Ralph goes online and gets distracted by pop-up ads while Vanellope gets so obsessed with a Grand Theft Auto racing universe (led by Gal Gadot) that she decides not to come back. King Candy is dead, so Alan Tudyk returns as Ask Jeeves, while back at the arcade Felix and Calhoun raise a house full of adopted Sugar Rush racers. Maybe it suffered from high expectations because the first movie was great, and this one is just… cute. Corporate synergy both bad (any Fandango references) and good (room full of Disney princesses).
War Machine (2017, David Michôd)
Oh no, Brad Pitt looks sad. I’m guessing all the fun light comedy from the first half turned sour when people started dying in whatever war this is. Then Rolling Stone writes a mean article about their squad, and smartass Topher Grace argues with another guy. Pitt, using a toned-down version of his Basterds accent, says goodbye to his men and flies off to be fired by the President over the article, according to a cheese voiceover, everything moving just as slow as it can. Nice closing-credits Blues Explosion song, tho. Netflix is now making their own prestige pics with major movie stars from the director of The Rover, but I still read reviews instead of just watching whatever they place in front of me, and the reviews said nah. Speaking of which…
Beasts of No Nation (2015, Cary Fukunaga)
UN blue-helmets disarm a large troop of child soldiers to slow doom-music. The rescued kids have trouble adjusting to the peaceful community, are tormented. These prestige pics, nothing really happens in the last ten minutes, it’s all boring epilogue. Time to switch to something more disreputable.
Clinical (2017, Alistair Legrand)
Another “netflix original,” this one a mystery/horror by Michel Legrand’s legrand-nephew. I don’t like to speculate on the first 90 minutes of these movies, but from the screens flying by as I fast-forwarded, it appears that 75% of this movie is conversations inside a house, then in the last quarter there’s some home invasion action. When I hit play, there’s a conversation in a house in the dark. Jane is being tormented by a disfigured, possibly incestuous torturer backstory-expositionist. Our lead kidnapped psychiatrist is Vinessa Shaw (lead prostitute of Eyes Wide Shut), who escapes and beats hell out of her captor (Kevin Rahm of the Lethal Weapon remake) then rips his face off. Between the psychiatry angle and the face removal, it looks like someone has been watching Silence of the Lambs.
Spectral (2016, Nic Mathieu)
Ah good, an action movie with a dingy blue-brown color palette for a change. Guns with thick cables attached making a whiny powering-up sound, it seems we are in sci-fi action territory… ah yup there are spectral aliens in clone-pods. This looks like a Starship Troopers sequel with ghosts. Pretty cool effects – a good guy set off a superbomb that accidentally freed all the spectres, then another guy pulled their power cord leaving them all suspended and slo-mo evaporating. “They’re not alive… they’re not dead.” Science-hating dude who I’m going to assume is Jimmy Dale of World War Z discovers some brain/nerve experiments controlling the spectres and murders them all. Writer George Nolfi directed The Adjustment Bureau and wrote Oceans Twelve.
Doctor Strange (2016, Scott Derrickson)
Everyone in the city is frozen except Chiwetel Ejiofor and Benedict Cumberbatch. BC flies into space, protecting himself from a galaxy-god in a time-loop with a magic shield – speaking of which, how come everyone on the internet is so conflicted about Patty Jenkins directing this week’s superhero movie when they gave this thing to the director of Hellraiser: Inferno? “Pain’s an old friend,” says a frankly unconvincing BC, trying to channel Hellraiser. He tricks the god into sparing Earth, then some underlit Infinity Stone sequel-setup mumbo, and I skipped to the awkward cutscene with Thor.
Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon 2: Sword of Destiny (2016, Yuen Woo-Ping)
Hero-style, it looks like a soldier did something great in order to get close enough to slay the king. Outside, all hell breaks loose, Michelle Yeoh and her team versus an army, with some really nice wall-stepping, float-jumping, sword-thwacking action. “Now you will join your beloved, Li Mu Bai” – this looks like a killer movie, but this rebels-vs-kingdom stuff seems out of charaacter with the romantic original. Also, like an idiot I changed the language to Chinese then changed it back when I realized the movie was shot in English. Anyway Donnie Yen defeats Lord Whoever, and our heroes return to the mountain Zhang Ziyi jumps from in the original.
Hyena Road (2015, Paul Gross)
How can I pass up the Canadian war movie that was the subject of Guy Maddin’s Bring Me the Head of Tim Horton? Looks like some shit is going down, and the Taliban is fighting back hard. Whoa, a soldier got his legs blown off then crawled away. Music and camerawork all seem like the usual mediocrity. Then the lead guy authorizes his men to blow him up in order to take out the bad guys, after some military types shout numbers and codes at each other very emotionally (“three! niner alpha!!”). In the end we see that the Canadians died for a noble cause, that the good guys are good indeed, and war is necessary. I failed to spot Maddin playing a dead body. Writer/director Gross was a lead actor in Slings & Arrows.
Special Correspondents (2016, Ricky Gervais)
Forgot about this until it showed up on a favorite critic’s “worst of the century” list. So it’s a fake-kidnapping-turned-real-kidnapping comedy-turned-drama, with Gervais and that Hulk guy Eric Bana. I think Gervais is on drugs, singlehandedly shoots his way out of Ecuador to Motorhead’s “Ace of Spades”. Hey, it’s America Ferrera and Kevin Pollak, then the movie peters out. “This is like the end of a movie.” “A low-budget movie, maybe.” Remake of a French film with Omar Sy, which is hard to picture.
Zootopia (2016, Disney)
We watched the first 15 of this once and it was insufferable so we quit, then it won an oscar. So let’s check out the last 15 – maybe that’s where all the better-than-Kubo stuff is hiding. Good bootleg-Disney-movies joke… then we’re in a meth lab on a train, odd. “Doug is the opposite of friendly… he’s UNfriendly.” Uh oh, the sheep mayor is the bad guy, with a speech about teaming up to defeat the predators, which doesn’t sound so bad really, then she turns our fox hero evil with drugs, sort of, then a final speech about how we have to understand each other and improve the world. I forget that award voters translate “best animated film” into “cutest message-movie for kids”.
Owen is graduating soon, getting his own place, in a relationship, finding employment. He’s also got autism, and didn’t speak for years as a kid until his parents figured out that he’d memorized all the Disney movies they had on video, and learned to speak to him in character with Disney dialogue. So the movie follows Owen now, and through photos and home videos from the past, drawings and cartoons by French effects company Mac Guff, and editing of Disney emotions into real events. Owen and his dad do decent character voices, and someone on letterboxd writes “This is the happiest you’ll ever be to see Gilbert Gottfried.”
Moana’s island is dying because demigod Maui desecrated a statue, and the villagers are strictly forbidden from sailing beyond the island, but Moana’s grandma doesn’t care about these men and their dumb rules, urges Moana to do whatever the hell she wants, then dies. Helped out by ocean magic (which is why the water rises and twists on the poster) and accompanied by an idiot chicken, Moana appeals to Maui to retrieve his magic-wand fishhook from a greedy Jemaine-voiced crab and help her return a magic stone to the volcanic lava beast, returning harmony to the land. Good songs and beautiful water and fire effects (the characters were okay – I’ll take the chicken over Moana or Maui). Directors Clements & Musker also made lost classic The Great Mouse Detective. Of the Disney animated features I’ve watched most recently, this trounces Big Hero 6 and Frozen and Mulan, but I still prefer Wreck-It Ralph over all. Looks like The Princess and the Frog should be next to watch.
Nobody wanted to pick between the Rohmer and the Pasolini, so I brought out the dark-horse Disney flick as a sorry compromise. I heard it might actually be great, but it was… okay. Had to get used to the digital animals looking so cartoony in motion, though their speech and mouth movements were the most realistic I’ve seen since Whiskers, The Kitten Who Can Name Fruit. Admittedly this was probably better in theaters in 3D, but we watched in HD on our big screen with the volume up, so I feel like if there’s real magic, we would’ve felt it. Anyway it was fun.
Songs worked better in context of the cartoon, and were pried into this version, making it feel like it’s referencing the original – so not only a remake for new audiences, but one that wants you to have watched the original. Between that and the cartoony animals wanting so badly to be real, it’s a conflicted movie – one of Disney’s “live action” remakes without much live action (the kid was okay).
Usually I don’t notice celebrity voice casting so much, but it’s hard to miss Christopher Walken (King Louie) and Bill Murray (Baloo). Katy recognized Idris Elba (evil tiger), Scarlett Johansson (evil snake), and Ben Kingsley (fatherly panther Bagheera). Apologies to Garry Shandling and Giancarlo Esposito and Lupita Nyong’o, I guess, for blending in and not sounding distractingly like stunt celeb casting.
Its jungle is a complete simulacrum: Everything from the birds to the leaves is artificial, which means that nothing can ever stand out as unreal. The ironic exception is Sethi’s manic Mowgli, mugging on partial sets against blue screen; in a digital world realized by a dream team of effects studios, the one real thing seems fake.
Never before realized that Baloo is a sloth bear.
The Little Matchgirl (2006, Roger Allers), which I saw in theaters. Huh, it was supposed to be part of a third Fantasia feature, hence the music score with no dialogue or effects. Oscar-nominated with The Danish Poet and Pixar’s Lifted. Allers worked on The Prophet, which we missed at filmstreams this year.
Lorenzo (2004, Mike Gabriel), great one, jazzy and dancey. Blue cat in a rich house taunts the street cats outdoors, gets cursed so his puffy tail will have a mind of its own. Gabriel codirected Pocahontas and The Rescuers Down Under. This was oscar-nominated along with Ryan and Guard Dog, and I’m surprised I never saw it until now. Also part of the cancelled Fantasia 3, along with Destino and South African kite-flying short One By One.
John Henry (2000, Mark Henn), strange, unfinished-looking with squigglevision pencil marks visible around the blocky human figures. Katy recognized the voice of narrator Alfre Woodard. Part of Disney’s post-Lion King discovery of non-white people.
How to Hook Up Your Home Theater (2007, Deters & Wermers), cute, fast-paced Goofy short with lots of classic-Disney references. Has a shot-on-film look to it (it wasn’t: made with cintiqs and toon boom). Played in theaters with National Treasure 2 for some reason.
Tick Tock Tale (2010, Dean Wellins), sentimental story of novelty clock in a clock shop (where all the timepieces come to life after hours, natch) who saves the others from a burglary but is destroyed in the process. Will the clockmaker repair the heroic clock or leave it in pieces in the trash? Not telling! Wellins is a writer/animator/composer involved with The Iron Giant and The Princess and the Frog.
Prep & Landing: Operation Secret Santa (2010, Deters & Wermers), where two elves are on a Mission: Impossible-referencing assignment from Mrs. Claus to retrieve a trinket from Santa’s workshop so she can give him a sentimental Christmas gift. Apparently a spinoff from a half-hour special released with the 3D version of Monsters Inc. Dave Foley played one of the elves – coincidentally since we just rewatched A Bug’s Life.
The Ballad of Nessie (2011, Deters & Wermers), poem about how Nessie the sea monster was displaced from her natural habitat by mini-golf course construction, and cried herself a new lake to live in, surely displacing thousands of mammals in her selfish quest to find a new home. Narrated by Billy Connolly, the only Scotsman known to Hollywood. I liked the tartan-patterned hills.
Part of Disney’s ongoing live-action-remake series. This one adds nothing to the Cinderella story, fails to update or improve it in any way, has no seeming artistic reason to exist. But gee, it’s pretty.
From the director of Thor and writer of Antz, starring cousin Rose from Downton, with Daisy as one wicked stepsister, Cate Blanchett the wicked stepmother, Derek Jacobi (The King’s Speech) the king, Helena Bonham Carter the fairy godmother, Rob Brydon as a painter and a voice actor from the Castlevania games as the prince.
Ouch from Dissolve:
The film just touts, with sparkly but plodding repetition, the outsized, eventual rewards for being a sweet, brave dishrag that causes no trouble and makes no waves. … Asked why she stays on in such a horrible household, she explains that she’s doing it to respect her parents’ memory. By intepreting “be kind” as “be passive,” she teaches herself to be happy with physical and emotional abuse, to accept it as the norm, as the price of respecting her dead family. It’s a grotesque message, presented with perverse cheer, through a character who’s more idealized martyr than relatable hero.
Opened with a short called Frozen Fever, in which all your favorite Frozen characters smile almost nonstop, sing a song, catch a cold and celebrate a birthday. Didn’t hold a candle to Partysaurus Rex.
Oh no, I got behind on the blog and didn’t write about these.
I tend to forget shorts pretty fast, so I’m using web sources to recall which of these was which.
Me and My Moulton (Torill Kove)
Narrated memoir of three girls growing up in a normal town with not-normal parents – they are art and design obsessed, and when the kids ask for bicycles they finally get a weird one the proud parents have mail-ordered. Kove won best picture in 2006 for The Danish Poet.
Feast (Patrick Osborne)
We saw this before, playing with Big Hero 6, and I forgot to mention it then. Dog’s-eye-view of food, food, doomed human relationship, more food. Osborne worked on Bolt, Tangled and Wreck-It Ralph.
The Bigger Picture (Daisy Jacobs)
One of my favorite things: wall drawings and real objects interacting, 2D and 3D blending, like the drawn animations on paper-mache backgrounds in Rocks In My Pockets, or in a different sense, the dimension-based drama of Rabbit and Deer. But while I love the idea, it’s still a drab little story about fighting siblings and a dying parent.
A Single Life (Blaauw/Oprins/Roggeveen)
My favorite – also the shortest. Woman puts a 45 on the player, and finds that if she skips to different parts of the record, she travels to different times in her own life. IMDB claims the story was conceived on a drunken college night.
The Dam Keeper (Kondo & Tsutsumi)
Lonely pig runs the windmill that keeps the darkness at bay, but nobody in town loves or respects him so one day he lets the darkness in. Both directors worked on Pixar movies. This was cool, dark and imaginative, so naturally there’s talk of sequels and franchises and live-action remakes.
Sweet Cocoon (Bernard/Bruget/Duret/Marco/Puiraveau)
A student film, I think. A caterpillar is fat!
Duet (Glen Keane)
Keane has been in animation forever, was a lead character animator on many Disney features, and this is his first solo film. A boy is sporty, and a girl is graceful, and they like each other, all in one continual, fluid animation. Katy thought it reinforced oppressive gender roles, but that was before she saw the new Cinderella.
Footprints (Bill Plympton)
Moebius-strip footprint-following detective story.
Bus Story (Tali)
Another memoir, this time of a young woman who dreams of being a bus driver, so rents a shitty bus from its grumpy owner. Tali made La Pirouette, which I saw in 2002 and liked, though I can’t remember at all.
Something wonderful (inflatable medical robot turned flying/fighting machine against its own will) combines with standard superhero-team origin-story and standard double-revenge plot with standard twist ending (you mean the most extremely obvious suspect doesn’t turn out to be the shadowy masked villain?). Adequately racially/sexually-diverse team of genius tech-nerd college kids use their lab experiments to defeat their own professor who has hijacked young Hiro’s micro-bots to destroy the military-capitalist who sent the prof’s daughter into another dimension. Interdimensional rescue of cryo-sleeping daughter unexpectedly recalls Interstellar, and robot’s self-sacrifice to serve man, floating away half-wrecked, recalls Terminator 2. Actually made me kinda sad, but as with Guardians of the Galaxy, we get a rebirth epilogue. As much as the world calls out for sequels to recent hit Disney movies, they keep putting out new stuff like this, to their credit.