Current Mini Reviews

Hello my fine movie-loving friends! Today marks an exciting day. Believe it or not I have officially seen every movie of any interest to me in both regular and art-house cinema! That almost never happens to me but with a lot of horror movies coming out there hasn’t been as much that interests me when compared with a typical July.

With so many movies seen this means it is time for one of my much celebrated ‘Current Mini Reviews’ posts! These occur when I don’t have time to write an entire post on a film but want to log my response to help all of you know what’s out there to see. So here goes!

plus one2

PLUS ONE

First up is the romantic comedy Plus One starring Maya Erskine and Jack Quaid in the lead roles. This film is available in theaters and on demand and while it is definitely R rated, it is also a pretty charming romcom.

Quaid (who is very charismatic) and Erskine play 2 friends who make a deal to be each-other’s plus one for 10 weddings they have been invited to in one year (I would die going to so many weddings!). As romcoms go, naturally their friendship blossoms into something more, and all kinds of shenanigans unfold. Plus One definitely follows an expected formula but the leads have enough chemistry and it was funny enough to entertain me. If you can handle an R rated movie than I recommend it.

7 out of 10

Smile Worthy

pavarotti

PAVAROTTI

Directed by Ron Howard this documentary on the legendary opera singer Luciano Pavarotti doesn’t break the mold of a standard celebrity biographical documentary but I still enjoyed it because of the stunning music. Howard allows the performances to go on for long stretches so you can get a feel for the experience the audience had listening to such a master tenor. The interviews are interesting but again quite standard for this kind of film. Go see it for the music!

7 out of 10

Smile Worthy

far from hom5

SPIDER-MAN: FAR FROM HOME-

I know it is kind of sneaky to put only a mini-review for such a big film in here but my friend Patrick already reviewed this film for the site and I have no desire to compete with his review. Unfortunately I was not as in love with this movie as Patrick or the masses seem to be. It has its pluses but some real problems as well.

First the aspects I enjoyed is Tom Holland as Spider-Man. He’s sweet, vulnerable and completely likable as our teen web slinger. I also liked Zendaya as MJ and pretty much all the ‘teenagers go to Europe’ stuff I liked.

Unfortunately I did not like the villain plot. Without spoilers I found it convoluted, predictable and dull. Similar to Zemo, in Civil War, the amount of steps that needed to make the plan work is ridiculous and it required actions by Tony Stark in previous films that don’t make sense. Also some of the more creative moments felt like too much of a video game for my taste. Even something psychedelic like Doctor Strange still felt more grounded and therefore more engrossing with more stakes than the illusions here. Just not my cup of tea visually I guess.

It’s weird because everyone online seems to love this film but myself, my friend Jen and my two nieces all left disappointed so who knows? It’s not awful but definitely lower tier Marvel (and I’ve seen it twice to verify).

Also do the humans in this world even try any more to fight against the bad guys or just the Avengers because that’s what it felt like? I also don’t understand why Spider-man needs anonymity in this universe. Liberally none of the MCU is secret so why him? I dont get the big deal?

4 out of 10

Frown Worthy

yesterday

YESTERDAY

For some reason when the trailer to Yesterday came out there was a big backlash against it. I don’t know if it is just the popularity of The Beatles people wanted untouched or they sensed a dud but many were up in arms about it. I, on the other hand, thought it looked quite charming and was excited to see it.

Unfortunately the doubters proved to be correct, and I was disappointed in Yesterday. A world without The Beatles is an interesting concept and Danny Boyle infuses the film with his trademark optimism but he is unable to overcome a lead character (Himesh Patel) that’s hard to root for and a romance with Lily James that has no chemistry. I was also surprised how sloppily made the film was with some poor editing and some ADR issues with the singing.

In the end, it’s just a bunch of The Beatles karaoke so I’d skip it. (Also the world would be way worse without The Beatles than not having Coke!).

4 out of 10

Frown Worthy

echo in the canyon

ECHO IN THE CANYON

The documentary Echo in the Canyon profiles the music scene of the 1960s that developed in LA’s Laurel Canyon area. This includes interviews with bandmembers from The Mamas and the Papas, The Byrds, The Beach Boys, Buffalo Springfield and more. Jakob Dylan becomes are narrator as we learn about the epic recording sessions that mostly occurred in small studios or in the musician’s homes.

Any music fan will love interviews with Tom Petty, Eric Clapton, Ringo Starr, Stephen Stills, David Crosby and more. It was great. Unfortunately I was less enthused with the long sections of the tribute concert put on by Dylan, Regina Spektor, Beck and more. These are very talented singers but it was distracting from the musical story of the classic bands and the time and place the documentary is profiling.

Still, I enjoyed it well enough to recommend to any music fan!

6 out of 10

Smile Worthy

papi chulo

PAPI CHULO

An interesting trend I have noticed lately in film is the exploration of male friendship- particularly unlikely male friendship. We even recently had our Oscar winner focus on this subject in Green Book. Another example is this sweet little film called Papi Chulo.

Matt Bomer plays Sean, a weatherman who has lost his husband and is finding the transition process very difficult. He is lonely and doesn’t seem to have any real friends (he goes to a party but he seems to be more worried about impressing them than any kind of real kinship). One day he befriends a house painter he hires named Ernesto played by Alejandro Patiño. The fact Ernesto doesn’t speak English is actually a plus as Sean just needs someone to listen and not respond.

Papi Chulo is a bit too casual in its treatment of moments of serious mental health crisis in Sean’s life but it has a huge heart I couldn’t resist. It is rated R for a little bit of language, alcohol use and background sensuality but it’s overall pretty tame and very sweet.

8 out of 10

Smile Worthy

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SUNDANCE LOG: DAY 9 (LOVE ANTOSHA, TROOP ZERO, PADDLETON)

sundance bye

It’s finally happened. After 9 days of attendance and 25 movies screened the Sundance Film Festival has finished for 2019! What a great ride it has been. I hope you have all enjoyed these daily updates and that perhaps it will inspire you to join me next year for the festival (or go to your own local film festival. They have them all over the country).

I finished the festival with 3 films all at the Rose Wagner Theater and they were all quite different but each emblematic of the type of material we often get at Sundance. A sweet documentary tribute, a quirky family comedy and a bittersweet dramedy about 2 friends facing the toughest of life decisions together. I’d say it was a pretty great way to end the festival and it was neat to talk with all the other passholders in line about the movies they’d seen. Believe it or not almost everyone I spoke to had seen more than my measly 25! Looks like I will have a new goal for next year.

Here is my ranking of the 25 movies (plus animation spotlight which would be towards the bottom):

sundance ranking

But let’s talk about the 3 movies I saw today.

LOVE, ANTOSHA

Love, Antosha - Still 1

First up is the documentary Love, Antosha about the life of lost-too-soon actor Anton Yelchin. He died in a freak accident at the young age of 27 in 2016 but there was much I didn’t know about him. For instance, despite being so young he had 69 film/tv credits to his name, which is pretty impressive. Also, I had no idea he suffered from cystic fibrosis. Many in his life probably expected him to die a young age of this condition of the lungs so how strange to have him taken from a preventable accident. Funny how life works out sometimes.

He is also an only child, which is always the saddest thing. His parents, both Russian immigrants, are obviously devastated. I can’t even imagine what they have gone through. The title of the movie is from the letters Anton would write to his mother signing them Love, Antosha with a little drawing of his Mom. I definitely teared up whenever they read one of his letters.

The documentary doesn’t reinvent the mold but interviews an impressive group of his friends and family including costars like Martin Landeau, Jennifer Lawrence, Ben Foster, Kristen Stewart and more. They do go into his photography career which are quite pornographic (you’ve been warned).

But Love, Antosha is a sweet look at a young life taken too soon but who still managed to cram so much into the time he had. If you need some inspiration give it a watch.

6/10

Smile Worthy

TROOP ZERO

troop zero

Next we get a classic Sundance quirky indie comedy in the veins of Me Earl and the Dying Girl or Napoleon Dynamite except having a more noteworthy cast than either of those films. Troop Zero is about a hokum little town in Georgia (in the early 70s I think?) where a young girl named Christmas (McKenna Grace) joins a scouting troop because she dreams of winning a prize to make a record NASA astronauts will take into space to play for any aliens they might find.

In order to get on the record they must attend the jamboree and in order to attend they must each earn at least one badge. Viola Davis plays Rayleen, a woman who works for Christmas’ Dad who reluctantly agrees to be the troop Mother and then Allison Janney plays the rival team Mom who is selfish but not too catty. Jim Gaffigan is a lot of fun as Christmas’ Dad.

One of the weird parts about this movie is race is never mentioned. Rayleen being black is never discussed. The black kids in the troop get no flack for it. I guess it’s a film which requires a certain suspension of disbelief.

Also, the look and feel of the film is very reminiscent of Wes Anderson but not quite as well executed. I don’t know who the ‘Bert + Bertie’ directors are but it might have been nice if they had differentiated their film more from something like Wes Anderson’s Moonrise Kingdom.

But all that stuff can be put aside because the kids are so cute and everyone involved is bringing a warmth to the picture. It makes for a pleasant enjoyable movie. It kind of reminded of the underrated Because of Winn Dixie in many ways.

I wouldn’t say it is a must see but if you get the chance to see it on amazon prime you’ll enjoy it.

6/10

Smile Worthy

PADDLETON

paddleton

Finally my last film at Sundance is the dramedy Paddleton starring Mark Duplas and Ray Romano. This is the first in a 4-picture deal between the Duplas’ Brothers and Netflix and it’s a pretty good start. Someone in line told me that in the q and a the director said much of the dialogue was improvised between Romano and Duplas and if that’s the case they are definitely pros because I couldn’t tell.

Paddleton tells the story of 2 platonic friends who live in the same apartment complex and enjoy watching kung-fu movies, making pizza and playing their made-up game called paddleton. One day Duplas’ character finds out he has terminal cancer and decides to take a prescription, which will end his life before he goes through all the pain. Romano’s character struggles with this choice but in the end decides to go through the journey and support his friend.

It sounds like a real downer, and it is very sad, but it is actually quite funny throughout. Romano and Duplas have terrific chemistry and the highs and lows feel earned and emotionally true. It’s a sweet, endearing little movie.

If you are open to movies that will make you cry than Paddleton is definitely worth a watch and I’m excited to see what the Duplas Brothers come up with next.

8/10

Smile Worthy

So what do you think of the movies I have reviewed for Sundance? I would love to hear your thoughts!

SUNDANCE LOG: DAY 6 (THE LAST BLACK MAN IN SAN FRANCISCO, MOONLIGHT SONATA, EXTREMELY WICKED SHOCKINGLY EVIL AND VILE)

Day 6 has come and gone at the Sundance Film Festival and today was a lot of fun seeing 3 movies with very long names! LOL. I think I liked the experience of attending the festival today more than the actual movies but it’s an interesting grouping. The final movie Extremely Wicked, Shockingly Evil and Vile was my first true midnight movie of the festival (not just this year but ever). My pass wasn’t valid so I had to wait hoping to get in over at the Tower Theater. Luckily I was in line with some nice people and it ended up being pretty fun.

So without further ado my thoughts on the 3 films:

THE LAST BLACK MAN IN SAN FRANCISCO

thelastblackmaninsanfrancisco

Judging by the overall positive response of last year’s Sorry to Bother You, which I did not like, there is obviously an audience for this type of chaotic urban art-piece, but I am not a member of that audience. I did enjoy last year’s Blindspotting so it can work for me when there is enough of a story to carry me through all the chaos, so I don’t feel assaulted by art (which is probably part of the point but I leave more confused than inspired). This trend is like if Terrence Malick and Spike Lee had babies, and I just don’t get it.

The Last Black Man in San Francisco has impactful moments but most of the time it seemed all over the place in both story and message. The lead protagonist Jimmie (Jimmie Fails) and his best friend Mont (Jonathan Majors) have sweet scenes as they fight to keep possession of a family home in San Francisco but in the meantime there are street preachers, rotting fish, toxic oceans, a blind Danny Glover watching old movies and much more. We meet the protagonists Mother at one point but I’m not sure what the point of that was. It was really strange.

The other big problem with The Last Black Man in San Francisco is it is far too long for this kind of abstract art piece. At 2 hours I grew bored with all the shouting and what was supposed to be revelatory felt exhausting. I am sure many will be inspired by director Joe Talbot’s arthouse film. It just wasn’t for me.

5 out of 10

Frown Worthy

MOONLIGHT SONATA: DEAFNESS IN THREE MOVEMENTS

moonlightsonatas

Next up is a documentary with tons of heart called Moonlight Sonata: Deafness in 3 Movements. In the film director Irene Taylor Brodsky profiles her family and their experience with deafness, both her parents and her son (she is fully hearing). All 3 subjects received cochlear implant surgery to varying degrees of success.

Irene’s parents don’t do well with the surgery and prefer their deaf world where her son feels conflicted. In fact, he enjoys the quiet peace of turning off his implant but then is glad when he can be in the hearing world again. This was a very interesting perspective I have never considered.

The film is all built around Jonas learning Beethoven’s Moonlight Sonata for a recital. This is a dream of his as Beethoven was also deaf. They also use animation to show Beethoven and portray the inner feelings of both Irene’s parents and Jonas. All of this worked pretty well and was very sweet. My only qualm with the film is that at times it was a little dry and slow but overall I’m glad I saw it. It’s going to be released on HBO films so look out for it there and give it a watch if it interests you.

(I did think it was a little strange they didn’t have subtitles when many deaf people were in the audience and the sign language interpreter was difficult to see in The Tower Theater).

6 out of 10

Smile Worthy

EXTREMELY WICKED, SHOCKINGLY EVIL AND VILE

extremelywicked

The final film of the night was the much talked about Extremely Wicked, Shockingly Evil and Vile starring Zac Efron. There’s a lot to like in this film including the solid performances by Efron, Lily Collins and even Jim Parsons in a small role. It looks nice and clips along fairly well. I understand what they were trying to do humanizing Bundy to make his crimes seem all the more vile and disgusting. You are supposed to see the suave, slick guy that Ted Bundy was in and out of the courtroom.

Unfortunately they almost do too good a job with that. The movie needed to be messier. There are almost no signs of an evil man at all. We needed to get some clue that he committed the murders aside from him being in the locations. It almost seemed like the movie was painting him as the underdog who was wrongfully convicted. I guess that could be an interesting approach but shouldn’t there be some moments where we see the darker man come out? Some scenes of fleeting anger or fear from the Lily Collins character? It was strange and left me a little uncomfortable to be honest.

The movie Monster about Aileen Wuornos does a much better job of portraying a serial killer as just that but also showing some of her backstory and her perspective. I realize they are different in that Wuornos was not a charismatic showman like Bundy but at least the movie wasn’t afraid to depict her as a monster as the title suggests. This film, on the other hand, shows little evil or wickedness or vile behavior.

4 out of 10

Frown Worthy

So there you have it! My thoughts on another day at the Sundance Film Festival! Let me know what you think

SUNDANCE LOG: DAY 2 (ABE, ELEPHANT QUEEN, FAREWELL)

day 2

Day 2 of the Sundance Film Festival has come and gone and despite having only gotten 4 hours of sleep last night I powered through and saw 4 films in 3 different venues today! Maiden is still my favorite of the festival but there were some interesting films today I’m glad I saw.

abe

Abe

The first movie of the day is a film called Abe that was screened at the SLC Library and it is part of the Sundance Kids lineup. It stars Noah Schnapp as a young man of both Muslim and Jewish ethnicity who is trying to balance his backgrounds and the people in his life carefully all through his love of cooking and food.

This one was a bit of a mixed bag for me. I loved everything with Abe and Noah Schnapp does a great job. He’s a very easy character to root for. I also liked all of the cooking and food scenes (particularly when he goes to work for a local Latin American fusion chef it’s very strong. What I didn’t like was all the other adults. They all claimed to love Abe but then would act in such shrill, inconsiderate ways. At one point he makes an elaborate Thanksgiving dinner for his grandparents and instead of eating it like grownups they start a big fight ending with one of them saying Abe should never have been born. I just don’t think a loving Grandparent would behave in such a way in front of their grandchild. It didn’t feel authentic so it was frustrating.

But in the end Abe is a strong enough character to carry his movie. One warning it should not be in the kids section as there is the f word 6 times. It would definitely be rated R by the MPAA.

6 out of 10

Smile Worthy

elephant queen

The Elephant Queen

Next up in the Sundance Kids section is a nature documentary called The Elephant Queen. Director’s Mark Deeble and Victoria Stone spent 4 years following a group of elephants to make this incredible film. The shots they get from the very small dung beetle to the giant savannas full of elephants are very impressive.

Like Disney Nature films we get names and a narrative to all the characters but it all worked for me and was very charming. I particularly liked the ‘late to everything’ geese hatchling named Steven. Chiwetel Ejiofor narrates and aside from being a touch too long for small kids it’s an adorable film the whole family will love.

9 out of 10

Smile Worthy

Sister - Still 1

Animation Spotlight

I must admit I go to the Animation Spotlight each year more out of obligation as an animation blogger than anything else. The selected shorts are almost always disappointing. It feels like all the creators are either trying too hard to be Don Hertzfeldt or to be too grown-up and edgy. Last year was a pretty good year with The Driver is Red and The Burden being standouts but there was nothing that strong this year.

The best of the group were Untravel and Obon. My least favorite of the group was Acid Rain which went on forever and was unpleasant in every way.

3.5 out of 10

Frown Worthy

farewell

The Farewell

Last of the night is the family drama The Farewell which stars Awkwafina as a young woman who goes to China to be with her dying Grandma. The only problem is her Grandma doesn’t know she is dying. The whole family is visiting under a farce that her cousin is getting married (did he actually get married though? It was a little unclear).

Anyone who is part of a big family will be able to relate to this story. Both in the lies we tell each other to get through family gatherings but also how every family has that person who is a treasure to everyone in the family- usually a grandparent. If the ending doesn’t make you tear up than I don’t know what to say!

There are some pacing problems but all the acting is good and overall I really enjoyed The Farewell. Watch it with your Grandma.

7 out of 10

Smile Worthy

STEP Review

The big weekend is finally here! After me babbling on about a little documentary I saw at Sundance called STEP some of America finally gets to see it! I’ve actually had the chance to see it twice: once at Sundance and once at an event for the Utah Film Center, and I look forward to seeing it many more times when it opens in Utah 8/18. STEP may be a sweet documentary to some but for me it is why I go to the movies. It really spoke to me and it might sound cheesy but it made me feel better about this crazy world we live in.

Here’s the trailer:

A few months ago I shared that trailer with a friend of mine and she said ‘I don’t like dance movies’. Let me tell you what I told her- this is not a dance movie. Much like Hoop Dreams wasn’t about basketball, STEP is not about dance. STEP is about 3 girls in Baltimore and the community that helps get them to college.

The three girls are named Blessin, Cori and Tayla and each of them face different struggles.  They are all students at the Baltimore Leadership School for Young Women that is admittedly owned by the director Amanda Lipitz’s  mother. This school caters to inner city Baltimore girls and graduated its first crop of seniors in 2015-2016 (the year we follow).

In 6th grade Blessin started a step dance troupe but was unable to compete during her junior year because of poor grades. She also has a mother with severe mental health problems. On the other side, Cori is a book worm who dreams of getting into John Hopkins and becoming a doctor despite growing up in a family that can’t pay for power. Tayla has a mother who works as a cop and see’s the worst the city has to offer.

The documentary then follows these girls for a year and we see teachers, coaches, administrators and parents all fight for them to achieve their dreams. Both times I saw it the crowds cheered at the end and how wonderful to cheer for real life and not imaginary superheroes for once? I got to meet Coach G at the Utah Film Center screening and she was awesome. Just as real and down to earth as you’d think from the movie. Roger Ebert said about Hoop Dreams “A film like “Hoop Dreams” is what the movies are for. It takes us, shakes us, and make us think in new ways about the world around us. It gives us the impression of having touched life itself.”

That’s how I feel about STEP. 2017 has been a great year for movies. I loved films like Wonder Woman or Dunkirk but nothing has wowed me like STEP.  Nothing else, you might say, has ‘touched life itself’.

GO SEE STEP!  You won’t regret it!

Overall Grade- A+

 

Current Mini Reviews

Every once in a while I get a little swamped with everything in my life and I get behind on reviews. This is when I need to do one of my mini review posts where I cover a bunch of films in a paragraph or two. Some of these I really loved so I hope to be able to do them proper justice in the future but at least this will give you some clue into what is or isn’t worth your time.

Diary of a Wimpy Kid: The Long Haul

This was my introduction to the Wimpy Kid series, so I have no attachment to the previous movies or casts (which I see on social media evidently is a thing of contention). What we have here is a basic family road trip comedy. I laughed a little bit and little kids will probably enjoy it. However, the gross out gags became a little bit too much for me.  There were also some really strange jokes for a kids film like an extended Psycho shower scene gag that kids won’t understand. Also the parents participate in distracted driving like texting while driving and it’s not part of a joke, which I thought was kind of odd. Still a few laughs. Probably best to watch on cable with the fam.

Overall Grade- C

Kedi

An adorable documentary about the cats of Istanbul. It sounds weird and boring but it’s really quite charming and I’m not a big animal person. You get to know 7 different cats and the various people who feed and care for them. The heart of the movie lies in the attachment the humans have to these mangy cats. One baker gives all his tips to the vet to take care of a cat. The entire family can watch this documentary and enjoy it together.

Overall Grade- B+

XXX: Return of Xander Cage

This movie starts with a scene of Xander Cage skiing through the jungle and I thought ‘this is going to be a blast’. I was hoping for a big over the top ridiculously fun movie. Unfortunately, the action sequences aren’t enough to prop up unlikable characters, the horrible way it treats the female characters and a self-seriousness that drags the movie down. I started to get annoyed by it when it should have been fun. Also I found it kind of shocking how hostile the movie was to soldiers who are bystanders. They are often mowed down for no reason.  All that said, I thought this was more entertaining than the recent Fate and the Furious.

Overall Grad- C-

Gifted

They had good intentions with this movie but it really annoyed me. The main flaw is the dichotomy presented to us is false. The girl is given two options she can go to public school and be socially adjusted (although a bully comes first day so don’t know about that) or she can go to a school of gifted and talented that is painted as some kind of prison. Bologna. There are so many options open to kids today to get a good education.

This movie reminded me of Patch Adams where they show one option as being perfect and another as evil when the truth is always in between.

The courtroom scenes are uninspired and boring. The whole thing just super annoyed me.

Overall Grade- C-

Their Finest

A film about the making of a film is always interesting to see and Their Finest has a lot going for it. Gemma Arterton is great as a young writer trying to figure out the ins and outs of screenwriting. However, Bill Nighy steals the show as a foppish seasoned actor. He’s hilarious and the movie is worth watching just for him. It took me a while to get into it but once I did I enjoyed it. It went a few ways I wasn’t suspecting and has a nice heart to it.

This is rated  R but it is pretty tame. There is a little bit of nudity and 3 uses of the f word.

Overall Grade- B

Casting JonBenet

I appreciated they tried something different with this documentary but I’m afraid it ends up coming across as more of a gimmick than a success. They have the actors auditioning for the parts of John and Patsy Ramsey (as well as other parts) talking about the case instead of any photos or talking heads.

My main problem is I felt like the movie was mocking its subjects especially the actors. This seemed unfair. Plus, you are dealing with the horrific death of a child and sometimes the tone didn’t address that. Also, I’m not convinced they didn’t coach or even write some of the comments from the actors. It sometimes felt a little bit too on the nose and perfect to just happen organically.

Overall Grade- C

Personal Shopper

A brilliant movie about a girl who works for a celebrity buying clothes and accessories. The problem is she is haunted by the ghost of her twin brother and a mysterious person begins to text and follow her. It is spooky, spiritual, heart wrenching, different, tightly written, and surprising. Kristen Stewart is wonderful and is able to carry the movie almost by herself. It reminded me a little bit of The Others, which I also love. The music and cinematography are perfect. I can’t wait to see it again and figure out even more I missed the first time.

There is pretty strong nudity in this one as she is trying on clothes and some blood.

Overall Grade- A

Baahubali 2: The Conclusion

I watched both Baahubali films this month and thoroughly enjoyed them. They are loud, crazy and true spectacles. I wish that the major blockbuster studios were half this fun.  It’s a little hard to explain but basically they are epic stories of 2 generations of a royal family in India. In this second one we take off from the battle at the end of the first and follow Amarendra Baahubali and his son as the evil Prince Bhallaladeva fights for power.  The musical sequences, dancing, battles and everything else are magnetic and wonderful. The only downside to this film over the first is there isn’t quite as many musical sequences but it is a little easier to follow than the first.  Still, you get action, battles, special effects, romance, and everything else. Sure they are over the top but that’s what I like about them.

It is pretty bloody so not for everyone but again it is so fantastical it didn’t bother me. No gritty realism here!

Overall Grade- A

Alive and Kicking

A fairly standard documentary about the history and performers of swing dance. I loved watching all the dancing and that’s really where the joy of this film is. It is fast and exciting and I could watch it all day!

Overall Grade- B-

So there you have it. What sounds the most interesting to you of these films? If you’ve seen any of them let me know what you think in the comments. And if there is one you would particularly like me to write a full post on let me know.  Thanks!

Life, Animated Review

life animated4It’s no secret that 2016 has been kind of a sucky year for movies, particularly blockbusters. Sure there have been some exceptions but for the most part they have been meh to very disappointing. Such is not the case for indie films! I have even found 3 documentaries that I have loved already this year and one of those is a little gem called Life, Animated. All of you animation addicts need to see it!!!

Life, Animated is a documentary made by Roger Ross Williams, based on a memoir by Ron Suskind. It chronicles the story of Ron’s son Owen who is diagnosed with severe autism at the age of 3.  We are introduced to Owen at the age of 23 but there is a great deal of home footage that helps give you an idea of Owen as a little boy.

life animatedYou see Owen connects to the world through animated films, particularly Disney animated films. And when I say connects I mean it quite literally.  There is a heartbreaking section where Owen’s parents talk about Owen not being able to speak anything but gibberish for 4 years. Can you imagine not being able to talk to your son for 4 years? Then one day Ron has a breakthrough using an Iago puppet from Aladdin. I was bawling.

life animated3The film uses animation to bring to life segments of the film and it works so well (props to Disney for allowing their catalog to be used in clips and recreated in the animation sequences).

In another instance Owen comes up to his Mother after not speaking for years and says “Walter doesn’t want to grow up like Mowgli and Peter Pan”. They are of course stunned by this and it starts them on a journey of communicating to their son through Disney. He literally has every line from every Disney film memorized!

life animated5It is not an easy road working with Owen but the movie doesn’t do the “look how perfect and inspirational I am”. This feels like a real family (because it is a real family) and they acknowledge challenges and blessings in just the right way. I particularly liked his brother who ironically is named Walt! He is honest about his responsibilities in caring for his brother and what that is like. The Dad, Ron, is also vulnerable and strong and lovely.

life animated6This is not an ‘I am Sam’ type of film where being a special needs person is better or made to inspire us able bodied folks. No, this is just about one family, one person and how animation allowed him to communicate with the world.

life animated2This is perhaps personified most in a recurring animated segment based on a story Owen writes as a child. It’s called the Legend of the Lost Sidekicks. These sections almost reminded me of something Tomm Moore would draw. They were peaceful and gave such insight into the way Owen thinks about life.

Particularly with the current election it is easy to feel discouraged and frustrated, so I am grateful for movies like Life, Animated.  They help me to understand others better and remind me that good will always outweigh the bad. Sometimes the fandom cultures of the internet can make you forget how special this art we call movies is. Owen’s story reminded of that. It reminded me to get more joy out of these crazy toons I watch all the time. It reminded me to be myself and notice the sidekicks more. It reminded me to be grateful for my voice, my words and my family.  It was a great movie!

Overall Grade- A

Here is the trailer if you are interested

Disneynature 3- The Crimson Wing

crimsonwingLast night I watched the 2nd Disneynature film (my 3rd review) called The Crimson Wing and found myself getting emotional over the plights of flamingos.  Yep, this movie really got to me more than either of the Disneynature films I have seen (Monkey Kingdom and Earth).

Unlike Earth which split its time between 3 animal families Crimson looks at a species of flamingos that inhabit a series of lakes in Tanzania.  These lakes have bizarre properties which happen to be just right for flamingos.  The movie approaches their entire existence as a ‘mystery’ and lays out the pieces of how they are able to survive .

crimsonwing6It starts out with drinking in the red algae. The water looks red with the algae and that is what makes the flamingos pink. It’s so different and beautiful and the cinematography throughout is stunning. I can’t imagine how many hours in a boat or sitting out on blazing hot salt flats they must have done to get some of their shots.  They also don’t resort too time lapse as a gimmick like they did in Earth.  This feels like a man standing in the water with a camera watching things happen.  Amazing.

crimson11I don’t think I’ve ever heard of a place that changes so rapidly.  The sun is so hot that large sections of the lake dry up and there remains red salt beds that the flamingos use to nest. It was really fun to learn about a place that was completely foreign to me.  I’ve never heard of these lakes and they were so different than any other natural phenom I’ve ever seen.  I mean look at this crazy weird lake in the photo below.

crimson12The narration read by Mariella Frostrup (who sounded to me like Cate Blanchett) tries to give a haunting quality and tell a mystery and sometimes it works and other times it feels very cheesy like we are touring Middle Earth instead of Tanzania.  Where it does work is the sections involving the little baby chicks that are sooo cute!

crimsonwing3You can see in the photo above the piles of salt they nest on and they move around and chirp like adorable little birds they are.

But wait there is evil about! (literally in the movie the predator is referred to as the Wicked Witch of the lake).  There are the villainous marabou who I sincerely hated so much.  They were so creepy and stood around the pack waiting for the little birds to get separated and pounce!

crimsonwing-09You probably think I’m joking but I was upset for the little chicks . The way they do it is very absorbing.  They show the little chicks who aren’t strong enough get ‘shackles of salt’ around their little legs and they try to walk away from the marabou but the salt weighs them down.

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If this doesn’t tug at your heartstrings than we need to talk…

Some are so weighed down when the group leaves the lake they can’t keep up and are left.  The film shows them trying to get up and then falling and I was seriously upset! A side of me wanted to yell at the filmmakers and tell them to help the bird and get that salt off but I guess that isn’t their job. I may have even shed a tear….

crimsonwing2The flamingos are stunning and the team does a great job showing the scope of the thousands of birds and then time with one or two although they are not given names like Maya in Monkey Kingdom nor do we see a real social structure like MK has.

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When the chicks are a little bigger they move to a more traditional part of the lake and there we get evil spotted hyenas picking off the weak and elderly birds!

crimsonwing8Some are killed and their bones are left to become part of the red lake and the salt when it changes again and the flamingos migrate elsewhere.  It shows these bones of the bird through time and the little chick with the salt shackles that are left behind.

crimsonwing4Of the 3 Disneynature films I’ve seen Crimson Wing is my favorite.  I was so absorbed in the story of these flamingos and their lake which changes so rapidly.  There were moments watching it that I was legitimately concerned even sad at the plight of the salt shackled chicks and the mean marabou.

Very sensitive kids (or adults…) might get a little upset at these scenes and the way the narration and music build milk all the emotion they can out of them.

Here is the trailer:

The music is listed as ‘by The Cinematic Orchestra and Claseria” and it is very good.  In fact, they said in my reading that pieces of the orchestration have been used in other movies as recently as The Theory of Everything.

I think most kids will find Crimson Wing fascinating and engaging and adults will get drawn in as well.  I’m surprised I had never even heard of it because it was great! It’s just such an interesting lake with its beautiful birds and their cute little chicks.  If you loved March of the Penguins you will ove this.  It’s great!

Overall Grade- A+  Marabou however are now part of my Disney villains!. 😉

Disneynature 1: Monkey Kingdom

monkey kingdomFor my Disneynature reviews I am going to review the current film Monkey Kingdom and then go back and review the previous films, so it will be a little bit out of synch but it makes the  most sense to me.

This weekend Disneynature releases Monkey Kingdom about the toque macaques (or monkeys) of Polonnaruwa Sri Lanka.  The lead monkey is named Maya and is at the bottom of the monkey class divisions.

monkey kingdom mayaThe monkey clan is quite the totalitarian regime with a strict hierarchy led by Raja and a trio of sisters who boss everyone around and take all the good warm sleeping spots.

monkey kingdom3Monkey Kingdom follows the clan for entire year and has a lot of monkey eating, grooming, and sleeping.  The variety of food the monkeys eat surprised me a little bit and how rigid the social structure seemed to be (if you believe the movie at least which I have no other knowledge about monkeys to say otherwise).

There is a point where they even swim to get food!  Who knew that monkeys could swim! We also get glimpses of other animals both predators and friendly folks like elephants and squirrels. They even branch into human world and the big city for a stretch which is a lot of fun.

Tina Fey is the narrator and she does an okay job.  I’m not normally her  biggest fan but it works for the cute monkeys.  Normally we expect someone with gravitas for such narration but I liked her motherly warmth for Maya’s story.

Here is the trailer to give you a better idea.

Monkey Kingdom is an engaging story that is simple enough for kids to understand and shouldn’t bore their parents.  Plus it is a cute way to explain complex social orders and the way we treat those of other classes through the examples of the monkeys.  It also may give kids an appreciation for the effort it really takes to do the basics of provide food and shelter.  Plus, the monkeys are just so darn cute (and they do give us a ‘hey, hey, we’re the monkeys’ musical number).

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Director Mark Linfield and cinematographers Martyn Colbeck and Gavin Thurston give us a lush beautiful look into the monkey habitat and the film could be appreciated on silence just for the gorgeous earth visuals.

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As with all the Disneynature films Disney will donate a portion of proceeds to charitable causes.  For Monkey Kingdom they will go to Conservation International.

Overall Grade- B (wasn’t anything super exciting to worthy an A but a solid effort).