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Wednesday, November 24, 2021

Ghostbusters: Afterlife (2021)

This review is mostly spoiler free, for people who are avoiding trailers.

Let's get the hard part out of the way immediately. In this movie, one of main characters, Phoebe (Mckenna Grace) makes a new friend at her new school. Here's how that goes:

"I call myself Podcast, because of my podcast." That effectively is Logan Kim's character's name.

I was going to reference that old email hack/leak and say that Amy Pascal and the higher-ups at Sony Pictures haven't learned anything in at least nine years, but it turns out the skateboarding in The Amazing Spider-Man was actually Andrew Garfield's idea. (Give the man an Oscar this year, please.) Plus, the results are the same. Something inserted into the movie to stay trendy actually has some genuine meaning or payoff to it, and the actors and other filmmakers make those things work. Ghostbusters: Afterlife just has a lot of that. There's a conflict just in what the movie is that can be seen and felt. 

Ghostbusters: Afterlife is a direct sequel to Ghostbusters II. The 2016 reboot is now its own separate thing, and the same can probably be said for the 2009 video game that kinda-sorta was Ghostbusters III until now. So, with all that being said the basic plot of Ghostbusters: Afterlife, from IMDb, is "When a single mom and her two kids arrive in a small town [called Summerville, Oklahoma,] they begin to discover their connection to the original Ghostbusters and the secret legacy their grandfather left behind." It stars Carrie Coon, Paul Rudd, Finn Wolfhard, Mckenna Grace, Logan Kim, and Celeste O'Connor. Since it's a direct sequel, some legacy cast members may pop in. It's directed by Jason Reitman, written by him and Gil Kenan, and Ivan Reitman returns as a producer.

It's probably best to star with Finn Wolfhard because of the Stranger Things/It/80s vibes of his casting. The way this movie grapples with nostalgia is that it knows if it goes all-in people will, for the most part, pissed. So, it's incredibly selective what it brings back in a way where I couldn't tell when the movie took place. Except for a couple lines of dialogue and the timeline having to fit so that somebody could be a grandpa, this could take place in the 80s or 90s. Instead, Summerville is more like one of those tiny towns that time forgot. Like one John Oliver may cover in one of those invisible injustice kind of episodes. So, one of the featured locations is a car-hop diner, and how out of place it looks will vary from viewer to viewer. Wolfhard plays Grace's brother. He's not given as much to do as he probably should, but one of the first big legacy scenes comes from him, and it's pretty wonderful. Drifting in a field in the Ecto-1, with only a learner's permit, is something that dreams are made of. It's even more heartwarming when there's an Ecto-1 in your area that's occasionally in the movie theatre parking lot.

The other great thing from him is that his scenes with Celeste O'Connor give Summerville a lived-in quality that helps explain that clashing feeling in the town's look. You could easily become stuck there. Whether that's really for better or worse is not really addressed, so that leaves the question more open than most movies that bring up the idea. It's actually pretty fitting, since Reitman's movie Young Adult, reviewed here, really dives into that.

Ghostbusters: Afterlife
Mckenna Grace as Phoebe (Right), action hero, Logan Kim as Podcast (Left), capable sidekick | Copyright 2021 Sony Pictures

Mckenna Grace and Carrie Coon's first experiences in Summerville are on the more mysterious side of things, and they both work really well off of each other and Paul Rudd. 

A lot of the emotional moments of Afterlife come from Grace and Coon learning more about the upbringing they never really had and coping with it. Reitman could, in a lot of successful ways, push this heavily, but instead it's done just enough so that the momentum of the plot, for the most part, doesn't suffer. The movie's editing is a bit choppy in this way, as one discovery is interrupted with a check-in with Wolfhard back at the diner, and it seems like something that could've been left out. It's meant to build up his relationship with Celeste O'Connor, but I think better scenes later on end up doing that anyway.

Finally, there's the humor, effects, and action. Jokes largely do land, and I laughed out loud a few times in the theatre. Most of the time, this was because of Rudd or some visual gag with a ghost, but everyone delivers in some respect. 

A personal favorite, is when one of the kids says they can't even get any bars on their phone, Coon says there better be at least one. This one, luckily, is the only one ruined by Grace pointing out that it's a joke. Just to be clear, both give great performances, and Mckenna Grace is especially phenomenal. If you haven't seen her in Gifted, go check it out. She and Logan Kim are given what could've been two of the easiest roles to forget, if this was bad Ghostbusters movie, but she's given a lot of time to develop Phoebe, and Podcast has a real charm to him.

Jokes are actually a big part of Grace's character, as she's told to use them to break the ice in Summerville, but it could've been handled better. She does some pretty standard stuff out of a joke book, and I wonder if something really funny, but also really weird or awkward, and science-based could've been done instead. What we get is somewhere between wasted opportunities and eye-rolling moments. Early on, I was afraid there'd be more of them and that they wouldn't go anywhere...not that they leave a huge impact in the end. 

In a huge surprise, to someone who follows this stuff, Sony Imageworks didn't do any of the special effects for Afterlife. Companies listed are Double Negative, Instinctual VFX, Moving Picture Company, and Proof. They all did a gorgeous job, especially considering that they had to, among other tasks, update our beloved Mr. Stay-Puft. 

The major action set piece is a chase to capture a Slimer-like ghost. Tailing him in Ecto-1, while using an RC-Car/Trap, it's a good to modernize things. It's not too much, and it fits the established world. 

Having said that, I would like to say that the 2016 reboot had a lot of fun with their gadgets, the Ghostbuster's logo actually being a ghost for a minute was a delightful surprise. That second one is what told me it was more than a cash-grab, at least to some people involved. There was a lot more stuff like that, this time around.

Along with the lived-in world, little character moments, and surprises all its own, there's one I'd like to point out. After the heroes claim their victory, all the ghost are captured, and everything settles down, Podcast meets the sole subscriber of his show. This guy, an occultist himself, on-screen and off, is a big fan of Podcast's Podcast's Mystical Tales of the Unknown Universe (MT-double-U).

To find out who this occultist is, if you're staying away from trailers and spoilers, go see for yourself. You'll have a good time, and Ghostbusters: Afterlife may even hit you in the heart a little.

3/5

Also, my area has a Ghostbusters-centered non-profit. Hudson Valley Ghostbusters raises money for a variety of charities that they partner with, while appearing in costume at local events. They have their own Ecto-1 that I've occasionally seen in the area. I think we also have a local Mystery Machine, but I have no clue what that's about.
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Saturday, September 11, 2021

Royal Jelly (2021)

The synopsis for the horror movie Royal Jelly, from Facebook is, "When a shy high school bee enthusiast is taken under the wing of a mysterious mentor, she discovers she's being groomed as a hive's next queen." The thing is, the horror movie and grooming aspects aren't 100% accurate to what Royal Jelly is, at least to me. Still, stuff like that, and little interesting details here and there, make picking it apart fun. Royal Jelly stars, among others,  Elizabeth McCoy (Astar, the bee enthusiast), Sherry Lattanzi (Tresa, the mysterious mentor), and Fiona McQuinn and Jonas Chartock (Astar's parents). It is written, directed, and edited by Sean Riley, the music is by Joe Hodgin, and the cinematography is by Jonathan Hammond. 

So, Royal Jelly's horror elements really come out in the last half-hour or so. It slowly transitions from comedy-drama, to thriller, to bodily horror. This is an approach that makes a lot of sense to build tension up throughout the movie, but it doesn't completely work here. The problem is that the build-up is more like full changes from one mode to the next. It's not jarring, but it is something I felt. This is because a lot of time is spent establishing Astar, but that is done really well. 

Riley leans heavily on costume design and makeup to provide a crash-course on Astar. Band t-shirts, glasses, and dark lipstick work as a quick shorthand, against her less awkward classmates...the awkwardness is something to circle back to, though. This costuming isn't excessive, so it doesn't call attention to itself. It's visual storytelling that luckily is carried throughout the movie, and it's one of several little details and showcases of care and effort. 

Another piece of the movie that's worth noting, mostly early on, is how Hammond shoots it. The opening credits are over the start to finish of a jar of honey, and way McCoy holds it up to the light to get these sparkling glints stands out because it's one of those things that's usually overdone or done like a post-production lens flare. This jar just looks really beautiful, as crazy as that might sound. Unfortunately, the movie doesn't look like this when it becomes a full horror film. At that point everything is dimly lit, and it's hard to make everything out without outside interference, such as changing your screen's brightness and the lights in your room. It's a shame because the blood and creature stuff that's late in the game looks great. At least one moment, with some Nightmare on Elm Street 3 vibes, is done before the full genre shift. Speaking of which, we have to talk about Carrie a little.

Riley and crew's appreciation for Carrie is explicit, as one of Astar's bullies mentions it by name, and the start of Astar's story is similar in a few respects. What makes this a little tougher, at least on paper is that aspects of it are a bit more relatable. Instead of a religious zealot for a mother, Fiona McQuinn's character is just a crappy stepmother with some selfish tendencies. That comes across really well when she helps herself to an extra serving of dinner, before passing the scraps to her stepdaughter. McQuinn's daughter, played by Raylen Ladner (Drew), is downright cruel in some spots and definitely a fan of Stephen King's work. Royal Jelly is able to do a lot with a little, and that's what I held onto when the acting fell short or a writing convenience was taken. It also made that extra effort mentioned, whether it be the use of a song, a drone shot, or a choir in Hodgin's score, much more noticeable. So, onto the acting and writing shortfalls. 

The acting mostly is just really stiff. Everyone is doing their best, but that really doesn't come across. It's the clearest sign that this is a smaller, indie movie. McCoy is worth bringing up because she is giving a very consistent performance, and she, like many of the actors, is able to fallback on giving a non-verbal performance pretty well. Lattanzi is another story. Her character powers that shift into horror, and her performance is pretty over the top. What could've worked a lot better is if the grooming was stretched out over a significant portion of the movie. What happens is more like trying a few things, and then powering through with someone who's not completely on-board. Stretching it would actually solve a lot of little issues that pop up here and there. There's one I'd like to go into because it's surprising for a movie with a strong start.

Astar and Tresa get revenge on some bullies by egging their house. When they're getting away, the overhead light inside their car is on a lot longer than it should've been, relatively speaking, so they're spotted, and that's why Astar decides to lay low with Tresa for a while, and that's what really kicks things off. It makes sense, but it still feels like a shortcut taken to force the situation. A little script tightening goes a long way, especially in a movie like that. The other thing that helps though, especially in the cases of small movies, is developing movie posters like this that really stand out. 

Two great posters for the movie.

The movie is an interesting watch on its own, but the promise of these just felt like a great note to go out on. The Pan's Labyrinth and original Grimm influence is really felt through these designs, and through the body horror at the tail-end of Royal Jelly itself. That stuff, and the use of blood and makeup in general, is handled well.

A screener of this movie was provided to me by Sean Riley. I was not compensated for this review. 

Royal Jelly is available September 14th on various digital streaming platforms. 

Also, stick around for the post-credits scene. There's a PSA about bees, but it's nicely done in a non-preachy, tongue-in-cheek-ish way that, appropriately feels like it was added as an afterthought to help support bees. 


3/5
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Sunday, August 22, 2021

Iron Man (2008) | Guest Appearing on the Media Buffet Podcast

Videos and reviews have been a little slow lately because of work, and a lot of what I've been doing with the site has involved improving the design of the place with my web designer. So, to try to get back into the swing of things, I'm seeking podcasts to guest on through Reddit

I, and Joe Meyer of The Neutral Ground Podcast, had the pleasure of appearing on Media Buffet. We talked about Iron Man and the many behemoths it kicked off, inside and outside Marvel. We had a really great time talking about the movie, discussing how well it holds up, and Tony Stark's main trilogy of films. With Shang-Chi and the Legend of the Ten Rings coming out soon, this was a perfectly timed release. 

Media Buffet, and the episode, can be found here, and there's direct links to Spotify and Apple below.


For people interested in working with these guys, I can give you their information. Also, they're serious about their title, as that buffet includes The Olympics, gaming, anime, and more. 


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Saturday, July 17, 2021

Space Jam: A New Legacy (2021) | Short Review

I’m sorry, but this one kinda made me angry. So, here’s some quick thoughts. 

The good:
Dom (Cedric Joe) and all the video game design stuff directly related to him was interesting. Hopefully it encourages some people to get into design.
Some extras and animators got to dress up as or work on characters they love, so hopefully they had a fun time.
Some jokes work, and the ball playing has some freshness to it when the awful script allows it. The NBA Street series, last checked, has been dormant for a while. Maybe this’ll change that.

The bad:
The overall writing is just exposition, clichés, and WB trumpeting.
The crossovers are pointless and wasted to the point where it makes me wish DC and other WB subsidiaries were independent entities. 

His performance is ok, but it’s upsetting how the charisma is sucked out of Don Cheadle. It’s replaced with Al-G Rhythm's senseless motivation | Copyright 2021 WB

A comic with Batman (DC) and the Ninja Turtles (IDW) proves that not everything has to be under one roof for a crossover to work to at least some degree. With iron-clad ownership, a segment like Bugs and Batman fails in every respect because, in this case,  it's part of such an overstuffed project and they don't develop any real screen time together.

Something similar happens with Lola (Zendaya) that is interesting. She's just kind of there. That's better than how she was treated in the original movie...but then why cast such a phenomenal actor for a nearly do-nothing role?

When it comes to the writing, just about everyone involved should be ashamed.

2/5

If you already have HBO Max, watch this after you've exhausted the extensive library HBO Max Space Jam: A New Legacy is pushing on you. 
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Friday, July 2, 2021

America: The Motion Picture (2021) | Short Review

From Netflix, "a chainsaw-wielding George Washington teams with beer-loving bro Sam Adams to take down the Brits in a [raunchy,] tongue-in cheek riff on the American Revolution." It has a strong cast, as noted below, it's written by Dave Callaham, directed by Matt Thompson, and two of the producers are Phil Lord and Chris Miller. One of the actors in it is Bobby Moynihan. Unfortunately, I misspelled his name when modifying the poster. Sorry, Bobby. 

 
Impressive credentials | Copyright 2021 Netflix, but modified by me using Inpaint and Gimp

This could've been really good, if it was a series of shorts, or if the humor and world stuck to some ground rules. The running gags could've been a great start to that, since they were some of the funniest parts of the movie. This is overselling it, but the use of Bible verses is best explained as inspired. 

If the jokes and story were as scattershot as the movie's world, this would be an unsalvageable, non-sensical mess. Instead, the whole movie can be sized up in the first couple minutes. Simply put, it's very dumb fun that should be watched after a really crappy day. To say more could potentially spoil some jokes.

The animation is by Combo Estúdio. It's worth bringing up, since this is a Floyd County production, and I was wondering if it was the same studio that animates Archer. It's not, that's Fox Television Animation and Radical Axis, but these guys have also done Super Drags for Netflix. Standing still, the art style looks a little blocky and reminds me of Venture Brothers or the new Batman: The Long Halloween. It moves pretty smoothly though, and this is the kind of movie where an unappealing art style might've been on the table during production. Even if the characters ended up not looking quite right, America still gives us Imperial Walkers that look like double-decker buses, and you can't beat that. 

2.5/5

Plus.5/5if this attracts a wide conservative audience. They may see something in America: The Motion Picture that speaks to them, and, if it happens, I'd love to know what that is. Also this most likely has no sequel plans, but it's set up for an equally enjoyable second round.

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Sunday, June 6, 2021

Cruella (2021)

Cruella by Jansumalla
From Disney+, "Emma Stone stars in Disney's Cruella, which explores the rebellious early days of one of cinema's most notorious - and notoriously fashionable - villains, Cruella de Vil...The movie follows a young grifter named Estella and reveals the series of events that cause her to embrace her wicked side and become the raucous and revenge-bent Cruella." The movie co-stars Emma Thompson, Joel Fry, Paul Walter Hauser, Emily Beecham, and Kirby Howell-Baptiste. It is directed by Craig Gillespie (I, Tonya). Based on the book by Dodie Smith and Disney classic by Bill Peet, the winding road of events that change Estella was plotted out by Aline Brosch McKenna, and Kelly Marcel & Steve Zissis, and it was transformed into a script by Dana Fox and Tony McNamara. After watching the movie, that must've been a journey in its own right.

Matt Neglia, of the Next Best Picture Podcast, said it pretty well when talking about Cruella. When Disney just takes a few characters and lets them do their own thing, these remakes and new origin stories are able to breathe and come out better. That's what happens, after a lot of references are painfully front-loaded into the film. Estella/Cruella (Emma Stone, and Billie Gadsdon and Tipper Seifert-Cleveland as a kid and pre-teen, respectively) is born with her signature hair color, teased for it, and she, naturally, retaliates. The many, many marks on her grade school permanent record that are caused by that and other acts of rebellion, create a dalmatian pattern. Luckily, she quickly changes schools. It's absolutely an eye-rolling intro, and I have a bit more to say about why later, but Seifert-Cleveland is doing great work with what she's given, while Gadsdon has, unfortunately, just has one of those front-loading scenes. Cruella's brilliance is quickly shown through Seifert-Cleveland's brilliance, as the early indications of artistic talent and brawling street smarts are mixed with a lot of heart and some deeply buried sorrow. The whole cast really is fantastic. 

Cruella by jansumalla
Cruella, by Jansumalla

A lot of people are saying that if the Golden Globes were airing next awards season, there's a good chance we'd see Emma Stone accepting an award for her performance. I couldn't agree more, as she commands the screen with a blend of wit, energy, and versatility that was quite unexpected. It's not unexpected because of Stone herself. She's always been great, and actions like taking a business card with her teeth shows that she's up for anything, but because of that winding road the movie takes. Her stealing from her boss's private stash before going on a "fashion bender," and later celebrating a victory over a rival designer, The Baroness (Emma Thompson), with a few notes of "I Wanna Be Your Dog" were a few of my favorite moments because they're a couple of the smaller ones in the movie. Stone, the cast, and the crew are able to be a little more loose, although this is always Gillespie's vision.

Emma Thompson's performance benefits the most from that winding road I keep mentioning. The comparisons between The Baroness and Meryl Streep as Miranda Priestly in The Devil Wears Prada aren't cut-and-dry. As the movie goes on, and plots change, Thompson is asked to tap into her own range and become more of a monster than expected. If she started out as a complete cartoon, a large chunk of the movie would fall apart. Instead, she begins as just the right amount of cut-throat. When she accidentally nicks Estella when altering one of Estella's designs, she asks fabrics if that red is a possibility. Maybe it's the paper cuts and hangnails I was suffering from that week because of filing, but it instantly sold me on the character.

A few other people of note are Cruella's henchmen Horace (Paul Walter Hauser) and Jasper (Joel Fry), and The Baroness' right-hand man, John (Mark Strong).  Paul Walter Hauser stole the show in I,Tonya as  Shawn Eckhardt, the "mastermind" who baselessly claimed to be working in counter-terrorism and kept re-parking his car to appear less suspicious to people. Give that character a lot more brains and compassion, but keep a tiny pinch of the self-interest, and you've got one of the best comrades around. Fry also plays a great friend, and I look forward to checking out his other work. The romantic angle between him and Stone is handled really well, as it can be explored down the line in a number of ways that all work. Plus, he doesn't have that pinch of self-interest, and that creates a great dynamic between him and Hauser. Actually a completely different movie where one is the henchmen for the other would be a lot of fun. Mark Strong is an odd case. He's given very little to do outside of delivering some exposition. Because his role is so small, it seems like he was miscast, and he stuck out in the crowd. I really just wish he was given more to do. There are plenty of opportunities, as the story evolves. 

Cruella is a long movie, at about 135 minutes, and to sustain that runtime, it changes plots a couple times. It's a heist movie twice, and it's The Devil Wears Prada once. Now, each change is clear and makes complete sense, but a lot of unexplored character gets sidelined because of it. Some have even said that it's a huge problem because it means that Cruella's mental health isn't properly addressed. I wouldn't go that far. To me, she's just temporarily overtaken by a combo of grief, guilt, and obsession. The reasons why are clear in the opening. I don't think there's anything wrong with what's being said about her, it's just that not a lot is being said in general. For all the great character work, and just work, Cruella is more, but not all, style over substance. That's a real shame. On this subject though, a character named Artie (John McCrea) is under some scrutiny for being an attempt by Disney to pat themselves on the back for being inclusive. McCrea's role is basically to be Cruella's stereotypical gay best friend. McCrea is great in the role, but considering that Disney should've caught up by now and moved past a cookie-cutter portrayal already, it's two steps forward and one step back. Artie runs a second-hand boutique and helps Cruella with her designs. Speaking of designs...

Costumes were designed by Jenny Beavan (Mad Max: Fury Road and Room with a View), cinematography was by Nicolas Karakatsanis, and hair & makeup was designed by Nadia Stacey. With Gillespie, they all work together to build one hell of a picture, over and over again. Cruella is intensely beautiful, and, naturally, it's at its best when a signature outfit is on display. Most of these '70s-inspired ensembles are worn by Stone, while some that go back to the '60s, according to Beavan, adorn Thompson and were chosen to show her slightly aging instincts. It's those small details that keep the movie freshly in-mind nearly a week after a first viewing.  Hopefully, Beavan's is rewarded with more than only award recognition, since, according to VarietyDisney is officially licensing a Cruella collection with her designs without additionally compensating her. Even smaller details are the ways the camera moves, like when it follows one of the dogs, Wink, as he's exiting a bus. It's such a tight shot, that it seems like it couldn't have been easy to film. The effort was appreciated, as long as the dog had a good time, of course. Plus, there are grander versions of this kind of movement throughout the film. Tatiana S. Reigel assembles these pieces pretty well as the movie's editor, overlooking a couple of hiccups. 

That opening sequence, again, is one of them. The moment young Estella, Horace, and Jasper meet is just very choppy as it just quickly cuts to whatever lines will finally get us onto the real show. This sequence is capped off with a transition to the present that was done much better in Sam Levinson's Euphoria. The shot has purpose, but that's not enough to sell an, excuse the excessive harshness and on-the-nose term for a second, a knockoff. 

The other hiccup in editing is the use of newspaper text and headlines filling the frames in a couple of sequences. It looks good, but there isn't a whole lot of new or necessary info being delivered. It has no real purpose, the shots already look great without them, and time and money possibly could've been put into other parts of the film. That's the unfortunate thing about the movie as whole, it doesn't say much because of the pieces it's cut into.

Each plot and each heist, or heist-like plan, could be an entire incredible movie, and I'd like to see each of them because of the depth that the writers and Gillespie are only able to hint at with a line or short scene. The The Devil Wears Prada part of the movie could stand on its own thanks to Stone, Thompson, and the fresh setting of '70s London. Maybe Disney could remedy that? Fox made The Devil Wears Prada, and Disney bought them, so maybe they could at least arrange a round-table with Stone, Thompson, and Streep, in-character and out, and with some other costume designers and creatives from both movies? At least it's a nice thing to think about and maybe create some fan-fiction around. Cruella will definitely open up some minds that way. It worked on me.... 

Made after watching Birds of Prey and DC's Harley Quinn (Season 1 and Season 2)

Re-skinned after watching Cruella. The morning star was also made along with the original two. Does anyone else want Emma Stone to play an alt-universe Harley?

3.5/5

Plus.25/5 for the artistic inspiration it gave me and has given others. Please scroll up and take another look at those depictions of the character by Jansumalla. She's selling prints of it, by the way. While the audience of kids in my theatre got remarkably quiet after the previews started playing, it wouldn't be a surprise to find out years from now that a fashion designer, or hair or makeup artist, maybe one of them, was sparked by Cruella, and that's all that really matters.

Dog Cane
Last one. This was kinda quickly put together after the review was written. The materials are from BlenderKit, and the head is part of a full, rigged model by pomilecrown

One last thing, the soundtrack. I have it. I tried to put it on my phone when I left the theatre but didn't have wi-fi. I tried to stop somewhere with wi-fi on my way home but instead had to drive back in silence. It's great. It may overwhelm some people, but the songs were just right for me. The worst song choice, the last one, isn't on there, so there's no risk of reliving that moment. Instead, for example, you're treated to Ike & Tina Turner's "Whole Lotta Love." The power of it, to someone who grew up on classic rock, cannot be overstated. Stone's celebratory rendition of "I Want To Be Your Dog" comes after a different John McCrea's full performance, and it's literally a showstopper. Nicholas Britell's score doesn't get equal treatment, but the times it's allowed to shine, like when Estella's making her first dress for the Baroness, give the movie a little more grounding. 

Update: This movie continues to inspire. 

My Cruella Cosplay
Halloween 2021
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Sunday, May 2, 2021

The Mitchells vs The Machines (2021)

The best thing I heard about Mitchells vs The Machines when previews and posters started coming out is that it looked like it wasn't going to go all-in on technology being evil. I'm happy to report that that's true. Instead, Mitchells vs The Machines goes all-in on the visuals, and that's surprisingly not always a great thing, no matter how masterfully it's done. 

From the official Netflix summary, "A robot apocalypse put the brakes on their cross-country road trip. Now it's up to the Mitchells - the world's weirdest family - to save the human race." The trip was to give the family one last bonding experience before Katie (Abbi Jacobson, from Broad City) goes off to film school, as she's anxious to get away from her dad, Rick (Danny McBride), who just doesn't fully understand her passions or how society at large has become so screen-centered. The three other big parts of the family are matriarch Linda (Maya Rudolph), younger brother Aaron (Mike Rianda), and pug Monchi (Doug The Pug, linked for convenience).

The movie is written and directed by Mike Rianda and Jeff Rowe (both writers on Gravity Falls and Disenchantment), produced by Phil Lord, Christopher Miller, and Kurt Albrecht, and it was set to be a Sony Animation/Columbia Pictures release before Covid-19 made them sell the distribution rights to Netflix. So, Sony Animation, Lord, and Miller, that's why this movie is as off-the-wall and colorful as it is. However, this is quite different in its look and feel.

It's incredibly fast-paced, and it very rarely sits and breathes. For a movie with a smartphone focus, it makes a lot of sense to occasionally cut to a semi-random YouTube video as quickly as we go to them just because something popped into our heads. It's not a kid to adult thing, it's a generational and tech shift that we're all adjusting to. And we always will, as each shift and advancement is leaps and bounds greater than the one before, and it always comes with new communication skills to adapt to. I'm in my (late) 20s and don't fully understand how my younger cousins use some of the apps that they enjoy, but the point is being open to those new things and learning from my family. That's what this movie is about. So with the big lesson out of the way, let's talk about why it works so wonderfully, the characters and the humor.

Stylized Columbia Pictures Logo
It's always a good early sign when this lady gets funky | Copyright 2021 Sony & Netflix

Katie is the best kind of film student and (future) auteur. She loves learning about the process and technical aspects, she uses her shorts to speak from the heart, and has no fear. And Rick is kinda the best kind of concerned parent, when it comes to this. He doesn't fully understand her videos, the industry or those technical aspects, but he does understand it's competitive as hell and a tough way to make a living, especially in a major city. As someone who crashed and burned a year into studying animation, switched to business, and just does film stuff for fun, Rick is right to be concerned. The difference between my situation and Katie's isn't that Katie can draw and will be a few steps ahead of her classmates, but it's that my parents were aware that failing in early adulthood is okay and there's plenty of room to pivot. He thinks a setback could be catastrophic, and her experiencing that scares him because he's a pretty awesome dad. That's not something I thought I'd say about a character voiced by Danny McBride. Before getting to him, it's worth noting this movie has an even-handed say on film school. Very simply, take it or leave it, depending on the person and what they want to specialize in. Film school is if you want to be on-set and learn how to collaborate, and self-teaching is for people like me who don't get involved in production.

From early previews, it looked like Rick would go full-Ron Swanson and be voiced by Nick Offerman. And they can do that without those characters being overly similar, but it'd still probably be distracting. Instead McBride is pretty unrecognizable. It's not just that Rick is sweet, but it's a complete change, as his accent largely drops, he's more timid in intimidating situations, and any trace of something like bravado is reserved for mountain-man and dad joke moments. Those moments are great. I hope he, or some piece of the cast, at least gets an Annie nomination for creating this incredibly lived-in family dynamic. Hopefully it's revealed that a lot of the recordings were done at the same time. 

The humor kind of reminds me of watching Storks, and that reminded me of 2010s Cartoon Network. What I said then is "No one gets society like Warner Brothers Animation," as they handle everything from technology, to representation, to millennial culture, and more. Sony Animation can be added to that list; they put a huge emphasis on making jokes character-driven. One of my favorite little ones is the justification of the slow-motion walk after an explosion. Being like Katie, and having a camera, is all the justification you need...and how many opportunities are there to do that with other people. It's much more badass with a group. The explosion, surprisingly is one of the visually restrained moments of the movie, unlike when Sony and Warner Brothers had two stunning ones in Storks. Efforts were put into a million little moments instead of a few big ones, and the payoff is much larger...possibly too large. 

Painstaking efforts were put into making Spider-Man: Into The Spider-Verse look and move like a comic book. So this has to be made clear, those same painstaking efforts were put into making Mitchells look like a cross between a phone screen, that's opened to Instagram or Snapchat, and a lightly done anime. Filters and social media stickers are used a lot in this movie. It's not like it's just for fourth-wall breaking moments, but it's stitched right into the movie. Since so much of that is 2D, it really pops, sometimes more than the computer-animated components. That's what Spider-Verse had going for it but a bit more scaled back.

This is on top of the break-neck speed Sony Animation has become known for, so the results can be quite taxing to the eyes, especially during the action-packed climax. At nearly two hours, cutting ten or twenty minutes would've helped with late-stage burnout, but in a movie like this there's no telling what could've been incidentally lost.  

Re-watching the movie for this review, and pausing let the details really sink in, like a lot of the movies that inspire Katie being part of the K Collection. I'd like to think that it's personally made for her, or it's this universe's version of the Criterion Collection, similar to how they also have a store named Good Get. Sony itself seems to lack a knockoff when it comes to their headphones and cameras, of course. 

Sony Product Placement 1Sony Product Placement 2
Creativity and a great story in exchange for some bill-paying product placement can be a pretty fair trade | Copyright 2021 Sony & Netflix

This is an odd way to recommend the movie, but I think one of the best ways to test it out is to watch the first ten minutes or so, and if the visuals are straining, consider turning your screen off and just listening to it with the movie's audio-description settings for the blind. If the viewing experience is too nontraditional, try reading the script because the story is very well-written. While better together, every element of the movie stands on its own. 

One last thing, seriously, say please and thank you to your Alexas/Siris/Cortanas. It sounds ridiculous, but it reinforces our P&Qs, and it's a good way to teach manners and basic behaviors to children. The fact that that never happens in this movie, even after meeting good machines, is a major knock against the movie and a weird oversight. It's a disconnect in the movie formerly titled Connected.

4/5

Note: I highly recommend listening to Mike Rianda's interview with the Next Best Picture's Matt Neglia. What struck me is when Rianda talked about how the visual style directly relates to Katie's filmmaking style. Without spoiling the interview, stuff like that adds a lot both to the movie itself, its development, and what we can expect from Rianda and, possibly, Rowe next. NBP's review of the movie can be found here. I really look up to these guys, and they put Promising Young Woman on my radar like a year before it even came out, so this is the least I can do as a fan who wanted to return that favor. CinemaWins did a fantastic video on the movie, too.

Finally, if you are like Katie, please look into film school and the free filmmaking resources available to you. Even if you want to teach yourself, a school's curriculum can provide a helpful learning path. Katie taught herself Photoshop, and you can learn free programs like Gimp (free Photoshop), Openshot (video editing) and Blender (animation and video editing). Finding the right beginner tutorial or starting point is tough because everyone learns differently, but once you find it, you'll pick these tools up in no time. 

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Wednesday, March 24, 2021

Coming 2 America (2021) | Short Review

That was a lot of fun! It's amazing seeing Eddie Murphy, along with the rest of the cast, firing on all cylinders. Dolemite is My Name quickly shot up the watchlist because of him. The plot in this movie is a little too standard, but everyone happily does everything they can to elevate it.

For people around my age and younger, you "can" go into Coming 2 America without seeing the first one, but are you really going to dismiss a classic? Honestly, that's probably why I liked it so much. I remember just enough that I recalled a few jokes but wasn't anywhere close to disappointed with this satisfying sequel. 

Coming 2 America Promo Poster
Coming 2 America Promo Poster | Property of Amazon and Paramount/ViacomCBS

Also, the soundtrack is now on my phone and will be part of my long drive to Syracuse tomorrow to get my 2nd vaccine shot. The main thing I'll be listening to is the Norse Mythology audiobook by Neil Gaiman.

3/5


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