Pixar 45: ‘LUCA’ or Some Fun in the Pixar Sun

It goes without saying that any Pixar film is going to have a certain amount of buzz surrounding it. Their latest film Luca is perhaps getting the most discussion because it is not getting a theatrical release but going straight to Disney Plus. Some have seen this as a sign of a lack of faith by the studio in the project while others have deemed it a compliment as it is being singled out to market the streaming service, which is so key to their current business strategy. I guess it depends whether you see Disney Plus as more of a dumping ground or shining platform which side you land on.

VIDEO: New Trailer for Pixar's

Anyway, beyond its release let’s talk about the movie itself. What’s interesting is a lot of the feedback I am hearing I do not agree with. I know I’m in the minority but Soul wasn’t a favorite of mine. I still recommended it (and certainly don’t hate it) but the script became muddled and the message felt all over the place- particularly when it comes to the mid-section involving a cat. At one point it seemed to be saying to embrace your spark, find out what you are meant to do in life but in other ways it said that spark alienated you from other people and led to unhappiness: that a normal life is better than a creatively inspired one.

So Soul is a movie I admire for the music and animation but the script let me down. Now Luca, on the other hand, has much smaller ideas and it in my opinion does a better job in executing that simple vision. To put it simply Luca is a story about friendship, summer and growing up. That’s it. No big emotional punches or big action scenes. Just a simple sweet story.

To be more specific Luca tells the story of a young fish creature named Luca (Jacob Tremblay) who bristles up against his controlling parents and wonders what can be in the world above the ocean (obviously a plotline I love. The Little Mermaid die hard fan!). One day he meets a boy named Alberto (Jack Dylan Grazer), and he realizes they become human when dry on land and turn back into fish creatures when wet.

Both Alberto and Luca’s dream of racing around Italy on Vespas and when they meet a girl named Gulia (Emma Berman) they enter a race to win their own vespa. There’s a ‘villain’ Ercole who challenges them in the race and plays the part of the bully needed for this kind of narrative. The bigger threat is any of them getting wet from the ocean or even worse rain!

I can see why some think the story of Luca is too simple but I don’t agree. I liked being with Luca, Alberto and Giulia as they ate gelato and raced around the Italian countryside together. And it’s not like there aren’t deeper themes which can be pulled from the story. Obviously the idea of hiding who you are and being fearful of being discovered is something that will ring true for LGTBQ audiences and more.

But mostly it’s a story about friendship and I’m a huge sucker for those kinds of stories. There’s something special about the friendships we make as children. The free spirited nature and lack of agenda give a purity to the relationships that is tough to impossible to replicate as adults. Luca captures this magic, and I really enjoyed it.

And hey it made me want to go to Italy so nothing wrong with that!

Fortunately if you have Disney Plus you don’t have to decide whether to watch Luca or Soul. You can enjoy both to your hearts desire. Someday I hope to see both in a theater but for now I’m grateful for the artists at Pixar and their incredible track record of touching films.

Luca is a delightful tale of summer friendship the whole family will love

8 out of 10

Smile Worthy

[REVIEW] ‘Flora & Ulysses’ or Super Squirrels and Little Girls Are Adorable

One of the best things to come out of Disney Plus is the return of the mid-budget family film from Walt Disney Studios. With the exception of their Disneynature brand, the studio for many years only made giant blockbusters with over $100 million budgets. This was a real shame because I love the small live action Disney films from my childhood. Films like Newsies, White Fang, Wild Hearts Can’t Be Broken and The Journey of Natty Gann are practically as important to me as the Disney animated films. I’m so happy that a new generation of children will get films like these by way of Disney Plus!

Last year the best from Disney Plus in this department was Timmy Failure: Mistakes Were Made. It is a sweet, well written film about an awkward child, dealing with trauma by setting up his own detective agency. It made my top films of 2020, and I absolutely loved it.

While not as good as Timmy Failure, this year’s first contender is the new film Flora & Ulysses. It is a very sweet film about a little girl named Flora who helps rescue (literally giving CPR)a squirrel named Ulysses that just might have superpowers!

Flora’s parents played by Alyson Hannigan and Ben Schwartz are going through a separation and obviously that is hard on everyone. Hannigan is fantastic as her mother who is also a romance novelist with writers block. They get a lot of laughs out of her book titles and covers and the fact she won the Jack and Rose from Titanic prize for writing.

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I also thought Schwartz was warm and authentic as Flora’s aspiring comic book artist Dad. He is obviously very sad about what is happening to his marriage but not so much that he lets his daughter suffer.

The real star is young Matilda Lawler as Flora. She is so cute and I am extremely impressed this was her first film role. I predict we will be seeing a lot of her. Especially acting with a cgi creature is not easy and she did a fantastic job.

Parents of divorced kids might be a little annoyed by the ending of Flora & Ulysses and it is perhaps a touch too long but other than that I thoroughly enjoyed it. It will be a wonderful movie to watch for family movie night and all enjoy together. It’s so enchanting it will make you wish for your own super-powered squirrel!

8 out of 10

Smile Worthy

If you get to see Flora &  Ulysses let me know what you think. Do you miss mid-budget live action films from Disney?

Current Mini Reviews

Hey everyone! I hope you are having a great December. I have been up to my eyeballs in Christmas movies and creating content over at Rachel’s Reviews and Hallmarkies Podcast. Make sure you are subscribed to both to get my latest thoughts on many films!

Fortunately I have had the chance to watch some movies outside of Hallmark (and Hallmark-like content). Here are some quick mini reviews of some recent releases

Fatman

Obviously this film is not made for me, the Hallmark fan. However, I’m up for darker takes on holiday films but shouldn’t they still be fun? This film was so unpleasant and spurned campy action in favor of gritty realism, which was a very strange choice. Mel Gibson and Walter Goggins are taking the material seriously and giving good performances but it’s all too serious. Again aren’t most people expecting a campy action film with a wink at the camera? Not a mean spirited gritty Santa action movie like Fatman is? No thanks.

3 out of 10

Godmothered

As soon as I saw the trailer for Godmothered I was greatly looking forward to it. It looked funny and charming. I love movies like Elf and Enchanted, which it seemed to be falling in line with. Unfortunately the actual film, which debuted on Disney Plus, proved to be disappointing. In fact, watching it made me appreciate both Elf and Enchanted a lot more. They are both more than fish out of water stories but have good scripts that make you laugh throughout. Godmothered had one joke- amateur fairy Godmother in real world- and that’s it. And the movie is nearly 2 hours which felt way too long for what it is trying to do. Jillian Bell has yet to win me over in a role and Isla Fisher isn’t given much to do besides look tired. If I hadn’t been reviewing it I would have stopped watching it after about an hour. It’s proof concepts aren’t enough. You have to have good scripts

3 out of 10

Frown Worthy

Modern Persuasion

I have seen a lot of terrible adaptations of Jane Austen particularly of the made for TV variety. Oftentimes they are only adaptations in name only and have none of Austen’s charm and sass. It is for this reason I approached the new adaption of Persuasion called Modern Persuasion hesitantly. However, I watched it because it stars Alicia Witt who I enjoy and have actually had the chance to interview here. Fortunately, I was pleasantly surprised by this film. It doesn’t have a huge budget but I liked Alicia Witt in the lead and Shane McRae as her counterpart. The supporting cast is funny with Bebe Neuwirth stealing every scene she’s in. I’d buy this on digital when it comes out. It’s a charming new take on a classic story.

8.5 out of 10

Smile Worthy

All My Life

I actually got to see All My Life safely at the Megaplex theaters and being back at the theaters may have helped my experience but this is a movie that is exactly what you think it is going to be. If you watch the trailer and this brand of emotional weepy makes you grown don’t watch it. If it looked appealing you’ll like it. The stars Jessica Rothe and Harry Shum Jr have great chemistry and the sense of community they have with their friends was comforting and nice to see (especially in isolated 2020). The characters could be better drawn and it’s extremely predictable but I’m glad I saw it.

6 out of 10

Smile Worthy

I Hate New Years

As big a fan of Christmas as I am, I’m not much into New Years. It’s such a couply holiday with the big kiss at midnight that I’ve never gotten much into it. This makes me the perfect candidate for I Hate New Years and for the most part I enjoyed it. It’s limited budget shows at times in both the acting and production but it has its heart in the right place. Particularly the second half won me over and I was rooting for the characters to find happiness. It’s a sweet and likable way to ring in the New Year!

6 out of 10

Smile Worthy

So there you have it. If you get to see any of these films let me know what you think

Current Mini Reviews

Hey  everyone! I’ve got some more mini reviews for you of films I’ve been seeing over the last few weeks. I have certainly been extremely busy with content to make and movies to watch and it’s not even Christmas yet!

Lapsis

Lapsis is a film I saw as part of the virtual Fantasia Film Festival 2020. It is a very interesting sci-fi film starring Dean Imperial as a man in future dystopian-like world who is desperate for work. His brother is sick and the bills are piling up so he decides to get a job laying cable for a giant corporation. As he embarks on an Appalachian trail type odyssey he grows to realize the reach of the company is bigger and stronger than he ever imagined including little robots he must compete with who are also laying down cable along with the humans.

As you can tell this film has an intriguing premise and for the most part I enjoyed it. The only major flaw with it is the ending is very abrupt. It feels like they ran out of funding and couldn’t finish the movie. Up until then I was really digging the strange take on work in the gig economy. Still there is enough good before the ending for me to recommend giving Lapsis a shot.

6 out of 10

Smile Worthy

Phineas and Ferb The Movie: Candace Against the Universe

I am only minimally familiar with the Phineas and Ferb program. I’ve watched a few episodes here and there and recently tried to get caught up with mos the first season. From what I’ve seen it’s a delightful show with a nice sense of humor and playful character designs.

Recently they released a new movie based on the show called Phineas and Ferb the Movie Candace Against the Universe. Despite my lack of familiarity with the characters I really enjoyed this movie. It had a lot of humor that worked, a playful sense of whimsy and as someone with 2 brothers a character in Candace I can definitely relate with. I didn’t feel confused as a non-watcher of the show. The animation is bright and colorful and the music is catchy.  Your kids will love it.

7 out of 10

Smile Worthy

The Blech Effect

The Blech Effect is a documentary that tells the story of investor David Blech as he is about to go to prison for investors fraud. It was for the most part a fine documentary and it is interesting to see the preparation that goes into someone getting ready for a correctional institution. At one point they even have a prison consultant who’s assigned to tell David what the first day of prison life will be like.

The aspect I didn’t like is them painting him as a victim of the system. In particular the repeated use of his young autistic son as a reason to spare him punishment. I am sure raising a son with autism has its challenges but it’s not an excuse for committing crimes or a reason for leniency.

4 out of 10

Frown Worthy

The Lost Husband

On the surface The Lost Husband looks like a Nicholas Spark-like narrative with our heroine getting back to her roots while overcoming grief. Unfortunately it is missing key aspects that make those movies, sappy as they might, work.

The film stars Leslie Bibb as a widow who moves into a farmhouse with her aunt Jean (Nora Dunn). Farm living proves to be therapeutic for the city girl especially with hunky farm aid played by Josh Duhamel. The problem is the romance is barely developed and the big reveal does not pay off. It makes the entire film very bland and boring where it could have been good.

3 out of 10

Frown Worthy

Shooting Heroin

When I finished watching the new drama Shooting Heroin I was left more than a little befuddled. The very dark film about a group of citizens that take back their small town from the ravages of addiction has the feel of a faith-based films but then it is loaded with f-bombs, drug abuse and violence. I can’t help but think who was this made for?

The story of the film revolves around Adam (Alan Powell), Hazel (Sherilyn Fenn) and Edward (Lawrence Hilton- Jacobs). All have lost loved ones to opioid addiction and they all do a good job with their performances. Addiction is a horrible blight on humanity and it impacts every family sooner or later. It took 2 of my cousins. So I was with this movie as far as messaging but the tonal shifts didn’t work. It’s not awful but just messy.

4.5 out of 10

Frown Worthy

[REVIEW] ‘Stargirl’ or Manic Pixie Dream Girl Teenage Edition

In many ways writing a review for a movie like Stargirl is difficult. I didn’t love it. I didn’t hate it. It’s fine but there are a number of  things about it that irritated me. If I didn’t have the binary requirements of rottentomatoes I would probably give it some form of meh but I must decide if it is good or bad so let’s talk about the pluses and minuses.

Before we start on the film I must own I was not a big fan of the book by Jerry Spinelli. I found it cloying and annoying but I know many loved the book. If you did, than you should love this movie. If, like me, you didn’t, than you will probably have mixed to negative feelings as they stick pretty close to the book (at least by memory. It has been a few years since I read it).

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Anyway, Stargirl is about a young man named Leo Borlock (Graham Verchere) who becomes fixated on a new girl at school named Stargirl (Grace VanderWaal). Stargirl is your classic free spirit that sings with her ukulele (with no microphone!) at the school football games and wears weird clothes. She’s basically a manic pixie dream girl but in teenage form.

Like any MPDG Stargirl exists to help our male character come alive and get over his demons. She has no personal goals or ambitions. We learn almost nothing about her as a character. Is she a guardian angel? Is she an alien or some other kind of mythical creature? Maybe but she exists to help Leo be a better person and I dislike that in female characters. I am aware the tough girl trope can be just as cringeworthy but females are not there to pluck up our lonely males. It’s such a groan-worthy trope that I dislike.

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That said, Stargirl has its heart in the right place. The film isn’t trying to make some grand statement on feminism or male/female relationships. They are just trying to make a movie about how a nice girl who see’s the good in people can make a difference. The film’s anti-bullying message is sweet and well done and should ring true to many teenagers.

I liked the chemistry between VanderWaal and Verchere and the supporting cast with actors like Giancarlo Esposito help make Stargirl more than the sum of its parts. The film also loves the Beach Boys just about as much as I do making the soundtrack very enjoyable.

Basically if you watch the trailer for Stargirl and it looks cute than you’ll probably enjoy it. If it looks super cringe-worthy than you probably won’t. It’s as simple as that. I’m in the middle on it but I think I was more annoyed than entertained.

5 out of 10

frown

 

[REVIEW] ‘Timmy Failure: Mistakes were Made’ or Hipster Kids are Adorable

One of my biggest laments in recent years is the practical abandonment of low budget live action films from the Disney Studios. Since The Queen of Katwe in 2016 (very underrated film) there has been almost nothing from the House of Mouse but remakes of their animated classics and you know how much I love those films…

However, one of the exciting things about Disney Plus is the studio now needs content badly and so by necessity they need to start up again making smaller live action films. So far they have released Noelle which was disappointing but passable.  Then they had Togo, which turned out to be a delightful throwback to films like White Fang and Iron Will. I really enjoyed it!

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Now we have their latest film Timmy Failure: Mistakes Were Made which may be my favorite of them all. Based on the books by Stephan Pastis, director Tom McCarthy of Spotlight fame has made a sweet, charming, funny film the whole family will love.

The film tells the story of an 11-year old boy named Timmy (played by the adorable Winslow Fegley) who lives in Portland and takes his detective agency very seriously. He has a home office, business cards and a giant polar bear sidekick that help him be ready to crack the toughest of cases. He’s even looking into the Russians and their conspiracy to ruin his school and the scary transition to middle school.

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What makes Timmy Failure work so well is they take his character completely seriously. It’s not like the Diary of a Wimpy Kid movies with over-the-top slapstick sequences (which can be fine). It’s so easy to write child characters as silly jokes but I remember as a kid getting so frustrated by that attitude. I had something to say and my own way of looking at the world, which adults did not care about. This movie cares about Timmy and his world.

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I actually found myself tearing up on more than one occasion. Timmy is a really lonely kid and people like his teacher Mr Crocus played by Wallace Shawn don’t seem to even try to understand him. Much of his loneliness is compounded by his worries for his over-worked Mother played well by Ophelia Lovibond and his absent father.

Craig Robinson has a great scene where he talks to Timmy about adaptability and trying to be unselfish without losing yourself. Kyle Bornheimer is great as a meter maid who is dating Timmy’s Mom. These characters take him seriously and are interested in what he has to say. I loved that.

I can’t say enough about how much I enjoyed Timmy Failure: Mistakes were Made. The script, performances, themes, all worked for me. I even enjoyed the cgi polar bear (there are no trained polar bears so cgi was a necessity). I really think you will enjoy watching it with your family and have a great discussion together about how we all deal with loneliness and achieve our goals. Check it out and let me know what you think

8.5 out of 10

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