I was not sure I wanted to see this movie. I like Marvel movies for the most part but they are normally live action while this was not only animated but not a very traditional story – for example Peter Parker dies right at the start. The premise of the film is the creation of a new Spider-man, Miles Morales, the son of a black New York cop and a Latino mother. The villains are the traditional Marvel baddies like The Kingpin and some variations like a female Dr. Octopus. The Kingpin has built a device to create a bridge to other dimensions which draws several spider-men/women into our universe and who team up to train Miles to use his new powers and save our universe from destruction. I was prepared not to like this movie but ended up loving it. The animation was great, the script had humour and paid great homage to the original comics and to the Marvel live action films that preceded it. Some have suggested it is one of the best ever super hero movies and I would not disagree. There is even an animated cameo of Stan Lee. Just perfect. You do have to be a bit of a Marvel comics fan to get into this one but even if you are not I recommend having a look. If it is not obvious from this review, I suspect this is a cinch to win the Oscar for Best Animated Feature. It has already won the Golden Globe and BAFTA so… not likely it can lose.
I will start this review with full disclosure. In my opinion Wes Anderson has not made any bad movies and has made many great movies. This one is one of his best. The hard bit is assessing his animated features and comparing them to his live action films but one constant is that none of the films are conventional.
If you are dog lover this movie will be good reinforcement. It is set in Japan and a city where the mayor is a dog hater. An epidemic spreads among the dogs in the city and the mayor uses this as an excuse to exile all the dogs to an island off the coast that is used as a garbage dump. The dogs are left to fend for themselves but a young boy – the adopted son of the mayor – has lost his pet dog to the island and he goes in search of him gaining the support of a pack of exiled dogs. They explore an immense wilderness of waste, garbage and processing Meanwhile scientists are working on a cure for the epidemic and there is a resistance among the young people in the town who support repatriation. The story is very complex and the film is a wee bit too long but the animation is superb and the story is ultimately charming and engaging. I particularly like the personalities of the dogs we meet as performed by the likes of Bryan Cranston, Edward Norton. Bill Murray and Scarlett Johansson.
This film is up for a 2019 animation award as Best Animated feature film. I find it hard to evaluate animated films. They are all so different in style and design and of course there is the script and acting to evaluate. I feel like they are not adequately respected by the industry or at least by the academy. They get their own category but it’s a bit of a nod to a group not to be taken to seriously. Few are ever nominated for Best Picture and never win. I think they should be considered for Screenplay, Directing, most of the technical awards and of course, Best Picture. This ends my short rant.
Disney now owns Star Wars for better or for worse and they have done better and worse. The first spin off from the original 6 movies was Rogue One which many argue is the second best Star Wars movie ever after The Empire Strikes Back and I would have to agree. If I could list the second best Disney spin off it would be Solo. The writers had a ball working on this film. They have played with Harrison Ford’s lines from the original films and had fun with explaining lots of things. Like we find out how Solo hooked up with Chewy, how he got involved with Lando, Jabba the Hutt and how he acquired the Millennium Falcon. If you are not sure what all that is about you do need to see the first three films. Also we learn what on earth he meant when he tells Obi Wan and Luke that he made the Kessel (not bloody Phil Kessell) run in under 12 parsecs which makes no sense until you see this film since he is apparently talking how fast the Falcon is but parsecs are a measure of distance not speed. No worries. Once you see this film you will understand all. What I loved about this movie was its respect for the story and its decision not to take itself too seriously. Despite my praise all this movie get is a nod for visual effects. It certainly deserves this but I think so much more. Oh, a final note. Han’s love interest in the movie is played by Emilia Clarke….that’s right, Daenerys Targaryen!
Why doesn’t the academy have a category for Great Trash?
I really liked this film which managed only a visual effects nomination despite its charming storyline and writing. The story is about Christopher Robin all grown up with a wife and daughter and who is totally lost in his work and increasingly isolated. He is still a good man who, charged with coming up with a way find efficiencies at his firm, sends his family away for the weekend while he works. Luckily he is found by an old friend. Winnie-the-Pooh crawls into his isolation and calls him back to the 100-acre wood to save his old friends from a rampaging Heffalump. The encounter results in Christopher’s redemption as he returns to the real world and reengages with his daughter and wife. He also finds a way to save his firm from downsizing and instead grow and find new direction to the dismay of some of his superiors. If you are entranced by A. A. Milne’s old stories I think you will find this movie captures the language and the characters very well. That said I am disappointed that this film did not get nominations for animation, writing, or even Best Picture. I note that on most film websites it is highly rated and much more highly rated than other films like Bohemian Rhapsody for example. I suspect that the film awards need to rethink some of the categories. There may need to be one for films aimed at children for example. I think this may require me to write a blog post about this issue and it will be forthcoming. The other point to be made here relates to my review of Incredibles 2. There I was critical of Disney studios for milking old franchises with mediocre sequels. While this is true of the Incredibles and some Star Wars sequels, this time they scored with a quality product.
Although Black Panther is one of the best Marvel super hero movies, I confess to being surprised at the nominations it has received. Normally the Academy does not give attention to the blockbusters particularly those released in the dark days of February. In its favour Black Panther is well acted, has the expected superb special effects has a story line that rises well above the usual super hero plot. Furthermore It asks questions about the human condition and the responsibilities we have to one another and what often causes us to not meet those responsibilities. I really liked this movie but then I am a fan of Marvel and have yet to see one of their productions I didn’t like. Mostly I just liked some more than others, but I liked them all. But this film is about the director Ryan Coogler as well. He is behind the Rocky spinoffs Creed and Creed II as well as a darker but important film Fruitvale Station. The latter won critical praise but not as well known as his later films. I know not everyone is into blockbuster/super hero films but trust me this one has more to offer than special effects and will leave you with things to think about. Also if you have not seen Coogler’s other films I recommend you follow them up.
Ruth Bader Ginsberg is an octogenarian Supreme Court Justice and is part of the diminished left-wing vote on the Court. She was appointed to the court by Bill Clinton in 1993 and has been a force for justice in the US for a quarter century and is seemingly hanging on to prevent any further appointments of ultra right-wing judges like Gorsuch and Kavanaugh. This documentary takes us through her long career as a lawyer and advocate for gender equality. She was supported by her husband as her career took off and she is highly respected even by her opponents for her intellect and strength. She has survived three battles with cancer and the passing of her husband and when she can finally retire hopefully in 2020 when Trump goes down to humiliating defeat, she will be remembered for being one of the most important Supreme Court justices ever. This documentary of her life is moving and informative at the same time. We know very little about most of the supreme court justices in the US but they carry immense power. The loss of RBG will be devastating to the politics in the US should she not survive Trump. Let’s keep our fingers crossed. While I confess that there are few documentaries I don’t like, I still recommend this film very much to everyone with an interest in American politics and in the remarkable contribution this woman has made to her country.
Netflix is becoming one of the better producers of film and television and have worked with the Coen brothers to produce a fascinating film that is really a tribute to the American tradition of Westerns. In a series of short films it looks at the Western with humour and respect. Whether or not you are a fan of Westerns you will be hooked by the first episode in the film called The Ballad of Buster Scruggs. It is a brilliant take off of the singing cowboy. It hooked me and while the following episodes are up and down in quality and are all very different from one another and I have already re-watched it a few times. The other good thing about the film is that it can be watched in doses since each episode stands on its own. The film is also all about the script which is excellent and the acting is good but not the reason to see this movie. So the final word from me is that this movie is a refreshing distraction and worth seeing – especially part one. It has received critical praise (8/10 on Rotten Tomatoes) but because of its format I think many were not sure about how to rank it. Its too bad some of the segments could not be nominated in the category of Live Action Shorts. However, it has received a nomination for Best Song, Screenplay and Costumes. You can find “When A Cowboy Trades His Spurs for Wings” on YouTube – https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=K91etXNIkaY
Have a listen but remember that this song is the conclusion of the first episode and needs context so take the time to watch Part 1: The Ballad of Buster Scruggs.
I am a big Spike Lee fan and BlacKkKlansman did not disappoint. This film joins several other movies from 2018 and 2017 that look at being black in America. Set in different eras and touching genres like horror and sci-fi, this film, Green Book, If Beale Street Could Talk, Sorry to Bother You and Get Out are all worth seeing and all deserve awards although Sorry To Bother You has yet to get the recognition it deserved. BlacKkKlansman is based on the true story of the first black detective to join a Colorado police department. Coinciding with his appointment, the Ku Klux Klan attempts to open a chapter in the town and sanitize its profile. Our hero played by John David Washington (son of Denzel), decides to take them down and using the phone (and his white voice) convinces the Klan to invite him as a member. That done he needs to find someone white to sit in for him. Enter Adam Driver a fellow detective who takes on the role. One twist is that Driver’s character is Jewish and no more welcome than Washington would be if exposed. The story combines comedy and thriller to tell a very entertaining story that at the same time does not shirk from the racism in the Klan but also in the police department. Driver and Washington are excellent although Washington failed to get an acting nomination from the Academy. He did get one from the Golden Globes however. Also six Academy Award nominations for 2018 and well deserved. An entertaining and eye-opening film.
Anthropocene is a stunningly beautiful look at how humans are destroying the environment and the planet to the point that we have established a new geological epoch named after ourselves to follow the recent Holocene epoch that nurtured modern human evolution and civilization . Edward Burtynsky and Jennifer Baichwal are a Canadian photographer and filmmaker who have worked together on other projects including a great NFB film Watermark. Burtynsky is an excellent photographer who pushes the limits of the art and Baichwal adds to the photography with equally stunning film. The message of the film is clear. We are destroying the planet and all that lives here including ourselves. However rather than pontificate and scold or guilt trip the viewer we are shown the impact we are having in many different ways with images and verbal descriptions. The hope is that once we see what we are doing we will be motivated to act. There is no particular plot to describe or argument per se. Instead I encourage you to see this film and if you are in Toronto in the next few months go see the AGO exhibit before it closes in January. The film manages to be both scary and beautiful at the same time. You will be hypnotized by the film of burning elephant tusks, the seemingly endless coal train moving off into the distance, the trip down the longest tunnel in the world and the giant machines that seem to be literally eating the planet. The images will stay with you for a long time.
I love my documentaries and this one I recommend to everyone who at one time thought you could not trust anyone over 30. Although it is somewhat self-indulgent, Michael Caine narrates a trip through the 60’s. I am a sucker for Caine’s accent and delivery, so I was hooked from the start. There are interviews with Roger Daltry, Paul McCartney, Marianne Faithful, Mary Quant and Twiggy among others. We don’t see them as they are today but there is all kinds of archival footage of them from the time. If you can’t guess from the list of names this movie focusses on London of the 60’s which in many ways was the centre of popular culture of the time and avoids for the most part the nasty sides of things like Vietnam, the civil rights movement, and student and youth unrest but it does have a totally awesome soundtrack and great scenes from the time including a very very young Mick Jagger and the Stones, scenes of the Beatles at the Cavern nightclub and the wonderful street scenes all accompanied by Caine’s cockney accent. We also get some great scenes from his movies of the time including Alfie, The Ipcress File, Zulu and such. I learned some very interesting things, like how Michael Caine chose his screen name (He was born Maurice Joseph Micklewhite), and that Mary Quant invented the mini-skirt.
If you are up for a nostalgia trip this is all for you and there is some coherence. As a review in Variety puts it the film has three parts: the rise of the 60’s revolt against the mores of the previous decade, its flourishing and its decline as the 70’s close in. Still this is a movie about Michael Caine’s experience of the time in which he was a player but one very much connected to times and the people. Do not look for deep insight or critical analysis but have fun.