Scrooge 7: A Terrible Movie: All Dogs Go to Heaven Christmas Carol

You know how I said it is impossible to do Christmas Carol wrong? Well, I was wrong. All Dogs Go to Heaven Christmas Carol did it.  It’s a terrible movie.  It makes the Smurfs look like Alistair Sims. It was shrill, mean, stupid, ugly and has a witch dog with demon spawn and a plan to hypnotize the dogs and destroy Christmas for some reason. That just screams Christmas Carol to me.

I wasn’t even going to review it but then I saw this video that sums it all up very well.  If you like Nostalgia Critic style reviews of bad movies you might enjoy this . It certainly is better than the movie.

I want to keep this blog positive.  It’s Christmas after all, so on to the next one.

Must See Holiday Films

I thought it would be fun to interrupt my Christmas Carol reviews and give you all a quick list.  I am a huge sucker for holiday films, not just Christmas Carol.  It is tough to make a Christmas movie I don’t like (4 Christmases and The Grinch I’m talking to you).  Even more mediocre films like This Christmas and The Family Stone I found charming in their own way.  I even watch the Hallmark Christmas movies every Saturday night.  Yes they are completely cheesy and silly but I enjoy them.

So what are the films I make sure I catch every Christmas?

Here goes in no particular order.

White Chrsitmas- Classic cast, Bing Crosby singing White Christmas can’t be beat, great music and dance throughout. Completely cheesy love story but I don’t care a bit!

Christmas Story- Hilarious narration, love the imagination segments of a boy who just wants a red rider air rifle for Christmas, very funny but also has real heart, the scene with the bully is so well acted it moves me every time.

Elf- the male equivalent of Enchanted with a fairytale creature having to make it in big city NYC, Will Farrell is hilarious, great supporting cast including James Caan, and real heart with all the laughs

Muppets Christmas Carol- My personal favorite non-traditional take on the story, will have to wait for my review.

Christmas Carol 1984- A solid very faithful adaptation.  Will have to wait for my review!

Christmas Carol 1951- Read the review

Charlie Brown Christmas- Our friend Charlie Brown overthinking Christmas again, worrying about the commercialization, ends up directing the pageant and picking the lowliest tree for the school, great jazz music by Vince Guaraldi, I love the ending when Charlie realizes it is all about the Babe in Bethlehem.

Joyeux Noel- A less well known holiday film that is absolutely lovely, about a truce between the fighting lines during a WW1  Christmas.

Arthur Christmas- Probably my favorite Santa film along with Elf.  The North Pole has gone commercial! But Santa’s younger son Arthur still believes in the old ways and when he finds out a little girl is not going to get her present he is devastated. I love the elfs and the voicework and the heart.  Great film.

It’s a Wonderful Life- What do you say about this wonderful Frank Capra film that hasn’t already been said.  A moving reminder that we are all important.

How the Grinch Stole Christmas (animated short)- What is it about the 60s that could make good versions of Dr Seuss that nobody can seem to follow today?  I’ve hated, hated, hated, hated, hated every contemporary Dr Seuss retelling.  This animated classic is everything the Jim Carrey version was not.  It’s fun, bright, simple in its message with great music sung by Thurl Ravenscroft

Mickey’s Christmas Carol- Read the review

Rudolph the Red Nose Reindeer (and other stop motion shorts)- These are just charming stop motion stories.

Home Alone- The first comedy I saw in the theaters and I remember laughing my head off.  Watched it again a few years ago and it still makes me laugh.  It would have been my dream to be left at home like Kevin! (I always wanted to do things on my own, in my own way).

Meet Me in St Louis- Judy Garland is my Hollywood idol.  I just love her and this is certainly one of her best performances.  It is not strictly a Christmas movie but we get “Have Yourself a Merry Little Christmas’ and it is perfection.

National Lampoons Christmas Vacation- Family stressing you out during the holidays?  Perfect film to watch and get a good laugh while you are at it.  The scene with the squirrel gets me every time and when they say pledge of allegiance for grace.  Ha!

Love Actually- Not every plotline works but most of them do.  I love Colin Firth in almost everything and he is great here, same with Emma Thompson, Alan Rickman, Hugh Grant, Liam Nielsen, Kiera Knightly and more. I love a good romantic comedy and this is the Queen while still having real heart.

Shop Around the Corner/You’ve Got Mail- Anyone who follows my regular blog knows how important You’ve Got Mail is to me.  I love Nora Ephron’s writing and think of her as my literary muse.  People tend to discount it as fluff but not only is she incredibly witty but there is real heart their too.  Shop Around the Corner is also lovely.  Both are about people who hate each other in real life but in their writing they fall in love.  Both are movies about work and change- 2 topics that always move me. If you think they are just another rom-com than I challenge you to watch them again and really pay attention to the writing.  In the end, all I know is that I love them.

For a New Years movie I recommend When Harry Met Sally and The Apartment.  Not that terrible Gary Marshall movie!

Penguins of Madagascar Review

penguins1

So I have made it my mission to watch all the major animated theatrical releases this year and as we are nearing December there were only 2 left in the docket- Penguins of Madagascar and Song of the Sea (which hopefully will play by me in December).

I debated whether to see Penguins because I actually have not seen any of the previous Madagascar films.  The first one came out when I was just home from my Mormon mission and wasn’t really in a movie-going mode yet.  Then I didn’t hear great things and so I never bothered to see any of them.  (I am not a big Chris Rock fan and I really dislike the Shrek movies so not much appeal.

But I had set the goal to see all the animated movies and my favorite critics over at What the Flick said they laughed their heads off so I decided to go and check it out.

And you know what? It’s actually really funny.  It reminded me of the first Naked Gun movie. Just one joke after another and they all made me laugh.

It’s not as inventive or creative as Lego or Mr Peabody and Sherman which also made me laugh but I was thoroughly entertained by the film and the kids around me were laughing long and hard.

Like I said, it is a spoof on spy movies with the penguins Skipper (Tom McGrath), Kowalski (Chris Miller), Rico (Conrad Vernon) and Private (Christopher Knights) on the case to track down an Octopus named Dave (John Malcovich) who is trying to kidnap the penguins because all the zoo patrons think they are so cute.

octovious dave

Our intrepid crew is aided by a band of high tech super spies called the North Wind led by a wolf named Classified who is voiced brilliantly by Benedict Cumberbatch (not that many celebrity voices in this, which was refreshing).

The-Penguins-of-Madagascar-North-Wind-Headquarters-Clip-3They go through all kinds of hijinks but the plot is really secondary as is the animation, which does the job it needs to do.

With a movie like this you either think it’s funny and laugh or you don’t.  Everyone has a different sense of humor, so all I can say is that I laughed a lot. So job well done!

It also doesn’t have any of that cheeky ‘wink wink’ tawdry humor other Dreamworks films have (like Shrek).  I really hate that.  Most of the jokes are word humor like when they make fun of Dave’s ordinary name for a super-villain or when Dave skypes in and his audio doesn’t work.  It’s a very tightly written funny script.

I’d be curious to know if you all found it funny. Like I said, humor is so subjective and there isn’t a ton else to recommend this film.  Let me know what you think!

the-penguins-of-madagascar-season-2-episode-2-it-s-about-time__140520210628

Overall Grade- B (I’d give Peabody and Sherman a B+ and Lego Movie an A+ because both made me laugh a lot and were more visually inventive than Penguins but they are all great fun!)

This makes it the 12 animated film I’ve seen out of 2014 and so far I’d rate them- Lego Movie, Tale of Princess Kaguya, Big Hero 6, Boxtrolls, How to Train Your Dragon 2, Mr Peabody and Sherman, Book of Life, Penguins of Madagascar, Rio 2, Planes: Search and Rescue, The Nut Job, Legends of Oz.  I’ve thoroughly enjoyed the year! Only 2 I didn’t enjoy on some level. Hope you have too.

Scrooge 4: Barbie in A Christmas Carol

Barbie_in_A_Christmas_CarolOk everyone get your girlie on and let’s do Christmas Carol Barbie style.  I mentioned the Barbie movies in my post Consider Your Audience.  They, along with the Tinker Bell movies, do a good job producing content for the vastly underserved girl 4-8 market.  A lot is made for both boys and girls and of course you have the occasional Frozen and Tangled but I’m glad these series exist for girls looking for good stories they can enjoy.

Barbie in A Christmas Carol is the 14th Barbie film and was made in 2008.  It does not have the production value of some of the earlier films like Barbie as Rapunzel 2002 or Barbie of Swan Lake 2003.  My favorite is Barbie in the 12 Dancing Princesses 2006.  But this is passable animation for a direct to video release. It’s the very stark, low cost CG (and I would prefer hand drawn) but I didn’t mind it.

Trailer:

The voice work and music is always good in the Barbie movies and is here; although no big names except Kelly Sheridan returns as Barbie. They take a few different touches to make the story work within the Barbie world but unlike Smurfs the essence of the story is there.

Differences: Obviously big difference is it is in Barbie world and all the key characters are women. We start out with little sister Kelly not wanting to go to the charity ball and wanting to stay at home (who has a charity ball on Christmas day but nonetheless).

kelly and barbieKelly says she hates Christmas so Barbie tells her sister a story about a Victorian opera diva named Eden. Barbie then becomes our narrator for the Christmas Carol story.

eden

Scrooge: Eden Starling is a diva opera singer who has been raised by her Aunt Marie to practice and shut the world out.  She has decided to make her team, including her best friend Catherine (Cratchit in the story) work over Christmas for their new show.  She has airs and doesn’t respect anyone even her best friend who she accuses of working on another show on the side (Catherine is a costume designer).

Aunt Marie has a saying “in a selfish world, only the selfish survive” and this has become Eden’s mantra. So it is no doubt a surprise when Jacob Marley is in fact Aunt Marie.  I thought it was kind of clever that Marie does not have cash boxes on her chains but mirrors.

aunt marie barbieShe tells her she was wrong about the world being selfish and that it is good and loving.

Past comes and is a big Eden Starling fangirl which I thought was kind of clever and funny.  She takes her back to her childhood when Marie was making her practice on Christmas but she sneaks out and spends the day with Catherine.

pastMarie is definitely a beast and a pretty chilling character.  It was a little bit of an interesting take to have Jacob and Cratchit characters in this story so intimately a part of the entire story not just present. I liked that.

barbie presentPresent takes Eden to see her colleagues angry at Eden for making them work and throwing tomatoes at her.  At first she is outraged and then she see’s Catherine going to her other show.  It turns out it is a choral program for an orphanage.  One of the orphans is named Tammy (Tiny Tim of course). They all love and idolize Eden.

barbie futureFuture shows Eden as a poor washed up singer.  She fired her team for being late on Christmas and then had one disaster after another including a hypnotist that was funny. Catherine has become a famous designer but is bitter and has accepted the ‘in a selfish world, the selfish succeed’ mantra.  I thought that was an interesting take to have Cratchit become Scrooge in the future.  Never seen that before . She can’t bare to see her friend this way and realizes she needs to change.

catherine barbieStrengths- I think fans of the series will enjoy this entry.  It’s about as good a job as could be done in this world with this story.  I liked the voicework and a few of the touches like Aunt Marie and the message about selfishness were effective. The idea of a diva barbie fits and I enjoyed it. I’m glad they went with traditional carols instead of new songs and they are all performed well.  I also thought the idea of Marley being basically Scrooge’s mother and Cratchit being his best friend (girls in this version of course) was interesting.  I also liked the design of Aunt Marie with the mirrors on the chain.

Weaknesses- the animation is strictly on a direct to video level. I am sure some people would find it very garish and ugly.  It is kind of jerky and can be unpleasant at times to look at, but only in moments and then it is good again.  It is certainly not a traditional take on the story but most of the components are there (Marley, Cratchit, Tiny Tim, Spirits) but I’m sure purists would have an issue with it.  There are better Barbie movies but this is in the top half I would say.

It is made to target 4-8 year old little girls and I think it does its job quite well. So if you have a girl in that age range sit down and watch it together.  You will enjoy the holiday memories!

Scrooge 3: The Smurfs: A Christmas Carol

smurfs poster

Trailer:

Cast:

George Lopez as Grouchy Smurf
Jack Angel as Papa Smurf
Melissa Sturm as Smurfette and the Smurf of Christmas Past
Fred Armisen as Brainy Smurf and the Smurf of Christmas Present
Gary Basaraba as Hefty Smurf and the Smurf of Christmas Future
Anton Yelchin as Clumsy Smurf
Hank Azaria as Gargamel

 

I will start out this post by saying I have no nostalgic feelings towards The Smurfs.  The TV show aired from 1981-1989 and I knew about it but my family didn’t have a TV for spurts when I was young and most of the time I had chores on Saturday morning when it aired.

That said, I think the designs are cute.  I went into the recent movies with an open mind as I always try to do and boy was I underwhelmed.  I would rather watch Dinosaur, my lowest Disney canon film, than either Smurf film again.

What makes them so especially putrid is not the terrible animation, the horrible live action merging, dumb plot, or the cringe-worthy puns.  All that is awful but the constant product placement for Sony products is so distasteful. I am aware that product placement has always been a part of children’s programming but I don’t recall anything being as overt and constant as in The Smurfs movies.  It is in almost every scene.

sonyAnyway, the Smurf movies will always go down as 2 of the worst movies I’ve ever seen because of all the horribleness and the product placement so naturally I wasn’t very excited to watch Smurfs Christmas Carol but at least it was short unlike movies 1 and 2.

And my friends it’s not very good but it is not as bad as the movies.  This is what I like to call a Shoney movie. When I was a girl we would drive by this chain restaurant called Shoney’s and my grandma would say ‘Shoney’s, it’s not that bad’.  We would all laugh because why go to a restuarant that is ‘not that bad’ when you can go some place that is actually good. Same with this movie.  Why watch it when we’ve got great holiday films for kids like Muppets, Mickey, Charlie Brown etc.

But let’s talk about the short.  There was one fascinating aspect to it.  Recently I had a vigorous debate about the values of hand drawn animation vs computerized.  I said that the variety we seem to be getting in plots, characters since the advent of CG makes me feel positive toward the movement. There are absolutely gorgeous CG films.

Here’s what Smurfs Christmas Carol taught me.  Good CG can hold it’s own along with good hand drawn but bad CG is infinitely worse than bad hand drawn.

Differences- To say this is a lose adaptation of Dickens novel is being generous.  There is no Cratchit’s, no Jacob Marley.  The only similarity is a grumpy man and 3 ghosts.

smurf

We start out with Grouchy Smurf being upset with Christmas and he doesn’t want to put the star on the communal tree.  This upsets all of smurfdom and Christmas appears to be ruined (although why someone named Grouchy surprises the smurfs when he is grouchy is a bit of a head scratcher). We learn that Grouchy has always wanted a hanglider but every year he gets a hat (which let’s be honest a white hat every year would make me grouchy!).

When Grouchy storms out he goes to his mushroom and Papa Smurf gathers with Brainy, Smurfette and others and makes a potion that will teach Grouchy a lesson.  When Grouchy falls under the spell all of the sudden it turns into 2D and it looks a million times better.  I don’t think I have seen a switchover like that in a long time and it was shocking.

smurfs
Doesn’t this look so much better than the image above?

Smurfette is Past and we learn about Grouchy’s disappointment over the hats.  The movie condemns him for this but why does he need a hat every year? But evidently this is an incredibly selfish desire on his part to want something different.

smurf past
Smurfette Past and Grouchy

Brainy Smurf is Christmas Present and we learn that Papa Smurf actually individualizes the hats for each Smurf. So it is super selfish but it still doesn’t really seem selfish to me.  It seems like a lazy gift giver to do the same thing every year.

smurfsbrainychristmaspresentNext is Heft Smurf as Christmas Future and this becomes oddly It’s a Wonderful Life where everything in Smurfdom is affected because Grouchy didn’t put the star on the tree.  Gargamel has even captured everyone.  smurf of future

Gargamel_Christmas_Carol

Gargamel is about to put Grouchy in his vat that will take way his smurf essence and as he enters the water he says ‘I’ll change’.

So everything is made right and we are back to ugly CG and it turns out Grouchy’s hat is a hang glider after all…Groan.

Strengths- Honestly seeing the difference in the hand drawn and CG was really interesting for me. 2 different studios did both parts and you could tell.

The animation is Shoney’s level at best but the Smurfs are cute so fans will probably enjoy seeing them.

The voicework is pretty good but other than that not much I can recommend.  The story with the hats actually makes me feel sorry for Grouchy.  Give him something else for goodness sakes. What kind of strange commune is this that every gift has to be the same every year?

Overall I recommend it only for Smurf fans. It’s Shoney level but there is so much better out there.

Family Movies I Like that Others Do Not

A popular post on these type of movie blogs is ‘movies everyone likes but I don’t’ or vice versa. You can check out my blogging friend Animation Commendation for his highly controversial picks (Wall-e and Up overrated! Outrage!).  He is focusing just on animation and I have decided to just post about the films I like others don’t.  As I said in my post Jerks, Trolls and Critics my goal in my writing is to be an advocate for film . It is not to tear down what other people love.

So I want to use this post as  a chance to advocate for films that I believe are underrated by critics and fans in general.  These movies are far from perfect and I can understand why people don’t like them but for whatever reason I found something to enjoy while watching them.  Call it nostalgia, call it low expectations but I like the following films that a lot of others don’t like.

In no particular order.

Pirates Who Don’t Do Anything-

Veggietales are kind of like the Christian fundamentalist cousin of the animation world but you know they are done pretty well.  The music is always fun, voicework good and the colors bright and colorful.

Pirates was the first time they tried to do a non-biblical tale (previously they had done Jonah as a feature film as well as their many direct to video films about Daniel, Moses and other stories).

This film could entertain kids of any faith as it focuses on finding heroes and makes a person a hero.

Tomatometer- 39%.  I’d give it a C+ it’s certainly not top tier animation but I still find it entertaining.

The Other Side of Heaven-

I admit this one is easier for me to like because it is about a member of my faith, John Groeberg who went as a missionary to Tonga and had some amazing experiences.

This was also the only film we were allowed to watch on my mission for the Mormon church and having served a mission like Groeberg I relate too it.

So maybe it isn’t for everyone but it’s pretty well made and acted.  I would think the story would be inspirational for those of other faiths but hard for me to know.

But this is my list and I like it so it makes the list!

Tomatometer 29%.  I would give it a B

Lord of the Rings-

Ralph Bakshi’s Lord of the Rings has developed a bit of a cult following over the years and I think it is deserved.  It is not perfect and Peter Jackson’s version is definitely better but this is pretty good.  The animation is strong in parts  and weak in others but scenes like the ringwraiths in Bakshi are really well done with a style I haven’t seen in other movies (kind of looks like a hologram)

They pack a lot into the film especially if you like the extended version of the Peter Jackson films and it can feel rushed but I still like the animation and the story is so solid at it’s core that it just works.

Our friend the Nostalgia Critic did a fun compare/contrast between the Jackson and Bakshi’s versions.

Strong language warning

Tomatometer 50%, I would give it a B-

Cinderella 3-

John Lasseter, over at Pixar, says they never do sequels unless they have an idea.  That was the problem with most of the made for video sequels of the 90s and early 2000s.  Most of them are a repeat of the original but with a new character (usually a child of our leads such as Bambi 2, Fox and the Hound 2, Lady and the Tramp 2 etc).  Then there are one’s that continue the story but in incredibly trite and stupid ways. (Pocahontas 2, Brother Bear 2, Cinderella 2, and Hunchback of Notre Dame 2 are the worst examples).  Finally there are sequels that are clobbered together from animated series that came after the movie and these are usually passable, on the Saturday morning cartoon level (Atltantis 2, Lilo and Stitch 2, Lion King sequels, Aladdin sequels etc).

But out of all of them The Little Mermaid sequels are passable but my favorite is Cinderella 3. Cinderella 2 is just her wedding and it sucks but 3 they actually have an idea.

Through a variety of circumstances Lady Tremaine finds the Fairy Godmother’s wand, which she then uses to turn back time and make it so Anastasia’s foot fits the slipper instead of Cinderella.  The Prince now has to marry Anastasia and things seem pretty dire for our heroine.

The animation is on the Saturday morning level but it is passable and the songs are okay.  It’s not great but I enjoyed seeing Lady Tremaine back up to no good and just found it very clever.

Tomatometer is actually high with only 7 reviews at 71% but I still say this counts because the sequels are so generally disregarded and looked down on.

Tomatometer 71%, I would give it a C

North Avenue Irregulars-

I suppose this is probably more forgotten than disliked but I’ve been wanting to make a shout-out to it so here goes.

It is the kind of movie almost never made today.  A live action comedy starring A list talent for families. The story is silly and your enjoyment will probably depend on your taste of slapstick but it makes me laugh.

It was a dream team of comedic women with Barbara Harris, Susan Clark, Karen Valentine, Cloris Leachman, and a long list of faces you will recognize when you see them.

Edward Herrman is a nice foil for the ladies as the Reverend Hill who decides to take down local gambling syndicate using the ladies as the spies and detectives.

It has a pretty high tomatometer of 75% on 11 reviews but I still think it’s one that is easy to criticize but I like it. Great opening credits sequence too.

Tomatometer 75%, I would give it a B-

Disney’s Christmas Carol

Readers of my other blog smilingldsgirl.com kn0w The Christmas Carol is one of, if not my favorite stories ever written.  I make sure to see it at the local theater every Christmas and watch as many versions as I can.  There’s everything from Alastair Sims, George C Scott, to Bill Murray, Muppets,  and Mickey Mouse.

I think what I like about the story is it is about lost causes and how anyone can change their lives if they embrace Christmas (and for me Christ) and decide to be a better person.  It’s a story about redemption and I just love it.

When I heard that Jim Carey was being cast as Scrooge you can imagine my concern with a ham like him taking on my favorite character in literature.  However, he plays it surprisingly straight and there are only a few antics when soaring through space.  The spirits are done very well and there is a ton of the actual script taken from the novel, which is cool.

Some don’t like the stop motion animation but it doesn’t bother me.  It’s a style just like any other and I can go with it. I wouldn’t say this is my favorite version but I still like it.

Tomatometer- 54%, I would give it a B

Cars 2

I wonder sometimes if people really hate this movie or if they just are mad at it because it’s not Up, Wall-e, and Ratatouille.  Don’t get me wrong.  It has major problems but is it really one of the worst movies ever made? While I’m not rushing out to buy the blu-ray I thought it was fun, decent level kids movie and an homage to the spy flicks their parents and older siblings get to watch.

As I said in my Planes: Fire and Rescue review, the world of the Cars and Planes movies is nutty and does not stand up to much examination.  I guess there are car sex or car eggs hatching baby cars in this world?  But then they run out of parts which is strange.  Evidently some models are worthy of saving and others are not?

See how fast you can go down the rabbit hole with this world?  So I suggest just going with it and not diving too deep.  Just enjoy it as an homage to spy movies an leave it at that.

The other beef with this movie I hear is people don’t like Mater. I’m not sure why because I find him funny, as funny as a car can be at least…

It’s beautifully animated and the voicework is all good.  The plot is actually pretty convoluted and complicated involving natural fuel. (Wouldn’t a world of just cars actually like the world to be poluted, that is their life sustaining liquid like we have water, they have oil…Again over-thinking it!

Overall I think the bad buzz is overrated and this movie is an ok, fun time at the movies.

Tomatometer- 39%, I would give it a C

Atlantis: The Lost Empire

We’ve talked a lot about this movie on the blog. I am aware I am in the minority on it.  I thought it was a fun adventure movie with a wildly creative made up world that engaged me the way other good B Summer Adventure movies have like Indiana Jones, the Goonies, National Treasure etc.  I liked the language and culture they created and the troop of explorers was fun and diverse.

The animation is gorgeous especially once they get to the Lost City and we have the blue crystals and their power.  It has a bit of a steampunk feel and all in all I liked it.  I thought it was a fun action adventure, treasure hunting story with a good, exciting ending. It all just worked for me in the spirit of those B adventure movies.  So there you go!

Tomatometer- 49%, My Grade A-

Where the Wild Things Are

This is a movie you either go with and love or hate.  I love it.  It takes Maurice Sendak’s children’s story of a boy sent to bed without any supper finding a land of wild things and turns it into a brilliant movie.

It is the only film I’ve ever seen that captures the brooding quiet nature of childhood.  Some say that makes it depressing but I remember being that kid.  I remember hearing things in school like global warming or war and puzzling at how this could be.  To me it was amazingly refreshing to have a kid who isn’t perky but a real person with all moods.  His behavior when he meets the Wild Things is so authentic to what a kid, especially a boy, would do and I love it!

It’s a brilliant film in how it gives our character an opportunity to confront himself and his mother and realize they are both imperfect but trying. What a beautiful moment that is?

The puppets were the perfect choice as opposed to CGI.  It makes it feel real and palatable and the voicework is PERFECT!

I broke down the movie in more detail on my Where the Wild Things Are Defended post.

Tomatometer is high because of people like me- 72%, My Grade A+

Space Jam-

To be honest I am really surprised the Space Jam tomatometer score so low. This is one of the few spots we can see our Looney Tunes friends on the big screens and I think it is charming.  All the characters like Bugs, Daffy, Yosemite Sam and more are there in this live action/animation combo.  Bill Murray is pretty funny and Michael Jordan is one of the better athletes turned actors (need I mention Shaque in  Kazaam?)

I guess the plot follows a similar underdog theme but is anyone watching this for the intricate plot?  No.  They are watching it to see Bugs, Daffy and others tell good jokes and have a fun time and I think that’s what they get out of it.

Give it a watch through I bet you will agree it’s an entertaining flick.

Tomatometer- 35%, I would give it a B-

Follow that Bird-

Again this is probably more underrated than disliked.  It has a very high tamotometer score in fact but I wanted to give it a shoutout anyway.  Follow that Bird is the first Sesame Street movie and it is a real gem.  Some people might discount it as a only a movie for little children because it is from Sesame Street but if you do that’s a shame because it is very clever and heartfelt.

Big Bird finds out he should be raised with a family and is adopted by the Dodo family making his new name Big Dodo.  Despite having everything with the Dodo’s he isn’t happy, so he runs away.  The rest of the film is part roadtrip and part our yellow bird finding out who his real family is.

It’s a lovely message for kids, there are lots of laughs and real heart too.  I love all of the Muppets movies but this one will be close to the top for sure . I need to do a list of my favorite Muppet’s movies soon.  What are your favorites?

Tomatometer- 91%, I would give it an A

Soul Surfer-

Another Christian film critics were incredibly tough on.  It tells the true story of Bethany Hamilton who lost her arm to a shark while surfing and how she made it back to compete in the pros with one arm.  I will agree that the special effects are not great and it does look pretty obvious where they cut off Anna Sophie Robb’s arm in post-production.

However, if you can get over the technical flaws there is a lot to like . Bethany is an amazing person.  In fact, at the moment she is on The Amazing Race and tearing it up there.  I thought at first she was stunt casting to get sympathy but she has been up for every challenge.  She does with one arm what others struggle with 2.  Everything from rock climbing to balancing tasks she’s been up for and she’s done it all in such a pleasant and happy way.  I like her even more than I did after this movie.

The supporting cast is strong with Dennis Quaid and Helen Hunt as her parents and Carrie Underwood as a youth minister. Aside from the arm special effects the rest of the surfing shots are well done and the story didn’t play out exactly as I thought it would and it is an exciting moment when she gets back on the surfboard.

Doesn’t reinvent the wheel but what it does it does well and I enjoy watching it.

Tomatometer- 46%, I would give it a B-

American Tail Fievel Goes West

Most people like the first American Tail but are tough on this sequel.  I would agree it is not as good but I still enjoy it.

This one is not directed by Don Bluth like the original but Steven Spielberg is a producer.

In part 2 we get the Mousekewitz family deciding to leave New York for the promises of the West (streets weren’t paved with gold I see!).  Fievel idolizes Wylie Burp the sheriff of the west who is brilliantly played by the great Jimmy Stewart in what I believe is his last role on screen.

On the way they meet a conniving cat who is trying to get them out there as cheap labor.  Our friend Tiger voiced by Dom DeLuise again shows up and we also get Amy Irving, John Cleese and Jon Lovitz.

In the end, it’s a pretty entertaining story with twists and turns. I enjoy the homage to the western and hearing Jimmy Stewart as Wylie.

The music by James Horner is also wonderful and I particularly love Dreams to Dream.

Tomatometer- 40%, I would give it an A

So that’s my list!  What do you think? Seen any of these?  Do you hate them or think they are pretty good? I’d love your thoughts. Thanks for reading my ramblings.

Rio and Rio 2: Review

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Blue Sky’s Rio and Rio 2 remind me a lot of Disney’s Bolt.  They are entertaining to watch, pleasant to look at, but in the end kind of forgettable.  That said, you will enjoy the experience of watching them so it is a mixed bag

In Rio we meet Blu who is a rare blue macaw living as a pet with his owner in Minnesota.  He is a completely domesticated bird and does not know how to fly.  Blu is voiced by Jesse Eisenberg and he is one of the many poor voicework choices in the movie.  Especially once they get to Brazil the voices don’t make any sense and are forgettable.  I found Eisenberg’s nasal nervous quality to be very grating so it was not a good choice.

Blu’s owner is contacted by a man from Brazil who has found another blue macaw and he is hopeful the two birds can mate and he successfully convinces the owner to bring Blu to Rio to try it out.

rio coupleThe girl macaw is named Jewel and is voiced by Anne Hathaway in another poor choice.  If a bird is supposed to be exotic living in Rio is Anne Hathaway the exotic voice that comes to mind?  Not for me.  Really George Lope and Rodrigo Santoro are the only voice actors in the cast who give it any kind of Portugese flair.

The rest of the cast we have Jamie Foxx, Tracy Morgan, Jermaine Clement, Leslie Mann, etc.

Of all the voices the only one I liked was Jermaine Clement as the bad Cockatoo named Nigel.  He is very funny and reminded me of Tim Curry.

rio villainsThe basic plot is pretty standard cat and mouse chase game with Jewel and Blu getting birdnapped by Nigel’s owner and the awkward Blu getting used to the tropical environment, bickering and romancing with Jewel, and learning to fly.  It’s all very predictable but in an entertaining way.

The colors and the light in the film are gorgeous and it looks beautiful throughout.  The animation quality holds up to any other studio.

Rio-Movie-Wallpaper-2But the music I could have done without.  Not a single number stood out or was memorable.  I really didn’t think the story needed to be  a musical, especially with a lead like Eisenberg who isn’t exactly known as a singer.

Some of the music does give a latin feel but this could have been accomplished with a the score and not the extended musical numbers that don’t do anything for the story and are just kind of average.

So of course our bickering couple end up in love and going back to their owners to live together (who also fall in love at the end of the movie).

The strongest part of the movie is Nigel.  He is very funny and an intense villain for this kind of story. I could have used even more of him and less of the singing.

Like I said, Rio is a perfectly adequate movie.  It looks great and clips along pretty well and kids will enjoy some of the humor (although they might get a little bored in some of the extended songs or the underwhelming action) but I think they will probably like it.

A warning to parents- there is a scene at Carnival where the human owner voiced by Leslie Mann is wearing an extremely skimpy outfit for a kids movie.  It felt rather garish to me.

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But other than that there is nothing offensive or crass.  Rio has a sweetness about it and it is an ok flick.

Overall Grade- C+

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So then we got Rio 2 this summer and I’m afraid to say it but I thought it was weaker than the original.

To start with it has all the weaknesses of the original with weak voice cast (although a hip hop influence with Bruno Mars and Will I Am was a fun addition), predictable plot and underwhelming musical numbers. It still looks fabulous but it doesn’t really surprise the viewers or do anything new.  It all feels very tired even though it looks great.

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In this story Blue and Jewel have baby birds and they live in a life of pancakes and ipods and Jewel is worried they will have forgotten their roots.  She yearns for the wild and through a variety of circumstances they end up in Rio looking for their owners (who have married since the original).

The big mistake this movie makes is it draws each step out too long and it is very cluttered.  Where the strength of the original was Nigel, in this film you have Nigel for brief spurts than a Big Boss who wants to tear down the rainforest (yawn of a villain), and a red macaw clan who don’t like the blue macaws.   They even face the red macaws in an extended soccer scene. Rio_2_Loggers_-_Big_Boss

rio 3Nigel_and_GabiNigel is a theater man in Rio 2 and not quite the villain of the original.  He’s still my favorite character in the Rio movies but I wish they had just focused on him instead of the other storylines and villains which are much more predictable.

Jewel finds out there are other living blue macaws and they eventually find a massive colony in the amazon (they must have not been looking very hard to miss that many blue macaws!).  It turns out it is the flock Jewel grew up in and it is ran by her father

Rio_2_-_Verry_MacawsJewel likes being in the wild and Blu hates it.  Blu’s new father in law thinks he’s a wimp.  There’s a long soccer match in the middle and a ton of side characters and attempt at humor that doesn’t really work.

Nigel has a side character that is a little poisonous frog voiced by Kristen Chenoweth and she sings a song called Poisonous Love which feels so out of place in the movie.  It’s a gorgeous operatic number and the divine Kristen of course can sing well but it does not fit the style of the movie at all.  But she is a cute character and watching her fall in love with Nigel is funny.

rio2There are so many characters we could list them all day but the George Lopez toucan who is head over heels in love with his wife bird is cute and I liked Bruno Mars as Jewel’s childhood friend and her father’s right hand bird.

So in the end, Rio 2 looks great, has some appealing characters but the songs are forgettable despite the hip-hop additions and the voicework is still a problem. But your kids will be entertained and it’s not a bad movie.  You could certainly do worse with your kids.  That’s for sure.

I enjoyed watching both Rio and Rio 2.  They are far from perfect but the colors are bright, they look gorgeous, Nigel is a lot of fun as a villain,  and the characters are engaging enough even if not on the Pixar/Disney quality level.  They just need to work on simplifying the stories and making them more interesting and getting better voice talent not necessarily famous voices.

Overall Grade- C

Masterpiece: Wizard of Oz

So it’s about 2:30 in the morning and my friends and I had a lovely Halloween together.  We ate pizza and talked and then watched Paranorman- a wonderful ghost story that is so inventive and creative.  I highly recommend it.

Once everyone had left I found myself awake and looking for something to entertain me as I started my first night of Nanowrimo.   What to turn to?

Well, it seemed to fit the night so I put on one of my all time favorite movies, The Wizard of Oz.

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Is there a more iconic movie?  Maybe Gone with the Wind?  But I can’t think of any other movie where you could say a word ‘somewhere’, ‘rainbow’, ‘wicked’, ‘wonderful’, ‘cowardly’ and most people would immediately think of Wizard of Oz.

I saw it last year in the limited release in 3D in the theaters and I was blown away.  It hasn’t aged  a bit.  The songs are spectacular, villain mesmerizing, art direction gorgeous, message is touching and Judy Garland singing. Need I say more?  It’s hard to know where even to begin with such a classic.

It’ starts out of course with our gorgeous black and white- sepia tone in fact.  We get to meet the entire farm and see Dorothy getting into trouble with cruel neighbor who wants to have her dog Toto committed.  She even gets the sheriff to come and take the dog away.  This creates a simple dynamic to start off the film.  Dorothy loves her dog but all at home want to take that love away from her.  She then sings about it in arguably the most perfect vocal performance in movie history.  She makes it seem easy.

Without Dorothy and Somewhere Over the Rainbow there wouldn’t be Ariel and Part of Your Word or Elsa and Let it Go.  She touches cord with every child, teen and human who has felt misunderstood.  The song is both hopeful and hopeless.  The last line is so haunting “if happy little blue birds fly beyond the rainbows why oh why can’t I” What human being can’t relate to that?

At last count I had 13 different versions of Over the Rainbow on my ipod.  I’ve heard it sung a million different ways and just love it. In fact, I sang it myself at recital.  It’s nothing to write home about but I did my best.

Dorothy is so devastated by the threat to her dog she decides to run away but on the way she meets a peddler who helps her realize how much she is needed, which is a major theme of the movie- whether you are a lion, a scarecrow or a little girl we are all needed at home. So she rushes home only to be caught up in a terrific storm.  The tornado totally holds up with modern technology and looks great and the music is spectacular.

You feel the panic of it all.  It’s very chilling and we see Miss Gulch in the tornado and our first glimpse of a witch on a broomstick.  It is brilliant imagery.

Dorothy of course lands in Munchkinland in Oz.  She is greeted as a great hero but is also immediately presented with the difference between good and evil.  The creativity and inventiveness in every aspect of these early scenes blows me away.  Yes they are high pitched Munchkins singing but they created a whole world.  It would take until Star Wars till a dichotomy of good vs evil in a new land is as beautifully captured.  I don’t know if we ever get another musical fantasy to match it’s equal.  Every inch is designed and full of color and light which is the rainbow opposite of Dorothy’s home

Every part is iconic from the yellow brick road, to the ruby slippers to everything else.  Margaret Hamilton is so chilling as the Wicked Witch of the West.  She overwhelms with hate and bitterness, even for her dog, and part of what makes her work is we have just seen her equal in the human world which makes her seem not all that far-fetched.

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So Dorothy starts on her journey where she meets the scarecrow who is obsessed with his lack of a brain, tin man who is obsessed with his lack of a heart and cowardly lion who is obsessed with his lack of courage.  Each of these characters are kind of like our troupe in Lord of the Rings.  They provide warmth and a quasi-family for Dorothy and are completely charming.  Not to mention some terrific songs and dance sequences.

The color and art  design is so fabulous with such endearing performances.

My personal favorite is the Cowardly Lion by Bert Lahr.  Who doesn’t feel for the shy King of the Forest?

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Eventually they make it to the Emerald City where we meet a Wizard of a lot of sound and fury.  More great music and he gives the troupe a seemingly impossible task- bring him the broomstick of the Wicked Witch of the West.  It’s always effective in storytelling when the task seems greater than the participants capabilities.  That’s what makes Harry Potter so good.  Harry always seems unequal to his tasks which makes you cheer all the louder when he does.

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This scene in the Witches Castle is just about perfect.  The Witch is so mean and scary and you feel the panic in Dorothy’s voice.  When Toto escapes it is an emotional moment and then when she see’s Auntie Em in the crystal just like she did in the peddler’s ball it will make the most hardened man emotional.  Especially to have her emotion mocked by the witch.  Again to me it is chilling and scary and emotional and perfection.

The water is a bit lame but how far they take it is chilling with the Scarecrow on fire and all and her last exclamation is so perfect ‘Oh what a world, what a world.  Who would have thought a good little girl like you could destroy my beautiful wickedness”.

Hail to Dorothy!  The Wicked Witch is dead!  It’s such  thrilling moment going back to the initial conflict with Miss Gulch.  The amount of emotions we get in a short 10 minutes of film is astounding.

So now we think our story is over.  She has the broom and she is to see the Wizard but alas we all know about that ‘man behind the curtain’.  This is so brilliant because it teaches Dorothy that villainy can be found in many forms and that the great and powerful of this earth are often nothing but a bunch of smoke and mirrors.  Real power comes from home and love.  It’s like the priests battling Elijah.  With all their fire and blood they could not mimic the actual power of God.  In some ways the wizard is the true villain of the picture because at least the witch is honest.

Then when all hope seems to be lost we learn ‘there’s no place like home’ and just like Dorothy went home after talking to the peddler about Aunt Em, Dorothy is able to return to her home.  The goodbye to particularly the Scarecrow is very touching (I’m telling you this movie gives me every emotion!).  Could watch this about a million times.

And she is home.  Her journey Over the Rainbow is done and she is home.

Movies are supposed to take you on a journey and I can’t think of one that does that better than Wizard of Oz.  It looks gorgeous.  The art design is outstanding.  The special effects and sound design still hold up.  The performances are all great.  The music both score and songs are fabulous. The performances are wonderful with Judy Garland perfection.  It brings on every emotion from fear, to longing, to friendship, to glee.  It is tender and sweet while also being dark and disturbing.  It keeps up the theme of Over the Rainbow that life is both hopeful and hopeless but it is always a journey home.  There will be evil, charlatans, fools and friends along the way but the goal is always to defeat Satan and return to Our Heavenly Father, to return home.

We’re Off to See the Wizard!   It certainly is one of my all time favorites.

Overall Grade- A+

ps.  The sequels and prequels have been an absolute embarrassment.  Stop people!

God’s Not Dead: A Review

2014 has been a fabulous year for Christian films at the box office.  We had Heaven is for Real cost 12 million and made 101 million.  Noah (I know some Christians didn’t care for it but I liked it!) cost 112 million and made 359 million.  While not a huge hit, Mom’s Night Out doubled it’s budget.  The Bible on History channel was a massive success and Son of God spinoff from that film made 67 million.

This makes me very happy because I want Christian films to be made and made well. If Hollywood knows they can make serious money the quality will continue to improve and we can hopefully get messages of faith without the excessive preaching and poor production values of direct to video variety films.  People of faith deserve to have their stories told and have a spot for them at the movies just as they do in music and literature.

Of all of the Christian releases this year the one I was looking forward to seeing the most was God’s Not Dead.  This scrappy little Christian film made 62 million off of a 2 million dollar budget! It was in the top 10 for a long time and earned 8.6 million in it’s opening weekend.  In contrast, Disney’s Muppets Most Wanted earned 16.5 which is shocking when you consider its wider demographic and marketing budget.

gods-not-deadSo is it any good?

Remember my post on Consider the Audience?  Most of the critics hated it but the audience felt favorably.  That is because it is a movie made for a specific Christian audience, which many critics do not fall into.

I really enjoyed it and was moved by it.  In fact, I related to it quite strongly.  It is about a boy named Josh who is asked by his philosophy professor to sign a paper saying ‘God is Dead’.  Being a man of faith he cannot sign such a document.  The teacher challenges Josh to prove God is not dead or he must sign the document and fail the class.

Kevin-Sorbo-in-GODS-NOT-DEADSome not of faith may think this scenario is ridiculous but if you talk to most Christians who have attended secular higher education they have faced similar circumstances.  While perhaps not as dramatic as the movie portrays, most of us have been forced to defend our ‘insane notions’ of our particular faith before academics who think they know better than us (and I love academics BTW).

Before I was accepted into a church-ran school, I was called out in front of my history class and forced to debate my teacher about my faith on more than one occasion.  At first it started with Mormon history and defending Brigham Young and Joseph Smith.  Then it moved to basic Christianity and theology.  He proceeded to try and enlighten me on why I was stupid and foolish and the whole class should take note.  A similar incident actually happened that same year in a political science class I took (you see why I was so glad to go to BYU!)

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This type of attempted public shaming of those of any faith is unfortunate but it has an opposite effect of what’s intended by the person doing the shaming.  It only makes us stronger and more aware of God’s strength and power.  While my class didn’t stand up and cheer like in this movie, several came up to me after the sessions commenting on how impressed they were with me and my courage.  Again, not having the effect the teacher was intending on any of the students.  If anything it just makes them look like atheist bullies.

Capturing this kind of challenge of faith is where God’s Not Dead is very strong.  Shane Harper as the student is very good.  He’s confident but nervous and doesn’t have an answer to every question Professor Radisson, played by Kevin Sorbo, throws at him. I liked that.  None of us have every answer but enough to carry us through.

Some of the other side plots are more mixed.  I enjoyed seeing the guys from Duck Dynasty but they are a little wedged in to the story.  Dean Cain has a laughable scene where his fling girlfriend tells him she has cancer and he says ‘and this couldn’t wait…’. I don’t pretend to understand atheists but feel confident none of them would be so cold to anyone who has just found out she has cancer!

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The cancer sufferer is played well by Trisha LaFache and a Muslim girl who is converting to Christianity is also very convincingly played by Hadeel Sittu.  Radisson’s Christian girlfriend is played effectively by Cory Oliver.  All in all a good cast.  We also get cameos from the Christian rock band Newsboys and I liked them also.

This is one of those movies if it sounds like something you will like than you will probably like it.  If it sounds like something you’d hate than you’d probably hate it.  It is made for a specific audience and especially the scenes of debate between Radisson and Josh are very moving for a Christian audience.  Most of us can relate to those moments and can empathize with what Josh is going through.  Like I said, a few of the subplots are forced and cliched but all-in-all I really liked God’s Not Dead.

There’s nothing wrong with a film being made for a select audience, and I’m glad they do not seek to be well-rounded and appeal to everyone who could see the film.  There’s plenty of movies atheists or agnostics can see that praise their perspective.  They can see those.  We can see this.  I’m hopeful the money trail will lead to even better movies for those of faith in the future.

Content Grade- A+ (nothing offensive in this at all) Overall Grade- B