but can readily see why some people hate them. The new film A Ghost Story falls in this vein and it is an extremely unusual movie.

The narrative is very simple. Basically a man played by Casey Affleck dies and returns as a schoolyard style ghost with a sheet and 2 eye-holes covering him. He then proceeds to follow his wife played by Rooney Mara looking throughout time for something important. We don’t know what but he watches and waits.

This movie is not for everyone. Just to give you some flavor there is a good 5 minute scene (at least) where Rooney Mara eats a pie and the ghost stares at her.

A Ghost Story was directed by David Lowery who did the enchanting Pete’s Dragon last year, and he is a filmmaker to watch. The movie looks stunning (cinematographer Andrew Droz Palermo should be praised). It’s as gorgeous as anything Emmanuel Lubezki has done for Inaritu or Malick. I also loved it was shot with a unique aspect ratio to give it a vintage feel.

The film is also really short at 92 minutes so that helps you feel more tolerant of its artistic approach and lack of narrative.

My only flaw with the film is I’m not really sure what it is trying to say? It has something to do with being remembered and how life goes on without you but it feels like it was trying to say more than that and I didn’t get it. You could see the ambiguity as a good thing, but I was left a little befuddled by it.  I’ve been surprised with number of reviews claiming A Ghost Story as a powerful treatise on life and human nature  because I didn’t connect with it on that kind of emotional level.

But as a beautiful piece of art I admired it greatly and am still thinking about what it is trying to say and there’s something to that. I’m certainly glad I saw it.

A Ghost Story is not scary at all. If you come in expecting a horror movie you will be very disappointed. It is a pretty mild R rating with just a few swears and mild sensuality. So if it sounds like something might interest you give it a shot. If not then I doubt you will like it.

Overall Grade- B

If you have seen A Ghost Story let me know what you think it is trying to say? I would love your thoughts


A Silent Voice Review

2017 has been a weak year for most of us when it comes to animation. There have been a few surprises but aside from Your Name we are waiting for that great animated film. Well, from the ranks of anime we have a contender. It’s not quite Your Name but it is really strong called A Silent Voice or Koe no Katachi.

Based on the popular manga it tells the story of a boy named Shoya Ishida who bullies a deaf girl named Shoko Nishimiya when he is in elementary school. Obviously he is an unhappy child but this spirals out of control as a teenager to severe social anxiety and even suicide. I loved the way they animated this mental health crisis with Ishida surrounded by crowds of Xs over their faces because he is constantly staring at the ground.

You might wonder how can they make the bully the hero or protagonist? Well, that’s what makes this special. They do not glamorize or excuse his behavior at all. It is painful and uncomfortable to see him attack Nishimiya and her disability is not leaned on for sentimentality either. These are two people who had this event happen to them and you follow them to see how it impacts their lives. They are lonely people who society doesnt gel well with and so in a way they need each other desperately.

Ishida ends up expelled and as a high schooler decides to reach out to Nishimiya and try to make amends for what he has done. They both get to very low places but director Naoko Yamada (female director!) does a fantastic job controlling tone and keeping it at least a little bit hopeful.

The character designs are fairly generic anime but their actual personalities are very unique. They both talk in ways I can imagine for someone that age and in that situation. It’s very moving to see Ishida learn to forgive himself and apologize and then make things right and as Nishimiya learns to forgive.

As you can see from the above images, the animation is stunning. The way nature and light is used it makes it feel like there is magic when there isn’t. Just a wonderful coming of age story!

If you don’t like anime I don’t think this will win you over. It’s not one that tries to be mainstream like some of the Miyazaki movies. This is an experimental film that plays with timelines and characters in ways I really liked but it won’t be for everyone. It’s also a very emotional film, which may not be everyone’s cup of tea.

I can’t recommend A Silent Voice more highly. It’s a wonderful coming of age story about 2 flawed characters that help and forgive each other. It goes to honest and emotional places no other animation is touching this year except for Your Name. It’s the kind of movie once you have seen it sticks with you and you keep thinking about it. Watch it!

Overall Grade- A-

smile worthy

Dunkirk Review

There are few directors that inspire such fanaticism and devotion as Christopher Nolan. Fortunately usually his name is worthy of such adulation. In my opinion, he hasn’t come out with a bad movie yet. His latest film, Dunkirk, is an unusual movie but in the end an amazing experience at the movies.

Watching Dunkirk reminded me of the Civil War reenactments that are popular where I grew up. People gather together to recreate a battle and while they have character names the battle is the important thing not the narrative. Likewise Dunkirk is a reenactment of a battle without a narrative to accompany it. I can see how this would annoy some viewers but it is executed so well that it worked.

Nolan splits up Dunkirk into 3 parts- mole, sea, and air. Each of these segments follow different people and are at slightly different timetables. This means you see the same boat sink 3 times, same plane get shot down 3 times etc. However, each time you are seeing it from different perspectives.

There is Harry Styles as a soldier on the ground looking out for a mole in their midst.  Then Tom Hardy is in the air trying to take down German planes. And finally Mark Rylance commanding a pleasure boat to be one of the many civilians who aided the trapped soldiers at Dunkirk.

Of all the narratives I think Mark Rylance and his sons works the best and is the only point that made me cry. You don’t learn anyone’s names or their backstories but it still moved me the most.

Truth is Dunkirk is an experience more than it is a movie. It works because it is so well made and immersive. You feel like you are on the ground with those troops or on the boat with Mark Rylance. The sound design is so great it can be shocking that it is not real. It makes you want to reach out and help the boys as if they were right beside you. It’s that real.

All the performances are top notch and in pretty much every way it is masterfully made on a technical level. It was an amazing experience to feel war on such a visceral and intimate level.

However, often these experience movies are not the most rewatchable of films. I don’t think every movie needs to be rewatchable but it is something to think about. I don’t think it would have the same impact on the small screen. It wouldn’t be as immersive or real and I might start itching for more character development.

I recommend you go and see Dunkirk in the theaters, in IMAX if possible (the 70mm option wasn’t available for me unfortunately). It’s an experience you won’t soon forget. It’s not a narrative. It’s a reenactment and in that regard it is quite special.

Overall Grade- A-

Valerian Review

Today I had the chance to see Luc Besson’s new film Valerian and the City of a Thousand Planets. It is an epic scifi fantasy film and I really enjoyed it. I’ve read other reviews with all kinds of criticisms and for whatever reason most of those critiques just didn’t bother me. I was thoroughly entertained while watching this film.

As you can probably tell from the trailer, the greatest strength of Valerian is the amazing visuals. Besson has created not only one beautiful world like they do in a movie like Avatar but he has created dozens of worlds and they are all beautiful. I was dazzled by the visuals in this movie. The pacing is also really strong as it clips along from one scene to another it doesn’t give you much time to focus on the problems.I particularly loved a sequence where there is a hologram market that is mixed in with a beach. The team is trying to hunt down an artifact and it switches between the hologram and regular world in very creative ways.

I wouldn’t say the story is the greatest thing ever but I found it unpredictable and fresh. Some have complained about the script but I thought it was fine. Some have complained about the acting but I thought it was fine. Cara Delevingne and Dane DeHaan have good chemistry and I thought they worked playing these investigators.

Rihanna has a brief but moving role as a exotic dancer/immigrant character. The visuals in her dance number were great and then she has to play off some emotion and I thought that worked.

I think what saves Valerian besides the visuals is it never takes itself too seriously. I am one of few who defended Jupiter Ascending but it definitely took itself too seriously at times. This film knows it is a light hearted lark through space and it owns that. I watched it with a big smile on my face from beginning to end.

It’s not a perfect film but none of the flaws stopped me from enjoying the film and having a great time. It’s not confusing like Warcraft or plodding like Independence Day Resurgence. It’s just a fun, scifi movie where we get to investigate a mystery in crazy places.

People love complaining about a lack of originality in Hollywood. Well, here is the chance to support something that is new, fresh and extremely creative. You might not enjoy it like I did but I think you will be glad you took a chance on something new. I am sure glad I did! I can picture this film becoming a bit of a cult classic but don’t wait for that. See it now!

Overall Grade- B+

As far as content there is a stripper scene and some mild violence but it is pretty tame.

DreamWorks 10: Shrek 2

If you have been following this Dreamworks series you probably recall I have the unpopular opinion of disliking the original Shrek movie. It’s basically a parody film and once I’ve heard the jokes they aren’t as funny to me on the rewatch. Aside from laughs the movie doesn’t have much going for it artistically or character-wise. So, what would I think about the sequel, Shrek 2? I still have some issues but it is a significant step up from the original (as Dreamworks tends to do. Their sequels are oddly often better than originals). Shrek 2 actually tells a creative story and doesn’t just make fun of the fairytale genre but subverts it in some clever ways.

To get things started, I probably have a different take on the introduction of the film than most. We get a musical montage that pokes fun at Spider-man, Little Mermaid, From Here to Eternity, Matrix, Lord of the Rings and more.  These type of parody jokes where they mimic a scene from another film just aren’t funny to me.  So, needless to say this movie gets off to a bad start.

However, it pretty quickly starts the story of Fiona taking Shrek to meet her parents who are sovereigns over the land of Far Far Away. I like that the kingdom is basically Hollywood and that Fairy Godmother is like a magical Oprah. These gags are funny because they actually have something to do with the narrative and aren’t just mimicking something we know and love for a joke.

Jennifer Saunders does terrific voice work as the Fairy Godmother and she is an entertaining villain- especially because we know the Fairy Godmother as a sweet rescuer in most stories. I particularly like the scene when she first appears to Fioana and sings a manic version of Bibbidi Bobbidi Boo.

The marriage dynamic between Fiona and Shrek is pretty well done. I like the idea of how much should you change to accommodate the person you love? It’s an interesting question and they explore it pretty well. I still wish Cameron Diaz was a better voice actor for Fiona but at least her dialogue is better than in the first film. The other fantastic addition to the cast is Antonio Banderas as Puss in Boots. Talk about perfect casting! He is funny. He is sweet. He is a swashbuckling knave. Also because he famously played Zorro it is easy to bring that persona to the role when you hear his voice. It is an example of celebrity voice acting paying off and adding more to the character.

Shrek is pretty unlikable in this movie, spending most of the time sulking and growling, about everything that happens. His saving grace is when he gets turned into a human and has to do some introspection on who he is and what he wants out of life.

The plot-line with Fiona’s parents and her father secretly being the Frog Prince feels a little on the nose to me. The voice acting by Julie Andrews and John Cleese is good but all the dialogue about accepting their daughter when she is ‘one of them’ can be more than a bit heavy handed. However, let’s face it the Shrek movies aren’t exactly known for their nuance and subtlety.

I also think Donkey feels a bit extraneous to me. He really isn’t needed for the story and so they end up working him in awkward ways. It makes the character more annoying than affecting when all he is there for is occasional commentary. It also doesn’t help that Puss in Boots is so much better than Donkey as a sidekick.

The pop music soundtrack also feels dated and doesn’t fit well with the story.

Overall Shrek 2 mostly works. It introduces 2 great new characters in Fairy Godmother and Puss in Boots. It actually tells a story and tries to give the characters dimension and heart. The animation is definitely a step up from the original and most of the voice acting is solid. I still don’t like the parody jokes, an unlikable Shrek and the Frog Prince story-line but the good outweigh the bad and I enjoyed watching it.

Overall Grade- B-




War for the Planet of the Apes Review

I just had an exhilarating experience at the movies! I saw all 3 Planet of the Apes movies including the latest film War for the Planet of the Apes. This was a special marathon screening, which allowed me to see it a day earlier than the wide release preview screenings tomorrow. It all worked out perfectly for me because I leave for D23 in the morning and wouldn’t have been able to see it for a couple of weeks otherwise.

Anyway, what did I think of the experience?  Honestly I feel a little overwhelmed and wouldn’t write this review but I know I won’t have any other time to do so because of D23.

Let’s talk about the series. I love this series. It is one of my favorite trilogies. I love the special effects, characters, writing and everything else. On the rewatch they all held up quite well. I still have to debate which is my favorite but they are honestly quite different.

Rise of the Planet of the Apes is a well executed scifi/monster movie with real heart. They were still working on the special effects and the middle lags a bit but the relationships and ending are amazing.

Dawn of the Planet of the Apes is an emotional film while still managing to be entertaining. I love Gary Oldman in it and the moment when he is able to see his children’s photos again I’ll never forget. I love Caesar and Koba’s different perspectives on war and diplomacy. It is full of emotional moments and characters and I love it.

So here we get to the latest entry War for the Planet of the Apes. Wow! It’s tough for me to describe the experience I had. It was honestly different than what I was anticipating. I think Dawn is more of a Rambo-esque war movie so I suppose that is what I was expecting but this is different. It’s a brutal tense prisoner of war movie for most of the film.

I don’t want to give much of the plot away but basically Caesar and his people come into contact with a radical military group led by The Colonel played by Woody Harrelson. At first they play cat and mouse with each other and then it becomes a prison experience and it can be very tough to watch. I haven’t seen a movie this brutal on its characters since Silence, which I hated but this has much more humanity and redemption than that film. It also explores themes of forgiveness, mercy and compassion in powerful ways.

All of the characters get moments to shine even Koba gets a bit of redemption in a way. I particularly loved Maurice (he’s always been a favorite of mine). He adopts a mute little girl along the way and she is a symbol of hope throughout the film.

Director Matt Reeves and his team should be very proud of what they have accomplished with this film. It is the least rewatchable of the apes movies but that’s not a bad thing. It was visceral, brutal and thought provoking. The visuals are flawless. Andy Serkis is amazing playing Caesar and you completely forget these aren’t actual apes but men in motion capture suits.  Congrats to all involved for an amazing trilogy and for ending on such a bold film and hats off to Fox for allowing them to make it. Incredible.

I wouldn’t be surprised if War for the Planet of the Apes is the most divisive of the three films.  I loved it but it is violent and somewhat unrelentingly bleak. They have a comic relief of an ape called Bad Ape but it is few and far between. If you love these characters it can be hard to watch them suffer so much. Also the way it uses music builds anxiety to the max for the viewer. Not everyone will like this.

There is also some fairly heavy handed social commentary with the Colonel building a wall and some other plot points that might annoy people. I thought it was handled well but I can see it annoying others.

All that said, I loved this film. It was an amazing ending for the trilogy and I left feeling like I had seen something truly special. It is challenging but in a good way and the ending was pitch perfect. If you love this trilogy you’ve got to see it!

Overall Grade- A

The Big Sick Review

It’s late but I wanted to quickly let you guys know about a delightful movie I just saw called The Big Sick. I’d heard good things about it but it honestly exceeded my expectations and is without a doubt one of my favorites of the year and one of the best comedies (not just romcoms) I’ve seen in a long time. It’s one of the few movies of recent memory that I have no negatives on.

Part of what makes The Big Sick work so well is it is based on a true story of lead actor and writer Kumail Nanjiani’s relationship with his wife Emily Gordon. This gives a warmth and heart to the movie that makes it feel very special. Zoe Kazan steps in to play Emily and the chemistry is effortless and easy to believe.

The script is a real star. There is a bit of profanity but it feels natural to the characters and how they would talk. Kumail is trying to be a stand up comic and at the same time deal with his strict Pakistani parents who are constantly trying to match him with a bride. The dialogue between all involved feels natural and hilarious while never being crass or vulgar.

I loved all the supporting performances but I honestly think Ray Ramano and Holly Hunter are nomination worthy as Emily’s parents. I wouldn’t mind seeing a whole movie just about their characters. There are so many ways they could have been cliches but they felt like actual unique human beings.

I also loved how it handled Kumail’s family and didn’t patronize them or turn them into caricatures as would have been easy to do. Coming from a strict religious family I related quite strongly to them and the situation Kumail was going through. It was handled just right! His stand up friends were also great. It was simply awesome!

There obviously is an illness involved but I will let you find that all out on your own. This movie made me laugh. It made me cry and it was a very late showing I was engrossed the entire time. I LOVED it!!

Check it out for yourself and let me know what you think.

Overall Grade – A+


Blind Spot 19: The Boxer

One thing we sometimes forget in the world of movie blogging is that most movies land right in the middle. They are neither masterpieces or garbage. They are just good, solid enjoyable films. Such is the case with this month’s blind spot pick- The Boxer.  It didn’t wow me but it was a decent watch.

The reason why I included The Boxer in my blind spot picks for 2017 is it is directed by Jim Sheridan and I absolutely loved his movie In America which I saw for the first time last year. I also love his film My Left Foot, which like The Boxer stars Daniel Day Lewis. It was kind of perfect timing because just this month Lewis announced his retirement from acting following his next film. He will definitely go down as one of the all time greats and he shows it here in The Boxer.

Going into The Boxer I was under the wrong impression that this was a traditional sports/boxing movie narrative and it’s not. It’s more of a mob movie with a small boxing element.

It stars Daniel Day Lewis as IRA member Danny Flynn who is released from prison as the film opens. He decides to open a boxing gym but gets back involved with the IRA hoodlums despite his attempts to stay on the straight and narrow. He also reconnects with an old girlfriend named Maggie (Emily Watson) who has her own ties to the IRA. The two have great chemistry and most of the movie is about their relationship.  There really is only one major boxing sequence and even that is more important for the mob it inspires than for the actual boxing.

I suppose what keeps The Boxer from being great is the story is pretty pedestrian and nothing happens that is very memorable. It’s the kind of movie you watch and then have trouble remembering a few days later. Maybe part of the problem is also this type of story has been told so often that it feels pretty played out?

That said, it is well acted and directed, so worth a watch. It’s just the script that could have been a little more memorable.

Overall Grade- B- (a mild smile worthy for the performances and direction)