Current Mini Reviews (3000 Years of Longing, Dragon Ball Super: Super Hero, Acapulco)

Hey everyone! I hope you are doing well. I have been super busy as always so it’s time to update you on what I’ve been watching lately. Just 3 updates today but I would love to hear what you are watching and what you thought of these projects.

3000 Years of Longing

Because I have been so busy I went into this knowing basically nothing about it, except that it is directed by George Miller. He of course directed Mad Max Fury Road as well as Happy Feet (which is a super weird movie if you rewatch it. Particularly the last act of the film that moves away from the singing penguins).

I didn’t even know that 3000 Years is about a genie but unfortunately my lack of knowledge didn’t help me enjoy the film much. Sometimes being green does but not in this case. I was totally overwhelmed by the project and found it both uninteresting and bizarre at the same time.

The weirdest part about the the project is what it seems to be saying about love. Each story the genie (Idris Elba) tells Alithea (Tilda Swinton) tells revolves around some kind of servitude. One character is literally kept as a prisoner for her husband to rape while she uses her wishes to not be free but to learn, which is very strange. Even Alithea and the Genie’s relationship ends up being one of servitude and control. Does Miller believe love is some form of slavery? I don’t understand what the point of such a message is or how that is supposed to be empowering or moving as the tone of the film would imply.

I suppose some will enjoy 3000 Years of Longing on a visual level but it was all so joyless and strange that even that didn’t work for me. This is a definite pass.

3 out of 10

Frown Worthy

Dragon Ball Super: Super Hero

In my experience anime franchises are the hardest films to convince average moviegoers to give a chance, which is a shame because they often have a lot to offer in both storytelling, animation and characters. Such is the case with the latest Dragon Ball entry: Dragon Ball Super: Super Hero.

Part of what sets this film apart is it focusing on some new characters: Gohan and Piccolo. We also get to dive into the Red Ribbon Army and its commanders Magenta and Carmine. These are younger, fun characters that teens will be able to easily relate with.

The animation is also a unique combination of the traditional 2D anime style with computer graphics to create a fluid and exciting action adventure. The music also adds a lot to the story and visuals.

There were parts of this film that dragged when the action stopped but if you’ve never seen a Dragon Ball entry this would be a good gateway into this vibrant anime franchise

6 out of 10

Smile Worthy

Acapulco

We all know there is enough gloom and doom in the world around us that we look for media to brighten our spirits with heart-warming stories. Such is what Apple Plus gave us with Ted Lasso but a smaller series from them is equally as crowd-pleasing: Acapulco.

This series stars Eugenio Derbez as Máximo a wealthy man telling his nephew about his early days working at a luxury resort in Acapulco. Young Máximo is played by Enrique Arrizon and he is just awkward enough to be charming. He immediately falls for the beautiful poetry-loving Julia played by Camila Perez.

The first season follows Máximo as he pursues Julia but also becomes more at home in the resort and seeks to help his mother out of poverty (and get a much needed pair of glasses).

If you are looking for a feel-good binge Acapulco is just the ticket. Don’t miss it.

8 out of 10

Smile Worthy

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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

Smile Worthy

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Current Mini Reviews (Anything Goes, Sonic 2, Jujutsu Kaisen 0)

Hi everyone! I wanted to take a second and update you on a few new releases I have been able to see recently. I still have to review Fantastic Beasts: The Secrets of Dumbledore but I want to do a full review of that this weekend. (Sorry I’m so behind!). I also plan on watching Richard Linklater’s new animated film Apollo 10 1/2 this weekend so that will be coming soon.

Anyway, here’s my thoughts on a few films:

Anything Goes

I just completed a trip of a lifetime to NYC where I saw 7 shows in 5 days, so needless to say I love a Broadway show. I also saw nearly 80 shows and concerts in my quest to support local theater in the last year. Can read more about that here.

Honestly this proshot of the London production of Anything Goes might as well be an 8th show on my trip. It was so well done I felt like I was there watching it live. The dancing is phenomenal. The singing outstanding. I’ve seen Anything Goes once before locally and absolutely loved it and felt the same about this production. The catchy Cole Porter songs are so much fun and the throwback characters are sweet and hilarious. Sutton Foster fills up the whole theater (and screen) with numbers like ‘Blow Gabriel Blow’ and Robert Lindsay is fantastic as a mobster pretending to be a priest in numbers like ‘Friendship’.

There’s honestly nothing I would change about this show. It’s perfect. If it counts it’s my favorite film of 2022 (I counted Hamilton in 2020?)

10 out of 10

Smile Worthy

Sonic the Hedgehog 2

I am in no way a video game person, but I enjoyed the first Sonic the Hedgehog movie and was looking forward to the sequel. What I liked about the original was the sweet friendship between James Marsden’s Tom and Sonic and the old-school villain antics of Jim Carrey’s Doctor Eggman.

Now we have the sequel, Sonic the Hedgehog 2, and I for the most part enjoyed it as well. Like a good sequel should do, this film takes what worked in the original and adds on to it with Sonic not only having his friendship with Tom but he gets a new friend like him in Tails, who is so cute. They also have to face off against Knuckles (Idris Elba). Sonic is such an appealing character I have consistently found charming and likable. It’s ironic they had to redesign the character for the first film because it’s hard to imagine him any differently than he is.

There are problems in Sonic 2. It feels bloated and it tries to be more epic than it needs to be (do we really need another pillar in the sky superhero movie?). There’s also a long subplot involving a wedding where Sonic and Tails aren’t present and it drags. However, I still enjoyed spending time with Sonic and Tails and found Knuckles to be a fun antagonist. Take the family and I bet you will have a good time watching another sweet movie featuring our super-fast friend.

7 out of 10

Smile Worthy

Jujutsu Kaisen movie: It's worth watching for newcomers and fans alike.

Jujutsu Kaisen 0

I’m always excited to see the latest anime property but sometimes it can be challenging when I haven’t seen the accompanying series. Last year we had Demon Slayer: Mugen Train that was excellent, and all of the My Hero Academia movies have been great. Now we get Jujutsu Kaisen 0 which is actually a prequel to the anime series so it is more approachable than it might appear on the surface.

Jujutsu Kaisen 0 is about a boy named Yuta who begins to study at a school for sorcerers who are trained to fight curses. When a villain releases a thousand curses on the city things get wild and it’s a visceral exciting animated experience.

I don’t think this film is good for anime newbies or people who turn their noses up at the medium. It’s too frenetic and all-over-the-place for them, but I had a good time. It was a raw and exhilarating watch and it definitely made me want to check out the show for the action alone. If you are open to anime give it a shot.

6 out of 10

Smile Worthy

This turned out to be a positive mini-review update! 3 movies, 3 smile worthy scores. Have you seen these films? I would love to hear your thoughts in the comments sections. Thanks!

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[REVIEW] ‘Belle’ or Mamoru Hosoda’s Stunning Defense of Modern Friendship

Hi friends! This review is about a month late but I really wanted to get my views on Mamoro Hosoda’s new film Belle out there as critics are doing their Oscar watches. Please make this stunning anime film a part of your awards consideration! It’s not only one of my favorite movies of 2021 but one of the best theater experiences I’ve had since maybe Avengers: Endgame.

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I was fortunate enough to see Belle at a screening at Animation is Film Festival which I attended in Los Angeles this October (read more in my travelogue here). The screening of Belle had a ton of buzz and when I arrived the theater was packed- every seat taken. The director Hosoda was there in attendance and he introduced the film. He talked about how the Disney Beauty and the Beast (which is 30 years old this year! Perfect timing for this fresh take) was something that helped inspire him to become an animator. ‘Now this is my take on the story” he said as he took his seat and the movie began!

And wow! What an experience! I can’t put into words how electrifying it was to be in a theater again where everyone was invested in every aspect of the film. It was so incredible. And fortunately it wasn’t just the moment but Belle is a stunning treatise on friendship, the internet and how we can still rescue each other in 2021.

Belle can be described as Beauty and the Beast meets The Matrix but that doesn’t capture the emotion of the piece. Hosoda is so great at capturing raw human emotion in his stories and this is certainly one of his best. The film tells the story of Suzu, a teenager who is traumatized by a life event and stops singing and interacting much with the world. Then one day she goes onto a virtual reality platform called U and she begins to sing again as an avatar named Belle.

One day Belle meets a dragon who is full of bruises that have powers which she becomes fascinated with. There is also a friend in real life that Suzu friend-zones named Shinobu and 2 brothers she tries to help that are being abused by their hateful father.

All these elements come into play with the gorgeous animation and music to make a very memorable experience. It’s so refreshing to have the story we all know and love but taken to a new and interesting place. This is not the story of finding the good in a monster as the Disney film does. It’s about finding good in the monster of the cyberworld. That it can be a tool to help us all reach out to each other and rescue each other. How needed and beautiful is that?

I know people exist who won’t give anime a chance. I will never understand those people. However, if you are open to the medium watch Belle. It’s a career achievement for Hosoda and one of the best films of 2021. If it gets snubbed for Best Animated Feature at the Oscars I will be outraged (the Academy has a long history of snubbing anime not done by Miyazaki although Hosoda did have his last film Mirai get a nomination). We can only hope.

Belle will be available for general audiences in January when GKIDS is releasing it but critics and selected audiences can see it now. Look out for it!

9.5 out of 10

Smile Worthy

Blind Spot 69: Perfect Blue

Originally my plan for this month’s blind spot pick was to cover the anime Her Blue Sky. It was done by writer and animator Mari Okada who created Maquia: When the Promised Flower Blooms and A Whisker Away. Both films I enjoyed a lot. Unfortunately Her Blue Sky is not available anywhere I could find both streaming or on US playable physical media. This forced me to find a different anime selection and after some discussions with friends I decided to finally watch the classic Perfect Blue by Satoshi Kon.

Satoshi Kon has been fresh on my mind lately because I just watched a documentary on his life as part of Fantasia Fest 2021. Back in 2016 I reviewed his masterpiece Millennium Actress for rotoscopers.  I also covered his film Tokyo Godfathers in 2019 as part of this blind spot project. And finally my friend Conrado and I recently covered Paprika as part of our Criterion Project podcast.  So, it is appropriate I would finish this Satoshi Kon immersion process with quite possibly his most famous film in Perfect Blue. Perfect Blue tells the story of a woman named Mima who gives up her career as a popstar in order to become a serious actress. Unfortunately she ends up getting a role in a show called Double Blind where she has to perform in a rape scene (this is the reason I had avoided this movie until now). At the same time she is asked to do this she is being stalked and threatened (even letter bombs).

Mima starts to have conversations with her old popstar self and the line between reality and dreams becomes more and more confusing (a theme of Satoshi Kon).

The animation for Perfect Blue is absolutely stunning. Satoshi Kon weaves layers of backgrounds so multiple things are happening in each frame. You also feel for Mima’s character and want her to be treated fairly.The movie also uses music very well, which allows the viewer to become fully immersed in the story.

Perfect Blue also takes on deep themes of celebrity, fandom, identity, dreams, mental health, suicide, sexual discrimination and more.

The downside to the film is with so much happening both in the animation and story it can be confusing and difficult to follow. This is especially true when you have Mima talking to her former self and another person who is delusional thinking herself to be the “real Mima”. Even with the dub it’s still felt overwhelming to watch and keep track of.

There are also disturbing elements but I wouldn’t say it is gratuitous. It’s all part of the story and important to Mima’s progression.

What do you think about Perfect Blue? Is it a favorite of yours or is it not for you? Let me know in the comments section. Also let me know what anime you’d like me to review that I haven’t? I would love to know.

7 out of 10

Smile Worthy

Current Mini Reviews

Hey everyone! Got a quick 3 mini reviews for you today.  I am making more of an effort to see live theater these days so I will probably be a bit pickier when it comes to new movies. You can find my live theater reviews on my personal blog here.

I will have a review of Cruella tomorrow and Spirit Untamed for you on Friday but for now here are 3 new movies I’ve seen but haven’t been able to review yet.

Demon Slayer- The Movie: Mugen Train

Some movies based on anime shows can stand alone others need more backstory. Demon Slayer is the latter. I wish I had seen the show before watching the movie but I still enjoyed the film and it has inspired me to watch the show. This film takes the demon slayers from the show and puts them on a train that is possessed by demons. As they travel on the train and fight the demons we get to learn more about each of the slayer’s backstories and lives. It’s emotional, intense, violent and beautiful. The animation is gorgeous and as I saw the dub it was well done.

There are times I was confused but for the most part I got what was going on. So if you don’t have time to watch the series I still think it is worth seeing for the animation alone. The series is available on Netflix for all interested.

8 out of 10

Smile Worthy

Top End Wedding

The first third of this Australian wedding romcom is very chaotic and random and I wasn’t sure it was going to be my thing but once it gets to the actual wedding it really works and I was invested. Lauren (Miranda Tapsell) and Ned (Gwilym Lee) have such great chemistry and you are really rooting for this couple to succeed.

There are all kinds of shenanigans from difficult parents who have to be hunted down, bachelorette parties that get out of hand and a boss with Cruella hair. Like I said, some of it is a too much but the core is so heartwarming and sweet I couldn’t help but love it.

It ends in one of the most satisfying weddings in recent memory. 2 good people have found and committed to each other and isn’t that what it is all about? A rom-com win that will leave you cheering.

8 out of 10

Smile Worthy

Here Today

Some movies just have bad timing. Here Today is one of those films. Directed and starring Billy Crystal it has the best of intentions and is trying to be a sweet film about a man getting dementia. The problem is we just had an Oscar winning film about a man with dementia that was far superior in The Father. It’s impossible to not compare the two and find this one lacking.

Tiffany Haddish costars with Crystal as his friend who helps him with his family and come to terms with his dementia.We also get flashbacks to him and his kids and ideal wife (Louisa Krause).

Some people might compare Here Today with a Hallmark movie but honestly I think it lays on the sentimentality even too thick for Hallmark. I appreciate what they were going for but it gets lost in the cliches and trite characters I had trouble relating too. It’s too well-meaning to be awful but it didn’t really work for me.

4 out of 10

Frown Worthy

So there you go. Did you get to see any of these films? Let me know what you thought!

[REVIEW] ‘A Whisker Away’ or Cats are Cute Especially in Anime

With the closure of theaters from the COVID19 virus many of us have turned to Netflix and other streaming services for new films in 2020. This has brought movies like Extraction, Bad Education, and Palm Springs to the world’s attention. However, one aspect of Netflix’s lineup not given enough credit is their incredible anime selection. Whether series or films they have a large selection of original and curated anime films ready for the viewer to enjoy.

One new offering is from directors Junichi Sato and Tomotaka Shibayama called Nakitai Watashi wa Neko wo Kaburu or in English A Whisker Away. This is a shame because Whisker is an adorable film the entire family will enjoy.

A Whisker Away tells the story of Miyo an unhappy young girl who struggles to fit in with her peers and doesn’t get along with her family well especially her stepmother. She does, however, love to daydream about her crush fellow schoolmate Hinode. One day she finds a mask that turns her into a cat and as a cat she’s able to spend more time with her crush but of course blissful cat-dom can’t last forever and things get complicated.

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First of all, Miyo as the cat Taro is so cute. Her bright blue eyes and white fur will charm even the most hardened of cat haters! Miyo is also a character we can all relate to with her insecurities and a fear of rejection we all face especially as teenagers. The longer she stays a cat the harder it is for her to become human again and the decision is harder for her than you might think.

I also enjoyed the world building and magic of A Whisker Away. The script is difficult to predict what is going to happen and the magic is both delightful and scary at the same time. It is definitely reminiscent of Studio Ghibli’s The Cat Returns so if you like that film you will definitely like this.

whiskers away3

The writer Mari Okada also wrote Maquia: When the Promised Flower Blooms, which I found to be very underrated from 2018. She is great at capturing emotion in her writing and helping you connect with the characters. She directed Maquia and has another film Her Blue Sky that she wrote which I hope gets a US release because I love her writing.

As far as criticisms of A Whisker Away sometimes the villain Kinako was a little much and distracted from the more interesting coming of age elements with Miyo deciding what she wants out of her life.

Still if you are looking for a hidden gem on Netflix A Whisker Away is a good one!

7 out of 10

Smile Worthy

Blind Spot 54: ‘Wolf Children’ Review

In the world of anime fans it’s actually kind of a scandal that I haven’t seen Mamoru Hosoda’s masterpiece Wolf Children. I love Hosoda so I’m not sure why I put off seeing it but now that I have I’m delighted to tell you all that it lives up to the hype. It’s not a loud movie but it is one of the most beautiful depictions of motherhood I’ve seen.

wolf children

Wolf Children tells the story of a woman named Hana who falls in love with a mysterious man while in attending college. Eventually she finds out the man is a wolfman, but not the man-eating variety we see in horror movies. Hanna and the man end up having 2 children, Yuki and Ame who share the wolfman traits of their father.

When the man dies Hana must figure out how to not only be a young single Mother of 2 but also raise 2 children that are of a different species from her own- one that she and everyone around her is entirely unfamiliar with. She ends up moving to the country to keep them safe and learning how to farm and teach her children how to manage both sides of themselves.

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What’s also interesting is the different trajectories of the children. Yuki wants to live as a human being. She goes to school, makes friends, and is able to hold her wolf side in with the help of a little song her Mom made up. On the other hand, Ame is drawn to the wolf side especially after he becomes friends with a wolf named Sohei.

If you are watching Wolf Children looking for a big narrative or strong action you will be disappointed. It’s a simple film about the every day life of our 3 lead characters. We get to know them and become invested in their journeys. The animation is absolutely stunning- right up there with the best of Studio Ghibli. The sound design is also very impressive with the lushness of nature coming to life before our eyes. It really helps us become immersed in the story.

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But mostly Wolf Children is a beautiful story about the power of a Mother’s love to save her children. Even if they are of different species that love is powerful and that says a lot. I don’t think you have to be a big anime fan to enjoy this film. If you have a mother, are a mother or long to be a mother you will be moved by this touching story. I highly recommend it.

9 out of 10

Smile Worthy

smile worthy

Blind Spot 46: ‘Cowboy Bebop: The Movie’

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One of the difficult things about reviewing anime as a movie critic is so many of the films require investment into their accompanying series. Some like My Hero Academia Movie try to get you up to date on what is happening and others just throw you into the fire and hope you can figure it all out. Now, in my recent Downton Abbey review I said I didn’t think it was the job of the movie to please non-fans of the show. I’m fine with a film having a narrow audience; however, it does put me in a bit of a tough situation when I an admitted bystander doesn’t like the end product. Do I toss it up to not being in the intended audience or do I  review it for the problems it has? It’s a tough dilemma but in the end I can’t imagine what the intended audience will think. I can only know what I think and share my experience in my review.

This rather long-winded lead-in, is my way of saying: I did not like Cowboy Bebop: The Movie. It clearly has lots of fans, and I respect that, but it didn’t work for me in some fundamental ways. Let me explain:

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Cowboy Bebop: The Movie tells the story of a group of bounty hunters that live on the planet Mars in 2071. They are hunting down a mysterious man in black named Vincent who is intent on destroying all of humanity (supervillains are so ambitious these days). The main characters are leader Spike Spiegel, femme fatale Faye Valentine, punk kid Ed, brooding Jet Black and super intelligent dog Ein. These are an eclectic group of characters (much like Guardians of the Galaxy), but I never felt like I got to know any of them very well. Plus, we spent a lot of time on stuff I didn’t care about like what type of microwave noodles they each liked.

I never got the sense they were developing a case to follow Vincent but instead they kept accidentally running into him which made the momentum drag. There is some cool animation and some violent action scenes but rarely was the futuristic setting used to its advantage. Most of the events could have been done in any modern situation on any planet. This made the world-building and scifi elements feel generic to nonexistent.

cowboy-bebop-the-movie-vicent-terrorist-review

Vincent is a cool character and his scenes are engaging, as his motivations are complex and troubling. I also really enjoyed how he was animated with the feel of an outlaw in an old-fashioned western. There are scenes some Johnny Cash tunes would have fit right in, which was a fun aesthetic.

Unfortunately a good villain can’t save a film. I found myself getting sleepy while watching Cowboy Bebop: The Movie and losing interest. The story is probably compelling for fans of the series but here in the film it felt pedestrian and bland. It was a lot of time of people sitting around, talking, mixed in with some enjoyable action, which isn’t enough to make a compelling movie for 2 hours (it’s at least 20 minutes too long).

The only reason I could recommend Cowboy Bebop: The Movie it’s one of the few anime films that has a lot of Halloween in it, which makes it an eclectic holiday choice. But even then it is more ornamentation than an actual interesting part of the plot. This movie just didn’t do it for me. It’s crazy how something with so many pieces can still feel so slow and bland? I’m sure some anime fans will be horrified by that statement but there it is.

Are you a fan of Cowboy Bebop? What do you think of this movie and should I watch the show before making a final judgement? Let me know what you think.

3.5 out of 10

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