Tag: 4 out of 4

Beyond The Infinite Two Minutes

Sometimes I don’t even know how I get screeners. I have a few sources, they are usually the same as the ones that invite me to the theater to see movies ahead of time. But I can get on other press lists accidentally, from lesser known companies, and hey, I appreciate it. Sure, let me see your movies I might have never heard of without this email.

And I do try to watch most of these movies, because they asked me to, but I will say sometimes these foreign movies I ignore if it doesn’t pique my interest.

Beyond the Infinite Two Minutes is a Japanese movie that DEFINITELY piqued my interest. A one-shot take film that involves time travel? Fuuuuuuuuuuucking sign me up right goddamn now.

lottery
The future is wild and it has answers, damn it!

Kato (Kazunari Tosa) is a café owner/worker in Japan, who also happens to live in an apartment right over the shop. It is very convenient, and I believe this is common in Japan. To have various businesses/shops on the ground level, and apartment/homes on the floors above it. Not everyone gets to work and live in the same exact building though, so he is lucky.

Speaking of luck, while he is in his room looking for his guitar pick, he looks on his TV and sees something strange. It is himself, but it is not a reflection, as it has the inside of the café as the background. What?

The man on the TV, you know, himself, has a message for Kato. There is a time delay between the monitors, and he is two minutes in the future. They have a quick back and forth before Kato urges himself to quickly get downstairs so he can do the same conversation, but now with his past self. And that is just the start of these strange two minute delay messages. Talking to yourself from the future, and then talking to yourself from the past. When more people get involved, they wonder if there is a way to make money off of this, and if they can go even further into the future.

Also starring Masashi Suwa, Yoshifumi Sakai, Takashi Sumita, Haruki Nakagawa, Munenori Nagano, Chikara Honda, Gôta Ishida, Riko Fujitani, and Aki Asakura.

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Two minutes. What can be done in two minutes?!
Goddamn it, this movie is an experience and a wonder. How? And how? are some of the questions I had while watching. I didn’t have to ask “What is going on?” because they did a fantastic job of explaining the set up, and showing the set up, and building it up gradually in order for the viewers to understand it along with the characters experiencing this phenomenon.

The first similar film from recent years that came to mind was One Cut of the Dead, and while looking up more information for this movie, I saw a lot of other reviewers making the same comparison, so I know it is a universal comparison amongst those who have seen both and that is a good film to be compared to. I would say Beyond the Infinite Two Minutes is a film with the most ingenuity and audacity to attempt something so amazing.

Look. It is a one-take film. But also, it has to have the actors talking to themselves. That means they did pre-record scenes to play on monitors, but they had to pre-record both sides of the scenes, and then make sure the one-shot version didn’t have any mess ups in the conversation. Because if the dialogue or the delivery is different, we would be able to notice that in the film, as we already saw the dialogue once. In other one-shot take films, they can have some improv or mistakes, but this didn’t really allow that.

And to keep the time consistent? Such a short window to pick, it made this film feel very tense as the characters themselves also feel trapped and predetermined to take certain actions. It has a good run time, around 70 minutes, just enough to tell the interesting story, have it grow, and give us some amazing moments. The final confrontation and walk up to it was so great and again, unbelievable in terms of how they planned this whole thing.

I can’t talk enough about just how wonderfully this film was crafted, how much planning went into it, and how I cannot fathom how they got the idea or even pulled the damn thing. It is mind blowing and it will remain mind blowing.

I don’t know when this movie would be released in America, or how. But whenever that happens, do yourself a favor and set aside a time for your mind to be blown.

4 out of 4.

CODA

I’ve had a wonderful musical summer, how bout you? As of this moment, only two movie musicals have come out this summer. We had of course In The Heights, that has all my praise, and Vivo a cartoon film, both with the Lin-Manuel Miranda effect attached to them. We have a lot more musicals to come out this year too, so I’ve been watching a lot of old classical films I haven’t seen yet in my life.

But now I got to finally see CODA. A new musical, one that took forever to come out, after being on a festival circuit earlier in the year. Based on the description alone, I knew I wanted to see it, and almost counted down the days it would release on Apple TV.

This is also one of those perfect movie title situations, and I am big fan of perfect movie titles.

family
And is this the perfect family? We will see.

Ruby Rossi (Emilia Jones) is mostly your normal high school senior girl. She has a friend, she has interests in music, she has a job. What makes her abnormal is several things. She usually has to get up pretty early to help her father (Troy Kotsur) and her older brother (Daniel Durant) on a fishing boat. They finish their job early enough for her to then go to school, but it can take time to change and she could smell. Oh yeah, both of them and her mom (Marlee Matlin) are all deaf. Ruby was born with the ability to hear sound normally, so she is a Child of Deaf Adults, or, you know, a CODA. Boom. Perfect. (Coda is also a music term if you are less familiar with that).

So it turns out that Ruby has a pretty damn good voice, but she clearly has repressed it for the most part, given her upbringing and the fact that she used to “talk weird” based on her upbringing. But she finally decides to take choir despite her best friend (Amy Forsyth) judging her. Their teacher, Mr. Villalobos (Eugenio Derbez), really sees something in her and wants to work with her on developing her sound and maybe even going to college for singing reasons.

Ruby didn’t imagine much of a future for herself. She has been a translator for her family her whole life, and sees her role as being on the ship after high school, even with them trying to expand their business venture because of the local market screwing them over.

Can she be a successful singer? Can she go into a hobby or career that literally her family have no good way of ever being able to appreciate or understand? Can she leave strand them of the lifeline she gives to the community? Can they survive without her?

Also starring Ferdia Walsh-Peelo, who you will remember as the lead from Sing Street.

director
No jazz hands here. Just pure, unadulterated, choir hands.

CODA was marvelous and if you think otherwise you are the worst.

Sorry, that came out strong. What I meant to say was…

CODA is clearly one of the best movies of the year and if you don’t see that you are Britta and here is why I know this to be true.

First, of course, diversity and representation matters. Having more actual deaf people play deaf people in movies is the best, and should be a pretty good standard there. The family are all actual deaf, the issues they face on the film are real issues those in the deaf community face, and they are hilarious too. We get some R rated signs for sure. But you know what else is represented? The fishing community as a hole, as it was filmed on location in Massachusetts. The issues that they are facing with the independent fisherman getting screwed over due to market prices, and ways to help get out of their predicaments.

Jones was a very strong lead and I was surprised to find that she didn’t do vocal lessons or ASL lessons until after being cast. I figured one of those would have been their goal in casting, at least, but she felt like a natural to me (as someone who is not in anyway an ASL knowledgeable person).

I cried a couple of times in the movie. The scene of the concert was heart breaking and brilliant what the director, Sian Heder, decided to do with that scene. I didn’t expect at all, but it really hit hard. I had a pretty good prediction on how the final scene would play out as we got close, and it went for the obvious route, but it was also quite beautiful despite expecting it. Mostly because during the earlier performance, I might have been yelling at my TV “Why aren’t you doing…!?”, no spoilers.

This is definitely in the top tier roles of Derbez as well, who I didn’t know was in this movie until a week ago. (I first heard about this film in the spring of 2021). I know recently he hasn’t been in a lot of things worth noting (although, I thought he worked well in Dora and the Lost City of Gold). Instructions Not Included was the first saw him in and I fell in love with it, so I have been hoping to have great moments in his career, but I have also been told to watch Under The Same Moon for him. Although a supporting character, he is such a great and different character than what he normally plays (okay, it is just a different sort of eccentric really) and he knocks it out of the park.

CODA is great, maybe the best. It is going to stick with me for a long time, and it will stick with you once you finally get around to see it. Do it. Right now.

4 out of 4.

Rita Moreno: Just A Girl Who Decided To Go For It

Growing up, at some point, my parents watched West Side Story, and although I never watched the whole movie (still true to this day)  from start to finish, I have seen all parts of it at various points of time, also while growing up. Some parts I liked more than others as a kid. Namely, Officer Krupke, Tonight, and of course, America.

Such high energy, early on, led by Rita Moreno, a name I didn’t know in my youth, but would grow to know later on in life.

Still to this day, this is the only song from the soundtrack that will randomly get in my head is America (and never re-watching it in the last 20 years will do that. I should see it again before the remake later this year). But other than that song, I didn’t know much about her life, what else she has done, or looked into her career ever. I knew she won an Oscar for that role, and that is it.

Needless to say, this was actually a great subject for a documentary for me, because I had a lot of information to learn about Moreno, and a decent amount of interest in finding this information out. Rita Moreno: Just A Girl Who Decided To Go For It, tell me how you went for it.

rita moreno
Oh what’s that? That is the name of the movie!

Moreno has been in a whole lot of films, and got her start really early. She was in musicals and films for a whole decade before West Side Story, including big ones like Singin’ In The Rain and The King and I. And of course she did a lot after that, despite not being super popular after her win. Usually actors/actresses go up in stock after an Oscar, but she seemed to hit a drought.

Throughout the decades she has had roles or not had them. She earned the EGOT, and did continue to kick ass, as a singer, dancer, and an actor. She even had a big recurring role on Oz that I definitely didn’t know when I saw the show (well, I knew the character was there, but WHO it was) and the voice of Carmen Sandiego in the 90’s. Honestly, this feels like finding a treasure that was always in front of my eyes, and realizing how deep those roots actually go.

And shockingly enough, by the end of the documentary, I felt such joy and full of hope, that I did cry as well. Crying during a documentary is incredibly rare, and if it happens, it is likely due to already being deeply in touch with the subject, and not just really learning about it deeply for the first time. A strange experience, but a welcome one.

Out of celebrities from the past, Moreno is definitely one of those who deserves it the most. Also features some words from Lin-Manuel Miranda, Eva Longoria, Whoopi Goldberg, and Morgan Freeman.

4 out of 4.

In The Heights

We were supposed to get In The Heights last June, but, you know what happened. Sad things happened. We all know that. But the only good news about it is that they ended up releasing Hamilton 15 months early or so, straight to Disney Plus, to make up for the fact that In The Heights would be pushed back. It is not a compromise I knew I would have to accept, but one I did gladly accept overall.

In The Heights the musical hit Broadway in 2008, and earned quite a few Tony nominations, putting Lin-Manuel Miranda, lyricist and main actor, on the map. That lead to other things as we all know.

I had only knew one song from this musical really well, called It Won’t Be Long Now, because it showed up on my Musical Pandora and no other songs from the whole show. I did give the sound track a good listen before hand the day before this screening, to get familiar with the tunes and lyrics, since I know they can sometimes be hard to hear on the screen. It made me cry once or twice on its own, so I knew there was no hope for my tears to see the whole thing in front of my eyes.

finale
These people are all happy, but I know I’ll end up sappy. 

We are going to check out Washington Heights, a small area in New York City, or Neuva York if you want to call it that, I won’t stop you. This is where will meet Usnavy (Anthony Ramos), owner of a bodega in this area, where almost all of the citizens stop by for his coffee that they have grown attached to. He runs it with his younger cousin Sunny (Gregory Diaz IV) who is still in high school, but politically motivated. Usnavy came from the Dominican Republic before he was 10 with his parents, but the best days of his life were back then, living on the beaches, while his dad ran a bar. Every day was paradise. And he has the chance to go back finally, buy his father’s shop (now in need of repair) and location, and start the final chapters of his life, at home.

It is also about a few other characters. Like Vanessa (Melissa Barrera) who works at the local salon (run by Daphne Rubin-Vega), but has dreams of getting out of this area as well. Not as far as another country, but deeper into the city, to work as a fashion designer. We have Nina (Leslie Grace), the “one who got out”, a girl who was so smart and full of learning wonder that she went to Stanford! But this is the summer after getting back and she has to tell her dad (Jimmy Smits) some not great news. And there is also Benny (Corey Hawkins), who works for her dad, is into Nina a whole lot, and wants to become a big money maker in the future.

And of course there is the Abuela Claudia (Olga Merediz), who never had her own kids but is like an Abuela to a lot of our characters, who wants to help everyone in the block and be a great person overall. So sweet.

In The Heights is about the dreams and aspirations of a few characters who live there, hoping to eventually find a home. And it takes place in the summer, before the hottest day and a blackout that will change all of their lives forever.

Also starring Ariana Greenblatt, Stephanie Beatriz, Chris Jackson, Dascha Polanco, Marc Anthony, Noah Catala, Olivia Perez, and Lin-Manuel Miranda as Piragua Guy.

lin manuel miranda
A man who can wear shorts to work is a man I inspire to be. 

Jon M. Chu, director of In The Heights the movie, was the perfect choice for this musical, and frankly, all musicals going forward. His name really came into my eyes when he did Crazy Rich Asians, which was gorgeously shot, and every frame seemed to pop out of the screen. From the trailers of In The Heights, you can tell a similar story. Hell, he did mostly music videos before this, some Step Up films, and even Jem and the Holograms. Say one thing about all of these, you can say they at least look nice. Fuck. He is even doing Wicked once it eventually comes out. Can not fucking wait.

This movie is a goddamn spectacle. It is the first film I saw in theaters, since things started to shut down. I went 421 days without seeing a movie in theaters, and watched 440 films in that time, on my screens at home for the most part. And at the start of the film, in the “welcome to our theater” videos, I found myself already tearing up.

Because cry I did this film, early and often. Usually for just such heartbreaking soul crushing numbers, so well sung and choreographed. I wanted to help everyone. I cried from sadness and from happiness. It will give you that full range of emotions. I did not have any rage crying though. That would be hard to pull off.

Ramos, a few years out after starring in Hamilton, has to play the role Miranda made and feels like a great passing of the torch. He oozes charisma in this role, and having this musical be told through stories from him to children brings a lot of bonus personality to it. I wanted everything to work out for his character just mere minutes into the film.

There were awkward moments of the musical too. Don’t worry. I don’t think the film did a great job of fully giving a good reason for the arguments that occurred during the song Blackout. Except for some reason our lead character maybe has higher levels of anxiety and fear, with a little bit of alcoholism, that don’t go fully explained or fleshed out, to make it make much sense. But in musicals, life can move fast through a song, so that also plays an element in it.

I honestly didn’t know how I would feel about In The Heights, knowing the music stylings and lyrics were not my usual fair. Maybe I liked it more because of Hamilton’s existence and getting used to the rhyming and rapping in musical fair, and the speed of the lyrics coming at me. Maybe I liked it on its own merits.

Oh, and for Hamilton fans, outside of actor cameos (of which we have just the three?), there is one other sneaky Hamilton reference that should be easy to see. Well, hear. And one other note. The Broadway songs have a reference to Donald Trump, which makes sense in there lyrically, but they definitely replaced that line in this film version. A good change overall.

4 out of 4.

The Mitchells vs. The Machines

The Mitchells vs. The Machines is one of those films that you are hopefully going to hear about from word of mouth. I know I didn’t notice it pop up on Netflix. I know if I did, I would have just ignored it most likely for a bit, and watched it by myself a week or two later. The cover for it on Netflix doesn’t look appealing to me at all. It doesn’t do the actual animation style any justice, and just looks like a cheaply made piece of crap. And let’s be honest, The Mitchells vs. The Machines is not a title that screams out “watch me.”

I don’t know the Mitchells. Why should I care about the Mitchells?

I guess every famous cartoon family has its start, and if their goal is a franchise, they can constantly have them battling other entities. I guess.

I am getting off track. I didn’t want to watch this movie. I was told I should watch this movie. I am glad I watched this movie. You should also watch this movie. And now, here is a review.

pose
This is apparently an action film with guns, dinosaur bombs, and a dog faced pirate. 

The Mitchells are apparently going to have to save the world. And they are not a perfect warrior clan. They all have faults, barely have any cohesion, and sort of hate each other depending on the circumstances. Katie (Abbi Jacobson) feels like an outsider from her family. She has always been into films and creating her own strange movies, that her parents just don’t understand. Her dad (Danny McBride) is Mr. Nature, doesn’t do anything with tech, can fix a lot of problems, and loves to build. Her mom (Maya Rudolph) is pretty mom stereotype, caring and all of that jazz, believes in everyone. Her younger brother (Michael Rianda) is just super into dinosaurs, starring in his sister’s movies, and is afraid of being alone. Also they got a dog that is barely a dog. 

Katie got accepted into her dream school in California, for Movie makers and is exited about leaving her home and finally being with people in her life who get and understand her. The “weirdos” and such. Unfortunately, she gets into a big argument with her dad the day before they leave. And his solution? To cancel her plane ticket away from this dump, so they can road trip to College, making her miss out on orientation, but letting them bond one more time.

And unfortunately, during that time, a big robot rebellion begins! Fuuuuuuu. And purely by accident, they find themselves to be the only group of humans not captured. I guess they gotta figure out how to save our entire species. 

Also featuring the voices of Eric André, Olivia Colman, Fred Armisen, Beck Bennett, Chrissy Teigen, John Legend, Charlyne Yi, Conan O’Brien, and Blake Griffin

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You know, I am not even sure that is a dog…

If I had done my own research I would have found out that I definitely wanted to see this movie. Besides the stacked voice cast (including McBride doing a great impression of Seth Rogen has a father role, based on my confusion on checking IMDB, I would have been able to see that the executive producers of this are Lord/Miller, and I have never not loved something they produced or helped create. 

As for the actual film? Damn, what a roller coaster. But it is a roller coaster that just keeps going in loops and is mostly full of really exciting ups. This is a bad metaphor. It has some strong messaging about reliance of technology. Pretty obvious stuff overall, but it doesn’t harp on the message and say that technology is evil. It is necessary for our hero after all to follow her dreams, and allows her to do something she wants in life, so it is awesome still. It is more the corporations who suck, and we can all agree on that.

This film was surprisingly funny. I really didn’t expect to laugh as much as I did, especially out loud. My kids could enjoy it too, for similar reasons. It had jokes for all, and some good throwback jokes to technology issues in life. It is also full of colors and perfect for the ADHD riddled world we live in, but never really annoyingly so.

I was surprised about halfway through the movie (with a plot point that felt like it would be close to the end) to find it had so much more movie left to go. But it didn’t really feel boring, if not a little too long near the end in the final scenes. A small amount of editing/cutting near the end would have been fine. But again, I still love the movie overall.

Give it a watch. I believe it went to theaters for a bit, so it should be eligible for awards next year. Raya and the Last Dragon was good, and now this. Shit, is animation back this year? Will Luca actually be good?! 

4 out of 4.

Se

Shiva Baby

There is a chance that this movie might have snuck on by me, and that would have been a travesty. It came out last weekend, both in theaters and on VOD. Shiva Baby is based on a short film of the same name with the same lead from a couple of years prior. People liked the concept, and hey, it was expanded, with some bigger names added to the cast overall. It went from 8 minutes to 77 minutes. Definitely a full length movie now, but shorter than most movies that are released, meaning it will still feel short in some aspects.

So how did I hear about Shiva Baby?

Just word of mouth. Another friend said they heard it was “More Stressful than Uncut Gems.”

Whoa. Calm on down now. Uncut Gems was by far one of the most stressful movie experiences I have ever had in my life. It involved guns and death, gambling and high stakes, women and jewelry, athletes and bookies.

Just by comparing the two, you have my attention.

parents
The face you make when you don’t inherit your parent’s height.

Danielle (Rachel Sennott) was just trying to get her sex on, when she gets a voice mail from her mom reminding her of a funeral that day. Fuck. Okay. She missed that, but she is expected to show up for the Shiva, and be there for hours, talking with all of her relatives, and old friends. But everyone there is so nosy. They pry. They want to know if she has a job lined up. How is college. What her major is. Who is she dating if anyone. And she has to answer these questions, with her parents (Polly Draper, Fred Melamed) there who know some of the truths too, so she can’t just lie.

But you know who also shows up? The guy (Danny Deferrari), she was sleeping with, who gives her money for things. Her “job” that she says she has for her parents and friends to get off her back. Turns out she was lying to him. He was lying to her too. Turns out he has a wife (Dianna Agron), and a kid.

And to top all of this off, her best friend Maya (Molly Gordon) is here, and she is seemingly being a complete bitch to her in all of her moments of woe.

Cramped spaces. Relatives. Family friends. Food. Old people. Babies. Who wants to be trapped in this situation when your entire reality is crumbling?

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It is hard to see someone looking more miserable than our lead here.

To start with the comparison, no, it is not more stressful than Uncut Gems. That was an unreasonable bar to start at for any movie, so I quickly adjusted my expectation on stress levels early on and it was a wise decision.

Because Shiva Baby was still quite stressful. The run time being under 80 minutes was perfect for the situation we were in at the Shiva. The level of claustrophobia felt very real and very high. The viewer will feel stuck in that house with all these people that you also, do not want to talk to. Not just because of Covid, or your own levels of social anxiety, because you know you also won’t have any answers to their damn questions. Each one making our lead character, and us, feeling uncomfortable. Their disappointment in their tone and eyes.

And that is only one aspect. All of the drama about the job, college, the relationship, just really adds up. The main reason this all works so well has to be the score used throughout the film, full of quick violin bursts, almost feeling like a horror film at times from the sound alone. The acting across the leads as well is great. Timing and realistic conversation is what makes this thing work, and they put their skills together to make it work great.

Emma Seligman, the director, showcased a strong film for her first feature length project. I don’t know how much of the movie drew on her own experiences growing up, but you can tell this story was handled by someone who wanted to make sure that various messages were given care. That grief is strange. That sex work is not only okay, but not a big deal. That sexuality in general can be a spectrum and that relationships aren’t always straightforward and need time to work out for some.

Shiva Baby is an overall great film to add to the “Stressful Jewish Cinema” collection. Not above Uncut Gems. But slightly beside it. Let’s get some more in this genre, please?

4 out of 4.

The Father

In 2019, Netflix dropped a delightful yet strange movie called The Two Popes. One of the popes, the old pope, was played by Anthony Hopkins.

And now, Anthony Hopkins is starring in a different film, called The Father. Huh, I guess he played a father, technically, in multiple movies. That isn’t that impressive, lots of people play fathers. But are they all the papacy?

I really did go into this movie thinking this movie would be about Catholicism in some amount. Turns out it isn’t and it is just about a dad. What’s up with that?

chair
Yeah it is about a dad. You can see him lounging in a dad chair.

The Father is about a father (Anthony Hopkins) who is getting up there in age. Hey, the actor Hopkins is older and a father as well. Nice type casting.

He lives in his flat, maybe alone, maybe with his daughter (Olivia Colman) hard to remember sometimes. He is pretty sure she watches over him and helps things out, but she is trying to get a new person to help out. An in house caretaker (Imogen Poots). You see his daughter has found someone and they might be moving to France. And yeah, they don’t even speak English in France, why would she do that?

At least an in home caretaker would allow him to stay in his flat, very important to him. But he hates all the past caretakers, he lashes out, he screams, he is not a good guy in his old age. Maybe this one will work. Maybe.

Also starring Olivia Williams, Rufus Sewell, Mark Gatiss, and Ayesha Dharker.

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Oh shit, he is in the Red Pope Robes. What does that mean for the church?

I’ve seen movies about dementia and/or Alzheimer’s before. I am not sure what specifically this one is about. I don’t know anyone thankfully close to me who has gone through this and had to see the deterioration over time, so I only have movies to help me in this regard.

And honestly, The Father has to be one of the better movie depictions of what might be going on in someone’s head during dementia bouts over time. We are trapped in this father’s head along with him. And we are there to try and figure out what is the truth, what is old news, what is being forgotten, and just who everyone actually is.

Despite me wanting to hate him, Hopkins was amazing in this role. Just absolutely amazing. I want to hate him because I see this as the only threat to Chadwick Boseman winning an Oscar. If Hopkins ends up getting best actor, I guess I won’t be too mad, because this is the sort of role that should definitely warrant it. But he already has an acting award, share that stuff.

Colman also gives a pretty good performance, but her role is far more limited compared to Hopkins of course. Colman continues to give good performances in everything she does lately. She is hitting a career high at an interesting time in her life and I am all for it as well.

The Father is a dizzying maze of how your mind eventually may betray you, along with the rest of your body. And life sure does suck at some points.

4 out of 4.

Raya and the Last Dragon

I’ve noticed that since 2016, (so five years ago), I have rated Disney Animation Studios higher than Pixar Studios movies. It is an average of 2.8 versus 1.8 out of 4. That is a whole number grade! Here is my table for comparison.

disneypixar

Now sure, Pixar has churned out more, but it has the only zero, and has a lot of 1s. The only reason Disney is so low due to disappointing sequels. Pixar also has disappointing sequels, but also disappointing for me original movies.

That is all. We will see how the charts look after Luca comes out this year.

But for now, as you can see, I loved Raya and the Last Dragon, a new Disney princess (maybe?) movie, that also features zero songs, which is not just rare, but a first.

dragon
You see that dragon? It won’t sing at all. Shocking. 
Raya (Kelly Marie Tran) is your typical daughter of a chief. Her father, Chief Benja (Daniel Dae Kim), is training her as a warrior to protect a magical orb. What does this orb do? Well, lets go back into the history.

Five hundred years ago, there were these evil spirits named Druun that multiplied quickly and turned people into stone. There was also a lot of dragons. This was not fun. So all of the dragons banded together, made this cool orb thing, and it banished all of the Druun! And somehow, turned all the dragons into stone in the process. Very sad times.

Anyways, the orb still does its thing, but the other tribes think that the orb gives the Heart tribe extra power and success for their lands and people. They want the orb for themselves. Chief Benja wants to reunite all the tribes to one glorious nation, and not continue with this otherism.

Well, sure enough, something bad happens, the orb breaks! Each tribe grabs a piece, but now the Druun are now back and that makes things worse. Raya is going to have to fix the orb, and get her people back to normal, and maybe even find a dragon along the way. You know, the last one (Awkwafina).

Also featuring the voices of Benedict Wong, Gemma Chan, Sandra Oh, Izaac Wang, Lucille Soong, and of course, Alan Tudyk, as an animal that only makes sounds.

fight
If you train for hours to fight, then you are going to want to fight.
Raya and the Last Dragon has music, but is not a musical. Did that take away from it? Well, fine, probably not. But I would have loved some songs regardless. But I can’t take away points because I would rather a movie be a musical. I would rather all movies to be a musical.

Raya still kicked ass. She is definitely the strongest fighter of any “Disney princess” before her. Not sure if she is a princess yet officially, but she was the daughter of a chief, so, you know. There isn’t a lot of competition amongst the princesses who can fight or do magic,  but Raya is like a goddamn ninja (yes, different cultural term than this film, but I don’t know a better word). She is quick, and arguably deadly, but doesn’t always use her fighting skills to get out of jams. But that is almost always her plan A.

And having her so driven and technically violent is great, because throughout the film it is technically seen as a flaw, especially from the dragon’s point of view. Why not try friendship, and trust, and things that involve stabbing someone? (No, we don’t see a lot of dead people in this movie who get stabbed, mostly statues. We can’t have a Disney film with a high body count for real).

I love Raya, she is strong and flawed. I am fine with the dragon. She is consistent and not just a humorous sidekick. What I didn’t expect is all of the other side characters that along the journey would also show up and be important to the rest of the story. Great side characters, all full of personality and interesting. They made me cry at the end. I did cry I believe twice, or just one long slow cry, depending on how you break them apart. I will go with two cries.

The movie becomes a bit typical, when it comes to “go to next region that is very different, and then find the next piece.” But each one does have new characters and the orb fragment is protected in different ways. And the ending, while a little predictable, I think is done in a nicely unpredictable way, at least when it comes to the order of events.

Bring on all of the Raya Halloween costumes.

4 out of 4.

Boogie

Is is both very easy to make a sports movie, but very hard to make an excellent sports movie.

There are so many ways you can go with them, but many paths have already been traveled. How do you also make them feel unique and worth it versus an older film that probably goes over the exact same themes and emotions?

You could do a sports movie about a real athlete or a real team. But is it about their road to a championship, or the players themselves? And what is just another real story of a team winning something. Real teams win every year, every sport, at every level. There has to be a winner, so there are always choices. And it is easy to be inspirational in these films, real story or fake story, so what can they do to offer something actually new? Bigger struggles to overcome? Bigger comebacks? More shenanigans? 

Well for the movie Boogie, it is going for a high school basketball story. Not one about overcoming all the odds to win the state championship, or even a district championship. But just a single player trying to earn a scholarship. Where his own cultural upbringings and his own assimilation into the America he knows can come at odds with what he wants and what his parents want. Oh okay, that is something new for sure. 

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The shot on the other side of the fence is not new, however. 

If you are losing a basketball game to a proud Asian American who happens to also be super into Rap culture, then don’t try to blame it on other external factors. Don’t blame it on the sunshine, don’t blame it on the moonlight, don’t blame it on the good times, you need to blame it on the Boogie (Taylor Takahashi).

Boogie is working on getting a college scholarship. He is great at the sport, but he is a bit selfish and full of himself. His father (Perry Yung) cooked up a scheme to transfer him to a slightly worse school for basketball. Because that school goes against some really good schools, and if Boogie can carry his worse team to beat actual good teams and elite players getting scholarships, he might get one too.

Technically his mom (Pamelyn Chee) is indifferent from the methods, she just needs to make sure that he gets a scholarship, and not a bullshit walk on offer. Or maybe gets a job making money in basketball. Either way, whatever needs to happen needs to happen. 

Boogie is trying to balance what both of his parents want for him. They both are negative people in different ways, yet he was also raised to be honorable and listen to them. He also wants to explore his love life, make some choices for himself, and prove that he is something great. 

A clash between cultural norms, in a new cultural setting, and just trying to make sure Boogie himself is able to represent himself.

Also starring Mike Moh, Taylour Paige, Domenick Lombardozzi, Jorge Lendeborg Jr., and Pop Smoke in his only acting gig, coming out after his shooting death in 2020. 

spystuff
I prefer the Blame it on the Boogie from Pitch Perfect, to be honest.

The director and writer of Boogie, Eddie Huang, is pretty famous for writing a book and turning it into a successful sitcom. Fresh off the Boat is a sitcom based on his own experiences of moving to the south, while dealing with cultural problems in a new setting that also seem to go against the cultures and upbringings of his family, set in the late 1990’s.

And hey look, this movie, NOT based on his life specifically, has the same themes. Isn’t that interesting? No? Well, I found it interesting.

And I found this film extremely interesting and compelling. Despite personally having really nothing similar to the lead in terms of background or story, it was easy to latch on and root for him. It was also easy to be angry at him when he did asinine things. I wanted him to succeed and I wanted him to grow. This sports movie is about a person learning to be better and making his own destiny, and yes, we got some sports along the way as well. If you don’t like basketball, you will be annoyed because we do get fair amounts of basketball, and of course a conclusion that is set around basketball.

I feel like I learned a lot. Representation matters, not just for people finally being able to identify with people on screen that look like them, but for everyone else to dive into new experiences and settings. Sure, Boogie isn’t a real story, but aspects of it are real based on Huang’s own life and the stories of people he know. The fact that there isn’t this specific basketball player means nothing when the stories are grounded so much in reality.

Hell, I even cried once. It was a small cry and an unexpected one, but it was there.

Boogie is the real deal and a good change of pace from traditional sports films.

4 out of 4.

Malcolm & Marie

Apparently Malcom & Marie is the first “Hollywood” film to be made in Pandemic. Huh. I thought that was Locked Down. But that was filmed in October and this one was filmed in June and July in secret, so I guess I will believe it.

It is a lot easier to make a film like Malcolm & Marie, because it is about two people and stars exactly that. They are in a house together, and I am sure there some other staff, but it is very small film in regards to locations and needs. It is a bottle episode of a movie.

And I will be honest, I was a bit suspect going into it, as I generally am for movies that feel the need to be in black and white, and delayed watching it for a little bit. And, for the short answer, I am glad I got over that initial hump finally.

outside
The crew were told to stand back, so all the shots are this far away.
Marie (Zendaya) and Malcolm (John David Washington) just got back from a movie premier of Malcolm’s latest film and then they talk a lot and go to bed. The end.

That is the short version.

Malcolm is indeed a movie director and they did just get back from a premier. Marie, his current partner, is an actress, and was not part of the movie he directed. It seems a lot of people really enjoyed the movie. Malcolm is worried about the critics. What they will say about his film. Will they say is a story about race, when he was just trying to say a regular story?

But Marie is upset. It might be just one thing or it might be something that is signs of a much bigger problem in their relationship. And one thing is for certain. They are going to talk this thing out and hear each other, regardless of the events going on around the world.

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And we might get a little bit of sexy time too along the way.
Like I implied in my intro, I am very excited that I got over that worry I had with this film, because it is definitely one that after the slowish intro really drew me in to the story.

This is one of those where it is not just the problems they had to discuss, or the reviews that were had for the film, but how they went about their arguments with each other. At times their words and sayings were far too harsh than they needed, and I can’t wait for them to break up because of that selfish shit. It seems like it is likely a toxic relationship, and I don’t honestly think they will work through their issues that they have hope for by the end of the movie.

The acting for Zendaya and Washington is incredible, as it has to be given they are the only elements. We get monologues, we get arguments, we get real emotions from them.

The black and white doesn’t end up being distracting at all. It makes it seem like a basic, simple film, which it certainly is in terms of size, location, and scope. It definitely does add to the atmosphere and the angst between the two lovers.

Malcolm & Marie is the type of film that you would have to assume is just a one act play first with two characters, so it is a big surprise that it is just a film. Usually I can catch those. Very sneaky movie. Very sneaky.

4 out of 4.