PARANORMAN (2012) review – Halloween Special

Hey there, folks. Due to some personal matters, I’ll likely be taking a break from doing theatrical reviews for awhile. But because I am by my very nature, a writer, I can’t just not write. So in spirit of the encroaching holiday of Halloween, I have opted to use this month to write reviews of my favorite movies to watch this time of year, basically horror films, or Halloween-themed movies. For those of you that don’t know, I generally hate horror as a genre. Far too often the movies follow a very specific formula: stupid character making stupid decisions getting other stupid characters killed. By the day’s end, there’s nothing to invest in. It’s just gratuitous violence, which I’m not a fan of. It’s too cheap and easy. But for this month, I’ll be writing about the ones that I think break that formula and actually look like they gave a hoot about making a good movie, with good characters, good scares, and above all else, a good story. At least, for the horror films. Like I said, I’ll be touching on Halloween-themed films that could be for kids. So sit back, relax, and enjoy my opinions.

PARANORMAN

Starring: Kodi Smit-McPhee (X-MEN: APOCALYPSE [2016], LET ME IN [2010], THE ROAD [2009], and the upcoming X-MEN: DARK PHOENIX [2018]), Jodelie Ferland (BIGGER FATTER LIAR [2017], THE CABIN IN THE WOODS [2012], and CARRIE [2002]), Tucker Albrizzi (MONSTER TRUCKS [2017] and ALVIN AND THE CHIPMUNKS: CHIPWRECKED [2011]), and Christopher Mintz-Plasse (TROLLS [2016], PITCH PERFECT [2012], SUPERBAD [2007], and upcoming films THE DISASTER ARTIST [2017] and HOW TO TRAIN YOUR DRAGON 3 [2019]).

Support: Anna Kendrick (TABLE 19 [2017], THE ACCOUNTANT [2016], INTO THE WOODS [2014], and upcoming films PITCH PERFECT 3 [2017] and NICOLE [2019]), Casey Affleck (A GHOST STORY [2017], GONE BABY GONE [2007], and GOOD WILL HUNTING [1998]), Leslie Mann (THE COMEDIAN [2017], KNOCKED UP [2007], GEORGE OF THE JUNGLE [1997], and the upcoming THE PACT [2018]), John Goodman (VALERIAN [2017], EVAN ALMIGHTY [2007], THE BORROWERS [1997], and upcoming film CAPTIVE STATE [2018] and TV revival ROSANNE [2018]), and Alex Borstein (ANGRY BIRDS [2016], TED [2012], and TV show FAMILY GUY [1998 – ongoing]).

Directors: Christ Butler (directorial debut, and only directed project) and Sam Fell (THE TALE OF DESPEREAUX [2008] and FLUSHED AWAY [2006]). Writer: Chris Butler (KUBO AND THE TWO STRINGS [2016]). Composer: Jon Brion (WILSON [2017], THE OTHER GUYS [2010], PUNCH-DRUNK LOVE [2002], and the upcoming LADY BIRD [2017]). Cinematographer: Tristan Oliver (LOVING VINCENT [2017], FANTASTIC MR. FOX [2009], CHICKEN RUN [2000], and the upcoming ISLE OF DOGS [2018]).

LAIKA has quickly become a popular name when it comes to animation. While claymation and stop motion similar to NIGHTMARE BEFORE CHRISTMAS (1993) aren’t exactly unheard of, they’re also not often done. But LAIKA has certainly made its career on that and they’ve certainly done a memorable job of it. From their debut in CORALINE (2009) and their most recent KUBO, they’ve done a wonderful job in creating worlds that feel surreal, dark, creepy, but overall touching and beautiful.

I actually never saw LAIKA’s second venture, PARANORMAN until later. I have no idea why, but when I finally did see it, it left a pretty decent impact on me. The story is about an eleven-year-old boy named Norman (voiced by Smit-McPhee), who sees dead people, pun intended. Thing is, while these spirits are benevolent, no one else sees them but him, and has a bit of a nasty habit of getting bullied at school and his parents being a little nasty about it. But then one day, his uncle, Mr. Penderghast (voiced by Goodman), is the only one who has the same gift and has spent decades keeping the ancient witch’s curse from wrecking terror on the town. But he dies and tries to convince Norman to take his place. But not given the best information, the witch comes back and wrecks that terror by unleashing her zombie horde.

The opening scene’s twist still takes me by surprise. As well as makes me laugh. The screaming woman and the brain stuck to her foot as she runs away from the zombie attacking her; priceless.

But more than that, this movie could almost be a spiritual successor to THE SIXTH SENSE (1999). What if Cole Sear ended up accepting his gift of seeing dead people and even embraced it? It’s a stretch in logic, sure, but it’s a fun comparison. Norman is a slightly mixed bag for me as a character. On the one hand, he is sympathetic and you feel for him for the way he’s treated. He’s a good kid and means well, doing his best to not make a scene. He’s a kid, so when it’s time for him to do something bigger than life, he’s scared, but he finds courage to do what’s necessary to save everyone, even if it means getting hurt, or worse. But my main issue with him is that he constantly tells people that he sees ghosts. At least, it’s implied that he does. Why does he do that? He’s eleven. He should be old enough by now to understand what adults will believe. At the very least, if they didn’t believe him the first time, he should be smart enough to know it won’t fly if he opens his yammer twice. Maybe if he was a few years younger, his behavior would have been more understandable, but as it is, it’s a little frustrating to watch.

The side characters are about on the same level too. Courtney (voiced by Kendrick) pretty much acts like a standard teenage girl who wants nothing to do with her brother. She does eventually go through a character arch of protecting Norman, but honestly, that arch kind of comes out of nowhere. Even when the zombies are attacking, she still treats Norman like he’s responsible for it. Never mind that zombies exist, which she barely has a reaction to, but she still treats Norman poorly, eventually abandoning him to his plan with dealing with the witch’s curse. It’s only when Norman figures everything out that she stands with him, but it happens pretty suddenly. Thank heavens this character is voiced by Kendrick, as she brings a charming energy to Courtney, otherwise I’d straight up dislike her.

Neil (voiced by Albrizzi) is mostly likable, being the only person that believes in Norman and what he can do, and does his very best to stand by him during the worst that the curse has to offer. My issue with him is that he is kind of a stereotype by constantly showing how obsessed he is with eating. And for every funny joke that he’s a part of, like refusing to leave Norman when the zombies attack in the town hall, but his muscular brother picks him up under his arm, he’s also part of an unfunny joke, like when he’s playing with the ghost of his dog and starts kissing his butt instead of his face. It’s… really strange how this pattern is repeated in the movie with the side characters.

So the characters are hits and misses. What’s legitimately good about the film. Almost exactly where it counts. For one, the animation, like all of LAIKA’s work, is spectacular. From the visuals, to the CG incorporated visuals, it’s all a wonder to behold. Norman’s home town bustles with activity and fills the streets with crowds. The yellow clouds that show glimpses of the witch’s face, those are particularly spooky and threatening and I never get tired of watching it. But above all else, my absolute favorite stuff comes from the witch herself.

***SPOILERS***

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Agatha, or Aggie (voiced by Ferland) brings home the emotional weight. Aggie was once just a little girl, but was accused for being a witch and was killed. But before her death, she placed a curse on the people that did her harm. The way she’s animated in her ghostly form is unbelievably unnerving, and is far more scary than half the things I’ve seen in legitimate horror films. An eerie yellow glow, electricity flying around, and constantly twitching like a glitch in video game graphics. Her face and the way it contorts, it’s all pretty frightening in its own right. But then you see her in her human form and you see a scared little girl who was just being a little girl and murdered for it. She was bullied, and she become angry, vengeful, wanted to hurt those that hurt her just as bad. She’s a victim who doesn’t want to be a victim anymore. You totally understand and empathize with Aggie. She was wronged. No one agrees with her causing chaos and destruction, but anyone can understand why she resorts to these measures. The way that she connects with Norman is the highlight of the film. In many ways, I would actually have preferred to see that she was calmed down and would come back in a possible sequel, but that would leave the ending less powerful and meaningful.

***

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***END SPOILERS***

This movie is absolutely wonderful to watch around Halloween. Sure, it’s got its flaws in the characters, but it’s got more than enough charm, likability, and great visuals and animation to make it worth a watch. It’s not just good enough for kids, it’s good enough for adults as well. It’s a little scary, but that’s all subjective, isn’t it. Some kids will watch this and be totally fine, others could possibly get nightmares. But as with all horror-type movies for kids, they should know that there is a happy ending and that it’s okay to be afraid. Hence the theme of the movie and the most poignant quote of the film. How did that go again, Grandma (voiced by Stritch): “There’s nothing wrong with being scared, so long as you don’t let it change who you are.”

My honest rating for PARANORMAN (2012): 4/5

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THE CABIN IN THE WOODS (2012) review – Halloween Special

Hey there, folks. Due to some personal matters, I’ll likely be taking a break from doing theatrical reviews for awhile. But because I am by my very nature, a writer, I can’t just not write. So in spirit of the encroaching holiday of Halloween, I have opted to use this month to write reviews of my favorite movies to watch this time of year, basically horror films, or Halloween-themed movies. For those of you that don’t know, I generally hate horror as a genre. Far too often the movies follow a very specific formula: stupid character making stupid decisions getting other stupid characters killed. By the day’s end, there’s nothing to invest in. It’s just violence porn, which I’m not a fan of. It’s too cheap and easy. But for this month, I’ll be writing about the ones that I think break that formula and actually look like they gave a shit about making a good movie, with good characters, good scares, and above all else, a good story. At least, for the horror films. Like I said, I’ll be touching on Halloween-themed films that could be for kids. So sit back, relax, and enjoy my opinions.

CABIN IN THE WOODS:

Starring: Kristen Connolly (REVOLUTIONARY ROAD [2008], and TV shows ZOO [2015 – ongoing] and HOUSE OF CARDS [2013 – ongoing]), Chris Hemsworth (GHOSTBUSTERS [2016], THOR: THE DARK WORLD [2013], STAR TREK [2009], and upcoming films THOR: RAGNAROK [2017] and AVENGERS: INFINITY WAR [2018]), Fran Kranz (THE DARK TOWER [2017], ORANGE COUNTY [2002], and TV show DOLLHOUSE [2009 – 2010]), Bradley Whitford (MEGAN LEAVEY [2017], THE SISTERHOOD OF THE TRAVELING PANTS [2005], BILLY MADISON [1995], and GODZILLA: KING OF MONSTERS [2019]), and Richard Jenkins (KONG: SKULL ISLAND [2017], THE KINGDOM [2007], THE INDIAN IN THE CUPBOARD [1995], and the upcoming THE SHAPE OF THE WATER [2017]).

Support: Anna Hutchison (TV shows ANGER MANAGEMENT [2012 – 2014], SPARTACUS [2010 – 2013], and POWER RANGERS JUNGLE FURY [2008]), Jesse Williams (BAND AID [2017], THE BUTLER [2013], and THE SISTERHOOD OF THE TRAVELING PANTS 2 [2008]), Brian White (12 ROUNDS [2009], BRICK [2005]. and TV show CHICAGO FIRE [2012 – ongoing]), Sigourney Weaver (A MONSTER CALLS [2016], HAPPILY N’EVER AFTER [2006], ALIEN: RESURRECTION [1997], and upcoming films THE MEYEROWITZ STORIES [2017] and AVATAR 2 [2020]), and popular mocap actor/stuntman, Terry Notary (WAR FOR THE PLANET OF THE APES [2017], THE INCREDIBLE HULK [2008], HOW THE GRINCH STOLE CHRISTMAS [2000], and upcoming films AVENGERS: INFINITY WAR [2018] and an untitled Avengers movie [2019]).

Director: Drew Goddard (4 episodes of TV show THE GOOD PLACE [2016 – ongoing] and the upcoming X-FORCE, no release date announced). Writers: Drew Goddard (THE MARTIAN [2015], WORLD WAR Z [2013], CLOVERFIELD [2008], and the upcoming X-FORCE) and Joss Whedon (AVENGERS: AGE OF ULTRON [2015], SERENITY [2005], TOY STORY [1995], and upcoming films JUSTICE LEAGUE [2017] and BATGIRL, no release date announced). Composer: David Julyan (THE PRESTIGE [2006], THE DESCENT [2005], and MEMENTO [2000]). Cinematographer: Peter Deming (NOW YOU SEE ME 2 [2016], THE JACKET [2005], AUSTIN POWERS [1997], and the upcoming THE NEW MUTANTS [2018])

For those not in the know CABIN IN THE WOODS was actually a creation of Joss Whedon. Yes, the same Joss Whedon who gave us TV shows BUFFY THE VAMPIRE SLAYER (1997 – 2003), FIREFLY (2002 – 2003), and films THE AVENGERS (2012) and AVENGERS: THE AGE OF ULTRON, and briefly took over filming for the upcoming JUSTICE LEAGUE (2017) and is slated to make a Batgirl movie that may or may not have anything to do with the DC Extended Universe. My point is, Whedon is one of the most celebrated names in Hollywood, for his smart stories, brilliant direction, creating some of the most kick-ass women on screen, he’s an all around icon in geek culture.

I bring this up because this is weirdly enough one of his films that got pushed to the wayside. Yeah, though I don’t know the full history, CABIN was originally made years before. Hell, I have a theory that the only reason it was released was because of the success of Marvel’s THOR (2011) and the popularity of Chris Hemsworth, whom is in this film. Kind of funny how things turned out. The common person is probably still looking at this title and wondering why they haven’t heard of it. If it had such big names attached, why aren’t more people talking about it? Well, the sad fact with Whedon is that many of his projects in the past, post-BUFFY and pre-AVENGERS, weren’t always given the best chances, likely due to marketing failure. FIREFLY, for example, is considered to be one of the greatest sci-fi TV shows of all time, but much like CABIN, not many people have heard of it, and seemingly fewer have seen it. So what does that usually mean? Popular, fresh, different, and amazing work that goes completely over mainstream becomes, what else, a cut classic. There’s plenty who talk about these slices of celluloid wonder. You just have to look for them. That was the case for FIREFLY, such is also the case for CABIN.

So what makes CABIN IN THE WOODS so special? Well, take a look at the trailer when this movie first came out.

 

Doesn’t seem too special, right? A generic horror film about a group of teenagers that get out of town to get high, get drunk, have sex, and an all around good time in a cabin in the woods. But then shit starts to get real and they start getting picked off, one by one. Yup, it’s about a generic as it looks, right?

HA!!! Fools, the lot of you!

The film lets you know exactly what kind of movie you’re really in for in its opening sequence, which is what threw off more than a couple people who saw this. It’s a comedy. A horror-comedy, one of my favorite mash-ups when it comes to the horror genre. The very first set of images we get are of ritual sacrifice from ancient civilizations and then cuts to a pair of business suit-wearing men, Sitterson (Richard Jenkins) and Hadley (Bradley Whitford), who talk about their normal everyday lives combined with some ominous talk about something something or other. It’s a lot funnier than I’m making it sound.

Then we get right to the traditions of horror: the five victims of circumstance. Dana (Kristen Connolly), Curt (Chris Hemsworth), Jules (Anna Hutchison), Holden (Jesse Williams), and Marty (Fran Kranz). Though the difference here is that unlike most horror films, as generic as they appear, there is a likability to each of them. They’re written in such a way that you may not be able to talk about them very much, but they still have some charm to them. Marty is probably my favorite character, being a pothead and a conspiracy theorist, but he’s so damn funny and barely takes what he himself says seriously that I can’t help but laugh my ass off.

On the surface, the film is about a super secret organization that periodically must sacrifice at least four of five victims to giant ancient gods to keep them in their slumber. A slut, an athlete, a scholar, a fool, and the optional virgin. They lead the young people to this cabin in the woods and basically rig this system in a way that these young people choose how they die. How do they do that? By making them curious enough to go into the creepy basement and fiddle with a bunch of knickknacks that will ultimately trigger a horror that ultimately kills them, like, a conch shell will decide on a merman that will kill them, or a creepy journal that if read, will trigger a zombie torture family to kill them. Things like that. What’s hilarious is that the people in suits take bets on what will be the horror that the teens face. At this point, the teens must die in a specific way. The whore dies first, then the others, so long as the virgin is last. There’s also clichés that are played with. You know that age old “let’s split up, we can cover more ground that way” bullshit that even Scooby Doo made a career out of doing that? Well, this is addressed in brilliant way. At first, one of them will say that they should stick together at all costs. But then the guys in suits will release a tiny amount of gas that fucks with their brains and then that same teen will say, “On second thought, let’s split up.”

However, things go wrong when one of the deaths doesn’t happen as intended. Marty, the fool, was originally thought to be killed, but ended up surviving and accidentally stumbled upon an elevator that would them to the underground facility of the people that have been doing this to the teens. It’s here that they discover all sorts of horrors, the list of which is too great to go through. But eagle eyed fans of the video game franchise Left 4 Dead may notice a boomer, a tank, and a witch in the cubes. Upon entering, the organization desperately tries to nullify the situation by sending their own personal SWAT guys after them, but equally desperate to stay alive, Dana and Marty unleash the monsters upon the SWAT guys and it’s a shit load of gory fun, from giant snakes, giant a giant octopus, ghosts, and . They navigate to the heart of this facility and discover where the leader of this crap is, The Director, played amazingly by Sigourney Weaver, and basically reveals everything, only for her to die in a climactic fight and dooming the world to extinction because Marty was unwilling to die for humanity and Dana sorta failed at killing him. The gods rise up and the movie ends. Just like that.

Well, alright, that can sound like a bit of fun, right? But what makes it such a modern classic, aside from the video game and countless pop culture references, like THE EVIL DEAD (1981), which heavily influenced this set-up? Because it’s social commentary, specifically about horror fans who love the formula of bad and repetitive horror films. Really think about it. The Old Gods that are referenced in the movie represent those audiences who need that formula. See what’s happening? When you go to a horror movie like this, you expect the whore to die, you expect the asshole jock to die, and because these movies are bought and paid for so frequently with no wide-spread demand for diversity, these movies become “another day at the office,” getting the same ole routine down to appease you, the audience, that demands this formula, and any deviation or defiance of it results in y’all being angry and shunning it. The perfect example that I read about that the movie uses is in the line, “We haven’t had a glitch since ’98.” If it’s not too far off the mark, this line references the movie THE FACULTY (1998), in which none of the young people die by the end of the movie. And if I’m not mistaken, it wasn’t the best received by viewers.

But the fun-poking doesn’t stop there. I think the corporation represents the producers that finance these movies, as represented by the betting pool of what horror the teens will face and who makes the profit, and the teens represent the minority of audiences that want change, that want an overhaul of the system, but either succumb to the will and demands of those more powerful and in control, or die trying break the mold. All of this is just the tip of the iceberg of what people can extrapolate and it’s a load of fun to read other opinions… except from those that didn’t like the film. Fuckin’ old gods. GO BACK TO SLEEP, YOU FORMULA-LOVING BASTARDS!!!

About the closet thing to a problem that I have with the movie is of the playful variety. Like, now that Whedon and Goddard have incepted this into my brain, you know what, you forward-thinking genius bastards, I want to see a merman killing spree! Fuck the sequel that people have been asking for- how would that even work, dumb-asses? – I want a prequel with the merman! If you can find a way to make space cowboys work, the you can make a god damned movie about a killer merman! Get on it, Whedon and Goddard, or I’ll… I’ll… bitch and moan online some more?

Overall, I think this is probably one of the best and most unique films of its class. It’s hilarious, it’s intelligent, it’s a brilliant love-letter and middle finger to the conventional. I say if you haven’t seen this film, you’re doing yourself a grand disservice. This is one of my favorite movies to revisit around Halloween, so get together with some buddies and have a magnificent time with it.

My honest rating for CABIN IN THE WOODS (2011): 5/5

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LUCKY review

I think this has been out for awhile, and I’m really late on the uptake. Financial issues, what can I say? I’ve never seen a trailer or even heard about it up until I looked up films for the week at theaters that I haunt. But this is certainly getting some high praise, so I might as well kill more than a few birds with one stone, huh?

The story basically looks like it’s about an older man and just sort of being told how old he is and how lucky he is to have lived so long, but he’s both joyous and sarcastic about it.

Here’s the cast. Starring, we have Harry Dean Stanton in his final role, known for SEVEN PSYCHOPATHS (2012), THE GREEN MILE (1999), and ALIEN (1979). In support, we have famed director David Lynch (TV shows TWIN PEAKS [2017 – ongoing] and THE CLEVELAND SHOW [2009 – 2013]), Ron Livingston (THE 5TH WAVE [2016], THE CONJURING [2013], and OFFICE SPACE [1999]), Tom Skerritt (A HOLOGRAM FOR THE KING [2016], TOP GUN [1986], and ALIEN), John Carroll Lynch (THE FOUNDER [2017], ZODIAC [2007], and FARGO [1996]), who is also making his directorial debut (Congrats, sir) and Beth Grant (JACKIE [2016], RANGO [2011], and TV show JERICHO [2006 – 2008]).

Co-writing the screenplay are Logan Sparks and Drago Sumonja, both making their screen writing debut. Composing the score is Elvis Kuehn, also making his debut as a composer. Finally, the cinematographer is Tim Suhrstedt, known for GET HARD (2015), THE HOT CHICK (2002), and BILL & TED’S EXCELLENT ADVENTURE (1989).

Overall, I think this is going to be pretty laid back, but pretty good. Hoping for some solid sarcastic comedy, which this movie looks like it has in boat loads.

This is my honest opinion of: LUCKY

(SUMMARY)

The story follows ninety-year-old Lucky (Harry Stanton). He’s kindly old man who wakes up and does his thing everyday. Well, one day, things changes when he falls down in his home. There’s no apparent reason other than he’s just getting older and his legs gave out. As news of this spreads throughout his small hick town, his friends and acquaintances start making a big deal out of it, forcing him to constantly face what time he has left.

(REVIEW)

I really like this movie. For how simplistic it is, it’s surprisingly heartfelt.

Maybe it’s just me, but it feels like a much darker comedy than it really lets on. I mean, think about it, the story follows an old guy, he has an episode, he doesn’t think that much of it, but then everyone around him starts making a big deal, and in turn, he starts thinking about it more. Kind of like a feature-film version of, “Don’t be nervous, dude! Just don’t freak out!” “I wasn’t nervous or freaking out a minute ago, but now I am!”

Anyway, I’m not in any way familiar with Stanton, but if he’s been as amazing in his previous work as he is in this, then I really wish I did. It feels like a slightly more honest and meaningful movie than THE HERO (2017). Both deal in an older man looking for meaning and tackle their ages, but with THE HERO, I feel like, of course he has to have a young hot girlfriend to make him feel better. Of course he deals with his struggles by smoking weed. While I like the movie just fine, and it’s not like Sam Elliott wasn’t a knockout, but as far as a movie that honestly deals with borrowed time and your number is about to be called, THE HERO feels a little more melodramatic than LUCKY does. With Lucky, he’s a regular dude, and that’s the biggest appeal to me. He lives at home, does his thing, goes where he goes, is kind enough to those around him, but isn’t afraid to bust anyone in the balls, but usually in a funny kind of way. He’s certainly not perfect. I sure thought I saw a hint of sexism in the character, and he does sort of act immaturely when he’s drunk, or in the establishment of a place that has rules that he doesn’t like to follow, but these are the flaws that make for an interesting and very realistic character.

I think one of my favorite bits in the film is after he’s told he’s old and doesn’t have much time left. He’s at home on his couch and he grabs an old picture of himself in a navy uniform and smiles. But then right after, he sets it down on the table in front of him face down. Maybe I’m extrapolating something that really isn’t intended to be there, but I feel like this is where Lucky’s mortality hits him. That young man in the picture isn’t the same man who’s holding the frame. It’s not an acknowledgment of fear, though he does admit his fears later on, but it does seem pretty bittersweet for him. It’s like he knows he lived a long life, but a fulfilling one. In that one look he gives his picture, you can feel the weight of ninety years on his shoulders. I think it’s one of the more powerful moments in the film.

And that tortoise speech… by God, this monologue needs to be up there with the great monologues that theater students will perform in the classroom, and that it’s said by one of our most celebrated directors of all time? Even more special. What’s so special about it? I’ll try not to give too much away (let’s just say Stanton and Lynch were friends in real life), but basically, Howard (David Lynch) is a man who’s upset that his pet tortoise, President Roosevelt, ran away. Yeah, his earlier description of how it must have happened is about as funny as it sounds. But the speech itself can be applied to anyone who’s ever had a pet. You know what? I’m going to paste a link to the scene I’m talking about. Watch it for yourself. It’s really heartfelt and it’s only two and a half minutes long. Don’t worry, it doesn’t give away any particular plot points, or spoils anything, so don’t worry. Just watch Lynch own the screen.

To be perfectly honest, this movie might just be the most perfect send-off for Stanton. A lot of this film seems like it’s a personal letter from himself. Though Lucky may be a fictional character, the character seems to mirror Stanton in more than a few ways. In the film, and in another great scene, Lucky talks to a man in a diner that he identifies as a Marine. The two strike up a conversation about their respective time in the Japan, Lucky as a cook on a ship, and the Marine and what he witnessed on land. I just read on Stanton’s IMDb page that he really did serve in the navy as a cook. Looking back on the scene, I knew it was a phenomenally acted scene, but knowing what I know now… I’m pretty sure there wasn’t any acting there. The camera was just rolling and these two men were pouring their hearts and souls out to each other. It’s powerful stuff, guys.

Ladies and gentlemen, this is as wonderful a film as it could get, and for a directorial debut for the charismatic Carroll Lynch, this is more than just an impressive first. It’s got terrific nuanced acting, fantastic writing, it’s almost perfect. If this really is Stanton’s final starring role, then he went out on the highest note that an actor can go out on: dignified, strong, and hopeful. This is a must-see for this year. As you can probably tell, I highly recommend this. It’s been out for awhile now, so I’m not sure if it’s still out in cinemas (sorry for the delay on this review; personal financial crises). If it is, it probably won’t be out much longer, so go get while the gettin’s still good. If you miss out, wait for it to come out on Blu-Ray, or Netflix, or Red Box. Honestly, it’s worth buying. I recommend it that much.

My honest rating for LUCKY: 5/5

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THE FLORIDA PROJECT review

Now this is a trailer that I’ve been seeing pop up pretty frequently. Not obnoxiously, thank God, but enough to keep my interest sparked. Why can’t all trailers do that?

The story looks like a pretty laid back one, mostly following a little girl and her constant wandering around the motel she lives in with her friends. Her mom is young and single, messed up, but probably a good person all things considered. Basically, just a bunch of little kids being little kids.

Here’s the cast. Starring, we have Brooklynn Prince (ROBO-DOG: AIRBORNE [2017] and the upcoming MONSTERS AT LARGE [2017]), Willem Dafoe (THE GREAT WALL [2017], SPIDER-MAN 3 [2007], SPEED 2: CRUISE CONTROL [1997], and upcoming films MURDER ON THE ORIENT EXPRESS [2017] and AQUAMAN [2018]), and Bria Vinaite, making her feature film debut. Congrats, miss. In support, we have Caleb Landry Jones (AMERICAN MADE [2017], GET OUT [2017], CONTRABAND [2012], and the upcoming THREE BILLBOARDS OUTSIDE EBBING, MISSOURI [2017]) and Valeria Cotto, making her feature film debut. Congrats, miss.

Now for the crew. Directing, editing, and co-writing is Sean Baker, known for TANGERINE (2015). Baker’s partner in pen is Chris Bergoch, also known for TANGERINE. Composing the score is Lorne Balfe, known for CHURCHILL (2017), PENGUINS OF MADAGASCAR (2014), MEGAMIND (2010), and upcoming films GEOSTORM (2017), and Disney’s GIGANTIC (2020). Finally, the cinematographer is Alexis Zabe, known for music videos and other unknown stuff.

Overall, I think this is going to be a pretty cute movie. I don’t know if I should expect high drama, but I am expecting something pretty damn good.

This is my honest opinion of: THE FLORIDA PROJECT

(SUMMARY)

The story follows six-year-old Moonee (Brooklynn Prince), who lives with her young single mom, Hailey (Bria Vinaite), in a cheap motel, managed by the well-meaning but stressed out Bobby (Willem Dafoe), each navigating their respective slice of life.

(REVIEW)

I was right. This is a small story about the life and times of a little girl and her mother and there’s absolutely nothing wrong with that.

First off, if anyone ever told you that there’s no such thing as a good child actor, then you are entitled to do two things. 1) Slap that jerk upside the head, and 2) point them to this movie because Prince is an absolute knock-out. Okay, granted, Moonee’s not exactly a deep philosophical role or anything, but if you wanted to believe that a kid was just being a kid, then Prince will win your heart like crazy. She’s got a mouth on her, and I don’t just mean she’s sassy, but she curses. As in, there’s a reason why this movie is rated R. She’s gross, she’s weird, she’s funny, she’s annoying, she’s rude, all in the right ways that culminates into a charming and likable little girl.

But there’s also a subtle hint of tragedy in the character. While the ending leaves her future ambiguous, it’s easy to believe that Moonee won’t grow up to be a well-adjusted person. Her mom Halley is about the biggest red flag in that department. While not necessarily a bad person, she’s not… good, either. She doesn’t follow simple rules, like no smoking in the motel rooms, and certainly makes choices that are beyond questionable. She takes cheap cosmetic supplies from this place and resells them to rich people, passing them off as top brand that she’s selling at a cheaper price than a retail store. Basically, scamming people to make money. But for all the food she buys, she still goes out partying, leaving her kid all alone to get into who knows what kind of trouble, and has even solicited herself on Craigslist, sexual favors for money. She’s way past irresponsible and I doubt I could list all the ways in which she is. While it’s undeniable that she’s a bad mom, it’s also hard to completely hate her because she is just a product of her environment. You never get the complete sense that she does anything bad for the sake of being a bad person, but rather she is trying to provide for her daughter and doing it in the only way she knows how. While it’s never quite explained why she doesn’t look for a steady job, again, she’s just trying to get by with what she has, even if we can guess that Moonee is likely an apple that won’t fall far from the tree. But of course, none of this would be believable if the actress didn’t feel authentic, and much like her in-movie daughter, Vinaite sells it like a pro.

And Dafoe. Well… I don’t know if I agree with the critics who say that this is one of his most moving roles, I agree that this is arguably one of his best roles. I see where people are coming from though. There’s a scene where a group of the local kids are playing in this grassy area near his motel. Then this old white guy walks up to them and starts suspiciously talking to the kids. Bobby sees this and pretty much suspects what the audience does: a pervert that’s probably going to try and convince one of them to come home with him and best not to think of the rest. But he confronts the man pretty nonchalantly and guides the old fart away from the kids. Of course, the old man, probably not with all his faculties, if you know what I mean, is giving excuses like he’s only at the motel to buy a soda, and while he’s trying to convince Bobby of this bullshit, he’s constantly trying to get out of Bobby’s subtle embrace and looking back at the kids, but Bobby’s having none of it. He guides the old man to the soda machine, gets a soda, then smacks the soda out of his hands and starts roughly and loudly telling the old man to leave and never come back. It’s beyond satisfying and cheer-worthy. I can understand if this is the scene that critics are referring to and I agree for the most part.

Here’s the thing, while this scene is more bad-ass than anything he’s done in a superhero movie, this scene is only one and I don’t recall another scene that showcased anything “moving” so to speak. He plays a regular guy, trying to keep his motel in order, getting along and not getting along with his tenants. He has scenes where he’s fun, funny, an asshole, but I think it’s just a very real performance, but not one that made me cry or anything. This isn’t a negative of the film, mind you, I just don’t agree with whoever said his performance is “moving.”

The performances are solid across the board. Young Cotto as Jancey is really sweet, and Rivera as Scooty is a lot of fun, so all the kids hold the movie up. The adults as well. Jones is a lot less annoying than his role in AMERICAN MADE, and Mela Murder as Ashley, the mother of one of Moonee’s friends, as well as being Halley’s friend herself, does pretty solid as well.

***SPOILERS***

 

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I think the closest thing to a complaint that I have is the ending. So Halley’s got some social workers who are about to take Moonee away, and Moonee runs to Jancey. At first, the moment’s got me. Moonee is crying, uncertain of what exactly is about to happen to her (though I could have done without the uncomfortable extended shot of holding on Moonee’s crying face), and Jancey, determined to help, grabs her wrist and they run away… to DisneyWorld. The shots we see are just the two girls bypassing security, lines, and running all the way to the Disney Castle. Umm… *raises my hand* Mister Baker! Mister Baker, pick me! Pick me, Mister Baker! I have questions!

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***END SPOILERS***

As much as I don’t understand, or even really like final sixty seconds of the film, I can’t let that hamper the rest of the film. It’s raw, it’s real, it’s honest, it’s not a happy story, it’s not a sad story, it’s a story about life. The ups and downs of being a kid living like Moonee is. The core cast, Dafoe, Vinaite, and young Prince are all extraordinary, and as for both Vinaite and Prince, I would love to see these two in future projects and wish them a long, successful, safe, and happy career ahead of them, if acting is their pursuit. What can I say? I highly recommend this film. It’s smaller indie project, so it’s got a limited release, but if you can find it and this sounds like the type of movie that’s up your alley, then make time for it. It’s a wonderful end-of-summer flick.

My honest rating for THE FLORIDA PROJECT: 5/5

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MY LITTLE PONY: THE MOVIE (2017) quick review

Ugh, shoot me now.

I’m going to take a wild guess here and say that I’m not the target audience. Even as a kid, I was never into My Little Pony, the toys, or the show. For obvious reasons (I’m a dude). But fast forward to the present day, there’s a revival series, and I’m… surprisingly hearing good things about this show. In the sense of… even adults were watching this show. I have to admit, judging from the trailer I watched, and YouTube’s Cinema Snob’s review of the original My Little Pony film, this movie does look far less kiddie pandering and has a lot more personality to it. I can’t say if it’s still something that I’d be into, but I guess that’s why I do these reviews, right?

Here’s the voice talent. Starring, we have Emily Blunt (THE HUNTSMAN: WINTER’S WAR [2016], THE ADJUSTMENT BUREAU [2011], THE DEVIL WEARS PRADA [2006], and upcoming films SHERLOCK GNOMES [2018] and MARY POPPINS RETURNS [2018]), Zoe Saldana (GUARDIANS OF THE GALAXY VOL. 2 [2017], STAR TREK [2009], DRUMLINE [2002], and upcoming films AVENGERS: INFINITY WAR [2018] and AVATAR 2 [2020]), Kristin Chenoweth (THE PEANUTS MOVIE [2015], STRANGER THAN FICTION [2006], and RV [2006], and the upcoming THE STAR [2017]), Liev Schreiber (CHUCK [2017], THE OMEN [2006], SCREAM 2 [1996], and two upcoming and untitled films, one an animated Spider-Man project [2018], and the other a Woody Allen movie [2018]), and Tara Strong (TV shows THE FAIRLY ODDPARENTS [2001 – ongoing] and THE POWERPUFF GIRLS [1998 – 2005], and video game INJUSTICE 2 [2017]).

Now for the crew. Directing, we have Jayson Thiessen, known for a ton of My Little Pony projects. Red Flag, a total of three writers: Meghan McCarthy (other My Little Pony projects), Rita Hsiao (TOY STORY 2 [1999], MULAN [1998], and the upcoming DISENCHANTED [2018]), and Michael Vogel (other My Little Pony Projects). The composer for the score is Daniel Ingram, known for other kids TV shows. Finally, and… this animated movie has a cinematographer? Anyway, the… cinematographer is Anthony Di Ninno, known for… another animated film, RATCHET & CLANK (2016).

Overall, I can’t say I’m excited or all that interested.

This is my honest opinion of: MY LITTLE PONY: THE MOVIE (2017)

(SUMMARY)

The ponies of the magical land of Equestria are setting up for a Friendship Festival, all being organized by Princess Twilight Sparkle (voiced by Tara Strong), and is set to be the party of the ages. However, preparations are interrupted by a storm, created by a rogue unicorn named Tempest Shadow (voiced by Emily Blunt), leading the armies of the evil Storm King (voiced by Liev Schreiber), who wants the magic of the ponies and their rulers. The ponies are attacked, but Twilight and a small group of her friends manage to escape, setting out to look for help from their fabled cousins, the hippogriffs.

(QUICK REVIEW)

Big shock, I wasn’t into the movie.

First off, with some strange exceptions, this… doesn’t look like it should be a theatrical release. Not that I’m any particular expert on animated films, but I couldn’t help but feel like the movie just looked like an episode of a TV show. It’s not necessarily bad, per se, but it does look cheap. But like I said, there’s some weird exceptions. There are some moments that have good animation, but when the movie tries to blend the lesser animation with the better animation, it’s really distracting.

It’s obvious that this was made for little kids. The story’s been done, the characters are copy and paste, it’s not particularly funny, the songs are forgettable, and there’s probably more than a few plot points that come and don’t really go anywhere or get any real development. I’m pretty sure at some point, I fell asleep, but I don’t think I missed much. Many of the core pony characters feel way too indistinguishable from each other, each just looking pretty with big eyes and big smiles. At least as far as personalities are concerned. Oh sure, you can tell me, there’s the shy one, there’s the vain one, there’s the hyper one, there’s the cowgirl one, and all that jazz, but ultimately, those are descriptions and traits. Not personalities.

But… I won’t completely trash the movie. There are admittedly a couple of elements that I didn’t hate. Chief among these is Pinky Pie (voiced by Andrea Libman), who is delightfully insane. She is completely over-the-top in everything that she is and does. From crazy eyes in a battle scene, to eruptions of happiness during… well, any other scene she’s in. I can see others being more annoyed by her, and I won’t ever argue that, she’ll be a hit or miss for any adult, but for me, I enjoyed her enough. And on the opposite side of the spectrum, there’s Blunt, who is trying really hard to be sinister and it kind of works. I wish she was a little more sarcastic and cynical to give the adults someone to identify with, but I enjoyed her more than I probably should have.

And I do get a tickle out of seeing Tara Strong, one of the greatest voice actresses today, being the star of a theatrically released movie. So in a way, through all the annoyances and nauseating talks of friendship, it was worth seeing it just for that.

Overall, I don’t think it’s a good film. But let’s face it, this movie isn’t for me. It’s for little kids and its fanbase. It’s innocent enough, but if your kids are bugging you to see it, find a cheap theater near you. Otherwise, for you adults… well, you’re either a weirdo for wanting to see it, or you’ve already made your decision not to and I’m not going to try to convince you to see it. It’s not the most god-awful animated film I’ve sat through, I don’t even think it’s bad, but, no duh, it’s not for me.

My honest rating for MY LITTLE PONY: THE MOVIE (2017): a weak 3/5

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TANGLED (2010) review

Go Disney and these re-releases at the AMC. Gives me the opportunity to write about them.

It’s been a fairly decent amount of time since I last saw this movie, but I have to say, it’s still firmly in my mind. And wasn’t this Disney’s first computer animated film after the hand-drawn PRINCESS AND THE FROG (2009)? It was certainly a game-changer Disney and set a new direction that would later churn out FROZEN (2013) and MOANA (2016). When I first saw this movie, I loved it. I laughed, I cried, gorgeous animation, wonderful music, it was about as Disney as Disney could get for me.

Fast-forward seven years, and I’m all kinds of excited to revisit this modern classic.

The story, if memory still serves, is about Rapunzel. As a baby princess, she was kidnapped from her king and queen parents for her magically and freakishly long hair. Her kidnapper, convincing Rapunzel that she’s her mother, uses her hair to keep her young and locks her away in a tall tower, convincing her of the dangers of the world beyond, despite her desperate desires to see the world with her own two eyes. Everything changes when a dashing, and charming roguish thief enters her home, takes her out into the world, and romance and music galore.

Man, I’m getting excited just thinking about it.

Here’s the incredible voice talent. Starring, we have Mandy Moore (47 METERS DOWN [2017], A WALK TO REMEMBER [2002], THE PRINCESS DIARIES [2001], and the upcoming RALPH BREAKS THE INTERNET: WRECK-IT RALPH 2 [2018]) and Zachary Levi (THOR: THE DARK WORLD [2013], TV show CHUCK [2007 – 2012], and video game FALLOUT: NEW VEGAS [2010]). In support, we have Donna Murphy (THE BOURNE LEGACY [2012], SPIDER-MAN 2 [2004], and STAR TREK: INSURRECTION [1998]), Ron Perlman (FANTASTIC BEASTS [2016], HELLBOY II: THE GOLDEN ARMY [2008], and ALIEN: RESURRECTION [1997]), M.C. Gainey (DJANGO UNCHAINED [2012], and TV shows TANGLED: THE SERIES [2017 – ongoing] and LOST [2004 – 2010]), Brad Garrett (TMNT: OUT OF THE SHADOWS [2016], and TV shows ‘TILL DEATH [2006 – 2010] and EVERYBODY LOVES RAYMOND [1996 – 2005]), and the late Richard Kiel (HAPPY GILMORE [1996], 007 MOONRAKER [1979], and THE LONGEST YARD [1974]).

Now for the talent behind the scenes. Co-directing, we have Nathan Greno (the upcoming GIGANTIC [2020]) and Byron Howard (ZOOTOPIA [2016] and BOLT [2008]). Penning the screenplay is Dan Fogelman, known for DANNY COLLINS (2015), CRAZY, STUPID, LOVE (2011), and CARS (2006). Finally, the composer for the score is Alan Menken, known for BEAUTY AND THE BEAST (2017), ENCHANTED (2007), ALADDIN (1992), and upcoming films ALADDIN (2019) and THE LITTLE MERMAID, no release date announced.

Overall, beyond excited. Can’t wait.

This is my honest opinion of: TANGLED

(SUMMARY)

Rapunzel (voiced by Mandy Moore) is a peppy eighteen year old woman with impossibly long blond hair with magical properties, like glowing and healing, wounds or aging. A particular gift that Gothel (voiced by Donna Murphy) has been exploiting since her birth. Gothel kidnapped Rapunzel from her king and queen parents and every year on her birthday, they light lanterns in her memory. She’s long hoped to see the lanterns for herself, but is sadly confined to her tall tower. Meanwhile, a charismatic and charming thief named Flynn Rider (voiced by Zachary Levy) has just stolen a tiara, but is pursued by the Guard Captain (M.C. Gainey) and his horse named Maximus, which causes Flynn to accidentally stumble upon Rapunzel’s tower. The two meet and strike a deal, Flynn takes her to see the lanterns and she’ll return the tiara he stole.

(REVIEW)

Oh, what do you think I’m gonna say? The movie still holds up. I laughed, I cried, it’s still magical.

Where shall I begin?

This is about the only movie I can think of that explains the magic of the fairy tale (IE: magic healing hair) that makes perfect sense. Her mom was sick, they needed a healing flower, the rarest of the rare, make a soup out of it and wham bam, thank you, ma’am, magic blond hair. And seriously, baby Rapunzel is too cute.

But now, even before adult Rapunzel makes an appearance, we’re gifted arguably one of my favorite Disney characters of all time, Pascal. I love this chameleon. The expressions on his face are beyond priceless. All he does is make little croaking sounds- so I guess I understand why Flynn calls him a “frog” – but his face constantly speaks volumes. I still die of laughter every time his tongue flings out into Flynn’s ear to wake him up. It’s like, after slapping him to wake him up doesn’t work, he’s all like, “Fine, you want me be an animal about this, I’ll be a freakin’ animal about it.” I mean really look at him when he flicks his tongue. His body posture goes full chameleon. Throughout the entire movie, he moves like a person, he does that “fist into palm” threat thing…

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Yeah, that. I don’t know what it is about him, but everything that he does just cracks me up. Maybe it’s because of his size and lack of threat that makes him so adorably awesome. I want my own Pascal, but… I’m not a Disney character, so he’s relegated to my dreams. Bottom line, Pascal is awesome, I love him, end of story.

But now we get to the cream of the crop, Rapunzel herself. Once again, I really like this character. Yeah, she’s wide-eyed and dreams of something more than this provincial life, which describes, what, ninety percent of the Disney Princess line-up? But what’s done so well about her is that she’s legitimately funny and kind of dorky. Aside from Moore’s gorgeous singing voice, her comedy comes through. When Flynn gets knocked out by Rapunzel’s now iconic frying pan, and she’s inspecting him for his fangs that Gothel’s built up outsiders to have, she’s beyond hilarious after this. Flynn briefly wakes up and in a panic, she smacks him again with her frying pan, re-knocking him out. Even as I’m typing this, I’m laughing just hard enough for my co-worker to look at me, probably wondering what I’m laughing about. And her attempts at stashing his body in the wardrobe always makes me laugh too. Her hair getting caught in the door, his body falling out and landing on her, slamming the door painfully on his hands and pushing his protruding fingers back inside, GAH! I can gush about this all day. Even her celebratory, “See, Mom? I can take care of myself” ends charmingly funny with her smacking herself in the head with her own frying pan. God, I love Rapunzel.

And Flynn. Complaints first, I think he talks a little too modern for my taste. It’s not as bad as Maui from MOANA (seriously, that Twitter reference still angers me), but he’s the only character that talks like he does. “Me and the kingdom aren’t exactly ‘simpatico’ right now.” Perhaps I’m just a sucker for Levy, as I was a huge fan of CHUCK back in the day, but I love most everything about him. He’s so charming, so funny, and so full of himself, but not in the self-centered kind of way. You know he’s not a bad guy, per se, he just steals so he won’t be in a position to want anything. I think what I love most is that his interactions with everyone around him feel genuine, like how anyone would react in his particular situations. He’s never nasty toward any character, with the humorous exception of Maximus. Perhaps Flynn’s greatest asset is his interactions with other characters rather than himself being particularly great. I love his reactions to Pascal, I love his reactions with Maximus, and of course, I love him with Rapunzel.

Speaking of which, I absolutely adore this relationship between them. There’s instant attraction, but the romance itself takes some time. It doesn’t start off as a “we hate each other” trope, which drives me up the walls when that happens because you’d know that they’re going to get together in the end. There’s tension to be sure, but nothing dumb like that. As they travel together and get to know each other, their relationship naturally progresses to something more romantic. To this day, I think the scene with Rapunzel and Flynn on the boat surrounded by the lanterns while singing “I See the Light” is about the most romantic visual-fest I’ve see out of an animated film in years. It hasn’t been topped since. Although, to be fair, Disney hasn’t really done a romance film like this since TANGLED. WRECK-IT RALPH? MOANA? ZOOTOPIA? Nope, on all those accounts. FROZEN? More of sister-sister relationship thing. The romance was a side note.

***SPOILERS***

 

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And Flynn’s return to the tower to find Rapunzel, this scene still tears at me. He’s been stabbed by Gothel and he’s lying on the floor dying. Rapunzel is refusing to go with her quietly unless she lets him heal him. The desperation in her eyes, her voice as she’s talking to him, and he’s trying desperately to make sure that she doesn’t, so what does he do? He takes a shard of glass and slices every strand of hair, taking away her healing powers. Gothel dies, and so does Flynn. The emotions are so raw and they were each other’s new dream… yeah, I cried again. I can’t help it! Both characters are so lovable and charming as characters themselves and are even better together. It’s a tear-jerking scene!

I suppose the one complaint that I have is that Flynn doesn’t stay dead. Yeah, I know, we wouldn’t want the kids to be traumatized, but… why not treat them like adults? Bambi’s mom was killed and kids are fine today. Why not have Rapunzel take Flynn to the kingdom, reunite with her king and queen parents, and have him have some kind of royal burial and remembered for his bravery and being instrumental in reuniting the royal family? Wouldn’t that be a little more powerful instead of a deus ex machina healing drop of tear that has never been revealed to be part of Rapunzel’s arsenal of healing abilities? Death is a part of life and isn’t that what Disney does well? Helping kids tackle hard subjects and providing a point and giving them something to feel and think about? Even artistically, Flynn’s death would make more sense, especially seven years later and there’s no real plans for a sequel.

But happily ever after works too and I’d be lying if I said I wasn’t happy to see him back, but that the sentimentalist in me talking and… well, I’m a sentimental guy. Plus, fairy tale. Can’t expect dark and depressing from them, especially if they’re being churned out by Disney.

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***END SPOILERS***

I suppose if I had any other complaints about the film is that Gothel seemed a little inconsistent in her writing. Even moreso now, I’m confused as to whether or not she actually cares about Rapunzel. She gives her all these things to keep her occupied and quiet, chess boards, paint supplies, etc, but on her birthday, she wants this special paint made from this special thing that will take three days to get. If Gothel straight up didn’t care about Rapunzel, why give her so many nice things and why go this far out of her way to do something nice for her if she didn’t feel something for Rapunzel? And she kisses her and tells her that she loves her. If nothing else, I would have liked to see more ambiguous feelings from Gothel. She can still ultimately care only about herself and her youth over Rapunzel, but more inner turmoil would have made her stand out and more memorable.

To my understanding, there’s been quite the online debate over whether or not you’re Team Tangled or Team Frozen. Well… okay, I’m sure that’s fizzled out over the last few years, but I’m gonna throw my two cents in anyway. As you can probably guess, I’m Team Tangled. Now don’t get me wrong, I like FROZEN just fine. In fact, let me gloss over what I think it did better. The music is better, there’s just no denying that. The animation is better as well. To be fair though, I can easily see this being why: TANGLED, as I’ve mentioned a few too many times now, was the first computer animated film for Disney after PRINCESS AND THE FROG. I can easily see the creators behind the film deciding to make TANGLED because it was a smaller and simpler story. There wasn’t a need to go hugely over-the-top with its visuals. In a sense, TANGLED could easily be seen as a test run for how the technology looks. That’s not to say the animation department didn’t give it their all, I believe they did, but really look at how gorgeous FROZEN looks by comparison… there is no comparison. Lessons were learned hardcore and they made a visual marvel in FROZEN. And of course, there’s that theme: the strongest love is the love between sisters. That’s never been done before in Disney. It wasn’t some man that saved the girl, it was her sister. That’s a powerful thing to say. There’s also smaller ground-breaks, like the story following a queen (Elsa) as opposed to a princess, and probably does a better job of making fun of past Disney tropes than TANGLED did.

But here’s what pushes me over to the other side of the fence. When I go see movies, ideally, I will be challenged emotionally. My favorite films will often make me think, make me cry, or more impressively, both. While neither film really makes me think necessarily, FROZEN didn’t grab me emotionally. Why? Because the bond between Elsa and Anna is too forced to me. They were close as children, sure, but after the accident, Anna’s memories were erased and their parents locked Elsa up for horrible reasons for years. And in all that time, Anna always held on to her love for Elsa? Seriously, at no point she didn’t give up? Look, I get it, you never give up on family, blah blah blah, but wouldn’t the message of sisterly love be more powerful if, say, Anna was the “villain” of the movie? Her parents are dead, her sister hasn’t spoken a word to her since childhood. There doesn’t seem to be a defined disconnect between the two. Anna is blinded by her nauseating optimism as she’s singing, but as soon as the two sisters are reunited for Elsa becoming queen, that’s when they have a hard time talking? Oh, and the dual “chocolate” thing is not a real connection. That’s like watching FANT4STIC (2015) and watching that montage scene with them eating Chinese food with no dialog and calling that chemistry. Yes, I’m really making the comparison because I believe both elements in question are lazy. I feel like Anna being a little more bitter about how her life has turned out and Elsa spending the movie trying to convince Anna that their separate lives was due to her love for her instead of the other way around as we ultimately got. So because the sisterly love isn’t properly explored in the film, I couldn’t connect to their relationship. They’re fine characters as themselves, but together, it feels contrived. So when Anna is frozen in the climax, I didn’t believe it was over. I knew Anna would come back somehow. TANGLED doesn’t have this problem. From the moment Flynn and Rapunzel meet to the end of the movie, you feel for them. They’re fun and energetic characters themselves, but together, you love seeing them interact and work off of each other. You love how their relationship develops, so when the unthinkable happens, your heart is crushed and really don’t know how it’s going to end. I cried in TANGLED, but I didn’t cry in FROZEN.

And seriously, OLAF ANNOYS THE CRAP OUT OF ME!!! In the name of- … Olaf is not funny. I find him to be my least favorite Disney character in the computer animation era. No joke lands. Josh Gad was funnier in PIXELS (2015) than he was in FROZEN. I can’t even remember Anna’s romantic interest’s name. Not talking about Hans, I’m talking about the other guy. Not Sven the reindeer… *IMDb search* Christoph! See? He didn’t leave a single impact on me, so I can’t even remember his name. Once again, TANGLED doesn’t have this problem. I love the side characters. Pascal, Maximus, the thugs from the pub, I remember the thugs from the Snuggly Duckling better than Christoph! What does that freakin’ tell you?! They made me laugh (except the short thug… he’s the only not funny element in the movie)! The comedy relief in FROZEN didn’t.

So, FROZEN has better animation and better music. But that’s all second fiddle compared to TANGLED, which has better characters, better laughs, and better emotional investment. In my opinion, of course. But again, I don’t dislike FROZEN. I don’t even think it’s okay. It’s a good film. A great film in some areas, and I’d be lying if I said I wasn’t interested or excited about the upcoming sequel (just please less Olaf… in the name of all that is holy and sacred, PLEASE less Olaf) but I’m definitely Team Tangled on this debate.

Overall, this still reigns supreme as my favorite computer animated Disney film of the 2010s. For a first outing in computer animation, it’s a stroke of greatness. Does it have its flaws, they’re certainly there and it’s hard for me to deny it. But just like I did seven years ago, I cried, I laughed, the hallmarks of a great movie. Magic, romance, adventure, comedy, wonderful visuals, I’m still seeing the light.

My honest rating for TANGLED: a strong 4/5

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VICTORIA & ABDUL review

Say what now?! This is a sequel?! *Wikipedia search* Well skin me alive and call me naked, this is a sequel! Specifically to the film MRS. BROWN (1997), and Judi Dench is reprising her role as Queen Victoria. I guess if you wanted to make another movie about her and her wacky adventures in her later years, why not make it a sequel? Oh, and it’s also based on a book? Jeez, this Queen certainly gets around in media.

The story looks like it’s about Victoria and she’s become tired with her life and role. But then she meets a young Indian servant and the two strike up a friendship, asking him to teach her all about his culture and reinvigorates her love of life. But it comes at a cost. Her peers start to think that she’s lost her mind, playing nice with a servant. Hence the conflict. It looks like it could be decent and anything Dench touches is golden, so I’m all on board.

Here’s the cast. Starring, we have Judi Dench (TULIP FEVER [2017], CASINO ROYALE [2006], SHAKESPEARE IN LOVE [1998], and the upcoming MURDER ON THE ORIENT EXPRESS [2017]) and Ali Fazal (FURIOUS 7 [2015] and 3 IDIOTS [2009]). In support, we have Eddie Izzard (ROCK DOG [2017], ACROSS THE UNIVERSE [2007], and THE AVENGERS [1998]), Michael Gambon (KINGSMAN: THE GOLDEN CIRCLE [2017], THE GOOD SHEPHERD [2006], and SLEEPY HOLLOW [1999]), Tim Pigott-Smith (JUPITER ASCENDING [2015], V FOR VENDETTA [2005], and CLASH OF THE TITANS [1981]), Adeel Akhtar (THE BIG SICK [2017], PAN [2015], and THE DICTATOR [2012]), and Olivia Williams (MAN UP [2015], PETER PAN [2003], and THE SIXTH SENSE [1999]).

Now for the crew. Directing is Stephen Frears, known for FLORENCE FOSTER JENKINS (2016), THE QUEEN (2006), and HIGH FIDELITY (2000). Penning the screenplay is Lee Hall, known for WAR HORSE (2011) and BILLY ELLIOT (2000). Composing the score is Thomas Newman, known for PASSENGERS (2016), WALL·E (2008), THE SHAWSHANK REDEMPTION (1994), and the upcoming THANK YOU FOR YOUR SERVICE (2017). Finally, the cinematographer is Danny Cohen, known for FLORENCE FOSTER JENKINS, ROOM (2015), and PIRATE RADIO (2009).

Overall, I’m very curious. Not super hyped, but call me eager.

This is my honest opinion of: VICTORIA & ABDUL

(SUMMARY)

Set in early 1900. Queen Victoria (Judy Dench) is still a revered queen, now serving as the longest running monarch in history. However, she’s grown tired of her position. Her loved ones have passed on and she’s become both apathetic to her own appearance and position. But all of that changes when she meets Abdul Karim (Ali Fazal), an Indian servant, who eventually becomes Victoria’s closest friend, teaching her of Indian culture and slowly regains her love of life, despite the deeply rooted arguments from her staff.

(REVIEW)

This was a really good movie. Thoroughly enjoyed it.

The movie opens on a pretty humorous line. “Based on real events” pause for a second, “… mostly.” This movie had me at “hello” and I was already giggling.

However, and this is pretty consistent for the first half hour or so, the movie loses its momentum. There’s clichés, like the intro of the protagonist running late for work, and the movie isn’t all that funny for awhile. I mean, some gags land, like when a servant tries to wake up Victoria, but all she does is groan. I thought that was hilarious. But for awhile, the humor really falls flat. Hell, fifteen, maybe even twenty minutes into the movie is when the title of the movie appears. That was weird. Why bother by that point?

Having said all that, there is a… I’m not sure how to describe it, but a level of engagement to Dench’s performance in the beginning. She’s so tired, possibly bored, and gives zero shits about everything that’s going on around her. She eats at her own pace, forcing her peers around her to eat quickly, or else their food will be taken away.

About the only saving grace in the film’s comedy in the beginning is Mohammed (Adeel Akhtar), who coud have so easily been that panicky hysterical character that no one likes, but for whatever reason, his exaggerations of what he believes the English do in their spare time is so funny. He does get a little grating later in the film, but he has a bad-ass scene that makes up for all of it.

But honestly, after that first half hour of lackluster comedy, the laughs, as well as the story, pick up immensely. Abdul is impossibly charming and likable. You immediately feel for Victoria and everything that she’s lived through. All of her loved ones are gone and all that’s left is her position and her ambitious and unlikable children who want her power. But meeting Abdul, she learns to find happiness and learns about the Indian culture. There’s this infectious chemistry that Dench and Fazal share, an energy that constantly makes you smile as he describes the Taj Mahal, or teaches her Indian languages and how her eyes light up as she learns, it’s such a beautiful connection that they share. At some point, Dench’s performance gets a little hammy, but it’s so brief that you almost have to remember that it gets there, and it’s not like it isn’t explained (she gets a little drunk), but this is what makes up the entire movie: their friendship and it is really heart-warming to watch just how much she defends him despite all the criticism from those around her.

As much praise as I have with the film, there are a couple elements that I complain about.

A smaller issue is that we never see enough of Abdul and Mohammad interacting. Every scene they share is Abdul being excited, and Mohammad being nervous. We don’t see enough of the two actually being friends. Sure, that would take away from the focus of the relationship between him and Victoria, but it still would have been nice to dedicate a five minute scene of the two men really interacting like friends.

But the bigger issue I took was Abdul’s wife. I believe her involvement in this story is pure fluff. We don’t see hide or hair of her, or even get a single reference to her existence until the one hour mark, and even when she does show up, for all the build-up to her, she barely contributes to the story. Sure, sure, you could argue that it’s all a set up to learn about Abdul’s… procreation issues, or whatever that was, and Victoria’s council to try and get him sent back to India, but I feel like this is where creative liberties would have been needed and find something more sensible to get that kind of information.

Also, there were two incidences that involve Victoria being upset with Abdul. One being when she discovered that it was Muslims, or another Indian group that I can’t remember, were at the head of some revolt that took the lives of British soldiers and then later for another reason that I can’t remember either. All I remember is that these two scenes were resolved as quickly as they were introduced and happen pretty close to each other, so I kept wondering why the writer didn’t just pick a problem and go all the way with it, or combine the two problems into one dramatic scene.

Overall, I really liked this movie. The core characters are ridiculously wonderful to watch and hang out with, it’s funny, dramatic, all around fun for anyone even half interested in this story. I highly recommend this in theaters. It doesn’t have the widest of releases, so you may need to really look for it, but I say it’s worth the effort to see in theaters. History’s most unlikely friendship is arguably one of its most endearing.

My honest rating for VICTORIA & ABDUL: a strong 4/5

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