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 Review – THOR: Ragnarok (2017)

It’s been almost two weeks since I saw Thor: Ragnarok and I’m still giddy thinking about it. In fact, I had just seen Justice League two nights ago and honestly I’d rather write about the latest Thor movie, and this is one I’d readily watch again.

Let me preface this review with the fact that I’m a huge fan of its director, New Zealander Taika Waititi, ever since I saw What We Do In The Shadows and Hunt for the Wilderpeople a year later. Those two rank as one of my favorite films of all time. In fact, even with an all star cast that includes my personal cinematic heroine Cate Blanchett, I’m most excited about Thor: Ragnarok because of Waititi. And boy did he deliver!!

It opens with our Asgardian hero, sans his Mjölnir hammer, being chained by a creature named Surtur who plans to destroy Thor’s planet by fulfilling the propechy of Ragnarok. Chris Hemsworth is definitely much more comfortable in the role, having played Thor half a dozen times by now. But here he gets to show off his comic chops as well. He manages to escape, gets his Mjölnir and fighting mojo back and he returns to Asgard. It’s always a hoot seeing Tom Hiddleston’s Loki (I actually like him more than Thor from the previous films). I’m not going to spoil it for you but what he discovers there is one of the most comical bits of the movie. Let’s just say Taika made a great use of a famous A-lister that could’ve played like an SNL skit if it wasn’t handled properly. Love seeing Sam Neill making a quick appearance too.

The following scenes takes Thor and his half brother Loki to earth, trying to figure out the wherebouts of his father. The scenes involving them and Dr Strange (Benedict Cumberbatch) is funny stuff as well, peppered with Taika’s brand of quirky humor. As it turns out, it itsn’t just Loki who wants to take over the rule of Asgard, and this time she wouldn’t stop at that. With a name like Hela, of course she wants to rule the entire universe and unleash hell! Miss Blanchett relish on the opportunity to be a sexy, leather-clad, rockstar-ish goddess from hell, with another easy-on-the-eyes actor from Down Under Karl Urban as her lackey. Yes she seems to be purposely chewing the scenery but it works, and it’s fun to watch.

It’s clear the two brothers are no match for Hela and so Thor gets banished to a planet of scraps where his next crazy adventure begins! The new characters Taika introduced here, Valkyrie (bad-ass Tessa Thompson), the Grandmaster (the eternally amusing Jeff Goldblum), a rock creature Korg (voiced in a hilarious high-pitched voice by Taika himself) are all memorable! Even Rachel House (who was hilarious in Hunt for the Wilderpeople) got some hilarious one liners in the movie. I LOVE Valkyrie and Korg I wouldn’t mind seeing more of both of those characters in future Thor movies or even a spin-off! I also love seeing Idris Elba back as Heimdall, who became the loyal guardians for Asgardians. This is perhaps my favorite ensemble cast of all superhero movies.

I read that Taika has always wanted to make the latest Thor movie more comedic, whilst making some creative updates the character and its universe. Well he certainly’s done the job smashingly well! Yep, the term ‘Hulk Smash’ would apply to this movie and all the scenes with Hulk (Mark Ruffalo), both as Bruce Banner and the big green creature, are massively entertaining. Everyone seems to be having a blast making this and it shows. But just because it’s chock full of hilarious bits, it doesn’t mean there’s no plot here. The story actually holds up and there’s even some nice moments between Thor and Valkyrie that points to her past as Asgard’s defender. There’s a hint there might be something less-than-platonic between these two and you know what, I’d welcome it! It’s certainly more interesting than Thor and Natalie Portman’s Jane.

I’m glad that Marvel once again took a chance on an indie director (following the success of the Russo brothers with the Captain America movies) and Taika Waititi is one of recent filmmakers I discovered who I REALLY want to see making it big. I love that he pushed for more Indigenous representation in his films. Apparently he hired many Aboriginal crew members and the film was shot in Australia. There are quite a few in-jokes for Kiwis and Australians, like the Aboriginal flag colors and the spaceships named after types of Holden, Australian-made cars. My relative actually owned one of those when I was growing up in Indonesia!

SPOILER ALERT! (highlight to read) I don’t know if anyone else noticed this but the plot has a bit of social commentary about how the White people conquered a lot of the Indigenous land. When they’re inside the Asgardian palace, Hela said something about the dark history of Asgard… how Odin used to conquer different planets and wanting to rule the universe, with her by her side. But then Odin gained a conscience and became a benevolent ruler, thus banishing Hela because she didn’t share his vision. She said ‘where do you think we got all of this gold from?’ When I heard that, it sounded like a commentary about colonial privilege, Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander children being the ‘stolen generation’ and white Australians living on someone else’s land. Even the Grandmaster’s line ‘slaves is such a harsh word, I prefer “prisoners with benefits”’ sounds like a sarcastic jab against people calling an awful thing differently as if that would actually lessen its awfulness.

Well, I’m curious if people notice those things or not. One thing for sure, this has become one of my all time favorite movie, not just my favorite Marvel movie. The actions scenes are definitely fun to watch. There are bombastic fight scenes but they don’t feel overlong or overdone like in some other superhero movies. There’s even an entertaining spaceship chase and of course the Thor vs Hulk battle promised in the trailer is still epic and fun! That ‘friend from work’ line is one of the many quotable quips from Taika Waititi’s movies I’d use again and again.

You would think it’d be tough to live up to the super fun trailer w/the rousing Led Zepellin’s Immigrant Song, but the movie manages to do just that… and then some! So yeah, Thor doesn’t just get a spunky new haircut but Taika gives him a whole new attitude and refreshing new take on his franchise. The funniest bits in the trailer is still hilarious in the movie, there’s so much joy and laughter in the whole theater. Like a joyful, thrilling amusement park ride, you can’t wait to get on it again as soon as it’s over!


Well, what did you think of ‘THOR: RAGNAROK’? Did you enjoy it as much as I did?

Rental Pick: Hunt For The Wilderpeople (2016)

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As I’ve mentioned in this post, I absolutely LOVE the vampire mockumentary What We Do In The Shadows. It’s also written and directed by Taika Waititi, who’s been quite a force to be reckoned with as a filmmaker, so I’m glad he’s getting noticed by Hollywood!

Right from the opening scene when the 13-year-old Ricky is dropped off by child welfare services at his new foster home in a remote farm, the movie immediately grabbed me. Though his foster mom Bella (Rima Te Wiata) welcomes him with open arms, her cantankerous husband Hec makes sure he wants to be left alone. Julian Dennison is quite a revelation as Ricky, a juvenile delinquent I actually wish I could adopt! He makes quite an unlikely duo with Sam Neill‘s Hec, and their journey through NZ wilderness is a hilarious yet poignant adventure I could watch over and over.
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I absolutely enjoy the banter between ‘uncle’ Hec and Ricky throughout, as they went on the run from police who thought Ricky had been kidnapped. One of the funniest bits was when they encountered some hunters and somehow Ricky made it sound like he’s been molested. It’s truly a lot of fun to witness the duo’s journey, both physically and emotionally, as they grow to enjoy each other’s company. Waititi, who made a wacky cameo as a minister, has a real gift for storytelling and witty dialog. I love these types of comedies. It’s uproariously funny but also has a huge heart, not relying on crude gags masquerading as *comedy* Hollywood churn out these days.

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The supporting cast is quite a hoot as well. The ruthless child welfare officer Paula (Rachel House) and her rather useless policeman partner Andy (Oscar Kightley) are hot on Hec and Ricky’s tail. There’s a hilarious moment when Paula and Ricky faced off each other in the woods…

Paula: Yeah, and I’ll never stop chasing you – I’m relentless, I’m like the Terminator.

Ricky Baker: I’m more like the Terminator than you!

Paula: I said it first, you’re more like Sarah Connor, and in the first movie too, before she could do chin-ups.

I love the pop culture joke and it doesn’t feel stale. There’s also that bit about The Lord of the Rings that made me laugh so hard. I was hoping Waititi would include LOTR given that it was also shot primarily in New Zealand. Though perhaps not as quotable as What We Do In The Shadows that Waititi co-wrote, there are plenty of great, funny lines here that still made me chuckle every time I remember them. Dennison is definitely one of my favorite talent discoveries of the year and I hope this kid gets other prominent roles in the future. Neill is a talented veteran actor, and his character here reminds me of Dr. Grant in Jurassic Park as kids somehow flock to him despite his grumpy demeanor.

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The amazing scenery would certainly make you want to book your next trip to NZ pronto! This movie could practically doubles as a NZ tourism video. The third act gets over the top a bit, especially when the manhunt became a full-on ‘war.’ Fortunately it never got off the rails even as the action escalated to a rather bombastic finale. The ending is a sweet one, albeit a tad predictable. I thoroughly enjoyed this one, and it made me anticipate THOR: Ragnarok a whole lot more because Waititi is directing it!

I rarely give a full score in my reviews, but this movie is pretty much perfect. As I mentioned in my Golden Globes post, it’s ridiculous this movie wasn’t nominated for Best Comedy! It’s not just the funniest film of the year, but it ranks as one of the best comedies of all time.

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