‘PRODIGY’ (2018) REVIEW

It’s always a fun experience to go into a film knowing as little as possible about it. It is one of the things I love about attending the Sundance Film Festival. Occasionally a movie will get some hype during the festival but most of the time I know only the name and a brief summary.

Recently I had a similar experience watching a small indy film called Prodigy, which has just landed on Netflix US for all subscribers to enjoy. At first I thought it was the 2019 horror movie The Prodigy, which I didn’t have a ton of interest in  (I’m not a big horror movie fan). Fortunately, this film, Prodigy, turned out to be an entertaining scifi thriller that does a lot with a very small budget.

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Prodigy stars Richard Neil as a psychologist named Fonda who is sent to a government facility to psycho-analyze a mysterious young girl named Ellie (Savannah Liles). She is straight-jacketed and under constant observation for her erratic behavior. Both Fonda and Ellie’s past comes into play  and they develop a little bit of chemistry as they talk.

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I won’t tell you any more of the story but Prodigy is one of those films that feels more like a play than a movie and I don’t think that’s a bad thing. Most of the time is spent between 2 characters talking and yet the tension builds to some satisfying and surprising moments.  I also thought Neil and Liles do a good job in their roles.

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Where the movie fails is with the other characters and some of the script. In particular a military man who becomes angry at Fonda’s methods, and a man who is operating the observational room they are in, had some very cringy dialogue. It’s also not a very cinematic movie in its production and special effects, so it is perhaps best at a place like Netflix.

That said, I enjoyed watching Prodigy. It’s a clever scifi thriller with 2 good performances so if you are jonesing for something fresh and new to watch on Netflix give it a shot.

7 out of 10

smile worthy

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A Look at the Animated Oscars 2019

This year the lead up to the Oscars has been more than a little bit of a mess. Whether it is an announcement for ‘best popular film’ category or the choice to not air categories like editing and cinematography. However, what has been relatively drama free is who will win the Best Animated Feature Film award. This is perhaps surprising as the 5 nominees are all very strong films yet a clear winner has emerged in Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse.

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Let’s start with the least likely to win, Mirai, from famed director Mamoru Hosoda. It’s actually a huge accomplishment for Mirai to be nominated, as it is the first non-Studio Ghibli film to receive such an honor (a designation very frustrating to those of us who loved snubbed films like Your Name and A Silent Voice). And fortunately it is not just a token nomination as the film is a sweet journey into childhood. Recently my friend David said it was ‘the most creative animated film he had seen this year’ and he hates anime!

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Our next most likely contender to win Best Animated Feature at the Oscars comes from Disney in a rare Disney Canon sequel called Ralph Breaks the Internet. This sequel to 2012’s Wreck-it Ralph avoids the potholes of most sequels by giving us something entirely new and it worked for me even better than the original! I loved the evolution of Ralph and Vanellope’s friendship and how they had to accept each other in new ways. I loved the humor especially the princesses (which I didn’t think I’d like) and we even got a surprise Alan Menken song! Still because it is a sequel and the response to it was dampened a bit by the release of Spider-Verse, it is unlikely to win (although never count Disney out entirely!).

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Coming up in 3rd place of most likely to win the Oscar is our stop motion animated offering from Wes Anderson, Isle of Dogs. Earlier in the year I speculated whether this was the most likely winners as the Oscars doesn’t tend to like sequels or animated superhero movies (and it has a long standing tradition of loving both Wes Anderson and stop motion). It’s such a sweet enchanting movie with incredible attention to detail. I love all of the dogs and the backgrounds are dazzling (the one pictured made out of pieces of glass is a particular favorite). However, the human sections aren’t as strong and some of the writing is a little clunky. Still, a delightful film from 2018 animation.

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My prediction for the runner up for the Oscar this year is Brad Bird’s follow up to his 2004 superhero film, The Incredibles 2. I love this movie and in any other year this would be a clear favorite. It’s not only funny with terrific action but it is a treatise on how hard it is to be a parent. Even Edna Mode says it best: ‘parenting when done well is a heroic act’. The reason I don’t think Incredibles 2 will win is because it hasn’t won any awards prior to the Oscars. Spider-Verse has won every major prize from the Golden Globes to the BAFTA’s. It would take a very bold ballot to pick this film to win but it wouldn’t be the first time Pixar has surprised everyone (Brave…) if it did. Still it would be a big shocker if it won.

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Finally, the clear favorite and most likely to win the Best Animated Feature Oscar is Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse. This isn’t just my opinion, but the opinion of critics, fans, and experts alike. In fact, there are a number of other publications out there that see Into the Spider-Verse as an incredible favorite. Like I said, it would be a huge shock if it didn’t win. It is not only a game changer for animated films and superhero movies, it also speaks to the Academy’s goals to honor diversity both on and off the screen. It honestly should have been nominated for Best Picture in my and many others opinions.

So what do you think of the animated Oscar race this year? Am I too bullish on Spider-Verse? Do you agree with me it has been a strong year for the category? What other predictions are you making for this year’s Oscars? I’d love to hear in the comments section.

Current Mini Reviews

Today I am back with a small edition of my mini reviews post. Mostly the end of January was taken up by the Sundance Film Festival but I was able to squeeze in a few other viewings which included both new and 2018 releases.

So here goes!

THE BALLAD OF BUSTER SCRUGGS

THE BALLAD OF BUSTER SCRUGGS CR: NETFLIX

At the risk of losing some of my film snob credibility with #filmtwitter I must own I have not enjoyed most of the Coen Brothers recent comedies. They seem to rely so much on setting that they forget to tell a good joke. Films like Hail Caesar didn’t work because instead of being funny they decided to be boring and repetitive. Their early work like Raising Arizona focused on script first, setting and set-pieces second and this is what made it so funny.

Now we get a western themed anthology from them and it has much of the same problems of Hail Caesar. Lately the Coen Brothers seem content to simply pay homage to classic storytelling (in this case the western) instead of crafting compelling scripts within said genre.

For starters, I didn’t think that any of the shorts were funny. A couple were sweet and tender like The Gal Who Got Rattled, but even it, is not something I am going to remember. In contrast, their films like Fargo or Oh Brother! Where Art Thou I will never forget (memorable characters, script and setting!).

The shorts in The Ballad of Buster Scruggs are well made and acted but aren’t memorable nor did they inspire any large emotion from me. Pretty bland I’d say.

4 out of 10

Frown Worthy

MOWGLI: LEGEND OF THE JUNGLE

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Another missed opportunity came with Andy Serkis and his version of Rudyard Kipling’s The Jungle Book. Of course we all know that Disney hit a real homerun with their 2016 version directed by Jon Favreau. I wasn’t as in love with that version as some moviegoers but it was certainly better than this new version that went straight to Netflix for a reason.

To put it quite bluntly Mowgli: Legend of the Jungle is unmemorable and boring in every way. The child performer Rohan Chand who plays Mowgli is pretty good (perhaps better than the kid in the Favreau version tbh) but the story was not interesting. They go a darker angle which will be too traumatizing for kids but it isn’t compelling enough to entertain adults so it’s just really bland.

Also the cgi, which was so memorable in Favreau’s version, is very hit and miss here. The voice cast is all good but the characters don’t do anything interesting and Mowgli is a jungle boy who stays the same through the movie. I immediately forgot about the movie as soon as I finished watching it, which is a real shame.

3 out of 10

Frown Worthy

FREE SOLO

FreeSolo

This Oscar nominated documentary follows climber Alex Honnold as he attempts to ‘free solo’ climb El Capitan in Yosemite National Park. The directors do a good job creating stakes for the danger of the climb and helping us get to know the free-spirited Alex. This helps his climb during the last third of the film feel wracked with tension!

I couldn’t help but ask myself while watching what all this risk was for? What was the point of going solo? I guess just to prove you can but is that something to be applauded? It’s similar to Evil Knievel jumping over 20 cars through a ring of fire for our entertainment or Philippe Petit walking across the World Trade Towers in 1974. Man always wants to entertain us via risking their own lives and more often than not such stunts are compelling and hard to not watch and applaud.

They had a lot of challenges while making the movie because they couldn’t disrupt his dangerous climb in any way to get either sound or images, so what they accomplish is really quite impressive. If they win best documentary I won’t complain (knowing the documentary branch it will probably go to something more pedestrian like RBG). Regardless you should check out Free Solo while you have the chance.

8 out of 10

Smile Worthy

I WANT TO EAT YOUR PANCREAS

I want to eat your pancreas

I Want to Eat Your Pancreas is definitely the strangest title of the year but fear not! It is not a cannibalism movie after all. In fact, it is a sticky sweet coming of age love story in the vein of A Fault in Our Stars or a Nicholas Sparks film like A Walk to Remember.

It tells the story of Sakura, a teenage girl suffering from pancreatic disease who becomes friends with a sullen teen boy who wants no part in her dreaming and life. Sakura is very much a manic pixie dream girl who exists mostly to inspire this boy (who we don’t even get a name of for most the movie) to live a full and exciting life. She also has a best friend who is very suspect of this new boy in her friends life.

Despite the somewhat tired setup, I Want to Eat Your Pancreas is actually quite sweet with nice moments between the 2 characters that teens will relate with and enjoy. The animation is beautiful throughout using light and a watercolor aesthetic to make Sakura seem all the more angelic and hopeful. I also enjoyed the music and the character designs while fairly generic were pleasant to watch.

Overall, if you like these kinds of coming of age weepies than you’ll enjoy I Want to Eat Your Pancreas, and I’d recommend checking it out.

7 out of 10

Smile Worthy

WHAT MEN WANT

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If you are new to my blog you might not know that I hate the original What Women Want with a passion. I think it is such a putrid terrible lazy excuse for a comedy. Especially with the Marisa Tomei character’s plot I find it quite morally repugnant to be honest. So you can imagine I was horrified to see it was being remade with a gender swap with Taraji P Henson in the Mel Gibson role. Unfortunately the filmmakers couldn’t swap my feelings for the film into enjoying this new version

The positives for What Men Want is it has a funny poker scene where Shaquille O’Neal and other NBA stars get some good laughs. Also Wendi McLendon-Covey is funny in the 3 or 4 scenes she is in.

The rest of the movie is awful. The stereotyping is embarrassing. The laughs are few and far between (and extremely repetitive). The movie is way too long at nearly 2 hours and the lead character is an insufferable, entitled jerk for way too long. Also her skill of reading men’s minds seems to come in and out very conveniently. I know a lot of people hated I Feel Pretty last year but I thought that had way more heart and a way better message than this mess.

Worst of all it wasn’t funny (except for the poker scene). There’s tons of R rated humor and that did nothing for me. (I’m not sure why people think saying the f word a lot is funny. It’s just using a word. You have to do funny things with it). Anyway, What Men Want is trash. Don’t watch it or the original. There’s way better comedies out there to watch. Put on Game Night or even TAG instead.

Please let’s move on from this lazy gender stereotyping movie concept!

1 out of 10

Frown Worthy

Have you gotten to see any of these releases? Let me know in the comments section. Thanks!

Current Mini Reviews

Hey guys! It’s early in the morning and I can’t sleep so I figure I might as well give you one of my mini-review posts. I actually haven’t done one since Dec 7th but there have been some posts with thoughts like my best and worst films of the year lists. Like always, this will not include movies like A Dog’s Way Home that I have written full reviews for. Also I haven’t reviewed Spider-Man: Into the Spiderverse on this blog yet but I have reviewed it (as well as several others on this list) on my channel and I have done a full podcast on it. I would like to do a full detailed analysis on it at a later date.

So, let’s get started with the most recently watched first:

glass

Glass

Anyone who reads this blog knows of my shaky career with director M Night Shyamalan. His self-indulgent style and fixation on twists is often not for me. With his latest Glass, I was not looking forward to it much. I didn’t like Split at all and Unbreakable I found was just ok. My ending thought was it was a mixed bag, which is probably a win for me and Shyamalan. The pacing is very mixed and Shyamalan’s usual pretentiousness is in full display. The ending isn’t really earned by the characters or the script but the idea of a reverse origin story was mildly interesting. It wasn’t great but I didn’t hate it, so there you go! James McAvoy was terrific and we didn’t have the weird ‘your worthy because you were raped as a child’ element that Split had.

5 out of 10

Smile Worthy (just barely)

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Dragon Ball Super: Broly

It makes me very happy to say that anime has been on a bit of a roll lately with good original films like Mirai and well done serial films like My Hero Academia: the Movie. While I don’t think the new Dragon Ball Z movie is as good as either of those films it was solid film. It doesn’t do as good a job as My Hero in explaining the world for newcomers but after a few minutes I was able to catch on to what was going on. Broly is an interesting character and I liked that the villain Frieza is an old school, screechy maniacal villain. I miss those. These days it seems like every villain has to be conflicted with a tragic backstory, so how refreshing to have one that is just over the top bad guy. The animation shines and Super: Broly is an overall fun experience at the theater.

Overall Grade 7/10

Smile Worthy

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Mary Queen of Scots

If you are looking for historical accuracy this take on Mary Queen of Scots life will not be for you. There are sections particularly near the end that are quite howler-worthy but I nevertheless enjoyed the film. It’s silly fluff but my kind of silly fluff. Both leads Saoirse Ronan and Margot Robbie are great in their roles (we see much more of Ronan than Robbie) and have just enough camp to make it fun. This is more The Other Boleyn Girl or The Tudors kind of historical film than something solemn and reverential like A Man for All Seasons. The makeup and costumes are tremendous so I can see why it got nominated in those categories. It’s not silly like The Favourite but I still enjoyed it.

7 out of 10

Smile Worthy

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If Beale Street Could Talk

Unpopular opinion time! A lot of people were upset that If Beale Street Could Talk wasn’t nominated for best picture. I’m not one of those people. While I acknowledge there is craft to be found in this film, I really was irritated while watching it. Nobody talked like a human being. It all felt like watching a bad off-broadway play where the talent is way better than the script. We are supposed to be invested in this couple but we hardly get to know them at all. I knew way more about Chiron in Moonlight in just the scenes of him learning to swim than I ever get about these 2 characters. The only character that was interesting was Regina King and her plotline going to Puerto Rico to try and exonerate her son-in law. Other than that, I found the movie to be an insufferable slog.

3 out of 10

Frown Worthy

modest heroes

Modest Heroes-

I really wanted to like this more than I did. The idea of Studio Ponoc releasing serialized anime shorts is very exciting but I found these 3 to be quite forgettable. You can read my full review for rotoscopers here. The only one that had any lasting value for me was the 2nd short about a Mom dealing with her son’s severe allergy. It ended weirdly but it is an urban modern setting and real-world heroism you don’t often see in anime and I appreciate that. I hope they keep making shorts and films but this first effort wasn’t my favorite.

4 out of 10

Frown Worthy

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Shoplifters

Another winner from one of my favorite directors Hirokazu Kor-eeda. He always has such humanity for his characters and that is no exception here. This story of a band of misfits that comes together to become a family in many ways feels Dickensian- like a fresh take on Oliver Twist. These people are technically breaking the law but we all know as viewers they belong together and yet it is clear their love has a ticking clock accompanying it. I loved every performance especially Lily Franky as the father and the stunning Sakura Ando as his wife. The two little children who play Yuri and Shota are also adorable.

9 out of 10

Smile Worthy

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Second Act

This is a perfectly pleasant romcom with JLo doing what she does with tons of charisma. There’s also a sweet message at the core about adoption and being brave no matter where you come from. The moviemaking is pedestrian but I like this genre so I enjoyed it. Could have used more romance and the lie feels a little stretched out but it’s cute watch.

6.5 out of 10

Smile Worthy

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Next Gen

This animated film from Netflix is very derivative of films like Iron Giant, Bumblebee and even Terminator but it has a cool world and some nice moments of heart. The girl can be a bit too unlikable at times and gets pretty close to hurting her classmates in a disturbing way. The PG rating is pushed so it may not be for small children but overall I enjoyed it.

6 out of 10

Smile Worthy

the mule

The Mule

From director Clint Eastwood The Mule wasn’t awful but it wasn’t what I hoped it would be. As a big fan of Gran Torino, I was hoping it would have that grumpy guy charisma we know Eastwood can bring but it was just bland and self indulgent. I think Eastwood called in a lot of favors because the cast is much better than the script deserves with Laurence Fishburne, Bradley Cooper, Michael Pena, and Dianne West all doing a good job. They elevate it but it’s just felt like something you’d see on TNT at night. Blahh!

4 out of 10

Frown Worthy

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Gnome Alone

This is another animated film that went straight to Netflix and I guess I went into it with very low expectations but I didn’t think it was that bad. It is a played out Coraline-lite story but the lead character was likable and it had enough sarcastic humor to be watchable. Not great but a passable babysitter for the kids.

5 out of 10

Smile Worthy

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Old Man and the Gun

Supposedly going to be Robert Redford’s last role and if so it’s a nice way to go out. They even find a very clever way of paying homage to some of his earlier outlaw roles in this story of him as a elderly bank robber. He’s a gentleman and leaves his victims with a smile on their faces. He’s just so charming. Director David Lowery continues his win streak with a slickly made movie with great performances from Redford, Cissy Spacek, Danny Glover and Casey Affleck. The clothes and production design feel steeped in 1970s so it has a nice sense of time and place. Pleasant watch.

8 out of 10

Smile Worthy

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ROMA

Alfonso Cuarón is such a great director and he has another win with ROMA. Following Cleo as she works as a domestic for a family may be boring for some but I was engaged. I particularly thought anything involving Cleo’s pregnancy was devastating and compelling. Many of the characters are dynamic and feel easy to relate to. The cinematography and production design are perfection. It feels like something students will be studying in film school for many years to come and yet unlike many arthouse pieces it made me cry. I was invested in these people and their lives. It does have strong nudity so be warned if you are sensitive to that.

9 out of 10

Smile Worthy

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The Favourite

I was reticent to see this film because I did not like Yorgos Lanthimos’ last film The Lobster but happily I liked this entry much better. It’s a genuinely funny, wacky take on a historical drama. Like The Lobster, Lanthimos makes this film top heavy with most of the good jokes and fun scenes happening in the first 45 minutes. After that it becomes more repetitive and less interesting. It’s also probably too long for what it’s trying to be. However, the performances from Olivia Colman, Emma Stone and Rachel Weisz are so much fun that it carries me through and I enjoyed it. Not one of my favorites (pun intended) of the year but still pretty good. This is a fairly strong R rating just so you know.

7.5 out of 10

Smile Worthy

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Anna and the Apocalypse

This energetic indie sums up why I love going to the movies. To get such a joyful, creative experience is really special. I loved pretty much everything about this mash-up of zombies, musicals and Christmas movie tropes. ‘Hollywood Ending’ and ‘Turning My Life Around’ are the highlight sequences but I enjoyed all the songs and I thought all the performances were great. Ella Hunt could be a big star and Malcolm Cumming was very sweet as her best friend. I even liked the jock cool kid who turns out to be a pretty tragic character. I was shocked at some of the zombie kills and overall I just loved it. I will definitely make this a part of my regular Christmas viewing each year. That’s for sure.

9 out of 10

Smile Worthy

once upon a deadpool

Once Upon a Deadpool

I have never seen anything Deadpool related and so I thought I would give this experiment of a PG-13 Deadpool 2 a shot (figuring I was the ideal audience for it). Unfortunately I did not care for this film at all. I didn’t think it was funny, mostly obnoxious and the action was underwhelming. Juliean Dennison who was so great in Hunt for the Wilderpeople was terrible as this strange bad guy, which was unfortunate when you have Josh Brolin doing a great job as Cable. Forming the X-Force felt like a waste of time and didn’t have the humor payoff to make it work. I was just thoroughly underwhelmed by this PG-13 Deadpool 2. A few of the Fred Savage jokes were good.

3 out of 10

Frown Worthy

bird box

Bird Box

This movie was frustrating for me to watch. I recently finished reading the book by Josh Malerman and it was an engaging thriller novel with well developed characters I cared about. The movie mostly loses those strengths in favor of schlocky moments and cheap laughs. The cast is great but all the stuff at the house felt like a cheap syfy channel movie. For example, in the book her sister dies at the house in a creepy, terrifying way that is devastating. In this she gets hit by a bus in the first 10 minutes. Not as good! In the book a character named Gary comes into the house for many days and Tom and Gary have different philosophies on how to live in this apocalyptic land and how to run the house. This builds tension and endears us to Tom. Here it is just a cheesy mad-man. However, I did like the scenes with Sandra Bullock and the children on the river. These were well shot and I was genuinely engaged. Maybe I would have enjoyed it more if I hadn’t read the book but that’s my thoughts!

4 out of 10

Frown Worthy

blindspotting

Blindspotting

Everyone who follows this blog knows I did not care for this year’s Sorry to Bother You. It’s narrative was so over-stuffed that the compelling metaphors became muddled and exhausting. Blindspotting, on the other hand, does a much better job of keeping control of the script while still having madcap touches. Rafael Casal is particularly good as the leads toxic, erratic friend. He is always on the edge of insanity which kept me tense and worried for our lead character. The film has social commentary but it doesn’t distract from the narrative making it a quite mesmerizing portrayal of racial conflict and how even the most toxic people get free passes depending on their race.

8 out of 10

Smile Worthy

So there you have it! Did you get to see any of these films? What did you think? I would love to see your reviews in the comments section. Thanks so much!

My Best Movies of 2018

Hi everyone! If you are following my youtube channel/podcast you already know my top 15 movies of 2018 list. It was a challenging list to put together and probably not the same as you will hear from anyone else but isn’t that the way these lists should be? So for those that haven’t heard here are my favorite movies of 2018:

15. A Star is Born

When I first heard they were remaking A Star is Born again I rolled my eyes at another cash grab from Hollywood. Then I went to see the movie and I loved it! The chemistry between Bradley Cooper and Lady Gaga was tremendous and the singing/music was so great. I haven’t heard such good singing in a musical movie since Dreamgirls. The ending is very sad but it works because of the chemistry and connection of the actors. The supporting work from Sam Elliott and Dave Chappelle was also great.

14. Sgt Stubby: An American Hero

Every year I like to have a little movie to champion and Sgt Stubby was mine for 2018. Made by a new animation studio, Fun Academy, this true story of WW1 dog and his owner made so many correct choices. They didn’t have the dog talk. He is just a normal sweet dog with a connection to his soldier owner. They didn’t minimize war; nor did they traumatize children with gory details. It hit just the right balance which is no easy task. Plus, they had lovely animation and a score from Patrick Doyle that elevated the production. I hope they keep making movies because it was a very promising start.

13. Instant Family

On the surface Instant Family looked like a tired big studio comedy but then I went to see it and I was shocked how much I liked it. I think what makes it work is the personal connections all involved have with foster care and adoption. The director Sean Anders basically tells his own story about how he and his wife adopted 3 siblings and the blessings and challenges that went along with it. The film does not gloss over how hard it is and how damaged these children are but it all worked for me. The ending when the adoption is finalized and you see the photos of the various crew with their adopted/foster children had me sobbing. I had to compose myself before leaving the theater. It was so good!

12. Incredibles 2

This is why I hate ranking things because I loved Incredibles 2 and yet it ends up at 12. Go figure! I loved this long-awaited sequel because not only is it a terrific superhero movie but it is also a treatise on how hard it is to be a parent. It avoids the pitfalls of the dumb Dad stereotypes by having Bob actually figure everything out. He eventually gets new math and how to help Violet. It’s just super exhausting which is how parenting is! The action was terrific and the animation bold. I loved it!

11. ROMA

Alfonso Cuarón is back with another winner. Everything about ROMA works from the stunning black and white cinematography to the touching story of women in Mexico and their struggles. Yalitza Aparicio gives a devastating performance especially in the scene where she gives birth and in a follow up scene where she gets her anger out at the beach. It may not be super rewatchable but it is a film I won’t soon forget.

10. Ralph Breaks the Internet

Everyone who follows me regularly knows I am more lukewarm on Wreck-it Ralph than the average Disney fan. I like it fine but don’t think it fully delivers on its premise. Ralph Breaks the Internet, on the other hand, elevates itself above its premise.My favorite part of the film is its message of friendship. Ralph must learn to accept Vanellope for who she is, not who he wishes she would be and that is the hardest thing to do in life. I found the ending to be quite touching as they figure out a solution to still love each other but allow them both to be their best selves. Of course, the movie is also very funny and a surprise Alan Menken song secured my love! (Also it basically admits the animators think Ariel is the best!).

9. Anna and the Apocalypse

Anyone knows how much I love Christmas movies and musicals so throw in zombies and I’m a happy girl! This genre mashup was probably the most creative movie-going experience of 2018. It was joyful, exuberant and surprisingly sweet. All the songs are a lot of fun especially Hollywood Ending and Turning  My Life Around. Ella Hunt has huge star potential but the whole cast works together well. It’s definitely a movie I will watch every year at Christmas, and I’m sure it will become a holiday cult classic. Delightful

8. Shoplifters

Ever since I saw After Life in 1998 I have been singing the praises of director Hirokazu Kore-eda. I love all of his movies and his latest Shoplifters is no exception. In what is basically a modern take on Oliver Twist, Kore-eda presents an unusual family  that is very flawed but has the best intentions. You know these people belong together but the law says they are doing the right thing. All the performances are lovely especially our two young children, Yuri (Miyu Sasaki) and Shota (Jyo Kairi). Kore-eda has such humanity for his characters and that allows Shoplifters to be both hopeful and devastating at the same time and it all works.

7. Juliet, Naked

Featuring my favorite script of 2018, Juliet, Naked tells the story of a woman (Rose Byrne) who is beginning to regret some of her life choices when she meets the rock star (Ethan Hawke) her boyfriend (Chris O’Dowd) is obsessed with. I love the Nick Hornby novel and this adaptation is pitch perfect in how it criticizes and yet stands up for modern-day obsession and fandom culture. I particularly love a scene towards the end where Chris O’Dowd’s character tells Ethan Hawke what his music meant to him and how it doesn’t really matter if the artist himself values it. His character is very flawed and the fact the screenplay allows me to still care about him shows how good the writing is. An under-seen gem of 2018

6. Crazy Rich Asians

Romantic comedies have long been overdue a big hit and Crazy Rich Asians is a great film to reinvigorate the genre (unless you’re a Hallmark fan which has been doing romcoms all along!). This film is about as perfectly executed a romcom as you could do. It’s funny, sweet, romantic, with tons of luxury porn and a wedding that will not soon be topped. However, putting that all aside it actually has well written characters who’s character motivations make sense. The mother for instance isn’t just a shrew who hates someone dating her son. She knows the sacrifice the family requires and an upstart, independent American,  in her eyes, isn’t going to able to make that sacrifice. Her POV makes sense. Also Henry Goulding is such a dream boat!

5. Lean on Pete

Lean on Pete is a movie I saw and liked but that stayed with me for weeks after. Director Andrew Haigh has made another stunning film about a boy named Charley (played so well by Charlie Plummer) who saves a racehorse named Pete from slaughter and begins a journey across America. It felt emotionally true and had me weeping throughout. It’s also a portrait of America today with all our heartlessness and humanity. The cinematography, music and supporting performances all work together to make it one of the best movies of the year!

4. Paddington 2

Who can be uncheered by Paddington 2? What a delightful sequel to an already delightful first film! When poor Paddington goes to prison and is waiting for the Browns to visit I felt it and yet he quickly revamps the place and introduces the inmates to the joys of marmalade. Hugh Grant is so great as the foppish actor villain and the rest of the cast is wonderful. It has such a lovely message about family and never losing hope and I just love it!

3. Leave No Trace

I saw Leave No Trace at Sundance and it never left me. Debra Granik fashioned a lovely movie about a father and daughter living off the grid. I’ve hated most of these off the grid stories but this does not try to paint the father in heroic colors. He is a damaged man and everyone knows it. I found it very touching how people try to help them along their way even if it is simply giving them a ride and a cup of coffee. Thomasin McKenizie is wonderful as the daughter who comes to realize she can love her father without making the same choices he makes. The ending has me cheering her as she makes very tough choices. It might sound depressing but it’s actually quite hopeful and invigorating.

2. Spider-Man: Into the Spider-verse

When I first heard that Sony Animation was making an animated Spider-man film I rolled my eyes. Their output hasn’t exactly been great lately and another Spider-man movie? Imagine my surprise when they managed to pull off one of the best animated films of the decade! Miles’ journey is easy to relate to and well written ( I love the scene when his father is talking to him through the door). It had emotion and was a really good coming of age story. Plus, the animation was unlike any I’ve ever seen before. The hybrid 2D/3D was dazzling. I also loved the story of the different Spider people and their own unique animation styles all flowing together. It was funny and sweet. It just has it all and has the potential to be a real game-changer for animated films!

1. Mary Poppins Returns

I know Mary Poppins Returns has received some mixed reviews but this is my list and it is without a doubt the movie that gave me the most joy in 2018. I loved everything about this movie. I loved all of the songs and the great singing and choreography that accompanied them. I loved the 2D animation and found the entire sequence in the bowl to be completely charming. I loved all the performances from Emily Blunt as Mary down to the smallest cameos. I think they nailed the balance of new with an homage to the original. Most of all I loved the message about how family and friends will help you get through the tough times in life. It had huge heart and felt like a kind of Disney magic I haven’t seen in live action in many years. I can’t wait to see the sequel!

So there you have it! My favorite movie list. Let me know what you think. Also I recorded a Best of 2018 Awards podcast with my friend Conrado you might enjoy. Who needs the Oscars when you have our awards 🙂

Exciting News and Almost Best Movies of 2018

So if you follow me on twitter or youtube you already know my big exciting news! Last week I was contacted by a representative from the website rottentomatoes.com asking me if I was interested in becoming an approved critic for their site. At first I thought this couldn’t be real and was some kind of scam but I looked into and sure enough it was real!

I am still in shock about this development because I don’t know how I was selected out of the many talented podcasters and bloggers. I hadn’t applied because my numbers are far under what they say you need to apply. I am guessing they were trying to recruit female critics and somehow I got on their radar but I really have no clue. Maybe they just liked my writing? Who knows?

Anyway, it is a super exciting development for me as it should help me get on press lists I have been dying to get on. It has already got me on the local Disney/Marvel press list which is a dream come true and I’m hoping to get approved for another big local list. It also gives my content more exposure which is a great thing! I just can’t believe it! Dreams do come true!

You can see my profile with a few uploaded reviews

https://www.rottentomatoes.com/critic/rachel-wagner/movies

Then I also posted my ALMOST Best Movies of 2018 List today. These are 15 movies I really loved that I couldn’t fit on my top 15 Best of List. I’d love for you to check out the video (or listen to the podcast) but here are the picks:

16. Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society– great performances by Lily James, Michel Huisman, Penelope Wilton and more. Lovely story with heart and touching moments. Loved the ending and the proposal.

17. Won’t You Be My Neighbor- a documentary that manages to draw you in just telling a man’s simple story. There’s a moment at Congress that had me on the edge of my seat. Inspiring and heartwarming. I also got to attend the premiere at Sundance and another exclusive screening to celebrate our local PBS station KUED. Good memories

18. Mirai– sweet and intimate little anime film from Mamoru Hosoda about a little boy learning to appreciate his new baby sister. He is visited by guests from the future and past to teach him to be kind. Lovely with beautiful animation.

19. Green Book– I love stories of unlikely friendship and this was a great one. Wonderful performances between Viggo Mortensen and Mahershala Ali. Some want this movie to be more than it is, a protest film but that’s not it at all. It’s just about 2 friends and it is full of comedy, tender moments and learning to accept and value someone you never thought you could get along with when you first met.

20. Minding the Gap– Stunning documentary where director Bing Li follows his friends from an early age and weaves in skateboarding into themes of growing up, change, and most importantly how the domestic violence put upon their mothers changes them.

21. The Night is Short Walk on Girl– surrealist, bright and bubbly anime about a girl who goes on a giant drinking bender on a break from college. There are musical sequences, wacky artwork and a sweet love story. A trippy experience but one I thoroughly enjoyed. Very different than any other anime I’ve seen.

22. Game Night– hilarious film about a bunch of friends trying to have a secret game night. The whole cast is hilarious. I especially loved Kyle Chandler in an unusual comedic role. Anyone who has a competitive family with games will relate and it shows well the slight desperation we can feel to socialize as grown ups in our 30s. It’s hard!

23. Three Identical Strangers– A documentary that completely blew me away. I stayed spoiler free so when certain things happen I was shocked! I could never have guessed such twists and turns. It was funny, heartwarming, scary, everything all rolled up into one crazy story.

24. Eighth Grade– I’m usually not a big fan of sullen teenager coming of age stories but this one had just enough humor and heart to work for me. Elsie Fisher was wonderful and her experience youtubing felt totally authentic (I know of what I speak!).

25. Bumblebee– A completely charming film that is the Transfomers movie I have been hoping for all along. I loved the nostalgic feel and the heart with the relationship between Bumblebee and Hailee Steinfeld’s character. The use of music was also brilliant. It’s how to do a great blockbuster/reboot.

26. A Quiet Place- I don’t know how rewatchable this film is but it belongs on this list because of the great performances and what a memorable theater experience I had. The tension of the story and atmosphere they created really worked for me. I was so wound up when I left the theater I kept getting startled by everything around me! Such fun! (It’s also a story at its heart about a family that loves each other).

27. Maquia: Where the Promised Flower Blooms– an extremely ambitious anime fantasy from director Mari Okada. It has all you could want in a fantasy with battles, elves and dragons but at its core is a touching story about a girl becoming a mother and changing as a person in the process. Beautiful animation and music and I can’t wait to see what she does next.

28. Creed II- one of the more underrated films of the year. I really thought it was great. I liked all the performances and thought the story built tension and excitement well. I honestly would have been fine with either Adonis or the Dragos winning the final fight which is hard to do in a boxing movie. If it’s the end of the series it is a good way to go out.

29. The Hate U Give– The greatest thing about this movie is how well it portrays a family. These actors really felt like family and had incredible chemistry together. They did a great job building tension and showing a nuanced and layered view of the situation. I didn’t feel preached at but invested in her story and the family. The school stuff doesn’t work as well for me but I didn’t love that in the book so not especially surprised. Still very good YA adaptation.

30. Isle of Dogs– stunning animation from Wes Anderson and a story with the dogs that was adorable. I loved the attention to detail especially in the backgrounds. Amazing! Some of the human stuff doesn’t work as well but I still thoroughly enjoyed this unique animated tale.

So there you have it: My ALMOST Best Movies of 2018 List. What do you think? Let me know in the comments. Thanks for all your support! Sure love ya!

2018 in Animation

Today I wanted to share with you all a podcast I did with 3 of my friends on the year of animation in 2018. It’s a long one but we covered every release we could from the small to the large.

If you get to listen I would love to hear your thoughts and feedback. What did you think about animation in 2018? Any disappointments or surprises?

My ranking of 2018 animation:

1. Spider-Man: Into the Spiderverse

2. Ralph Breaks the Internet

3. Incredibles 2

4. Sgt Stubby: An American Hero

5. The Night is Short Walk on Girl

6. Mirai

7. Maquia: When the Last Flower Blooms

8. Isle of Dogs

9. My Hero Academia: The Movie

10. Teen Titans Go! To the Movies

11. Tito and the Birds

12. Hotel Transylvania 3

13. Pokemon: the Power of Us

14. Liz and the Blue Bird

15. Next Gen

16. Smallfoot

17. The Grinch

18. Maya the Bee 2: the Honey Games

19. DC Superhero Girls: Legends of Atlantis

20. Early Man

21. Gnome Alone

22. Fireworks

23. Ice Dragon: Legend of the Blue Daisies

24. Sherlock Gnomes

25. Lu Over the Wall

26. White Fang

27. MFKZ

28. Duck Duck Goose

 

Bumblebee and Aquaman Thoughts

I recently had the chance to see 2 big blockbuster films that are trying to boost failing franchises: Bumblebee and Aquaman. One I liked. One I did not like. As opposed to doing separate reviews I thought it would be fun to compare the two and explain why one worked and one didn’t.

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The Transformers series has always been discouraging because the lore and characters has so much potential for an engaging blockbuster. Unfortunately the franchise was saddled with Michael Bay for five movies and the only thing he could produce is exhausting films that tried to be funny and exciting in the most cringe-worthy ways.

Finally Paramount has come to their senses and replaced Michael Bay with Laika’s Travis Knight to create a Bumblebee spinoff film. In what feels like a reboot Knight takes the character of Bumblebee and crafts an immensely satisfying, heartfelt film that the entire family will enjoy.

You could make the case that Bumblebee is derivative of films like E.T. and The Iron Giant and you would be correct; however, I have no problem with films that pull from earlier projects, even heavily so, if it is done well and this is. It’s a simple story of Hailee Steinfeld’s Charlie, a lonely teenager missing her father, who finds an old VW bug who it turns out just happens to be Bumblebee!

The decepticons are looking for Bumblebee and they trick the government into believing he is the enemy not them. Then Charlie must find a way to save Bumblebee from the government and all the while feel love again from their new friendship.

It’s very simple but completely charming. I loved all the interactions between Charlie and Bumblebee and was rooting for them during the entire film. The decepticons, Shatter and Dropkick can be a little annoying but compared to the Bay films they are a joy to behold!

Bumblebee represents the best kind of blockbuster film. It has fun action, sweet moments, beautiful special effects and characters I care about. Go see it!

Smile Worthy

aquaman

Now let’s talk about Aquaman. In many ways Aquaman is a frustrating film because it has so many positive elements. I feel like it should work much more than it does. Like Knight, director James Wan, clearly put his all into creating a beautiful and epic film. Unfortunately where Bumblebee told a simple and sweet story, Aquaman’s script is plodding and lacking the emotional weight or character development it needs to draw the viewer in.

The strengths of Aquaman is the casting of the leads. Jason Mamoa is a serviceable actor that definitely looks the part of the hunky rebel from the sea. He has nice chemistry with Amber Heard’s Mera and together they were able to elevate some very clunky scenes. I liked the witty banter between them and in particular when they are searching for a magic trident in the desert it was engaging.

I also liked Nicole Kidman as Aquaman’s mother Atlanna. Her story had heart and it worked as a comic book fairytale. In fact I wish the movie had just been about her life and relationship with the lighthouse keeper.

Where Aquaman loses me is the endless exposition. The script is loaded with scenes of various Atlantean leaders talking about the government and who is going to rule. Didn’t James Wan learn anything from The Phantom Menace? These types of discussions are not interesting. I really don’t care if Patrick Wilson’s Orm or Dolph Lundgren’s Nereus rules the underwater world. The base question of which brother, Orm or Aquaman, should rule could have been interesting but we need some kind of human connection: Some idea of the cost the people, or the rulers will face if they chose different rulers and I did not get that at all here. Instead it was seemingly unending dialogue about Atlantean policies, customs and lore. What a snooze.

If you want to see a good example of this type of conflict done well watch this year’s Black Panther. In that film, we see the backstory of Kilmonger and we understand what he wants for Wakanda in comparison with what T’Challa wants. The stakes are clear. The political discourse is concise and the emotional pull behind the different choices draws you in. The only part of Black Panther where I was bored was when T’Challa is off screen and that’s because the screenplay does such a good job with his character motivations.

In contrast, the screenplay in Aquaman does everything it can to bore the viewer. Even the action is repetitive and dull. It’s just fight, crash into a building and then repeat. At least Black Panther had some variety to the type of fighting and the fighters involved to keep it interesting.

As for Aquaman other people may enjoy the fantasy world building and the charismatic lead performances enough to get them through the exposition but that wasn’t enough to carry me through Phantom Menace and it’s not enough here either. But if you want a 143 minute trip into Atlantean politics with bland action it is the movie for you…

Frown Worthy

So there you have it. Go see Bumblebee. It’s the by far superior action blockbuster out this weekend.

Worst Movies of 2018

It’s that time of year when I present my worst movies of the year list and this year I decided to do things a little bit differently. Instead of a strict bottom 10 I chose to spread the wealth and talk about a bunch of groupings of films I disliked. You can watch the video above to hear more of my explanations but here they are for the blog

Blockbusters that Stunk!

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My first category is big studio releases that fell flat:

The Meg– disappointing shark movie that took itself seriously when its trailers promised camp. Instead of being fun it was mega-boring

Pacific Rim Uprising- removed any of the artistry or interesting choices of the original and replaced it with loud hard to visualize action filled with annoying characters

The Nutcracker and the 4 Realms- I was so hoping this would be a fun surprise but it was a dud. There was no conflict and most of the Clara was watching stuff happen (even on stage sometimes). Boring!

Once Upon a Deadpool- I’ve never seen either of the Deadpool movies and judging by this PG-13 version of Deadpool 2 I don’t want to. It was boring, unfunny and the acting by many was weak

Fantastic Beasts and the Crimes of Grindelwald– This whole movie was a crime. I felt exhausted after I saw it. There were so many plot threads and characters and none of it made a lick of sense to this muggle. Worst fantasy film I’ve seen since Warcraft.

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Romantic Comedy Duds-

Everyone knows I love romantic comedies but when they fail, they fail badly:

Destination Wedding- what everyone hates about romcoms all in one movie. Both characters were miserable and irritating and did nothing but argue for 2 hours. No chemistry and one of the least sexy sex scenes I’ve ever seen.

Little Italy- the leads were decent but the humor fell so flat with its constant sex jokes that were not funny. The stereotyping and plot were terrible. Yuck!

The Kissing Booth- an awkward film where the director seemed to linger the camera over its teenage protagonist in uncomfortable ways. Both male leads were terrible especially her BFF who was the worst

The Spy Who Dumped Me- this film has some decent action but it swings so strongly between slapstick comedy and extreme violence that I was very turned off by it. Let’s just say it was not for me

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Adaptations that Bombed-

Some of my favorite novels were adapted in 2018 but unfortunately not adapted proficiently:

Wrinkle in Time- what a disappointment. With such a cast, budget and promising director to get this dud. They failed to capture the spirituality of the novel and put in place speechifying where Meg is told she is a warrior instead of coming to realize it herself. The plot was muddled and George Wallace irritating. It just failed

Little Women- I’m up for a modern take on Little Women but not one where they turn Jo into an obnoxious judgemental jerk, which is what this version did (amongst other problems)

Sherlock Gnomes- after Sherlock series 4 sucked so badly I guess everyone decided it was time to follow suit with awful Sherlock Holmes stories like Sherlock Gnomes. This movie was irritating in so many ways especially the villain

Ophelia- I kept having to thwart my laughter at this ridiculous feminist take on Hamlet with Ophelia outwitting all and storming the castle along with the Queen’s secret twin who lives in the forest brewing potions…Embarrassing

Robin Hood- could have been a dopey action movie but it wasn’t even that. Everything from the costumes to the action to the script to the terrible acting was so misguided. I don’t know what they were thinking?

White Fang- some nice animation is hurt by a long, brutal exploitative dog fight sequence I could not forgive. The child next to me was in tears. It was way too much. No thank you

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Gravitas that Failed

My next category is films that were presented with gravitas as great and innovative that failed to entertain or please me in any way. Unpopular opinion time!

Annihilation- some claim this scifi/horror film is a masterpiece but I thought it was a slog that couldn’t decide what it was trying to say so it just keeps piling on metaphor after metaphor to the point of exhaustion. None of the character motivation was well done and aside from pretty visuals it didn’t work

Fireworks- this anime is obviously trying to rip off Your Name (one of my favorite movies) and it failed. It is all over the place storywise and the characters make strange choices. The romance feels off. The animation is pretty and then terrible at spots. Just bad.

Bohemian Rhapsody- Freddie Mercury should be an interesting character but in this film he is so bland and generic rebel rocker it irritated me. Plus the script was so bad having his wife explain his sexuality to him and have him reunite with a boyfriend, make up with his family, and play Live Aid all in the afternoon. Give me a break

Gotti- John Travolta decided to play mob boss Jon Gotti as a ill treated persecuted civil servant in this ridiculous movie. The non-linear storytelling doesn’t work. The script, makeup, cinematography and everything else is terrible. Not even so bad it’s good.

Winchester- a haunted house movie with potential but instead it was just very boring

Life Itself- the movie that put me to sleep so hard I actually started snoring. It was a snooze but it was also surprisingly cynical and not hopeful abotu life at all. Everyone either gives up or kills themselves. What a heartwarming message…

MTKZ- some people think total chaos is creative. I don’t. This movie was completely random from the first image. Everything from the characters to the story to the visual choices felt like an assault on the viewer and was exhausting.

Sorry to Bother You- I was with this movie for the first 30 minutes and then it went completely off the rails once they get to this party. The movie felt like it was trying to be 12 different movies and especially once it went equine it completely lost me

Journey’s End- a war movie where the soldiers talk about rations a lot. I never need to hear about rations again. It was so boring.

The Party- a comedy with no jokes. Like seriously I didn’t see why any of these pedantic twerps talking at this party was funny. I just didn’t get it.

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More Animation I Hated-

I mentioned some animated films I disliked already but these 3 were not great:

Duck Duck Goose- the worst movie I saw in 2018. It is garish and unpleasant in every way. The jokes with the Chinese people and the cat were bizarre and I just wanted the whole experience to be over as soon as I started watching it

Lu Over the Wall- a movie that is so spastic and insane that it made me nauseous. This director made another bonkers movie this year The Night is Short Walk On Girl that really worked for me but this one was too much. Plus, the story that it had felt like a ripoff of Ponyo so I didn’t even have that.

Ice Dragon: Legend of the Blue Daisies- a weird fantasy animation made to teach lessons to evangelicals but if you aren’t in that group it will not engage you either with the songs, story or morality.

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Two Bad Comedies

Finally I will end with 2 comedies that didn’t make me laugh:

Night School- Tiffany Haddish is not on my good side after both of these films but especially Night School where she shrieked her way through her performance.

Uncle Drew- I know other people found this funny but I didn’t laugh one time. The lead character is unlikable and I wasn’t interested in the sports story. A real dud.

So there you have it! There are my worst films of the year

If you are dying to know what the actual bottom 10 is here goes:

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