Categories
4 Stars

Encanto (2021)

I am a sucker for many things in the movies, and one most definitely is when a film (animated or otherwise) has to do with a big family.

(Not to get too personal, but I have 6-8 siblings.)

Categories
1 Star Movies

Cinderella (2021)

If your movie is based on the world’s most popular fairy tale, then it can be understandable why you would want to put a twist or two on the story. Whether it was told by Disney (animated or live-action) or the lead was either Hilary Duff or the 90s pop star Brandy, Cinderella was always about a story enchanting girls and  young women with the dream that they would one day  be swept off their feet by that special someone. The newest version of Cinderella likes to add on that Ella can be her own woman and does not need a man to have her dreams come true. This of course is not a problem, but it was never what the source material was about.

They may as well have called this CRINGErella.

Categories
4 Stars Movies

Luca (2021)

Dear Link,

From all the stories and photos you mom put on social media, it did not take me long to realize you and your younger brother Lenny had a blast during your first ever trip to Disney World.

This, of course, has been a bit of a family tradition going back long before you were even born. It’s been nearly two decades since I was last there: Pirates of the Caribbean was not even a movie yet. It was also brought to my attention that, before you guys left, you and Lenny watched most of the Disney classics to prepare you. Take it from me, that is a lot of movies for two brothers who are only five and four!

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Movies

The Mitchells vs the Machines (2021)

This time of year, we normally get some original Netflix films that are not worth mentioning (such as the atrocity that is Thunder Force, a movie I detested so much I keep forgetting it is not called Thunder Rush). That irrelevant film took the superhero premise and made a family film that was not fun for anyone in the family. Thankfully, that film will be forgotten once families discover a film that was made for any member of the family: The Mitchells vs the Machines.

Categories
4 1/2 Stars Movies

Remember the Titans (2000)

The first time I discovered Remember the Titans was not until a year after its release, but it was just at the perfect time.

I was in 8th grade, so I would always be sure to hang out at the Friday night high school (DGS Mustangs!) football games with my friends. As a senior who played center, my older brother Adam would normally have some of the players over on weekends . It also helped that it was the year the school won it’s first (and so far only) State Championship in football. The second to last game of that season is still the best football game I ever saw, professional or otherwise. It was also when a player on the team had died the previous summer in a road accident. There are a lot of parallels between that time and this film (other parallels to be mentioned later).

Categories
5 Stars Movies

Au Revoir les Enfants (1987)

As we reach our teen years, world events start to play a bigger part in our lives in the classroom.

When I entered middle school back in 2000 (!), more people were talking about the election, only to be followed a year later by the 9/11 attacks. I can only imagine what the talks will be like with young people now regarding the COVID-19 pandemic (especially those like my brother Jackson who are in the graduating class of 2020). These were evident in my mind as I was watching Louis Malle’s Au Revoir les Enfants, a reflection of his own childhood during World War II in France.

Malle’s film (which translated is “Goodbye, Children”) focuses on the new semester of a Catholic boarding school, told mainly through the eyes of young Julien Quentin (Gaspard Manesse). About the age of 12 or 13, Julien is one of the brighter students of his class, yet still prone to cracking jokes and causing mild mischief. As any child would be at that age (regardless of when they lived), he acts tough around his friends but is still vunerable around his mother (his father is always at work).

Things change in the semester when a new student arrives: Jean Bonnet (Raphael Fejto). As is the case in all schools in society, he is picked on from the get go. He becomes Julien’s bunk mate, and eventual academic rival. It is only when a secret begins to be revealed that the two become eventual friends.

As stated before, this is a reflection of writer/director Malle’s own childhood (he is the Julien character). It is therefore evident that all minor details are completely accurate. The trading with the kitchen assistant Joseph (Francois Negret) of his mother’s jam for stamps, talking about the latest books read, smoking in secret, deep conversations (“I’m the only one in this school that thinks about death.”, Julien says), and the countless times of not paying attention in class (admit it, we all are guilty of this at least once in our childhood).

I truly admire how Malle takes his time to even mention world events. Though it can be rather easy to guess what time the film takes place in (mainly due to the production and costume design), it is not until around the 40 minute mark when kids even mention Hitler. Why is that? Simple. The movie is not about what is happening outside the school, but what is happening inside.

Parents, it is rather somewhat surprising to learn the film is PG. I would say it is one of the more “hard” PG films I have seen. That is not to say there is visible nudity/sexuality or anything. The boys basically talk about it a lot (as many are prone to at that age), not to mention the casual swearing all boys that age tend to do. The whole subject matter of the film makes me feel it should have been PG-13.

All the events of the film lead to a brief moment where one of the boys makes one simple, fatal mistake. Some viewers may be prone to accusation, wondering how he could do such a thing. While that reaction to accuse is understandable, we need to stop and think: How many mistakes as kids did we make that we regretted afterward? I doubt anyone would be truthful if they did not say at least one.

Though the consequences may not be as severe as those in the film, we still remember them years later. To be clear, I am not talking about the ones we look back on and laugh (none of those “kids say the darndest things” moments and the like). I am talking about the ones that fill you with remorse and that, even years later, you are still not entirely sure if you have completely forgiven yourself.

When the film ends (and we are done dabbing our teary eyes), we eventually remember that to err is truly human. Now to the next part, where to forgive is utterly divine.

Overall:

Rating: 5 out of 5.
Categories
4 Stars Movies

Stargirl (2020)

Truth be told (which I know I must do, especially after last week’s review), I had no real intention to review Stargirl.

My only interest in the film was that it starred former America’s Got Talent winner Grace Vanderwaal, who I admit to being a fan of a few of her songs. Add in the fact that this is the 16-year old’s first film and it is safe to say that I had cause for alarm.

Categories
5 Stars Movies

The Searchers (1956)

At the 92nd Academy Awards, when Bong Joon Ho was accepting his Oscar for Best Director (for Parasite), he paid tributes to each of his fellow nominees. The first (and most memorable) was toward Martin Scorsese, which prompted an unexpected standing ovation. It was clear that Bong Joon Ho was paying tribute to a mentor.

In the filming industry, perhaps no other career is more vocal of paying tribute to mentors than that of a director. Most (if not all) have stated they have been in total admiration of a certain director that came before them, often rewatching their films almost to a degree of pure obsession. Certain names come to mind: Hitchcock, Kubrick, Welles, Kurosawa, Spielberg, Scorsese, Eastwood, Coppola, Lucas, Tarantino, and Spike Lee, to name a few. However, all the big named directors seem to have one person they all agree on that had influenced their career. That name is John Ford. Famously, when Orson Welles was asked the directors he admired most, he said, “John Ford, John Ford, and John Ford.”

The winner of four Best Director awards (not including two others for short films) and the first winner of the AFI lifetime achievement awards, directors around the world are in some way, shape, and form in debt to Ford. He is most associated with the western. When we envision the old west, it is most likely seen the way Ford saw it. A time long ago, a relic. In a way, it is a way we sometimes look at the bible.

Though I am still in the mist of seeing as many of his films as I can (he made over a hundred, so I got a way to go), The Searchers is more than likely his most well known, and certainty the most studied. David Lean watched it to prepare for Lawrence of Arabia (1962), and even a popular song from Buddy Holly was inspired by one of the film’s lines.

 Set in Texas, 1868, the door opens to the great outdoors of the west, as a returning Civil War Veteran visits his sister’s family. The man is Ethan Edwards (John Wayne, in perhaps his best role). He is tired and worn (as his face clearly shows), and wants nothing more than to take it easy. We learn his one main character trait: he is clearly racist. Not towards African Americans, but American Indians (mainly the Comanche).

Soon enough, the Comanche arrive, and kidnap his niece Debbie. He sets out to find her, only to realize that those accompanying him (especially the Reverend, played by the great character actor Ward Bond) are slowing him down. The only one truly able to stick his own with Ethan is Martin (Jeffrey Hunter), Debbie’s adopted brother, who Ethan is not fond of at all (Martin is part Indian). Undoubtedly, Ethan is not someone to mess with. There is a moment in the movie where he sees trouble, and just whips his gun out of the cover. That is one small moment when you realize that making this man mad is a death sentence.

Set just after the Civil War, first time viewers may find it strange to know that the quest for Debby indeed takes time. Five years in fact. This is shown in small touches, such as when Martin’s love interest Laurie (Vera Miles) is told she has been written by Martin. Not just one letter, but two letters in one year. It takes so much time that when Debbie is finally seen, she is no longer played by Lana Wood, but her older (and more popular) sister, Natalie Wood. Looking back, you realize that character development sometimes takes a while. How often have we heard (or experienced) times where God works on our character for months or even years?

In my view, there is a certain unique delicacy in a John Ford film. Each time you see how the camera is placed, you realize it could not be placed anywhere else. The shots can be put on pause, and you could study each one like you would a famous painting. In short, Ford was what all directors strive to be from the beginning: an artist.

While some directors are known for reshooting scenes until they are satisfied (most notably Stanley Kubrick), Ford was not one of them. He was a fan of getting the scene done on the first take (nowadays, this is especially attributed to Clint Eastwood, who has also stated his admiration of John Ford). Perhaps it was because he wanted the first impulse of the actor saying the line to be filmed, or because he was (reportedly) not a fan of dialogue, it is hard to say. The stories I have heard of working with him are, well, interesting, to say the least. The only person who seemed able to stand up to Ford was Katharine Hepurn (whom he became romantic with for a time). Regardless, the overall outcome seemed to work.

Even the comedy of the film is effective. For one reason or another, a vast majority of them involve the character of Martin: Just in the wrong place at the wrong time. My favorite is a fight scene between him and another man trying to win the affections of Laurie. The scene is not as over the top as the fight scene in Ford’s The Quiet Man (1952), but it still should make you feel unexpected uproars of laughter. The same can also be said of an very unwanted battle wound for the Ward Bond character in a very unfortunate place. How did he get that wound? If you have to ask, you were not paying attention.

Parents, I am all for kids getting a head start on old classics (especially westerns). Still, it should be noted that the racism of the film is apparent (although what the Comanche do is indeed reprehensible). Still, the film has maybe two or three minor swears, so middle school and up would be fine.

There are certain movies which are blessed to have a great opening shot, or a great closing one. Very few have both, especially when they compliment each other by being virtually the same, like bookends. Just some that come to mind include Saving Private Ryan (1998) with the American Flag, 1917 (2019) with a soldier resting under a tree, and Parasite (2019) looking out the window into the street. Then there is The Searchers. After characters have returned, there is only Ethan Edwards left in the doorway. While others have entered, he stands alone, isolated. As he walks away, the door closes on him. Closes on the story. Closes on the old west. Lost to history.

Thankfully, never forgotten.

If it were, well…that’ll be the day.

Overall:

Rating: 5 out of 5.

Categories
2 1/2 Stars Movies

Onward (2020)

Coming up this November will be the quarter century mark of the release of Toy Story (1995), which was the birth of Disney/Pixar (though Pixar had done some of the animated shorts beforehand). Having seen all but two of their full length films (2015’s The Good Dinosaur and 2017’s Cars 3 got past my radar), the quality of the films of Disney/Pixar have nearly always been able to exceed all expectations, despite how high they may have been. With very few “duds” to their credit (most of the non-Toy Story sequels and Brave), the combined duo shows no sign of stopping, even if they make films of lesser quality. Which, sadly, brings us to Onward.

The brief history of magical creatures states that magic has been nearly lost and almost forgotten. While magic once thrived, scientific discovery had replaced it. Still, there are a few who still believe it exists, mainly the over eager Barley Lightfoot (Chris Pratt). After the death of his magic loving dad (because this is Disney, so the one parent rule is almost always in effect), he tries his darndest to be somewhat of an influence to his younger teenage brother Ian (Tom Holland).

As the film begins on his 16th birthday, the somewhat introverted Ian tries to stay somewhat distant from his much more extroverted older brother. That is, until his mom Laurel (Julia Louis-Dreyfus, in her second Disney/Pixar film since A Bug’s Life) reveals a present to be given to both her sons when they turned sixteen. It is a staff, which will be able to bring there dad back (with the help of a rare phoenix stone their dad gave them as well) for one day. Unfortunately, trouble with the spell brews (pun intended?), and only the legs of their dad appear. They must then set forth on a quest to find another phoenix stone if they wish to see their whole dad before the 24 hour spell is over. Along the way in his (somewhat) trusty van Gwinivere, Barley passes on his knowledge of magic to his brother (who we discover is the one with magical abilities).

Compared to other films in the Pixar canon, there seems to be fewer supporting characters that stick out. The ones that do include a manticore (Octavia Spencer), Laurel’s new boyfriend cop, Colt Bronco (Mel Rodriguez), and some hard headed (and often funny) motorcycle pixies. And yes, we still get the Disney/Pixar treasured voice of John Ratzenberger, but it was so brief I admit I missed it.

There is also one (very minor) character, Officer Spector (Lena Waithe), who is officially the first openly gay character in a Disney/Pixar film. Sadly, this is more politicized than memorable. If you are going to include a homosexual character (in general, not just in animation), make it needed in the story itself. If Spector had not mentioned she was gay (though she does not use those exact words), I doubt it would make any difference to the outcome of the film.

The idea of being able to spend time with a dead loved one is indeed moving, but the way they established it seems just…awkward. I can understand the filmmakers wanting to add a twist of some kind, but just the legs? Yes, they find a way to communicate (somewhat) with them, but it just seems not as original or daring an idea that would expect from the studio.

Speaking of originality, when Disney/Pixar is at the top of their game, they give us worlds of endless possibilities. They have created countless universes with toys, bugs, monsters, cars, superheroes (even before the MCU), robots, emotions (!), and rats in the kitchen. Very few studios can say they have done something like that (save for Studio Ghibli).

That said, the universe of the creatures of Onward seems like it is from the minor leagues. Through out the film, I seriously had to remind myself I was watching a Disney/Pixar film, and not something from a lesser quality studio (I won’t name examples, but even the heads of other studios have to admit they have to almost always compete with Disney/Pixar).

Parents, the film is okay for kids provided you plan to have a conversation about the lesbian character, but I do admit I think the humor for the adults will be harder to find than it was in other Disney/Pixar films.

The deeper issues with being able to talk to a deceased family member did hit me at times (having lost my own dad a little less than a decade ago), but not as much as it could have. Consider the other great touching moments in the history of Disney/Pixar: Andy saying goodbye to his toys, WALL-E not recognizing EVE, Boo realizing (at the time) she won’t see Sully again, Miguel singing to Coco, the goodbye at the end of Toy Story 4, and, of course, the first ten minutes of Up. I would argue these (as well as moments which would produce “happy tears”) are groundbreaking moments for a child’s life as a movie goer (and some adults as well).

Disney/Pixar will, I am confident, still produce classics in the years to come (they have another film this year called Soul, which does look promising), but they need to remember to go Onward before going upward.

Overall:

Rating: 2.5 out of 5.

Categories
5 Stars Movies

Apollo 13 (1995)

In the 2000s, one of my favorite review sites to go to was that of “Mr. Cranky”. It was a satirical site (now no longer available), in which the reviews would state how bad the film really was (the highest rated were for films deemed “almost tolerable”). Of the many reviews I had seen, my favorite header came from the review of Apollo 13, which read along the lines of “Spoiler: They survive.”

Yet the fact that we know what will happen does not at all take away from the suspense of the film. Released about a quarter century after the events occurred (and now a quarter of a century after the release), the film still works as a thrilling adventure for those like me who were not alive when three astronauts spent days in space with little to no hope of survival after an unexpected explosion.

The plot is well known to (mostly) every adult. After the success of the moon landing, astronaut Jim Lovell (Tom Hanks) captains a trip to the moon with fellow astronaut/friend Fred Haise (Bill Paxton) and the relatively young Jack Swigert (Kevin Bacon). Only a couple days into the mission do we get the troubling, immortal line by Hanks: “Houston, we have a problem.”

Upon my umpteenth time of seeing the film, I was surprised to realize how much I took the supporting cast for granted. Take, for example, those at mission control. While the head of the ground team is indeed Gene Kranz (the always irreplaceable Ed Harris), that does not not mean others are unimportant.

You have higher up men like former astronaut Deke Slayton (Chris Ellis) and Henry Hurt (Xander Berkley, one of those actors know for playing guys you always find yourself not liking), but other of the tech guys like that of Sy (played by the wonderfully underrated Clint Howard, brother of the films director Ron). Rounding them out, of course, is Ken (Gary Sinise), who was sidelined for Jack at the last minute due to the fear of him catching the measles.

The same is also applied to those in the astronauts’ personal life. Nowadays, the role of the supportive wife is somewhat mundane, but that does not at all take away from the affectiveness of Kathleen Quinlan as Jim’s wife Marilyn.

It is also worth noting that Ron Howard not only cast his brother Clint, but his late parents as well. His father (Rance Howard) makes a cameo as the Reverend (though I don’t remember him having any lines), yet it is his real life mother, Jean Speegle Howard, who steals the scenes she is in as Jim’s mother, Blanche. “If they could get a washing machine to fly, my Jimmy could land it.”

Though I have not done much of the research myself, it has been said that Apollo 13 is rather accurate to what actually happened. This is rather astounding, as many films are known for taking liberties for sometimes actually changing history (such as Braveheart, also released in 1995, and beat Apollo 13 for Best Picture at the Oscars). As I was rewatching, I was looking at someways the film could have taken liberties. In the film, Fred Haise’s wife Mary (Tracy Reiner) is pregnant with their next child (“I have thirty more days till this blast off.”) Imagine if the screenplay (which is based off of a book co written by the real Jim Lovell) decided to add some unneeded melodram, and have her giving birth while daddy was in space. Or if they decided to dive deeper into Jack’s mistake to file his tax return. The point is that they stick to the story and don’t leave room for any outside fluff.

Despite how many times you have seen the film (by now, you should know it is endlessly rewatchable), you may find it surprising at how many countless factors the crew has going against it. Lack of oxygen. Too much Carbon Dioxide (and trying to fit a square peg into a round hole). Lack of sleep. Endless cold. A Typhoon Warning. The angle of reentry. A broken heat shield. Minimal power supply. The problems seem truly endless, and are sprinkled throughout the mission that you really forget at times that they do make it in the end.

One of the lesser known little moments of the film comes in the final moments of the journey. Just as the crew is about to enter the earth’s atmosphere (with their backs to the surface, no less), after Hanks’ character chimes in with “Gentlemen, it’s been a privilege flying with you,” we see the three astronauts for what is the last time before they seem to be nearly engulfed in flames.

What always stuck out to me was we see each astronaut’s final facial expression before the flames surround them. While each character has had their own approach to the idea of space flight (Hanks as the vet, Bacon as the newbie, and Paxton as the “wow, am I lucky to be here, now I just want to go home” type), each of them clearly shows the sense of knowing they will probably die now. It is proof that each of us does react differently in the face of death.

I have always been one who is not a fan of some decisions made by the MPAA rating system. However, I remember being pleasantly surprised when I found out that Apollo 13 is rated PG. There is no sex in the film (one scene with two characters in the shower, but nothing is seen). Aside from the obvious intensity, it is mainly the language (a few S words). Middle school and above are fine with seeing this film (and arguably should).

Recently, I was listening to the Bruce Springsteen song “We take care of our own”. Much of the lyrics (let alone the title) were vibrant in my head when watching this film. Nowadays, we have sad times when those around the world (not just the country) offer support and love (mass shootings, terrorist attacks, etc). It is a clear reminder of the scripture in 1 Corinthians 12, which talks about the body of Christ.

“If one part suffers, every part suffers with it; if one part is honored, every part rejoices with it.” – 1 Corinthians 12:26

The film is a sheer reminder that, when we as a body are working together (alone with God, of course), we can encounter any problem.

Overall:

Rating: 5 out of 5.