Current Mini Reviews

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!

the meg

The Meg-

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!

Frown Worthy

97 out of 106 Ranking

blackklansman

Blackkklansman-

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.

Smile Worthy

15 out of 106 Ranking

miseducation-of-cameron-post

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

Smile Worthy

45 out of 106 Ranking

to all the boys2

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.

Smile Worthy

60 out of 106 Ranking

night is short

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.

Smile Worthy

20 out of 106 Ranking

kissing booth

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.

Frown Worthy

103 out of 106 Ranking

the-year-of-spectacular-men

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.

Frown Worthy

81 out of 106 Ranking

summer of 842

Summer of 84

Some people will describe this as a Stranger Things copycat 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.

Smile Worthy

52 out of 106 Ranking

alpha

Alpha-

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.

Smile Worthy

32 out of 106 Rankingdestination-wedding

Destination Wedding-

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

Frown Worthy

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:

Smile Worthy

35 out of 106 Ranking

littleitaly1

Little Italy-

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.

Frown Worthy

102 out of 106 Ranking

A STAR IS BORN

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.

Smile Worthy

14 out of 106 Ranking

Smallfoot-

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.

Frown Worthy

65 out of 106 Ranking

my hero academia

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

Smile Worthy

34 out of 106 Ranking

venom-2

Venom-

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 Upgrade which 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:

Advertisements

Blind Spot 28: The Cat Returns

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!

What do you think of The Cat Returns?

Blind Spot 23: Giovanni’s Island

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.

In This Corner of the World Review

‘Slice of life’ films are not for everyone. Some viewers demand a narrative with a traditional start, climax and conclusion, which I can certainly appreciate. However, some of us can sit back and let a film take us to a particular time and place and simply live with characters for a little while. I love those kind of films and the new anime In This Corner of the World is such a movie. Director Sunao Katabuchi (who I had the chance to interview for Rotoscopers.com) takes us to 1945 Japan in meticulous detail as we follow the life of a young woman named Suzu.

The film starts out with Suzu in Hiroshima in 1944. She has been assigned a marriage to a young man named Shūsaku who lives in the city of Kure. Following the custom of her day she agrees to marry and moves away from her family. This may be difficult for modern viewers to understand but it is portrayed with tact and subtlety that never endorses the practice but merely says ‘this is what happened’. Luckily Shūsaku is a nice man who is probably as nervous as Suzu and the two are able to form a bond.

Of course, wartime is going on and this makes things difficult for Suzu and her new family. I don’t think I’ve ever seen a war movie that was exclusively told from the perspective of civilians. We get incredible attention to detail and particularly focusing on the food- its scarcity and how it had to be prepared during wartime.  There is even a long segment that goes through how rice was prepared to make it last extra long and feed more people.

As Suzu works hard for her new family and faces the struggles of war you see her grow up and become a more confident woman. The entire time she is also an artist and sketches what she sees. This becomes more liberating as the days go by. She must eventually decide who her family is and where she belongs.

Because she is an artist, sometimes the animation can have sketchy elements to it. I was reminded of Isao Takahata and Grave of the Fireflies while watching it. It’s not quite on that level but it was beautifully animated and took some creative risk. The music was also perfect for the simple story.

Some people will find In This Corner of the World to be boring. I can completely understand that.  There is stuff that happens to Suzu but a lot of the film is profiling her daily life. You’ll either like that style or you won’t. I enjoyed it and am glad I saw it. It’s not on A Silent Voice or Your Name level but it is a quality anime film that I am better for having watched.

And this year in animation how many movies can you say that about…

Overall Grade- B+

A Silent Voice Review

2017 has been a weak year for most of us when it comes to animation. There have been a few surprises but aside from Your Name we are waiting for that great animated film. Well, from the ranks of anime we have a contender. It’s not quite Your Name but it is really strong called A Silent Voice or Koe no Katachi.

Based on the popular manga it tells the story of a boy named Shoya Ishida who bullies a deaf girl named Shoko Nishimiya when he is in elementary school. Obviously he is an unhappy child but this spirals out of control as a teenager to severe social anxiety and even suicide. I loved the way they animated this mental health crisis with Ishida surrounded by crowds of Xs over their faces because he is constantly staring at the ground.

You might wonder how can they make the bully the hero or protagonist? Well, that’s what makes this special. They do not glamorize or excuse his behavior at all. It is painful and uncomfortable to see him attack Nishimiya and her disability is not leaned on for sentimentality either. These are two people who had this event happen to them and you follow them to see how it impacts their lives. They are lonely people who society doesnt gel well with and so in a way they need each other desperately.

Ishida ends up expelled and as a high schooler decides to reach out to Nishimiya and try to make amends for what he has done. They both get to very low places but director Naoko Yamada (female director!) does a fantastic job controlling tone and keeping it at least a little bit hopeful.

The character designs are fairly generic anime but their actual personalities are very unique. They both talk in ways I can imagine for someone that age and in that situation. It’s very moving to see Ishida learn to forgive himself and apologize and then make things right and as Nishimiya learns to forgive.

As you can see from the above images, the animation is stunning. The way nature and light is used it makes it feel like there is magic when there isn’t. Just a wonderful coming of age story!

If you don’t like anime I don’t think this will win you over. It’s not one that tries to be mainstream like some of the Miyazaki movies. This is an experimental film that plays with timelines and characters in ways I really liked but it won’t be for everyone. It’s also a very emotional film, which may not be everyone’s cup of tea.

I can’t recommend A Silent Voice more highly. It’s a wonderful coming of age story about 2 flawed characters that help and forgive each other. It goes to honest and emotional places no other animation is touching this year except for Your Name. It’s the kind of movie once you have seen it sticks with you and you keep thinking about it. Watch it!

Overall Grade- A-

smile worthy

Your Name in Theaters this Weekend

This weekend the anime film Your Name comes to US theaters. This was my favorite film of 2016 and I saw nearly 150 releases. But don’t take my word for it. I compiled this video of a bunch of youtubers talking about why it is so special.

And here is my original review:

At least by me Your Name is getting a pretty big roll-out and is in 4 theaters, so hopefully that is emblematic of other places across the country. If not ask your local theater to carry it. This actually can make a big difference. I communicate with my local theater all the time about releases I want to see and more often than not they end up getting them if only for one weekend.

Your Name is the kind of film that doesn’t happen very often. It has layers of enjoyment. It’s funny, sweet, tragic, exciting and everything else. The animation is stunning and it’s one that gets better each time I watch it.

If you can please see it and support it.

BLIND SPOT 16: FROM UP ON POPPY HILL

Sometimes people think I have seen every animated film but in truth there are many I haven’t seen. Particularly in anime I have many holes. Well, this month for my monthly blind spot series I am checking a Studio Ghibli film off of my bucket list. Today we look at the 2011 film From Up on Poppy Hill.

This movie was directed by Gorō Miyazaki, who I still think was treated way too harshly for Tales from Earthsea which I enjoyed. However, this film is a definite step up for him as a director. It was written by his father Hayao Miyazaki but it reminded me the most of Isao Takahata’s film Only Yesterday. Both are films about the simple stories of every day people.

From Up on Poppy Hill will not be for everyone. Some will find it’s rather mundane story to be boring. I like slice of life films that let you walk in others shoes so I found it quite charming. It does not have supernatural characters or exciting events like many of the more popular Studio Ghibli films but sometimes I like gentler more calming films.

This tells the story of Umi and Shun. They are teenagers going to a boarding school who begin a sweet little relationship only to find out they are connected in unexpected ways. They are both children of single mothers and Uni’s mother is gone abroad most of the time. It is easy to see why these two are drawn to each other and have a connection.

At the same time there is an old building on campus where various clubs and organizations meet. The school wants to tear down the building and redevelop it into something new. The students meet and voice various ways to stop this from happening. Some are anarchists, some are more democratic and some want to protest. The girls suggest they fix up the building so that there is less reason to tear it down, which is what they do.

The animation From Up on Poppy Hill is gorgeous. I loved the watercolor feel to everything and the way the characters were designed in such approachable ways. There was nothing acerbic or strange like other Studio Ghibli films. This is just an extremely gentle, peaceful film.

There are some flaws with From Up on Poppy Hill. The music is a little too ever-present and a bit overbearing at times. Also the story does fall into melodrama on occasion but I didn’t mind that. It worked for the kind of story it was. After all, life can get melodramatic at times! Especially when you are dealing with love and romance!

So I would definitely recommend you watch From Up on Poppy Hill. It’s a sweet, simple movie about likable people growing up and figuring out who they are. I enjoyed it very much and it is beautifully animated to boot.

Overall Grade- B+

Ghost in the Shell Review

Today I had an interesting experience. I finally watched the anime film Ghost in the Shell. I had been turned off in the past by the R rated material and it is there but I decided to stomach it today. These iconic anime films can be a bit overwhelming, but I wanted to watch it at least once before seeing the remake tonight. Perhaps I will do a longer review of the anime in a bit but for now I will talk about the new film and how it lives up to the classic.

I should start off this review by saying this live action Ghost in the Shell has familiar images from the anime but the story is completely different. I don’t know if it is similar to the various sequels and series but as far as the original film they have almost nothing in common. That’s not to say this is bad. It’s just different.

Like the original, this Ghost in the Shell focuses on a cyborg named Major who has a human brain but only patchy memories of her past life. She is kind of a super spy who looks into criminals for a shadowy organization.

In the original she is more of a complex character. In this version she is basically a superhero and certainly in that respect Scarlet Johansson is perfect for the role. A lot has been made about them ‘white washing’ the role but because it is more of a simplistic character it didn’t matter that much. I mean any race can be a robot after all?

The visuals and world building are the strongest part of Ghost in the Shell. Director Rupert Sanders does a great job creating a Blade Runnerish world that is bright and dark at the same time. Also the design of the various robots was really neat. For example, a geisha robot featured heavily in the trailers was even cooler in the movie.

For the first 30 minutes of Ghost in the Shell I was honestly struggling. It was pretty boring and I was getting ready to write a style over substance review. However, then it started to pick up for me and it became an entertaining action film.

Fans of the anime will be a little disappointed to see the deeper themes of the original film traded in for a revenge superhero story we’ve seen a lot, but it is executed pretty well, and like I said, Johansson is up to the task when the action is called for.  The original has a bittersweet ending and asks complex questions about what it means to be human where this is a ‘get back at the big evil corporate bad guy’ action movie. At times it almost felt like the Black Widow movie we’ve all been waiting for.

None of the side characters like Batou are that memorable here and the Puppet Master is nowhere to be found, which I thought was a strange choice. Also Juliette Binoche is very miscast as the Major’s doctor.

This version is rated PG-13 and the main difference is the women wear a flesh colored suit to conceal their bodies a little bit. There also isn’t the blood like you get in the original. But there is still a lot of action and intense moments and the body suits don’t leave much to the imagination but it is good enough for the MPAA I suppose!

Basically my thoughts leaving Ghost in the Shell is if you want to see a well made superhero movie than it’s decent. If you want something deeper watch the anime. I certainly think the visuals alone are worth seeing if you get the chance.

Smile or Frown- Smile

I’ve realized lately that there is a problem with my grading system. For me giving something a B- or C+ is a mild recommendation (equivalent of a 6 or 6.5/10) but to other people that is a bad grade. So I am still going to do my grade but I am going to let you know whether the movie made me smile or frown (kind of like thumbs up or thumbs down from Siskel and Ebert).  Let me know what you think

Overall Grade- C+

What do you think about the original anime Ghost in the Shell and does this remake look appealing to you? Does the white washing bother you? Share with me your thoughts. Thanks!

Your Name (Kimi no Na wa) Review

your-name3So today I couldn’t sleep so I decided to see the recent Japanese hit Kimi no Na Wa or Your Name for English viewers. This film has made $158 million US dollars in Japan and after watching it I can see why. It is a total and complete delight and one of the best romances I have seen in years.

Your name is by director Makoto Shinkai and it is about a girl named Mitsuha who lives in a country town. One day she laments on her boring life and how she wishes she could be a handsome boy in Tokyo. Well, wouldn’t you know the next day she ends up in the body of a boy she’s never met in Tokyo named Taki.

your-name6This starts a first act that we’ve seen before in movies like Freaky Friday but it really works. Both Taki and Mitsuha have very different lives aside from being different genders (which they mine for great comedy). They are from different classes, have different types of friends and even eat different foods. They don’t just settle for easy antics but think of small details like Mitsuha’s awkwardness paying for Taki’s expensive meals.

your-name4What also makes it very clever is they switch back and forth each day so that keeps it fresh. They start to leave notes for each other on their hands, in notebooks and on their cell phones. And through living each other’s lives they become good friends. It’s all very clever.

Then we get to the final acts and the film takes a bit more of a serious tone but I won’t give any more of that away. Needless to say both parts completely worked for me. Both Taki and Mitsuha were so likable and the tension and stress built naturally. It reminded me a lot of Mamoru Hosoda’s Summer Wars which I also LOVE.

your-name5The animation is completely stunning with lots of emphasis on light giving a hopeful tone even when things looked grim. They also managed to make both the countryside and city look like a fantasy world because that’s kind of what it is to the characters living in different bodies.

your-name-2I know some people just don’t like anime as a rule and if that is you it’s a real shame. Because I honestly believe a movie like Your Name has something for everyone. It is funny, sweet, romantic and tense at times. It has great characters and a creative story. It’s beautifully animated and has wonderful music from a band called Radwimps.

It’s a real achievement for Makoto Shinkai who did everything from the writing, directing, editing and everything else. Wonderful!

Overall Grade A+