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Isle of Dogs

In the not-too-distant future Japan, an epidemic of dog flu causes a quarantine of all and any canine throughout Megasaki City, exiling them to Trash Island. One boy, Atari Kobayashi, will stop at nothing to return his best friend Spots back home.

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And Tilda Swinton voices a TV-loving pug named Oracle. I love her.

Of course I enjoyed this. It’s Wes Anderson and stop motion animation. About dogs. That’s three of my favorite things right there. And the title’s a pun, that’s awesome. Not to mention, all of the little subtleties within the narrative that speaks volumes about the various themes of the

But first, the bad stuff.

Upon a simple googling, the topic of cultural appropriation and stereotyping popped up quite a bit, so I’m going to explain my views on this, the best that a white-cis-straight-middle-class-American can.

It is true that even though it’s set in Japan and many characters speak Japanese, the main cast is predominantly white, thusly advancing the plot the most.

This effectively “others” the Japanese cast, resulting in villainous Japanese and white heroes, that is, if you count the dogs as white.

My immediate response is that dogs don’t have a race other than dogs, so on the voice-acting part, I don’t think that main cast makes a difference: they speak common. The whole movie deals with themes of miscommunication and finding understanding. The language barrier isn’t treated as a joke or anything of that nature. (If anything, it’s hilarious to have puppies sound like babies.) The real trouble is the only American character, Tracy Walker.

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Voiced by Greta Gerwig

Tracy acts as a leader for the rebels against the pro-cat regime. Unfortunately because she is white, she stumbles into the “white savior” role. It could be argued that she is a characterization of the idea that folks of different cultures can learn from/help one another through understanding, but that is a very rough sell.

I honestly believe that those parts of the plot could have been re-written so it were less dialogue-based. Even though I don’t speak Japanese, it wasn’t hard to figure out what was happening on the villains’ end, so there’s no reason why our little scientific revolutionary couldn’t have been Japanese.

Another argument is that Japan serves as just a backdrop for this film: not having any weight to the plot, but at least feature old-timey Japanese staples (samurai, sumo and taiko drums). Albeit, these staples still hold influence today – and it’s not like there aren’t historical fables in western films (and it can be argued that Isle of Dogs is like a reverse Hachikō).

Additionally, I have seem some folks mention that the use of mushroom clouds is in bad taste, but I don’t believe this was intentional – I think it was just a large boom for the sake of comedy, and there many ways it could have been much worse. Personally, I think this film is only offensive if you’re looking to be offended.

Now that I’m done with that heaviness, this movie really is delightful. Amazingly, no animal gets killed – that’s a Wes Anderson first. It’s a story of a boy and his dog as well as understanding and change, and it is wonderful.

 

 

 

 

 

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Star Wars: The Last Jedi

I took my sweet time getting to the theatre on this one, especially after each spoiler-free headline I caught was incredibly divisive – I mean, to think that the prequels could be considered canon over Last Jedi? It’s like everyone’s taking crazy pills. In lieu of the screaming, I thought I would talk out the good and bad of the latest in the franchise. If you don’t want spoilers, I’ll just tell you that I liked it – other than that, read no further.

Okay.

The Thing That Made Me Literally Say “What the f*ck?” Out Loud
Yes, I am talking about Leia revealing her Force powers. I don’t believe that there was any doubt that she had some sort of Force ability (considering her bloodline) but some sort of hint within the film series would have been nice. Sure she didn’t have any Jedi training, but we could have seen her meditate or something like that.

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God I miss you.

Otherwise, having her Superman to safety so dramatically was utterly ridiculous. And personally, I think it would have been more appropriate if she had died then and there – hear me out:

Much of Kylo Ren’s character development is hindering on his internal conflict (okay, so he’s the embodiment of internal conflict) – I personally loved that moment of hesitation which lead to someone shooting Leia before him. If she had died, the audience would know that he would have had to live with the fact that he did not kill her in the end, furthering his self-doubt.

Now that I think about it, Kylo probably doesn’t know that she survived, so better yet, he still knows that he hesitated. There will always be doubt, but more on him later.

Finn’s Storyline / The Rebels
For the most part, Finn’s plot felt like busywork. Arguably the disastrous chain of events could be blamed on Laura Dern’s character, Admiral Holdo. Though I do believe that she was mostly a foil to Poe Dameron, to prove that there is benefit to strategy over impulse, it would have been most beneficial for her to maybe, I don’t know, explain this plan to him? Maybe it was just hubris on her part, like she had something to prove?

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I am grateful that Kelly Marie Tran has finally broken away from College Humor.

However, because the true Rebels made their own plans, we got to see a different side of the war, which I appreciated. Being that the main plot is so caught up in light v. dark, it was nice to see neutral parties, as well as how other parts/people of the galaxy is affected – and thanks to Finn and Rose, a new generation of rebels are inspired.

Unfortunately, a lot of this is lost in an overdrawn chase sequence. Additionally I dug Rose as a character, but the romance angle near the end seemed like too much too fast (not a fan).

The Death of Luke

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I really dig this look.

Many folks took umbrage to how Luke met his end. After all, this was the greatest Jedi in the galaxy, and he Force-projected himself to death. Thematically, I thought this worked. The showdown with Kylo was incredibly satisfying, and Kylo knows that he could not best Luke in the end. Furthermore, Kylo has no idea that Luke actually died, so he lives on in legend.

I actually enjoyed everything with Luke – the angst, the bitterness, and ultimately the redemption. Many also hated the fact that he tried to kill young Ben Solo – but it was a subconscious fleeing doubt and nothing more – a misunderstanding that he had to own up to. I also almost cried with happiness when puppet Yoda came back to teach Luke a final lesson. So with his demise, I have to agree with Rey: he was finally at peace, and knew that everything was going to be alright.

Oh Kylo…
I have mixed feelings about him. As a character, it’s great to have such a conflicted villain. On the other hand, his denial and outbursts are just childish and annoying. I want to see him use his failure to empower his rage – to own his mistakes to do better, to indeed let the rage flow through him – some confidence, goddammit. What do we have instead? Doubt and brooding. Lots of brooding.

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“So uh…later.”

Sure, he’s following Vader in letting his fear turn to anger, but if I recall, we didn’t really like Vader’s transition that much – it was better when we just knew him as a mysteriously powerful, unstoppable force. Don’t get me wrong, I love a good tragic villain, but they have to be a rare combination of well-written and well performed to gain a sympathetic audience.

The Critters
Obvious marketing ploy is obvious. However, the porgs weren’t nearly as annoying as I expected them to be, and their origin is actually quite charming. The crystal foxes didn’t really bother me either – I took more offense at a salt-coated planet, but that’s just me.

Final Thoughts: Legends Among Us
I think there’s something wonderful about the common theme of inspiring legends as well as belief. I really like that no matter what, Kylo will always be wrong: even after utter destruction, the stories will always endure, and so will hope. Even though the film ends on the note of “out-with-the-old,” the legends will remain at the core.

Baby Driver

Remember that amazing “Don’t Stop Me Now” sequence from Shaun of the Dead?

If it’s been a while, here’s a refresher:

Now if you take that and mix it with this Mint Royale video, then stretch it out for about two hours, you get Baby Driver in a nutshell.

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Never too much Kevin Spacey.

To break it down, after a run-in with a kingpin called Doc (Kevin Spacey), Baby (Ansel Elgort) is a reluctant driver for a small crime syndicate. Alas, as soon as things start going a little too well for Baby, a new player named Bats (Jamie Foxx) joins the crew, and it all descends into a high-octane venture of guts and gunplay.

From start to finish, I was completely entertained and intrigued: Baby Driver is a visual salad consisting of coordination and references (worth re-watching for), complete with a killer soundtrack to oomph every beat.

I immediately bought the soundtrack after seeing this movie, and plan on keeping it in my car for a very long time. This movie was made with such precision and love for music and tempo – I’d be amazed if this isn’t up for an Oscar for editing alone. Edgar Wright is no stranger to clever beats, but to have the characters move in time with the soundtrack – it’s just so cool.

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Adorable waitress = undoubtable Manic-pixie-dreamgirl.

Spoilers ahoy!

 

However, there is something that bothers me a lot. Not just that Baby had both the best and worst luck at any given moment (how did Buddy not die the first time!?), nor that Debora was a casual manic-pixie-dreamgirl.

It’s just, how in the world, considering Doc’s shrewd meticulousness, would he EVER want to work with Bats again? Additionally, why wouldn’t Doc mention that they were meeting with crooked cops? Would it have been such a risk to inform them beforehand? Also, considering Baby’s literal life of crime and socio-economic status, I think it goes without saying that he got off way too easily in the end.

Albeit, this is the world of action movies, and sometimes you have to remember that some things just happen because the plot says so. Nit-picks and plot-holes aside, Baby Driver is still an incredibly entertaining, original film with its own merits.

 

 

 

 

Netfix: Yoga Hosers

Roughly a year ago, Kevin Smith released Tusk into the world. Though it was not received kindly, behind the scenes of the grotesque adventure  was an entirely different scenario – a time of family bonding and friendship, as it were. After seeing his daughter and her best friend behind the clerk’s counter, Smith was inspired to weave a new story just for them.

And what a tale it is.

Yoga Hosers stars Harley Smith and Lily-Rose Depp as Colleen McKenzie and Colleen Collette, respectively. These two sophomores love to hang out, jam, and practice yoga. The only thing spoiling their precious youth is their part-time job at the local convenience store Eh-to-Zed.

 

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Glamthrax is an awesome band name.

One fateful day, everything changes for the Colleen Coalition: they are unexpectedly invited to a Year 12 Party! OMG! 😂

Frankly the first half-hour of the movie is pedantic teen nonsense with some Smodisms tossed in – but when Guy Lapointe (Johnny Depp reprising the role) steps in, things get really weird, and so much more fun. What begins as a teen romp snowballs (heheh) into a cascade of B-movie mayhem, with bratwurst Natzis. Bratzis.

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Justin Long as Yogi Bayer

The Good
This film was a family affair – chocked full of cameos (including both the girls’ families), references and easter-eggs. It’s obvious everyone was having fun on this one. Needless to say I am still looking forward to the final chapter of the True North Trilogy, Moose Jaws (which is like Jaws, but with a moose).

The Bad
Though the intentions were good, this portrayal of teenage girls was painfully pandering, to the point of being embarrassingly condescending. Also are undergrads trying to get into senior parties still a thing? (Was it ever a thing?)

Considering this was aimed towards modern teen girls, but features 80’s/90’s references, it’s hard to figure out who this movie’s really aimed at.

The “What the f*ck?”
Is it weird that I thought the bratzis were strangely adorable? …Did you know that is the same voice he uses to speak to his dogs? (Coincidently, Smith’s dachshund, Shecky, also makes a cameo.)

In all, this movie’s pretty fun. Dumb, but fun.

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Two gals, a Guy and a sausage party.

Kubo and the Two Strings

Just look at this trailer.

At first glance, I fell in love: the stop-motion mixed with a gorgeous cover of one of my favorite songs made my heart and imagination soar. Not to mention the hype in more recent ads, commending the film’s beauty and depth – I was stoked, to say the least. Alas, I left my seat feeling …well, underwhelmed.

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Even with these spooky badasses.

It’s strange to have a Japanese story with a predominately white cast – well, maybe not strange, after all, this has been happening for decades, why stop now? (Despite his appearance in the trailer, George Takei had maybe five lines.)

Though I do have to say that the film is objectively lovely – an absolute spectacle, but suffers under the weight of its own mythos; I found myself begging for more mysticism and lore, but I was only met with the same run-of-the-mill lessons of the importance of story-telling and familial commemoration. Not that these things aren’t important, but maybe I was expecting more depth or at least some deviation of some sort – or hey, maybe some sort of recognition of the shamisen’s significance and history?

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More on Kubo’s mom would have been fantastic.

Speaking of the shamisen, the score and tonality was gorgeous. I’m not sure if it was an issue of time or studio restrictions, but I would have appreciated this film a lot more if it revolved around more myth and magic – I want to know how Kubo learned about his gifts and if and how he was taught these abilities.

And as I mentioned, this is a spectacle – especially in 3D. Director Travis Knight and Laika are no strangers to the third dimension, and they work to capture the potential of this extra space. After all, this is a physical, hand-crafted medium, and I think that deserves some extra respect.

I felt pretty divided at the end of this one. It was lovely, but needed a lot more oomf. There’s a lot of heart to be had, but stops short of definition.

Ghostbusters

Yeh know… it wasn’t that bad.

For starters, I was born in 1991. I saw the original Ghostbusters probably after I saw Space Jam, if you want to put things into perspective. Yes, I loved it and continue to love it, but it did not impact me like those who grew up in the ’80s (or so it seems). And of course, when I initially heard about a remake (reboot?), I was annoyed – because why fix what ain’t broke? Then there was the lady news – I thought that would be kind of cool, but I was still more hung up on the idea that a remake wasn’t necessary. Now, did this movie deserve the outrage it received so early on? Absolutely not.

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I think they look pretty rad.

I’ll skip on the synopsis because it’s pretty straight forward, also spoiler alert.

It’s really hard not to harp on the gender issues here because frankly, all the tv spots about this movie are straight-up girl power – and again, this was one of the biggest public gripes. So let’s talk about, for a bit at least.

If I were 9 and saw this, I would love it to pieces. It’s fun and colorful and funny – and there are chicks kicking phantasmal ass. This is a movie I would need as a young girl, because goddammit, representation is important.  Anecdote: I was a ghostbuster for Halloween last year, and resorted to an ill-fitting men’s suit because otherwise, I had this. Much like skirts and baseball, skirts and ghostbusting don’t mix. (That was a loose League of Their Own – oh nevermind.)

As a young adult viewer, yes, this movie was very entertaining and enjoyable. I felt that the only time the gender-swap dynamic was shoved in your face was with Kevin (Chris Hemsworth) the receptionist, and Rowan (Neil Casey), the creepy villain. Well, I’m only adding Rowan as a devil’s advocate, because I’m sure some folks out there were all like “THE ONLY MEN IN THIS MOVIE WERE A DUMB HUNK AND A SMART CREEP – HOW DOES THIS REPRESENT MEN”

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I also wasn’t digging that he was just Stay Puft mk II.

If you are one of these people…well, maybe we could speak directly, civilly, but please leave capslock out of this – and of course, keep in mind that this is a comedy film that attempts to deviate from the norm. But frankly, working in a big city, I come across at least one Rowan daily, so he didn’t really stand out to me. He kind of bored me, to be honest. I would like to add on the aforementioned deviation note, it would be great of the villain wasn’t defeated with a crotch-shot.

 

 

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So cerebral.

Anywhoo, back to Kevin. I’m sure that some people, probably dudes, were miffed that the main dude was dumb eye-candy. Well, you best get used to it, because ladies have been putting up with this for way. too. long. Also you forget that Kevin’s a cerebral graphic artist as well as a model.

Sometimes he gets a little over the top, but I was still surprised by the directions they took with him. With the exception of the possession-angle, I suppose. Like I said, I just wasn’t impressed with Rowan.

Speaking of over-the-top, let’s talk tech! Who doesn’t love cool gadgets? Definitely not this movie! There was so much technobabble – so much unnecessary technobabble – and on top of that, the devices hardly made sense. It would’ve been cool to see where the line would be drawn between phantasmal and corporeal – the ghost and the goo, so to speak. I mean, Patty’s wood-chipper was brutal and all, but what stopped the ghosties from popping back out of the goo-pile? Is the goo just liquid ghost? Do we just become ooze?

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Merchandising! Merchandising!

And then Abby’s punchie-glove-thing just made no sense at all… You just can’t beat proton packs. I know I shouldn’t do this, but you have to give credit to the original on this one: the gadgets were established, and there were rules – and there was continuity with those rules. Sometimes rules suck, but most of the time they help enrich world building.

 

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Holtzmann even looks like animated Egon.

In the end, Ghostbusters did do a great job paying homage to the original(s) (I loved the cameos), but unfortunately lost a lot of definition in the process. Part of me feels that the story may had been better if it were an indirect sequel where the citizens of New York at least acknowledged the previous events – or maybe more direct,  passing of the torch or something while incorporating these new technologies. Maybe then less time would be spent with babble and more time for busting.

Final thought: I enjoyed this movie. I think if you go in with an open mind, you’ll do just fine. Lighten up.

 

 

Finding Dory

Thirteen years ago, a generation was taught when things get tough, just keep swimming. Now we learn of the origin of these sage words – yes, the truth is finally revealed about our favorite forgetful fish. Turns out she just kept swimming.

Dory’s search for her family lands her (joined by Marlin and Nemo) at California’s Marine Life Institute, home of a bunch of new merchandisable characters, namely a grumpy Pacific octopus (sorry, “septopus”) named Hank (voiced by Ed O’Neil). With the help of new and old friends, Dory finally finds the answers she’s always been looking for – at least, when she remembers.

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Finding Dory : Hank :: Mad Max: Fury Road : Imperator Furiosa

Amidst the overbearing sentimentality is genuine fun and sweetness – though it’s hard not to see that Finding Dory and Toy Story 2 are pretty much the same movie. In fact, every Pixar film is just the hero’s journey, isn’t it? Well, whatever works, I suppose – it’s not like it’s a bad thing…it just gets a little underwhelming.

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Also I like the little sound Destiny makes when she bumps into her tank.

Despite what could be considered a hindrance, I think the mentioned sweetness pulls through on this one. I mean, sure I also mentioned it’s over-sentimental, but this quality is presented in a manner that is neither annoying nor pandering.  It’s a lovely tale about family, friends, forgiveness, and of course, disability advocacy.

On that last note, I discovered that some audiences took umbrage with the treatment of some certain characters – namely a sea lion named Gerald.

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On the left.

I guess the thought is that though some of the characters were teased for their disabilities, they ultimately proved a greater point – namely Becky the loon – Gerald was a simpleton who was no more than the butt of some jokes. (And surprise surprise people were offended.◔_◔ I only learned about this when I was trying to find a picture of him.)

Personally, he unnerves me. And ultimately, my opinion is as follows: we don’t know Gerald. He could be a vicious baby killer or the sweetest sea critter since those cuddly otters. We also don’t know his relationship with Fluke and Rudder (the other sea lions). Heck, we hardly even know Fluke and Rudder. So what I guess I’m saying is please just calm the frack down.

In summation, Finding Dory is as charming and sentimental as one would expect, so if you’re a fan of Nemo you’ll probably really dig this as well – just be sure to stay after for some extra closure. Personally, I found the preceding short, Piper, to be much more charming – after all, less is more.

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Adorable and gorgeous.

 

 

Hail, Caesar!

It’s 1951 and the world of entertainment is on fire: the studio system is falling apart, television is on the rise, and the second Red Scare is running full-tilt. But during these times of great duress, Americans still turn to the silver screen for an escape – dramas, musicals, and of course, epics.

 

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Clooney-meets-Clancy epic.

It’s no secret that Hollywood itself is a hot mess of internal drama, and during a time when actors a literally owned by studios, it is of utmost importance that everything’s up to status-quo. Enter Capital Pictures’ key producer and “fixer,” Eddie Mannix (Josh Brolin). When Hollywood’s biggest star (George Clooney) goes missing, it’s up to Mannix to step in before the tabloids catch on.

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Tilda Swinton as a pair of twins with rival columns, Thora and Thessaly Thacker (Thessaly pictured).

 

Hail, Caesar! is a delightful mix of Lebowski/Burn After Reading hijinks met with the some bizarre meta qualities reminiscent of Barton Fink (not to mention the Fink references in themselves). There is also an underlying solemness to this film, especially considering our hero deals with personal dilemmas of both future and faith. After all, he’s a man who takes his sometimes dubious orders from a faceless voice, but also charmed by a future of nuclear proportions.

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Lady top, fish bottom, sailor’s mouth.

Of course, when things begin to get dour, we lighten up with a water ballet or a musical number – as I mentioned, this was a time of spectacle, so naturally as an audience we get to take part as well.

In all, Hail, Caesar! is a cynical love letter to old Hollywood. It’s a weird sort of folly with socio-eco-idiological ties. It’s masterfully shot, wonderfully designed, and the performances are fantastic (just the exchange between Ralph Fiennes and Alden Ehrenreich is worth it alone).

Additionally, it’s worth mentioning that the nature of god is portrayed with a sort of heavy-handed whimsy: we never see their face, but will still blindly follow their orders, no matter how questionable they are. Sometimes things work out – alas, would that it ’twere so simple.

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I’m not even the biggest Tatum fan, but I desperately want this to be a real thing.

 

 

WYSHW: Mary and Max

You know how I feel about stop-motion.

You know how I feel about stop-motion.

This is a film I came across some time ago. It stuck to the back of my memory and never left. Sadly, it is no longer streaming on Netflix, but you should see it if you get a chance; Adam Elliot’s Max and Mary– an animated tale of isolation, second-chances, and condensed milk. Among other things.

Mary Daisy Dinkle (Bethany Whitmore/Toni Collette) is a lonely Aussie girl who lives with her alcoholic mother and removed father. Max Jerrry Horovitz (Philip Seymour Hoffman), is an obese 40-something with Aspergers living in New York.

After a mishap with her mother at the post office, Mary reaches out to Max on a whim, with the hopes of gaining a pen pal. Max obliges, and the two strike a friendship which spans years, complete with misunderstandings and ups and downs – without ever meeting face-to-face.

What struck me most about Mary and Maxis it’s odd combination of charm and crudeness – the same sort of traits found in Elliot’s Oscar-winning short Harvie Krumpet. Additionally, there’s something wonderful, magical even, about the heaviness and intangibility of depression and anxiety crossed with such tangible media as clay figurines. Personally, I’m also a fan of more adult-themed stop-motion films (the more that disbands the thought that all animated features are for children, the better).

Perchance this film is not for everybody, but I think that Mary and Maxis at least worth a glance for the dry wit and dark humor.

Next time on What You Should Have Watched, let’s get some Julie Taymor in here.

Netfix: I Know That Voice

movie+posters+21Voice acting could easily be one of the most over-looked arts in the TV/film industry. It’s one thing for a well-known actor to provide a voice for a character – they’re mostly playing themselves. But for a person to hide themselves completely and be utterly unrecognizable amongst us common-folk, that takes talent.

I Know That Voice exposes and pays tribute to such talent as June Foray, Jeff Bennett, Daran Norris, Pamela Segall Aldon, Billy West, and many, many more. (Did you have to google some of those? I don’t blame you in the least.)

As far as documentaries go, you really can’t get any more cut-and-dry than this one. I Know That Voice goes into a brief history of the establishment of voice acting, talks about some industry pioneers, and carries on about recent happenings and new kinds of media. Plus it’s chocked full of all sorts of talent and trivia.

The Good
Now, I’m a total dork about this kind of stuff, so I really enjoyed learning about the history of voice acting as well as methods of the craft. I’d recommend this to anyone who loves learning about filmmaking – or loves cartoons.

The Bad
Nothing dates a documentary like bouncy, animated text. I’m not going to hold that against it, though.

The Just Plain Neat
Corey Burton illustrates his process for performing as Porky Pig – it’s pretty impressive.

This is just the tip of the iceberg.

This is just the tip of the iceberg.