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.
Nominees: Bao, Weekends, Animal Behaviour, One Small Step, and Late Afternoon
The Short film categories are always interesting and a refreshing break from the feature film categories which this year are, for the most part not very memorable or have been sullied by the behaviour of the actors, writers or directors. This year’s nominees for Best Animated Short film are all very different from each other in style and design. Three are from Canadian directors and if you are from Toronto you will recognize the skyline in Bao and Weekends despite both being credited as from the USA. Animal Behaviour comes from the perennially nominated National Film Board. So comments. With the exception of Animal Behaviour all the other nominees have some heart-breaking elements to them which gives them a dimension that some, who are not fans of animated films, may find difficult.
Lets start with One Small Step which was I think the weakest of the five nominated films. It’s a story about a young girl from humble origins that realizes her dream of being an astronaut and going to the moon. The story about her dreams and her relationship with her father is engaging but there is nothing very surprising or interesting in the story so while it is pleasant to watch it is not the winner.
Late Afternoon is more touching as it shows a young woman helping her mother pack up her belongings. It is clear that the mother has early dementia and the packing up is the packing up of her life. At first she doesn’t seem to recognize her daughter but at the end the connection is made making the film bittersweet. Still I would say more sweet than bitter.
Weekends is about a young boy whose parents are divorced and he has to deal with visiting his father on the weekends and coping with his mother as she enters a new relationship. I am not sure the writers and directors knew what they really wanted to do with the story but the animation was very interesting to watch. It speaks somewhat to the issue I have with animated films. This is not the sort of animation you are used to with Pixar or Disney films but it is still excellent and interesting and evocative of the theme of the film.
Animal Behaviour is the NFB entry and was a bit of a relief from the heavier themes of the other films. It is set in a group therapy session with a dog as the therapist and slug, a pig, a small bird, a cat, and a female praying mantis. All goes relatively normally until a huge gorilla with anger issues joins the group. Hilarity follows. I liked it a lot but must admit that this may have had something to do with having something to laugh at.
Bao is likely the best of the lot although I confess, I found the story a bit difficult to follow and I am not sure I like the fact that it is a Pixar production. The animation is exquisite as one would expect from Pixar and it has a sense of humour but some sort of shocking elements as well. It focusses on a Chinese family making bao (a steamed bun with a vegetable or meat filling). One of the bao comes alive and becomes a child that grows up into its difficult teens. I will not spoil the rest but while it sounds humourous I would warn you that it has some heavier elements to it. I suspect it will win the Oscar but I think maybe I would prefer Weekends or Animal Behaviour.
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.
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.
Cuarón’s career to date would not have led me to predict a film like Roma. He is known for directing Gravity, a sci-fi space drama, Children of Men, a sci-fi story of a dystopic future and one of the Harry Potter films. This autobiographical story of growing up in Mexico City is definitely a step in a new direction for him, simple, straightforward, and no special effects. Like much of his work in the past this film has won critical praise and now 10 Academy Award nominations including best foreign language film and best picture. While I liked the movie, I confess I fail to see the enthusiasm. We are taken into the day to day life of a family in transition and have insight into the relationship between the kids, mother, and the servants who are part of the family in important ways. The film is a tribute to the women who raised him and a beautiful portrait of a family’s life in the 1970’s. The cinematography is very good, and I confess I enjoyed it being in black and white, but ten nominations is, I think, over the top. While I am sceptical of all the nominations I do think this is a film worth seeing and to be fair I have liked many of his earlier but very different films. Cuarón is a talented director with a varied and top flight works so have a look but despite all the nominations I suspect it will not clean up.
It’s a unique thing that James Baldwin was able to do and that Barry Jenkins was able to pull off in terms of having you feel broken yet so full at the same time by the end of the film. — Stephan James.
This quote from the male lead of If Beale Street Could Talk helped me understand my own feelings after leaving this film. Beale Street is based on a novel by James Baldwin and is a love story that happens in the context of racism in New York City. The protagonists are a young couple who grow up together, fall in love and have a child together. The pregnancy occurs while the young man is falsely accused of rape and awaits trial in prison. During the film we see flashbacks to their childhood, their growing relationship, the struggles within their families, and their own struggles to find work and a place to live while planning a life together. The man’s arrest and imprisonment and the efforts to free him are, however, the major narrative. As I watched I wondered how it would all end. Would there be a Hollywood ending with him being freed and justice achieved? Would he die in prison from suicide or murder? Would he become hardened by his experience and become something his lover could no longer love? In the end none of these happen but somehow I did not leave the film depressed but certainly angry at what happened to them and at the same time hopeful and relieved at the ability of some people at least to overcome or rather, live with injustice because of what they share with one another. Not sure if that will explain the film or not but James’ quote was very helpful to me in resolving how I felt.
The film is worthy of the praise it has received. The acting is OSCAR worthy and the cinematography and writing of equal quality. I read some of James Baldwin in university but was, I think, too young to appreciate its importance. My first recent re-introduction was to Baldwin was the excellent documentary about his life and contributions – I Am Not Your Negro, which I will re-watch soon and I encourage everyone to see. If you go to see this film, and I recommend you do, it will help you come to understand how victims of racism survive the context within which they are living. The experience of living within a racist society is something that can be hard to understand particularly for those of us who have grown up as part of the white middle class. Baldwin and Jenkins have told a story that reaches across that divide and educates without pulling punches but also without anger or hate and with great power. An excellent film.