Current Mini Reviews

I, Tonya

The performances are very strong from Margot Robbie and Allison Janney and deserve nominations, but I had mixed feelings on I, Tonya. On one hand it is interesting to hear another side of such a famous story but the style of the movie felt a little too silly for the narrative it was telling. It was unique but felt unfair and superficial to all involved especially Nancy. You can’t humanize a somewhat notorious character by making her struggles a joke.

Grade- B-

Smile Worthy for the Performances

Jumanji: Welcome to the Jungle

I don’t have much nostalgia for the original Jumanji film, so I was able to go into this sequel with an open mind. In the end, I was entertained by Jumanji: Welcome to the Jungle. The movie gets a lot of material by mixing up the genders of the characters in the movie and it is pretty funny. The special effects are great and it was overall a fun family film. The middle dragged a bit for me and I got a little sleepy is my only complaint. It does have a few inappropriate jokes involving the gender swapping parents should be aware of.

Grade B+

Smile Worthy

Batman and Harley Quinn

This is an absolutely appalling movie where a man is raped as a joke and Harley Quinn proves to be one of the most annoying characters in recent memory. It is awful

Grade- F

Frown Worthy

Big Bad Fox and Other Tales

Very sweet animated shorts that will make the entire family laugh. The animation is a sketchy style but very pleasant and it stays strictly G rated fun. I particularly liked the final short which is holiday themed

Grade- B+

Smile Worthy

Call Me By Your Name

This film has gotten a lot of Oscar buzz with good cause as it is very beautifully filmed. The Italian countryside never looked better! Call Me By Your Name tells the story of a young man who falls in love with an older man played by Armie Hammer. I think this movie suffered a bit for me in comparison to Moonlight, which I think was a lot stronger. Moonlight has something anyone can relate to in the different parts of Chiron’s life. Here I struggled to relate to the lifestyle of these rather pedantic expats living in Italy. However, Timothee Chalamet and Armie Hammer are great and have wonderful chemistry together. I enjoyed the leisurely pace and the great writing by James Ivory. It’s a good movie. Just not as good as Moonlight.

The sensuality is very strong in here so you’ve been warned.

Grade- B+

 

Smile WorthyBattle of the Sexes

I don’t have many complaints about Battle of the Sexes. It’s a perfectly fine true story sports movie with some good performances. It tells the story of Billie Jean King and Bobby Rigg’s iconic tennis match in a satisfying but by the numbers way. Nothing really stood out to me and I had the feeling I will quickly forget it, but it’s fine.

Some strong sensuality in here also

Grade- B-

Smile Worthy

Sword Art Online: The Movie

As someone who has never seen the anime show it was a little confusing at times but Sword Art Online was pretty entertaining. I really like the set up and the world-building. The animation was great and the action was awesome. The female characters were a little weak. The pacing in between action scenes could drag but it was a worthwhile anime to watch

Grade- B

Smile Worthy

Ferdinand

This latest offering from Blue Sky is a harmless sweet animated film. It is certainly worlds better than the trailers demonstrated. I liked Ferdinand and how there really was no villain just characters with different points of view. The humor, especially the calming goat, was mostly good and overall it is enjoyable. The main problem is it feeling very played out and generic. I loved the music by John Powell with songs by Nick Jonas

GRADE B-

Smile Worthy 

Birdboy: The Forgotten Children-

I reviewed this for rotoscopers.com and it was a challenging film to review. It’s worth seeing for the visuals but it is a very strange movie. The characters are uber-cute but the settings and events are very violent and disturbing. It was intriguing but the lack of narrative was challenging. I admire it more than I like it but I’m glad I saw it

Grade- C+

Barely Smile Worthy for the Artistry

Disaster Artist

A very heartfelt and sweet movie about the making of the worst movie ever made- The Room. James Franco becomes Tommy Wiseau in every way and Dave Franco is also good as Greg Sestero. It’s a funny and engaging look at the power of creating something even if it is terrible. It’s no Ed Wood as far as filmmaking but I was entertained.

There is some nudity and language in this film

Grade- A-

Smile Worthy

The Mountains Between Us

This is a very dopey romantic survival story. Good thing for this movie is I like dopey romantic survival stories. It was just silly and fun enough to be entertaining. It’s not a good movie but I enjoyed watching it. It does make you wonder how 2 such quality actors got stuck in this film?

Grade- C+

Smile Worthy but I admit it isn’t a great film

Man Who Invented Christmas-

This checked off a lot of boxes for me. I love Christmas Carol. I love Dickens. I love British stories. I love this whole cast. I love Christmas movies. So it didn’t have to do much to win me over so it succeeded in doing just that. I loved the performances of Dan Stevens as Dickens and Christopher Plummer as Scrouge. I loved seeing the process behind the writing of Christmas Carol with them diving into his past and father at points. This is totally a  film I plan on buying and watching each year for the holidays.

Grade- A

Smile Worthy

So overall a pretty successful month of movie going! What have you seen? How would you rank these films? Put in the comments section. If I have time I will do longer reviews for these and will definitely be reviewing Greatest Showman and Coco eventually on this blog. Some like Ferdinand and The Disaster Artist I’ve reviewed on my youtube channel. Check those reviews out and make sure you are subscribed to this blog and the channel.

Merry late Christmas!

Blind Spot 23: Giovanni’s Island

There are some movies that have universal appeal. They move people of all races, backgrounds and religions. Then other films have more of a regional appeal, which can be valuable. While placating audiences is not a good thing, I also believe not every movie needs to be for every group. In today’s Blind Spot pick we have a movie, Giovanni’s Island, that I have a feeling appeals to the Japanese in a way that doesn’t translate super well to American audiences- or at least this American.

When I first heard about Giovanni’s Island I was hopeful it would be a new Grave of the Fireflies but unfortunately it comes across like a lightweight copy of Fireflies more than an update. It has some powerful moments and beautiful animation but it never really connected with me.

Let’s start with the positive. The animation directed by Mizuho Nishikubo is wonderful. The fantasy sequences with a ‘galactic railroad’ are particularly strong.

It also has some moments of genuine heart. The story is about two brothers, Junpei and Kanta who live on an island in 1945 Japan. The early parts of the movie show them frolicking happily around the island, going to school, meeting new Russian families including a girl named Tanya and trying to find enough food. They have a father, a nare-do-well uncle named Hideo, an old-school fisherman Grandfather and a teacher named Sawako. All of these characters play out basically the way you think they will.

The island ends up getting taken over by the Russians and the Japanese get sent away to camps. This causes the boys to go on a journey to find their father and survive the war. There are moving moments but even those can feel a bit heavy-handed and played out.

The dubbing is also incredibly bad. They don’t even bother to translate the Russian or all of the Japanese. It is extremely lazy, so I would watch it with subtitles instead.

I can imagine in Japan this piece of their history is very important and so they may be more forgiving of this films flaws. It has a nice heart to it and like I said the animation is amazing, so it is not a total loss. It wasn’t awful just nothing special either.

The music by Masashi Sada, with a mixture of Japanese and Russian themes,  is another standout.

The ending of Giovanni’s Island feel particularly mawkish and ham-fisted, but I can see how it would mean a lot to the Japanese. It was just too much for me. I’d recommend watching Grave of the Fireflies instead.

In This Corner of the World Review

‘Slice of life’ films are not for everyone. Some viewers demand a narrative with a traditional start, climax and conclusion, which I can certainly appreciate. However, some of us can sit back and let a film take us to a particular time and place and simply live with characters for a little while. I love those kind of films and the new anime In This Corner of the World is such a movie. Director Sunao Katabuchi (who I had the chance to interview for Rotoscopers.com) takes us to 1945 Japan in meticulous detail as we follow the life of a young woman named Suzu.

The film starts out with Suzu in Hiroshima in 1944. She has been assigned a marriage to a young man named Shūsaku who lives in the city of Kure. Following the custom of her day she agrees to marry and moves away from her family. This may be difficult for modern viewers to understand but it is portrayed with tact and subtlety that never endorses the practice but merely says ‘this is what happened’. Luckily Shūsaku is a nice man who is probably as nervous as Suzu and the two are able to form a bond.

Of course, wartime is going on and this makes things difficult for Suzu and her new family. I don’t think I’ve ever seen a war movie that was exclusively told from the perspective of civilians. We get incredible attention to detail and particularly focusing on the food- its scarcity and how it had to be prepared during wartime.  There is even a long segment that goes through how rice was prepared to make it last extra long and feed more people.

As Suzu works hard for her new family and faces the struggles of war you see her grow up and become a more confident woman. The entire time she is also an artist and sketches what she sees. This becomes more liberating as the days go by. She must eventually decide who her family is and where she belongs.

Because she is an artist, sometimes the animation can have sketchy elements to it. I was reminded of Isao Takahata and Grave of the Fireflies while watching it. It’s not quite on that level but it was beautifully animated and took some creative risk. The music was also perfect for the simple story.

Some people will find In This Corner of the World to be boring. I can completely understand that.  There is stuff that happens to Suzu but a lot of the film is profiling her daily life. You’ll either like that style or you won’t. I enjoyed it and am glad I saw it. It’s not on A Silent Voice or Your Name level but it is a quality anime film that I am better for having watched.

And this year in animation how many movies can you say that about…

Overall Grade- B+

A Silent Voice Review

2017 has been a weak year for most of us when it comes to animation. There have been a few surprises but aside from Your Name we are waiting for that great animated film. Well, from the ranks of anime we have a contender. It’s not quite Your Name but it is really strong called A Silent Voice or Koe no Katachi.

Based on the popular manga it tells the story of a boy named Shoya Ishida who bullies a deaf girl named Shoko Nishimiya when he is in elementary school. Obviously he is an unhappy child but this spirals out of control as a teenager to severe social anxiety and even suicide. I loved the way they animated this mental health crisis with Ishida surrounded by crowds of Xs over their faces because he is constantly staring at the ground.

You might wonder how can they make the bully the hero or protagonist? Well, that’s what makes this special. They do not glamorize or excuse his behavior at all. It is painful and uncomfortable to see him attack Nishimiya and her disability is not leaned on for sentimentality either. These are two people who had this event happen to them and you follow them to see how it impacts their lives. They are lonely people who society doesnt gel well with and so in a way they need each other desperately.

Ishida ends up expelled and as a high schooler decides to reach out to Nishimiya and try to make amends for what he has done. They both get to very low places but director Naoko Yamada (female director!) does a fantastic job controlling tone and keeping it at least a little bit hopeful.

The character designs are fairly generic anime but their actual personalities are very unique. They both talk in ways I can imagine for someone that age and in that situation. It’s very moving to see Ishida learn to forgive himself and apologize and then make things right and as Nishimiya learns to forgive.

As you can see from the above images, the animation is stunning. The way nature and light is used it makes it feel like there is magic when there isn’t. Just a wonderful coming of age story!

If you don’t like anime I don’t think this will win you over. It’s not one that tries to be mainstream like some of the Miyazaki movies. This is an experimental film that plays with timelines and characters in ways I really liked but it won’t be for everyone. It’s also a very emotional film, which may not be everyone’s cup of tea.

I can’t recommend A Silent Voice more highly. It’s a wonderful coming of age story about 2 flawed characters that help and forgive each other. It goes to honest and emotional places no other animation is touching this year except for Your Name. It’s the kind of movie once you have seen it sticks with you and you keep thinking about it. Watch it!

Overall Grade- A-

smile worthy

Your Name in Theaters this Weekend

This weekend the anime film Your Name comes to US theaters. This was my favorite film of 2016 and I saw nearly 150 releases. But don’t take my word for it. I compiled this video of a bunch of youtubers talking about why it is so special.

And here is my original review:

At least by me Your Name is getting a pretty big roll-out and is in 4 theaters, so hopefully that is emblematic of other places across the country. If not ask your local theater to carry it. This actually can make a big difference. I communicate with my local theater all the time about releases I want to see and more often than not they end up getting them if only for one weekend.

Your Name is the kind of film that doesn’t happen very often. It has layers of enjoyment. It’s funny, sweet, tragic, exciting and everything else. The animation is stunning and it’s one that gets better each time I watch it.

If you can please see it and support it.

BLIND SPOT 16: FROM UP ON POPPY HILL

Sometimes people think I have seen every animated film but in truth there are many I haven’t seen. Particularly in anime I have many holes. Well, this month for my monthly blind spot series I am checking a Studio Ghibli film off of my bucket list. Today we look at the 2011 film From Up on Poppy Hill.

This movie was directed by Gorō Miyazaki, who I still think was treated way too harshly for Tales from Earthsea which I enjoyed. However, this film is a definite step up for him as a director. It was written by his father Hayao Miyazaki but it reminded me the most of Isao Takahata’s film Only Yesterday. Both are films about the simple stories of every day people.

From Up on Poppy Hill will not be for everyone. Some will find it’s rather mundane story to be boring. I like slice of life films that let you walk in others shoes so I found it quite charming. It does not have supernatural characters or exciting events like many of the more popular Studio Ghibli films but sometimes I like gentler more calming films.

This tells the story of Umi and Shun. They are teenagers going to a boarding school who begin a sweet little relationship only to find out they are connected in unexpected ways. They are both children of single mothers and Uni’s mother is gone abroad most of the time. It is easy to see why these two are drawn to each other and have a connection.

At the same time there is an old building on campus where various clubs and organizations meet. The school wants to tear down the building and redevelop it into something new. The students meet and voice various ways to stop this from happening. Some are anarchists, some are more democratic and some want to protest. The girls suggest they fix up the building so that there is less reason to tear it down, which is what they do.

The animation From Up on Poppy Hill is gorgeous. I loved the watercolor feel to everything and the way the characters were designed in such approachable ways. There was nothing acerbic or strange like other Studio Ghibli films. This is just an extremely gentle, peaceful film.

There are some flaws with From Up on Poppy Hill. The music is a little too ever-present and a bit overbearing at times. Also the story does fall into melodrama on occasion but I didn’t mind that. It worked for the kind of story it was. After all, life can get melodramatic at times! Especially when you are dealing with love and romance!

So I would definitely recommend you watch From Up on Poppy Hill. It’s a sweet, simple movie about likable people growing up and figuring out who they are. I enjoyed it very much and it is beautifully animated to boot.

Overall Grade- B+

Ghost in the Shell Review

Today I had an interesting experience. I finally watched the anime film Ghost in the Shell. I had been turned off in the past by the R rated material and it is there but I decided to stomach it today. These iconic anime films can be a bit overwhelming, but I wanted to watch it at least once before seeing the remake tonight. Perhaps I will do a longer review of the anime in a bit but for now I will talk about the new film and how it lives up to the classic.

I should start off this review by saying this live action Ghost in the Shell has familiar images from the anime but the story is completely different. I don’t know if it is similar to the various sequels and series but as far as the original film they have almost nothing in common. That’s not to say this is bad. It’s just different.

Like the original, this Ghost in the Shell focuses on a cyborg named Major who has a human brain but only patchy memories of her past life. She is kind of a super spy who looks into criminals for a shadowy organization.

In the original she is more of a complex character. In this version she is basically a superhero and certainly in that respect Scarlet Johansson is perfect for the role. A lot has been made about them ‘white washing’ the role but because it is more of a simplistic character it didn’t matter that much. I mean any race can be a robot after all?

The visuals and world building are the strongest part of Ghost in the Shell. Director Rupert Sanders does a great job creating a Blade Runnerish world that is bright and dark at the same time. Also the design of the various robots was really neat. For example, a geisha robot featured heavily in the trailers was even cooler in the movie.

For the first 30 minutes of Ghost in the Shell I was honestly struggling. It was pretty boring and I was getting ready to write a style over substance review. However, then it started to pick up for me and it became an entertaining action film.

Fans of the anime will be a little disappointed to see the deeper themes of the original film traded in for a revenge superhero story we’ve seen a lot, but it is executed pretty well, and like I said, Johansson is up to the task when the action is called for.  The original has a bittersweet ending and asks complex questions about what it means to be human where this is a ‘get back at the big evil corporate bad guy’ action movie. At times it almost felt like the Black Widow movie we’ve all been waiting for.

None of the side characters like Batou are that memorable here and the Puppet Master is nowhere to be found, which I thought was a strange choice. Also Juliette Binoche is very miscast as the Major’s doctor.

This version is rated PG-13 and the main difference is the women wear a flesh colored suit to conceal their bodies a little bit. There also isn’t the blood like you get in the original. But there is still a lot of action and intense moments and the body suits don’t leave much to the imagination but it is good enough for the MPAA I suppose!

Basically my thoughts leaving Ghost in the Shell is if you want to see a well made superhero movie than it’s decent. If you want something deeper watch the anime. I certainly think the visuals alone are worth seeing if you get the chance.

Smile or Frown- Smile

I’ve realized lately that there is a problem with my grading system. For me giving something a B- or C+ is a mild recommendation (equivalent of a 6 or 6.5/10) but to other people that is a bad grade. So I am still going to do my grade but I am going to let you know whether the movie made me smile or frown (kind of like thumbs up or thumbs down from Siskel and Ebert).  Let me know what you think

Overall Grade- C+

What do you think about the original anime Ghost in the Shell and does this remake look appealing to you? Does the white washing bother you? Share with me your thoughts. Thanks!

Your Name (Kimi no Na wa) Review

your-name3So today I couldn’t sleep so I decided to see the recent Japanese hit Kimi no Na Wa or Your Name for English viewers. This film has made $158 million US dollars in Japan and after watching it I can see why. It is a total and complete delight and one of the best romances I have seen in years.

Your name is by director Makoto Shinkai and it is about a girl named Mitsuha who lives in a country town. One day she laments on her boring life and how she wishes she could be a handsome boy in Tokyo. Well, wouldn’t you know the next day she ends up in the body of a boy she’s never met in Tokyo named Taki.

your-name6This starts a first act that we’ve seen before in movies like Freaky Friday but it really works. Both Taki and Mitsuha have very different lives aside from being different genders (which they mine for great comedy). They are from different classes, have different types of friends and even eat different foods. They don’t just settle for easy antics but think of small details like Mitsuha’s awkwardness paying for Taki’s expensive meals.

your-name4What also makes it very clever is they switch back and forth each day so that keeps it fresh. They start to leave notes for each other on their hands, in notebooks and on their cell phones. And through living each other’s lives they become good friends. It’s all very clever.

Then we get to the final acts and the film takes a bit more of a serious tone but I won’t give any more of that away. Needless to say both parts completely worked for me. Both Taki and Mitsuha were so likable and the tension and stress built naturally. It reminded me a lot of Mamoru Hosoda’s Summer Wars which I also LOVE.

your-name5The animation is completely stunning with lots of emphasis on light giving a hopeful tone even when things looked grim. They also managed to make both the countryside and city look like a fantasy world because that’s kind of what it is to the characters living in different bodies.

your-name-2I know some people just don’t like anime as a rule and if that is you it’s a real shame. Because I honestly believe a movie like Your Name has something for everyone. It is funny, sweet, romantic and tense at times. It has great characters and a creative story. It’s beautifully animated and has wonderful music from a band called Radwimps.

It’s a real achievement for Makoto Shinkai who did everything from the writing, directing, editing and everything else. Wonderful!

Overall Grade A+

Only Yesterday Review

only yesterday3Yesterday I saw the oldest new release of the year.  In a strange turn of events Isao Takahata’s 1991 anime film Only Yesterday is finally getting its US debut. So, 25 years later how does it hold up? It’s cute.  I liked it but it didn’t wow me if that makes sense.

only yesterday13Only Yesterday is about a 27 year old single woman named Taeko.  She decides to get out of the city and work on a communal farm for the summer.  While traveling and during her stay, she is reminded of herself as a little girl in the 5th grade in 1966.

The movie then switches back and forth between stories of her childhood and her time on the farm. There’s really not much else to talk about plot-wise.  It’s just about this woman’s life.

only yesterday12I personally love movies about ordinary life but some people will find Only Yesterday to be very boring.  Even I nodded off once during an adult segment.

only yesterday8It’s all very simple. Taeko goes through puberty, learns about periods, has a crush, sticks up for a poor kid, gets a spot in a play, and the family tries pineapple for the first time.  Aside from her Dad being a jerk and slapping her once there’s really no drama- just ordinary life.

only yesterday7Adult Taeko I found less engaging because it felt more generic and a little preachy in spots.  You could tell it was made in 1991 with the talks on organic farming and how the earth is part of us and we should live in harmony (that’s where I dozed off for a sec).

only yesterday15There are a few moments where Taeko daydreams of flying and rainbows but for the most part it’s just her memories without much fantasy.  Memories like struggling with math and her sister trying in vain to help her, getting a cold and sitting out from gym etc. You get the idea.

only yesterday111It probably goes without saying the animation is lovely.  It has Takahata’s watercolor style, which I enjoy. Everything in the film looks adorable especially Taeko as a little girl.  She’s so cute!

onlyyesterday007Little girl Taeko was also a really well developed character.  She’s quirky but not too quirky.  She’s shy but not abnormally so.  She has friends but also disagrees with them.  A lot of the traditional tropes of coming of age films are forgotten and instead we get a little girl facing typical problems little girls face.

Adult Taeko is more of a generic yuppie trying to find herself on the farm.  There’s a romance between her and a man named Toshio, which is sweet but a little bland.  And like I said some of the adult sections can be preachy.

only yesterday19I’d be lying if I said I wasn’t a hair disappointed in Only Yesterday, but maybe that’s because I was expecting something grand and got something simple instead.

There is a lot that feels very Japanese- particularly a segment where Toshio’s Grandmother talks to Taeko about marriage.  This is fine but something about Japanese customs can feel a little cold and distant at times for a coming of age story.

The music is the most dated aspect of the film.  The synthesizer and Japanese pop songs (including a rendition of The Rose by Janis Joplin) feel very 1991 but it works fine. It just didn’t wow me like the scores from other Ghibli films by Joe Hisaishi (Only Yesterday’s score is from Katz Hoshi).

Overall, I’d say Only Yesterday is good but not up there in the best of Studio Ghibli.  The animation is lovely.  The childhood segments are very cute and charming but the adult sections drag a bit and are a little preachy.  It’s kind of strange to see adorable Taeko turn into a bland adult, but that’s the way life is.  Most of us are far more interesting as children than grown ups!

I certainly recommend seeing Only Yesterday but just calibrate your expectations to something very simple and sweet.  If you do, I think you’ll enjoy it even if it isn’t a favorite.

The English dub with Daisy Ridley as Taeko and Dev Patel as Toshio is fine.  No issues there.

It will be interesting to see how Only Yesterday does at the Oscars given it is a 25 year old film but Oscars bases off of US release date which makes it a 2016 release.  Crazy!

What do you think of Only Yesterday?  Do you find it charming or boring?  I personally liked When Marnie was There much better but that’s just me.

Overall Grade- B

My youtube review