Saturday, December 3, 2016

Moana review; One of the Best Disney Movies in Years

For a while there, Disney's 3D animated films were often confused with that of Pixar films.  Then came long monster hits like Wreck it Ralph, Frozen and Zootopia; which helped the studio distance itself from it's subsidiary (Pixar).  Now, the latest film in their lineup has been released, it's Moana.  The film stars new comer Auli'i Carvalho as the titular character; and Dwayne Johnson as Maui, the demigod that must help Moana save the world. Lot's to talk about, let's go!

What I liked about the film:
The Story
My wife and I had the pleasure of visiting Hawaii earlier this year.  We met so many people that were incredibly proud of their heritage and the history before them.  That trip really made me appreciate Moana's story.  It is creative, and important to the characters in the film.  I really enjoyed the fact that the story was relatively small, compared to other Disney films.  By that I mean, this young woman is doing these heroic things, to save her people, and the land in which they live on.  Commendable, admirable, and weirdly... relatable.  I loved that about the story.

The journey Moana and Maui take fits well in the world of the film.  There are dangers and bad guys they must defeat to save their land.  But it's not all doom and gloom.  The story touches on hope, belief, and destiny.  I love that.  It speaks a language kids will understand, but one that adults will appreciate.  I'll stop there because, if you read the blog you know, I don't discuss plot points in my reviews.  Go watch the movie for that!

The Characters/ Cast
Auli'i Carvalho is absolutely perfect as Moana.  She is bright, and bubbly, and full of life.  But she is strong, and capable as well.  Her voice so perfectly meshed with the character design that, at times, it felt like a live-action film.  And the actress has range.  We see Moana vulnerable at times, but strong and stoic in other parts of the film.  Dwayne 'The Rock' Johnson is fantastic!  The wrestler turned actor has done voice work in the past, but nothing as good as this.  The character, much like Johnson himself, is a big hulking presence.  He is strong, and basically a superhero.  But it's the softer moments where Johnson really shines through.  The character of Maui has a tragic history, and Johnson's delivery breathes life into what could have been a throw-away sidekick.

The Music/ Songs
Disney was made famous for their animated musicals.  And Moana earns its place among the best of the best.  Mark Mancina wrote the music for the film, and it's among the best music we've heard in an animated film in years.  The music in animated films is often overlooked, as the studios push the characters to the forefront, for marketing reasons.  But considering the setting for the film, Mancina's music HAD TO rise to the occasion.  The people of Hawaii have a rich history that involves a very specific type of music and dance.  Mancina does a great jobs of making the music accessible to anyone who may or may not be familiar with the music in Hawaii.

If the music is that good, than you can only imagine how good the songs are!  Opetaia Foa'i and Lin-Manuel Miranda created songs that will surely be the memorized, and repeated for years to come.  Seriously though, these are songs as memorable as the ones in Frozen, and even some of the historical 2D Disney movies like Aladdin and The Little Mermaid.  Songs like 'I am Moana' and 'You're Welcome' are stuck in my head hours after leaving the theater.  In fact, I'm listening to them on YouTube, as I write this review.  Foa'i brings a sense of history and tradition to the songs.  Miranda, made famous by the Broadway hit 'Hamilton', makes the music fun and inviting.  The songs are upbeat, happy, and inspiring.  And best of all, they bring meaning to the characters, and serve the story.  Awesome!

The Animation and Setting
I wont speak to in depth about this aspect of the film; because frankly, the animation should be spectacular at this point in the evolution of animated films.  But I want to point out how beautiful the lush, green landscapes in the movie, look amazing.  There's a hundred different greens, and the water's blue hues look gorgeous.  Hawaii never looked so good in a movie!

What I didn't like about the film:
To be clear, this is a nitpick, but something I didn't like about the film nonetheless.  There was a weird repetitiveness to the movie; and specifically, it was related to Moana and Maui going back and forth at each other.  'Are you going to help me?'.  'No I'm not going to help you'.  'Yes I'm going to help you'.  'Nevermind, no I'm not'.  Again, it's a silly thing, but one that annoyed me after the 5th time hearing them discuss this topic.  I'm being vague on purpose.

The Verdict:
One of the Best Disney Movies in Years
Moana is sitting at a pretty 97% on Rotten Tomatoes as of the post date of this review.  It's doing big numbers at the box office, and seems to have staying power 2 weeks after its release.  I highly recommend this movie.  It harkens back to the Disney movies of old, but keeping with the trend of computer animation films.  It's funny, packs emotional punches, and still finds an adventurous story to tell.  The voice talent, director, and musicians is the best of the best.  Go support this film.  Hit me up on Twitter or the Facebook Group to discuss more.

Wednesday, November 30, 2016

You know what's a good movie? (Part 10) Memento

Welcome back to the You know what's a good movie? column. It's when I talk about movies that are connected in some way.  Maybe they share a director, maybe they share a starring actor or actress, or maybe there is a common theme?  Let's review:

Part 1: Forrest Gump

Connection: Tom Hanks

Part 2: Toy Story

Connection: Pixar

Part 3: The Incredibles

Connection: Superhero Films

Part 4: Batman (1989)

Connection: Jack Nicholson

Part 5: The Departed

Connection: Matt Damon

Part 6: Good Will Hunting

Connection: Robin Williams

Part 7: Mrs. Doubtfire

Connection: Chris Columbus

Part 8: Harry Potter and the Sorcerer's Stone

Connection: Richard Harris

Part 9: The Count of Monte Cristo

Connection: Guy Pierce

Part 9: Memento

At this point, it should come as no surprise to anyone who's ever read a post on this blog, that I am a total Nolanite.  Don't know what a Nolanite is?  Well let me explain.  It's a biased, illogical, one-sided fan of one of the greatest directors in the history of cinema, Christopher Nolan.  Ok, now that we've got that out of the way, let me tell you why Memento is a good movie.

Memento is most recognized for it's non-linear approach to storytelling.  The movie is told, simultaneously, in a straight forward narrative, but backwards.  What does that mean?  Well, we're shown the ending of the story at the beginning of the film.  And we're left in utter shock by watching the beginning of the story, at the end of the film.  It was revolutionary at the time, and something so different, and so creative, Hollywood quickly took notice.  We know Christopher Nolan went on to direct other high-profile, big-budget films; but it was his work on Memento that really catapulted him into the ranks of the Hollywood elites.

Other than the way in which the story is told, it's an actually engrossing premise.  What would you do if you had no short-term memory?  I mean really think about this.  You couldn't remember the TV show you just watched.  You couldn't remember a phone number someone read to you.  Or the directions to the location you're going to.  It would totally and completely paralyze people.  Yet, the Guy Pierce character of Leonard, is trying to find his wife's murderer with this debilitation.  It's unique, and thought provoking.

Speaking of Pierce, he nails it.  He just owns the roll of Leonard, and the emotional struggle that comes with his debilitation.  He balances an angry undertone that expresses to the audience his thirst for vengeance, while keeping him vulnerable, because of his condition.  Carrie-Anne Moss and Joe Pantoliano play terrific supporting characters that help round out the 'world'.

From simply an aesthetic perspective, the movie is ugly.  It's washed out and distorted; it's sort of a neo-noir film meets Training Day.  It's tough and gritty; and paints the picture of a life none of us want to live.  I love that about the movie.  It uses the various settings, that would otherwise have been throw-away locations, to further the story.

I obviously won't spoil the ending.  But you have to see it for yourself, and hopefully enjoy the pay-off as much as I did.  Nolan and company made a film that is still talked about until this day.  Want to hear something horrible?  About a year ago, there was talk of re-making this cult classic.  Hopefully those rumors are all false, and we can watch more creative works, rather than run of the mill remakes.  Either way, I highly recommend you check out this film and let me know what you think.  Tweet me, or Instagram-me.  Is that a thing?  

Tuesday, November 29, 2016

I'm Slowly Making the Switch to Digital Copies of Films

This is the year.  This is the year that I officially bought my first digital copy of a film, versus a physical Blu-Ray copy.  How did this happen?  The answer to that question will require a little bit of context, and a look at the past.

People have been switching to digital content for the better part of a decade at this point.  iTunes revolutionized the music industry by allowing people to legally purchase copyrighted music, at an affordable price.  Mind you, this was at the peak of music piracy.  In a time when people were illegally downloading thousands of songs A DAY, iTunes offered a simple, and legal, alternative.  People were actually willing to spend money on digital copies of CDs, rather than pirate the music for free.

If iTunes was the pioneer of this massive shift in consumer spending; what does that make Hollywood?  Old dogs.  For years, the major studios made it nearly impossible, and incredibly expensive to legally purchase Digital Copies of films.  They were so hung up on their physical media, they refused to acknowledge the shift in their consumer's spending habits.  Hollywood resisted the inevitable; I did too I'm afraid.  Then came Live Free or Die Hard.  Yes, Die Hard 4 completely changed the game.  It was the first wide-release DVD to include, for 'free', a digital copy of the film.  Hollywood decided, 'if you can't beat 'em, join 'em.'

I own close to 1,500 legally purchased DVDs and Blu-Rays.  I would buy movie after movie; COMPLETELY ignoring the free digital copy that came with them.  Then something happened.  My wife and I began to travel quite a bit.  And we realized, all the DVDs and Blu-Rays in the world weren't going to help us 30,000 feet in the air, if all we carried were our iPads.  So I slowly but surely (and reluctantly) began redeeming the digital copies, enclosed in the physical discs I was buying.

I used to argue that I would continue to purchase physical media for a few reasons.  First, Blu-Ray combo packs often included a high definition Blu-Ray copy of the film, a DVD copy of the film, and a Digital Copy of the film.  I have a DVD player in my car, that believe it or not, I use quite a bit.  So Blu-Rays for the house, DVDs for the car, and Digital for the planes.  Great.  But secondly, and I believe more importantly; I was paying the same price for all three version of a movie (Blu-Ray, DVD, Digital), as I would for JUST the digital copy of the film through various services.  That just doesn't make any sense to me.

And let's get into why streaming digital copies of movies is so great.  To me, the most obvious is the convenience of it all.  My wife and I can sit on the couch, browse my digital movie collection in a matter of minutes; pick a movie and start streaming it in high-def (720p), in just a few seconds.  Let us not make it out to be some sort of a marathon to go get a Blu-Ray from the movie collection and pop it into the player.  But there is something to be said about having everything available to us in one convenient location.  And to be used across multiple devices too.

Beyond the convenience, it's a huge space saver.  My movie collection is, admittedly, outrageous.  The amount of room it takes up in our home is just plain stupid.  We have a three bedroom house and one entire room is dedicated to a computer desk and my movies.  Along with some collectibles that we wont discuss right now.

If you're curious, the digital streaming service of choice for me is Vudu.  I've tried them all, and Vudu, to me, is the best.  They support Disney films and their digital copies, as well as a number of television shows that are not compatible with other streaming services.  Remember, Blu-Ray combo packs cost about the same as a digital copy would on Vudu.  But, they often have flash sales where regularly priced movies ($14.99 and higher), are on sale for only $7.99.  Black Friday was a great example of the perfect time to buy digital copies on Vudu.  Disney's Beauty and the Beast Blu-Ray combo pack was on sale in most retailers for $17.99.  Vudu offered the digital copy on Cyber Monday for only $7.99.  A significant savings.

So let's close the loop on this totally non-linear post of my thoughts.  This year I bought multiple movies on Vudu, without worrying about the physical disc copy of the movie.  Earlier this year I bought the criminally underrated Celeste & Jesse Forever.  I think I paid $7.99 for it, and it was worth every penny.  It's smart, it has a ton of heart, and features some amazing performances by Rashida Jones and Andy Samberg.  I doubt I would have ever found this movie at a conventional retailer.  Amazon is offering the Blu-Ray for $10.99, in similar quality to that of Vudu.  But I was able to purchase and view the movie in seconds.  There's just nothing else like that right now in the way of physical media.

To me, I still love the physical copies of movies.  The ability to 'show off' the collection, the special features offered on the discs vs. the digital copies, the ability to play DVDs in my car; all of these play a part in why I buy physical copies of movies.  But there is something to be said when an old dog like me starts to purchase digital copies of movies, vs. their disc counterparts.  I realize I'm behind the 8-ball here; but at least I'm rolling with it now.

Sunday, October 23, 2016

'Wolverine 3', Logan trailer premieres, and it's amazing

This is it, folks.  This is SUPPOSEDLY the last time we will see Hugh Jackman suite up as the incredibly popular X-Men character, Wolverine.  Jackman has played the character an unbelievable 9 times.  After the dreadful X-Men Origins: Wolverine, director James Mangold came in to direct the sequel, The Wolverine.  The sequel was a significantly better film, that followed the Wolverine Japan story arc, made popular in the comics decades earlier.  Now comes, the third and final film in the Wolverine stand alone trilogy.  Aptly titled, Logan.  Also Directed by Mangold.  

See the trailer below and my thoughts after the jump.

Wow.  I mean, seriously.  Wow.  There's been rumors circulating for months that the film would follow the incredibly popular 'Old Man Logan' story line.  And this trailer appears to confirm that.  I absolutely love the music choice here, and the cinematography is beautiful.  The desert landscapes of the film, really compliment the tone and direction of the film.  I don't know much about the story behind 'Old Man Logan', and I'd prefer keep it that.

I also like the way the film incorporates Professor X, played by the great Patrick Steward.  There has always been a great bond between the two characters, over the course of almost 2 decades.  How appropriate to showcase that friendship in this, the final film in the trilogy.  


Also worth noting is the little girl in the film.  The character is X-23.  It is rumored to be a genetic clone of Wolverine, as teased in the end-credits scene of X-Men: Apocalypse.  We don't see much of her, or how the relationship will play out.  Fox has to have plans for the future of this bankable franchise, and it most likely includes the character of X-23.  


I'm not sure if the film is going to be any good, but the trailer is fantastic.  The Wolverine really set the tone for this film, and I have faith in Mangold and company.  I just hope the film gives the character the send off he deserves, after we've followed him since X-Men, in 1999.  Here's hoping.  

Sunday, January 24, 2016

The Revenant review; an epic blizzard of artistry

When The Revenant was announced, all I really knew about it was that it was based on a book, and was nearly impossible to film.  It starred Leonardo DiCaprio and Tom Hardy in an epic revenge story, that was loosely based on a true story.  I also knew that the director decided on filming the movie with nothing but natural sunlight, in the blistering cold of winter.

The film is the heavy favorite to win Best Picture at this year's Oscars ceremony.  The film managed to win 3 Golden Globes a few weeks ago and is considered one of the greatest achievements in cinematic history.  Want to know why?  I'll tell you why.  Let's go!

What I liked about the film:
Alejandro Gonzalez Iñárritu, The Director
The conductor of the orchestra, the captain of the ship, and the director of the project, Iñárritu is perfect in his decision making throughout the film.  He brings us into the elements, to take this ride with his characters.  I could have been watching this in 90 degree weather, and still felt the cold nipping at my toes.  From the frozen breath coming from the actors, to the snow falling on their faces, Iñárritu brought us along for one hell of a journey.  His choice in cinematography (which I'll get into later), casting, locations, editing, etc., were all spot on to create a world I wont soon forget.  Despite what some of his competitors were able to accomplish this year, I'd have to say Iñárritu is a heavy favorite to win Best Director this year.  

The Cast
The cast and their performances are brilliant.  Let's talk about the elphant in the room.  Will Leonardo DiCaprio win his first Oscar?  Yes.  I firmly believe this is the performance that will not only get him sympathy votes, but the one he deserves to win with.  Without giving anything away, I can tell you that DiCaprio doesn't speak much throughout the film.  He has to convey a slew of emotions with nothing more than his eyes and body language.  Something not a lot of actors are very good at.  The peaks and valley's of his characters emotion are brought to life with a performance that will be discussed long after the awards season has come and gone.

Tom Hardy is spectacular in this film.  I hated his character in this film, but then, without realizing it, I felt sorry for him.  The script, written by Iñárritu and Mark L. Smith, is so good, you can't help but understand why the character is the way that he is.  We clearly understand his motivations, which makes hating him that much more difficult.  It's a shame there weren't more votes towards Hardy's performance; regardless of Academy votes, it's still a brilliant performance.  

The Cinematography 
Emmanuel Lubezki has won the last two Oscars for Best Cinematography in a film, and he'll hopefully make it 3 in a row after The Revenant.  Lubezki used only natural sunlight to shoot the film.  I don't know much about photography, but I do know that in and of itself is an amazing accomplishment.  Lubezki's choice in angles, and camera locations bring us into the action in a way usually reserved for big budget action films.  There is a scene showcased in the trailer that will leave you breathless; it features a character jumping off a cliff, on horseback, running away from enemies chasing him.  And that's not even what I consider the best shot/scene of the film.  Just think 'bear'-knuckle brawl.  Amazing.

What I didn't like about the film:
The Narrative
The movie is a huge accomplishment in acting and production, but the narrative is weak to say the least.  I realize it's not all about plot (see last year's review for Boyhood), but there has to be a bit more to this epic.  I really wish the script gave us more about DiCaprio's character's history.  There are bits and pieces related to the year in which the movie takes place, but we don't really know much about his past or his upbringing.  Also, how did DiCaprio's character make it work by marrying a Native American in a time when it must have been so taboo to do so?  

The Run Time
It was tough a few times to stay vested in the film.  This is more of a nit pick, but it felt at times that a scene or two could have been cut from the film to help the pacing.

The Verdict:
An Epic Blizzard of Artistry
Much like Alfonso Cuarón changed the way space movies are made, with Gravity; so too does Iñárritu with the adventure epic.  Leonardo DiCaprio will, and should, win his first Oscar.  Hardy gives a terrific performance as well.  But the real star of the show is Iñárritu.  His choice in everything from cinematography to music and editing made watching The Revenant an epic that will last far longer than the pain the cast and crew felt while filming this movie.  Go see the movie and experience something different than what we've become accustomed to.