Current Mini Reviews

Hi friends! It’s time once again for one of my current mini reviews where I give my brief thoughts on some of the latest movies I’ve been able to see. Make sure you are subscribed to my youtube channel so you get all the latest videos from me including weekly family movie night reviews! I’m also excited to announce I have created separate podcast feeds for 2 of my monthly podcast series:

Talking Disney Classics- with my friend Stanford Clark where we discuss a Disney Canon film each month in random order.

https://podcasts.apple.com/us/podcast/talking-disney-classics-with-rachel-wagner-stanford-clark/id1479958412

The Criterion Project- with my friend Conrado where each month we talk about a movie on the Criterion Channel.

https://podcasts.apple.com/us/podcast/the-criterion-project/id1479953904

I know you will enjoy them if you give them a chance!

Anyway back to the reviews!

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Falling in Love-

It shouldn’t be any surprise to any follower of my work at the Hallmarkies Podcast that I will always be a defender of escapist silly romcoms and Falling Inn Love is certainly an example of the genre. It stars Christina Milian as a woman who goes to New Zealand only to find the big prize Inn she’s won is actually a money pit. Luckily she has hunky Adam Demos there to help her with the renovations. They spar at first and of course fall in love by the end. Is it predictable and silly? Of course it is. That’s all part of the appeal. I thought it was adorable and thoroughly enjoyed it.

6 out of 10

Smile Worthy

overcomer

Overcomer-

I’ve been known to like my fair share of faith-based films. I recognize they have a very tricky task of entertaining a skeptical audience base while trying to tell an inspiring story. However, far too often they forget that the best preaching comes from a story well told, not by actual preaching in your film. The latest hit from the Kendrick Brothers is called Overcomer and is directed, written and starring Alex Kendrick and perhaps he bit off more than he can chew? This film should be a simple inspirational story about a girl with asthma who finds faith and the confidence to race cross country. Instead it’s a clunky, belabored story of the man who is begrudgingly forced to coach her. The dialogue is really bad along with most of the acting. There’s one moment where Priscilla Shirer literally compliments her own prayer and I laughed out loud. Watching this made me realize how good Breakthrough from earlier this year really was. Check that out instead.

2 out of 10

Frown Worthy

can you keep a secret

Can You Keep a Secret?-

I love the writer Sophie Kinsella but for some reason her books make terrible movies. The latest adaptation is Can You Keep a Secret starring Alexandra Daddario and Tyler Hoechlin. The elements that are charming in the book come across as forced and off-putting in this film. Hoechlin is super dishy but he and Daddario have no chemistry together. Most of the time it is awkward and uncomfortable which is not what you want in this kind of escapist romcom. The big reveal at the end is super underwhelming and the supporting cast is wasted. Honestly I wanted to turn it off it was so bad.

2 out of 10

Frown Worthy

promare

Promare-

Trigger Studios has long made some of the most arresting and eye popping anime on the market. Their latest film Promare is my first experience with one of their films and I must admit I was really impressed! It tells the story of a futuristic society where a band of firefighters protect the world from a mysterious race of mutants called the Burnish. As the two races fight they start to learn there might be more to the story than their leaders have told them. The animation in this film is intense, frenetic, crazy, whatever word you want to use but it is also exhilarating. I loved the unique geometric style and the electronic music. It’s an experience I highly recommend to those willing to take a risk.

8.5 out of 10

Smile Worthy

Abominable-

Please check out my youtube review for my thoughts on the latest film from DreamWorks, Abominable. This film marks the end of our multi-film trend of yeti movies in animation and to my surprise it is definitely my favorite. While the story of the little girl Yi finding a mysterious creature to protect may not be the most original, Abominable has huge heart with well-developed sweet characters. It’s also funnier than I expected with beautiful animation and music. This first collaboration between DreamWorks and Pearl Studio is a terrific film, and I hope people will go see it.

8 out of 10

Smile Worthy

judy

Judy-

Last up is the musical biopic based on Judy Garland’s last year of life, Judy. I love Judy Garland and think her life is so hauntingly tragic that it breaks my heart to think about it. Unfortunately this film pulls out every cliche in the musical biopic playbook. It’s generic, boring with a very surface-level script. Some might feel the same way about the recent Rocketman but at least that movie took some creative risks with its flights of fancy. To add insult to injury they make the choice to have the actress portraying Judy, Renee Zellweger, sing for Judy. What on earth were they thinking? She sounds NOTHING like Judy Garland! I’ve listened to the London concert recordings and that’s not how she sounds! Basically the poor singing choices, generic script and screaming-for-an-Oscar performances make Judy a big miss.

2 out of 10

Frown Worthy

How to Train Your Dragon: The Hidden World Review

It’s no secret that I am not the biggest fan of DreamWorks animation. Particularly their comedies are very hit and miss for me. However, the one consistently great series from the studio is the How to Train Your Dragon films. They are epic in scale but with sweet moments and the animation is always stunning. Now we get the 3rd and last installment entitled How to Train Your Dragon: The Hidden World (breaks continuity with the other 2 that had simple numbers in the title but oh well!). While I did have my issues with the film, it’s still a very sweet and lovely way to end the series and most fans will be very pleased with it.

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The story of How to Train Your Dragon: the Hidden World starts in Berk where dragons and humans are living peacefully with Toothless being the alpha or intermediary between the two groups. One day they find a new Night Fury (Toothless was supposed to be the only one) but this dragon is white and is a female, which of course is very exciting for Toothless. Unfortunately a dragon hunter named Grimmel is after the dragons and wants to destroy everything in Berk. I won’t tell you any more so you aren’t spoiled but there is a lot of action, romance, and some sweet moments of friendship.

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The strongest parts of How to Train Your Dragon: The Hidden World are in the animation and character moments. There is a particularly stunning sequence when they find the Hidden World and things look like under a fluorescent black light. It’s truly breathtaking. While I missed the flying sequences of the first 2 films (Toothless and Hiccup are separated or battling in most the movie), it is still a very beautiful film.

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Also we see growth from Hiccup as character as he comes to understand Toothless, Astrid, and even his father better through the course of the movie. A lot of the side characters who we have come to love during the movie including Astrid get nice endings and moments to shine. Some of the comedy with Ruffnut (Kristin Wiig) wasn’t my taste but the kids in the theater seemed to enjoy it so I may not be the target audience.

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My criticisms of How to Train Your Dragon: The Hidden World may not be an issue for you if you love fantasy adventure and action. Aside from slasher flicks, fantasy action is probably my least favorite. There are a lot of battles and fighting in this movie and I found them to be more than a tad dull. I know other people will enjoy them but I kept nodding off during these sections. You would think with all the flames and warfare it would be exciting but it isn’t for me at all. At the very least they were too long and repetitive. I would have much rather had less action and more flying sequences or time in the Hidden World, but that’s probably just me.

Other than that I enjoyed How to Train Your Dragon: The Hidden World. It is a beautifully animated ending to our trilogy and one I bet you will find very satisfying if you loved the previous 2 films.

7 out of 10

smile worthy

DreamWorks 17: Sinbad Legend of the Seven Seas

The DreamWorks film Sinbad: Legend of the Seven Seas is one I had heard about but somehow never gotten around to watching. Secretly I was hoping it would turn out to be a hidden gem that I would find very underrated, but I still didn’t see it. Well, today I finally watched it and unfortunately it’s not a very strong film. It’s certainly not the worst of DreamWorks, but I can see why it has been basically forgotten.

Sinbad tells the classic story of the famous pirate but this time he gets mixed up in the schemes of Eris, the Goddess of Discord. The plot then becomes very convoluted. Basically it involves Sinbad, his friend Proteus, Proteus’ fiance Marina, a magic book and a variety of other adventures.

The problem is those adventures aren’t accompanied by characters I cared much about. Proteus is gone for most of the movie so it mostly relies on Sinbad to carry the film. What can I say about Sinbad but he’s no Jack Sparrow…He’s completely forgettable. Brad Pitt is fine as his voice but the role is super bland.

Then we have Marina and she was a strange character. At times she would be tough but then other times she was very submissive. She was engaged to someone she didn’t love but then storms off with Sinbad at a moments notice. She swings from being a damsel in distress needing rescue to punching Sinbad in the face. She had more personality than Sinbad but it just didn’t quite work. I liked some of their romantic comedy-style banter but it felt a little weird given they were both cheating on the friend who had put his life on the line for them to be together. Awkward…

Then we have the villain Eris who is probably the best thing in the movie. Her design is pretty cool and she is well voiced by Michelle Pfeiffer; although, I was a little unclear what her motivations were. I guess she wanted the Book of Peace because it is powerful or something? It was a little vague. Everything with the book was vague and not very satisfying.

The animation in Sinbad also leaves much to be desired. If we remember this is the same year as Finding Nemo it’s pretty alarming how bad the ocean and sea life look in this movie. At times the animation reminded me of a Barbie movie which is not good for a major studio film.  I wish they had just gone all 2D because the mixture looks awful. For some reason Prince of Egypt and Spirit both hold up in their animation but this looked really bad. It always looked like the characters were floating on top of the backgrounds. Road to El Dorado with its many flaws has way better animation.

The one huge plus I will give Sinbad is the score by Harry Gregson-Williams is terrific. It really helped me get into the action scenes even if I wasn’t sure who was fighting or what was going on. It really worked well for the movie.

I am glad I finally checked Sinbad off my bucket list. It does have some positives but not enough that I can recommend it. I would say watch Spirit or Prince of Egypt instead. Those films have better characters, stories and animation.

What do you think of Sinbad: Legend of the Seven Seas?

(Also I don’t think there was any legends or anything about the 7 seas? Did I miss something It should have been called Sinbad: Legend of the Book of Peace)

DreamWorks 16: Flushed Away

Do you ever have those movies that you feel like you should like so you keep going back to hoping that time will do the trick? Flushed Away is such a movie for me. I love Aardman Animation. I love the voice cast and the story although generic would be fine if the execution worked for me. My nieces and sister  love it so that makes me want to love it. Sadly I watched it again today and walked away  not loving it or even liking it much to be honest. Let me try to explain why. Flushed Away is about a pampered rat named Roddy. He is the pet of a rich family and one day he is flushed down the toliet by a common sewer rat named Sid. This is the first problem. I hate Sid. He’s supposed to be funny but comes across as super annoying instead. Such is the case with many of Flushed Away’s characters.

The second problem is Roddy has no motivation as a character. He’s flushed down the toilet against his will and then spends the rest of the movie trying to get back home, except for him home isn’t family or something like that. It is luxury and fine living. Getting back to the high life doesn’t make for a super compelling character.

Once in the sewer he meets a tough talking rat named Rita who is trying retrieve a stolen ruby from an evil toad. She is doing this for her family, which gives her some motivation but in the end it is a buddy road trip movie and nothing more. I expect more inventive storytelling from Aardman Animation.

The villainous Toad has some fun moments but nothing that made me warm up to the movie as a whole. The animation is also very rough in patches with cgi trying to mimic the look of Aardman’s stop motion, which is  a real shame since I love their stop motion style. There are times when the rendering looks pretty bad. I realize it is way back in 2006 but it is the same year as Cars and Happy Feet- both films with way better animation. The next year would come Ratatouille, which just the Paris cityscapes  alone triumph over anything in Flushed Away.

A lot of the enjoyment of this film will come down to whether you find it funny. I did enjoy the singing slugs. They made me laugh and brought some good tunes into the mix. Unfortunately the rest of the jokes either annoys me or lands flat. Like I said, my sister and nieces think it is hilarious so it depends on your sense of humor I suppose.

I like the overall message about family and that even if they drive you crazy those bonds are special and should be treasured. Single life could have been portrayed with a little more nuance but it’s a movie for small children so I will give them that one. Most people will feel good with the message of the film.

Sometimes with films we just have to say ‘this one isn’t for me’ and that’s the case with Flushed Away. I see why other people enjoy it but it doesn’t work for me. I don’t enjoy watching it and really have no desire to watch it again. I recommend watching Pirates! or Shaun the Sheep Movie instead

Dreamworks 15: Madagascar Escape 2 Africa

Some who have been following my DreamWorks series may remember I was not a big fan of the original Madagascar film. I thought it was cliched, unfunny with terrible animation particularly in the character design. DreamWorks often improves their franchises on the 2nd film and I was hoping that would be the case with the Madagascar sequel dubbed Escape 2 Africa but sadly it was not to be. I really thought this was a dreadful animated film.

My biggest problem with this movie is I found it rather mean spirited. At least in the first film you had the lemurs and penguins to bring some humor to the festivities but here that comic relief is used very sparingly. Instead we get an opening number where a baby lion is abducted while his father is shot at. Then you have plane crash that’s pretty intense and an elderly woman is punched in the face repeatedly. It doesn’t sound like a laugh riot to me…

The movie starts showing Alex’s birth family and his father teaching him great lessons while his uncle is scheming for power (because we haven’t seen that plotline with lions before…). The uncle is voiced by Alec Baldwin and I thought he was awful. He was annoying and a villain we’ve seen a million times.

The troop end up getting to Africa and meet their respective species where they all have trouble fitting in. Marty the zebra had a funny sequence where he looks like all of his fellow zebras and doesn’t feel unique any more but the rest including a romantic storyline between Melman and Gloria did nothing for me.

Escape 2 Africa is one of those comedies for children where they think characters arguing and saying mean things to each other is the same thing as telling jokes. It reminded me of the last Ice Age movie in that regard. It just kept getting more argumentative, annoying and mean spirited as it went along until I could barely stand it.

I also didn’t appreciate how we have another movie that treats masculinity as inherently toxic. Alex doesn’t want to fight because he was taught to dance and entertain. Eventually he wins everyone over to his side and they accept him, which is great but it’s just such a tired lesson at this point. Why not have him train and learn to be a better fighter? This wouldn’t just be acceptance but it would be empowering. It would show he could be both the fighter and the dancer, so even better.

The animation also can’t save Escape 2 Africa. It looked remarkably cheap for 2008. The voice acting is good and I do like the penguins when they are on screen. I wish we got much more of them.

I know other people enjoy this franchise but it is not for me (at least so far). I really didn’t like this film much at all.

Overall Grade- D

DreamWorks 14: Kung fu Panda

Over the last few years DreamWorks has been able to keep a certain degree of artistic legitimacy by the presence of two of their franchises- Kung fu Panda and How to Train Your Dragon. It’s kind of like the Shrek and Madagascar films bring in the big money and the KFP and HTTYD franchises keep them respected by the animation community. Well, that all started in 2008 with the release of Kung fu Panda.On the rewatch it’s a decent movie, but I’d be lying if I said I didn’t have a lot of problems with this first entry in the series.

Kung fu Panda stars Jack Black as a panda who has grown up idolizing a group of warriors called The Furious Five. One day the groups leader Master Shifu is looking for a new warrior that can help them defeat a snow leopard called Tai Lung. Through various contrivances he meets Po and believes him to be the Dragon Warrior.

The rest of the movie plays out as a typical origin story with training montages and small skirmishes until leading up to the climatic battle.

The biggest strength of this movie is the amazing animation. Particularly in a fight sequence at the end it totally holds up. The fluidity of the fighting and the colors are gorgeous. It really looks like the studied martial arts fighters and were able to recreate their movements as they fight.

It also has a nice message for kids about not judging by appearance only and the immense potential each of us have to do great things. It’s a classic dreamers story but it is done well with a lot of heart. However, I do have some problems that bothered me on this rewatch. At just 92 minutes the film feels much longer and it is very exposition heavy. By about the fourth monologue from Master Shifu about courage and dreaming I was pretty bored.

I could have also used way more of the Furious Five. They are supposed to be these great fighters that Po looks up to but we hardly see any of that. I wish they had gotten rid of some exposition and thrown in more fights and character moments from the entire team not just Shifu and Po.

Also, I’ve always had a little bit of a problem with the modern humor in this series. Jack Black’s vocals take me out of the movie because all I can think about is ‘that’s Jack Black’. It sounds so American and so modern that it doesn’t fit this Ancient Chinese setting. I have the same problem with the humor. It rarely lands and so it is distracting from the more traditional story.

Still, it’s not a bad movie. I just didn’t love it like I was hoping too. I think this first entry is definitely the weakest of the franchise as both 2 and 3 give us way more fighting and a lot less talking.

Overall Grade- C+

I’ll give it smile worthy but it’s a mild one.

Dreamworks 12: Wallace and Gromit: The Curse of the Ware Rabbit

After the horrors of last week’s Shark Tale I had to give myself a gift of one of Dreamwork’s two Oscar winning films- Wallace and Gromit: the Curse of the Ware Rabbit. This film is made by Aardman Animation in partnership with Dreamworks. I don’t think of it as a true Dreamworks film but it is in the canon so I get to review it. 🙂

Wallace and Gromit are two characters created by director Nick Park as characters in a series of British stop motion shorts. Wallace is the stupid but well meaning inventor and Gromit is his genius dog. Most of the shorts are Wallace getting into trouble and Gromit finding a way to get him out of it.  They are charming and full of laughs for the entire family.

Now they make their jump to the big screen, and fortunately they do it rather well. In Curse of the Ware Rabbit, Wallace  (Peter Sallis) and Gromit are running a business to remove pesky rabbits from the towns gardens.  There is great urgency because the rabbits are eating up all the jumbo sized prize gardens of the townsfolk.

One night Wallace sets up an experiment where he creates a Frankenstein Rabbit called the Ware Rabbit who starts terrorizing the neighborhood gardens. This includes Lady Tottington who becomes a love interest for Wallace.

Wallace and Gromit get on the case and all kinds of shenanigans occur.

This film is a complete delight. It’s funny, the animation is amazing and there is a nice heart to the relationship between Wallace and Gromit. Wallace may be stupid but they do love each other.

I also love Lady Tottington (Helena Bonham Carter) and the evil Lord Victor Quartermaine (Ralph Fiennes). It’s a comedy designed for kids but it has those British moments adults will enjoy also.

My only flaw with the film is occasionally the pacing can sag but then it picks back up again pretty quickly with a slapstick sequence or tender scene. Other than that I am glad it won the Oscar as I think it is Aardman’s best stop motion film followed by Shaun the Sheep Movie and Chicken Run. It’s definitely in the top 3 Dreamworks films if you include it in your ranking.

Overall Grade- A

 

Dreamworks 11: Shark Tale

Honestly there is a side of me that just wants to say ‘this movie sucks and I hate it’ and be done with this review. I really have nothing nice to say about Shark Tale but for the sake of the series I will share with you my thoughts.

So here we go: Shark Tale is not really about a shark at all. It’s about a fish named Oscar who is a complete jerk and loser. You might not realize he is a fish because he stands upright and there are no bubbles or other fish-like attributes. All the fishes look more like lizards than fish and I hate that.

Oscar lives in an underwater city called Reef City where the main population is fish puns. We get such great humor as stars named Katie Current and Jessica Shrimpton. They also have a fast food restaurant called Fish King instead of Burger King- which is really kind of confusing when you think about it.

All this would be fine if the story was decent but it totally sucks. Oscar is a selfish creature who is constantly in debt and lying to all around him. Reef City is over-run with organized crime including Oscar’s boss Sykes and a group of sharks that are run like an Italian mob family.

One of these sharks is named Lenny (Jack Black) and his big shame is he is a vegetarian- a fact that is too feminine and weak for his crime boss father (Robert Deniro). They make a lot of mafia movie jokes and references. This can be funny like in Zootopia but they fall flat here. I didn’t laugh one time.

There is a groan worthy plot where Oscar gets mistaken as a mighty Sharkslayer and there is a media storm. The movie seems like it is trying to say something about media but it ends up feeling very cynical and strange.

There are also 2 female characters that are uncomfortable. Angie (Renee Zellweger) is the girl fish Oscar literally steals from and Lola (Angelina Jolie) is there to be a sexy temptation although why either would be wasting their time on Oscar I have no idea. Oscar is also a compulsive gambler and puts up Angie’s grandmother’s pearl at the track, which is a trashy thing to do (nice protagonist Dreamworks).

The only characters I remotely like are 2 jellyfish (Ziggy Marley and Doug E Doug) that are total Jamaican stereotypes but at least they are a little bit fun and they are supposed to be standing upright like that, so the animation is more pleasing.

The sentimentality between Lenny and his Dad at the end is completely unearned and tacked on and Oscar is never punished for lying and being a terrible fish.

I hate the animation in Shark Tale. I hate the humor. I hate the character designs. I hate the lack of bubbles and the fact it looks like it could be above the water. I hate the bloated celebrity voice cast. I hate the way the female characters are treated. I hate the lead protagonist Oscar. I hate the co -lead protagonist Lenny. I hate the mafia jokes and storyline. I hate all the puns and the patronizing humor for the adults.

There are a few good hip-hop songs which are fun but that’s about it.

I HATE THIS MOVIE!!!

It’s awful and is without a doubt one of the worst mainstream animated films of the last 20 years and definitely one of the worst to receive a Best Animated Movie Oscar nomination (For Shame!!).

This movie sucks

Overall Grade- F

frown

DreamWorks 10: Shrek 2

If you have been following this Dreamworks series you probably recall I have the unpopular opinion of disliking the original Shrek movie. It’s basically a parody film and once I’ve heard the jokes they aren’t as funny to me on the rewatch. Aside from laughs the movie doesn’t have much going for it artistically or character-wise. So, what would I think about the sequel, Shrek 2? I still have some issues but it is a significant step up from the original (as Dreamworks tends to do. Their sequels are oddly often better than originals). Shrek 2 actually tells a creative story and doesn’t just make fun of the fairytale genre but subverts it in some clever ways.

To get things started, I probably have a different take on the introduction of the film than most. We get a musical montage that pokes fun at Spider-man, Little Mermaid, From Here to Eternity, Matrix, Lord of the Rings and more.  These type of parody jokes where they mimic a scene from another film just aren’t funny to me.  So, needless to say this movie gets off to a bad start.

However, it pretty quickly starts the story of Fiona taking Shrek to meet her parents who are sovereigns over the land of Far Far Away. I like that the kingdom is basically Hollywood and that Fairy Godmother is like a magical Oprah. These gags are funny because they actually have something to do with the narrative and aren’t just mimicking something we know and love for a joke.

Jennifer Saunders does terrific voice work as the Fairy Godmother and she is an entertaining villain- especially because we know the Fairy Godmother as a sweet rescuer in most stories. I particularly like the scene when she first appears to Fioana and sings a manic version of Bibbidi Bobbidi Boo.

The marriage dynamic between Fiona and Shrek is pretty well done. I like the idea of how much should you change to accommodate the person you love? It’s an interesting question and they explore it pretty well. I still wish Cameron Diaz was a better voice actor for Fiona but at least her dialogue is better than in the first film. The other fantastic addition to the cast is Antonio Banderas as Puss in Boots. Talk about perfect casting! He is funny. He is sweet. He is a swashbuckling knave. Also because he famously played Zorro it is easy to bring that persona to the role when you hear his voice. It is an example of celebrity voice acting paying off and adding more to the character.

Shrek is pretty unlikable in this movie, spending most of the time sulking and growling, about everything that happens. His saving grace is when he gets turned into a human and has to do some introspection on who he is and what he wants out of life.

The plot-line with Fiona’s parents and her father secretly being the Frog Prince feels a little on the nose to me. The voice acting by Julie Andrews and John Cleese is good but all the dialogue about accepting their daughter when she is ‘one of them’ can be more than a bit heavy handed. However, let’s face it the Shrek movies aren’t exactly known for their nuance and subtlety.

I also think Donkey feels a bit extraneous to me. He really isn’t needed for the story and so they end up working him in awkward ways. It makes the character more annoying than affecting when all he is there for is occasional commentary. It also doesn’t help that Puss in Boots is so much better than Donkey as a sidekick.

The pop music soundtrack also feels dated and doesn’t fit well with the story.

Overall Shrek 2 mostly works. It introduces 2 great new characters in Fairy Godmother and Puss in Boots. It actually tells a story and tries to give the characters dimension and heart. The animation is definitely a step up from the original and most of the voice acting is solid. I still don’t like the parody jokes, an unlikable Shrek and the Frog Prince story-line but the good outweigh the bad and I enjoyed watching it.

Overall Grade- B-