Looking Back at My 2016 Most Anticipated

Over the next few weeks I will be posting my top and bottom movie lists for 2016. I will also rank the animated films and shorts of the year and give a most anticipated of 2017.  I think I will also do a ranking video of all of the Disney movies of 2016 because it was such an epic year (and yes I realized I just posted how I hate ranking but it has to be done!).

Before all of that I  thought it might be fun to look back on my most anticipated of 2016- show where the movie ended up for me in my ranking and my overall thoughts on it. Did they live up to my anticipation? Let’s find out… (Also I will be giving a grade that may not match with my review as my views can change as I think about a film)

20. Secret Life of Pets-secret life of pets2 I really liked the teaser for this movie and I do think that was the strongest part of the film. Illumination sure knows how to market their properties! Who would have thought it would make more than Batman v Superman? This ended up being a pleasant enough innocuous but forgettable animal movie. It’s not great but enjoyable and I liked the styling of NYC.

Overall Grade- B- and ended up at 71/132 in my ranking

19. Assassins Creed

assasins creedJury is still out on this one but the trailers haven’t looked promising. Will update when I do see it.

18. Storks

storksKind of like Pets, Storks turned out to be a pleasant, if forgettable animated fair. It has some good jokes and the babies are adorable. The montage at the end was very special

Overall Grade- B and 67/132 on my ranking

17. Independence Day 2: Resurgence

independence_day_2_poster_1I’m surprised I put this on my anticipated list as I’m not the biggest fan of the original. It’s ok but I don’t love it. I didn’t despise this movie quite as much as others but it was extremely forgettable and dopey. It was mostly boring and generic.

Overall Grade- D+ Ranking 108/132

16. The Little Prince

little princeThis was a big let down for me. I know others love this movie but I thought it was boring and preachy and I didn’t connect with the characters. It looks pretty but it didn’t engage me until the weird dystopian work-world ending that was a little bit fun.

Overall Grade- C- Ranking 93/132

15. Everybody Wants Some

everybody-1Richard Linklater was back with his spiritual sequel to Dazed and Confused. This is much more positive than D and C but probably a little less important. I still loved spending time with these guys and getting to know them.  They were a blast. The music was perfect and it was one of the most pleasant experiences at the cinema all year.

Overall Grade- A- Ranking 18/132

14. Untitled 5th Bourne Film

Jason-Bourne-character-poster

A lot of staring at screens mixed with action scenes. It’s a serviceable action movie but not much more. Very bland. Another disappointment for 2016 in the blockbuster department. Also they use the word asset far too much for any film.

Overall Grade- C+  Ranking 82/132

13. Ghostbusters

ghostbusters 2016The movie that broke the internet with such nonsense. I had fun with this one because I liked the 4 ladies and enjoyed their chemistry. It has problems but in my opinion so does the original. They are both dopey fun summer movies

Overall Grade- C+  Overall Ranking 83/132

12. Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them

fantastic beasts2

This ended up being a fine but disappointing Harry Potter prequel. Rewatching the HP movies was challenging as they didn’t quite live up to my memories. This has problems meshing tones together and I didn’t bond with Newt but some other parts and characters are charming.

Overall Grade- C+  Ranking 77/132

11. Doctor Strange

doctor strangeDoctor Strange ended up exceeding my expectations. Visually it was amazing and I loved Benedict Cumberbatch as the lead. I liked how low they let Dr Strange go, as you got some real vulnerability that softens his character. The story and characters for the most part worked for me. Some of the visuals made me a little motion sick but they were cool.

Overall Grade- A-  Overall Ranking 31/132

10. Zootopia

zootopia posterZootopia ended up actually exceeding my expectations. I wasn’t sold on the Sloth trailer but I went to the film and got a delightful modern-day fable. Sure there are some holes in the allegory but I think that is true for most fables. I loved Nick and Judy and their journey. Also the humor and world building worked.

Overall Grade- A  Ranking 14/132

9. Hail Cesar

hail_caesarThe Coen Brothers really let me down with this one. There were brilliant moments but they didn’t mesh together into a satisfying story. I didn’t care about any of the characters and it didn’t make me laugh.

Overall Grade- C- Ranking 90/132

8. Kubo and the Two Strings

kubo poster2

Aside from a bit of a cop-out ending this film really lived up to the hype. Some of the best stop motion animation I’ve ever seen. I loved Kubo as a character and whenever he smiled it made me happy.

Overall Grade- A, Ranking 16/132

7. Captain America: Civil War

civil war poster

It’s not quite as rewatchable as I thought it would be but I still enjoy it very much. I like seeing Tony and Caps ideological and emotional journey come into conflict. The airport scene was amazing and I loved Spiderman

Overall Grade-A  Overall Ranking 29/132

6. The Jungle Book

jungle book poster2
I wasn’t quite as high on this as some but I still enjoyed it. The visuals are amazing and I liked what they did with Mowgli’s character. I liked how they handled the ending much better but the middle dragged a bit and I didn’t think the songs were that great.

Overall Grade- B+  Ranking 32/132

5. Finding Dory-finding dory posterA sweet entry from Pixar about Dory finding her parents and dealing with her disability. It was funny and pulled at the heart strings just like I expect with Pixar. All the voice casting was perfect and it had some subversive elements that kept it from being too flat.

Overall Grade- A- Ranking 27/132

4. BFG

bfg6Roald Dahl is very tough to translate to big screen. You have to add just the right amount of whimsy to keep it from being mean-spirited. However, here they added too much whimsy. Most of the movie is them talking and watching out for the giants. My mind began to wander. Ruby Barnhill and Mark Rylance were great, special effects were lovely and the ending was a lot of fun. In the end it was just ok

Overall Grade- C  Ranking 84/132

3. Star Wars: Rogue One

rogue one2If you want to go to an action movie it is serviceable and entertaining. However, as a Star Wars movie I found it very underwhelming. The story lacks focus and the characters are underdeveloped. The ending is good and there’s some nice humor but I was bored a lot. It’s not awful but it’s a real missed opportunity to do something fresh and different with Star Wars

Overall Grade C+  Ranking 78/132

2. X-men Apocalypse

xmen apocolypse2My biggest disappointment of the year. A fractured story that can’t decide who the protagonist is. They put out  popular beats of previous films like Quicksilver zipping around or Wolverine getting unleashed for a superfluous cameo. Magneto has some good moments but most of his arc we’ve seen a million times. Most other characters were wasted and Apocalypse reminded me of a Transformers character. He was so boring. Not to mention they have a battle at Auschwitz, which was in poor taste. I could go on. Blah….

Overall Grade D  Ranking 119/131

1. Moana

moana4

I loved this movie! It was everything I wanted it to be and more. It captured the spirit of Polynesia and Moana was such a wonderful character. I loved all of the songs and the various creatures she met along the way. I loved the humor and Maui was a terrific character. It is not only one of the best of the year it is one of my favorite Disney films ever…

Overall Grade A+  Ranking 1/131

Rogue One: A Star Wars Story Review

rogue-one2Going into the latest Star Wars movie, Rogue One, was like riding a roller coaster. For months  I heard rumblings of problems so I was moderating my expectations quite a bit.  Then the premiere happened and people I trust went nuts. ‘It’s the best Star Wars movie since Empire Strikes Back’ one premiere attendee tweeted out. As a Star Wars fan, this can’t help but boost my expectations as Empire is one of my favorite movies ever, not just Star Wars movies.

I also read the prequel novel Catalyst and enjoyed it pretty well, so that got me excited. What I liked most about Catalyst was the characters of Galen, Krennic and Lyra. The story left something to be desired but it was good enough to have me excited for Rogue One.

Then I saw the movie yesterday and unfortunately I left feeling underwhelmed…

I should say that Rogue One is not a terrible movie by any means. In the world of action movies it is fine but it is nothing more than that. In particular, the character development and storytelling really let me down.

A good Star Wars movie is focused on a lead character who has a clear mission. In the recent Force Awakens it was Rey returning BB8’s map to the rebels and finding Luke that led the story. We know this from the opening crawl all the way to literally the final shot of the film. Rogue One is supposed to have a focus of stealing the Death Star plans but it executes that mission in an extremely muddled way. Half the time I was left scratching my head wondering why are we here? What are we doing? More often than not I was bored, which is very disappointing in my gritty Star Wars movie…

rogue-one5

For example, a segment of the movie deals with Saw Gerrera and Jyn getting some information from him about her father. This scene is really long and 99% of it seemed superfluous and confusing. Even Saw’s character was muddled. I couldn’t understand him half the time and I was never sure if he was a good guy or bad guy or what his motivations were. It was just a lot of talking and shooting with little narrative focus.

Then they move on to the next action set piece involving Jyn’s father but this again stretches a simple objective into a long rather muddled sequence of fighting and doing random things.

In between, we get Darth Vader for about 7 minutes and we meet various rebels. There are a bunch of rebel leaders including Mon Mothma who is woefully underused. They debate about going after the plans and I guess this is supposed to be engaging but since the characters are weak and I know they are going to go after them it all felt kind of boring.

rogue-one4There is also a crew that surrounds Jyn who are all given very little screen time or character development. You have the blind guy, the guy who shoots a lot, guy who is romantic lead and others.  At one point about an hour into the movie a character asks for another guy named Bodhi and I had no idea who that was. It’s not good if an hour into your movie I don’t know the names of the lead characters.

The blind character Chirrut also confused me because he is force strong but not in a way I have ever seen in any other version of Star Wars. There is a scene where he walks through a barrage of blaster fire repeating ‘I am the force’. This is not how the force works especially for a non-Jedi. It screamed of ableist super powers often given to disabled characters in films. I expect better characters from Star Wars. Plus, he and the guy who shoots a lot hardly speak the entire movie. How am I supposed to get to know them if we never hear from them?

In other Star Wars films they are able to create memorable characters rather quickly. For example, we learn tons about Han Solo in the original film just by his interactions with Greedo and commissioning him as a pilot. We are clear who he is and what he matters to the story. In Rogue One I had no such clarity on any of the side characters.

The only characters I knew aside from Jyn were the villain Orson Krennic and her father Galen because I had read Catalyst. If I hadn’t I wouldn’t know much about them. Krennic particularly suffers because he pales in comparison to Darth Vader.

I know it sounds like this is the worst movie ever but it’s not. It does come together for a rousing final battle scene that I enjoyed. Also Jyn was a compelling character and Felicity Jones does a good job in the role. She at least does the best job she can with the flat script. I also thought the droid K2SO voiced by Alan Tudyk was hilarious. rogue-one6Nobody wanted to love Rogue One more than I did, but I have to be honest with my response. I thought the story lacked narrative focus, the script was poor and the character development was weak. This is not a film I feel compelled to see again anytime soon and honestly I feel confident placing it below Revenge of the Sith as my 6th favorite Star Wars movie.

Even the tragic moments didn’t work for me because I knew they were coming and the characters hadn’t been well developed. I didn’t care for them so it all fell flat.

If you want to see a war movie that brings out tons of emotion watch Hacksaw Ridge. That is a great war movie with well developed characters. This is a passable action movie and that’s about it.

Overall Grade- C

Here is my youtube review if you want to check it out

Tower Review

tower4I don’t know if I love Tower more because I see a lot of movies or because it is genuinely a great movie. Either way I loved it. Here is something completely different and powerful that really got to me. It’s perhaps the best message movie I’ve ever seen. It’s certainly up there.

Tower is set in 1966 when a sniper began shooting people from the bell tower at the University of Texas. For several hours the sniper shot people at will including a pregnant woman and a little boy delivering newspapers. All of these people we hear from but in the most unique way. Like any documentary the witnesses and victims are interviewed but it is mixed in with rotoscoped animation depicting the events of the day.

tower2This wasn’t just a gimmick but a way to feel immersed in what was going on that could never be achieved through stale photos or live action reenactments. The rotoscoping felt stark and somehow made everything on a very surreal day seem even more so.

There are so many stories Tower tells but the most moving had to be a woman named Claire who is pregnant and left on the hot concrete bleeding. Most are fearful to go out in the open where the sniper will kill them to help her so she just lies on the concrete. Then a selfless act comes into play and it was very moving.

towerOne interesting aspect is the victims had never really talked about the incident or dealt with it until the making of the film. It just shows what a different society it was back then. Now they would all be writing blogs and books but back then you kept your mouth shut on all trauma you experienced in life. I can’t imagine living like that. It is so different than my life!

tower3I also liked how it wasn’t just hero fluff piece but a variety of responses. There is one woman who admits ‘I was a coward’ and then another amazing guy who basically becomes John McClane. He was incredible!

I wouldn’t be surprised if you see this on my top 10 list. It was so different and it really moved me. It’s been such a great year for documentaries but this is the one that took artistic risk and it really paid off. They do have a message about school shootings and violence today but to me it was powerful and given just the right amount of attention to not be over-bearing. It could have easily gone the propaganda route but it doesn’t.

If you get a chance to see Tower let me know what you think.

Overall Grade- A

Manchester by the Sea Review

manchester4Around this time of the year people throw out the term ‘Oscar bait’ quite frequently. This usually is a way to criticize films that are dramatic and that the studios believe could win Oscars. Some films are clearly not deserving of the studios faith (In the Heart of the Sea…) but in general I reject the term ‘Oscar bait’. To me it is like criticizing the girl in class who studies too hard or is too ambitious. I mean how dare she try to be best in her class… Anyway, I bring that up because Manchester by the Sea is a movie some will criticize as ‘Oscar bait’ but that is stupid as it is actually a gut-wrenching well made film that deserves awards consideration.

Manchester by the Sea is about a man named Lee played by Casey Affleck. Lee is a wounded man who says little and looks perpetually tired throughout the film. At the opening he finds out his brother Joe (Kyle Chandler) has passed away from a heart attack and he must go to his hometown of Manchester to take care of things. Lee then finds out he has been made the guardian of his nephew Patrick (Lucas Hedges) which opens up the wounds of the past and forces Lee to forgive and grow a little bit.

manchester2I admit the first 15 minutes or so of Manchester by the Sea I wasn’t very engaged. I was thinking- ‘oh no. This is going to be super boring’ but then something happened where it started to click for me and it’s hard for me to think of a movie where I was more emotionally engaged this year. I didn’t just cry with Lee. I cried a lot.

I won’t give away spoilers but trust me Lee has reasons to be wounded. His ex-wife Randy (Michelle Williams) also has reasons and teen Patrick has reasons. However, the great thing about the script is I was emotional without feeling emotionally manipulated. I grew to really care about this family. Their agony felt real and their various responses seemed genuine.

For example, there is a scene where Patrick sees something that reminds him of his Dad and he breaks down. A lesser script would have weeping and wailing with the uncle giving a dramatic speech. Here Patrick says ‘I’m having a panic attack’ and Lee says ‘I don’t know how to deal with this’. That is honest writing.

manchester3Manchester by the Sea also uses flashbacks so well. I think Kyle Chandler should have won best supporting actor for Carol last year. I also loved him in Friday Night Lights and Early Edition. He’s a fantastic actor and he’s great here as Joe. You get the feeling he is the one person holding all these fragile pieces together and now he is gone. It’s just devastating.

There are so many places this movie could have gone over-the-top into sentimentality and theatrics but it always makes the more sincere, softer approach. It feels so real and I related to it quite strongly. My family has not had this trauma but we’ve had our own share of troubles, and I could relate to the way someone like Lee shuts down or Patrick pretends he is just an ordinary teen. I think most families will be able to relate to this film.

MBTS_3869.CR2Michele Williams is only in a few scenes but she is so great. In one scene in particular she shows forgiveness and love in just the right way. It was beautiful.

Manchester by the Sea is not an easy watch. It is brutal and gut-wrenching. It also has a lot of profanity so be forewarned. However, if you can handle it, the end experience is worth it.

Most importantly Manchester by the Sea will make you think about life, your pains, griefs and how you treat others. Lee is a wounded man who picks fights at bars and fails to communicate his pain with others. He would be an easy man to judge if we met him in real life. However, Manchester by the Sea reminds us that we should maybe take a step back from our judgements until we understand what the other person has been through. We may go from derision to admiration once we know the whole story.

Overall Grade- A-

ps. I will never look at frozen chicken the same way again.

La La Land Review

la-la-land-reviewsIn 2014 Damien Chazelle directed the music-oriented thriller Whiplash to great acclaim. I liked that movie but not nearly as much as most people I know. His latest music-oriented romance La La Land I like much better, but I still don’t know if I love it as much as most. If there ever was a case of being a bit disappointed a film is only in my top 10 of the year than this is it. It’s lovely, nostalgic and a joy to watch but not the perfect movie I was hoping for.

La La Land starts out as an homage to old school Hollywood musicals like Singing in the Rain and American in Paris. In probably my favorite sequence, we are introduced to the world of LA through a musical sequence on the crowded LA freeway.

la-la-land5Then we meet our lead characters- struggling jazz pianist Sebastian (Ryan Gosling) and struggling actress Mia (Emma Stone). They meet through a series of meet-cutes and it is their dreams of artistic greatness that unite them and help them to fall in love. That is the theme of the movie that there is something noble about those who dream and keep trying to succeed in LA.

However, I must warn you guys. If you are expecting a Broadway style musical you might be disappointed.  La La Land clearly shows Damien Chazelle’s jazz background. In fact, I would call it more a jazz/dance showcase than a musical. In the middle there really aren’t any songs aside from a song played by Sebastian’s band and him playing jazz at a piano. Ryan Gosling rarely sings in the movie and when he does it is more a gravely quiet voice not a Broadway style singing voice. I’m not saying this is a bad thing. It’s just what it is.

la-la-land2There’s more dancing than singing than I expected, and I particularly enjoyed a tap dancing sequence called A Lovely Night. This captured the nostalgia that Chazelle was going for.

The side characters including John Legend aren’t developed very well but it doesn’t really matter because Gosling and Stone have terrific chemistry. You bought them as these struggling artists and hoped they could find a way to both achieve their dreams. la-la-land4The cinematography by Linus Sandgren is lovely and I completely understand why everyone in LA is going so nuts for it- their city never looked better. It would be a funny comparison to look at this and Terrence Malick’s Knight of Cups back to back. You couldn’t get two more different interpretations of the movie industry and LA!

However, the true star of La La Land is the score by Justin Hurwitz. It is without a doubt the best of the year. Especially if you love jazz music you will love this score! Most of the songs didn’t stand out to me the way the songs in Sing Street or Moana did but the score was beautiful. la-la-land3La La Land at its core is a movie about work, which is a subject close to my heart and something I often contemplate. The dreams of Sebastian and Mia are ostensibly about their jobs. They aren’t dreaming about families or possessions. In fact, such things are literally hindrances from achieving their dreams. They want to do something great- meaning they want to have their dream jobs in the movies and music.

The interesting question the film fails to ask (and fails in Whiplash also) is does this dream when granted equal a happy life? You will have to see how their dreaming impacts their love in the movie but in my experience happiness is more ephemeral than can be contained in ANY job. Perhaps the movie argues that art/music is where the real happiness comes from but that feels a little hollow to me compared to the happiness of family and faith. Also, the movie dove a little bit into the sacrifices of dreams couples must make in order to be together, but I could have used even more of that.

Anyway, that’s a bit of a tangent. La La Land is a beautiful movie about dreamers with a jazz showcase of songs and music. What’s not to like about that? It’s light, fluffy and very entertaining to watch. I did not connect with it as emotionally as Sing Street or Moana and none of the songs were as good as those movies songs but it still was a very enjoyable, engaging film.

I think a lot of people who don’t typically like musicals will like this film because the songs are fairly sparse and done in a jazzy way not a Broadway style. It’s something couples should see together- once on Netflix it will be the perfect cuddle movie.

I guess it might sound like I am being critical of it but I really did love the film. It was wistful, nostalgic and magical. However, I’m not sure how long it will stay with me and if it will be a favorite musical of mine the way I’m sure Sing Street and Moana will. But that’s just me. It’s still really good! You should all see it.

Overall Grade- B

My youtube review

Sing Review

sing5One of the cool things about 2016 animation is even the middle-tier animated films haven’t been that bad. I’d say films like Storks, Secret Life of Pets and Trolls have all been base hits where the top-tier have been home runs. This stands in contrast to last year where the middle-tier films bombed like Minions and Home. Well, you can add another solid base hit to the 2016 line up with Illumination’s Sing. This isn’t a great movie and I will totally understand the inevitable critiques but I walked away having a good experience.

I got to see Sing as part of a special screening last Saturday meant as kind of a Black Friday weekend promotion. The trailers have not been great for Sing so I went in with low expectations, which may have helped it a little bit (I’m not the biggest Illumination fan). Nevertheless, it ended up being a fun morning at the movies.

sing13Sing is about a koala named Buster Moon who owns a struggling theater that he got after being inspired by a show as a child. He develops a plan to save his theater by hosting a singing competition- ala American Idol type show. This attracts a wide array of characters from a housewife pig with 25 kids named Rosita, to a cocky gambling mouse named Mike, to a gorilla who doesn’t want to be in his Dad’s gang named Johnny. All of these characters love to sing and we see their story play out within the course of the movie.

sing14There are some things Sing really does right. First of all, I liked the characters. It would have been easy to make this a story of angsty teenagers who want to be stars but this has a wide range of character types that are explored better than I expected. Rosita was my favorite. I mean how often do we get a tired, ignored housewife character in a film aimed at children? I thought her arc was really sweet.

I also liked Ash the punk-rock porcupine who has allowed her talents to be brushed aside by her pushy boyfriend. Meena, a shy elephant who knows she is talented but lacks the guts to perform, was also a really nice character. I am sure many people can relate to all 3 of these characters.

sing884The other win for me in Sing was the music. Marketing for the film boasts 85 songs in the soundtrack. I can’t even imagine how expensive the licensing for Sing was but most of those songs are extremely brief. The actual full songs with verses and a chorus I thought were pretty well done. The singing is good and as the movie is about the struggles and dreams of singers they worked to further the story- not just as filler like in movies like Trolls.

This song by Tori Kelly ‘Don’t You Worry ‘Bout a Thing’ was one of my favorites.

Scarlett Johansson gets an original song as Ash and I liked that quite a bit as well.

sing-ash-and-meenaSome people might not like the music but this is just my taste (it’s my blog after all) and I liked it. And I thought it fit within this particular story with these characters. I certainly thought all of the music was as good as Try Everything from Zootopia, which I also liked (Sing is going to suffer in comparison to Zootopia but on this one level I think it wins).

Now there are some definite problems with Sing. First of all, the base story is super contrived. We’ve seen the ‘save the farm, save the school house, save the theater’ plot device a million times and it feels a little tired here. The story is also extremely predictable but the ending still felt satisfying I guess because I liked the characters so much. It also feels a little over-stuffed with tons of characters auditioning and given songs/story time when I just wanted to focus on the characters I liked.  In addition, the humor can be very hit and miss within the film.

The animation is also nothing to write home about. It is standard generic cg animation. There is nothing like the world building or character designs we get in Zootopia or Moana. It works but it feels rather pedestrian. I’d like to see Illumination take more risk with their animation and dazzle us with something new like the hybrid animation did for Peanuts Movie.

sing15The other big problem has to do with some of their character choices. As I said a gorilla named Johnny wants to be a singer. His father runs a gang and he can’t understand why his son wants to be a singer. All of this could have been fine but given the current racial tensions I thought it was in poor taste for them to make all the gang members black. There is even a rival gang and guess what they are? Brown bears…

I wish they had followed the example of Secret Life of Pets and made the gang a variety of animals.

secret-life-of-pets-gangI know this may seem like a small thing but given the racial climate we are in it made me a little uncomfortable.

Still, none of these downsides were deal breakers for me. I walked out humming some tunes and having an over all good time. It’s not a movie I will remember in 5 years but not every movie has to be. This is just an enjoyable base hit with some sweet characters and nice music. I enjoyed it.

Overall Grade- B (just a bit lower than my youtube review)

ps. shouldn’t a koala have an Australian accent? Hmmm…

Movie 56: Moana

moana14Every once in a while a film will be released that I have a personal connection with. It will remind me of a time in my life or a person and those are the most prized films of all. I kind of knew going into Moana that it would be that kind of film, but I had no idea how much I would truly connect with it. I have a deep and abiding love for Polynesia and the islands so just the setting alone seemed made for me but everything else about it struck the perfect note making it a very special experience. However, I don’t think my life experiences are essential in appreciating the film. It’s just a great Disney movie that I think everyone, young and old should experience in the theater while you have the chance.

moana2There are so many great things about Moana I almost don’t know where to begin, but let’s start with the title character. Moana is the daughter of a chief who receives a calling from the sea as a baby. The water in this film is an actual character that watches over Moana and even gives the occasional high five (as a huge ocean fan I LOVED that)!

Despite her connection, Moana is told by her father that she must stay on the island. I liked that she was the next to rule and her sex wasn’t a factor at all. She’s treated like any other character. They are all not allowed to leave the reef. But when the coconuts and island start decaying Moana must go on a mission to return the heart of Te Fiti, the island goddess, to its rightful place. I liked that Moana was a fairly normal looking girl and she behaved like a normal girl. For example, her first attempt to attack the reef and leave the island goes badly. This showed her infallibility and that she would have to work to get everything she got. Yes she has a connection with the ocean but things do not come easy for her at all. moana15To restore the heart, she must find Maui, a disgruntled demigod, who has lost his magic hook that allows him to shape-shift. They are a classic odd couple on a mission but it is executed so well. Maui also has tattoos that interact with him and tell him what to do. This was very clever and funny. Dwayne, the Rock, Johnson was perfect casting for the role of Maui. He oozes charisma out of every pore and aside from not having the greatest singing voice was so much fun even when he was resisting Moana’s arguments. There’s just something so innately likable about the guy even in his voice. Plus, he is from Samoan ancestry and I think you can feel that kind of personal connection in the performance.

moanaAs the two journey, they face all kinds of obstacles like Mad-Max inspired coconut pirates, a lava monster and a giant hoarding crab. These were all very creative and fun foes. I particularly loved the crab Tamotoa voiced by Jemaine Clement, who is absolutely hilarious.

moana12There is a lovely heart to Moana’s journey as she is trying to do something unselfish and kind for her people while also exploring her own identity. If you are someone who didn’t like Elsa running away from her problems (not me!), Moana should be your princess. She faces them head on but she also shows moments of weakness and fear. She was just a tremendous character. Newcomer Auli’i Cravalho was amazing as Moana. What a find they got in her. I loved her vocal performance and her singing. She made me care about the character and her journey throughout the film.

moana-auliiOther standouts of the film are the comedy, which they nailed. The chicken Heihei I thought was a riot and the jokes from Maui and other characters were great. It also never gets too dark or scary, so it is a true family film. Everyone can go and be inspired and dazzled whether you are 3 or 103!

moana-trailer111The music by Lin-Manuel Miranda, Opetaia Foa’i and Mark Mancina (score) was perfect. I loved every song and my only critique is they could have had a few more. The standout song is called How Far I’ll Go. It is stunning.

The animation is beautiful, which is perhaps no surprise from directors Ron Clements and John Musker. I loved the look of the water and island locals. It was so real I wanted to reach out and touch it! They also did creative things I wasn’t expecting. There are some 2D elements and some character designs that reminded me of the Disney renaissance. Moana is as great visually as anything the pair has done and that is coming from someone who LOVES Little Mermaid. It takes advantage of CG animation in a way Disney has never done before. It uses the medium to give a lush and immersive experience that you couldn’t have with 2D.

I really don’t have that much negative to say about Moana. Sure the story embraces certain tropes but I have no problem with a formula story if it is executed well and this is. Plus, it has enough creativity, like with the coconut pirates or Moana’s tattoos, to keep things fresh and exciting.

I suppose a few minor nitpicks for me is The Rock’s voice isn’t that good but it works for the song. They could have used Pua the pig more especially given the marketing. There were also 2 jokes with a modern flair to them that I think took me out of the movie for a second. Those worked in Zootopia but I don’t think in this type of story.

I waited to write this review because I wanted to let it sink in and make sure I wasn’t giving unearned hyperbole. Now after 6 days I can say that for me Moana is not only my favorite movie of the year but it is one of my all time favorite Disney movies. I liked Moana even more than Frozen or Tangled, which are top 10 Disney films in my eyes. I loved just about everything about it. It spoke to me and my life experience in a personal way and made me so happy. I loved the music, characters, animation, setting, everything.

In my opinion, Moana is why we go to the movies- to get swept away in a world and story and to occasionally see a bit of yourself staring back at you on the screen. Moana did that for me. You should all see it and then see it again. Take your kids, especially your girls, and let them be swept away in this latest wonderful Disney Princess story.

Overall Grade- A+

There is also a short called Inner Workings that I loved but will review on its own later.

Current Mini Reviews

Before I review Moana I thought I would give you guys a few thoughts on current films I have seen that I have not reviewed on this blog.

Almost Christmas

A Meyers ChristmasA movie not trying to be anything other than what it is- a cheesy Christmas movie but done well. If you like these types of films you will like it. The cast has chemistry. A lot of the jokes land and it’s overall a cheerful fun movie for the holidays.

Overall Grade- B

Moonlight

moonlightI love movies where I get to live a person’s life and Moonlight is a great example of that. It is about a gay black man in poor inner-city Florida. Understated in its sensuality and very human throughout. Not going to be for everyone but I appreciated it especially the first 2 acts. The final felt a little cloying to me and some of the choices I didn’t completely buy but still good film. Great acting by all involved. The Mother you just want to slap some sense into her!

Overall Grade- A-

Allied

allied-movieWell made movie that I was moderately entertained by. It earns it’s R rating and feels like an odd fit for Zemeckis. The tone doesn’t quite work and it is definitely boring in spots but good chemistry and a pretty good story make it a decent watch. I’d say watch at home as a rental.  It was a lot better than The Walk. You also kind of wonder who it was made for?

Overall Grade- C

Edge of Seventeen

edge-of-17A weird movie to review because it is expertly crafted but I found it kind of unpleasant to watch but I think that was deliberate from the filmmakers. It is about a surly, unpleasant teenage girl who is extremely negative. But let’s be honest most of us have been there as teens at least I know I was. The script and performances definitely mine that time of life for emotional truth with no attempt to be glib like Juno or Mean Girls. Everyone is comparing this to John Hughes and I guess it is like 16 Candles the most but I prefer this. As much as I admire it, I don’t think I’d ever want to watch it again.

Overall Grade- B+

The Space Between Us-

space-between-usKind of a terrible movie that I just can’t quite hate on. It’s heart is in the right place and I can tell they were really trying to make a good movie but it comes across as another bland YA type film. The premise of a boy born on mars is decent and I like the overall hopeful tone- something missing from most YA adaptations like the 5th Wave. But it feels cheap, the acting is kind of awful (one of worst performances I’ve seen from Gary Oldman) and the romance doesn’t work. It becomes a road trip movie that is very bland and feels more like an episode of a show on CW rather than a movie. But if you like YA movies, you might like it. At least it is positive- a rarity in that genre.

Overall Grade- C-

Arrival-

I don’t know I loved it quite as much as many other bloggers and youtubers who are declaring it a masterpiece but it’s good. I like that it really goes for it and has bold ideas. It’s kind of film I want to see several times to really absorb it’s ideas and messages. It looks beautiful and I liked that the story centers on communication and language and how that makes us human. The design of the aliens and alien language were very creative and Amy Adams is great in the lead role. The twist at the end mostly worked but still not sure I understand it completely. Some readers will find the pacing too slow but I enjoy a slow burn scifi film.

Overall Grade- A-

Maggie’s Plan

maggies-plan-movie-postersThe story is admittedly very contrived and stupid but I liked the dialogue a lot. It totally captures the pedantic liberal intellectual crowd perfectly. I found it light and breezy with charismatic performances. I enjoyed it very much.

Overall Grade- B+

Hacksaw Ridge-

hacksaw-ridge-poster-partGoing to be too violent for some of my readers and I totally respect that but if you can stomach the violence it is an amazing film. I LOVED it! At its heart its actually a faith based film about a man who stands up for what he believes in and miracles result. I was very inspired by it and loved pretty much everything about it. I loved all the performances, story and pacing and everything else. If you can take the violence- SEE IT!

Overall Grade- A+

Huntsman Winters War-

huntsman-winters-warA sequel and prequel in one and all bad. Terrible acting. Terrible chemistry. Wasted cast. Muddled story. It’s really as bad as you’ve heard if not worse. If I had seen it in theater I might hate it worse than Alice Through Looking Glass. The dialogue and story was almost so bad it’s good but not quite.

Overall Grade- F

So there you have it! My thoughts on 2016 releases I’ve seen in last few weeks. Sorry I didn’t get a chance to do a proper review on all of them but many like Hacksaw Ridge I did review on my youtube channel so make sure you are subscribed to that http://youtube.com/user/smilingldsgirl.

Also please follow me on letterboxd http://letterboxd.com/smilingldsgirl/

What about you? What did you think about these films? What would your grades be?