TV Review: Tuca & Bertie (2019)


Title: Tuca & Bertie
Release Dates: 2019
Season: 1
Number of Episodes: 10
Summary/Review:

This new animated comedy from Netflix has a lot in common with one of my favorite shows, BoJack Horseman.  For one thing, Tuca & Bertie‘s creator, Lisa Hanawalt, served as production designer and producer for BoJack Horseman.  For another, Tuca & Bertie are anthropomorphized birds living in a city of anthropomorphized animals and even anthropomorphized plants (they’re so cool!).

Nevertheless, Tuca & Bertie isn’t a spinoff of Bojack, nor is it even the same universe.  Tuca & Bertie has a brighter color pallette and, for lack of a better word, a “bouncier” animation style that frequently veers into surreality.  That is an even more surreal than a world with talking bird people.  Also, BoJack is a show that keeps returning to the inevability of misery and that other people will disappoint you.  Tuca & Bertie is more positive and shares its belief that one can count on the people you love to get you through troubled times.

Despite it’s wacky humor, Tuca & Bertie reveals more serious undertones over the course of the season.  Tuca is an outgoing toucan and free spirit who has no filter between her brain and mouth.  It’s established early in the season that she’s alcoholic and six months into living sober, and confronting supressed anxieties for the first time.  Bertie is a songbird with more open anxiety issues and people pleaser. She struggles at work with men speaking over her and sexual harrassment.  Yet we see her assert herself to get a new position as senior operations analyst at her publishing firm and explore a second career as a baker. The two characters are rightly depicted as a yin-yang late in the season because they complement each other so well.

This is a bright and heartwarming show, and just delightfully weird.  I especially like the music – both the electronic dance background music and the fact that characters narrate their life in song.  If you decide to watch it and it doesn’t work for you at first, give it a few episodes to sink in.

 

Movie Review: The Unicorn Store (2019)


Title:The Unicorn Store
Release Date: April 5, 2019
Director: Brie Larson
Production Company: The District
Summary/Review:

This movie directed by and starring Brie Larson is about a girl named Kit who grows up enjoying princesses, fairies, and rainbows and yearns to be an artists. But when the professor at her art school disapproves her Lisa Frank-style painting, Kit flunks out of college and is forced to move back in with her parents.  Suffering from depression Kit decides that she has to become a responsible adult and takes a temp job.  Some of the funniest scenes are basically Kit cosplaying at adulthood, and finding the people in the office is are also neither mature nor have it all together. (And 20+ years after being a temp myself, I had to laugh that temps are still expected to make lots of photocopies, and are complimented for being good at it).

Kit receives strange invitations which lead her to The Store where The Salesman offers to fulfill her dream of owning a unicorn.  The Salesman is played by Samuel L. Jackson (who had such great chemistry with Larson in Captain Marvel)  who plays against his tough guy persona, but still manages to drop in some profanities.  In order to earn the unicorn, Kit must provide her a home, food, and a loving environment (meaning she has to work out her diffrences with her parents).

Kit takes on the first task by hiring Virgil (Mamoudou Athie) from a local hardware store to build a unicorn house.  Virgil is also in a low-level job for which he feels he has not talent and is uncertain about his future, and it appears he takes on the seemingly absurd task out of curiousity more than anything else.  But Kit and Virgil form a bond and their friendship begins to help them grow and change.  Kit also gets the opportunity from her creepy boss to work on an ad campaign, which gives her a chance to use her artistic talents.

The unicorn plot could’ve gone in some predictable ways.  Either The Saleman could’ve been a scam artist or Kit could’ve been delusional.  But I’m glad that the story went another way entirely. The premise of the movie is basically having the Manic Pixie Dream Girl trope be the main character and then justifying her place as a real person.  After all athletic boys are allowed to become jocks when their men even if they no longer play sports, and the itnerests of nerdy boys are well catered to for adult men, so why not make a space for women who still love unicorns and rainbows.

The cast in this film are great, especially Athie and Joan Cusack and Bradley Whitford as Kit’s parents.  Nevertheless, I felt the humor was just a bit off and the movie was less satisfying than it had the potential to be.

Rating: ***

Movie Review: Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them (2016)


Title: Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them
Release Date: November 18, 2016
Director: David Yates
Production Company: Warner Bros. Pictures
Summary/Review:

The first spinoff movie from Harry Potter’s Wizarding World introduces mazizooligist Newt Scamander (Eddie Redmayne), author of the eponomynous textbook used at Hogwarts.  Set in the 1920s, the British Scamander arrives in New York City with a suitcase full of magical creatures.  His ultimate purpose in being there is revealed slowly of the film, but first, hijinks!  Newt accidentally swaps suitcases with a non magical person, Jacob Kowalski (Dan Fogler), and several creatures escape.  As Newt and Jacob look for the missing animals, they draw the attention of an American witch, Tina Goldstein (Katherine Waterson), who has recently lost her position as auror.  More hijinks ensue and Tina is forced to bring Newt and Jacob to her apartment and introduce them to her charming sister Queenie (Alison Sudol), who has the ability to read minds.

The film feels at first a comedy of errors and takes time to delight in introducing aspects of the Wizarding World outside of Hogwarts and Great Britain, with a lot of fun visual effects.  But there’s more going on here as the story unfolds.  First, there’s the New Salem Philanthropic Society, a 20th century heir to the Salem witch hysteria, who are openly promoting that wizads and witches are real (true, in the story) and need to be defeated. Second, the dark wizard Gellert Grindelwald is on the loose and killing magical and non-magical people alike.

I enjoy the culture clashes between the British and American wizards.  Americans very practically call non-magical people “No-Maj” instead of “Muggles,” which sounds as silly as calling a truck a lorry, when you think of it.  Instead of a Ministry of Magic, the USA’s wizarding government is the Magical Congress of the United States of America (MACUSA), where Tina works.  And even though only European schools participated in the Triwizarding tournament, there is an American school of witchcraft and wizardry as well, called Ilvermorny.  And I’ve learned from Wikipedia that Ilvermorny is in Massachusetts, on the peak of Mt. Greylock, so wizards also send their children to New England for their education.

Newt Scamander is very good with magical creatures, but is a bit awkward around people.  Redmayne plays his introversion well, and I enjoy seeing another quiet lead character in an action-fantasy film to go along with Rogue One.  Despite being the main character, Newt is more of the straight man to the quirkier characters of Jacob, Tina, and Queenie.  The leading quartet have a lot of chemistry and I enjoy seeing them playing of one another.  They carry the film that at times is a bit thin on plot.

Rating: ***

Movie Review: Christopher Robin (2018)


Title: Christopher Robin
Release Date: August 3, 2018
Director: Marc Forster
Production Company: Walt Disney Studios Motion Pictures
Summary/Review:

Out of a love of Pooh and a curious nature, I decided to watch Disney’s latest cash grab loving live-action tribute to the classic animated Winnie the Pooh films.  Here is a story of a beloved character from a children’s story growing up and finding himself so entangled in the adult responsibilities of work that he is unable to form a relationship with his child.  That is, until the beloved – seemingly imaginary – characters of his childhood enter his real life and help him rediscover joy in life and connect with his own child.  Yes, this is the plot of the 1991 blockbuster Hook.

To be fair, while I hated Hook, and it rankles me that the creators of Christopher Robin couldn’t come up with a different and better plot, I find it a relatively more enjoyable film.  While Hook was abrasive in its winking references, Christophe Robin is sweet and gentle, as it should be. And to be fair to Christopher Robin (Ewan McGregor), he’s working too hard not because he’s an egotistical workaholic but because his lazy, affluent boss (Mark Gattis, who seems to be typecast in these roles) will fire all the employees if Robin can’t find a way to balance the budget.

The movie’s tone is very melancholy, and even the color palette seems drained. The filmmakers even cast the great Hayley Atwell as Christopher’s wife and then hardly used her, which feels wasteful. Pooh and friends are the best part of the movie, and while this is “live-action,”  they are animated with CGI.  You wouldn’t know it though, as they look like they could be puppets right down to detail of their fuzzy fur (Owl & Rabbit, who are not based on toys, are depicted as anthropomorphic versions of a real owl and rabbit).  McGregor plays the surreal scenes of interacting with toys and animals in the 100 Acres Wood well.  And it’s cute that Pooh & Co. not only bring Robin closer his daughter Madeline (Bronte Carmichael), but they also solve his problem at work.

It’s just a shame that this slight, charming film couldn’t have been truer to the spirit of its source material. It could’ve been so much more.

Rating: **

Movie Review: Avengers: Endgame (2019)


TitleAvengers: Endgame
Release Date: April 26, 2019
Director: Anthony Russo and Joe Russo
Production Company: Marvel Studios
Summary/Review:

The twenty-second installment in Marvel Cinematic Universe is the culmination of several plotlines and story arcs established in the previous movies. Obviously the pay off is going to be better the more invested you are in the previous 21 movies.  Almost every review I’ve seen of this movie says it’s a finale, which is puzzling because more MCU movies are coming, but it does tie up ongoing storylines for the original 6 Avengers in satisfying ways. The movie also sets up storylines that I expect will be followed up on in future stand alone movies for the more recently introduced characters.

While Avengers: Endgame is over three hours in length, it never feels boring or padded, and it includes a lot of excellent character work.  I think of it almost as three movies in one.  The first movie focuses on the aftermath of Thanos snapping half of sentient life out of existence as each of the original Avengers deal with the trauma of their failure, grief over the people lost, and adjusting to the new normal (or not).  In the second movie, the Avengers try a daring plan to reverse the Snap, which plays out as a heist movie with a lot of action and humor, but also some great relationship moments.  The final movie is … well, hard to describe without using spoilery words, but it is epic!

11 years ago when the MCU began, I had no interest in watching superhero movies.  I didn’t even watch any of them until four years ago.  Now, I’ve managed to see all of them at least once, and I’m impressed how the MCU has improved in quality in leaps and bounds over time.  They’ve also created something unique and innovative in film storytelling that reaches it’s culmination in Endgame.  If you’re a doubter like me, I highly recommend giving (some) of the MCU films a chance and then checking out Endgame.

Rating: ****

 

HEAVY DUTY SPOILERS

Okay, so here are some various thoughts about Endgame for people who’ve already seen the movie or don’t care to be spoiled:

  • After watching Infinity War, I proposed the idea that if the 50% of beings in the universe are killed in The Snap, what if Thanos himself was arbitrarily dusted?  After seeing Endgame, I think this would have worked quite well as the Avengers end up killing a powerless Thanos early on in the movie.  Imagine the drama if we’d spent the past year wondering how the Avengers were going to reverse The Snap if we knew that Thanos and the stones had disappeared?
  • I liked how the early parts of Endgame focused on how people on Earth were dealing with the loss of half the population, and I think it would be interesting if the idea were explored further in a stand-alone MCU film set in the five-year gap (see below).  But some aspects puzzled me:
    • In San Francisco, we see abandoned cars and missing persons signs. In New York we see abandoned boats docked around the Statue of Liberty (presumably left by refugess fleeing to New York?) and learn that the Mets no longer exist.  In both cities, the streets are bereft of people.  50% of humanity is a lot to lose, but New York alone would still have over 4 million people! Surely in five years, someone would’ve cleaned up this mess.  And there would be plenty of people left to restock the Mets roster and fill the stands at Citi Field (MLB survived the Great Influenza and WWII, after all).
    • In Infity War, we see cars and a helicopter crashing and presumably people die from these crashes who did not turn to dust.  Do the inifinity stones magically account for these collateral deaths in the 50% or are they an addition to the 50%?  Do the people who died indirectly as a result of The Snap get restored.
  • Thor, in his grief and trauma, drinks too much and gains a lot of weight.  It’s played for jokes and he looks like The Dude from The Big Lebowski, but I appreciate that Thor doesn’t magically lose weight and become fit and cut again when he starts fighting.  Fat guys can be heroes too.
  • One of the strengths of the “Time Heist” portion of the film is that there are great character relationship moments.  Thanks to time travel, Thor gets to talk with his mother about his gried, and Tony Stark gets to connect with his father about parenthood.
  • As much as it was totally predictable conclusion, the moment when Sam Wilson leads in all the restored-from-dust Avengers was completely awesome.  I also like how they pass the gauntlet around as a way of focusing on individual characters in the midst of a confusing battle.  And the scene where all the women heroes team up, while a bit pandering, was pretty awesome too.

The future of the MCU

Endgame is being touted as the finale of a 22 film series, but clearly it is also setting up new stories to be told in future films.

  • It’s clearly the end of the line for Tony Stark and Steve Rogers, and while it’s always possible to bring them back in some way, I think it would ruin a satisfying ending to their story arc.
  • Natasha Romanoff dies in the movie, which is not so satisfying, but the MCU can be redeemed if they follow up on producicing the promised Black Widow solo movie.  With the character dead that will be a challenge, though. The obvious solution is a prequel showing Natasha’s origin story although I don’t think that would be too interesting.  Another option would be a story set in the five year gap of Endgame which I think would offer more interesting character possibilities as well as a chance to further explore the world after half the population vanished.  The downside is that whatever problem Natasha would have to face in this story would seem small-scale compared to The Snap.
  • Clint Barton is likely done and happy to head into retirement with his family. I suppose a longer film about his “Ronin” period could be made but that would be pretty grim.
  • Bruce Banner, now Professor Hulk, never got a trilogy but had his story arc spread out over various other films which worked surprisingly well.  I don’t know if there are any more stories about Hulk to tell, but I wouldn’t complain if we saw him again.
  • Guardians of the Galaxy, vol 3. is being set up to be a search for the past version of Gamora who traveled to the future with Thanos.  And, it looks like Thor is along for the ride!  Except, in real life, Chris Hemsworth says that he’s finished with Thor.  I’d love to see Thor and the AsGuardians have a movie together (heck, I’d watch a Thor/Rocket/Groot buddy road film) so I hope he’s not being fully honest.
  • Steve Rogers hands over his shield to Sam Wilson to be the next Captain America and it will be great to see a movie where Sam takes on the role.  One of the oddities of Endgame is that old Steve doesn’t talk with Bucky on screen, which seems out of line with the importance of Bucky to Steve in all the Captain America movies. I do think it would work if Bucky is a supporting character to Sam’s Captain, and perhaps more of what Steve & Bucky talked about off screen is revealed.
  • I really like Tessa Thompson as Valykrie and now that she’s ruler of Asgard, I want to see that played out in a Valykrie movie.
  • And of course Ant-Man, Spider-Man, Black Panther, and Captain Marvel will complete their trilogies.

MASTER LIST OF MCU REVIEWS

 

Movie Review: Iron Man 3 (2013)


Title: Iron Man 3
Release Date: May 3, 2013
Director: Shane Black
Production Company: Marvel Studios
Summary/Review:

I could say that this is the best Iron Man film, but that would be damning it with faint praise. I find it puzzling that Robert Downey, Jr. and his take on Tony Stark are so good in collaboration with the other Avengers, but his solo movies are just self-indulgent excess.  And there is a lot of excess in this mess of a movie, just tons of stuff thrown at the screen to see what works.  Which makes it so weird that it’s actually somewhat entertaining.

Following up on the Battle of New York in The Avengers, Stark is dealing with PTSD.  This is the main plot of the first act of the movie, but then seems to be discarded along the way when it comes time to start blowing stuff up.  The second act gives Stark a kid named Haley (Ty Sympkins) for a sidekick, with some interesting surrogate father/son dynamics.  This is also discarded before the third act.  For much of the movie Stark is forced to work without an Iron Man suit, which is also an interesting approach as we get to see Downey, Jr. working things out with cleverness rather than technology.  But the absence of the Iron Man suit is atoned for in the explosive finale where he and Rhodey (Don Cheadle) win with a metric shitton of Iron Man suits.

The villain in this movie is Aldrich Killian (Guy Pearce), a mad scientist who sought Stark’s help 14 years earlier, but Stark rejected him, and so he becomes a supervillain to get revenge.  This is totally the premise of The Incredibles and I’m not the first one to observe this.  Killian and his henchpeople are pretty absurd and largely forgettable.  There is a character played by Ben Kinglsey who is at the center of one of the movie’s big twists, and Kingsley plays him so weird that it’s actually delightful.  Maybe they should’ve cast Kingsley as the Big Bad instead.

And so I’ve done it!  I’ve watched all of the Marvel Cinematic Universe movies, and by the time this post goes live, I will have seen Avengers: Endgame as well (and I’ll post that review tomorrow).

Rating: **

Movie Review: Iron Man 2 (2010)


Title: Iron Man 2
Release Date: May 7, 2010
Director: Jon Favreau
Production Company: Marvel Studios
Summary/Review:

I had strong feelings against Iron Man, which I found jingoistic in its support of Bush-era foreign policy and overly fawning of neoliberal ideals equating wealthy enterpreneurs with natural leaders.  But, from watching all the Avengers movies, the character of Tony Stark clearly mellows and evolves.  And I can’t deny that Robert Downey, Jr. is a talented actor who puts his all into the character.  So, I thought I’d give Iron Man 2 a chance.

And, omigod, Tony Stark is possibly even more irritating in this movie than in his debut. Much of the film depicts Stark wallowing in his fame and basically becoming a burden to everyone he knows and cares about him.  His transfer of Stark Industries to Pepper Potts is logical and deserved, but there’s no way she would want to form a romantic relationship with him.  And politically, this movie again panders to a right-wing vision of America, and even has cameos by Elon F’in Musk and Bill F’in O’Reilly.

Ok, calm yerself.  So, the villain in this piece is Ivan Vanko who is played laconically by Mickey O’Rourke, which I did find an entertaining performance, although the “evil genius dead set on personal vengeance for no clearly articulated reason” trope is rather tiresome.  As someone obsessed with the New York World’s Fairs, I was also pleased to see that in the MCU the Flushing Meadows fairgrounds were home to the 1974 Stark Expo which Tony reopens during this story.  Even better, Tony watches an old film of Howard Stark talking about the Stark Expo which is clearly modeled on Walt Disney’s promotional films for EPCOT.  This film was in production before Disney acquired Marvel, but I wonder if the filmmakers sensed what was coming and did this as a purposeful tribute. This movie also marks the debut of Scarlett Johannsen in the MCU.  I’m curious if anyone was surprised by the reveal of her true character when this was first released.

So, I don’t know, your mileage may vary, but I found Iron Man 2 a mediocre action movie with bad politics that left me with a bad taste in my mouth.

Rating: **

Movie Review: Thor: The Dark World


Title: Thor: The Dark World
Release Date: November 8, 2013
Director: Alan Taylor
Production Company: Marvel Studios
Summary/Review:

This movie is an improvement on its predecessor.  Chris Hemsworth and Tom Hiddleston, fresh off their key performances in The Avengers, have really settled into their characters and have a great chemistry playing off one of one another as Thor and Loki.  Loki in particular does really well as the trickster in this movie and his shifting allegiances keep one on one’s toes, although they’re never written in a way that’s illogical to the plot.  Dr. Jane Foster (Natalie Portman) is back and has a more meaningful role as a character in her own right, as does her assistant Darcy (Kat Dennings).  Thor’s mother Freya (Rene Russo) and the bridge sentry Heimdall (Idris Elba), who I didn’t even mention in my Thor review, are also fleshed out a lot more.

Unfortunately, the plot of this movie is meh.  The villains this time are Dark Elves who seem interchangeable with the Frost Giants.  Christopher Eccleston is a talented actor wasted in the role of Malekith, who is just another dude with heavy layers of prosthetic makeup who wants to destroy the universe.  The film’s Earth setting replaces New Mexico with London, and the battle scenes feel derivative of a Doctor Who finale.  The Dark Elves even look a little like Cybermen and Eccleston, a former Doctor, is there.  The romance between Thor and Foster never really takes off as an interesting plot, so it’s not surprising that she seems to have been written out of the MCU.

Looks like third time will be the charm for making a really good Thor movie.

Rating: **1/2

Movie Review: Thor (2011)


Title: Thor
Release Date: May 6, 2011
Director: Kenneth Branagh
Production Company: Marvel Studios
Summary/Review:

Watching the MCU movies out of order means coming to Thor and realizing that at this point in the series they actually played it straight and with very little humor.  It comes off as odd, and less than satisfying and makes me grateful for the tonal changes they made to the characters in the Avengers movies and Thor: Ragnarok.  Chris Hemsworth and Tom Hiddleston just haven’t really found their way into the roles of Thor and Loki yet.  And from the retrospective view, the fact that they tried to hide Loki’s villainy and make his heel-turn a big twist is unintentionally hilarious.

The basic plot of the film is that Thor is eager to wage war, and uses the opportunity of a break in by some of Asgard’s ancient enemies The Frost Giants, to in turn lead a band of friends and Loki to attack the Frost Giants.  Thor’s father Odin (Anthony Hopkins) punishes Thor by stripping him of his power, enchanting his hammer Mjölnir so that it may only be picked up when he is worthy, and exiling him to Earth.

On Earth he’s befriended by astrophysicist Dr. Jane Foster (Natalie Portman), and Marvel once again admirally casts a talented woman in a role as a scientest and then shamefully underuses the character as mainly a love interest.  The movie could’ve also used more of Foster’s assistant Darcy (Kat Dennings) who brings some needed comic relief to this overserious movie.  The plot is pretty boring and generic, and I think this movie is pretty skippable, even if you really love Thor and Loki in the latter movies.

Rating: **

Movie Review: Zimbelism (2015) #AtoZChallenge


This is my entry for “Z” in the Blogging A to Z Challenge. Throughout April I will be watching and reviewing a documentary movie from A to Z. Previous “Z” documentaries I’ve reviewed include Zidane: A 21st Century Portrait.

Title: Zimbelism
Release Date: September 2015
Director:  Jean François Gratton and Matt Zimbel
Production Company: Bunbury Films | Ready to Shoot Studio
Summary/Review:

This biographical documentary focuses on the life and work of freelance photographer George Zimbel.  From the 1950s to the present, Zimbel has taken evocative photographs of celebrities and ordinary people.  Some of his most famous photographs feature Marilyn Monroe, John and Jackie Kennedy on the campaign trail, Harry Truman in his retirement years, and street scenes from gritty old New Orleans.

The Monroe photographs are particularly interesting since they are from a promotional event for the Seven Year Itch with the famous moment of Monroe standing over a subway grate. Zimbel’s photographs are different in that he stands back a bit and captures the sea of other photographers taking their photos, as well as capturing Monroe in a quiet moment thinking to herself between photoshoots.  Zimbel’s street photography of ordinary people is also quite excellent.

One flaw with this movie is that it’s framed with the reading of a series of letters Zimbel exchanged with The New York Times regarding the ownership of a print of a photo of the Kennedys.  The long, snarky letters add nothing to the story and both Zimbel and the Times come of sounding like petty jerks. Oh, and Zimbel really hates digital photography.  He’s entitled to that belief, but until I have the money and space for my own darkroom, I’ll stick with my digital camera.

If You Like This You Might Also Want To …:

Finding Vivian Maier tells the story of a street photographer who, unlike Zimbel, received absolutely no recognition during her lifetime.

Source: Hoopla

Rating: **1/2


2019 Blogging A to Z Challenge – Documentary Films

A: Amy
B: Being Elmo
C: Central Park Five
D: Dear Mr. Watterson
E: The Endless Summer
F: F for Fake
G: Grey Gardens
H: High School
I: Ida B. Wells: A Passion for Justice
J: Jiro Dreams of Sushi
K: Kon-Tiki
L: The Last Waltz
M: Man With a Movie Camera
N: Nanook of the North
O: Obit.
P: Pelotero
Q: Quest: A Portrait of an American Family
R: Restless Creature: Wendy Whelan
S: Soundtrack for a Revolution
T: Titicut Follies
U: Unforgivable Blackness
V: Virunga
W: Waking Sleeping Beauty
X: Xavier
Y: You Can’t Be Neutral on a Moving Train

If you want to read more, check out my previous Blogging A to Z Challenges:

And dig deep into Panorama of the Mountains, by checking out my:

And, if you like Doctor Who, I have a whole ‘nother blog where I review Doctor Who stories across media: Epic Mandates.