Loving Vincent Review

2017 has been a banner year for independent animated films. I wouldn’t be surprised if my top animated films ranking at the end of the year has 7 or more indies in the top 10. They have just been that good. All that said, now we get to one of my most anticipated indies of the year, Loving Vincent, and I must own to being a little disappointed. What the animators have accomplished is a great achievement but unfortunately it is not a great movie.

Let’s talk about the great accomplishment first. Loving Vincent is the first animated film to be made entirely with oil paintings. The creators gathered 115 different artists and made oil paintings for all 65,000 frames of the movie! It is a bold, audacious project and visually it pays off. This movie looks gorgeous and the movement of the animation really captures the feel of a Van Gogh painting. You can see in this trailer how amazing the animation is:

They also got a strong vocal cast for Loving Vincent including Chris O’Dowd and Saoirse Ronan.

The problem lies with the story. I’m fine with artistic movies with little plot like A Ghost Story or Knight of Cups; however, Loving Vincent isn’t that kind of art film. No, it has a plot. It’s just not a very good one.

Basically it is about a man named Armand who is assigned the task to deliver a letter to the estate of Vincent Van Gogh. The artist has died via suicide along with his brother Theo. As Armand tries to deliver his letter he begins to suspect maybe it wasn’t a suicide after all…

The problem is it doesn’t have much to say about life, death, suicide, art or anything else. It’s just Armand interviewing a bunch of people and them reciting back facts. If this was a live action film it would never see the light of day. There just isn’t enough meat on the bones here to enjoy the story.

The characters are also not very compelling. Armand is very bland and most of the other characters are kind of cold and cruel. Van Gogh isn’t even compelling because we get so little of him and it is mostly through cliches. This is a man who cut off his own ear and mailed it to someone. Certainly his story must have been more interesting than this?

Loving Vincent is certainly not a bad film and I recommend seeing it if only for the visuals. It’s just disappointing because it could have been great and it isn’t. But hey at least we got something fresh, new and beautiful to look at. I’ll take that deal any day.

Overall Grade- C

The Stray Review

I always like supporting local films of quality when I get the chance and the recent film The Stray is such a film. It’s a little hard to talk about without spoilers but it follows the longstanding cinematic tradition of heartfelt stories about a boy and his dog except in this case it is an entire family and their dog.

The premise is a couple with 3 kids are struggling while the husband is working long hours in corporate Hollywood. His dream is to write screenplays but pursuing that dream is risky and the corporate approach seems safer. One ay busy with work he makes a promise to his son that they can have a dog if it is a stray that wanders onto their yard. Well, it just so happens that a dog does that very thing and this dog becomes ‘Pluto the Wonder Dog!’.

The family ends up moving to Colorado to start trying to save their marriage and family. You’ll have to watch the rest to see what happens.

There is no doubt The Stray has its heart in the right place and that gets it far. It’s funny because I’m not that fan of dogs in my real life but on the movies I love them. Everything from Old Yeller, to Sounder, to Where the Red Fern Grows are all emotional films led by dogs! This is also emotional and it is faith-based without being too heavy handed (there are no clergy ever seen mostly just a few prayers).

The emotion can be a bit of a double edged sword because The Stray is definitely a tearjerker. As I was leaving the theater a woman said ‘well, that was too sad for my taste’. I don’t mind sad movies but it definitely made me tear up. I guess go into it with the right expectations and attitude and you will probably enjoy it. It definitely might be too upsetting for very small children but could also lead to needed discussion about life, death and making time matter with those we love.

I really loved Sarah Lancaster and Michael Cassidy in the leads. They had chemistry and Sarah is a Hallmark pro so of course she is good! 😉 The kids are also pretty well cast and aren’t very grating.

It’s a short movie which helps to deal with the emotion. You aren’t dwelling on it too long.

Anyway, The Stray is a sold tearjerker for the entire family that I think is worth a watch.

Overall Grade- B-

The Big Sick Review

It’s late but I wanted to quickly let you guys know about a delightful movie I just saw called The Big Sick. I’d heard good things about it but it honestly exceeded my expectations and is without a doubt one of my favorites of the year and one of the best comedies (not just romcoms) I’ve seen in a long time. It’s one of the few movies of recent memory that I have no negatives on.

Part of what makes The Big Sick work so well is it is based on a true story of lead actor and writer Kumail Nanjiani’s relationship with his wife Emily Gordon. This gives a warmth and heart to the movie that makes it feel very special. Zoe Kazan steps in to play Emily and the chemistry is effortless and easy to believe.

The script is a real star. There is a bit of profanity but it feels natural to the characters and how they would talk. Kumail is trying to be a stand up comic and at the same time deal with his strict Pakistani parents who are constantly trying to match him with a bride. The dialogue between all involved feels natural and hilarious while never being crass or vulgar.

I loved all the supporting performances but I honestly think Ray Ramano and Holly Hunter are nomination worthy as Emily’s parents. I wouldn’t mind seeing a whole movie just about their characters. There are so many ways they could have been cliches but they felt like actual unique human beings.

I also loved how it handled Kumail’s family and didn’t patronize them or turn them into caricatures as would have been easy to do. Coming from a strict religious family I related quite strongly to them and the situation Kumail was going through. It was handled just right! His stand up friends were also great. It was simply awesome!

There obviously is an illness involved but I will let you find that all out on your own. This movie made me laugh. It made me cry and it was a very late showing I was engrossed the entire time. I LOVED it!!

Check it out for yourself and let me know what you think.

Overall Grade – A+


Baby Driver Review

So yesterday I went to my first Edgar Wright film. I’d always heard great praise for his films but the hard R content turned me off. With Baby Driver I heard from multiple sources it was a pretty mild R and that it was great so I decided to give it a shot and I’m glad I did. While it does require some suspension of disbelief to enjoy, Baby Driver is a very entertaining, kinetic film.

Baby Driver is about a boy named Baby (Ansel Elgort) that is an amazing get-away driver for a crime boss played by Kevin Spacey. Baby is indebted to the boss so he does what he is told. However, because of tendonitis in his ears he requires constant music to be played to drown out the pinging.

The key to making this film work is the visceral engaging action sequences that are so well edited with the music. It draws you in and is entertaining to watch. I hate the phrase turn off your brain but this is a movie that might be easy to over-think, so you ruin the experience. This is not a gritty realistic crime story. If you try to break down the heist and plot elements there are problems but it doesn’t matter because you are quickly on to the next engaging sequence. The only way I can think to describe it is a Fast and the Furious movie but with way more skill than even the best of those films. Those are more guilty pleasure films where this more naturally works at being what it is trying to be.

It’s a very bro-tastic movie with the two women being a sexy assassin or an innocent waitress. Both require saving and are more tools to demonstrate the male character’s story arc then anything on their own. For example, Debora played by Lilly James, exists not to tell her own story, but to provide conflict and tension for Baby. This isn’t a big problem but I do think they could have added a few moments to flesh out her character more- especially to justify some of the decisions she makes.

But that is a small criticism. Like I said, I found it very entertaining and engaging. The acting across the boards is good even if a few parts are underwritten. Nothing ever detracts from having a great time at the theater.

The sound design and editing is near flawless, which helps you get engaged in the heists and chase sequences. The soundtrack is really great because it’s not obvious. One of my complaints about the recent Guardians vol 2 soundtrack is the songs were so on the nose with what was happening. Here it is a little more creative and leaves you often wondering why Baby chose that song for that moment.

Baby Driver is an R rated film and does have some strong violence and profanity but I didn’t think it was too bad or offensive.

So what did you think of Baby Driver? Did you find it entertaining? If you can stomach the R rating then I would encourage you to see it on the big screen as it is such a fun time at the movies. Enjoy!

Overall Grade- B

Spark: A Space Tail Review

Did you know an animated film was released in over 1,000 US theaters last weekend? No it is not My Entire High School is Sinking In the Sea (which I highly recommend).  No it is Spark: A Space Tail. This is a film out of Korea and is the same studio that brought us The Nut Job…

That may sound like a sassy introductory paragraph but a side of me wants to be easy on Spark: A Space Tail. I see potential with it and other foreign CG films that I wish I could nurture and develop. Too many are quick to discount these smaller studio efforts as immediate garbage but I try to have an open mind. In fact, I really think if you could get some writers involved who know what works for an American palate they could be successful. Movies like Spark, Wild Life, Rock Dog and more have solid animation, voice acting but suffer from poorly developed scripts.

Spark is my least favorite out of those 3 films. I was hoping I would enjoy it like I enjoyed Ratchet and Clank (yep, I liked that film). Unfortunately it was not to be.

There are some positives to Spark: A Space Tail. First of all, I enjoyed the animation and the world building. It may not be on a Pixar level but it was bright and full of colors. I also liked the various alien designs and how they moved and flowed in unique ways.

I also thought the voice cast was solid featuring Jace Norman, Jessica Biel, Susan Sarandon, Patrick Stewart and Hillary Swank.

The problem with Spark is I frankly found it extremely boring. The story felt so rehashed from other films and nothing was compelling or drawing me into the story. This kind of space adventure should be fun and nostalgic but it wasn’t. I’ll be honest I fell asleep and not just my normal nods. This was full on sleep for 5 minutes or so…Nothing interesting was happening and the story doesn’t even get really started for an hour into the 90 minute movie. The villain was super lame and felt like a rip-off of Mojo Jojo from the Powerpuff Girls and was shouting most of the time. The teenage angst of Spark didn’t interest me and everything about the story was so predictable and boring.

I hope in the future studios try to make their films more appealing to an American audience if they want their work to take off.  In Spark: A Space Tail I didn’t care about the characters or what was going on and I don’t think kids will either. They will be bored along with their parents and start begging to watch Star Wars again instead and I wouldn’t blame them!

Still, I hope these smaller studios can figure things out. Start selecting better scripts and make the good movies I can see in their future. The potential is there!

Overall Grade- D