It seemed appropriate during the month of an epic comicbook movie release I should finally watch one of the most popular entries from the genre I have yet to have seen for my blind spot series: Edgar Wright’s Scott Pilgrim vs. the World.
Released in 2010, Scott Pilgrim vs. the World is based on a graphic novel called Scott Pilgrim by Bryan Lee O’Malley. It tells the story of a dopey 22 year old kid named Scott (Michael Cera) who enters a video game world when he plays with his band the Sex Bob-Omb. He goes through many women, but he in particular loves a multi-haired girl named Ramona Flowers (Mary Elizabeth Winstead). In order to be with her he must defeat Ramona’s 7 evil exes in the video game using music and sometimes a little action.
For the most part I enjoyed watching this film. It is very well cast with a crop of young talent that would go places including Chris Evans, Anna Kendrick, Brandon Routh and Jason Schwartzman. The visual effects and style of the film is unique and continually surprised me. It both feels like you are inside a video game and a comicbook at the same time. I also thought Scott Pilgrim vs the World was pretty funny. The big set up jokes like Brandon Routh having super vegan powers really paid off and made me laugh. I also really liked Kieran Culkin as Scott’s gay roommate. He was very funny.
What I didn’t like as much is Scott is kind of the worst. He’s selfish, inconsiderate and doesn’t respect women. He goes through them like candy and yet they all seem more than willing to put up with such nonsense. The main excuse the movie seemed to give is he is lovable and nerdy but that’s not a very good excuse. I got the feeling we were supposed to judge Ramona for having so many ex-boyfriends when we saw Scott go through multiple girlfriends in just a few days!
All that said, Scott Pilgrim vs. the World is a pretty fun movie. The soundtrack is great and it has a ton of fresh energy to it. If you are tired of the same old story it’s definitely worth a try. I think I prefer it to the other Edgar Wright film I’ve seen Baby Driver.
6.5 out of 10
(This is my 40th Blind Spot pick! What a fun series it has proven to be!)
Believe it or not there are other movies out in theaters besides Avengers: Endgame. I have already reviewed Missing Link and Breakthroughon this blog but I thought I would give you my quick reviews of 5 other films that might be worth your time to check out:
First up the anime film Penguin Highway. Directed by Hiroyasu Ishida this creative and original science fiction mystery will delight audiences of all ages and shouldn’t be missed. It reminded me a lot of the Netflix show Stranger Things with a young boy investigating the strange appearance of penguins in his town.
The relationship between the boy and a woman who comes along with the penguins is a little strange but if you like unpredictable, fresh storytelling you’ll love this film
8 out of 10
I will eventually do a full review of Disneynature’s latest film Penguins for my Disneynature series on this blog but until then you should definitely check it out. The penguins are so cute especially our lead penguin Steve who is perpetually behind all the other penguins. It’s so cute!
Ed Helms does a good job as the narrator and kids will love seeing this little penguin romance. Some of the music cues were a little much for me but that’s a minor flaw in a very adorable nature film.
7 out of 10
The Perfect Date
Netflix continues in its attempt to take over the romantic comedy world particularly for teenagers with The Perfect Date. Noah Centineo is super charming, and I’d be in love with him if I was 16. That’s really who this movie is made for, teenagers who want to swoon over Noah Centineo. There’s nothing wrong with that but the script needed work.
He’s charming but the story is so strained and there is no chemistry between him and either of the leading ladies. It also feels like a cheap copy of Ferris Bueller’s Day Off without any of that movies emotional heft. If you’re not a 16 year old I’d say pass.
4 out of 10
Penguin Highway isn’t the only new anime we’ve gotten this month. We’ve also gotten the sweet ghost story Okko’s Inn. Based on a series of mangas, Okko’s Inn tells the story of a little girl who goes to live with her Grandma at an Inn after her parents die. She soon learns the Inn is inhabited by a series of mischievous ghosts who want to get her into trouble.
Okko’s Inn feels very episodic and is definitely made for very small children. Adults may find it a little cloying but its heart was in the right place so I enjoyed it. If you want to talk to your kids about grief and how to set goals (Okko decides to become a junior Innkeeper) than this would be a fun one to show them.
6 out of 10
About 30 minutes into the new romantic comedy Long Shot I was groaning pretty loudly inside. The characters were annoying me and it seemed like the most tired of tropes to have the gorgeous blonde bombshell fall for the schlep who can’t seem to understand you don’t wear a hideous windbreaker to a swanky party. Ugh.
BUT…then something happened and it started to win me over. I think the key point is when they actually start a relationship is where it begins to work. The build up I was irritated but the actual balance of a liberal writer dating the secretary of state started to entertain me. Seth Rogen and Charlize Theron have decent enough chemistry but it’s the script that makes it all work. The commentary on feminism, work, politics and dating feels believable and is very funny. I particularly thought the ending in all its romcom glory is earned.
O’Shea Jackson as Rogen’s best friend stole the show. Hilarious.
This is an R rated film with lots of language and some sexuality so be forewarned.
While I have not loved every entry in the Marvel Cinematic Universe (see my Guardians of the Galaxy vol 2 review), I have loved the franchise as a cinematic endeavor and when others have grown weary of it I have been one of its biggest champions. I unabashedly love the tone of the universe and its emphasis on heroes who fight for all that is good and right in the world.
I also know that endings matter and a rotten ending to a 22 movie arc would be a serious bummer. This knowledge and my less than pumped response to Infinity War had me full of nerves going into the epic final chapter of the Avengers saga that is Avengers: Endgame. Could they pull it off? Could they end this mammoth undertaking of 22 movies in a satisfactorily way?
Well, I’m delighted to tell you that they did end it well. In fact, it may be my favorite MCU film to date! I LOVED Avengers: Endgame!
There are two aspects that make Avengers: Endgame so strong. First and most importantly, the story takes care of our characters. I felt satisfied in every arc. Unlike say The Last Jedi or How I Met Your Mother where I felt great disappointment at the treatment of our characters, Marvel gave them arcs that felt earned and treated them with respect. There were things I was sure would annoy me after the carnage of Infinity War but it worked. In particular our original six of Iron Man, Captain America, Black Widow, Hawkeye, Hulk and Thor were given stories that felt authentic for the characters and gave the closure I needed.
I don’t think it is over-stating to say there is time travel element to the story. This allowed viewers to remember the fun we’ve had along the way but also gave the characters moments of retrospection on how far they had come and the choices they’ve made. Plus, it’s just fun. Time travel stories are a blast! I know some call this fan service but with each reveal my grin got bigger and wider. It was fantastic!
Another strength of Avengers: Endgame is the pacing. I know that might sound nuts in a 3 hour movie but I found the film clipped right along. Infinity War dragged in its repetitive action where this was constantly changing who we are following and what type of situation they are facing. I was a little nervous going into the film that Captain Marvel would be over-used but she’s not. All the side characters are given their moments and then we move back to focusing on our main 5, which was brilliant.
I am sure some people will talk about plotholes but so is the nature of time travel stories. I kind of treat this like watching Doctor Who. Sure the Doctor messes with the space time continuum in each episode but for the most part we let this go in the favor of who he saves and what the overall narrative needs to be. It will be fun to pick apart the many little moments of the film but the story won’t be any less effective by any imperfections I might uncover.
Those looking for big spectacle entertainment may find the first hour of Avengers: Endgame to be a little lacking, but I loved it! If you are one of those people, wait until the third act when the film delivers big time on spectacle! There were moments I had my mouth completely agape and a theater full of critics couldn’t help but cheer! It was infectious to see the ultimate heroes defeating the tar out of the villain Thanos!
In the end, Avengers: Endgame had it all. It was funny, moving, epic and everything else you could want. It is big spectacle entertainment topping off a cinematic achievement that many have attempted to mimic and failed. What the MCU has done is phenomenal, and I’m so happy they ended it well.
As a person of faith but not a traditional Christian the faith-based film market can be an interesting experience for me. In some ways I connect with the films but in other ways I don’t. Pureflix films in particular seem to always make films that are high on the preaching and low on the nuanced character development. However, there are some exceptions to the rule like All Saints, Freetown, and I Can Only Imagine. These films tell a story of individuals with faith that are flawed and struggle in ways we can relate with. This makes their conversion or deeper commitment to God understandable and inspiring. The new film Breakthrough can be added to the list of faith-based films that get the balance of message with a good moving story right. It’s one of the good ones!
Breakthrough tells the true story of Joyce Smith (Chrissy Metz) who’s son John gets caught in ice water for 45 minutes. Everything from his rescue to his Mom praying for his pulse to start again, to his near-perfect recovery seems to be a miracle. Whether it is or not is up for you and your faith to decide but the characters in the story certainly believe it is to varying degrees.
The reason why Breakthrough works is because the screenplay isn’t afraid to make their faithful characters, chief of all Joyce, flawed characters. She’s rude, bossy and the script calls her out on it. She learns and grows as a person. This makes the movie interesting if you believe in the miracle or not. Her husband Brian (Josh Lucas) struggles with his faith and doesn’t even want to enter the room with his ailing son. The screenplay allows him to feel this way without judgement. In fact, the person in the film judged the most harshly is probably the most faithful, Joyce. That’s unusual for these films and I admire that.
There is also a very strong supporting cast in Breakthrough. Topher Grace is terrific as Joyce’s modern but sweet pastor. Mike Colter is quietly effective as the firefighter who saves John. And Dennis Haysbert is convincing as the doctor who oversees John’s care and can’t believe what he is witnessing. I also enjoyed seeing a bunch of Hallmark actors including Lisa Durupt (who I am interviewing this week!), Rebecca Staab, Victor Zinck Jr, and Ali Skovby.
The downsides to Breakthrough is there are a few cringe-worthy moments and those without faith might find it a little slow. Also there is an addendum where John returns to school that felt completely false (the local bully taunts him ‘hey miracle boy’, which made my eyes roll). It was not necessary and they should have just ended it with him leaving the hospital healthy or perhaps the scene of gratitude at the church.
Also they perhaps went too far at the beginning making John an annoying teen who is belligerent and bitter for no good reasons. I leaned over to my friend and said ”I can’t wait for him to get frozen”. I know teens are irritating but a little of that goes a long way. In order for us to want him to be saved he needs to be easier to root for. Luckily the movie is more about Joyce and with Chrissy Metz’s good performance she’s easy to empathize with.
In the end, if you are someone who enjoys faith-based films you should definitely see Breakthrough. If you are touch and go with them than this is one of the good ones. If you hate them than it probably won’t win you over but my friend Larry isn’t religious and he admired it more than anticipated. Give it a shot!
Everyone who reads this blog knows animation is my first love. I adore the medium in all its formats- 2D, CGI, anime, stop motion, motion capture, whatever. I particularly love stop motion with its attention to detail and unique world-building. Aside from a rare Wes Anderson or Tim Burton project, most stop motion over the last 10 years has come from either Aardman or Laika studios.
I love both of these studios and admire so much the work these talented artists are doing. That said, I do not always love the movies the studios produce. Last year I found Early Man, with its soccer themes, to be underwhelming from Aardman and this year I found Laika’s latest Missing Link to be a disappointment.
Missing Link tells the story of adventurer Lionel Frost (Hugh Jackman) who finds a sasquatch named Susan (Zach Galifianakis) and agrees to take the friendly beast to meet his family of yetis in Siberia. Along the way they meet Adelina (Zoe Saldana) who has a rocky past with Frost. It’s then mostly a road trip movie with these 3 on a series of adventures across the globe.
Let’s start with the positives. The animation in Missing Link is outstanding. They use a lot of CGI for a stop motion film but the amount of world building and action set pieces they designed is second to none. I can’t even fathom the amount of time spent on one short sequence in India or getting the action right in an old Western bar brawl scene. That would be incredibly difficult and I admire the animators for their great skill.
I also thought the sound design was really good. As they go exploring everything feels tactile and real, which helps immerse you in the experience. I particularly liked scenes on an ice bridge where the sound of the ice crackling and characters sliding upon it felt just right.
I think kids will have fun with the adventure aspect of the film. The kids around me seemed moderately engaged. I doubt it will be a favorite but it has fun moments and the message of self-confidence and friendship is lovely so you could do worse than taking your kids to see it.
And now let’s talk about some of the issues I had with Missing Link…The biggest problem I had (and I had felt this in the trailers but was hoping the movie would win me over) is the strange character designs. I guess I can understand designing a sasquatch any way they want but the bright red pig-like nose was so off-putting. But even stranger is designing adventurer Frost with a bright red triangle nose. It looks like he is in a perpetual state of having just sneezed, and I don’t get it. He’s supposed to be human. Why would you design his nose like that?
While I think Jackman is fine as Frost, I also didn’t love the voice casting. I especially didn’t like Zach Galifianakis as Susan. It didn’t fit for me, and I felt it missed out on huge comic potential. Wouldn’t it be hilarious if the big beast with a big booming voice was actually really sweet and named Susan? Occasionally they’d have him roar and that was funny. The juxtaposition was humorous and could have been much more so if they had gotten someone like Brad Garrett with a lower voice.
Speaking of comedy, that’s my other major problem with Missing Link. I maybe chuckled twice in the film. The humor is a weird mixture of the adult and juvenile variety and it almost all lands flat. It felt kind of like Laika trying to do Aardman and failing. In particular, a whole sequence with the Emma Thompson yetti was long, drawn out and kind of dull. There’s lots of humor that revolves around fighting hijinks. Fighting at a bar, fighting on a train, fighting in the jungle, fighting at the yetis and while the animation in these sequences is impressive they didn’t make me laugh. Is this stuff kids think is funny? It felt very weird to me. Do kids like bar-room brawls and petty fighting between British elites? (I think the film is going to be a very tough sell. I don’t see it appealing to many families and kids unless they happen to like Westerns).
I feel bad for being so harsh on a Laika film because I really value what the studio is doing. However, I have to be honest with my response to a film like Missing Link. It just didn’t do it for me despite the incredible animation. My friend Jen had the same reaction but then my friend Larry loved it so it will be interesting to see what others think.
If you get a chance to see Missing Link let me know what you think. Do the character designs turn you off in the trailer or are you excited for the adventure?
Hey friends! This has been a very long couple of weeks for me. There have been highs and lows but one of the highs was a very special interview I was able to do with animator Tomm Moore.
If you are unfamiliar with Moore he is one of the founders of Cartoon Saloon over in Ireland, and he is my favorite living animator. Especially his film Song of the Sea is one of my favorite animated films of all time. I love the animation, music, story but mostly how it deals with themes of loss and grief in such emotionally true ways. When I first saw it I balled my eyes out in the theater. In fact, it was the first time I ever cried on youtube talking about it on my channel.
To my delight Tomm remembered my little video and once we followed each other on twitter I asked and he agreed to come on my podcast. Before the interview we did an episode of Obscure/Indie animation covering both of this films.
I loved talking with Stanford about these films (Secret of the Kells, Song of the Sea) and I loved interviewing Tomm. It’s moments like these all the hard work pays off by letting me do something truly special.
I hope you all enjoy the podcast and interview. Let me know what you think. Thanks!