Basmati Blues

I first heard about Basmati Blues at least 2 and a half years ago. I tend to rather frequently look up the Wikipedia List of Musical Films By Year. It is always good to know what is coming up, because damn it, I like musicals. Just like how I waited for almost two years for The Greatest Showman.

But this was different. This one had the star of Room , which was wildly popular at the time, and it was a goddamn musical. It just took forever to come out, with delays, and then eventually a quiet VOD and even quieter DVD release.

This is a film they tried to bury, instead of riding off of her coattails. Can it be that bad?

Dance
Foreigner learning to do local dance scene? Check.

Rice 9 is amazing! It gives more protein, more rice per yield, less waste, and blah blah blah. It has been genetically modified to be the very best rice there is and can do a lot for hunger and poverty!

The designers of this crop are the father daughter team of Eric (Scott Bakula) and Linda (Brie Larson), although Linda did most of the legwork despite her younger age. She is passionate about helping save the world and happy that she works for a company that is trying to get things rolling. However, there is a problem. Their rep that was supposed to go to India to sell the plant to a small group of farmers to prove its effectiveness got into some really bad trouble. He wouldn’t be welcome in those parts.

The heads (Donald Sutherland, Tyne Daly) need to find someone new to send over stat. Someone who is passionate, kind, and believes in their product. And although she is just a scientist, they think Linda is just the girl for the task.

Now we have a girl going to a country she has never been, to peddle a product she loves, to farmers who are mostly resistant to change. And because she is alone, why not throw in some love complications as well? Oh yeah, also, the corporation is bad.

Also starring Utkarsh Ambudkar as our love interest / competitor, Saahil Sehgal, and Lakshmi Manchu.

Musical
Corporation revealing their evil ways in a plan with office workers? Check

No, I wouldn’t say it is that bad. But it is is that forgettable. There were definitely songs and it was definitely musical songs. I imagined this could be a movie where the songs came out naturally and realistically, like Begin Again or so. These songs however are mostly the show stopper type films, breaking the ordinary, music playing in the background. I have no hate for these type, I love them!

Just this one didn’t have too many and they weren’t too spectacular (spectacular). I can’t remember really any of the songs, just maybe 1-2 seconds. None of the tunes stuck in my head and maybe only a few made me smile.

The plot and the story is relatively weak. I am happy it was anti-corrupt corporations and not anti-genetically modified food, which is where I thought it would go. They are totally fine with genetically modified food, just not fine with dick companies who lie.

It was strange to set a musical in India and not go harder for the actual Bollywood feel. We had a Bollywood ending number, and the rest was just standard fare. The cinematography during the songs is incredibly low key, and just felt like a movie that was filmed in about a week.

Basmati Blues is the thankfully not the only musical to come out this year. Check out Hearts Beat Loud for my current number one if you need something to get you moving.

1 out of 4.

Hearts Beat Loud

John Carney is an amazing director. From Once, to Begin Again, to Sing Street. Great films, great songs, a lot of heart and love.

This movie, Hearts Beat Loud, is not made by John Carney, but it looks like it could have been.

Instead it is directed by Brett Haley, who did The Hero. It is a film I meant to watch and didn’t, that also probably didn’t have music in it so whatever. Basically, I know little of his work, but by golly, with a movie like this, I guess I should go back and check them out.

Family
With smiles and beards like this, you know this film is infectious. In multiple ways.

Frank Fisher (Nick Offerman) is a man who has run a record store in New York City for 17 years. He loves music. He loves making music. He wanted to be a star. But he did not reach his fame.

Sam Fisher (Kiersey Clemons) is his daughter, in the summer before college, and she is taking pre-med classes to get ahead. She is going to UCLA, which is far away from NYC. She also enjoys music, but doesn’t have time for it anymore.

And her mother / his wife? Well, she is gone. She has been for some time. It has been hard. Hell, Frank was performing with her. Maybe they would have made it big together. Maybe. They just never got the time to make it fully work. And now they are about to be separated. Things are changing. This is sad. It feels sad. I’m sad.

But in a last hooray, in a jam session between the pair, they make a song finally just work. It is emotional, it is a good mix of pop and soul. And it is about to take off on the internet.

Also starring Ted Danson, Toni Collette, Sasha Lane, and Blythe Danner.

Love
Also some stories of love, those are the ones that really get you.

I already mentioned how this feels like a movie by an acclaimed director. I am so surprised that this director tackled these heartfelt song and jam session scenes so wonderfully. They draw the viewer in, and as long as there are good speakers, you will feel like you are there and just want to jump for joy.

My audience actually had people cheering after they finally finished their first song, and this isn’t some midnight release crowd, so it was odd to see.

Hearts Beat Loud is emotion. It is hope, it is sadness. It is loneliness and anxiety. It is fear of change, and fear of trying something new. It is excitement, joy, and of course, love. Offerman and Clemons just feel so realistic in their roles that it is hard to not go on the roller coaster with them.

I loved the music in this movie. Surprisingly it only made me cry once. I am guessing because my own daughter is a decade and a half before moving out and being an adult, so those scenes didn’t take as much of a hold on me.

Hearts Beat Loud is a feel good movie overall, and just a movie that feels like it needs to exist right now.

4 out of 4.

Pitch Perfect 3

In 1992, The Mighty Ducks came out, introducing a lot of youth to hockey and bringing an okay film to the world. It had a team of irregulars come together to win a competition. Standard story. Two years later, we were given D2: The Mighty Ducks, a much superior film, funnier, stronger, better. We got more exciting characters, the stakes were raised as they now had to compete and win in an international tournament. It gave us the knuckle puck!

Then another two years later, Disney had reached too close to the sun and tried for a third film. But where do you go after your group of kids have won a world championship? There is no intergalactic hockey (barring the Mighty Ducks TV Show). So they instead just made them go to a school, and play the varsity team of older players. It was a terrible idea, it was boring, no one cared.

That is what my concerns are for Pitch Perfect 3. In the first film they won the US, in the second film they won the world, and in the third film they are just…singing for the troops. What’s the point? The only real difference I could see is that at least in Mighty Ducks the second film improved upon the first, while in Pitch Perfect 2 it lowered in quality due to lesser plot lines.

Oh well, let’s see how it manages to justify its existence. And that is coming from a fan!

Group shot
Well at least they are patriotic, so they can

Our third film is taking place probably around 3 years after the events of Pitch Perfect 2. Our heroes (?) now have all moved on with their lives, in graduate school, or with jobs, or no jobs at all. Who knows.

Becca (Anna Kendrick) is officially a music producer, but dealing with shithead artists who have bad tastes makes her quit and question her future in the business. Thankfully, the Bellas are having a reunion show at an aquarium, so she has that to look forward to since her life is falling apart.

All the girls are there (Alexis Knapp, Anna Camp, Brittany Snow, Chrissie Fit, Ester Dean, Hana Mae Lee, Kelley Jakle, Rebel Wilson, Shelley Regner) and even their protege Emily (Hailee Steinfeld) is there. At this show, everyone realizes that their lives suck, they are sad, and they just want to sing and be happy. Thanks to plot magic, they are able to quickly agree and get invited to a USO show to entertain the troops.

And lo and behold, this is secretly a competition. They are performing alongside three bands with instruments and sound systems, but apparently DJ Khaled is there sponsoring it all, and his favorite band will get to open for him on tour. I learned after the fact that this is a real famous DJ playing himself in this movie, not another character.

Oh joy, a competition, in order to really bring out their best. Also, John Lithgow is in this movie to play Fat Amy’s elusive father who was apparently a criminal in the past. Starring Elizabeth Banks, Ruby Rose, John Michael Higgins, Matt Lanter, and Guy Burnet, who is playing our Jesse replacement. Because Jesse/Benji/Bumper were written out of these stories, with only two of them getting a line to explain what happened.

Sing
0-3 on Riff Offs because these people used instruments.

Let’s start this analysis with another franchise comparison. I don’t like Cars. Some people do like Cars. No one liked Cars 2. Cars 2 had the main character change and a terrible no good very bad spy theme.

Pitch Perfect 3 starts off with the group actually on a boat performing, then danger guns explosion. “Oh gods,” you wonder, “Did they change this to a spy series and not put it in the trailers. Oh no no no.” And then you forget about it. You hope it is just a movie in the movie scene, maybe they become fake stars. Sure.

And then the terrible Fat Amy father plot continues, with Lithgow acting quite terribly at being a thief or whatever. It was such a bizarre aspect to add to a very lackluster film. When they finally were back up to that boat scene I started falling asleep in the theater. Oh it was so bad and unnecessary.

As for the main plot, it was so bad and unnecessary. Banks and Higgins were trash in this movie, their quips less good and they felt so useless. The competition aspect was forced, with an extremely long into and “riff off.” They spent all this energy into setting up their first USO show and raining down shit upon the group and their antics to be loved. After that? We were given a montage over the other performance, and hey, apparently now everyone loves them and all that strife was just filler. They fixed their goddamn problems and got popular again after two bad events magically through montage.

The second film did really well monetarily so they probably felt like they had to make this one. But with forgettable performances, less mashing up, forgettable and enraging plot points, this is not a movie that needed to be made at all. But sure, some side characters had good one off jokes. That’s the plus.

1 out of 4.

The Greatest Showman

On May 12, 2016, I received an email from one of the production companies who handles pre-screenings in the Houston area. They like to send out emails letting us know what films are coming up and their release dates and studio. It is to make things nice and smooth. Well, the week before on May 5 that email only went to the end of 2016, but for some reason this email added everything they currently knew about for 2017. And at the end of the list, was something called The Greatest Showman on Earth for a Christmas release.

That title intrigued me, so I looked it up. Once I read the plot description and actors involved, at that point I declared it was my now most hyped film of 2017. And it has taken a long time to get here, over a year a half, before I finally got to see it.

I kept away from the trailers, from the soundtrack. I acknowledged that there has been no buzz from the Oscars at all about it, which is a bit surprising, given the genre and cast and subject. They obviously changed the title since then to a much cleaner The Greatest Showman, but I just want you to know, I have been hyped for almost 20 months, and it wasn’t a superhero movie.

Bar
Superhero movies aren’t allowed to show too much drinking.

Phineas Taylor Barnum (Hugh Jackman) grew up poor, his dad a tailor, him an assistant. They were looked down by the elite who saw them as poor people, because they were poor people. He had dreams of one day hosting the greatest show in the world. And despite his dad’s early death, he was still able to marry and run off with his childhood love, Charity (Michelle Williams), who grew up rich.

They had two kids and had a middling live of above poverty, but it wasn’t good enough for Barnum. He needed more, he need luxury, he needed to prove to the snobs and the elites that anyone can rise to their ranks.

And eventually he bought a museum of oddities. Weird stuff, stuff that people want to see. It gradually grew over time, including live acts, like a little man (Sam Humphrey), a bearded lady (Kaele Settle), acrobats (Zendaya) and so on. He gained a rich playwright to help him draw in the rich people (Zac Efron) to mixed reviews. And at one point he brought in a famous Swedish opera singer (Rebecca Ferguson) to get the expensive tickets in the seats. And some would say, he did it all, just to get back at Charity’s dad (Fredric Lehne), who never believed he was good enough for his daughter.

A big show requires a big cast, so here are some kid actors, performers, and side kicks. Cameron Seely, Austyn Johnson, Alex Wong, Ellis Rubin, Skylar Dunn, Jacqueline Honulik, Natasha Liu Bordizzo, Paul Sparks, and Yahya Abdul-Mateen II.

Beard
Some would say that the beard deserves its own tag as well.

I would like to say that I am hard on musicals and judge them rightfully, because I have high expectations for them. At the same time, if my toes are tapping, my body is moving, and the show in front of me is eye candy, there is also a good chance I am liking it. Do I like all musicals? Who know. But I must be biased towards them, often having them near the top of my end of year lists in some capacity.

This is probably what is happening for The Greatest Showman. Because on one hand, this film does not accurately depict at all a beliable/realistic version of P.T. Barnum. Sure, some elements are true, but most are complete fantasy and in a very forgiving light. That is going to piss some people off. The plot itself is all relatively weak, or at least, not too new when it comes to story telling of rags to riches and the meek inheriting.

And yet I was so engrossed, I cried four times. I cried over sadness, over love, over happiness, and over the future. Every time Jackman smiled, it was contagious and it felt full of love as well. The sets were colorful, full of fun costumes, unique characters who were really in tune with their dancing.

And the music, the music! I tried to not listen to it ahead of time, and went in mostly blind. It starts off odd, but over time the opening song (The Greatest Showman) definitely grows on you. My favorite is probably This Is Me, their Freak Flag song so to speak, as Keala Settle just fucking rocks every line. Rewrite the Stars is beautiful, heartbreaking, and has the choreography one would expect for a number like it, best in the film. And The Other Side is such a fun song between Efron and Jackman, featuring a nice bar dance and so many shots it is easy to lose count.

Hell, even the tiny details of the songs were great, including the giant character banging on the ceiling to create the beat in our finale song.

It is so easy to get lost in this movie. It is so surprising that it is under two hours long, and honestly, I wish there was a lot more.

One final nitpick that doesn’t change the grade. We got a famous Swedish opera singer, so it felt really annoying to hear her singing what amounted to a modern pop musical song, that didn’t match her description at all. That song is also amazing, but it just felt very odd at the same time.

4 out of 4.

Coco

Walt Disney Animation Studios have been on a kick lately, where they want simplistic, yet bold film titles, often in one word. Tangled. Frozen. Moana. Zootopia. Gigantic, which apparently isn’t going to happen anymore.

Disney isn’t officially doing Coco, Pixar is (Which is owned by Disney), who, outside of the franchise that should not be named, has mostly shied away from these sort of titles. Is Coco a sign of things to come for Pixar in the title department? It is hard to say, given the fact that its previous two movies, and next two movies are all sequels. Ugh.

I will note I experienced almost no hype for Coco. And that is because of its immediately similarity to The Book of Life. They aren’t even doppelganger films, because the other one came out years earlier, so it is just a bit odd to see such similar topics in animated films so close to each other. But the good news is, The Book of Life was only okay, I forgot basically all of it by now so it really didn’t mess with my opinion.

Strum
Guitars, afterlife, Mexico, love, sadness, revenge. Very similar films indeed.

Mama Imelda (Alanna Ubach) has a sad story, but a strong one. She had a daughter, Coco (Ana Ofelia Murguía), with her husband, who had more loves in the world than just his family. He left them, to become a singer and a star, and never returned. Poor Imelda had to raise Coco on her own, while also bringing home the bacon. She learned to make shoes and started her own shoe empire, going down her line of children.

Now, many years later, Miguel (Anthony Gonzalez) is a 12 year old boy, and he loves music. He wants to play the guitar and sing, but there is a ban on music in his family, given the past incident. His Abuela (Renee Victor) is the main matriarch now, since his great-grandmother, Coco, is in a chair and doesn’t speak much.

Miguel idolizes Ernesto de la Cruz (Benjamin Bratt), who is basically the Mexican Elvis in this film, extremely famous and well loved. But he has to keep his obsession secret. Well, due to some shenanigans involving a dead man’s guitar, Miguel finds him in the underworld! And on this, Dia de los Muertos, when the dead are trying to get back to the real world, not the other way around.

Miguel is going on an adventure, on the run from disapproving and dead realities, while he searches for his great great grandfathers approval, so that he can return to the real world AND play music officially. And he has bumbling Hector (Gael Garcia Bernal) to help him, who just wants someone to post his photo in the real world so he can cross over to the real world just one time before no one remembers him.

Also featuring the voices of many others, including Edward James Olmos, Jaime Camil, Alfonso Arau, Herbert Siguenza, Lombardo Boyar, and Sofía Espinosa.

Familia
Well, Miguel doesn’t LOOK like his ancestors.

It is interesting that this film came out in Thanksgiving weekend and not like, the week before Dia de los Muertos like the film takes place on. Usually films go into effort to come out near specific holidays, but Pixar needed that Thanksgiving break money. It was released in Mexico before the day at least, so it has been out for almost a month somewhere else in the world.

On an emotional level, Coco hits on most of the cylinders. It should be a relatively easy feat, given the subject of DEATH and loss being its main focus. Relatives dying? Wives, kids, parents, whatever the level, it will get people choked up. It had a diverse soundtrack of authentic sounds, and despite Remember Me getting the most screen time (and one cry), my favorite song was Proud Corazón by the end, which tied up everything with a nice bow, as these films tend to do.

Miguel’s relationship with his various family members feels real on the level that a 12 year old boy might feel, including the parts where no one lets him talk. But adults refusing to listen to children in films end up usually being a pet peeve, as they just create lazy plot situations where communication does not occur and leads to all of the conflict.

Coco is a beautiful film, physically and emotionally, but it just seems to falter on the smaller elements. Ideas I couldn’t get out of my mind. Timing these events on Dia de los Muertos seemed to have hurt it instead of helping it. On this day, the dead want to go to the real world to party, hang out, get trinkets. And yet the city of the dead is so fucking full of people. We see a very small shanty area of folks who can’t cross because they don’t have pictures. But all of the biggest underworld celebrities are just still there? All the citizens are having their own parties in the place they are stuck so many days of the year?

It seems like a minor nitpick, and maybe it is, but it really distracted me most of the film. There were issues with the spirit animals, in that apparently one is so much more powerful than the others that it can just murder in the underworld and be basically okay. We have the fear of falling to death ruined by a last minute save, that would have still killed the person falling based on how they did it.

And we had SO MANY times when slow decisions were being made just toe extend the film. At least three times we had moments where the viewer would assume that everyone is fine now, time to fix things, and then wham, nope. Whether it be from last second pointless arguments, lack of communication, or just forgetting how to move.

The plot felt very lazy, so much that the film became more tearjerky than anything.

I love the culture of the film, I love the authentic voice actors, and how some of the songs were actually all in Spanish. Having this much of a multicultural element in a Pixar film is a welcome change (since most of their culture is inanimate/dead things with feelings). It just relied to heavily on that component and not enough on a decent plot.

And to bring us back to the beginning, Coco is not a good title for this film.

2 out of 4.

My Little Pony: The Movie

Over four years ago, I reviewed a film on a whim. I had to drive almost an hour to get to the theater (which meant something pre-Houston days), for the only screen time it was showing. Something like 12:30 pm on a Saturday. A very limited release, I guess you could say.

That movie was My Little Pony: Equestria Girls. It was my first foray into the subject. Oh, I heard about it before on the internet, and heard about bronies, but I never thought about watching the show before. I just went to see the movie because, damn it, I watch everything, so why not that as well? I went in blind. I didn’t have any background on the show.

Now sure, after it I watched a few episodes and thought it was okay. Nothing I would binge watch, but something I could watch occasionally. And now, years later, I have seen tons of episodes over seasons. I understand the characters now. I have made art with the characters. But I am still not up to some obsessed level with the show, because I haven’t seen most of it. Just parts of episodes here and there. The kids have seen a lot more than me.

But I feel qualified (As fuck!) to review My Little Pony: The Movie. New art style, same ponies, music, and fun. I was excited for this. I took my whole family to this. My youngest daughter, who is two? This is now her first movie ever seen in a movie theater.

I was excited and ready to go.

Friendship
I just really wanted to find out if Friendship was still magic.

The story starts us off with Twilight Sparkle (Tara Strong) and Spike (Cathy Weseluck), properly freaking out because there is about to be a Friendship Festival, with all the kingdoms and princess and even goddamn derpy all excited. They need to highlight friendship, so that everyone can be so fucking magical. For whatever reason, the highlight of the festival is a pony, Songbird Serenade (Sia) singing. She feels stressed, but it is okay, because she has her FRIENDS to help her. They got this. Rarity (Tabitha St. German), Applejack, Rainbow Dash (Ashleigh Ball), Fluttershy and Pinkie Pie (Andrea Libman).

Well, turns out friendship can’t do everything, all the time, right away. Because a few storm clouds start to gather, even though Twilight asked for good weather. Maybe she didn’t friend enough of the people?! Inside the storm clouds are some sweet airships, apparently led by Commander Tempest Shadow (Emily Blunt)! With a name like that, of course she is fucking evil. She is a unicorn, with a broken horn. The saddest. With a head minion Grubber (Michael Pena), they work for The Storm King (Liev Shreiber), and Tempest goes and freezes 3 of the princesses! I don’t even have to tell you which one is able to escape.

The last words they heard were to find the Queen of the Hippos. Huh. Okay. Well, if that is the way to save everyone, then that is what they will do. And on the way, they will find a singing cat (Taye Diggs), some bird sky pirates led (Zoe Saldana), some water horse thing (Kristin Chenoweth) and her mom (Uzo Aduba).

Friends
Guys. I think friendship is back on the table.

Like the subtitle suggests, this certainly is a whole movie. 100 minutes long, big adventure, tons of fun, a beautiful heart, that is faithful and strong with…um, kindness. That last bit will only make sense to some of you.

They have about five or six songs, the best one from Rainbow dash about being awesome. A couple of decent ones, and a few forgettable, including Sia’s songs. Which on that note, Sia is my first real dislike of the film. Oh cool, they made a pony that looks like…Sia as a horse. Why couldn’t they have just made a singing pony by Sia be a pony? Kind of just feels shoe horned.

The story and plot is actually pretty good while also still being easy to follow. It isn’t entirely original, but it does some good things. The biggest problem with the story comes from Twilight Sparkle, our main character. The writers just totally seem to disregard her. She acts totally out of character from my point of view. Why? to advance the plot. And that sort of thing can really anger someone.

In a movie one can easily argue about how a character would act. But with 7 seasons behind us, it is easy to figure out what Twilight would do. They could have set it up better to better explain her actions, but she comes across as stupid, shallow, and certainly not the PRINCESS. OF. FRIENDSHIP.

My other biggest gripe? A totally huge disparity when it comes to pony importance. Of course Twilight is the most important, sure. But not too far after her is Pinkie Pie in terms of lines, jokes, and plot advancement. Then not far after, Rainbow Dash. But after that? Much further down, very far down, come our other three ponies. They basically exist as extremely minor characters with an occasional joke or reference. It was odd. Balance the main characters before you add an equal number of characters for celebrity sake.

Fans of the show should still enjoy it, minus the straight up murder of Twlight’s actions. I’m sure I will end up watching it again.

2 out of 4.

Beauty and the Beast

Wow, how do you introduce a tale as old as time? Something as true as it can be? You just gotta speak from the heart.

I do love the animated Beauty and the Beast film. It celebrates intelligence! It has one of my favorite introduction songs. Gaston is fascinating, with his own great song. But I have always had issues for it. So I better get it off my chest now:

The main takeaway from Beauty and the Beast is bullshit. The prince was punished for not seeing someone’s true beauty, so he was turned into an ugly creature. To learn his lesson, he needs to fall in love and be loved in return, with a nice kiss too, before he turns 21. (Which of course means he was punished as a kid, joy). So how does it eventually happen? By getting the perfect person in his life. She is smart, kind, but also the hottest chick in the village. To really drive the point home, she should have been not matched the perfect standard of beauty. It is kind of crap. Shrek and Shallow Hal end up driving the point home better.

Okay, no more of that. I also appreciate that Gaston is set up as a typical old school Disney Prince, who just wants love because they are beautiful, so it sort of shows Disney going away from their older film tropes.

What I am really getting at is that I am excited for the live action version of Beauty and the Beast. I was not excited for the live action Cinderella, because the plot of Cinderella is shit and celebrates obedience to mean people and doing chores until a prince can take you away. Fuck that.

Read
Give that bitch a book. Bitches love books.

In some nondescript village in old timey France, there was a castle. None of this is Paris, we know that for certain. There was a prince (Dan Stevens), who lived in the castle, and he was mean. He was so mean to some haggy bitch, that the haggy bitch turned him into a really hairy dude and all of his servants into utensils and shit. What in the fuck!

Now years later, they have almost given up hope at becoming human again. The Beast has to not just fall in love, but have someone love him back. They are depressed, cold, and a spell was put on the area for people to forget about their existence. So that doesn’t help either.

Thankfully, there is a really freaky girl in that poor provincial nearby town. Belle (Emma Watson), a girl who was trained to use that brain of hers, an inventor, a girl who likes books and is somehow still decent looking. Some shit goes down with her dad (Kevin Kline). He finds himself locked up in this castle forever. Thankfully, their horse was also trained to use its brain and he is able to take her to the castle and HOLY FUCK, A BEAST!

Using that goddamn brain of hers, she is able to trick her dad into taking his place, planning to escape in the future. You know, because she is so youthful. But then she falls in love. Oh, way too early. A lot of strife happens. But after a good old fashioned food orgy, she starts to love the place, and thinks about calling it home. Plus, it can clean itself, with the magical slave item army and all.

Also starring Ewan McGregor as a candelabra, Gugu Mbatha-Raw as a duster, Ian McKellen as a clock, Emma Thompson as a teapot, Stanley Tucci as a piano, Audra McDonald as a dresser, Luke Evans as a tall, dark, strong, handsome brute, Josh Gad as his miniature life mate, and also Hattie Morahan as a begger.

Gaston
Gaston’s face cannot be shown because Gorgon Reviews is not a big enough website.

Remember Cinderella? That film I already mentioned? Again, it was okay. It was colorful. Shit story. Good dresses. A terrible idea for a first run. It was like the Universal Monsters series trying to give us Dracula Untold as the start of their shared Universe. But now they gotta get The Mummy to save their asses. Yes, I recognize we have had a few other live action films since Cinderella, but this is the first one since then to be about a Disney Princess!

Beauty and the Beast delivers, and it delivers hard.

Of course, we get the best parts from the original. Bonjour is fascinating, with a village of real people, and we still get the “Please Let Me Through!” line. Be Our Guest is an explosion of extravagance. The Gaston song starts off awkward for me, but grows into its own, feels like a giant party, and has a few surprises. (Although, the chorus of that song is also almost impossible to understand)

But we also get a whole lot new! An expanded introduction, more backstory on the Beast and Belle’s lives before the film and their parents, bigger connections to the castle and the village and why it is a big surprise, Belle being a stronger female character, and more. AND! Alan Goddamn Menken, the Disney musical genius, came back to rewrite some of his songs from two decades ago, plus a few new ones. Three at that. Day in the Sun and Evermore are great additions to the film and Evermore had me crying. And don’t worry, the Human Again song added to the animated film does not take place in this movie.

I am annoyed that at the timing of this review, I have to wait a week to hear some of the newer songs again, just to see if I like them as much as I am writing.

Beauty and the Beast is not just a remake. It is also a re imagining. With more backstories, more lines for side yet important characters, everyone feels more fleshed out. Even Gaston and especially LeFou. We get some good call backs, and good changes to match the times. It was an incredible job done by the team, who treated their source material with respect, and really matched what made the first film great 26 years ago.

4 out of 4.

La La Land

La La Land gets the honor of most anticipated film of 2016. Yes, it even beats Doctor Strange, which I have been waiting for years.

I was told Damien Chazelle (who just gave us Whiplash), plus musical, plus two wonderful stars and I knew I just had to see it. And then it got pushed back! Several times, to the wonderful Oscar seasons, meaning more waiting and more desire.

The good review hype just made my train go even stronger. If anything, by the time I saw it, I was disappointed it wasn’t a four hour long movie.

And now that I have seen it, my hype has immediately switched to next years Christmas release of The Greatest Showman starring Hugh Jackman.

Dance Dance
I just really like dancing and musicals, get over it.

Sebastian (Ryan Gosling) is a great pianist, lover of jazz, and a dreamer. Mia (Emma Stone) is an aspiring actress, not successful, former writer kind of, and hey, a dreamer.

So of course they meet in one warm winter, LA evening and things go, well, they don’t go. But then they meet again later and something starts to flicker on between them. Romance, hopes, dreams. And hey, a song and dance number.

Sebastian wants to open up his own jazz club, at a historic location, to bring the genre back to the public, but he also might sell out his skills to make money in the mean time with an old (poppy) friend (John Legend). Mia is tired of going to auditions against girls prettier and more experienced than her, getting her no where, so she puts more of her focus towards creating a play that she can star in herself, to get her name out.

And then there is romance, hopes, and more romance.

But love can’t be the only thing in a relationship. Can they even last a year with their goals, or more?

Also featuring Callie Hernandez, Jessica Rothe, Sonoya Mizuno, Rosemarie DeWitt, J.K. Simmons, and Finn Wittrock.

Dance
The only pictures from this movie involve dancing, and hey, even they are getting over it now.

This has been a very hard review to write. First off, I didn’t really want to watch it until I could listen to the soundtrack in its entirety, and thankfully that came out December 9th. The soundtrack isn’t actually that long, and quite a few songs are instrumental only. But the music is something special and for most of the soundtrack, just sitting down and hearing the music is a wonderful thing. Jazz heavily influences the soundtrack, which should not come to a surprise given the director’s previous film and the subject matter. Let’s start at the beginning.

The opening song is what appears to be one long shot, for minutes, involving dozens of extras, cars, and hijacking the LA Freeway at some point for presumably days to practice and get it all right. It gets you in the mood and sets you up. The second song, a bit stranger, but ends on a strong note and really gets the message going. And those two songs are our “classic” musical songs, for the most part. They ooze out nostalgia from the 1940’s and 50’s, with dancing, color and more.

This does continue into A Lovely Night, which gives a modern sarcastic feel to it all, finally including our main two leads fully, and a huge (once again long take) dance number. It is truly a wonder to watch and it made me annoyed that I was in a theater and couldn’t just rewind and see it again and again.

Eventually we get to the main theme of City of Stars, which is hauntingly beautiful and won’t annoy you the many times it comes up, humming, singing or otherwise. City of Stars and The Fools Who Dream are the emotional pinnacle points of the film and are reasons why this film is having so much buzz.

La La Land is about acting, dreamers, with a shit ton of nostalgia and classic feel. I ignored the fact that I saw cell phones early on and assumed it was set in the 50’s until the Prius joke brought me back down from my cloud. La La Land is an experience that deserves the big screen, deserves multiple viewings and will be a musical staple for some time to come. The actors relationship feels real, their love and their arguments. This is the third time Gosling/Stone have been together in a film, after Crazy, Stupid, Love and Gangster Squad (which was a travesty).

Go see one of the best films of the year. The hype is real. Go dream or go home.

4 out of 4.

Moana

And this is where we stand. This is where all of the marbles fall. This is where the plot thickens. Finally, Moana is now out, and we can almost fully discuss the potential for Best Animated Film this year.

I was excited for Moana since it was first announced. Every announcement was met with excitement. Character actors. Lin-Manuel Miranda helping with the soundtrack. General plot lines. Just excitement and happiness.

And this has been a decent year for animated films in America. Zootopia, also a Disney film started off strong. Kubo and the Two Strings changed the game. And Moana is the final heavy hitter. (Pixar and Dreamworks faltered this year, with Finding Dory and Kung Fu Panda 3. The later decent, but the worst of the series). And sure, there was a lot of other filler, but no one expected a lot from them, just like I don’t expect anything from Sing or Storks.

Needless to say, the hype was there, and I was hoping it would deliver.

Water
Starting off a film with potential baby drownings is a surefire way to hold my attention.

Moana (Auli’i Cravalho) isn’t a princess damn it. She is the daughter of a Chieftain. There is a difference, she has talents. She also feels drawn to the sea. They live on an island, but outside of their local reef, the sea is rough and scary, so her father (Temuera Morrison) forbids her to really go into the water, because she has more important duties to prepare for on the island.

But everyone knows there is a lot out there. Moana’s grandmother, Gramma Tala (Rachel House), makes sure they know the tales. The tale of the demigod Maui (Dwayne Johnson), who made the islands. He stole the heart of a goddess a thousand years previous, to give the power of creation to man. But his plan backfired, evil and decay started to lurk and grow, he lost his magical fish hook and was never seen again.

But that is all a story! No way that is real. Until, you know, the crops begin to fail on their island. The fish leave the reef. And their people are worried of being able to feed their families.

Moana isn’t just going to sit around and let her friends, family, and loved ones suffer. No, fuck that. She is going into the see. She is going to find Maui, demand he restore the heart, and fix this blight for good. Sounds like a nice afternoon adventure.

Also starring the voice work of Jemaine Clement as a crab monster, Nicole Scherzinger as Moana’s mom, and Alan Tudyk as a chicken.

Group
There is a joke here about a tiny canoe and wood, but I can’t just quite put my hand on it.

Thankfully, there is a lot going on with Moana. So much that I really don’t even know where to begin! But hey, I will try.

Animation style, it is a gorgeous film. Just like Frozen, I initially sort of had a problem with the character animations compared to the background, but quickly grew into it. The ocean was beautiful, the island so full of background life, and I especially loved the lava demon. It must have taken ages to fully animate that creature and it paid off extremely well.

There weren’t too many annoying characters either. There were small pirate coconut things, they were more amusing than annoying and felt like a reference to Mad Max. For the most part, adults weren’t super dickish in the film, like in other similar adventure stories like How to Train Your Dragon. Our lead was fierce, independent, and stereotype breaking, while Maui was funny and interesting. We still had stereotypical older sage lady, but she at least danced a bit to give her something new.

Music! Music music! What a fantastic soundtrack. Miranda’s influence is super strong in this picture. The first few songs feel very similar to the style of Hamilton songs, including the use of extra chorus members and multiple tunes. Where You Are, How Far I’ll Go, We Know The Way, You’re Welcome, and all the various reprises (There are several) are just great. Only one disappointing song in Shiny, which is sad given it being sung by Clement in a strange Bowie-esque voice. It was hard to understand and his character was lack luster, which is a funny joke given the song title. But hey, Disney movies have to have at least one bad song I guess. Soundtrack was put on Spotify last Friday and I have listened to it a few times.

Finally, we reach the story, and yeah. It is a good one. Sure, cliches here and there, but it is about empowerment and following your dreams, a good message to rehash. I can honestly say I didn’t fully predict everywhere it would go, making it another nice breath of fresh air.

As for which is better, this or Kubo? Well, I don’t know yet. I should re-watch Kubo, but obviously Moana has it beat on actual story and music numbers, but Kubo’s animation and heart are very strong.

4 out of 4.

Trolls

This is my fourth movie this year reviewing with Anna Kendrick in it, and it hasn’t been a great year. Mike and Dave Need Wedding Dates was on top, above Mr. Right and Get A Job, all very mediocre to poor. Sorry, I haven’t hit The Accountant yet and The Hollars looks good too, but that is still six movies this year.

After the year she had been having, I wasn’t super surprised to see her starring in Trolls as well. Trolls is probably one of the most least anticipated animated movies of the year for me, after Sing.

I mean, I get it. Getting rights to old toys to make new movies for is in right now. The Smurfs movies did okay, why not create a world about Trolls? Gotta get that merchandising money back somehow right? Fuck new risks!

Sorry, I almost complained about films these days. Trolls just seems like a lazy cash grab, and they have been hyping it since Timberlake released that song like, six months ago at least. I am trolled out already and I haven’t even been forced to see a real advertisement for it.

Hug
One of those trolls is a fucking giraffe what is going on here?

The Bergens are large, basically ogre like entities that are disgusting and sad, lives devoid of happiness. The Trolls are tiny creatures full of color who are always partying and full of happy. The Bergens hate them and are jealous of them and also found out that when they eat Trolls, they get to feel happiness inside of them and it is kind of a big deal. So they captured all of the trolls and every Bergen eats one on a holiday called Trollstice.

Except this year they have escaped underground, thanks to King Peppy (Jeffrey Tambor), saving every last troll, including his baby daughter Peppy (Anna Kendrick). This gets the Bergen Chef (Christine Baranski) into quite a big trouble, because King Gristle (John Cleese) cannot feed his baby, Prince Gristle (Christopher Mintz-Plasse). So the Chef gets banished from the kingdom. The Trolls find a new place to live and they party for ever after.

Until twenty years later. Princess Poppy is throwing a huge party to celebrate being free of the Bergens. Everyone is going to be there, everyone but Branch (Justin Timberlake). The weird troll who is grey, doesn’t sing, doesn’t dance, doesn’t HUG. He warns them not to do the party like that or else the Bergens will come. And sure enough, the Chef Bergen finds them and takes all of Poppy’s friends. All of them, even the spiritual one (Russell Brand). So Poppy decides to get the rest of the Trolls into hiding and trick Branch into coming along with her to rescue them!

Back at Bergen Town, the Chef is getting back into business with the handful of trolls she captured. The king is dead, so the new king is that poor Gristle Jr. who never got a Troll before and he decides to restore Trollstice to make his kingdom happy! There is also a small maid, Bridget (Zooey Deschenal), who likes the king. This plays a part in the plot.

So yeah, get into the town, save the friends, and you know, survive. Whoa re the friends? Well, a lot of them are played by famous people, but if you asked me their character names I would have no fucking clue, as they kept them kind of hard to figure out and match. But we have Gwen Stefani, James Corden, Ron Fuches, Aino Jawo, Caroline Hjelt, Kunal Nayyar, Quevenzhane Wallis, Walt Dohrn, and Rhys Darby! Oh okay, fine, I could figure out who Guy Diamond was based off of his name.

Scary
They live in a scary place where literally everything has a mouth and eats something.

Oh hey, Trolls. Of course it was a Jukebox Musical in some regards, and I hoped to see something creative. Instead, for the most part, the songs were bad mash ups with a loosely related theme and just choruses to get the little kids moving their feet. I don’t hate Jukebox Musicals, I just hate bad music ones. It was overall a lesser Happy Feet in that regard, but better than Strange Magic.

Overall there were two really good musical moments, one was the song Get Back Up Again which is technically the only original song in the musical (Does the JT one count as original?), and another song near the end that captured the emotions of the moment extremely well. It might have made me cry, but crying does not mean I give the film a passing grade. There was also a very awkward song moment with Deschanel’s character. She gave a unique voice for Bridget, but when Bridget sang it was uncomfortable as the voice did not transition at all into the song.

The colors are bright and kid friendly, but the animation style on its own felt quite dull. It felt too fuzzy and well, doll like. Again, their intentions I am sure to sell toys, but it wasn’t too visually pleasing.

The world they created was an incredibly scary place, as there is a recurring joke of how almost everything eats something else. It frightened me and not in a sexy way.

Plot wise, about 20-30 minutes in it was pretty easy to figure out how the whole thing would end. And yeah, it was true. The love plot between Bridget and the King, although arguably necessary, felt like it was taking too much time from the rescue plot. There are not a lot of surprises in this film, nor intellectual humor. They have a character who farts glitter, and another character who shits cupcakes. Yay butt humor.

Overall Trolls is just okay, which is better than I expected. There are only a few more cartoon movies to go this year and the only place this one will make an impact in the awards is nominations for Best Song, I imagine. It is unfortunately also really dated. They decided to make the Trolls super modern, so they are saying YOLO, OMG and more terms to connect to the youth of today, meaning no one will give a crap about it in ten years.

2 out of 4.

1 2 3 6