Movie Review: The Emperor’s New Groove (2000)


TitleThe Emperor’s New Groove
Release Date: December 15, 2000
Director: Mark Dindal
Production Company: Walt Disney Pictures
Summary/Review:

The Emperor’s New Groove is the very strange story of an arrogant and selfish Incan emperor turned into a llama by his advisor and aided by a kindhearted peasant. Unlike any other Disney animated feature I’ve seen before, The Emperor’s New Groove is straight-up comedy akin to Looney Tunes rather than the typical Disney style.  The movie is basically a long sequence of slapstick gags, many of which are funny, tied together with a thin plot.  I particularly like a completely bonkers scene in which a squirrel creates a balloon animal and then pops it to wake a shadow of jaguars. (Note: if you’re like me and thought that squirrels were a North American animal, I verified that there are several species of squirrel indigenous to Peru).

Unfortunately, this movie was created in the 1990s and is incredibly dated by much of the edgy, irreverent humor style of that decade.  The film also looks out of touch compared with more recent Disney films like Moana, where they made a conscientious effort to incorporate Polynesian culture into the story and cast voice actors with Polynesian heritage.  The Emperor’s New Groove, by contrast, has no real reason to be a story about pre-Columbian Incans, and none of the main cast is South American, to my knowledge.  The setting does supply a good excuse to animate some intricately animated Incan design elements and a funny llama, though.

David Spade stars as Kuzco, the emperor turned llama. Spade is the paragon of that edgy, irreverent 90’s humor style I referred to earlier, and he’s annoying in small doses, so it’s a challenge to sit through an entire feature film of his act.  Thankfully the rest of the cast is excellent.  John Goodman plays the kind peasant Pacha, and brings out the best of Spade in their scenes together, although its weird to hear Sulley’s voice coming from another character.  Earth Kitt plays Yzma, the adviser Kuzco fires early in the film, and is drawn as kind of a manic combination of Cruella De Vil and a serpent.  But the real scene stealer is Patrick Warburton as Yzma’s kind-hearted henchman Kronk, who is the real comedy MVP of this movie.  Seriously, I like Kronk so much I’m considering watching the direct-to-video spinoff Kronk’s New Groove.

Rating: **1/2

Podcasts of the Week Ending February 9th


99% Invisible :: The Secret Lives of Colors 

Roman Mars interviews Kassia St. Claire about how different colors were made and used throughout history.

Household Name :: Apple 1984

The story behind the scenes of the creation of Apple Computer’s “1984” commercial which revolutionized advertising as well as personal computing.


Running tally of Podcast of the Week appearances:

Album Review: The New Normal by STL GLD


AlbumThe New Normal
ArtistSTL GLD
Release Date: February 1, 2019
Favorite Tracks: Burns, Gon’ Shine, Burns
Thoughts:

The Boston hip hop act STL GLD is well-regarded as one of the best groups in the area by local media.  Boston isn’t a notable location on the hip hop map compared with other cities, but The New Normal should draw attention to our city. Moe Pope, Christopher Talken, and Jonathan Ulman perform songs that speak to the present moment of the Trump era, and all the political and personal turmoil that entails, but also offering a positive alternative vision.  And STL GLD is not shy about getting their message out, including holding a listening party for the album’s premier in the unlikely setting of the Museum of Fine Arts.  I admit that I don’t know enough about hip hop to write a thorough review, but I know what I like, and The New Normal, lyrically and musically, is worth listenin to.

Rating: ****

Book Review: Doomi Golo : The Hidden Notebooks by Boubacar Boris Diop


Around the World for a Good Book selection for Senegal

Author: Boubacar Boris Diop
Title: Doomi Golo : The Hidden Notebooks
Translator: Vera Wülfing-Leckie, Moustapha Diop
Publication Info: East Lansing : Michigan State University Press, 2016.
Summary/Review:

Doomi Golo is written as a series of notebooks from the eccentric Nguirane Faye to his missing grandson Badou, who presumably will never see them.  Nguirane Faye weaves together tales of his everyday life with myths and fables and a history – albeit fictionalized – of Senegal. The novel is unique in being a rare work of fiction originally written in Wolof, the language of Senegal’s largest ethnic group, rather than the official language French. Boubacar Boris Diop also translated the novel into French from which this English translation was made.  It would be interesting to learn what differences in nuance exists in the prose of the three versions.  This is a good Around the World for a Good Book choice since it provides a good entry point into Senegalese life in culture.  That being said it was also a challenging book  and deserves a deep read.

Recommended booksThe Story of the Madman by Mongo Beti and A General Theory of Oblivion by Jose Eduardo Agualusa
Rating: ***1/2

Movie Review: Monsters University


TitleMonsters University 
Release Date: June 21, 2013
Director: Dan Scanlon
Production Company:  Walt Disney Pictures | Pixar Animation Studios
Summary/Review:

The prequel to the Pixar classic Monsters, Inc. shows how Mike and Sulley first meet as students in the prestigious Scarer Program at Monsters University.  They start off hostile to one another as Mike has dedicated his life to learning the arts and sciences of scaring, but finds it impossible to actually be scary.  Meanwhile, Sulley rests on his family’s reputation and is too lazy to apply himself at school.  It’s an interesting, and subtle, critique on how privilege can often be a barometer of success than hard work.

Both Mike and Sulley get thrown out of the Scarer Program, and in order to prove themselves they join a fraternity of the school’s nerdiest monsters in order to participate as a team in the university’s “Scare Games.”  The bulk of the movie is their Oozma Kappa team stumbling through the challenges and succeeding through teamwork, creativity, and less savory means.  The improvements in CGI animation since Monsters, Inc. is on display with several stunning scenes of monsters set against the red-brick, leafy college campus, and one spectacular image of Mike and Sully silhouetted against a moonlit lake.

On the one hand, credit is due for taking a chance and making the story of Monsters University so totally different from Monsters, Inc.  On the other hand, by adopting the tropes of academia comedy, the creators of Monsters University have failed to do anything approaching the creativity of its predecessor, and that’s a huge disappointent.  I’m not quite sure who this movie is made for since children won’t relate to the nostalgia of the college days’ gags and adults will get a few chuckles but no real belly laughs.  Still, the charm of Crystal, Goodman, & co. is enough to distract from the fact that this is a rehash of dozens of stories of ragtag bands of misfits using teamwork to win, and make this movie an entertaining diversion.

Rating: **1/2

Book Review: What is Yours is Not Yours  by Helen Oyeyemi


Author: Helen Oyeyemi
TitleWhat is Yours is Not Yours
Narrator: Ann Marie Gideon, Piter Marek, Bahni Turpin
Publication Info: Recorded Books (2016)
Summary/Review:

What is Yours is Not Yours is a collection of linked short stories, all of the stories including keys as a symbol, with some characters from earlier stories reappearing in later stories.  Oyeyemi creates a wide diversity of characters and settings while keeping a natural flow that veers among the weird, humorous, and practical. The stories contain elements of magical realism and mythological ideas in a contemporary setting.  This is one of those books where I feel I missed a lot of things in the reading and would definitely be worth revisiting.

Recommended books: Vampires in the Lemon Grove by Karen Russell
Rating: ***1/2

Movie Review: Alice in Wonderland (1951)


Title: Alice in Wonderland
Release Date: July 26, 1951
Director: Clyde Geronimi, Wilfred Jackson, and Hamilton Luske
Production Company: Walt Disney Productions
Summary/Review:

Lewis Carroll’s Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland and Through the Looking Glass are among my favorite books of all time, and I’ve yet to see it translated into a film adaptation that captures the books’ whimsy and imagination.  I’ve kept my distance from the Tim Burton/Johnny Depp movies because they just look to be commercialized, CGI-laden horror shows, but Disney animators did make a good crack at the story in 1951. Animation lends itself to Alice in Wonderland since it allows for the disorienting visuals while still keeping to a storybook premise.  There are some segments of this film that are real treats, such as Alice falling down the rabbit hole, the Mad Tea Party, the very Disney-esque talking doorknob, and the Cheshire Cat.  But overall the movie is very episodic and doesn’t have much flow.  It’s also lacking in heart.  The biggest problem is that none of the character of Alice carries over from the book, so she ends up just being a girl reacting to the mad things around her, and sometimes she just seems left out of the story entirely.  Someday a film adaptation will be made that does Carroll’s Alice stories justice, and it will probably be animated, but until then this serves as good attempt, but deeply flawed.

Rating: **

Beer Review: Zero Gravity Conehead IPA


Beer:  Conehead IPA
Brewer: Zero Gravity Craft Brewery
Source: Draft
Rating: *** (7.3 of 10)
Comments:

The Burlington, Vermont-brewed IPA is a nice bit of craft beer goodness.  The beer is golden and hazy with not much of a head when poured.  The aroma is grainy with hints of citrus.  As one would expect from an IPA, the hop flavor is strong, but not overpowering, and a fresh maltiness washes it away in the aftertaste.  The mouthfeel is medium, and the beer leaves light lacing behind on the glass.  All and all, this is a very easy beer to drink.

This is a palatable IPA for people who don’t like IPAs.

Podcasts of the Week Ending February 2nd


It’s all Boston politics this week!

Radio Boston :: In Boston, Is This A New Era For Criminal Justice?

For the first time in Boston’s history, all of the top law enforcement officials are people of color.  Suffolk County District Attorney Rachael Rollins, Boston Police Commissioner William Gross and Suffolk County Sheriff Steven Tompkins discuss how they will address criminal justice in Boston.

We Need Some Milk :: Bak 2 School w/ Kristin Johnson

An interview with one of Boston’s top parent activists for public education.


Running tally of Podcast of the Week appearances:

Album Review: Better Oblivion Community Center


AlbumBetter Oblivion Community Center
ArtistBetter Oblivion Community Center
Release Date: January 24, 2019
Favorite Tracks:

  • Didn’t Know What I Was In For
  • Dylan Thomas
  • Dominos

Thoughts:

Phoebe Bridgers and Conor Obserst have made a career of collaborating with other artists, so it’s natural that they ended up working with one another.  Their new album is ten tracks of indie folk rock with sweet harmonies. The pair of singer/songwriters invest the lyrics with raw emotion that holds out hope for redemption.

Rating: ***