Long time readers of this site will probably remember I am not the biggest fan of dystopians- particularly of the YA variety. I find they often have little to teach besides cynicism and I don’t really need that in my art- I get enough of it when I watch the news! The one exception to this rule is in my animated films- particularly anime. Movies like Akira, Ghost in the Shell and Paprika dazzle me enough in the animation and have enough hope in the narrative to win me over to the more depressing world-building.
Now you can add another anime to that list- the wonderful and underrated film from director Yusuke Hirota called Poupelle of Chimney Town. This might just be charming enough to win over people who don’t normally like anime (people I do not understand for the record).
Poupelle of Chimney Town is adapted from his own picture book by Japanese illustrator Akihiro Nishino and it has the look and feel of a steampunk fairytale. In the story Lubicchi, a young spirited boy, is determined to show everyone there is a greater world than the smoky, soot-colored world he lives in called Chimney Town.
One day he makes a friend out of literally out of trash called Poupelle who is voiced by Tony Hale in the dub who ironically has played another similar ‘trash’ character with Toy Story 4‘s Forky. The unlikely duo then go on a series of adventures including an intense incinerator scene and a roller coaster type scene through the wild steampunk world of Chimney Town.
The animation is wonderful with both the intimacy of 2D and the immersion of CGI. It draws you in from the start and never lets go. There was something about the whimsy that had a vintage quality to it- like something Don Bluth would have directed in the 80s. It’s the kind of project Dom DeLuise would have voiced back in the day.
Poupelle of Chimney Town is available on digital and on dvd/blu-ray (ad) on May 31st. Don’t miss your chance to check out this dazzlingly animated achievement!
Back in January of 2020 I did an episode of my podcast with my friend Jen on our Most Anticipated Movies of 2020. One of the films we mentioned for June we were both “super excited for” was Top Gun Maverick. We even chat about how we hope there will be a Meg Ryan cameo and that they will play a new hot beach sport like the beach volleyball in the original film.
Who would have ever guessed then that Jen and I would finally get to see the film in a packed IMAX theater in May of 2022! And not only did we see it but we loved it! A lot of pandemic films have been disappointments such as Tenetand Wonder Woman 84 but not this one! I can’t remember the last time I was so engaged in a piece of blockbuster entertainment.
The story in Top Gun Maverick is admittedly simple but it does it’s job which is setting up for fantastic flight sequences and emotional character moments. Some of these involve nostalgia but in a way that’s meaningful not strictly fan service.
Of course I won’t spoil those moments, but suffice it to say we have Captain Pete “Maverick” Mitchell (Tom Cruise) back to train the top recruits at Top Gun on how to perform a special mission against a mysterious foe that’s hiding a uranium facility. The actual mission feels like the recruits are basically being asked to destroy the Death Star but without the assistance of the force.
All of this is window dressing for some of the most thrilling sequences I’ve seen in a long time. I was gripping the armrest I was so tense!
The performances are all good led of course by Cruise who feels almost more at home in this character than in the Mission Impossible films. We get some heartfelt scenes in this we don’t get in that action-heavy series. I particularly enjoyed his interactions with Val Kilmer which are very well done.
The recruits are all up for the job including Miles Teler, Monica Barbaro and Glen Powell. Don’t worry we get our sexy football scene that lives up to the volleyball of yesteryear. Jennifer Connelly is also a good match for Cruise as a love interest (he sometimes struggles to find chemistry with his leading ladies for some reason).
Top Gun Maverick is a great date movie. I certainly wish I had a man to hold my hand during the tense sequences! It has something for everyone and it’s a pretty mild PG-13 so depending on the family it could be a good one to go and see together. It definitely demands to be seen in the theater with the incredible sound design and immersive flight sequences. This is what you go to the movies for! You won’t want to miss it!
I must be honest I have tried to get into the television show Bob’s Burgers many times and have always failed. Being a big The Simpsons fan it seemed like something I should like, but I found the humor to be too gross and off-putting for my taste. I’ve heard from friends that the first season isn’t that great but then once it finds its footing it can be a real hoot so maybe I just need to try some random episodes and I would love some recommendations if any readers have some.
Anyway, I say all this because I was not expecting to like this movie. I was open to liking it (otherwise what’s the point in going to the screening) but it seemed unlikely. Well, count me surprised because I ended up really enjoying it! In fact, am I now a Bob’s Burgers fan?
I think what won me over, where the show hasn’t, is how endearing the characters are and how likable the spirit of family is. The story is simple with a sinkhole blocking the entrance to the families famous eatery and them all working together to uncover a mystery behind their landlord Mr Fischoeder (Kevin Kline).
Not only is the movie sweet but it is also very funny with lots of gags involving each family member. I particularly enjoyed anything with Louise (Kristen Schaal) and her struggles to be brave towards bullies at school who tease her for her bunny ears hat.
I also really enjoyed all the songs (I guess music is a thing in the show which I didn’t know about). They were catchy and well preformed. All the vocal performances were great, and I appreciate an animated film that almost exclusively uses voice actors. I hate when movies like Lego Ninjago ditch the voice actors for celebrities.
The Bob’s Burgers Movie will be a real treat for any animation fan as it has scene after scene of glossy 2D animation. I loved in particular the segments in the last act of the film when they are being chased through an underground bunker in an amusement park. The dark browns and blacks and the speed of the cars was wonderful.
All in all this film has the potential to be the surprise of the summer. I laughed, bopped to the songs and enjoyed spending time with this quirky family. If you are on the fence give it a shot. It just might surprise you as well. My only critique of the film is there was a time with the villain monologuing that went on too long and started to drag but once the section was done it picked back up again.
Hey everyone! It’s that time again where I give some quick updates on the films I’ve been watching. Unfortunately I just don’t have the time to write up a full review on every film I see. It’s impossible!
Aside from Men, which I hated, it’s been a pretty good month of movie-watching. Particularly in animation we are getting a lot of creativity and innovation which makes me happy to see (especially since I didn’t like Turning Red from earlier in the year).
So here’s the reviews:
Downton Abbey: A New Era-
I was a big fan of the 2019 Downton Abbey film and the show so I came into this new film a little biased to enjoy it. However, I have heard from a number of friends who haven’t watched the show that they have enjoyed the movies so it might surprise non-fans. Either way, this new entry Downton Abbey: A New Era is everything I want in this very fun frothy continuing journey of the Crawley family and their downstairs staff.
Writer Julian Fellowes does a great job balancing a ton of characters and story-threads which is particularly difficult this time because we have the group splitting up- half going to visit a villa in the Mediterranean and half managing the house while a movie is being shot by new to the series Hugh Dancy playing director Jack Barber.
My only nitpick is with Lady Mary (Michelle Dockery). I wish they could have gotten Matthew Goode in the movie as her husband. What they came up with instead was frustrating. All the other plotlines I really enjoyed. It’s particularly fun when the servants get a chance to dress up to be in the movie.
The highlight is always Maggie Smith as Violet and she’s spectacular here. My advice is have some tea, take your friends and go back into time for a delightful experience at the theaters!
(And check out our catch up podcast on the series and first movie above)
7 out of 10
Chip ‘N Dale: Rescue Rangers
I have to say I was as skeptical as anyone going into this movie. I didn’t like the trailers and the images I saw looked like a lame nostalgia grab. However, count me shocked because I had a blast with Chip ‘N Dale: Rescue Rangers. It all comes down to the script by Dan Gregor and Doug Mand, which is chocked full of gags and laughs that particularly animation fans will go gaga for.
I don’t want to spoil the gags for you but evidently they were going for a Who Framed Roger Rabbit feel and I think they totally succeeded. We have cameos from not just Disney like in Ralph Breaks the Internetbut from studios like Sony and Netflix. And there were just a lot of hilarious gags like I loved the setup of Dale doing the comic-con circuit and getting ”CGI surgery” to relive the glory days. That’s clever.
The voice cast is also excellent with John Mullaney, Andy Samberg, Will Arnett and more. This should entertain both kids and adults so definitely worth your time on Disney Plus. It’s a hilarious time with our dynamic duo.
8 out of 10
Along for the Ride
New on Netflix is the rom-com Along for the Ride. It is based on the book by Sarah Dessen and has lots of beautiful beach scenery but unfortunately that’s all I enjoyed about it. Teen love stories are usually not my favorite but this does try for some deeper themes with our lead Auden (Emma Pasarow) dealing with divorce, a new baby sister and trying to make friends in a new town of Colby.
I didn’t think Pasarow and her guy Eli (Belmont Cameli) had much chemistry and the plot dragged on without much to engage the viewer. i wasn’t invested in the relationship or much beyond her relationship with her Father (Dermot Mulroney) and Step-Mom (Kate Bosworth). Andie McDowell is also good as her Mother.
I hate to say it but this one was dull. It’s about insomniacs and it just about put me to sleep. Also the acting was weak at times. I’d skip this one.
4 out of 10
Top Gun 1996
With the release of Top Gun Maverick coming soon I wanted to log my review of the original Top Gun for rotten tomatoes. I just had my friends over for a watching party and we had a great time. I can see why some find it too cheesy but in my opinion that’s part of the appeal. I like the posing, corny dialogue, and volleyball playing with the campy 80s music in the background.
The flying scenes still hold up with terrific sound design and music from Harold Faltermeyer. It also has a good mixture of light and heavy moments with a cast that has chemistry including of course a young Tom Cruise, Kelly McGillis, Val Kilmer, Anthony Edwards and Meg Ryan to name a few.
Everyone around me seems to be loving the new film but I will always have a fondness for the original Top Gun. It’s what you want in a big bombastic cheesy blockbuster.
In this era of big spectacle and cinematic universes it’s amazing how simple making a great piece of cinema can actually be. In his feature film debut Hit the Road, writer/director Panah Panahi has taken the road trip movie and crafted a moving, touching, funny family drama that anyone should be able to relate with. It’s as close to a masterpiece as I’ve seen in a long time and the more I’ve thought about it the more it resonates with me.
The film centers on a family traveling through the beautiful Iranian countryside (seriously this movie makes you wish you could go visit Iran and just drive. Gorgeous). It is a typical crammed in suv but the occupants don’t seem to be on a vacation. In fact, they are racing to get across the border into Turkey, having left their hometown in a rush to try and smuggle Big Brother played by Amin Simiar out of the country.
Big Brother obviously has a great deal of anxiety given his situation but this is countered by the joyousness of Little Brother played by the adorable Rayan Sarlak. He steals the movie but he is also an important element providing laughter and joy into an otherwise tense film. Pantea Panahiha is the ideal Mother trying to keep her family together and both her sons hopeful but the fear behind her eyes is ever-present.
Then we have Hassan Madjooni as the Father who is struggling in the backseat with a fully-cast broken leg. It itches and it’s hot and miserable. He tries his best to be a team player but it’s obvious it is a tough situation to be in.
But the real star of Hit the Road is the script. Panahi has done such a great job crafting a family we care about, a story that surprises and dialogue that touches on so many important modern issues. It’s a film the entire family can watch together and be entertained and edified. I’m not sure what the roll-out is going to be but I can’t recommend it more highly. A moving family story you won’t soon forget and if there is any justice we’ll hear about it come awards season.
It’s a little hard to formulate my thoughts on Alex Garland’s new movie Men. I know I found it very annoying and difficult to get through but explaining why is challenging. I’ll do my best. I should start by saying I liked Garland’s Ex-Machina but I did not like his scifi film Annihilation in 2018. The former was an engaging AI scifi while the latter was a pretentious slog. Now we have Men, which purports to give us a ‘folk horror’ movie, but instead serves up a pretentious, heavy-handed, non-scary piece of arthouse junk. No thank you!
I will start out by saying I love Jessie Buckley so much. She won my heart in Wild Rose and I’ve loved her in everything I’ve seen her in since. The failure of Men is not her fault. In fact, she does a great job in a challenging performance. The film also looks nice with some great cinematography and small-scale visual effects.
The problem is the story and the fact it thinks it has something interesting to say but it doesn’t. At least something like Promising Young Woman has an unreliable narrator that hates men for a reason and her toxicity along with the men played out in interesting ways.
In Men Garland doesn’t give us any such nuance or engaging story. Buckley’s character Harper is grieving over the loss of her husband (Paapa Essiedu) when she meets Rory Kinnear’s Geoffrey when renting his vacation home. We don’t really get to know her well and only have minimal backstory or insights into her character. She’s a classic case of someone who doesn’t act but is acted upon within the narrative.
Kinnear plays several characters and each one of them embodies different shades of toxic masculinity. There’s a petulant boy, a creepy vicar, and even Adam and the tree of knowledge of good and evil (yes they go way back…). I guess this treatise on gender could be interesting but it doesn’t have anything to say beyond the fact that toxic men exist. We already know that! Again at least PYW had a message about how we treat victims. This is nothing. It’s not scary and the screenplay just gets more annoying as it goes along.
If he’s going to comment on half the human race I’d think Garland could come up with something better than they are all terrible and selfish creatures? Then the ending is so dumb I almost left the theater. I guess I can’t say it because it would be spoilers, but I hated it and they repeat it 3 or 4 times!
There will be people who will claim this is brilliant but I don’t see anything great about what it was trying to say or do. Why not have one sympathetic man so Harper is confused and doesn’t know who to trust? This would be scary and provide a more layered view of how toxic masculinity and abuse happens. Instead we get this pretentious “horror” film that fails in nearly every respect.
There’s always something intimidating about a Stanley Kubrick film. You know you aren’t going to get something run-of-the-mill or mainstream. It’s going to challenge me and be fresh and inventive. He’s an impressive director because he tackled so many different genres from comedy (Dr Strangelove) to scifi (2001: A Space Odyssey) to the film we are talking about for this blind spot choice Barry Lyndon– a historical period piece.
To be honest, as a big fan of period pieces I expected to like this film more than I did. I came away from it feeling it is handsomely mounted and well-made, but emotionally distant and bland.
I’m not saying Barry Lyndon is a bad movie. It just didn’t do a lot to excite me or draw me into the story. I think it is one of those classics I’m glad I’ve seen but can’t ever imagine watching again.
It tells the story of Barry Lyndon who is a rogue in 18th century England who fights in war and then woes a rich widow to take advantage of her social status and connections.
Barry Lyndon is over 3 hours which usually isn’t a problem for me with period pieces. I recently watched the 2006 Jane Eyre and the 1995 Pride and Prejudice which are both over 4 hours with enthusiasm. The problem was I just didn’t feel that attached to Barry or any of the other characters. Again, it wasn’t bad. Just not that engrossing or interesting.
I can see why it won Oscars for score, costumes, art direction and cinematography. All of that is exemplary and very well done. The acting is also excellent by Ryan O’Neal, Marisa Berenson, and more.
I appreciated the intermission, and I did enjoy the second half more than the first because war movies aren’t my favorite but again the characters and story left me flat. Someday they should do a movie from Lady Lyndon’s perspective because she is treated terribly by Barry and others. The narrator (Michael Hordern) sometimes gives us insight into her and other characters, but I could have used even more.
I had read Barry Lyndon is “one of the best and most influential films ever made” so maybe my expectations were too high? I guess I can see production-wise but the characters and story were nowhere near on that level in my opinion. If it’s a favorite of yours let me know why and what I missed.
One of the biggest critiques that seems to come for the Marvel Cinematic Universe is it has underwhelming villains. This is because the MCU is geared more towards families so the focus is on the heroes doing heroic stuff rather than the villains (with notable exceptions like Thanos, Loki and Kilmonger). The studios latest entry, Doctor Strange in the Multiverse of Madness seems to want to change that impression with a strong, scary, and complex villain by the name of Wanda Maximoff aka The Scarlet Witch.
Director Sam Raimi makes his first superhero movie since Spider-Man 3 and adds his horror sensibilities all over the place in this MCU entry. We even get some zombie action which fans of Raimi’s Evil Dead movies will appreciate.
DS2 takes over from where WandaVision left us with Wanda abandoning Westview after her attempts to craft a perfect life fall apart and she is a desperate, angry woman. After she obtains the Darkhold (in the WV post-credit scene) she now has the power to create chaos on our planet but also in other dimensions- dimensions where she can be with her sons Billy and Tommy which she got to quasi-raise in WandaVision.
It is the combination of desperation and power that make Wanda a compelling character. Also we want to root for her because we loved her and Vision but the more unhinged she gets the harder that is to do. Very few Marvel villains have that kind of push and pull where we are repulsed by and hopeful for the character at the same time.
Then we have Stephen Strange who kind of plays second fiddle in his own movie (which I was fine with). He is outpowered and outplayed by Wanda at every turn, which makes for a desperate and compelling character. Also Strange sees him mess up and become very flawed in alternate dimensions (and in his dreams), which makes for an interesting character. Arguably he is a more conflicted character than in his previous solo outing Doctor Strange.
A new hero is introduced to the MCU named America Chavez who has the ability to jump between universes. We don’t get to learn much about her but I did like her performance by Xochitl Gomez. Marvel often introduces characters in ensembles and then gives them their own movies so this was fine for me (think Spider-man and Black Panther in Civil War). I’m sure we will see more of her going forward.
There have been some that have criticized Doctor Strange 2 for being too dependent on WandaVision but when Wanda is your main character I’m not sure how you get around that? Haven’t people been hoping the MCU would have more layered villains? Is that not what we got with Wanda? Much like Loki she’s going to swing between villain and hero but that’s fascinating and a lot of fun.
It’s also refreshing in this film to see Riami’s stamp and style all over the place- especially in the 3rd act. It was surprising and engaging and I loved the visual style of the multiverse. The cameos were also a lot of fun. They weren’t on a No Way Home level but I didn’t expect them to be.
As far as flaws, the plot did zip around a lot and it can feel messy putting all the clues from the shows and movies together but I also think that’s part of what makes the MCU special- putting the clues together and filling out the puzzle? Nothing in Doctor Strange 2 felt out of character, mean-spirited or frustrating like Spider-man Far From Home or Guardians of the Galaxy vol 2. Those are the worst films in the MCU for my money.
Comparing it to Eternals, that film was messy in a different way. Jumping between timelines with 10 different characters didn’t work. With Doctor Strange 2 you are focusing on the same characters that are behaving the same but in different dimensions. With Eternals, especially Ikaris, one minute he’s a hero, the next he’s out to kill our heroes and then back and forth again. It didn’t work. Nothing with Wanda, Doctor Strange or America changes in this film despite what dimension they might be in.
With 28 films in, it isn’t reasonable to expect Marvel to make stand-alone movies. Again putting all the pieces together in the universe is part of the fun of the experience. Doctor Strange in the Multiverse of Madness had a lot of pieces but it’s an enjoyable ride. Riami’s style is bold and exciting. Wanda is terrifying yet relatable and Strange is a great guide into all this madness. If by some miracle you haven’t seen it yet, catch up with the MCU and give it a watch