[REVIEW] ‘Marcel the Shell with Shoes On’ or My New Comfort Watch

Before this Spring I had never heard of Marcel the Shell. Evidently he first appeared in a stop-motion short by director Dean Fleischer-Camp in 2010. Then in April we got the first trailer for a Marcel feature film and I was immediately captivated. There’s something so special and endearing about Marcel and his adventures that I couldnt help but become attached. At first I wondered if there would be enough for a feature film but Fleischer-Camp and team have made a truly charming film that should win over even the world’s biggest curmudgeons.

Marcel the Shell with Shoes On tells the story of the little shell creature with one eye named Marcel who has been separated from his family by a careless human home owner who takes them when he moves away. Now it is just him, his Nanna Connie and the human tenant Dean (director Dean Fleischer-Camp). When Dean decides to make a documentary Marcel’s world opens up in ways he could never imagine, even eventually being featured on his favorite show, 60 Minutes.

Marcel the Shell with Shoes On' returns in part three of this painfully adorable video series - ABC7 New York

Jenny Slate could not be cuter as Marcel, perfectly capturing what is needed for this character to come alive. So much of the character depends on the voice due to him having only one eye and a small mouth to capture emotion. Isabella Rossellini is also great as Nanna Connie.

Film Review:

I’m afraid in describing Marcel the Shell with Shoes On I make it sound more saccharine than it actually is. It is a very sweet film but it is also touching, tender and made me tear up more than a few times. It touches’ on serious issues like marital discord, family loss, death, and especially loneliness.

You have to wonder if the fact Fleischer-Camp and Slate divorced in 2016 added this layer to the screenplay they worked together on with Nick Paley and Elizabeth Holm. When Marcel asks Dean about his divorce it feels more than a little prosaic.

Marcel the Shell with Shoes On is getting a pretty decent rollout by distributor A24 so check to see if it is at a theater near you. It’s an absolute gem.

9.5 out of 10 I’m tempted to give this a perfect score. It charmed me!

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[REVIEW] ‘Minions: The Rise of Gru’ or the Best Minions Sequel?

Anyone who has followed my reviews for any amount of time knows I am not the biggest fan of the Despicable Me franchise and in particular the gibberish-talking minions that took over the world in 2010. I even just did a podcast episode with my friend Stanford on how I think Megamind, which came out the same year with a similar story, is the better film.

I especially did not like the first Minions movie and found the screenplay to be off-putting and lazy. So suffice it to say I did not have much hope for the sequel Minions: The Rise of Gru and the fact I had to watch trailers for the film for 2 years did not do much to increase my enthusiasm.

Well, consider me surprised that I actually had a decent time with this film. (This is why I always try and keep my mind open to any film I sit down to watch.) I know it’s  damning with faint praise but it might be the best in the franchise since the original Despicable Me movie? It still has problems and I still find the minions to be annoying but I’d be lying if I said I didn’t laugh quite a bit in this zany adventure.

Minions Take an Airplane on a Wild Joy Ride in New Trailer For MINIONS: THE RISE OF GRU — GeekTyrant

The minions at their best capture a the antics of a silent movie comedy. For example in this film there is a sequence where the 3 main minions Kevin, Stuart and Bob are flying a plane and it’s ridiculous but funny in a classic slapstick way (I think it is Bob that also gets stuck in the airplane toilet which is pretty funny.

Minions: The Rise of Gru' Review: A Delightfully Silly Sequel - Variety

They also spend big money on music for these movies and with this one set in 1976 they get a lot of humor off of famous song drops. One of my favorites is a funeral scene where the minions in a choir sing ”You Can’t Always Get What You Want” by the Rolling Stones. That was funny. Little Gru is also a big step up from Gru and Dru we got in Despicable Me 3.

Minions: The Rise Of Gru To Open Annecy Animation Fest In World Premiere – Deadline

Unfortunately there are some negatives to Minons: The Rise of Gru. The plot with the Vicious 6 drags and especially the action towards the end is bland. It feels like something we’ve seen a million times. I honestly just wanted it to get back to the slapstick laughs again. The animation is also fine but it doesn’t do anything to stand out or be visually special.

Also, this film is not helped by the fact it is so similar to the recently released The Bad Guys, from DreamWorks which is superior in every way. The animation in The Bad Guys is much better but also the script, story, characters and even the voice-work are better.

Perhaps Minions: The Rise of Gru is helped by extremely low expectations but I can’t deny that I laughed a fair amount. If you are a fan of the franchise you will enjoy this one and even if you are a skeptic like me it might win you over. At the least, I bet a lot of people will agree with me this is the best entry since the original Despicable Me film. Go figure!

6 out of 10

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[REVIEW] ‘Poupelle of Chimney Town’ or You’ve Got a Friend in Trash

Long time readers of this site will probably remember I am not the biggest fan of dystopians- particularly of the YA variety. I find they often have little to teach besides cynicism and I don’t really need that in my art- I get enough of it when I watch the news! The one exception to this rule is in my animated films- particularly anime. Movies like Akira, Ghost in the Shell and Paprika dazzle me enough in the animation and have enough hope in the narrative to win me over to the more depressing world-building.

Now you can add another anime to that list- the wonderful and underrated film from director Yusuke Hirota called Poupelle of Chimney Town. This might just be charming enough to win over people who don’t normally like anime (people I do not understand for the record).

Poupelle of Chimney Town is adapted from his own picture book by Japanese illustrator Akihiro Nishino and it has the look and feel of a steampunk fairytale. In the story Lubicchi, a young spirited boy, is determined to show everyone there is a greater world than the smoky, soot-colored world he lives in called Chimney Town.

One day he makes a friend out of literally out of trash called Poupelle who is voiced by Tony Hale in the dub who ironically has played another similar ‘trash’ character with Toy Story 4‘s Forky. The unlikely duo then go on a series of adventures including an intense incinerator scene and a roller coaster type scene through the wild steampunk world of Chimney Town.

The animation is wonderful with both the intimacy of 2D and the immersion of CGI. It draws you in from the start and never lets go. There was something about the whimsy that had a vintage quality to it- like something Don Bluth would have directed in the 80s. It’s the kind of project Dom DeLuise would have voiced back in the day.

Poupelle of Chimney Town is available on digital and on dvd/blu-ray (ad) on May 31st. Don’t miss your chance to check out this dazzlingly animated achievement!

8 out of 10

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[REVIEW] ‘The Bob’s Burgers Movie’ or How to Make a Good Movie From a Show I Don’t Like

I must be honest I have tried to get into the television show Bob’s Burgers many times and have always failed. Being a big The Simpsons fan it seemed like something I should like, but I found the humor to be too gross and off-putting for my taste. I’ve heard from friends that the first season isn’t that great but then once it finds its footing it can be a real hoot so maybe I just need to try some random episodes  and I would love some recommendations if any readers have some.

Anyway, I say all this because I was not expecting to like this movie. I was open to liking it (otherwise what’s the point in going to the screening) but it seemed unlikely. Well, count me surprised because I ended up really enjoying it! In fact, am I now a Bob’s Burgers fan?

I think what won me over, where the show hasn’t, is how endearing the characters are and how likable the spirit of family is. The story is simple with a sinkhole blocking the entrance to the families famous eatery and them all working together to uncover a mystery behind their landlord Mr Fischoeder (Kevin Kline).

Not only is the movie sweet but it is also very funny with lots of gags involving each family member. I particularly enjoyed anything with Louise (Kristen Schaal) and her struggles to be brave towards bullies at school who tease her for her bunny ears hat.

I also really enjoyed all the songs (I guess music is a thing in the show which I didn’t know about). They were catchy and well preformed. All the vocal performances were great, and I appreciate an animated film that almost exclusively uses voice actors. I hate when movies like Lego Ninjago ditch the voice actors for celebrities.

The Bob’s Burgers Movie will be a real treat for any animation fan as it has scene after scene of glossy 2D animation. I loved in particular the segments in the last act of the film when they are being chased through an underground bunker in an amusement park. The dark browns and blacks and the speed of the cars was wonderful.

All in all this film has the potential to be the surprise of the summer. I laughed, bopped to the songs and enjoyed spending time with this quirky family. If you are on the fence give it a shot. It just might surprise you as well. My only critique of the film is there was a time with the villain monologuing that went on too long and started to drag but once the section was done it picked back up again.

7 out of 10

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[REVIEW] ‘Apollo 10 1/2: A Space Age Childhood’ or the Power of Memories

Have you ever sat with an elderly person and listened to them tell their stories? There’s something powerful about that experience even if the stories don’t particularly go anywhere. I know when my Grandparents were still alive I loved hearing them talk about what their parents were like, what cars they drove, food they ate, what it was like to serve in WWII etc. As they shared their stories I’d think about my own life and how despite the different eras we weren’t that different after all.

Sometimes film can capture this experience. Some might call it nostalgia, and it is, but when done well it can be a gift, helping to bind generations in a special and powerful way. This is the experience offered in Richard Linklater’s new film Apollo 10 1/2: A Space Age Childhood. It’s nostalgia in the best sense of the word, and I adored it.

Some may watch Apollo 10 1/2 and want more plot but I’m glad he kept it simple and wistful. It’s interesting because both Licorice Pizza and Belfast from last year have similar story structures, but I prefer this film to either of those (I liked both of them). I think part of my response is because I love animation (even rotoscoped animation) but the other part is I connect more with a story of a big family in the suburbs than the families in the other 2 films.

As I said, the animation in this film is rotoscoped, or traced from live action. Linklater has used this style before in Waking Life and A Scanner Darkly. I haven’t seen the latter but did a whole episode on Waking Life with my friend Stanford you can find here. It’s  way more pretentious and existential than Apollo 10 1/2, but I still enjoyed it.

Linklater has long been a favorite filmmaker of mine. I loved Boyhood and the Before moves are transcendent. But Apollo 10 1/2 goes back to his early films like Dazed and Confused and Slacker. He does such a good job of taking you to a time and place and helping you see the glory in the small moments of every day living.

For example, there’s a great scene in Apollo 10 1/2 where the kids go from playing games outside on the lawn (statue tag) to playing games inside- board games like Life and Clue. As someone from a family that loves games this was so comforting to watch. It made me want to get my family together and play games again.

Such a yearning for a simpler time is the power of Apollo 10 1/2. I don’t know if that time actually existed but it’s comforting to imagine it did. The incredible soundtrack also helps in that escapism with bands like CCR, Johnny Cash, and The Byrds (much like Dazed and Confused which has one of the best soundtracks in movie history).

We also get to experience young Stanley’s fantasy about getting plucked into the space program for a secret mission to the moon. Plus, we see the stories of the NASA officials as they work on the Apollo 11 mission. This part of the story probably gives the structure and plot some will need, but I could have had the movie be just the everyday living and been perfectly content.

But in truth, I loved everything about Apollo 10 1/2: A Space Age Childhood. It made me happy in a way few films have since the pandemic started, and I felt a desire to watch it again as soon as I finished. It’s on Netflix so gather the family together and watch a sweet film about a family of the past. You won’t regret it.

9.5 out of 10

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[REVIEW] ‘Turning Red’: Pixar’s Puberty Metaphor Turns Sour (Maybe Mild Spoilers)

Going into 2022 one of my most anticipated movies of the year was the latest Pixar film Turning Red. In fact, when it was first announced at the Disney investor presentation I made the promotional image of Mei Lee and her panda my wallpaper on my phone because I thought it looked so charming.

Unfortunately now I have seen Turning Red I must own to being very disappointed by the film and in fact it is the first Pixar film I’ve outright disliked (yes even Cars 2 has a bonkers sensibility I mildly enjoy). I even watched it a second time just to make sure of my response and yep this one isn’t for me.

Let’s talk about the positives. First, I like the idea of a family film trying to tackle puberty and anxiety in an honest and straight-forward way. How they succeeded at that is another question but I am sure there will be a lot of people who will connect with Mei Lee and her family’s journey. I also love the representation and seeing not only a Chinese-Canadian family but also Mei’s diverse friend group.

Also the animation is outstanding as is usually the case with Pixar. I know its received lots of chatter online, but I enjoyed the anime feel especially with the eyes and transformation of the characters from human to animal. The fur on panda Mei is so lush and cuddly that I’m sure it will be the source of many plush Disney toys to come.

Part of my problem with Turning Red I must own to my aversion for whiney teen coming of age movies to begin with. Movies that others love like The Edge of Seventeen I find insufferable and annoying. If you love those kind of stories you’ll probably enjoy Turning Red more than I did.

But my personal taste aside, while bold, the whole metaphor Turning Red uses didn’t really work. The idea is Mei Lee comes from a family where upon her first period the girls turn into a red panda when they are upset. While the concept of a period making someone ‘turn red’ is a bit on the nose it could have been effective but the story has problems.

First of all, the mother, Ming, is unhinged and unreasonable. For example, in one scene she lambasts a convenience store clerk Mei has a crush on because Mei has drawings of him in her sketchbook. Not only would this be incredibly embarrassing it doesn’t make sense. Why should he be responsible for her drawings/crush and is her liking someone a character flaw? How could she possibly feel this is a correct response to a basic life experience? Also if you knew this was going to happen wouldn’t you try to prepare your daughter a little bit?

Mei is also a lot of personality and what some will find endearing I often found grating.

Such strange behavior made me annoyed with the characters and then the fighting between Mom and daughter got old real fast. But beyond that the metaphor doesn’t really work. So she turns into a panda when she starts her period but there’s a whole ritual that makes the panda go away? I realize this is a magical realism story but just inventing rituals for cultures and religion (Mei’s family owns and operates a temple) is a strange choice and then the plot of her becoming a party attraction for a bully’s birthday mixed in with the family drama fell flat.

The thing is none of the inspirations for the panda are within Mei’s control. She gets her period- can’t control. She deals with anxiety and emotions- can’t control. She goes through puberty- can’t control. Teens will relate to this but unfortunately they don’t have a ritual that will stop all of these tough things. Mei decides to embrace the panda but all of us normal people don’t get that choice. It’s happening whether we like it or not. Evidently Mei’s mother has been suppressing her panda for years but then why was the ritual necessary? The ritual allows her to bring it back when she wants to? But then again how does that connect with actual teen struggles who can’t make their ‘pandas’ come and go when they want?

It seems like most critics didn’t mind this murky metaphor but it bothered me and kept me from fully embracing the film. I also didn’t connect with the humor of Turning Red or the focus on 2002 boy band called 4*TOWN. It’s a shame they set the movie in 2002 because an Asian KPOP type band like BTS would have been a fun way to bring in the culture rather than just generic boy band.

At the end of the day, I admire what director Domee Shi was going for with Turning Red but the script lets down that ambitious premise making for more of a mess than a masterpiece.  I hope you all enjoy it more than I did but this puberty metaphor gets a pass from me.

5 out of 10

Frown Worthy

PS- Turning Red should still have been played in theaters!

[REVIEW] ‘Hotel Transylvania: Transformania’ or A Sandler by Any Other Voice…

Most people who read my reviews know I am not the biggest fan of Adam Sandler’s comedies. I actually don’t mind him when he works on other people’s projects (Spanglish, Punch Drunk Love, etc) however most of his Happy Madison produced films I’ve loathed. Movies like The Ridiculous 6, Little Nicky, and That’s My Boy should barely be referred to as films.

Fortunately there has been one bright spot in Sandler’s career. Since 2012 the Hotel Transylvania movies have been pleasant, well animated romps with Sandler in the lead as Dracula and directed by the visionary Genndy Tartakovsky. Of course, I wish Genndy’s more ambitious projects like Primal could get the same attention but alas Hotel Transylvania will probably be what he is most remembered for. And I guess they are fun enough films.

I actually enjoyed Hotel Transylvania 3: Summer Vacation film the most. The 2nd one flirts with a bold message but then cops out at the end and the first is just ok fish out of water story. The 3rd is a vacation movie with the most humor and sparkling animation.

Now we have the 4th entry Hotel Transylvania: Transformania which has Genndy as only a screenwriter and Jennifer Kluska and Derek Drymon taking over as directors.

We also have Brian Hull taking over for the voice of Drac, which honestly he does a near flawless Sandler impression. It has got to be a weird thing to be Sandler and hear someone doing your voice so identically. Unfortunately Brad Abrell is not as adept at taking over for Kevin James in the voice of Frankenstein.

As far as the story it’s cute enough. Drac’s son-in-law Johnny (Andy Sandburg) stumbles upon Professor Van Helsing’s (Jim Gaffigan) ‘monsterfication ray’ and turns himself into a monster. Then Drac and the monsters get turned into humans. It’s a one-joke premise but executed with enough manic energy to be entertaining. I particularly enjoy any time Fran Drescher’s Eunice gets to shine (they don’t give her enough to do in this franchise but she’s always hilarious). David Spade also gets some good laughs as the Invisible Man who isn’t so invisible any more!

Hotel Transylvania: Transformania is a good film to go to streaming. You can turn it on with the kids and have some laughs while folding laundry and getting things done. Maybe that’s a low bar but it’s a reality. It’s no masterpiece but it will have the whole family laughing and that’s important. I say give this scary hotel one more shot.

6 out of 10

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