Movie Review: The African Queen (1951)


TitleThe African Queen
Release Date: 1951 December 23
Director: John Huston
Production Company: United Artists
Summary/Review:

Happy Valentines Day! Rewatching this movie made me realize it’s the ultimate Rom-Com in which woman decides that their first date should be to cruise down some rapids and torpedo a boat. Wackiness ensues!  Seriously though, The African Queen was always a favorite when I was young but it’s been decades since I’ve watched it.  The movie loses points for the casually colonialist/racist opening scenes.  But once you have Katherine Hepburn and Humphrey Bogart alone on a boat, it’s a treasure.  These two actors seem to so effortlessly become the characters they’re playing.  And the cinematography is spectacular, especially for a color movie filmed on location in 1950.  A deserved classic.

Rating: ****1/2

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Movie Review: Captain Underpants: The First Epic Movie (2017)


TitleCaptain Underpants: The First Epic Movie
Release Date: 2017 June 2
Director: David Soren
Production Company: Dreamworks Animation
Summary/Review:

The extremely silly and slyly satirical Captain Underpants books are brought to the big screen in the epononymously-declared first of what will be many movies.  I’ve enjoyed the books as much as someone who was already an adult when they were first published, but I find the adaptation questionable.  Mostly, for a movie with a theme of the importance of laughter, the laughs are few and far between (albeit there are some undeniably hilarious moments).  The sense of superhero satire is lost in the final act when it is subsumed to the type of big action adventure climax they’re supposed to making fun of.  I give it a “nice try” but know that from the source material there is a better movie to be made.

Rating: **1/2

Movie Review: Cool Runnings (1993)


TitleCool Runnings
Release Date: 1993 October 1
Director: Jon Turteltaub
Production Company: Walt Disney Pictures
Summary/Review:

This comedy is loosely based on the Jamaican bobsled team’s unlikely performance at the 1988 Winter Olympics. It is disappointing that with a true life story worthy of movie, that all the characters and most of the details depicted are entirely fictional.  That being said, the fictional story has a good cast of archetypal characters: Derice (Leon Robinson) – the talented sprinter with Olympic dreams and endless optimism, his friend Sanka (Doug E. Doug) – the laid back champion push cart racers, Junior (Rawle D. Lewis) – the wealthy kid who is frightened to challenge his father’s plans for his future, and Yul (Malik Yoba) – the tough guy with the heart of gold.  Add to this John Candy as a successful American bobsledder who surrendered his medals after a cheating scandal in 1972 and is living in Jamaica working as bookie until Derice recruits him to be their coach.  This was the last movie released before Candy’s death and it’s interesting that he’s mostly the straight man and that his performance adds some gravitas to the movie.

Most of the humor comes from the mix of this group of characters working together, with the rest of course coming from the unlikelihood of people from a tropical nation attempting to compete in a winter sport that they’ve never done before.  Nothing can top the dialogue when they step outside for the first time in the subzero temperatures of Calgary:

Derice Bannock: Sanka mon, whatcha smoking?

Sanka Coffie: I’m not smoking, I’m breathing!

It is a bummer that in the effort to add more conflict to the already fictionalized story, the Jamaican bobsledders are treated with derision by the other athletes and have to jump through hoops to qualify due to Candy’s character’s history of cheating.  Not only is this contrary to real life when other athletes were supportive of the Jamaican team, but it’s also just unnecessary to the narrative. Still it’s a funny, inspirational movie and for an 80s kid very nostalgic – from the bold color patterns on the winter clothing to the inevitable slow clap at the climax of the movie.

Rating: ***

 

Movie Review: Coraline (2009)


TitleCoraline
Release Date: 2009 February 6
Director: Henry Selick
Production Company: Laika
Summary/Review:

Coraline has been on my “too-watch” list for some time, so it was good to finally take in this visually stunning stop-motion animated fantasy based on a story by Neil Gaiman.  Coraline is a preteen girl (voiced by Dakota Fanning, with the expressions and mannerisms perfectly matching the voice) moved into a strange old apartment building with eccentric neighbors by her inattentive parents.  She discovers a small door with a passage to a mirror universe of the apartments where her Other Mother and Other Father live and spoil Coraline with her favorite things, and the sad neighbors are actually spectacular circus performers.  It seems a wonderful place even if everyone creepily has buttons for eyes.  All is not as good as it seems and Coraline will have to team up with a black cat (my favorite character) and neighbor Wybie, she uses her wits to avoid being trapped in the alternate universe.

I think Coraline is spectacular visually and great at creating mood and atmosphere.  The story feels a bit thin and Coraline’s game against Other Mother is rushed compared with the rest of the movie and the resolution feels too easy.  That being said Coraline is a remarkable piece of art.

Rating: ***1/2

Movie Review: Secrets of Underground London (2014)


TitleSecrets of Underground London
Release Date: 21 May 2014
Director: Vicky Matthews and Gareth Sacala
Production Company:
Summary/Review:

Not secrets of the London Underground (although there are some) but of 2000+ years of history hidden beneath the surface of England’s capital.  There’s a lot of nifty bits of subterranean trivia in this admittedly corny and sensationalist documentary, including:

  • ruins of the Roman amphitheater
  • Black Death plague pits
  • the labyrinthine Chislehurst Caves where miners extracted chalk for rebuilding London after the Great Fire
  • the innovative Victorian-era engineering of the Thames Tunnel
  • London Underground stations used both as air raid stations and to hide treasures from the British Museum during World War II
  • Churchill’s War Cabinet rooms
  • the lost Fleet River
  • the construction of an expansion of the British Museum into a new space four stories undergroun

Rating: **1/2

TV Review: NOVA: Iceman Reborn (2016)


TitleNOVA: Iceman Reborn
Release Date: 17 February 2016
Director: Bonnie Brennan
Production Company: A NOVA Production by Bsquared Media for WGBH Boston in association with ARTE France
Summary/Review:

Ötzi, the 5000 year old mummy found frozen in ice in the mountains along the border of Italy and Austria, is a source of continual fascination.  I was lucky enough to visit his resting place at the  South Tyrol Museum of Archaeology during my honeymoon in 2005. This documentary focuses primarily on artist Gary Staab getting unprecedented access to the mummy and using 3D printing to create a sculpted duplicate of Ötzi for researchers and students to learn from.  In-between scenes of the sculpture’s creation, scientists offer insights into Ötzi’s last meal, his role in society, his many tattoos (possibly related to a prehistoric healing method), and a genetic analysis that shows him most closely related to Sardinians.  There’s even evidence that he suffered from Lyme disease.  There’s a lot to learn from Ötzi and it appears that he will continue to offer insights into the human past.

Rating: ***

TV Review: American Experience: Blackout (2015)


Title: Blackout
Release Date: 14 July 2015
Director: Callie T. Wiser
Production Company: A Five O’Clock Films Production for American Experience.
Summary/Review:

This documentary tells the story of the night New York City hit rock bottom, July 13, 1977, when the power went out and the city’s poorest neighborhoods erupted in looting and arson.  There’s a lot of great archival footage in this movie, much of it filmed by flashlight and candle lending an eerie sense of a city crowded with people operating in the darkness.  The filmmakers eschew experts and show interviews with people who experienced that night – a firefighter, a police officer, shop owners, a man who witnessed looting and arson as a child, and an employee at Windows on the World who witnessed the city lights blink out, and then see the high-class clientele remove their coats and ties and enjoy the free champagne.

The Window on the World stories offer a perspective into the often-forgotten reality that in many parts of New York, the blackout was a convivial occasion and most New Yorkers were unaware of violence occurring in other parts of the city.  All the same, this documentary doesn’t do a good job of explaining that looting and arson were heavily localized to particular areas.

On the other hand, the lesson that many took from the blackout back in 1977 – that New York was a dangerous place full of bad people – receives a more nuanced take in the documentary.  They do a good job of detailing the effects of white flight, the financial crisis, and the austerity programs forced on the city by the Ford administration had created a sense of abandonment and desperation among the poorest people of the city.  Many of the people arrested that night had no criminal record, they just wanted some diapers for their babies.  There’s also a curious decision by the NYPD to have off-duty officers report to the precinct closest to where they live, and since police officers didn’t live in the poorest neighborhoods, those areas were left with practically no police protection.

I feel that 53 minutes is not enough time to tell this story.  A longer documentary would’ve allowed for more interviews offering more perspectives, more details on how Con Ed caused and recovered from the blackout, and more on the long term outcomes of the blackout (such as the emergence of hip hop).  Still it’s an illuminating depiction of New York’s darkest night.

Rating: ***1/2

TV Review: American Experience: Into the Amazon (2018)


TitleInto the Amazon
Release Date: 9 January 2018
Director: John Maggio
Production Company: An ARK media and John Maggio Productions film for American Experience.
Summary/Review:

The American Experience documentary tells the story of the 1913-14 expedition to explore Brazil’s remote River of Doubt accompanied by former U.S. President Theodore Roosevelt and his son Kermit Roosevelt.  I’m familiar with the story from reading Candace Millard’s River of Doubt, so I was eager to see the documentary;s approach to the history.

It’s a well-produced but unimaginative take on the history documentary format with talking heads, archival photos shown with the “Ken Burns effect” (and curiously also making the figures in the photos appear 3-D against the background), and film of actors recreating the expedition in the Amazon.  Another curious decision is to have the recreations in black & white, matching them with the archival footage, but denying the audience a glimpse of the vibrant colors of the rainforest that the men on the this journey would’ve seen.

I was slightly disappointed, but I expect if you were completely unfamiliar with this historical event that this documentary would be a good introduction.

Rating: **1/2

Movie Review: Jumanji


Title: Jumanji
Release Date:December 15, 1995
Director: Joe Johnston
Production Company: Interscope Communications
Summary/Review:

I watched this for the first time with my son although the story felt very familiar due to cultural osmosis.  The basic plot begins in 1969 when a boy named Alan discovers the board game and begins playing with his friend Sarah, ending up sucked into the jungle within the game.  26 years later, the siblings Judy and Peter (Kirsten Dunst and Bradley Pierce) discover the game in Alan’s former house and begin playing, releasing Alan from the jungle.  Alan (Robin Williams) is an adult now with experience in jungle survival but still emotionally a child.

Together they find Sarah (Bonnie Hunt) to finish the game and reverse the damaging effects, releasing on each roll of the dice wild animals, choking vines, an a sadistic Edwardian hunter, Van Pelt (perhaps the most draw-dropping moment of satire is how easily he acquires a semi-automatic weapon at a New Hampshire gun store). A subplot of the film focuses on the police officer Carl (David Alan Grier) who attempts to reign in the chaos engulfing the town while his new police cruiser is gradually demolished by the fauna and flora unleashed by the game.

I feel like the filmmakers could’ve have gone for an enjoyable, over-the-top spectacle, or they could’ve used the game to delve into deeper issues and development of the characters. What they made instead is an uncomfortable hybrid that feels very episodic.  They do focus on Alan’s struggles to connect with his father and Judy and Peter grieving their parents’ death, but those scenes don’t integrate well with the more madcap Jumanji adventure scenes.  I think it’s those problems that have made the movie merely memorable instead of the classic it could’ve been.

Rating: **1/2

 

Movie Review: Groundhog Day (1993)


TitleGroundhog Day
Release Date: 12 February 1993
Director: Harold Ramis
Production Company: Columbia Pictures
Summary/Review:

I hadn’t watched Groundhog Day since the 1990s so I figured the 25th anniversary of its release would be a good time to see if it has held up.  The first thing I noticed about the movie is that the production is very 80s/90s, and OMG! Bill Murray looks so young!  The story is familiar, seeped into our culture by now. We see egocentric meteorologist Phil Connors head to cover the Groundhog Day ceremony and then he has to live that same day again and again and again, until he learns a lesson and does it right.  The thing that’s always impressed me is that Phil doesn’t repeat the same day for a week or two, but it’s implied that he’s caught in the loop for thousands perhaps tens of thousands of times. It’s also impressive that the filmmakers were brave enough to never offer an explanation of how or why Phil gets caught in the loop (or how he gets out), it just happens.

Groundhog Day is more melancholy than I remembered.  It moves very smoothly among madcap comedy, romantic comedy, and a more solemn reflection on mortality and morality rather seamlessly.  Much of this is due to the versatility of Bill Murray who can offer both wacky and gravitas depending on the situation.  I guess Groundhog Day  set him up for these type of roles that he’s become more well-known for in his later career in movies such as Rushmore and Lost in Translation.

So it turns out that Groundhog Day is actually better than I remembered and a deserved classic.

Rating: ****

Movie Review: Paddington (2014)


TitlePaddington
Release Date: 28 November 2014
Director: Paul King
Production Company: Studio Canal
Summary/Review:

While a lot of family films these days seem to focus on the lowest common denominator of fart jokes and rock music standards, this adaptation of Paddington strikes a nice balance between being faithful to source material with a contemporary appeal.  In fact, it feels a lot like the family films of the 1970s and 80s.  A prologue to the film where an explorer meets Paddington’s aunt and uncle in Peru in what appears to be the 1930s adds to this feeling because the main part of the film is supposed to be 40 years later which would place it in the 1970s although what’s on the the screen is clearly London in the 2010s.  Setting aside this chronological confusion, Paddington is a delight with well-timed slapstick humor and a lot of heart as Paddington finds a place with the quirky Brown family. There’s also a subtle commentary of the reception of immigrants in modern England, not just with Paddington but other characters such as an antique store owner who’s suggested to have fled Nazi persecution and a diagetic group of buskers whose mambo tunes comment on Paddington’s situation.

The thing that keeps the movie from being great is a plot involving Nicole Kidman as an evil taxidermist from the Natural History Museum eager to make her mark by stuffing a new species for display in the museum (namely, Paddington).  While this leads to the climax of the movie where the Brown family rallies to save Paddington, I think the movie would’ve been stronger if the filmmakers had the confidence that the story of Paddington adjust to life in London would be enough to carry the movie.

Rating: ***

Movie Review: Mr. Roosevelt (2017)


TitleMr. Roosevelt
Release Date: 22 November 2017
Director: Noël Wells
Production Company:  Beachside Films
Summary/Review:

Emily Martin (played by writer and director Noël Wells) is a comic performer most known for silly YouTube videos who’s trying to make it big in Los Angeles.  She’s called back to her hometown of Austin  by her ex-boyfriend Nick with news that her cat Mr. Roosevelt is dying.  Nick is still living in the same house they once shared, now much more spiffed up, and now sharing it with his new girlfriend Celeste and they invite Emily to stay with them.

Celeste seems genuinely kind but also far too perfect to be bearable. Emily struggles with how Nick seems to have become domesticated, yet her own “wild” life is not satisfying her either.  Over the course of the movie we see her hang out, go to parties, generally muck things up, and repeatedly bailed out by her new friend Jen (played by Daniella Pineda and one of my favorite actors/characters in the movie)

The themes of identity and maturity, as well as the shaky hand-held camera work, are reminiscent of the movies Momma’s Man and Frances Ha.  Like those movies, the protagonist frequently comes off as selfish, and the whole effort of the film has an air of smugness that keeps it from being more fully satisfying to watch.  Mr. Roosevelt also has significantly more gratuitous shots of topless women than you’d expect from a woman-directed/woman-written film.  Ultimately, this movie is good but not great.

Rating: **1/2

Movie Review: Ratatouille (2007)


Title: Ratatouille
Release Date:  29 June 2007
Director: Brad Bird and Jan Pinkava
Production Company:  Pixar Animation Studios, Walt Disney Pictures
Summary/Review:

Remy, a rat with a heightened sense of small learns to appreciate fine foods and cooking from television programs and cookbooks of the famed chef Auguste Gusteau.  When circumstance bring Remy to Paris, a vision of the late Gusteau guides him to Gusteau’s restaurant where Remy begins to pursue the dream of becoming a cook.  Remy is paired with the restaurant’s young garbage boy Linguini, and learns that he can control his body like a marionette by pulling his hair (that sounds creepier than it appears in the movie) and together they make successful new dishes.

Though the stakes are low it touches on issues such as balancing commitments to family with pursuing one’s dreams, and expanding one’s perspectives.  It’s also surprisingly educational about both the bridage de cuising and colonies of rats.  One disappointment of the film is that almost all of the characters – rats and kitchen staff alike – are male, although the sole female character Colette comments on the difficulty of women making it in the culinary field, a seeming meta-commentary on the movie itself.  Overall, it’s a cute movie and beautifully animated and I enjoyed it.

Rating: ****

Movie Review: Star Wars: The Last Jedi (2017)


TitleStar Wars: The Last Jedi
Release Date: December 15, 2017
Director: Rian Johnson
Production Company: Lucasfilm Ltd./Walt Disney Studios
Motion Pictures
Summary/Review:

This will be a spoiler-filled review, so consider yourself warned if that kind of thing troubles you.

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The Last Jedi is a movie that that defies all expectations a Star Wars film, or action-adventure films in general, deliberately undermining genre tropes again and again. Whatever movie you expected to see after watching The Force Awakens, or what you imagined about what would happen to the Rebellion after defeating the Empire when you watched the original trilogy when you were younger, or what you may have read in the extended universe books, or even what you saw in the trailer for The Last Jedi, this is not the movie you were expecting.

This movie feels like a spiritual sequel to Rogue One, as again and again we see people sacrifice themselves to save the Resistance, yet those sacrifices end up being ineffective and it is an open question whether the Resistance can survive the loss of so many lives. We see the Resistance begin with a large fleet and finish with just a handful of people aboard the Millennium Falcon. The First Order suffers heavy casualties too – losing Supreme Leader Snoke, Captain Phasma, and at least two enormous ships – but they seem unaffected, relentlessly continuing pursuit under the monomaniacal leadership of Kylo Ren.

The movie is steeped in failure.  Rey fails to convince Luke to join the Resistance.  Rey fails to convert Kylo Ren and Kylo Ren fails to convert Rey.  Vice Admiral Holdo, after being vindicated for her plan to rescue the fleet against the Poe’s mutiny, sees that plan fail too due to DJ’s treachery.  One of the major subplots of The Last Jedi, where Finn and Rose go to the casino at Canto Blight to get a codebreaker (and end up with DJ) turns out to be a MacGuffin ending in complete failure.  Albeit, the whole sequence is valuable because I live Finn and Rose and their blossoming friendship, and the scenes at Canto Blight introduce a part of the Star Wars galaxy we’ve never seen before, the disgusting inequality at the root of all these wars.  As Yoda says, “The greatest teacher, failure is.”

While much of the ongoing saga of Star Wars is steeped in the greatness of the Jedi, and the Skywalker family in particular, as wielders of the force, this film challenges the notion of the great hero entirely. Kylo Ren bluntly informs Rey that she doesn’t come from anyone special, her parents were ordinary people, and I believe he’s telling the truth.  The most egregious flaw of The Phantom Menace, that certain people have midichlorians that make them more sensitive to the Force, is condemned as a heresy against the Force which flows throw all living beings.  Once again, Rogue One is the model here.  Success does not come from waiting for a great hero but by ordinary people working together. Even when Luke Skywalker finally makes his stand against Kylo Ren and the First Order forces, it is not the heroic moment we’re expecting. But it’s the heroic moment we need, as does the Resistance.  Rose Tico says it best “This is how we’ll win. Not fighting what we hate … saving what we love.”

If there’s one major flaw to this movie is that it runs too long.  Not that there’s anything I could suggest that could be cut out. It almost feels as if this story could be made into an entire tv series, expanding on the great characters and deep themes.

I’ll have to see The Last Jedi again – preferable when I’m not with children who need to visit the bathroom frequently – but I think this a movie that will reward repeat viewings.  I like a movie that makes me think, and The Last Jedi is an action-adventure space opera that deeply considers the realities of the human condition in an imaginary galaxy far, far away.  That, for me, is filmmaking that puts The Last Jedi among the best of Star Wars movies and the best of films.

Some stray things I loved/admired from The Last Jedi:

  • Chewbacca becoming the perfect father figure for Rey
  • Admiral Ackbar died tragically as result of … a trap
  • Rose Tico is no one’s depiction of an action hero, but she’s awesome in every way
  • R2-D2 guilt-tripping Luke with the old hologram of Leia
  • Sassy dead Yoda living up his afterlife by teasing Luke for his dramatics
  • Laura Dern as Admiral Hold is fascinating in a relatively brief appearance. In of the great ways that The Last Jedi undermines our expectations, we identify with the “hero” Poe in his mutiny against what we’re lead to believe is Holdo as Captain Queeg, only to realize with Poe that she was right all along
  • Another great misdirection is Supreme Commander Snoke, built up to be the next big bad, but ending up to be a deformed creature lounging in a Hugh Hefner robe who gets cut down in his arrogance.
  • Seeing Gwendolyn Christie’s blue eye through the crack of Captain Phasma’s helmet just once before she plummeted to her death
  • The allusion to Hardware Wars. Just beautiful
  • There’s a lot of humor in this film that is not distracting but builds on the movies themes and characterization (unlike the cheap gags in the prequel trilogy)
  • Bite me, porg haters.  They’re hardly in the movie at all, and dammit they’re cute!
  • So many stunning visuals – Paige Tico in the bomber, Skellig Michael, Snoke’s chamber, the salt planet Crait
  • Daisy Ridley, John Boyega, and Oscar Isaac all impressed in The Force Awakens and really knock it out of the park in The Last Jedi. One disappointment is that there’s very little time with Rey and Finn or Finn and Poe on screen together.  I hope the three of them get to team up for the next film
  • Luke and Leia’s reunion.  Perfect played and filmed.  It breaks my heart that neither Luke nor Leia will be in the next film (albeit Mark Hamill may return as a force ghost).
  • I don’t envy the filmmakers having to find someway to explain Leia’s absence in the next film. There doesn’t seem to be any good options that will be respectful to Carrie Fisher and Leia’s character.

Rating: ****1/2

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Movie Review: Rogue One (2016)


Title: Rogue One
Release Date: December 16, 2016
Director: Gareth Edwards
Production Company: Lucasfilm Ltd., Distributed by Walt Disney Studios Motion Pictures
Summary/Review:

This Star Wars spinoff tells the story of the events that happened immediately before the original 1977 Star Wars film, showing a ragtag band of Rebels stealing the plans for the Death Star.  While the main Star Wars saga details the experiences of generals, princesses, and Jedi knights, this movie offer more of a “working class” perspective of the Star Wars universe.  The film is full of references and special treats for fans of Star Wars and they could be accused of overdoing it, but ultimately I don’t think it detracts from Rogue One as a standalone film.  Like the best Star Wars films, the focus is on quickly developing and making the audience care about this group of characters. Standout characters include Alan Tudyk as the sarcastic droid K-2SO and Donnie Yen as Chirrut Îmwe, a blind warrior-monk with a strong faith in the Force.  At the head of the Rogue One team is Felicity Jones as Jyn Erso who doesn’t shout commands or make wisecracks, but leads with a quiet confidence.  I appreciate Jones’ performance not only as representation for women as leaders but also for introverts.  It’s unfortunate that this group will only appear in this one movie as I’d love to see more of them.  Nevertheless, I found this an interesting expansion of the Star Wars universe, both beautifully-filmed and character driven.

Rating: ****

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Movie Review: Minions (2015)


TitleMinions
Release Date: June 10, 2015
Director: Pierre Coffin & Kyle Balda
Production Company: Universal Pictures, Illumination Entertainment
Summary/Review:

The Minions – the lovable, mischievous, and yellow sidekicks from the the Despicable Me franchise – get the full origin story in this film.  The movie begins with the Minions evolving as a species that longs to serve biggest, meanest creature around.  After a montage of numerous instances where the Minions enthusiasm inadvertently leads them to kill their masters, they end up in exile in an Arctic cave. After decades of a the community suffering collective depression over having no evil master to serve, three Minions -Kevin, Stuart, and Bob – set off on a journey to find a new leader.  Their travels take them to 1960s New York City, then to pre-themepark Orlando for a supervillains convention, and finally to swinging London where they try out for the supervillain Scarlet Overkill.  Hijinks ensue, and the Minions can be disarmingly funny, especially Bob. I feel like the movie is often trying too hard to be clever and lacks the heart of Despicable Me.  Are the Minions really able to carry a movie on their own? I say no, but my kids disagree, and I suspect it succeeds as some enjoyable fluff for the younger ones.
Rating: **

Related PostMovie Review: Despicable Me (2010)

Movie Review: Lilo & Stich (2002)


Title: Lilo & Stitch
Release Date: 2002 June 21
Director: Chris Sanders and Dean DeBlois
Production Company: Walt Disney Pictures
Summary/Review: A big leap forward in time from Dumbo, but coincidentally this movie was actually inspired by Dumbo in that the filmmakers wanted to make a low-budget experiment and is also the first Disney animated film to use watercolor backgrounds since Dumbo.  The story involves Stitch, a genetic experiment designed to cause mayhem who escapes and crash lands in Hawaii.  There he meets Lilo, a young girl being raised by her older sister after the death of their parents, who is an outcast among the other kids and tends to lash out violently, not unlike Stitch.  The movie takes some chances in setting it in Hawaii and incorporating Hawaiian culture as well as a starkly honest depiction of a sisterly relationship.  The movie is laugh out loud funny and heartbreaking, and I can’t believe I waited 15 years to see this genius film.
Rating: ****1/2

Movie Review: Dumbo (1941)


TitleDumbo
Release Date:  1941 October 23
Director: Ben Sharpsteen
Production Company: Walt Disney Productions
Summary/Review:

A baby is born with a physical feature that leads him to be ostracized by his kind, but after discovering that that physical feature affords him special powers, he is celebrated. Dumbo is essentially the same story as Rudolph the Rednose Reindeer.  The animation style is different from Pinnochio.  The former tried to recreate reality in intricate animation, while Dumbo is more cartoon-y.  But the elephants are lovingly-executed and given characteristics to make them both elephantine and anthropomorphic.  And Dumbo is just so darn cute.  Timothy Q. Mouse is the hero of this story and is much like Jiminy Cricket, taking Dumbo under his wing and helping him find his greatness.  Like Pinnochio, there’s a lot about this movie that is just plain weird – like how Dumbo and Timothy discover that Dumbo can fly after consuming champagne.  The scene with the crows is uncomfortable because of the racial insensitivity of the obviously African American characters, but the crows also have the most memorable lyrics of any song.  After nearly an hour of bullying and ostracizing our protagonist he gets the happy ending he deserves, but this sure is a sad movie.
Rating: ***

Movie Review: Pinocchio (1940)


TitlePinocchio
Release Date: 23 February 1940
Director:Ben Sharpsteen and Hamilton Luske
Production Company: Walt Disney Productions
Summary/Review:

Pinocchio is one of those movies where you feel like you know the story even if you’ve never seen it.  But actually watching it fills in some gaps and reveals some misconceptions.  The most famous part of Pinocchio is that his nose grows when he lies.  And that lasts less than a minute.  Still there reasons why the film is so familiar because the scenes of Pinocchio, Jiminy Cricket, Geppetto, Figaro, and Cleo dancing have been shown in a gazillion formats, most memorably to me edited into the DTV music videos that were always shown on The Disney Channel when I was a kid.  And they’re worth showing off, because the Disney animators made some remarkable advancements in the depiction of the movement of bodies as well as shadows and water.  Nothing prepared me for the nightmare fodder that was Pleasure Island and the children turning into donkeys.  And the film carries such a heavy-handed middle class morality that it makes it seem like they want us to think that the kids deserved that.  The final act seems tacked on where Pinocchio learns that for some reason Geppetto, Figaro, and Cleo are in the belly of the whale Monstro, but it does give Pinocchio the chance to be a hero.  A strange and remarkable film.
Rating: ***1/2

Movie Review: Sing (2016)


Title: Sing
Release Date: 21 December 2016
Director:  Christophe Lourdelet, Garth Jennings
Summary/Review:

Zootopia used a city of anthropomorphic animals as the setting for a socially-conscious police procedural, and Sing does essentially the same thing for the musical comedy, albeit not as sophisticated. Koala Buster Moon is a show biz impresario who decides to save his decaying theater by staging a talent competition.  Cue audition scenes followed by rehearsals with quirky core group of ambitious talent: a soulful gorilla who does not want to be part of his father’s bank-robbing gang, a punk rock porcupine more talented than her self-centered boyfriend, an overworked mother of 25 piglets looking for a chance to express herself, an exuberant, Teutonic pig in sparkly dance leotards, and a shy, teenage elephant with a strong voice.

The movie is full of gags and generally funny enough to entertain both children and adults.  But it also contains some serious undertones and cynicism about show business that seems a bit heavy, especially a terrifying scene in which the theater is destroyed.  The movie has it’s flaws, among them a soundtrack that switches frenetically among popular songs (the licensing bill must’ve been huge) and is a bit a bloated at nearly two hours in length.  But it’s better than the sum of it’s parts with some joyous musical performances, especially in the final performance at the end of the film.
Rating: ***