Soul Review

Soul movie posterSynopsis
Joe Gardner (Jamie Foxx) is a middle school band teacher and an aspiring musician looking for his big break. When he gets the opportunity he has been waiting for, he has an accident and finds his soul heading towards the Great Beyond. Not ready to move on, he escapes to the Great Before, where he meets the young soul 22 (Tina Fey) and together they try to return Joe’s soul to his body.

Review
Over the years, Pixar has told a variety of stories that have all been unique in their own way. Keeping with that trend, Soul is unlike any film Pixar has made before; the studio continues to find new and original stories to tell. This movie manages to stand out among Pixar’s other films as a masterful study of one’s perception of their purpose in life. It might not be the most kid-accessible plot but it is approached in a way that is meaningful to all ages.

Joe Gardner (Jamie Foxx) is a musician who never quite got his big break. In between going to various auditions, Joe became a middle school band teacher. He enjoys being a teacher but nonetheless feels unfulfilled and still chases his aspirations of becoming a musician. When a former student, Curley (Questlove), calls Joe and invites him to audition for his quartet, Joe feels could finally be the break he has been looking for. At the audition, Joe gets lost in the music and makes a good impression on the quartets leader, Dorothea (Angela Bassett), who asks him to return later that night for the show.

The strength of these first few scenes is they expertly set up several characters and threads that will be important throughout the rest of the film. Just before going to the audition, we see the dynamic between Joe and his mother, Libba (Phylicia Rashad), who wants her son to find a stable job and not a career with the uncertainty that comes with being a full-time musician. It is clear that they have a strained relationship. It is also clear that Joe has respect for his mother and wants to make her happy but at the same time, wants to be allowed to follow his dreams and do what makes him happy. We see Joe’s passion for music as well when he zones out while playing the piano during his audition. His passion is seen, not just heard. We, as the audience, are pulled into his love of music and can feel how much Joe enjoys playing piano; we understand how important this opportunity is to Joe.

Excited to be offered the job he has been waiting for, Joe hurries home but in his rush, he becomes distracted and falls into an open manhole. He wakes up as a soul going towards a giant light in the Great Beyond. Not ready to pass on before getting his big break, he tries to escape from the Great Beyond and finds himself in the Great Before, the place where young souls reside before going to Earth. As Joe travels between the Great Beyond and the Great Before, we get the first glimpse at how varied the animation of this film his. The sequence of Joe falling was very Kubrick-esque to me, being both entrancing and intriguing at the same time. Once in the Great Before, the style of animation is much more fluid and abstract that the realism seen in the New York City sequences. It’s very similar to Inside Out, where there are no clear edges and the environment is very flamboyant and runs together. The appearance of Terry and the multiple Jerry’s is probably the most unique character design in all of Pixar, which is saying something.

In the Great Before, Joe meets Counselor Jerry (Alice Braga), who informs him that souls in the Great Before can reach Earth using the Earth portal. However, every time he goes through the portal, Joe is returned to the Great Before. Thinking Joe is a lost soul mentor, Terry takes him to the other mentors, who assist young souls in finding their β€œspark” to complete their personalities, displayed as a badge on the soul, before being allowed to Earth. Seeing a completed Earth Pass as his ticket through the portal back to Earth, he impersonates another soul mentor. In the mentoring program, he meets soul 22 (Tina Fey), a soul who refuses to go to Earth. The pair agree to complete 22’s Earth Pass so Joe can use it to return to Earth and 22 can stay in the Great Before forever.

Unable to find 22’s spark in the Hall of Everything, Joe and 22 go see Moonwind (Graham Norton) and the Mystics without Borders, a group who help β€œthe lost souls of Earth find their way.” When the mystics locate Joe’s body on Earth, Joe rushes to get back. In his haste, Joe accidentally brings 22 with him. When Joe wakes up, he realizes that he is in the body of a therapy cat and 22 is inside his body. Together, 22 and Joe set out to find Moonwind on Earth to help them return to their proper selves.

What follows is a extraordinarily crafted story of friendship and passion. Joe and 22’s journey throughout the course of the film sees the two discovering that there is more to life than either expected. The themes are geared more towards an older audience who might have more appreciation for the movie’s message, but I feel they are also laid out in a way that a younger viewer can understand as well. It might not be as exciting or adventurous as some of Pixar’s other films, but the characters and their journeys make the experience well worth your while.

I mentioned it previously but I can’t review an animated film and not talk about the animation. New York City is a city full of movement and excitement. Soul captures that with such realism that if the characters themselves were not caricatures, it would be hard to tell this is animation. The opening scenes provide a look at the beautiful animation to come in the film but when Joe and 22 set off in New York City together is when the animation of the bustling city becomes truly breathtaking. The sights, the sounds, the colors, the energy, everything is authentic and gorgeously rendered. Pixar continues pushing the boundaries of what is possible in animation.

I thought Soul was GREAT πŸ˜€ The story provides a fantastic and emotional study of inspiration and purpose. As we get older, we forget that there is beauty in life around us. Soul serves as a reminder that no matter how mundane things become, never lose sight of what makes life truly beautiful and worthwhile.

Trailer

Cast & Crew
Pete Doctor – Director / Writer
Kemp Powers – Co-Director / Writer
Mike Jones – Writer
Jonathan Batiste – Jazz Compositions and Arrangements
Trent Reznor – Composer
Atticus Ross – Composer

Jamie Foxx – Joe (voice)
Tina Fey – 22 (voice)
Graham Norton – Moonwind (voice)
Rachel House – Terry (voice)
Alice Braga – Counselor Jerry A (voice)
Richard Ayoade – Counselor Jerry B (voice)
Phylicia Rashad – Libba (voice)
Questlove – Curley (voice)
Angela Bassett – Dorothea (voice)
Cora Champommier – Connie (voice)
Donnell Rawlings – Dez (voice)
Margo Hall – Melba (voice)
Rhodessa Jones – Lulu (voice)
Daveed Diggs – Paul (voice)

Greenland Review

Greenland movie posterSynopsis
When comet fragments begin crashing down to Earth, John Garrity (Gerard Butler) sets off on a journey with his family from their home in Georgia to bunkers in Greenland before the biggest of the fragments strikes the planet.

Review
For as much of a catastrophe that 2020 was, it’s quite appropriate that one of the final films released this year is a disaster movie. You would be forgiven if you go into Greenland expecting a cheesy adventure often seen within the genre. And while this film does contain some of the tropes expected from this sort of film, it does manage to find an authenticity not often found in disaster movies. This all stems from Gerard Butler and his every-man portrayal of John Garrity, who is merely a structural engineer trying to protect his family. He is not indestructible, nor does he become this insanely good fighter like is often seen. Rather, he simply uses his wits to protect his family. Greenland is surprisingly down to Earth, focusing on the family dynamic between John, his estranged wife Allison (Morena Baccarin), and their son Nathan (Roger Dale Floyd). While similar films have attempted this approach, Greenland manages to do it more successfully. Of course, it helps that Butler, Baccarin and Floyd all have great chemistry together. As the trio journey to from the southern United States to Greenland, they meet many different characters along the way. The movie uses this structure to display the different ways people would react and behave during such a calamity. It’s a powerful and effective way to examine human nature.

I thought Greenland was GOOD πŸ™‚ Choosing to focus on humanity and family rather than the impending disaster, it manages to strike a surprising emotional cord for this type of film. This smaller focus does prevent some of the genre’s more obnoxious flaws from surfacing, however it doesn’t avoid them completely. Nonetheless, Greenland is one of the better disaster films out there and feels like a fitting end to the disaster that is 2020.

Trailer

Cast & Crew
Ric Roman Waugh – Director
Chris Sparling – Writer
David Buckley – Composer

Gerard Butler – John Garrity
Morena Baccarin – Allison Garrity
Roger Dale Floyd – Nathan Garrity
Scott Glenn – Dale

Godmothered Review

Godmothered movie posterSynopsis
To prove the world still needs fairy godmothers, Eleanor (Jillian Bell), a young fairy godmother, travels to Boston to help Mackenzie (Isla Fisher) realize her childhood wish.

Review
Over the past several years, Disney has been redefining what β€œtrue love” means, a precedent they themselves set with their princess films beginning way back in Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs, with movies like Maleficent and Frozen. Godmothered continues this effort, resulting in a not-so-subtle moment during the finale to really drive home the numerous ways love is represented across all kinds of families. Throughout the film, leading up to this climactic scene, the film subtle spends its time laying the groundwork for this scene, being self aware of what the filmmakers’ end goal is. While I appreciate Disney’s efforts to update themselves to the time, this feels like a retread of their previous films that are trying to do the same, particularly Enchanted, which has a very similar premise of a character coming from a fantasy world into the β€œreal world.” This familiarity leads to predictability and a feeling of unoriginality.

Now, with that said, I did have fun while watching this movie. Jillian Bell as the young fairy godmother Eleanor was charming and sweet and very different than her role in in 22 Jump Street, the most recent film of Bell’s I have seen, where she was much more foulmouthed but no less funny. Her comedic timing is impeccable and her sense of optimism is infectious. She pairs well with Isla Fisher, who is a gem like always. Not to be outdone by the adults, Jillian Shea Spaeder and Willa Skye, who play Fisher’s daughters, provide their own sense of wit and charisma. All around, the cast makes the film a worthwhile viewing, even if the rest of the movie around them does not.

I thought Godmothered was GOOD πŸ™‚ While it does feel like it’s retreading previous Disney attempts to redefine their version of Happily Ever After, it copies some of the best aspects about said endeavors, too. The characters are charming, the message is a powerful and wholesome one, and there is a sense of whimsy and fun the whole way through. While there is a lot of plot for this type of movie, it still manages to provide enough enjoyment to at least elicit a watch.

Trailer

Cast & Crew
Sharon Maguire – Director
Kari Granlund – Screenplay / Story
Melissa Stack – Screenplay
Rachel Portman – Composer

Jillian Bell – Eleanor
Isla Fisher – Mackenzie
Jillian Shea Spaeder – Jane
Willa Skye – Mia
Mary Elizabeth Ellis – Paula
Santiago Cabrera – Hugh
Artemis Pedbani – Duff
Utkarsh Ambudkar – Grant
Jun Squibb – Agnes
Jane Curtin – Moira

Ashens and the Polybius Heist Review

Ashens and the Polybius Heist movie posterSynopsis
Ashens (Stuart Ashen) is a collector of rare but worthless collectibles. When he learns the location of the Polybius, a mythical 80s arcade game, he puts together a crew to acquire it.If you’re going to pull a heist, this is not the crew you want.

Review
Before going into this review, there are two things you should know about me: 1) I consider myself a nerd, and 2) I love heist films. So when I read the synopsis for Ashens and the Polybius Heist, I knew immediately that it was going to be a film I would enjoy. Crowd funded and featuring several online personalities, Ashens and the Polybius Heist is made with an evident passion from the cast and crew. This passion seeps from the screen; clearly the filmmakers created a product they would enjoy which in turn made in enjoyable for the rest of us.

The creators behind Ashens and the Polybius Heist describe the film as a β€œlove letter to geek and retro culture” and that’s exactly what it feels like. There are so many homages to classic films such as Indiana Jones and the Raiders of the Lost Ark, Star Wars, Ocean’s Eleven, Mission Impossible, and so many more. Gaming and nerd culture also get plenty of call outs and references as well, from cliches like making rude comments about someone’s mother while playing video games to attending conventions, as well as vast amounts of classic and vintage memorabilia. If you’ve embraced the culture yourself, then you’re going to be pleased with the attention and care it takes when portraying it on screen. It’s easy to see that the creators embrace the culture themselves and brought what they love about it into this movie.

Since this film parodies heist films, particularly the aforementioned Ocean’s Eleven with less-than-subtle references, it too relies heavily on the chemistry between the core cast of characters. Also much like its inspiration, each member of the ensemble pairs well with every other member of the the group. Seriously, no matter the combination, every scene is full of laughs and enjoyment that it is hard to be bored while watching this film. Stuart Ashen and Eli Silverman, the George Clooney and Brad Pitt of the movie respectively, are the foundation of the cast and are delightful to watch. Ashen in general works well with whichever member of the cast he is paired with. While everyone had their moments and enjoyable quirks, two stand-outs to me are Daniel Hardcastle as Cube, the β€œeye in the sky,” and Jarred Christmas as Jarred, the β€œsmooth man.” As someone who works with computers myself, hearing Hardcastle spit programming jargon was entertaining. As for Jarred, his awkwardness when trying to distract his marks was relatable and charming. If I had to give you one reason to watch this film, it would be for the cast.

If you need another reason to check out Ashens and the Polybius Heist, then check it out for the writing. The script is witty and tight. With a run time clocking in around 90 minutes, this film doesn’t have much room for excess plot. While the time might be short, this movie never feels rushed or that there are things missing, pacing itself extremely well. On top of that, there is a payoff for pretty much everything. Even a small comment about maintaining a nice lawn to collecting donations for the heist payoff throughout the film. And there is no shortage of laughs. This film is targeted towards an audience member like me so I might be a little bit biased here but there were very few few jokes or gags that didn’t land for me. I was laughing from beginning to end.

The biggest drawback to this film is the villain (who humorously is literally named β€œantagonist”). Antony Agonist (Stuart Barter), serves nothing more than to be the person who has what the crew is trying to obtain. He’s shallow and cliched. Although, I guess that might be the point. The film pokes fun at tropes associated with heist films and undeveloped antagonists are usually one of those tropes. Unfortunately, that leads into another gripe is that at times it feels too cliched, going against convention at times simply because it is against convention. For the most part this approach works but it happens a time or two too many.

I thought Ashens and the Polybius Heist was GOOD πŸ™‚ I feel that films featuring online personalities and influencers don’t have the best reputation. However, there is obviously a lot of dedication and heart that went into making this movie. That passion translated into a product that pays homage to many fandoms in nerd culture and appeals across a wide range of audiences. Whether you are a part of that culture or not, this film has something for you to enjoy.

Favorite Quote
While playing a video game
Cube: How did you do it? You’re cheating as well!
Annalise: Oh, don’t say that. Oh, I’m going to say mean things about your mum in a minute.
Vocal: Your mum is the nicest person I think I’ve ever met. She’s, like, so kind.
Annalise: Where’s my head gone? There’s so much blood, I’m going to have PTSD.
Cube: Your mum’s so fat! Well, she’s lost a lot of weight recently actually. She looks really good for it to be perfectly honest.

Trailer

Cast & Crew
Riyad Barmania – Director / Writer
Stuart Ashen – Writer

Stuart Ashen – Ashens
Eli Silverman – Benny
Jarred Christmas – Jarred
Alyssa Kyria – Annalise
Katia Kvinge – Vocal
Daniel Hardcastle – Cube
Yiannis – Yiannis Vassilakis
Ryan Livermore – Ryan
Dan Tomlinson – Geoff Excellence
Barry Lewis – Chef Assistance
Jonti Picking – Handsome Man
Steve Langley – Attractive Man
Joanna O’Connor – Christine Ashen
Stuart Barter – Antony Agonist
Robert Llewellyn – The Professor
Nigel Fairs – Jonathan Ashen


Ashens and the Polybius Heist is now available for streaming. For all viewing options, head over to watchpolybiusheist.com.

Mulan (2020) Review

Mulan movie posterSynopsis
Mulan (Yifei Liu) disguises herself as a man to join the royal army when the Emperor (Jet Li) decrees that every family must send one man to enlist after China is attacked by BΓΆri Khan (Jason Scott Lee) and his army.

Review
The live-action Disney remake train just keeps on rolling. This time it’s Mulan’s turn, following in the footsteps of remakes of other Disney Renaissance films such as Beauty and the Beast, Aladdin, and The Lion King. The animated Mulan film is one of the favorites in my family, so we watched Mulan together. We’ve had mixed opinions about the recent live-action remakes but we went into this film hopeful that one of our favorites would be just as enjoyable as the original. But like Disney’s other attempts to translate beloved animated classics to live-action, Mulan fell short.

Before I get into what I didn’t like, I’ll talk about what I did like. Mulan looks beautiful. The color palette is very vivid and bright. The fight sequences were well choreographed, taking inspiration from classic Kung Fu movies with characters performing acrobatic feats. During the fight sequences, the action was mostly in-frame without much shaky cam, one of my personal pet peeves. So to summarize, everything looked nice.

However, a movie is not going to stand on visuals alone and unfortunately, that’s about all this film had going for it. From a characters perspective, there was little to no growth for any of the characters but particularly for Mulan (Yifei Liu). From the opening scene, she is shown to be someone with extraordinary ability and talent, possessing a large amount of β€œchi.” Since she started out with immense power, she didn’t have anywhere to grow. For example, in the animated original, Mulan learned to use her intelligence to overcome obstacles. There was none of that learning here. In the animated original, we could see Mulan wasn’t that strong, but through hard work we saw her grow into a formidable warrior. There was none of that growth here. When Mulan wanted to do something, she was just able to do it. This type of character who can do everything naturally has been a favorite of Disney’s lately but it is not the correct way portray characters who are supposed to be role models for younger audiences.

Another great part of the 1998 Mulan is the abundance of different and memorable characters. Characters like Yao, Po, and Ling each have their own personalities and different aspects that make them unforgettable. And I can’t say enough about Eddie Murphy’s Mushu, who single handedly carries the movie with his charm, charisma, and humor. The 2020 Mulan has none of these fun characters. In fact, it was very hard for me to tell Yao, Po, Ling, and Cricket (who is a human character now instead of an actual cricket) apart from each other. During their introductions it was easier because they quoted lines from their animated counterparts but after that, I couldn’t tell you who was who. Even Mulan’s love interest blends in with these characters and doesn’t stand out in any way. All the supporting characters simply felt the same.

A large part due to the fun characters mentioned above, the animated classic, despite its setting of war and some dark moments, is still a light and joyous film. This film, on the other hand, is the exact opposite, which I guess isn’t that surprising given it lacks any kind of entertaining characters and Yifei Liu gives a mostly wooden performance, making it difficult to tell any emotion she is feeling. This film takes itself way too seriously and completely misses what made its animated predecessor so endearing.

I thought Mulan was OK 😐 This film’s biggest fault is that it doesn’t understand what made the original work so well and become a beloved instant classic. It’s a pretty wrapping surrounding a humorless, lifeless husk inside that is stuck going through the motions. There’s no fun, there’s no drama, and there’s no reason to like or care for any of these characters. Years ago when Disney announced plans for live-action remakes of many of their films, I was cautiously optimistic. Now, after several films that haven’t lived up to the legacy of the originals and failed to bring anything new to their stories or characters, I think it’s safe to say I am no longer excited for many of the upcoming live-action remakes. Now I’m just scared.

Trailer

Cast & Crew
Niki Caro – Director
Rick Jaffa – Screenplay
Amanda Silver – Screenplay
Elizabeth Martin – Screenplay
Lauren Hynek – Screenplay
Harry Gregson-Williams – Composer

Yifei Liu – Mulan
Jason Scott Lee – BΓΆri Khan
Li Gong – Xianniang
Donnie Yen – Commander Tung
Yoson An – Honghui
Tzi Ma – Zhou
Rosalind Chao – Li
Pe=Pei Cheng – Matchmaker
Xana Tang – Xiu
Ron Yuan – Sergeant Qiang
Jun Yu – Cricket
Chen Tang – Yao
Doua Moua – Po
Jimmy Wong – Ling
Jet Li – Emperor
Nelson Lee – Chancellor

Tenet Review

Tenet movie posterSynopsis
A CIA agent (John David Washington) is recruited into a secret organization known as β€œTenet,” who are trying to prevent a catastrophe worse than Armageddon.

Review
Over the years, Christopher Nolan has made a name for himself with his high-concept films, containing multiple levels, where nothing is exactly what it seems, and often require several rewatches to fully grasp the nuances and details of the story. With Tenet, Christopher Nolan might have made the most Christopher Nolan film to date. From the explosive opening scene to the mind-bending final scene, Tenet continuously leaves you feeling one step behind as you try to put the pieces together before realizing you aren’t even working on the same puzzle as Nolan is working with.

One thing I really appreciate in Nolan’s style of film making is his commitment to practical effects. Zero green screens were used during the production of this movie, which is an impressive feat given the idea that people and objects can move backwards in time or the scale of some of the action pieces. Nolan’s sincerity in wanting to keep everything in-camera creates a level of authenticity in Tenet that very few action films these days have. We’ve seen directors more and more in recent years move away from CGI back towards practical effects and I for one could not be happier. While there have been some really great worlds created with computer special effects, nothing beats feeling like what you’re watching on screen is real. Hopefully with this film, Nolan has inspired more directors to do more of the same.

In today’s world of remakes and reboots, Nolan has stood out as a director and writer who regularly brings original concepts to cinema. While Tenet does take inspiration from espionage thrillers of the past, and time travel movies have been done numerous times in Hollywood, there is still something that feels fresh and unique about the film. As I said, one of Nolan’s trademarks is a multi-layered story filled with details easily missed in the initial viewing and that is no less true in Tenet, which given the way the film uses time-travel, multiple watches are almost a necessity.

But with this film’s complexity comes a slow start. As exciting as the opening scene was, it took some time to get going. In order to properly get the idea of inversion across required a bit of exposition. Also, not much is given on what the organization of Tenet is or what exactly they are doing. As a result, a fair chunk of the beginning I felt lost as to what John David Washington’s character was doing and working towards. I don’t think the character knew exactly either and by keeping the audience in the dark as well, Nolan was trying to put us in the same boat as the character. While this can work, taking too long to get to the payoff can become frustrating and remove the audience member from the film. Once I really got into the idea of inversion and at least some idea of the plans of Washington’s character then I was able to settle into the film more. However, there was still a lot left unrevealed until the final act, and sometimes even the final minutes. The same can be said for the characters themselves, who receive very little in terms of development. Even though much is disclosed in the end, it does little to help their development.

Of course, what might have contributed to my confusion was the fact that it was very difficult to hear what the characters were saying half of the time. Another signature of a Nolan film is a boisterous score. And while such a score can work, the sound mixing in Tenet made it more of a burden than an enhancement. It’s hard to understand what is happening when you cannot hear the exposition.

I thought Tenet was GOOD πŸ™‚ In classic Christopher Nolan fashion, this film has an ambitious concept with a very intricate plot that will certainly require multiple viewings to fully catch all of the details. As a fan of great action sequences, this film is chock full of amazing set pieces all done using practical effects for an absolutely stunning experience. However, the beautiful wrapping covers up a lack of any character development and the score is the most in-your-face and obtrusive of any of Nolan’s films. Nonetheless, Tenet’s originality and creativity is refreshing in today’s landscape of remakes and reboots.

Trailer

Cast & Crew
Christopher Nolan – Director / Writer
Ludwig GΓΆransson – Composer

John David Washington – The Protagonist
Robert Pattinson – Neil
Elizabeth Debicki – Kat
Kenneth Branagh – Andrei Sator
Aaron Taylor-Johnson – Ives
Himesh Patel – Mahir
ClΓ©mence PoΓ©sy – Barbara
Michael Cain – Michael Crosby
Dimple Kapadia – Priya
Martin Donovan – Victor
Fiona Dourif – Wheeler