Current Mini Reviews (Zombies 2, Shaun the Sheep 2, The Photograph, The Call of the Wild)

Hello everyone! I hope you are all doing well. I have been busy as usual but still have managed to see 4 films I wanted to report here on the blog. It’s an interesting bunch so you will have to share with me what you thought if you get to see any of them. Sure love ya!

Zombies 2

zombies 2

A lot of people are really tough on the Disney Channel original musicals but I’ve enjoyed almost all of them. With the exception of Freaky Friday I’ve had fun with the energetic dance numbers and positive messages for teens they all offer. Now we have Zombies 2 and it is another entertaining entry.

Meg Donnelly and Milo Manheim are both charismatic actors and good singers that solidly lead the film and the new crew of werewolves in town have a cool slick style to them. Unfortunately they just recycled the message of the first movie again but it’s an important message of tolerance so I give them a little bit of a pass. However, Zombies 3 needs to be something different!

All that said, if you enjoyed the first Zombies film you will enjoy this.

6 out of 10

Smile Worthy

The Photograph

photograph

I really enjoyed director Stella Meghie’s last film Everything Everything. I felt she took a basic sick teen love story and elevated it with sincere performances and a clever atmosphere. So naturally I was excited to see her new film The Photograph which Universal decided to bury for some reason over the Valentines weekend.

I don’t know why they hid The Photograph from critics because I really liked it. If you are looking for a romance directed with tons of style it is the film for you. Stars Lakeith Stanfield and Issa Rae have wonderful chemistry together and Maghie does such a good job creating palatable romantic tension between our two leads.

The flashbacks telling the story of Rae’s parents isn’t as compelling but it’s still serviceable. If you are into romances The Photograph is a well executed film I definitely recommend. For the record, it is pretty steamy for a pg13 so you’ve been warned.

8 out of 10

Smile Worthy

A Shaun the Sheep Movie: Farmageddon

shaun-sheep-2

It seems like I have been waiting for the sequel to the delightful The Shaun the Sheep Movie from 2015 for forever. We heard about it getting developed for several years and then last year it opened in England to acclaim only to be relegated to Netflix here in the States in 2020. Hopefully on Netflix will allow more people to see the film as it is a sweet and funny comedy for the entire family.

A Shaun the Sheep Movie: Farmageddon reunites us with our rascal sheep at Mossy Bottom Farm in England. Shaun and his friends are bored and making life difficult for the farm watchdog Bitzer. Then one day an alien arrives named Lu-La and all sorts of mischief occurs.

This movie is adorable. That’s all there is to say about it. Every minute on screen is super cute and I had a smile on my face. If you don’t think Shaun and his friends antics are funny it won’t be for you but I loved it. It has an old school silent movie appeal to it I really loved and kids will adore it. It’s a great film to watch as a family and everyone will laugh and enjoy the cuteness together. And of course the claymation animation is so well executed.

After a bit of a mistep with Early Man Aardman Animation is back with a real winner in Farmageddon.

8 out of 10

Smile Worthy

The Call of the Wild

call of the wild

Our last film is the new adaptation of the Jack London novel The Call of the Wild. I know I have read the novel but it has been a few years and I must admit I sometimes get it and London’s other popular novel White Fang confused. That said, I do think this version stays pretty close to the book, so that should make literary fans happy.

This version stars Harrison Ford as an adventurer who finds a dog named Buck who has seen many owners before landing on him (Ford isn’t in the movie much for the first 45 minutes). The only catch is this version of Buck is an all CGI dog instead of a regular dog and it arrives with mixed results.

Ford does a good job and the spirit of adventure throughout is compelling. There’s something old fashioned about this storytelling without wasted time on romances or unnecessary melodrama. The beautiful cinematography of the Yukon is also gorgeous and immersive.

However, the CGI dog is distracting especially when he is surrounded by other dogs (or any kind of group shot to be honest). Close up he fairs a little bit better but it is not a convincing visual. It’s especially a problem when we just got Togo from Disney Plus, which is also about a heroic dog in the Klondike and was soooo much better.

The other problem I had with The Call of the Wild was a very cringe-worthy performance by the usually reliable Dan Stevens. He plays an over-the-top bad guy named Hal who has a grudge against Ford’s John Thornton for the weakest of reasons. I am sure he was just doing what he was told but his insane bad-guy did not fit in with the leisurely paced choices in the rest of the film. It was really bad.

The Call of the Wild is also pretty scary for small children and I don’t know if the story will interest older kids. When it comes to Disney Plus it could be a nice way to introduce kids to the book but I don’t think I can recommend it in the theaters. It’s not awful but too uneven to spend the big dollars on.

4.5 out of 10

Frown Worthy

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Isle of Dogs Review

I feel like reviewing Wes Anderson’s latest film Isle of Dogs is almost an exercise in futility. Any filmgoer should know by watching the trailer if this film is your cup of tea or not. Anderson has his own unique style that does not appeal to everyone, but fortunately it appeals to yours truly and since animation is my thing I had to review it! (One of my friends from church asked me if I was going to see ‘that horrific looking dog film’ so that shows you how different the response can be to the trailer!).

Isle of Dogs is Wes Anderson’s second foray into the world of animation; his first being the 2009 animated film Fantastic Mr Fox. I recently did a collaboration with my friend Justin on his channel where I shared my thoughts on that film, so check that out:

While I enjoy Fantastic Mr Fox a great deal, I think I actually preferred Isle of Dogs. It’s weirder and more simplistic narratively but I laughed more and found it more charming to watch. I really thought Isle of Dogs was a great time at the movies.

Isle of Dogs tells the story of a dystopian futuristic Japan that has banished all dogs to a Trash Island. This is done out of fear over a dog flu which is hyped up by the tyrannical rule of Mayor Kobayashi. This was hilarious for me because the company I work for is called Kobayashi America, a branch of Kobayashi Pharmaceuticals in Japan,which is mentioned in the film! Luckily everyone I work with is completely lovely. No dictators present!

Anyway, Kobayashi is made a ward over a nephew named Atari who he then sends his beloved dog Spots to Trash Island. Atari, desperate for his dog, steals a plane and flies to Trash Island. Upon landing he meets 5 dogs: Rex, King, Duke, Boss and Chief. They are all eager to help find Spots except for Chief who is cynical and just trying to survive another day.

The rest of the story is pretty simple with the dogs and Atari traveling to find Spots and facing various challenges along the way. The joy of the film is the droll dialogue from the dogs and the sweet moments between boy and dogs. There is also a subplot with an exchange student named Tracy who investigates Kobayashi but the real fun is spending time with the dogs.

There are so many things to praise about Isle of Dogs. First, the animation is just tremendous. I honestly don’t know how they were able to do the fur and make it seem so lush and textured. These are not the clay figures of Rankin Bass or other old-school stop motion animated animals. It blew me away. I also loved the textures in all the backdrops and props. There are a lot of scenes behind walls of glass and the colors reminded me of a Chihuly art glass exhibit. Simply stunning! They could have used bare-bones backgrounds but they chose to go the extra mile and fill the screen with textured details and color.  If the Academy wasn’t so closed minded I could see it getting nominated for best production design.

The voice cast is also fantastic with many Anderson regulars such as Bryan Cranston, Edward Norton, Bill Murray, Jeff Goldblum, Greta Gerwig, Tilda Swinton and many more. It is narrated by Courtney B Vance and the music is superb by Alexandre Desplat.

I suppose if someone were to push me for flaws in Isle of Dogs I would admit that a white savior trope is applied to the story in an unnecessary way. Anderson makes the choice to have the Japanese characters speak Japanese with little to no subtitles, which I thought was really neat. However, it necessitated having an English character confront Kobayashi so that we would know what she was doing. I’m not sure how he could have gotten around that, but I can see why some would complain about it.

It’s also not supposed to be an accurate depiction of Japanese life. It reminded me of anime in that regard. Films like Akira or Ghost in the Shell also use Japan as a dystopian futuristic background to tell their stories, so any cultural appropriation should be taken with a massive grain of salt. Any culture should be allowed to have a wide variety of takes and stories set in it, so I don’t think it is a problem but I’m not Japanese. It will be interesting to see the response to this film over there. I could see them being offended or flattered.  It was cool at least that Anderson took some risks with language and storytelling that made it unpredictable to watch.

Like I said in my intro, if you watched the trailer for Isle of Dogs and responded positively to it then you should definitely see it. I’m certainly glad I did, and I look forward to seeing it multiple times. Incredibles 2 has a tall order to top it in my best animated film of the year list. We will see!

Overall Grade A- Smile Worthy

Here is a podcast I did with my friend Conrado on the film

https://soundcloud.com/rachel-wagner-350487958/talking-isle-of-dogs-with-conrado-falco

Kubo and the Two Strings Review (Masterpiece)

kubo-and-the-two-strings-posterYesterday I got the chance to see the new film from Laika Animation Studios called Kubo and the Two Strings. Here is my youtube review that I made after seeing it:

2016 has been a very strong year for animation in my opinion. Zootopia, Finding Dory, Little Prince, Only Yesterday, April and the Extraordinary World, Kung fu Panda 3 are all special releases. No we get Kubo and the Two Strings and it may be the best yet. What an amazing animated stop motion adventure. It took my breath away but I was also engaged in the story and loved the lead character, Kubo.

The film tells the story of Kubo who is a little boy with magical powers. He can make origami paper come alive and tell stories. He even at one point is able to build an entire boat with his paper. Each day he tells stories to the villagers but he only has one problem- he can never think of good endings to the story.

kuob4His Mother is a sickly woman who he has to care for. He has to cook for her and even feed her she is so weak. However, his Mother warns him to not be out after dark or he will be in great danger. Unfortunately one night he ends up outside and spirits begin calling for him “Kubo, Kubo, they call”. As he follows them he ends up on adventure to get the armor of his father that will protect him and his Mother.

kuboAlong the way he meets a monkey and a beetle who help him on his journey. One thing I liked is I was never sure where they were headed or what the next step was going to be. This is not like Lord of the Rings where the clear goal is Mordor and the destruction of the ring. Without a clear roadmap the film was very unpredictable and surprising.

The dialogue is also very well done. Monkey and Beetle are funny together and have a lot of sarcastic jabs at each other without being too modern or hip. In fact, Kubo is probably too old-fashioned for its own good. It would probably be easier to market if it had the wise cracking modern sidekick like Mushu in Mulan.

kubo6Nevertheless, I loved the characters, especially Kubo. Much like Judy Hopps in Zootopia this year, there was an earnestness and sincerity to Kubo that won me over immediately. He is blind in one eye but that eye is expressive and his smile made me very happy. I wanted him to be happy. I was rooting for him to succeed, which is probably the greatest compliment I can give to a character. He was brave and strong but felt real and vulnerable at the same time.

kubo-and-the-two-strings-official-trailer-3-2-820x795Do I even need to say the visuals are stunning? Yes, the visuals are stunning! There were so many moments when you can’t believe it is stop motion. The character movements are so fluid and the fast paced movements and lush landscapes are like something I haven’t seen before. It is without a doubt the greatest looking stop motion animated film I’ve ever seen.

kubo8It also has a great emotional reach. There are moments that will make you smile, laugh, cry and get a little scared. I don’t think it is too scary for most kids but maybe if they aren’t able to handle darker Disney villains like Maleficent than it isn’t for them. My theater was full of kids and they were totally engaged (unlike so many animated films I’ve seen in last few years because with the good comes the bad too…).

KUBO_monkey_laika_focus.0.0Mostly the film just has a huge heart that wins you over to the story, characters and world-building. I loved it and I fully intend on doing a detailed spoiler review once I get to see it more than once like I have done with Zootopia and Inside Out.

Unfortunately, it looks like this film is pegging to open at 12 million this weekend. That is so discouraging. It really is a masterpiece. I don’t want to live in a world where The Angry Birds Movie does better than Kubo and the Two Strings and yet there it is. What’s wrong with America?

Please let’s prove these prognosticators wrong!  Go see this film. Take your family. Take your friends. It’s great for all ages. It’s great for all interest levels. It’s a great movie. You don’t want to be the one who missed 2016’s masterpiece do you? See Kubo and the Two Strings. It’s that special.

I wouldn’t recommend the 3D as it didn’t do much to enhance the experience. Just see it in 2D and enjoy a truly special animated adventure.

Overall Grade- A+

Did the Right Film Win? 2005 Animated Oscars

Today we get to one of the hardest years I think I will face in this analysis of the films nominated for Best Animated Academy Award each year.  I love all of the 3 films nominated and can see going with any of them.

Check out my video where I talk about the films and decide- did the right one win?  If you like the video give it a thumbs up.  Thanks!

Picking my favorite was difficult because they are all so strong.  In the end I went with Corpse Bride because I love the Danny Elfman music and being a lover of musicals that will always put a movie over the top.  I particularly like these 2 numbers.

What would you pick? Please put in the comments section. Thanks.  I’ve really loved this discussion on both  my channel and here on the blog from this series so thank you for contributing!