FlixChatter Review: Pixar’s LUCA (2021)

When I first saw the trailer for Luca, I was immediately excited for it. I mean, I’m usually excited for Pixar movies and the seaside Italian Riviera setting is extra appealing to me as one of my fave holiday memories was at Sorento & Cinque Terre.

Directed by Enrico Casarosa (who did the La Luna short film) in his feature-length directorial debut, the story was apparently inspired by his own youthful experience in his native Italy. As most of you have seen in the promos/trailers, the two boys are sea monsters who long to live above the sea… kind of like Little Mermaid with boys & sans romance. Initially, some LGBT groups thought this is similar to Call Me By Your Name that’s also set in Italy and involves two boys falling in love. However, the filmmaker said the relationship depicted here is a platonic one set before they hit puberty.


I like Jacob Tremblay’s voice work here as the title role and Luca is instantly likable from the start. There’s a tentative curiosity and sense of wonder when he first glimpse a few human items that falls from boats, which is delightful to watch. Of course, just like Little Mermaid‘s Ariel, Luca is constantly told that life above water is dangerous and humans are evil, especially by his overprotective mom (Maya Rudolph). Regardless, the young boy is still fascinated by the human world and his dreams of visiting the village finally comes true when he meets Alberto (Jack Dylan Grazer), a fellow sea monster who has apparently lived Portorosso. In contrast to Luca, Alberto is much more upbeat and confident, a bit of a trouble maker type who seem to know so much about life above water.


My favorite moments is when the two bond over their love for Vespa and their friendship flourish over building scooter and using them to ‘fly’ over cliffs. I can’t help but be swept up by their zest for life and get nostalgic of my own favorite holiday as a kid. Luca and Alberto’s real adventure begin when they meet a human girl Giulia (Emma Berman) and end up signing up for the town’s triathlon to win the Portorosso Cup. The main ‘villain’ is Ercole, the local town bully and undefeated race champion who grows increasingly suspicious of the two boys. Voiced by Italian comedian Saverio Raimondo, Ercole is more irritating than menacing. It’s interesting how few Italian voice talents there are in this movie, Sacha Baron Cohen and Jim Gaffigan have supporting roles as uncle Ugo and Giulia’s dad Lorenzo, respectively.

I feel like Luca is Pixar-lite…. Visually stunning with a charming story but lacks the depth and emotional resonance I expect from the studio. After the Oscar-winning, indelibly thought-provoking Soul, it seems quite a step down narratively. I’m not saying it’s a weak movie per se, I just expected more from the Pixar team who have done so many excellent animated films for both kids and adults alike. This one seems to be geared more for younger, less demanding viewers as it doesn’t have the same level of suspense, wit or originality like Pixar’s earlier efforts. I actually rewatched Finding Nemo after watching Luca, which remains far superior and has that ‘timeless’ quality as other other Pixar greats like Toy Story, Monsters Inc, etc. Now, Luca does have a timely message of belonging and acceptance of those different from you, which is fitting given its release during Pride month, but it’s not exactly groundbreaking and I feel like overcoming prejudice/stereotype is a topic that’s been covered before to better effect, i.e. Zootopia


That said, what this movie does have in abundance is the high energy, vibrancy and warmth of genuine friendship. The filmmaker said he’s inspired by Federico Fellini’s work (there’s even a photo of Marcello Mastroianni attached in one of Alberto’s scooter), and there’s a touch of Studio Ghibli as well. One can always rely on Pixar to deliver rich, glorious visuals and whether below or above water, the colors are absolutely stunning. It certainly makes me yearn to be transported to the Italian seaside town pronto!! So even a lesser Pixar movie is still well worth your time.

3/5 stars

Have you seen LUCA? I’d love to hear what you think!

FlixChatter Review: Shazam! (2019)

There’s such a huge anticipation over this movie, and the early reviews have been giddily-positive. I have to say I was caught in a bit of Shazam! fever as well after seeing the second trailer, which promises a boisterous good time.

This movie is an origin story of the DC superhero that’s originally named Captain Marvel in the comics, but later renamed to Shazam! as Marvel comics held the rights to the name. I think Shazam is a more appropriate name for this given its whimsical, zany nature, though it actually started with a pretty dark sequence.

The movie took its time before we actually see protagonist in its superhero form. We see Billy Batson as a toddler getting lost in the crowd at a carnival, then later as a mischievous teenager (Asher Angel) playing pranks at cops. We follow Batson’s journey into another foster family where he meets his new friend Freddy (Jack Dylan Grazer). Grazer is SO good here, I absolutely adore him as Freddy who gives equal levity and credible emotional weight when the movie requires him to. I feel like the energy level shoots up significantly once the two meet up, which only gets better after the teenage Billy gets his powers from the Wizard.

Now the movie’s MVP is definitely Zachary Levi with his unabashedly-exuberant, relentlessly-buoyant performance. I have only seen him in the first season of Chuck in which he also played an effortlessly likable, goofy character. But Shazam is clearly a role he’s born to play. My favorite parts are the superhero discovery process, when Shazam is learning the extent of his strength, how to fly, etc. Those moments are so hilarious, filled with joyful good fun. I mean who hasn’t dreamed of taking on the people who’ve made our lives difficult, so all the scenes of Billy taking on the school bullies are pure wish-fulfillment stuff. I also laughed the hardest at the references to other DC heroes, esp. when Shazam throws a Batman toy  at the villain screaming for his help. It’s even amusing now given his alter ego’s name is Batson (read: Bat’s son) 😉 What makes Shazam works is that he’s still relatable even after he gains incredible powers. He doesn’t suddenly gain a conscience the way a mature adult would and behaves in an altruistic way like Batman or Superman.

I wish the trailers haven’t given away some of the funniest bits however, but it also didn’t show some of the less-fun scenes, mostly involving Dr. Thaddeus Sivana (Mark Strong). Heh, even his name seems tedious. Now, I have seen the British actor portray a bunch of evil bad dudes, from Kick-Ass, John Carter, Robin Hood, even in the BBC miniseries The Jury in 2002 where he beat the living hell out of [pre-Leonidas] Gerard Butler with a baseball bat. I always think of him as a strong actor (pun intended), albeit that he’s been typecast, but here I thought he’s pretty weak. In superhero movies, it’s not enough that we have a formidable hero, we also need a worthy villain to make the movie works as a whole. I just think Sivana lacks real menace, so he ends up just being infuriating and worst of all, cheesy. The scene of him and the seven-deadly-sin gargoyle creatures wrecking havoc in a board meeting is perhaps my least favorite moments, which is a shame given DC usually gives us such terrific (even iconic) villains like The Joker, General Zod, etc.

I also think that the tonal shift from the dark scenes to the lighter, goofier parts could be handled better. Some critics have mentioned that this movie has scary moments that might spook young kids. I think I’d agree with that, but it’s not a dealbreaker for me. Apparently director David F. Sandberg is known for his horror films (i.e. Annabelle: Creation) which explains the scarier parts of the movie. The screenplay Henry Gayden mostly works, as it has heart in the right place. The scenes with the foster family are genuinely moving. I appreciate how the movie champions the often ‘forgotten’ people such as foster parents & foster kids, people with disability, kids who are bullied, and made them the real heroes. It also shows a prayerful family who loves and accept the kids as they are, now THAT is rare to see in a Hollywood studio movie, but gratifying to see.

In the end, I enjoyed it for the most part despite the overly bombastic action finale that somehow many DC movies can’t avoid, and other flaws I mentioned. Shazam! is definitely better than most DC movies. Yes I know that’s not saying much given their track record, but surely the DC execs are ecstatic by this positive reception. Now that we’ve got the origin story out of the way, I look forward to what Shazam will do next in the inevitable sequels.

Have you seen Shazam!? I’d love to hear what you think!