Movie Review: Sing   January 11th, 2017

I recently went and saw the new animated movie “Sing”. It was no “Zootopia,” which of course is a high bar, but it was pretty good.

I liked how the world looked believable with all the different animals and they played around with the different species, like gags with fish jumping up a water ladder next to stairs. They played with size differences with the animals as well, like tall giraffes and a couple of small mice.

The animation was quite good and I liked the character designs, and laughed at some of the exaggerated long necks and bodies of the sheep and llamas.
The story was nice and it had some good character-driven plot. It was cute and had a lot of sweetness to it, which I appreciate. I’m happy I saw it.

I was thinking more about “Sing” today. I saw someone it to “Cats Don’t Dance,” which is fair as both movies feature a cast of funny animals putting on a musical show. What is interesting with “Sing” however, is that there is no actual villain in the film.

The premise of the show is to try and save a failing theater, which is a familiar trope, and while the bank wants to repossess the property if they don’t get their money, there isn’t someone, such as a rival business owner or developer, who say wants to tear it down and replace it with a mini-mall.

There is a chaotic element where a Frank Sinatra-esque mouse is pursued by wise-guy bears who he cheated out of gambling money, but for the most part the plot revolves around the characters facing their own issues. There’s the jilted porcupine struggling to find her own voice, the middle-aged pig housewife who wants to recapture some glory of her younger days, the elephant with crippling stage fright, the gorilla with father issues, and even the koala director who may be a lovable dreamer, but is also a huckster.

It’s refreshing to see a film where characters’ struggles and story arcs are enough without needing to invent villains. I’m reminded of another film where this was pointed out to me, in 2014’s “Chef.” It was nice to see a story where everyone was rooting for the main character and the journey about family, creative rediscovery an Americana road trip and celebration of food was enough without needing ridiculous manufactured drama. There are advisories in both films, but they serve to motivate the characters to something better, rather than needing to be the bad guys.

Steven Universe   June 19th, 2015

I’ve been enjoying the animated show Steven Universe. It starts slow and has a slow burn, but thanks to friends’s insistences I stuck with it and it’s been worth it.

It starts out quirky and silly. Anyone who appreciates the odd quirkiness of other shows like Adventure Time, The Regular Show, or Gravity Falls would probably enjoy Steven Universe. What’s nice is that there is an underlying story arc which is revealed which has a darker and more compelling narrative. I’m just starting to see that in the middle of Volume 2 and I’m impressed and getting hooked.

The other nice thing about the show is that it’s obviously meant for kids as a coming of age story. There are allegories for things kids might have to deal with like losing parents due to a divorce or death, all handled very thoughtfully and subtly as the emerging narrative. It has some very nice emotional character scenes which do “give me feels.”

The writing is skillfully done to offer things too all age levels; there are things that kids, teenagers and adults will all see differently. The show has allusions to gender, attraction, relationships (romantic and family), all done in a very family-friendly way.

The episode “Alone Together” has what is the best allegory of going through the strangeness of adolescence I’ve seen. The sly reveal that both Sadie and Lars from the donut show were crushing on Stevonnie was absolutely adorable.

The titular character, Steven, can be annoying at times, but I also realized he’s a good portrayal of how kids actually think and act and the silly, dumb stuff they can do. He is also the every-man character, our window into the magical universe, as well as the novice on his way to training.

I’m about halfway through the episodes that are out there now and I’m very much enjoying them. Thanks for the recommendations, friends!

The local movie theater is showing some retro films this summer. Last night I caught Pulp Fiction. I know it’s a movie I could watch on video, but it was nice seeing it on the big screen again after 21 years. It brought me back to the time when I was just discovering movies as art, so it was nice to reconnect with it.

It was fun seeing Quentin Tarantino’s style emerge in his sophomore film, and the narrative structure still held up very well. Rather than being just an artifice, I liked how the non-linear story worked in the individual vignettes to show the arcs of the various characters.

I could see some of Tarantino’s self-indulgence in dwelling on minutia which was frustrating in Death Proof. In this things worked well though and while a couple of scenes ran long, there was nothing egregious. Plus now as then, I loved the fondness for Americana pop culture and it made a wonderful cinematic time capsule; Buddy Holly’s not a very good waiter.

It was fun revisiting the mystery of what’s in the briefcase. I can believe it’s just supposed to be a MacGuffin. However, given the themes of grace amongst the chaos and redemption, the fan theory of it being Marsellus Wallace’s soul is very fitting. I’ve heard proof on both fronts, and figure personal interpretation is more meaningful.

In the Jurassic Park 3D re-release, the 3D was slightly blurry around the edges in a couple of scenes. It also seemed a little exaggerated in parts, though we were also watching it near the front of the theater. For the most part it worked well and was one of the better non-3D movie transfer to 3D I’ve seen. The technology of the time (“this is a unix system”) looked very dated, but the CGI and puppetry work for the dinosaurs held up very well twenty years later. it was a fun ride and really nice to see the film on the big screen again after all these years.

The Evil Dead remake is a modern, contemporary horror movie, so it’s not campy like the original films at all and the effects were very gritty and visceral. The film gets high marks for that. There were several scenes that were difficult to watch, and for that it was very effective in what it was trying to do. The movie reproduced the moving-camera POV tracking shots that Sam Raimi used so well in the originals, and they worked here too. There were a couple of nods to the original, but this film was definitely its own beast.

The characters were pretty standard, which is par for the course, but besides being dumb and reading from the obviously dangerous spell book, nobody was acting like a total douchebag or having to wear the idiot hat which happens far too often in horror movies these days. The film also had a good setup for why the characters were there which also worked well in them not recognizing the danger and discounting things when they first started happening. The final act played out in a slight twist with the characters involved, which I also appreciated.

The original films by Sam Raimi were more enjoyable for their campy horror, but this remake stands well on its own and was satisfying in its own right. If you enjoy the splatter-gore flavor of horror, then it’s worth checking out.

Waxwork Movie Review   November 13th, 2012

I was looking for some mindless entertainment on Netflix last night and the 1988 horror movie Waxwork came up in my suggestions. It sounded interesting, so I gave it a try. It did have a fresh take on the wax museum horror setting, though unfortunately it was better in inspiration than in execution.
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