FlixChatter Review: SOUL (2020)

It’s been a while since I actually reviewed a Pixar movie. I haven’t seen COCO and while I did see Onward last Spring, I didn’t get a chance to review it. I’ve always liked movies about music and there is something so fun about SOUL that I watched it a day after its release on Disney+.

I love that Disney’s animated opening logo montage uses the music played by Joe Gardner’s (Jamie Foxx) middle-school students in his music class. It’s a fun and clever way to introduce the character in his environments. Now, it’s a special day for Joe as he’s been hired full time by the school as a music teacher. Instead of being ecstatic however, Joe actually feels down as his dream has always been to be a jazz musician. His tailor-shop-owner mother Libba (Phylicia Rashad) pressures him to accept the job as she wants him to be financially secure. As luck would have it, thanks to his former student, Joe suddenly got a chance to play in one of his favorite jazz quartet. He’s got oh-so-close to finally living his lifelong dream that night when poof! he falls into a manhole.

Pixar has always been great at defining its characters and in SOUL it’s no different. Joe is all about music… it’s in his blood, body and soul… as he says, ‘music is all I think about, from the moment I wake up in the morning until I fall asleep at night.’ So when I saw his dream slipped away from him just as he came SO close to realizing it, I couldn’t help but gasped (even though that scene is right there in the trailer).  Most of the movie happens in the afterlife, starting with Joe’s soul protesting the fact that he’s one of the poor souls heading towards the Great Beyond. Leave it to Pixar to make something quite traumatizing like death and make it cute and mirthful as Joe’s soul tries to escape the long lineup. He ends up in the Great Before, as in the pre-mortal existence before the soul enters a body. It’s classic Pixar that the visuals in each world is just spectacular to behold… gritty New York City, the dark, ominous-looking steps going to the afterlife (complete with the accountant counting every single soul), then the colorful, fluffy world of the Great Before, each one is so imaginative and wonderfully-constructed.

But the beauty of Pixar Studios isn’t just the amazing, awe-inspiring animation techniques, but the genius is in the brilliantly-witty writing, thanks to Pete Docter who co-wrote the script with Mike Jones and Kemp Powers. Somehow they could just get into the psyche of what it is to be human and can create such a family-friendly movie that actually gives you a lot of food for thought for adults. It’s when Joe meets 22 (Tina Fey), a cynical soul who has remained in the Great Before universe for a very long time and feels she’s not worthy to live on earth that most of the philosophical discussions happen. But of course, all the deep, meaningful existential conversations are delivered via one hilarious moment after another.

The soul-body switcheroo involving a therapy cat creates plenty of slapstick humor, and at times perhaps I fear that it’d get to be too much. Thankfully the writers never loses sight of what the movie is about and all the humor fits into the narrative they’re telling. There are so many great moments in this movie but I think the bit when both Joe + 22 are on earth might be my favorites. I love the bit at the barber shop… even the hilarity in that scene consist of deep moments where Joe realizes that perhaps he’s become too self-absorbed and not interested in other people’s lives. It’s these poignant scenes that Pixar is so good at making, filled with life-lessons and wisdom without getting too heavy-handed.

Of course all the characters are delightful. I love all the soul counselors, all named Jerry, voiced by Richard Ayoade, Alice Braga, Wes Studi; and the droll accountant is voiced by Rachel House (whom I love in Taika Waititi movies like Hunt of the Wilderpeople and Thor Ragnarok). As I watch Graham Norton show frequently, it’s fun to hear his voice here which I recognize right away. It’s inspired casting to have him play the character Moonwind who helps lost souls get over their obsessions. Lovely to hear Angela Bassett‘s smooth voice as the sassy Dorothea Williams and that metaphor she told Joe in the end is memorable. Hey I’d love to see a spinoff of her character as a Jazz musician/sax player.

Of course, the fact that the protagonist loves Jazz, the music is absolutely fantastic. I love that the fingers playing the piano actually play the keys correctly, courtesy of real-life musician, Jon Batiste, who composed and also performed some of the songs. The movie also included musicians Herbie Hancock, Daveed Diggs and Ahmir-Khalib Thompson aka Questlove. I actually wish Jamie Foxx would actually sing in this movie as he too has a wonderful voice!

Per IMDb, Docter revealed that once the filmmakers settled on the main character being a jazz musician, they chose to make the character African-American. So Joe is the first black main protagonist of a Pixar movie that serves as a fitting tribute to Jazz music as well. What a brilliant title too, a soulful film both thematically and in terms of the music genre. I’m glad Pixar once again comes up with a fresh concept. This one is perhaps most similar to Inside Out which also gives an imaginative insight into humanity in the most delightful way. It’s fitting that it’s released on Christmas day, as it celebrates the humanity of us all and what a gift life truly is, even in a year like 2020.

4.5/5 stars


Have you seen SOUL? Well, what did you think?

FlixChatter Double Review: CREED (2015)

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I had trepidation about seeing this film as I’ve only seen one Rocky film and I’m not really a boxing movie fan. But my hubby really wanted to see it, and so we went and am I glad I did. Here’s our review:

Ted’s Review

Doing a spinoff of a franchise that hasn’t been a box office hit for long time could be risky but somehow director/writer Ryan Coogler was able to convince not only the studio executives but its star Sly Stallone to revive this once box office gold of a franchise. What’s even more surprising was how good the film turn out to be and it’s one of favorite films of the year.

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Adonis Johnson/Creed (Michael B. Jordan) is a young man who wants to be professional boxer; he found out early in the story that his late father was a fame-boxing champ Apollo Creed (Carl Weathers). Creed’s widow Mary (Phylicia Rashad) took in the young Adonis and raised him as her own son. Unlike other boxers who needed to box in order to make a living, Andonis grew up in a privilege lifestyle but he yearns to be a boxer. Even a promotion at his corporate job won’t keep him from pursuing his dreams. So he quit his job, moved to Philly and tried his hands at a professional level boxing. But after he got beat badly in a “friendly” bout, he realized he’s not ready and asked Rocky Balboa (Sylvester Stallone) to train him. Rocky has walked away from the ring after his last victory match and never wants to be back. He’s now happily running his Italian restaurant.

But the young Creed is persistent and wants to create his own image, he doesn’t want to be known as the son of the great Apollo Creed. He even found time to romance a local musician named Bianca (Tessa Thompson). The story of this film is similar to that of the original Rocky, it’s about an underdog who’s determined to be the best. The film features the usual training montage, great fight sequences and fans of the franchise will happy to know that we do get to hear that famous Rocky’s theme. But Creed does have his own theme though.

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The performances by the leads were quite excellent. Jordan excels in his first leading role; his fierce demeanor is very similar to that of Weathers’ Creed from earlier films. Thompson’s Bianca is not just another pretty face love interest, she has her own ambitions and chemistry between her and Jordan were quite believable. The person who steals the show for me though is Rocky himself. Here I think Sly gave maybe his best performance of his career. Rocky is now an old man and he realized he doesn’t have much in life; all of the people he cared about are all gone. By training the young Creed, he can have a family again and maybe have one last glory as a trainer to a champ. I won’t be surprised if Stallone gets an Oscar nomination.

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I’ve never seen any of Coogler’s previous films but after this one, I’ll have to check out his work. I was surprised how well he put this picture together; I was involved in the story from beginning to end. He even shot a single take for one of the boxing matches in the film; it’s an incredible sequence. What really impresses me was the way he’s able to blend in the nostalgic feel of the earlier films and then injects some 21st century style into this film. He’s a real talent and I’m looking forward to his next film.

Creed is a great spinoff/reboot of a once popular franchise. It contains great performances, tight direction and reminds you to never give up your dreams. I can’t wait to see the next chapter in Creed’s pursue of becoming the best boxer in the world.

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Ruth’s Review

There has been far too many reboots and spin-offs and more often than not, it’s just a money-making scheme. But once in a while, emerged a gem that actually earns its merit and Creed is no doubt one of them.

Though I’ve only seen one Rocky film, I read a little bit about the friendship of Rocky and Apollo Creed, the father of the film’s protagonist, and it certainly helped me understand the story better. The film began with a brief but meaningful introduction of Adonis, who clearly has his father’s talent, as well as ambition as a boxer. Determined to make his mark in the sport, Adonis moved to Philadelphia. He ended up finding an aging Rocky Balboa at his restaurant, naturally named after his beloved wife Adrian. It’s a memorable scene that promises great things to come from this eventual mentorship.

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The relationship between these two is the heart of the film and filmmaker Ryan Coogler is wise to keep that be the focus of the film. He didn’t squander it by over-complicating things or adding unnecessary subplots, and that’s largely why the film worked so well. There’s an effortless chemistry between Sylvester Stallone and Michael B. Jordan almost straight away. There’s an interesting banter between the two that’s funny and heartfelt, and it gets even better as the film goes on.

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One of Adonis’ journey involves a love story with a beautiful up-and-coming singer Bianca (Tessa Thomson), but I’m glad she’s given an intriguing character arc and not simply just a ‘pretty girlfriend’ role. Yet the film paid more attention to Adonis’ relationship with Rocky, which ultimately is what the film is all about. Most of conversation takes place during training and it certainly will please people who love boxing and boxing films. But even for someone like me, I find those scenes extremely dynamic and entertaining.

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Much had been made about Stallone’s excellent performance and you know what, it lived up to the hype. It’d be interesting if he did end up being nominated for an Oscar, as he did in 1976 for the first Rocky film. I’d think would mark some kind of record that the same actor is nominated twice playing the exact same role. He’s definitely my pick to win a Golden Globe for Best Supporting Actor. He obviously had lived and breathed this role for many years, and if this were to be his swan song to the franchise, well he couldn’t have left on a higher note. His performance is convincingly heartfelt, showing a gentler, wiser and more vulnerable Rocky who thinks he’s got nothing much to live for anymore. What started out as a mentorship slowly builds into a genuine friendship between him and Adonis, and they both end up helping each other when they need it most.

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For a boxing film, the film isn’t graphically violent. There are basically only two major fight sequences but both are done VERY well. There’s one that was done in a single take and it was quite a scene to behold. Real-life professional boxers Andre Ward and Tony Bellew play two of Adonis’ oponents which adds a touch of authenticity to the scenes. The script by Coogler and Aaron Covington have a wonderful balance of humor and emotional touches, which honors the original Rocky story that breathes life into the new hero. But nostalgia could only work so much and so it’s wise that Coogler didn’t drown the film with it and lets it stand on its own merit. Even its use of the Rocky theme is perfect, it’s brief but it came just at the right moment.

Ultimately this is Jordan’s film and he’s certainly perfect in the role. He’s reunited with Coogler who directed him in Fruitvale Station. I haven’t seen that one yet but clearly this has been quite an erm, fruitful collaboration between the two and I look forward to seeing more from both of them, together or separately. This movie is such a pleasant surprise of the year, an entertaining as well as inspiring film that should please loyal fans and win new ones.

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So have you seen CREED? Well, what did you think?