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The Favourite – Director, Yorgos Lanthimos

I was very interested to see this movie given all the praise and awards it has won. In addition it has managed ten Oscar nominations including all the big ones. So I settled in to be entertained by what was a rare comedy nominated for Best Picture. Disappointed. This is a terrible movie and I had to fast forward through the final interminable last half hour. Promoted as a comedy, the film is a tedious two hour trip as two women compete for the attention and control of  Queen Anne who is a troubled and unwell monarch not really qualified for her role in life. In the end…. Well there really isn’t an end just the sense that what you have been through for two hours will just continue. A comedy it is not. It is a cruel, pointless take on the British monarchy and is boring to boot. The performances of the three leads are good but not great and do not merit nominations or awards. The script is wordy and desperately needed editing. I found I cared nothing for the characters who were immensely unlikeable. This is the second film by Lanthimos I have seen, the first being Lobster. I hated that one and should have been forewarned before paying money to see this film. I truly hope it wins nothing but might garner Best Costumes which I would crudgingly give it. A sad waste of talent. Avoid it at all cost.

A Star is Born – Director, Bradley Cooper

This is the third remake of the original 1937 A Star is Born and like the others really didn’t need to be made. The original and two of the three remakes including this one are highly rated but I am not sure why. I should confess that I really don’t like movies about romances between successful musicians or the troubles they have. In this case Bradley Cooper a burned out rock musician wanders randomly into a gay nightclub/bar and hears the only female performer sing and “instantly” sees her as a major talent and falls deeply in love with her right away. She has given up on her career (stop me if you heard this plot before) but he encourages her to persist and of course she becomes hugely successful while he crashes and burns. Yawn. I really like Lady Gaga but as a singer not an actor and Cooper, who has been nominated for Oscars in the past, really does nothing for me in this film. Still somehow A Star is Born has been nominated for Best Picture, Best Actress, Best Actor, Best Director etc not only by the Academy but also by the Golden Globes and BAFTA’s. So far it has only won for Best Song and Best Music which may be justified. After all I like Lady Gaga and if her song wins I will not complain but I will beg Hollywood to stop making and remaking this stupid movie.

Spider-Man: Into the Spider-verse – Directors, Bob Persichetti, Peter Ramsey, Rodney Rothman

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.

2019 Oscar Animated Shorts Nominations – Directors, various

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.

Isle of Dogs – Director, Wes Anderson

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.

Solo: A Star Wars Story – Director, Ron Howard

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?

Christopher Robin – Director, Marc Forster

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.

Incredibles 2 – Director, Brad Bird

This is terrible movie and has no reason to exist. I confess that I liked the original film which I found to have a great sense of humour and successfully poked fun at super hero films. It stunned me somewhat to find that the original is now 14 years old. It came out at a time when super hero movies were beginning to dominate the screen and it played with this well. However we are now inundated with such films and they vary from good to awful. This sequel is a very poor reboot I assume with the hope that those who liked the first one will love seeing the lovable family again. Reviews have been positive for the most part but there are some excellent negative reviews around. The risk of sequels is that they simply replay the good bits of the originals rather than taking us anywhere. One reviewer I liked took a crack at Disney who have bought up the rights to many successful franchises and are churning out sequels with a thought only to banking on old fans coming back. It may be a sad future as he says:  Incredibles 2 could be the future; a future in which every movie is polished but beige, beautiful but bland, fun but fawning, amusing but dull. Have to agree.  

Bohemian Rhapsody – Director, Bryan Singer


As the title makes clear this is a tribute film to Queen and its leader and lead singer, Freddy Mercury. Rami Malek plays Mercury and is without a doubt the star of this movie and I think deserving of his Oscar nomination for Best Actor although not deserving of winning it. The movie itself also managed to get nominated for Best Picture and in my opinion it is not deserving. In addition to the two big nominations, the movie also has some technical nominations for editing, sound editing and sound mixing and of all the nominations may only deserve sound mixing. Malik puts in a dominant performance outshining the other characters and this may explain why he won nomination for Best Actor. I do not mean to take from his performance which is very strong however, the script is very weak. It makes out that Freddy Mercury was a complicated person professionally and personally but what motivated him or drove him to reach for stardom is never clear and this weakens the film considerably. If you are a Queen fan, however, you are going to like the tribute to the music and to Mercury’s performance style. Also the conclusion of the film is Queen’s performance at the 1985 Live Aid Concert and the recreation of Queen’s contribution is stunning. So in conclusion, if you are a fan of Queen this movie is likely a must see but if you are not a big fan don’t bother.

Black Panther – Director, Ryan Coogler

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.