Hey everyone! Before I start my review I want to wish you all a Happy Valentines Day and share with you the annual valentine I designed. This year’s design is based on my recent selection as a critic at rottentomatoes.com. I even used the same color of green as the rotten splat is on their website. Happy Valentines!
I also have my review of Isn’t it Romantic on my youtube channel
ALITA BATTLE ANGEL REVIEW
Honestly Alita: Battle Angel is a movie I probably wouldn’t have seen if I wasn’t trying to be a more well-rounded critic. Fantasy movies don’t tend to be my thing and most of the live action anime adaptations haven’t been great (although I did enjoy the recent Ghost in the Shell adaptation more than most). With all that said, I actually enjoyed Alita: Battle Angel quite a bit.
Alita: Battle Angel tells the story of a cyborg (Rosa Salazar) with a fully intact human brain that is found by a cyborg scientist (Christoph Waltz) in the scrapheap. At first she can’t remember anything of her previous life but as she fights she gets back bits of that memory.
In the dystopian world they have a sport called Motorball which is kind of like a grittier form of roller derby and it turns out Alita is a natural. If she can win the grand championship of the sport she can get to a special city in the sky called Zalem, which is where she originally came from.
Alita also meets a boy named Hugo (Keen Johnson) and discovers there are assassins out to get her and her father. She can train as a ‘hunter-warrior’ to defeat these assassins but they are very strong and make things difficult for her and her friends.
That’s all I will say about the plot. The strengths of Alita: Battle Angel is in Alita as a character. The giant eyes may be off-putting for some, but I adjusted to them quite quickly. Rosa Salazar and the motion capture animators do a really good job making Alita likable and endearing. She’s such an honest character in a dark world that you can’t help but root for her. I also liked her and Hugo’s little relationship quite a bit (you know I’m a sucker for romance!).
It is also a beautiful movie with stunning world building. I saw it in 3D and I recommend it as it feels even more immersive than the flat images would on their own. Beautiful world building isn’t enough alone to win me mover but it is still a plus in the movies favor.
The downsides to Alita: Battle Angel is I didn’t like the goons who were hunting Alita down. There are 2 main cyborgs, and I found both of them to be pretty grating. Also the middle section of the movie where most of the fighting takes place gets repetitive and dull. However, it picked back up with a strong finale so I can forgive the film.
If you like action or scifi movies you should find more than enough to like with Alita: Battle Angel. It’s beautifully made with a charming and sweet lead character. Even if you don’t typically like sci-fi/fantasy you might like it with the teen romance, and sweet relationship between father and daughter. It’s true that some actors are wasted in bland roles like Mahershala Ali and Jennifer Connelly, but I still had a pretty fun time with the film. It has its flaws, but I was entertained more than enough to give a recommendation.
Today I am back with a small edition of my mini reviews post. Mostly the end of January was taken up by the Sundance Film Festival but I was able to squeeze in a few other viewings which included both new and 2018 releases.
So here goes!
THE BALLAD OF BUSTER SCRUGGS
At the risk of losing some of my film snob credibility with #filmtwitter I must own I have not enjoyed most of the Coen Brothers recent comedies. They seem to rely so much on setting that they forget to tell a good joke. Films like Hail Caesardidn’t work because instead of being funny they decided to be boring and repetitive. Their early work like Raising Arizona focused on script first, setting and set-pieces second and this is what made it so funny.
Now we get a western themed anthology from them and it has much of the same problems of Hail Caesar. Lately the Coen Brothers seem content to simply pay homage to classic storytelling (in this case the western) instead of crafting compelling scripts within said genre.
For starters, I didn’t think that any of the shorts were funny. A couple were sweet and tender like The Gal Who Got Rattled, but even it, is not something I am going to remember. In contrast, their films like Fargo or Oh Brother! Where Art Thou I will never forget (memorable characters, script and setting!).
The shorts in The Ballad of Buster Scruggs are well made and acted but aren’t memorable nor did they inspire any large emotion from me. Pretty bland I’d say.
4 out of 10
MOWGLI: LEGEND OF THE JUNGLE
Another missed opportunity came with Andy Serkis and his version of Rudyard Kipling’s The Jungle Book. Of course we all know that Disney hit a real homerun with their 2016 version directed by Jon Favreau. I wasn’t as in love with that version as some moviegoers but it was certainly better than this new version that went straight to Netflix for a reason.
To put it quite bluntly Mowgli: Legend of the Jungle is unmemorable and boring in every way. The child performer Rohan Chand who plays Mowgli is pretty good (perhaps better than the kid in the Favreau version tbh) but the story was not interesting. They go a darker angle which will be too traumatizing for kids but it isn’t compelling enough to entertain adults so it’s just really bland.
Also the cgi, which was so memorable in Favreau’s version, is very hit and miss here. The voice cast is all good but the characters don’t do anything interesting and Mowgli is a jungle boy who stays the same through the movie. I immediately forgot about the movie as soon as I finished watching it, which is a real shame.
3 out of 10
This Oscar nominated documentary follows climber Alex Honnold as he attempts to ‘free solo’ climb El Capitan in Yosemite National Park. The directors do a good job creating stakes for the danger of the climb and helping us get to know the free-spirited Alex. This helps his climb during the last third of the film feel wracked with tension!
I couldn’t help but ask myself while watching what all this risk was for? What was the point of going solo? I guess just to prove you can but is that something to be applauded? It’s similar to Evil Knievel jumping over 20 cars through a ring of fire for our entertainment or Philippe Petit walking across the World Trade Towers in 1974. Man always wants to entertain us via risking their own lives and more often than not such stunts are compelling and hard to not watch and applaud.
They had a lot of challenges while making the movie because they couldn’t disrupt his dangerous climb in any way to get either sound or images, so what they accomplish is really quite impressive. If they win best documentary I won’t complain (knowing the documentary branch it will probably go to something more pedestrian like RBG). Regardless you should check out Free Solo while you have the chance.
8 out of 10
I WANT TO EAT YOUR PANCREAS
I Want to Eat Your Pancreas is definitely the strangest title of the year but fear not! It is not a cannibalism movie after all. In fact, it is a sticky sweet coming of age love story in the vein of A Fault in Our Starsor a Nicholas Sparks film like A Walk to Remember.
It tells the story of Sakura, a teenage girl suffering from pancreatic disease who becomes friends with a sullen teen boy who wants no part in her dreaming and life. Sakura is very much a manic pixie dream girl who exists mostly to inspire this boy (who we don’t even get a name of for most the movie) to live a full and exciting life. She also has a best friend who is very suspect of this new boy in her friends life.
Despite the somewhat tired setup, I Want to Eat Your Pancreas is actually quite sweet with nice moments between the 2 characters that teens will relate with and enjoy. The animation is beautiful throughout using light and a watercolor aesthetic to make Sakura seem all the more angelic and hopeful. I also enjoyed the music and the character designs while fairly generic were pleasant to watch.
Overall, if you like these kinds of coming of age weepies than you’ll enjoy I Want to Eat Your Pancreas, and I’d recommend checking it out.
7 out of 10
WHAT MEN WANT
If you are new to my blog you might not know that I hate the original What Women Want with a passion. I think it is such a putrid terrible lazy excuse for a comedy. Especially with the Marisa Tomei character’s plot I find it quite morally repugnant to be honest. So you can imagine I was horrified to see it was being remade with a gender swap with Taraji P Henson in the Mel Gibson role. Unfortunately the filmmakers couldn’t swap my feelings for the film into enjoying this new version
The positives for What Men Want is it has a funny poker scene where Shaquille O’Neal and other NBA stars get some good laughs. Also Wendi McLendon-Covey is funny in the 3 or 4 scenes she is in.
The rest of the movie is awful. The stereotyping is embarrassing. The laughs are few and far between (and extremely repetitive). The movie is way too long at nearly 2 hours and the lead character is an insufferable, entitled jerk for way too long. Also her skill of reading men’s minds seems to come in and out very conveniently. I know a lot of people hated I Feel Pretty last year but I thought that had way more heart and a way better message than this mess.
Worst of all it wasn’t funny (except for the poker scene). There’s tons of R rated humor and that did nothing for me. (I’m not sure why people think saying the f word a lot is funny. It’s just using a word. You have to do funny things with it). Anyway, What Men Want is trash. Don’t watch it or the original. There’s way better comedies out there to watch. Put on Game Night or even TAG instead.
Please let’s move on from this lazy gender stereotyping movie concept!
1 out of 10
Have you gotten to see any of these releases? Let me know in the comments section. Thanks!
Hey guys! It’s early in the morning and I can’t sleep so I figure I might as well give you one of my mini-review posts. I actually haven’t done one since Dec 7th but there have been some posts with thoughts like my best and worst films of the year lists. Like always, this will not include movies like A Dog’s Way Home that I have written full reviews for. Also I haven’t reviewed Spider-Man: Into the Spiderverse on this blog yet but I have reviewed it (as well as several others on this list) on my channel and I have done a full podcast on it. I would like to do a full detailed analysis on it at a later date.
So, let’s get started with the most recently watched first:
Anyone who reads this blog knows of my shaky career with director M Night Shyamalan. His self-indulgent style and fixation on twists is often not for me. With his latest Glass, I was not looking forward to it much. I didn’t like Split at all and Unbreakable I found was just ok. My ending thought was it was a mixed bag, which is probably a win for me and Shyamalan. The pacing is very mixed and Shyamalan’s usual pretentiousness is in full display. The ending isn’t really earned by the characters or the script but the idea of a reverse origin story was mildly interesting. It wasn’t great but I didn’t hate it, so there you go! James McAvoy was terrific and we didn’t have the weird ‘your worthy because you were raped as a child’ element that Split had.
5 out of 10
Smile Worthy (just barely)
Dragon Ball Super: Broly
It makes me very happy to say that anime has been on a bit of a roll lately with good original films like Miraiand well done serial films like My Hero Academia: the Movie. While I don’t think the new Dragon Ball Z movie is as good as either of those films it was solid film. It doesn’t do as good a job as My Hero in explaining the world for newcomers but after a few minutes I was able to catch on to what was going on. Broly is an interesting character and I liked that the villain Frieza is an old school, screechy maniacal villain. I miss those. These days it seems like every villain has to be conflicted with a tragic backstory, so how refreshing to have one that is just over the top bad guy. The animation shines and Super: Broly is an overall fun experience at the theater.
Overall Grade 7/10
Mary Queen of Scots
If you are looking for historical accuracy this take on Mary Queen of Scots life will not be for you. There are sections particularly near the end that are quite howler-worthy but I nevertheless enjoyed the film. It’s silly fluff but my kind of silly fluff. Both leads Saoirse Ronan and Margot Robbie are great in their roles (we see much more of Ronan than Robbie) and have just enough camp to make it fun. This is more The Other Boleyn Girl or The Tudors kind of historical film than something solemn and reverential like A Man for All Seasons. The makeup and costumes are tremendous so I can see why it got nominated in those categories. It’s not silly like The Favourite but I still enjoyed it.
7 out of 10
If Beale Street Could Talk
Unpopular opinion time! A lot of people were upset that If Beale Street Could Talk wasn’t nominated for best picture. I’m not one of those people. While I acknowledge there is craft to be found in this film, I really was irritated while watching it. Nobody talked like a human being. It all felt like watching a bad off-broadway play where the talent is way better than the script. We are supposed to be invested in this couple but we hardly get to know them at all. I knew way more about Chiron in Moonlight in just the scenes of him learning to swim than I ever get about these 2 characters. The only character that was interesting was Regina King and her plotline going to Puerto Rico to try and exonerate her son-in law. Other than that, I found the movie to be an insufferable slog.
3 out of 10
I really wanted to like this more than I did. The idea of Studio Ponoc releasing serialized anime shorts is very exciting but I found these 3 to be quite forgettable. You can read my full review for rotoscopers here. The only one that had any lasting value for me was the 2nd short about a Mom dealing with her son’s severe allergy. It ended weirdly but it is an urban modern setting and real-world heroism you don’t often see in anime and I appreciate that. I hope they keep making shorts and films but this first effort wasn’t my favorite.
4 out of 10
Another winner from one of my favorite directors Hirokazu Kor-eeda. He always has such humanity for his characters and that is no exception here. This story of a band of misfits that comes together to become a family in many ways feels Dickensian- like a fresh take on Oliver Twist. These people are technically breaking the law but we all know as viewers they belong together and yet it is clear their love has a ticking clock accompanying it. I loved every performance especially Lily Franky as the father and the stunning Sakura Ando as his wife. The two little children who play Yuri and Shota are also adorable.
9 out of 10
This is a perfectly pleasant romcom with JLo doing what she does with tons of charisma. There’s also a sweet message at the core about adoption and being brave no matter where you come from. The moviemaking is pedestrian but I like this genre so I enjoyed it. Could have used more romance and the lie feels a little stretched out but it’s cute watch.
6.5 out of 10
This animated film from Netflix is very derivative of films like Iron Giant, Bumblebee and even Terminator but it has a cool world and some nice moments of heart. The girl can be a bit too unlikable at times and gets pretty close to hurting her classmates in a disturbing way. The PG rating is pushed so it may not be for small children but overall I enjoyed it.
6 out of 10
From director Clint Eastwood The Mule wasn’t awful but it wasn’t what I hoped it would be. As a big fan of Gran Torino, I was hoping it would have that grumpy guy charisma we know Eastwood can bring but it was just bland and self indulgent. I think Eastwood called in a lot of favors because the cast is much better than the script deserves with Laurence Fishburne, Bradley Cooper, Michael Pena, and Dianne West all doing a good job. They elevate it but it’s just felt like something you’d see on TNT at night. Blahh!
4 out of 10
This is another animated film that went straight to Netflix and I guess I went into it with very low expectations but I didn’t think it was that bad. It is a played out Coraline-lite story but the lead character was likable and it had enough sarcastic humor to be watchable. Not great but a passable babysitter for the kids.
5 out of 10
Old Man and the Gun
Supposedly going to be Robert Redford’s last role and if so it’s a nice way to go out. They even find a very clever way of paying homage to some of his earlier outlaw roles in this story of him as a elderly bank robber. He’s a gentleman and leaves his victims with a smile on their faces. He’s just so charming. Director David Lowery continues his win streak with a slickly made movie with great performances from Redford, Cissy Spacek, Danny Glover and Casey Affleck. The clothes and production design feel steeped in 1970s so it has a nice sense of time and place. Pleasant watch.
8 out of 10
Alfonso Cuarón is such a great director and he has another win with ROMA. Following Cleo as she works as a domestic for a family may be boring for some but I was engaged. I particularly thought anything involving Cleo’s pregnancy was devastating and compelling. Many of the characters are dynamic and feel easy to relate to. The cinematography and production design are perfection. It feels like something students will be studying in film school for many years to come and yet unlike many arthouse pieces it made me cry. I was invested in these people and their lives. It does have strong nudity so be warned if you are sensitive to that.
9 out of 10
I was reticent to see this film because I did not like Yorgos Lanthimos’ last film The Lobster but happily I liked this entry much better. It’s a genuinely funny, wacky take on a historical drama. Like The Lobster, Lanthimos makes this film top heavy with most of the good jokes and fun scenes happening in the first 45 minutes. After that it becomes more repetitive and less interesting. It’s also probably too long for what it’s trying to be. However, the performances from Olivia Colman, Emma Stone and Rachel Weisz are so much fun that it carries me through and I enjoyed it. Not one of my favorites (pun intended) of the year but still pretty good. This is a fairly strong R rating just so you know.
7.5 out of 10
Anna and the Apocalypse
This energetic indie sums up why I love going to the movies. To get such a joyful, creative experience is really special. I loved pretty much everything about this mash-up of zombies, musicals and Christmas movie tropes. ‘Hollywood Ending’ and ‘Turning My Life Around’ are the highlight sequences but I enjoyed all the songs and I thought all the performances were great. Ella Hunt could be a big star and Malcolm Cumming was very sweet as her best friend. I even liked the jock cool kid who turns out to be a pretty tragic character. I was shocked at some of the zombie kills and overall I just loved it. I will definitely make this a part of my regular Christmas viewing each year. That’s for sure.
9 out of 10
Once Upon a Deadpool
I have never seen anything Deadpool related and so I thought I would give this experiment of a PG-13 Deadpool 2 a shot (figuring I was the ideal audience for it). Unfortunately I did not care for this film at all. I didn’t think it was funny, mostly obnoxious and the action was underwhelming. Juliean Dennison who was so great in Hunt for the Wilderpeople was terrible as this strange bad guy, which was unfortunate when you have Josh Brolin doing a great job as Cable. Forming the X-Force felt like a waste of time and didn’t have the humor payoff to make it work. I was just thoroughly underwhelmed by this PG-13 Deadpool 2. A few of the Fred Savage jokes were good.
3 out of 10
This movie was frustrating for me to watch. I recently finished reading the book by Josh Malerman and it was an engaging thriller novel with well developed characters I cared about. The movie mostly loses those strengths in favor of schlocky moments and cheap laughs. The cast is great but all the stuff at the house felt like a cheap syfy channel movie. For example, in the book her sister dies at the house in a creepy, terrifying way that is devastating. In this she gets hit by a bus in the first 10 minutes. Not as good! In the book a character named Gary comes into the house for many days and Tom and Gary have different philosophies on how to live in this apocalyptic land and how to run the house. This builds tension and endears us to Tom. Here it is just a cheesy mad-man. However, I did like the scenes with Sandra Bullock and the children on the river. These were well shot and I was genuinely engaged. Maybe I would have enjoyed it more if I hadn’t read the book but that’s my thoughts!
4 out of 10
Everyone who follows this blog knows I did not care for this year’s Sorry to Bother You. It’s narrative was so over-stuffed that the compelling metaphors became muddled and exhausting. Blindspotting, on the other hand, does a much better job of keeping control of the script while still having madcap touches. Rafael Casal is particularly good as the leads toxic, erratic friend. He is always on the edge of insanity which kept me tense and worried for our lead character. The film has social commentary but it doesn’t distract from the narrative making it a quite mesmerizing portrayal of racial conflict and how even the most toxic people get free passes depending on their race.
8 out of 10
So there you have it! Did you get to see any of these films? What did you think? I would love to see your reviews in the comments section. Thanks so much!
As many of you know I have been hard at work watching every Christmas movie of 2018 (over 50 new releases already!) for my Hallmarkies Podcast. However, that does not mean I am slacking off on the regular releases. I’m doing the best I can to fit them in as well. I am also still doing monthly obscure animation and Talking Disney over on my other podcast Rachel’s Reviews. We just posted one talking all about Mary Poppins I think you will enjoy.
Anyway, I thought it was about time for another one of my Current Mini Reviews post where I catch you up on the quick thoughts on recent films I’ve seen. Obviously this will not include films like Ralph Breaks the Internetwhere I have a full written review. Let me know your thoughts on these in the comments section.
With such an amazing cast and a great director like Steve McQueen it is difficult to go into Widows without very high expectations and maybe that is part of my problem. While I certainly didn’t hate Widows, I found it kind of frustrating. The writing for the characters isn’t deep enough to be a compelling drama and the heist isn’t fun enough to be an engaging heist movie. Instead it is some pretty camera work and good acting that doesn’t have much to say and was a little plodding. I also thought the lighting on the women didn’t do them any favors. It seemed to me it was being shot to take away their femininity and make them look pasty and ugly which is a very strange choice for these stunning women. Even the love scenes felt very masculine and strange. I guess that could be interesting but it didn’t work for me.
Frown Worthy but other people love it so I guess decide for yourself
93 out of 135
The Christmas Chronicles-
Netflix has stepped up their Christmas game this year and Christmas Chronicles is a really fun entry from them. Starring Kurt Russell as a kick butt, cool Santa who ends up taking care of 2 kids who have lost their father. It was funny and had a nostalgic charm to it. Some of the bits go on a little too long and the thugs are a bit too violent for my liking but it’s a lot of fun. I also thought the elves were adorable.
43 out of 135
While not as fancy as the first Creed film I really enjoyed Creed 2. I enjoyed all the storylines between Adonis and his fiance and him and Rocky. The match-up with the Dragos really worked and I honestly didn’t know who was going to win the final boxing match (and I would have been happy with either winning which is tough to do in a boxing movie). I guess it doesn’t reinvent the boxing genre but what it does it executes very well. I think it’s a little underrated for this year.
19 out of 135
2018 hasn’t had as many indies and anime films as some years but Mirai is certainly one of the standouts. It’s a very simple movie from Mamoru Hosoda about a little boy struggling to adapt to a new sister in the house. Through a series of magical realism events he learns about his family and that he is loved and it is thoroughly adorable. The animation is so fun and the message sweet it really works. It reminded me a little bit of Takahata’s Only Yesterday, which I love.
16 out of 135
Pokemon: The Power of Us-
Last year we got a reboot of the Pokemon series with Pokemon: I Choose You and this year we get The Power of Us and fortunately both are solid entries in the series. I Choose You has more stunning animation but the plot in The Power of Us is less convoluted. Either way, I enjoyed both. If you are a fan you have to see it!
68 out of 135
I love stories about friendship and Green Book is a great example of how to do it right. Both men obviously have racial differences but they have many other differences including class, sexuality, tastes and everything else. I thought it was great seeing the 2 overcome their differences and become friends through their road trip. Some people are mad at this movie for not starting a movement or telling the entire black experience. That’s not what it was trying to do. It was just portraying this one friendship and it did a great job. I love both lead performances and the script is excellent. Loved it.
9 out of 135
Every Day has an intriguing premise that probably works better as a book than a movie but I still enjoyed this YA film. The idea is our young girl meets a boy who wakes up each day in the body of another person for just that day. Naturally this makes having a relationship difficult but the overall message about loving who a person is rather than their outward appearance is a good one and all the acting is sincere and sweet. In the world of dopey YA films, this is a solid entry.
56 out of 135
In Instant Family director Sean Anders tells his own story about when he and his wife adopted 3 siblings and the challenges/blessings that went along with that. This film is easy to disregard if you are only paying attention to the trailers with pratfalls and cheap humor but I loved it. It doesn’t shy away from how hard adoption and foster care can be but the emotional sections really worked for me. I was balling when I left the theater. I mean ugly, got to compose myself, kind of tears. These kids are out there and they need to be loved but they can be so hard to love. I liked all the performances and when the credits showed the Anders family and all the other adoption and foster care families involved in the film I lost it. It’s really good.
12 out of 135
Illumination Studios is the junk food of animation. They provide commercially appealing, brightly colored films that make a lot of money and are instantly forgotten. Such is the case with The Grinch. It’s not awful like their previous attempt with Seuss, The Lorax, but it’s just super bland and lacking in creativity. None of the jokes landed for me and they change the message from Christmas doesn’t come from a store into loneliness is bad, which is a definite downgrade. It has some nice traditional carols in the soundtrack and there’s nothing offensive about it. It’s just super mediocre and bland.
90 out of 135
Tea with the Dames-
If you are an anglophile like myself you have to check out the documentary Tea with the Dames. It’s very simple. They just gather Dame Eileen Atkins, Judi Dench, Joan Plowright and Maggie Smith together to talk about their careers and lives. They have some naughty language and can be very catty but it’s all delightful. It will make you want to call your old friends and catch up.
30 out of 135
I actually saw this Turkish film at Sundance but I thought I would give you my thoughts really quick. Butterflies is about 3 estranged siblings who have to journey to bury their recently deceased father. What follows is a bit of a dark comedy with some poignant moments between the very good lead actors and some hilarious bits. I particularly died laughing every time a set of chickens meets their maker (I won’t spoil it for you but it was LOL).
24 out of 135
I was hoping this would be a silly action movie but I don’t know what they were thinking with this disastrous adaptation of the classic story. Almost every choice from the accents, to the action, to the special effects are terrible. I knew it was going to be really bad when the opening sequence is a long Medieval take on American Sniper...Every performance is either bland or way over the top and the story is so dumb. It’s violent and yet the script expects you to care about these ridiculous characters….
128 out of 135
Robin Hood is the worst of this grouping and Green Book is the best! Some fun times at the movies. Let me know what you think!
This month’s blind spot pick marks a big accomplishment in my animation blogging career: I have now seen every Studio Ghibli film! I’ve even seen the obscure 2 shorts Panda! Go, Panda! (adorable btw). This month’s entry Whisper of the Heart is my final film to check off the list and fortunately it marks another solid entry from the studio. Not my favorites but perfectly amiable animated film with some great messaging.
Whisper of the Heart is by one-time only director Yoshifumi Kondō. It also marks the only Studio Ghibli film to have a spin-off or sequel. Covered earlier this year, The Cat Returnsis about a minor character in a fantasy story that the lead character Shizuku writes.
In the movie Shizuku is a 14 year old who loves reading and writing. She loves going to the library but she starts to notice that all of the books she is checking out have already been read by a boy named Seiji. What she doesn’t know is Seiji is a young man who she is annoyed with and has to work on a school project with singing ‘Country Road, Take Me Home’ by John Denver.
Seiji is learning to make violins and even goes to Italy to study under a master. Meanwhile Shizuku spends time with Seiji’s grandfather Nishi, who owns an antique store. He shows her the statue of the cat Baron and she decides to pursue her dreams of writing.
The romance between Seiji and Shizuku plays out like a classic romantic comedy, which I really enjoyed. I also thought the sequences with the fantasy story with the Baron were a lot of fun. As a big fan of homeschool, I also like that Shizuku decided when she wanted to focus on her writing and when she wanted to attend the public high school.
The animation is nice and it feels like a Miyazaki movie with a young heroine, trips to Italy, flying sequences and talking cats, so you can’t go wrong there. I also enjoyed the music and overall it’s a fun little movie.
I guess what keeps it from being a favorite is at nearly 2 hours it feels a little drawn out for the plot. It would have been a little better at the 90-100 minute mark and some might find it boring.
Aside from that I would definitely recommend Whisper of the Heart. Watch it and then watch The Cat Returns and you will be delighted!
So there you have it! My last Studio Ghibli film to watch. What other anime films would you recommend? Let me know in the comments section.
So it is time again for one of my current mini reviews wrap up! As per usual this won’t include any films I did a full review for but I only have so much time so mini reviews will have to do for some films!
Make sure you check out my podcast where me and my friends dive into all kinds of content including television like Doctor Who, monthly Talking Disney and Obscure Animation, animated news and movie previews and wrap-ups.
So let’s talk about the movies I’ve seen!
DC Super Hero Girls: Legend of Atlantis-
I’ve really enjoyed the previous 2 DCSHG films and while this wasn’t as strong it was still an enjoyable outing for our girls. This film is about a Book of Legends being stolen from Super Hero High so the girls go under water to Atlantis where they meet Mira and Siren and fight the thief. The animation is very bright and colorful. The voice work is great. It’s empowering and has a nice message. If you have kids, they will love it.
71 out of 119
Goosebumps 2: Haunted Halloween-
I actually enjoyed the first Goosebumps film more than most (but I have no attachment to the original books) and while this was not as bad as the trailers made it look it wasn’t particularly strong. It particularly suffered from the comparison to the recent House with a Clock in Its Walls, which I greatly enjoyed. If you find it on cable it’s harmless but a little of the ventriloquist dummy Snappy goes a long way. I’d say there is about 45 minutes of the movie where Snappy is the only villain. Jack Black is hardly in the movie. It just wasn’t very creative or fun scary.
80 out of 119
Liz and the Blue Bird-
One of my favorite films of 2017 is Naoka Yamada’s A Silent Voice. It was a beautiful, emotional movie about the relationship between an ex-bully and the deaf girl he seeks forgiveness from. Naturally, I was very excited for Yamada’s next effort Liz and the Blue Bird and it’s a good movie but it didn’t wow me like I hoped it would. It’s about 2 girls who are part of a band (part of an anime series called Sound Emporium). It was a little unclear what their relationship is but there were touching moments and the fairytale (told alongside the main story) of Liz and a mystical blue bird is lovely. As I said in my longer review for rotoscopers.com “while it is not in the same league as A Silent Voice, it is as sweet and pleasant film that’s worth a watch”
55 out of 119
Now I admit I didn’t really do my homework on this movie. I knew it was an R rated film but I didn’t know what MFKZ met and I think the advertising was a little deceptive (it means something NSFW). If I had done the research I usually do I wouldn’t have seen it; however, I did, and I hated it! It’s not that the movie has adult themes. I’m fine with that. The problem is the story is complete chaos. Nothing makes sense. Everything is flying at you and assaulting your eyes (and ears). It was exhausting. I know some people think chaos is creative but it usually is just chaos to me. This year I really enjoyed a movie called The Night is Short Walk on Girlwhich is bonkers crazy but there is still enough consistency with the characters, character design and tone that it worked for me. This was just miserable.
111 out of 119
Tito and the Birds
I actually got the chance to interview the director and producer of this beautiful animated film over on rotoscopers. It is a dystopian story about a world where fear is a disease. This fear spreads quickly through the town and the children are left to try and find the antidote. The animation style has an oil painting aesthetic that is unique and beautiful. The message can get a little heavy handed at times, but I still enjoyed it. Wouldn’t be surprised if it comes up as an indie animated film nod for this year’s Oscars.
27 out of 119
I’m one of the few people who thought the trailer for Night School looked funny. I enjoy Kevin Hart on occasion and it seemed like a cute premise. Unfortunately, I did not enjoy the film. Tiffany Haddish continues to not impress me (I realize I haven’t seen Girls Trip). Her character is shrill and overbearing (and worst of all not funy). It was rough!
107 out of 119
The Nutcracker and the 4 Realms-
I was really pulling for this movie for a couple of reasons. First, if it was good it might encourage Disney to make more creative films over their remakes. Second, there has never been a good Nutcracker movie and as a huge Christmas movie fan that’s a problem. Honestly the best Nutcracker movie is Barbie as Nutcracker (for real). This movie had almost no conflict and the visuals were not unique or fun enough to save it on their own. There are long segments where Clara is just watching things happening (literally on stage). Then she is told what to do in long scenes of exposition. It just couldn’t escape from the weight of its own boredom.
98 out of 119
I know the production history of this film was rocky but my love for Queen and their music still had me hopeful a serviceable biopic would come out of all that mess. Unfortunately the songs and a good lead performance are the only things to recommend this pedestrian effort. The script was terrible especially the dialogue. It reminded me of one of those music biopic movies they used to have on VH1. Some might argue they had to keep it predictable because they were dealing with true events but they didn’t even stick to the true events so that’s no excuse. I refuse to believe that an icon like Freddie Mercury was this bland and by the numbers rockstar we’ve seen a million times. I was very frustrated while watching this film. Save your money or watch A Star is Born again. It may be fictional but it reads way more real and nuanced than this film
101 out of 119
The Holiday Calendar-
You guys know I love Christmas movies and The Holiday Calendar is one of Netflix’s holiday offerings this year. It’s about a woman who gets a magical advent calendar that predicts good things happening in her life. This is very predictable, but I thought it was sweet. I particularly liked the lead guy Quincy Brown. They keep the lead girl, Kat Graham, a little too unlikable for too long, but I still overall enjoyed it.
67 out of 119
Jane and Emma-
This is a faith-based film about the relationship between Emma Smith (Prophet Joseph Smith’s wife) and a black convert named Jane Manning. It zips around all over their relationship while remaining grounded on the night before Joseph’s funeral as they were caring and protecting the body. I think non-Latter-day Saints might found some elements strange but it is written by Melissa Leilani, who I have interviewed, and she did a good job developing the characters. The acting is also solid and affecting. It’s well made and something I think all of my faith should see. Emma deserves her moment of vindication this film gives her. Many of my church have long vilified her for not going West and that’s not fair. Plus, Jane’s story is fascinating as she faces some persecution for being black from Saints who were at the same time being persecuted.
38 out of 119
So there you have it! The latest slate of mini reviews. Let me know what you think of them and my rankings. How would you rank them? Is there anything I haven’t seen which you would recommend (I’ve been a bit overwhelmed with Hallmark stuff as of late). I would love to have your recommendations!
So I haven’t done one of these mini-review posts since August. Honestly I have been so busy with both of my podcasts I haven’t had much room to breathe lately! My Hallmarkies Podcast just keeps growing each week and I am so primed for the massive Countdown to Christmas season (starting in October!).
I have also done some really interesting things on my personal podcast Rachel’s Reviews including monthly Talking Disney podcasts and Obscure Animation with my friend Stanford, Animated News posts, previews and wrap ups with my friend David and various podcasts with another friend Conrado.
I am so proud of both and think you will enjoy them so please subscribe.
I have also done some reviews on the blog such as Life Itself and Juliet Naked so I won’t be repeating those thoughts here.
So here we go!
Talk about false advertising! I’m someone who really enjoyed 47 Meters Down so I like a silly shark movie but this was just boring and bland with hardly any of the fun moments promised in the trailer. It made the fatal mistake of taking itself seriously which made the terrible dialogue stand out because I couldn’t laugh it off as silly fun. What a disappointment!
97 out of 106 Ranking
Very entertaining film with strong performances especially by Adam Driver who has to play the racist as a Jewish man. Some of the choices feel self-indulgent and are a bit distracting but overall a really interesting/thought provoking (and even funny) movie.
15 out of 106 Ranking
Miseducation of Cameron Post-
A good movie about the sobering reality of gay conversion schools and camps. There are definitely a lot of chilling scenes but I felt the Chloe Grace Moretz character was a bit too stoic for a teen in her situation. I have a feeling the book for this is way better but it was still worth a watch
45 out of 106 Ranking
To All the Boys I’ve Loved Before-
Lana Condor is super charming as the lead character Lara Jean in this perfectly pleasant teen romance. However, is it one of the best high school movies ever made as some have said? HECK NO! If we think about the truly great high school movies more than just the lead grows and changes. The boys in this movie are just there to do LJ’s bidding. Someone like Josh in Clueless had dreams, ideas, thoughts of his own. Not so much here. That said it’s perfectly harmless.
60 out of 106 Ranking
The Night is Short Walk on Girl-
I did not like director Masaaki Yuasa’s film Lu Over the Wall from earlier this year. It made me nauseated watching it and the cute moments felt very derivative of Miyazaki’s Ponyo. Fortunately, I felt the opposite about this film. It is completely bonkers so it won’t be for everyone but I enjoyed it. It’s basically about a female college student who goes on a giant bender and the crazy things that happen to her. Along the way the animation is so bright, colorful and inventive and the story is random but very fun. It even evolves into a musical at one point and you know I love that.
20 out of 106 Ranking
The Kissing Booth-
This movie is pretty terrible. The director seemed to have a strange fascination with the lead taking off her shirt and wearing super short skirts, and the camera lingered on her in ways that made me uncomfortable (she’s supposed to be underage for goodness sakes). Also, her ‘friend’ was the worst. He was completely selfish and even claims ownership of her at a point and the screenplay never calls him out on that.
103 out of 106 Ranking
The Year of Spectacular Men-
This Deutch/Thompson family collaboration had moments, and I’d be very interested to see what they do next as I feel there is a lot of potential (obviously they all have chemistry). Unfortunately, the script was just too uneven for me to recommend. Most of the humor falls flat and it didn’t go anywhere interesting or charming.
81 out of 106 Ranking
Summer of 84
Some people will describe this as a Stranger Thingscopycat and they would be right but I think it is a pretty well executed copycat. It definitely has nostalgic elements so if that isn’t your thing than you won’t like it but I enjoyed it. The boys all have chemistry and the mystery was fun. It definitely gets a little gory by the end but I thought it was a good little horror movie with some genuine scares.
52 out of 106 Ranking
This movie is about a billion times better than it has any right to be. I joked that it is like The Revenant for teens but about a nice person. Kodi Smit-McPhee is practically a one man show and he is does a fantastic job. The cinematography and music are tremendous. I really enjoyed it and would watch it again if given the opportunity.
32 out of 106 Ranking
I had high hopes for this movie, but I think I got greedy after Crazy Rich Asians was so fantastic. What a terrible film. Winona and Keanu have surprisingly little chemistry but it’s not really their fault. The script is awful. It’s just them bickering the entire time with some of the worst sex scenes I’ve ever seen on film. What a miserable experience
104 out of 106 Ranking
God Bless the Broken Road/Unbroken: Path to Redemption
I reviewed both of these for Hallmarkies Podcast:
Unbroken- Smile Worthy 61 out of 106 Ranking
God Bless- Frown Worthy 71 out of 106 Ranking
The House with the Clock in its Walls-
I really enjoyed this haunted house movie and found it to be scary but in the right way that a lot of kids get a kick out of. Here is my review for youtube:
35 out of 106 Ranking
As a Hallmark movie fan you’d think I would love a movie like this but I did not! The leads are very charming but the script was vulgar and unpleasant from start to finish. These kind of movies work because they are light and fluffy entertainment. You don’t want unending sex jokes and cynicism in a movie like this! Because I wasn’t enjoying the romance, the stereotypes were tough to ignore especially a gay character that felt right out of 1995.
102 out of 106 Ranking
A Star is Born-
I will try to find time to write a legit review about this soon but for now this 4th attempt at telling this story is surprisingly decent. The chemistry between Bradley Cooper and Lady Gaga is fantastic and the singing is amazing! For once a modern musical has good singing and great songs! All the supporting work, particularly Sam Elliott, is tremendous and I was invested despite it being a story I’ve seen many times (not just in the previous iterations but in movies like Walk the Line). Still it is proof a formula story isn’t necessarily a bad thing if it is executed well and this is.
14 out of 106 Ranking
This movie was really strange. Everything from the messaging, to the story, to the weird musical choices, to the bloated voice cast was odd. It was kind of interestingly odd but I don’t think I’d ever want to watch it again despite it having some nice animation.
65 out of 106 Ranking
My Hero Academia: The Movie-
I have never seen the anime show but this was actually surprisingly great. They do a good job catching us newbies up with the premise at the beginning and then it is a good superhero movie about a team of teens that have to use their various ‘quirks’ or powers to fight an evil man who has kidnapped a scientist that has invented a power multiplier. It was funny with likable characters, dazzling animation and a good score. I really enjoyed it
34 out of 106 Ranking
Whoever said this is as bad as Catwoman probably hasn’t seen Catwoman in a long time. It definitely is a big mixed bag but not one of the worst superhero movies ever. The main problems is all the supplementary characters to Venom/Eddie are lame and it’s 30 minutes too long so a lot of it drags. However, there are fun parts with some inventive action and humor that worked for me. Tom Hardy is pretty good and I’d be open to seeing a sequel where they could iron out the bugs. I can’t really recommend it but it’s not awful.
(I did realize I was too hard on Upgradewhich is exactly the same story but executed MUCH better)
Frown Worthy (Maybe rent it)
70 out of 106 Ranking
(Also I saw Searching at Sundance but haven’t had a chance to see it again. 30 out of 106 Ranking)
That’s it folks! Phew! Let me know if you have seen any of these and what you thought.
I also watched the Netflix animated series Hilda (yes I watched a television series!) and it was soooooo good! You all have to watch it:
When I announced my 2018 Blind Spot picks I was planning on reviewing one of the last Studio Ghibli films for me to check off my list, The Cat Returns, in June but it ended up being the Studio Ghibli Fest selection for April, so I am swapping my picks and will review The Green Mile in June instead of April. (On a side note, if you aren’t seeing the Studio Ghibli Fest films you totally should! It’s an amazing opportunity to see these anime films on the big screen).
So what did I think of The Cat Returns after seeing it on the big screen? Well, while not the greatest Studio Ghibli film by any measure, I was thoroughly entertained by the creative and strange story of a young girl and her adventures in a world of cats.
The Cat Returns is directed by Hiroyuki Morita and is his only feature for Studio Ghibli . It is evidently based on a manga and is a pretty strange story. Like many Ghibli films, it focuses on a young girl as the lead character. Her name is Haru and one day she saves a cat from being hit by a truck. Unbeknownst to her she has rescued Lune, Prince of the Cat Kingdom. In an effort to repay her she is taken to marry Lune, and she even starts to develop cat-like qualities such as whiskers and a tail.
Fortunately there are two cats who come to her defense and help her find a way out of the Cat Kingdom before it is too late: a suave debonair cat named the Baron (also featured in Whisper of the Heart evidently) and an overweight white cat named Muta.
These characters were a lot of fun. I thought the Baron had a bit of a Sherlock Holmes vibe to him. He is cocky, not very self-aware and loves to make a special kind of tea. Muta is a curmudgeon who gets a lot of the comic relief of the film.
The Cat Returns is definitely an odd film, but I found the world-building to be very unpredictable in an appealing way. It is also witty and unlike some Ghibli films, it doesn’t take itself too seriously. This is just a strange, comic fantasy, and I enjoyed it on that level. At 75 minutes it also doesn’t outstay its welcome and become boring.
The music by Yuji Nomi almost seemed too orchestral and grand for such a silly story but it is beautiful. The animation is of course great, and I loved the way the characters moved and flowed through scenes. Plus, there is something cute about all these cats!
It doesn’t have the emotional complexity that the great Studio Ghibli films like My Neighbor Totoro or Princess Mononoke have, but I still enjoyed The Cat Returns. It’s a fun little creative, strange romp through a world of cats! It kind of reminded me of Porco Rosso in a way- a comedy with anthropomorphic animals/human merging in together in unusual ways.
I did see it with the English dub that has Anne Hathaway playing Haru, Cary Elwes as the Baron and Peter Boyle as Muta. They all do a good job and are perfectly fine in their roles.
Overall Grade- B
Only one more Studio Ghibli film for me to see (Whisper of the Heart) and I will be finished their entire canon!
There are some movies that have universal appeal. They move people of all races, backgrounds and religions. Then other films have more of a regional appeal, which can be valuable. While placating audiences is not a good thing, I also believe not every movie needs to be for every group. In today’s Blind Spot pick we have a movie, Giovanni’s Island, that I have a feeling appeals to the Japanese in a way that doesn’t translate super well to American audiences- or at least this American.
When I first heard about Giovanni’s Island I was hopeful it would be a new Grave of the Fireflies but unfortunately it comes across like a lightweight copy of Fireflies more than an update. It has some powerful moments and beautiful animation but it never really connected with me.
Let’s start with the positive. The animation directed by Mizuho Nishikubo is wonderful. The fantasy sequences with a ‘galactic railroad’ are particularly strong.
It also has some moments of genuine heart. The story is about two brothers, Junpei and Kanta who live on an island in 1945 Japan. The early parts of the movie show them frolicking happily around the island, going to school, meeting new Russian families including a girl named Tanya and trying to find enough food. They have a father, a nare-do-well uncle named Hideo, an old-school fisherman Grandfather and a teacher named Sawako. All of these characters play out basically the way you think they will.
The island ends up getting taken over by the Russians and the Japanese get sent away to camps. This causes the boys to go on a journey to find their father and survive the war. There are moving moments but even those can feel a bit heavy-handed and played out.
The dubbing is also incredibly bad. They don’t even bother to translate the Russian or all of the Japanese. It is extremely lazy, so I would watch it with subtitles instead.
I can imagine in Japan this piece of their history is very important and so they may be more forgiving of this films flaws. It has a nice heart to it and like I said the animation is amazing, so it is not a total loss. It wasn’t awful just nothing special either.
The music by Masashi Sada, with a mixture of Japanese and Russian themes, is another standout.
The ending of Giovanni’s Island feel particularly mawkish and ham-fisted, but I can see how it would mean a lot to the Japanese. It was just too much for me. I’d recommend watching Grave of the Fireflies instead.