One of the great things happening over at Netflix is the fostering of new and innovative animated talent. Whether it is I Lost My Body,Klausor Over the Moon creative men and women are being given a place to explore and make beautiful films at Netflix. The latest entry is basically a pilot for a new animated TV series called Arlo the Alligator Boy made by first time director and animator Ryan Crego. Honestly story and pacing-wise the film is a mixed bag but as a pilot for a 20-episode series it establishes the characters enough to make me want to tune in; therefore, it does its job.
In this film we are introduced to an alligator that is anthropomorphic and talks like a human boy (hence the title). Much like in the movie Elf, Arlo finds out he has a father in New York City and decides to go there in order to find his father and figure out who he is.
Along the way Arlo meets up with a rag-tag group of friends who help him on his journey. There’s a tiger, a a pom-pom girl, a dinosaur and more. The further Arlo goes the more wisdom he adds to his team much in the same way that Dorothy adds to her team inThe Wizard of Oz.
The animation in Arlo is also a lot of fun with whimsical details and beautiful watercolor-inspired backgrounds. It reminded me style-wise of something like Steven Universe or even Hilda.
The music by Alex Geringas and Crego doesn’t always fit the vibe of the scenes but it is still good music and some of the musical sequences especially at the beginning are catchy. It feels like a show that could have quality songs like Elena of Avalor.
Where the movie loses me is when Arlo gets to NYC and there is a back and forth between him and his Dad. It felt really long, and I struggled to stay invested. The ending is very predictable and it just wasn’t engaging me the way I wanted it to.
However, despite some script problems, Arlo the Alligator Boy has a big heart, enchanting animation and is a good start to a 20 episode series. The whole family will love it.
I have to be honest I was not looking forward to the latest Monsterverse film Godzilla vs Kong. While the idea of getting back in theaters and watching a spectacle film excited me, this franchise hasn’t delivered a single film I could recommend so far. Could they nail it on this 4th and possibly last entry in the series? Surprisingly I am here to tell you: yes. Chalk it up to low expectations, but I had a great time with this battle of the titans- Godzilla vs Kong!
Let me start off my praise by saying this movie looks great. I hated Godzilla: King of the Monsters mostly because the spectacle (the main draw of such a film) was ruined by choppy editing and constantly obfuscated visuals. What’s the point of going to such a film if you can’t see what is happening on screen? So frustrating.
Well here they get it right. The visuals are crisp and clear including an amazing final act in Hong Kong with the city’s beautiful fluorescent lights framing our 2 big monsters.
I hate the phrase ‘turn your brain off’ but let’s say Godzilla vs Kong isn’t exactly a thinking man’s movie. It’s not trying to be an allegory or say anything particularly profound. The closest we get is a little girl named Jia played by newcomer Kaylee Hottle who forms a bond with Kong and see’s him as the prisoner he is. Her performance reminded me of the best in King Kong action movies where Kong is made human through his bond with a woman or child. (BTW I am definitely #teamKong and especially love the 1933 King Kong with animation by Willis O’Brien).
There is also Brian Tyree Henry as a podcaster who follows the conspiracy theories to help break down the Apex Corporation that runs the Monarch program (thankfully the story is a little more grounded this time around unlike the insane plan of Vera Farmiga’s character in Godzilla: King of the Monsters). I feel like I almost have to enjoy a movie who’s hero is a podcaster LOL! Henry, Millie Bobby Brown and Julian Dennison’s characters become a trio that have a nice chemistry together and are fun to watch on screen.
And that’s the admittedly over-used word to describe Godzilla vs Kong: fun. It has enough story to facilitate Kong and Godzilla fighting it out and when that fight happens it delivers. Junkie XL (Tom Holkenborg) helps things along with an energetic score and it all makes for a classic spectacle time at the movies and that’s not something I have been able to say with this franchise so far.
Godzilla vs Kong will be available on HBO Max and in theaters but if you can go safely I encourage you to support your local theater because that’s where this movie deserves to be seen. Either way I think you will have a good time with it. I certainly did!
I have to be honest leading up to the release of Zack Snyder’s Justice League I had no plans on watching it let alone reviewing it. Ever since my experience with Shazam I have been hesitant to note my opinions on superhero properties and have mostly only done so after long delays (see my review of Joker and Spider-Man Far From Homeas examples).
The strange thing is I actually consider myself a fan of the genre and am quick to defend it against naysayers who claim it’s not true cinema (nonsense). I know I should be stronger as a critic but considering I am basically unpaid in my efforts it’s hard to muster up the energy to engage when people will threaten to kill you for your opinion.
As far as Zack Snyder I admire the ambition of his films but I find the execution to be frustrating. Man of Steel has interesting ideas but they are belabored to the point of exhaustion. Batman v Superman is bloated and yet rushed, and I hated the choice to kill Superman. Groan. Then we get 2017’sJustice League and I thought it was a hot mess. However, I liked seeing Superman (mustache and all) back to his old ways of truth, justice and the American way. It was a mess but it was my kind of mess and I enjoyed it.
Obviously I was in the minority of enjoying the film and fans clamored for a different version. Some said Snyder had a finished cut nearly ready for release. Others knew better and WB desperate to help their fledgling HBO Max service gave in and spent 70 million dollars for Snyder to finish his film. I’m glad he got to do it, and I’m glad he got to dedicate the film to his daughter.
However, now that I’ve seen it. I’m not even sure it is a film. It’s not a limited series either. It’s best described as an event. Like something you watch at an amusement park- only 4 hours long. Writing a review of this event then becomes difficult. How do we judge its quality when it is such a unique beast?
Honestly my main response after 4 hours is: it’s fine. I liked most everything with Wonder Woman. Aquaman sections were bland. The action felt very video-game inspired, which doesn’t move or excite me. The Superman parts I enjoyed even with the black suit (which I didn’t think I would like). It was nice seeing Ben Affleck healthy again in this world so I liked most of the Batman/Bruce sequences. Flash felt extemporaneous but fine. Cyborg had been oversold to me, and I didn’t think was anything special. Plus Ray Fisher has no charisma as an actor.
I still wish Snyder would use more subtly in his directing but there was more humor than his previous films. To be honest more of what I liked in 2017’s Justice League was kept than I anticipated.
I always try to ask myself when reviewing a film: did it succeed in doing what it’s trying to do? For example, when I watch a Hallmark Christmas movie I’m not looking at it under the same lens as when I’m watching Nomadland. They have entirely different audiences and purposes. That doesn’t mean I give the Hallmark movies a pass either. There are many bad ones. I just ask the question: does this movie succeed at being a good Christmas movie? I ask the same question when reviewing horror movies. Does the film succeed in being scary? Developing tone, having chilling sequences etc?
It’s the same thing with Zack Snyder’s Justice League. Does this movie succeed in what it’s trying to do? Is it a satisfying event for the fans who willed it into existence? The answer is undeniably yes. If the answer is yes (and I didn’t mind watching it) than it succeeds. That may be a convoluted explanation but there it is.
Hi everyone! And now I am back for my final update on the SXSW festival. Honestly the festival started out rough but by the end I enjoyed most of the films I saw. There weren’t that many I adored and can see ending up on my top 10 of the year but I am still glad I attended the festival. I hope next year I can go in person but for now I’m grateful to have been able to attend in this virtual environment.
Thank you to all the volunteers and workers who made the festival a success and all the creatives who put their films out for us to judge and enjoy. I am very grateful!
So here are my final movies
Lily Topples the World
Before watching this documentary I had never heard of domino toppling as a thing and these kind of ‘feature an odd hobby/career’ docs are always a lot of fun. Lily Topples the World tells the story of Lily Hevesh and how she creates incredible displays with dominoes that are toppled with the toppling being part of the art.
These installations are stunning and she has found a way to make a career out of it both on youtube and working for corporate clients like the Seattle Lottery.
Lily is also an adoptee from China and it was interesting to hear about her experiences and how she identifies and doesn’t identify as an Asian American. The documentary does feel a little stretched out and would have probably been better as a short but I still enjoyed it and especially loved watching all the artwork on display.
7 out of 10
This outstanding drama is written and directed by actress Megan Park in her debut film! (Megan is a veteran of many Hallmark films so it was so cool to see her have such a successful debut). The Fallout tells the story of a young woman who is dealing with the aftermath of a school shooting at her high school. The scenes of the school shooting are intense and visceral and lead actress Jenna Ortega is fantastic. (She is also in the new comedy Yes Day on Netflix that I also enjoyed. She has huge star potential!)
This film could have felt manipulative and frustrating but I bought what it was selling. It is moving and the various responses to the trauma felt real and authentic. Julie Bowen is excellent as her Mother and Shailene Woodley is her therapist and they all work great.
8.5 out of 10
Swan Song is an endearing film about a man in a nursing home who breaks free for a weekend to do the hair of a beloved past client of his who has passed away. Udo Kier is wonderful in the lead role and he is the reason to see this film. I don’t know if I have ever seen him before but he’s charismatic and charming.
My favorite part about this film is how it captures the sense of longing we feel for those that have passed who we miss so much. They might be in a better place but we miss them just the same.
Hi everyone! So I am days late in my SXSW logs but I am here to play catch up. I just got so busy between watching all the films and all the stuff I have to cover for my podcasts that I missed my daily coverage of the films.
Anyway, let’s get to it and talk about some movies
Best Summer Ever
Anyone who knows me knows I am a sucker for a musical. Even cheesy low budget musicals I defend like the DCOMS on Disney Channel I think are sweet and entertaining. As such I was excited for Best Summer Ever. I also love that it features an inclusive cast with disabled actors. I think that is fantastic. Unfortunately everything from the writing, to the acting, to the story felt painfully amateurish. Most importantly there wasn’t a memorable song in the show. I was hopeful this would be this year’s Anna and the Apocalypse but that film had good songs and was well put together.
I don’t want to be too hard on this film because obviously they had the best of intentions but it just didn’t come together for me
3 out of 10
Fruits of Labor
This documentary follows several teens working in the strawberry fields with dreams to graduate from high school and improve their lives. I enjoyed following the girls and seeing their lives play out but the director is heavy handed with cheesy metaphors of butterflies coming out of their cocoon. The director needs to trust their audience that we can figure out the meaning behind what is happening.
For the girls alone I will give it a passing recommendation but it could have been a lot better.
5 out of 10
Alien on Stage
I am a huge lover of local small theater productions and I’ve missed those so much in this pandemic. As such, this documentary about a group of friends who put on a stage production of Ridley Scott’s Alien was good for my soul. I loved seeing them come together to make the clever sets and costumes and then when they get picked to perform at the West End in London it is such a happy moment! I love this group and love their story! I highly recommend checking this film out.
8 out of 10
The Inbetween Girl
This has sweet moments and I liked all of the performances. However, I have a hard time relating to young adult, coming of age movies with such intense relationships. It’s so different from my experience. Shouldn’t teens be having fun going on dates and enjoying time together? Shouldn’t it be the exception to the rule that have intense relationships with a boyfriend or girlfriend? It might not be fair to make my own experience the standard but at certain point I need to connect with melodrama of a coming of age story and I didn’t with this film.
Most of the film is about the lead girl cheating with a friend of hers who is dating a frenemy of hers. Something about it didn’t feel authentic or true but I’m sure others will connect with it. It’s not a terrible movie but not something I became invested in.
4 out of 10
The Drover’s Wife: The Legend of Molly Johnson
Watching this film was a bit of a risk for me because I am normally not the biggest fan of westerns. However, it had buzz around the festival so I decided to give it a shot. I recently enjoyed News of the World so you never know with any genre. Unfortunately, The Drover’s Wife was no News of the World.
I guess it is adapted from a play and I don’t think that would be my kind of play. The whole film is so unceasingly bleak and unpleasant. I didn’t enjoy it at all. It’s well made and the performances are good but it was not for me. I couldn’t wait for it to end.
Hey everyone! After a rough start to the South by Southwest Film Festival Day 2 proved to be much better. In fact, I liked all 6 films I watched today to one degree or another. Hooray!
So let’s get started with the recaps!
I’m Fine (Thanks for Asking)
I have to say COVID is proving to be a better setting for storytelling than I might have guessed. In this first entry writer, director and star Kelley Kali gives us a day in the life of a grieving widow trying to get housing for herself and her daughter during the pandemic. She travels around down in roller skates and does various gig work and gets more desperate as the day goes on.
It’s a sobering film but Kali is such a likable presence on screen it keeps us invested. It kind of reminded me of the first act of Moonlight in a lot of ways. Some will find the slice of life concept to be a dull but I enjoyed it.
7 out of 10
Twyla Moves is a documentary done by PBS for their American Masters series (it actually airs this weekend on TV). I really enjoy American Masters and this goes right along with what they do. It kind of reminded me of Ailey about Alvin Ailey from Sundance 2020 (which was also for AM).
This one is about choreographer Twyla Tharp who I had never heard of but is absolutely incredible. They listed off her resume and she had major projects every year since the 70s including films like Hair and Amadeus. I kind of wish it had gotten into more of her backstory and personal journey but it stays mostly in the professional realm but still fun to watch.
6.5 out of 10
United States vs Reality Winner
From the minute I heard federal secrets dropper Reality Winner’s name I wanted to learn more about her and that’s what this documentary does. It’s fairly basic in its presentation but the story is so strange and compelling it doesn’t need much manipulation to work. If you want to learn more about Reality than give this one a watch.
5.5 out of 10
If you are looking for an artsy thriller at the festival Here Before may be the movie for you. It stars Andrea Riseborough as a woman who becomes convinced her new neighbor is actually her dead daughter reincarnated. This is a beautifully made film with an excellent performance by Riseborough (who is almost always good even in Birdmanwhich I do not like). The pacing is very slow in this one and there were times my attention drifted away but still enough good to recommend.
6.5 out of 10
Tom Petty, Somewhere You Feel Free
Obviously this Tom Petty film will be a must watch for fans of him and his music. However, I also think it will be interesting to anyone who has a love of music and is curious to go BTS of the making of an album. In this case it is his ‘Wildflowers’ album and of course everything is touched by the knowledge of his sudden passing in 2017.
If you are looking for Tom’s backstory or how he became a musician that’s not what this is. It’s a showcase of the making of an album and all the people and hours of work that went into it. As a lover of music I enjoyed learning about the process and hearing lots of great Tom Petty songs!
7 out of 10
My friend Jonathan actually told me this movie was premiering at the festival. It stars Mallory Everton (who also cowrote and directed) and Whitney Call. They are both stars of the comedy skit youtube show Studio C and they bring that zany energy to this hilarious comedy.
Recovery is definitely a hair edgier than what you get on Studio C but it should be fine for adults. It’s about 2 sisters who have to go get their Grandma from a nursing home infected with COVID. A comedy like this comes down to the writing (which is very funny) and the chemistry which these 2 have in spades. I loved i! You may think it’s too soon to laugh at COVID but give it a chance. I bet you will find yourself cracking up just like I did.
It’s definitely the best of the festival so far. I loved it!
Hey everyone! Today begins the first day of the South by Southwest Film Festival of SXSW. This is my first year attending the festival and of course I attended virtually this year. Hopefully next year I can go down to Austin and attend in person (which is something I was planning to do last year before the world went nuts).
I have to say day 1 I am mostly underwhelmed by what I saw. Maybe I just picked poorly but there is only 1 out of 6 I really loved and only 2 I think I will go fresh on. Oh well!
Here are my quick thoughts on the films:
The documentary Kid Candidate tells the story of Hayden Pedigo who is the 24 year old who decides to run for city council in Amarillo Texas. Hayden seems like a nice enough kid but his lack of motivation to study the issues and become an educated candidate makes the whole thing feel like a publicity stunt or at best a youtube gimmick.
The director also fails to challenge him on his ideology. He appears at tea party and MAGA events but then doesn’t seem to share their beliefs (or he may and the filmmaker just doesn’t ask him about it). The parts where we get to know the Senegalese population and the way religious dogma is used by the other candidates is interesting but not enough to carry the whole film.
4 out of 10
Introducing Selma is only tangentially a celeb biopic. It briefly talks about Blair’s acting career and shows clips from Cruel Intentions and Legally Blonde but that’s about it. She could have had any job and the story would be compelling. It profiles her experiences with MS and her stem cell treatments in 2019 (and her time with the pandemic in 2020).
She is an inspiring, authentic person who struggles at times to speak and move. What could be cloying feels true and devastating. This was my favorite of the festival for the day.
8 out of 10
Islands is a story about a 50 year old Filipino man who must start caring for his aging Father after his Mother dies. This film has some sweet moments and if you like slice of life movies it may be worth a watch.
However, the acting feels mostly amateurish and when they have Josh fall in love it is with his cousin, which is a weird choice. It could have been a very sweet little love story if they weren’t related. This one isn’t awful but I can’t recommend it.
4 out of 10
Demi Lovato: Dancing with the Devil
If you are a big fan of Demi Lovato you will probably enjoy Demi Lovato: Dancing with the Devil. As someone who doesn’t know much about her I found the experience frustrating. First, it is a docu-series put into a movie format which I think made the editing kind of weird but I felt like this is a situation of a director wanting a certain narrative that the subject wouldn’t provide.
Particularly off is a section where she tries to argue for moderation instead of sobriety and it’s painted as an inspirational moment until other guests like Elton John strongly disagree with that approach. There’s interesting stuff in there and some shocking reveals of what Demi and her team have been through but it unfortunately wasn’t put together very well. Also there is a cheap tie-in to her new album at the end which adds to feeling of being manipulated.
4 out of 10
Hysterical is a documentary about female stand up comics. There are definitely key figures I wish they had interviews with like Amy Schumer and Ali Wong who are seen but not heard from. Also Ellen Degeneres is never even mentioned (Tiffany Haddish, Sarah Silverman?).
Regardless, the ladies they do talk with are funny and I enjoyed hearing their stories and talking about how the comedy scene could do better in including female voices. It wasn’t a piece to complain but to show their obvious talent. Most importantly it was funny.
7 out of 10
The Lost Sons
When I watch a documentary I always ask: ‘would I rather read an article on the topic?’ If so than the film didn’t do it’s job. The Lost Sons is such a film. It does have a compelling story of a man who finds out he was a replacement baby for his parents who had their son kidnapped at the hospital. The problem is so many key players had died or were unwilling to be filmed that there’s not enough meat on the bone for a feature film. This would be great as a short true crime podcast or newspiece but not as a feature.
The man in question Paul Fronczak does about 80% of the interviewing and I wish he had more charisma. A side of me felt like this whole thing was an attempt to buoy his failing acting career (multiple clips are shown). It seems like others enjoyed this more than I did but it’s made by the same people who did Three Identical Strangers, which was far more absorbing and effective with a very similar story.
Feels like a TV spot stretched out to a feature film. Just listen to the podcasts about it instead.
Hey everyone! I know you are expecting more daily recaps of NYICFF but I must own my days have completely gotten away from me and I have only watched 1 movie since my last update on Sunday. I hope to be able to get some more in this weekend but there is only so much time in the day. Next week I have the SXSW festival and hopefully I will do better with daily updates there but again there are only so many hours in the day.
Nevertheless, I have some films I’ve been meaning to write reviews on for some time so I thought I would do one of my classic current mini reviews. If you’ve seen any of these let me know what you think. Enjoy!
The Legend of Hei
The Legend of Hei is the one film I watched this week from the NYICFF. It is a film from China about a world of demons and humans. One demon named Hei goes on a journey to protect his forest home and understand the humans. The main appeal of this movie is the gorgeous animation. The layered watercolor backgrounds are beautiful and the action is fast and stunning. The story was a little confusing at times but I am still glad I saw it and definitely recommend it.
6 out of 10
I actually have a fondness for the original Son of Bigfoot. It was such a pleasant surprise and I found great joy in recommending it as a hidden gem. So I was actually looking forward to this sequel Bigfoot Family. Unfortunately like so many sequels it was disappointing. The animation is impressive for the small budget and there are sweet moments of family but most of the movie gets lost in an uninspired and frankly irritating story.
Adam’s father Bigfoot goes missing at the hands of an evil oil man and Adam and his talking animals must go to save him. The whole scheme is over the top and the shenanigans get old fast. My advice is to watch the original and skip this unnecessary sequel.
3 out of 10
Spongebob: Sponge on the Run
I do not claim to have an extensive knowledge of Spongebob Squarepants but I have seen a few episodes of the show and both of the previous movies, which I have enjoyed. As a result, I was looking forward to this latest film and ready for some crazy fun.
Some fans might be upset this is the first in the series to be full CGI animation; however, I didn’t mind the animation. It is bright and colorful and overall looks cute. There are also a few laughs and Gary the snail is adorable. Unfortunately the story did not work for me and there weren’t enough laughs to carry me through.
I also thought some of the sections were in poor taste for a film for children such as the long section in a casino with characters gambling. It also wasn’t funny enough and the final third of the movie is nothing but a secret pilot for the new show Kamp Koral. Some die-hards might enjoy this but I certainly can’t recommend it
3.5 out of 10
Coming 2 America
The original Coming to America is considered a classic by many people. I had long heard about it but actually hadn’t seen it since this month preparing for the long-awaited sequel. While all the comedy in the original didn’t land for me but I found the sweet romance at the core to be charming and enjoyable.
Now we have the sequel Coming 2 America and all the players are back and clearly having a great time making the film together. It is particularly fun to see Eddie Murphy and Arsenio Hall back acting with each other and their chemistry is seamless. The new cast is also a lot of fun with Kiki Layne and Jermaine Fowler doing a good job.
I am honestly quite torn on Coming 2 America. It started off very sour- seemingly going through the motions of the previous film except for adding a sexual assault plotline that is supposed to be charming. No thanks. But I must say it won me over as it went along with it getting back to the sweet romance of the original film. I still don’t think there is enough good to recommend the film but it’s not awful like some other comedy sequels. It’s your classic mixed bag film.
4 out of 10
Murder Among the Mormons
I am not sure how much this docuseries will interest people not of my faith or from Utah but I certainly found it fascinating. I have long heard about the infamous forger and murderer Mark Hofman but it was cool to get to dive into the story and learn more. If you don’t know Mark forged a slew of historical documents including some involving the Mormon church or The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints of which I am a member.
Some say he was the greatest forger ever but his crimes caught up to him and to hide it he started bombing people, killing 2 people and almost killing himself. This docuseries tells you all the sordid details like any good true crime series and director Jared Hess does a good job getting you back to Utah in the 80s.
My only criticism is the last episode was a little too celebratory of Hofman and his skills as a forger for my comfort level. I would have preferred they do less of that and tell us more about his victims and how their families kept on their legacies. At times it even makes the interview subjects uncomfortable talking about Hofman’s skills. Still definitely worth a watch.
Happy Sunday! I hope you have all had a great day! I have 2 films for the NYICFF to post my review of today. So let’s get right to it!
Curtain Up is a very cute documentary about a 5th grade class in NYC’s Chinatown (PS 124) that decides to put on a production of Disney’s Frozen Jr. As they prepare for the musical you get to know the adorable children, their parents and teachers as well. Some of the parents are more supportive of participation in the arts than others and a lot of that comes down to cultures, stereotypes and changing traditions.
As a former theater geek myself watching this was a nostalgic experience. I miss the group experience of theater. At least in the past I could go see live theater if I couldn’t be in it. I miss that. It’s such a great experience to all work on a production and see it all come together on opening night. Curtain Up captures that energy and it doesn’t hurt the kids are super cute!
7 out of 10
Moominvalley: The Hobgoblin Trilogy
This Moominvalleytrilogy is not really a film at all. It’s 3 episodes of the Moominvalley tv show put together as a trilogy. If you don’t know Moominvalley is a Finnish series based on the Moomin books that also had a stop motion series made about them in the 80s. The characters are the creation of artist Tove Jansson who published them in 9 books over many decades.
The thing that makes the Moomin stories so effective is how incredibly adorable they are. I admit I prefer the stop motion over this CGI version but even here they are so cute. The stories are perfectly fine for little ones but it’s the animation and character designs that make you want to hug them.
The trilogy contains:
The Hobgoblin’s hat-a Moomintroll finds a magic hat. At first they are excited but then they grow to be nervous about the hat’s powers. This one is my favorite of the 3
Thingumy and Bob- a pair of small creatures come to visit the Moomins. They are cute but a little annoying so this is my least favorite
The Trial- the last centers around an argument between Moomins over a special ruby. It’s pretty cute!
Moominvalley: The Hobgoblin Trilogy is just for very little kids but they will love it and be begging for a Moomin plush as soon as they finish watching.