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: Paddington 2 (2018)

Paddington, now happily settled with the Brown family and a popular member of the local community, picks up a series of odd jobs to buy the perfect present for his Aunt Lucy’s 100th birthday, only for the gift to be stolen.

Though I enjoyed the first movie, it wasn’t as if I was clamoring for a sequel. But hey, not all sequels are inherently bad. I loved it so much that when I got home, my hubby and I actually re-watched the first Paddington. You know what, this sequel actually surpasses the original!

I love that writer/director Paul King gave the ever lovable bear an enchanting backstory and here we’re reminded once again where he came from (Peru) and how he got his genteel manner. “If you’re kind and polite the world will be right,” that’s his mantra, which is something everyone of us should live by. This movie has sooo much heart and the kind of British humor that really tickles my fancy. All the shenanigans he runs into in various jobs are hysterical, the barbershop and window-cleaning scenes had me in stitches. But the best scene is definitely in prison, and Brendan Gleeson is a riot as the fearful prison cook with a fun name, Knuckles McGinty.

But the real scene-stealer here is Hugh Grant who embraces his brilliant comic timing and puts it to good use. He plays Phoenix Buchanan (another fun name!), a has-been theatre actor who’s now relegated to doing dog food commercial. The various disguises are hilarious, hard to pick a favorite though the nun-scene is a particularly memorable one. It makes for some fun AND funny action scenes as Paddington has to retrieve the stolen gift for his aunt Lucy, as well as clear his name.

The Brown family (with Sally Hawkins and Hugh Bonneville reprising their roles as Paddington’s adoptive parents) are fun to watch as well. It’s amusing to see the incredible range of Hawkins’ acting ability in two extremely different performances (the other one is in The Shape of Water) in the span of a single week. I love how no scene is wasted in this movie, even the seemingly-throwaway scene of each family member’s new hobby has a purpose later in the movie. Julie Walters is always a hoot as Mrs. Bird, oh and one of my fave comedians Richard Ayoade also made a cameo!

In the end, the star of the show has always been Paddington himself, voiced brilliantly by Ben Whishaw with his wonderfully soothing voice. It’s a VERY British movie and so of course the Anglophile in me loved every moment. This jolly good fun ride is accompanied by a lively score by Dario Marianelli (whose Pride & Prejudice is my listening staple). A thoroughly joyful experience, this is one franchise I hope will keep on going.


*Yep this one gets a rare perfect score from me, I can’t find a single thing wrong w/ it!


Have you seen Paddington 2? Did you love it as much as I did?

MSPIFF14 Reviews: The Double & The Last of Robin Hood

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Review by Josh P.

The-Double-PosterThe Double follows Simon James (Jesse Eisenberg, who plays against type and is award-worthy superb), a meek man unrecognizable to his co-workers, one of whom is the girl of his dreams, Hannah (Mia Wasikowska, terrific). Early in the film, Simon’s bleak life takes two unhappy turns. First, he witnesses a suicide, and then his doppelgänger, James Simon (also Eisenberg, this time playing to type), begins working at the same company, doing a similar job. James is more likable and confident than Simon, meaning he is more successful, despite being less qualified. 

Writer/director Richard Ayoade’s film isn’t exactly scary, and might not even qualify as creepy. Nor is it commonly laugh out loud funny or emotionally impacting. Plus, it is at least somewhat derivative, obviously resembling Brazil (1985), amongst other movies. At times, as when Simon says things like, ‘But I used to exist. I mean I exist. I’m standing right here,’ it is even reminiscent of Wes Anderson’s best work. By rights, then, The Double, should fail to register, should fade from memory, should be just another conceptually interesting science fiction movie unable to maximize its potential. 

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Thankfully, it is more than that, owing mostly to Ayoade’s fantastic production design. The film’s thematic and narrative content is dark, and so is The Double’s color palette. Here we see mostly browns and grays, with some whites mixed in; the retro computers; the televisions; the characters’ costumes; interior and exterior doors; most walls; tables; desks; and so forth. Because much of the imagery is borderline dull, the few times we see bright color (consider James’ unbuttoned Hawaiian shirt), we know something significant will soon happen. Or, at the very least, that the image is meaningful to Simon.

The movie’s retro technology and set pieces are as effective as its color palette. From the box televisions, to the copy machines with dial controls, to the small screen computers, the technology helps solidify The Double’s setting and enhance its atmosphere. Its set pieces do the same: apartments are very small, and bigger rooms are mostly filled by complicated piping connected to aforementioned machines. Before long we begin to understand Simon’s world, to feel his claustrophobia and lack of entertainment, not to mention his social disconnectedness.

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Ayoade, in other words, effectively immerses us in Simon’s reality, thereby making us care about the character and causing dread when the protagonist’s life goes horribly wrong. It doesn’t matter, in other words, that the director keeps us at psychological and emotional distance from Simon. We empathize with the character anyway. 

Which is why The Double is thematically resonant and intellectually intriguing, the sort of movie that will keep viewers thinking, even days after seeing it. What does this picture say about an individuals’ place in society? About confidence? Identity? Relationships? And more? 

Thematic power is not The Double’s only strength. The cast is terrific. Moreover, the central characters are developed well, and Ayoade and co-writer Avi Korine’s dialogue is witty. Finally, the film is funny enough to always entertain. Simply put, The Double is very good.

4.5 out of 5 reels

JJamesReviews


The Last of Robin Hood

Review by Ruth M.

TheLastOfRobinHoodposterThough the title refers to the role Errol Flynn’s best known for, this film is more about his last girlfriend, Beverly Aadland. She was only 15 years old when the legendary swashbuckler and reputable lothario made his conquest. He saw her going into Warner Bros studios, looking much older than what she actually was in her form-fitting red dress. The wide-eyed teen starlet inevitably and immediately fell for the Australian actor, but she really didn’t have much choice in the matter, given Flynn’s persistence and her own mother practically pimping her in order to *assist* her career. I can’t remember if the film said something about Flynn still being married to Patrice Wymore, but I found that out after the film.

This is really a sad story, not to mention creepy. Kevin Kline who played Flynn was 67 and Dakota Fanning as Beverly was 19 when they made the film, so the age gap between them is even bigger (47 years apart as opposed to 33). But what’s even creepier is how Beverly’s mother Florence (Susan Sarandon) not only encouraged the affair, but also willingly became the third wheel as they travel together. Her own marriage crumbled as her husband vehemently disagreed with what Florence did to their own daughter, and sensibly, he didn’t think Beverly really had talents for showbiz anyway.

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And so, the 90-min film pretty much follow the three of them travel from L.A., New York, Africa, even Cuba where Flynn made a pro-Castro propaganda movie starring Beverly. It’s amusing to get a glimpse how Old Hollywood operated back then, well specifically, how a notorious Golden Age movie star lived. There’s a brief scene where Flynn tried to convince Stanley Kubrick (Max Casella) to cast her alongside him in Lolita. But they soon realize that the affair didn’t really do much for Beverly’s career. The film paints a devastating picture of the ruthless desire for fame and the price people pay to achieve it. It’s not an in-depth biopic, nor a particularly emotional one either, as I barely connect with any of the characters.

All three main characters are such tragic figures in their own right, though I don’t quite have an emotional connection with any of them. I feel for Beverly the most, yet she isn’t exactly blameless in all of this. Though it seemed that Flynn genuinely cared for her, their relationship wasn’t always smooth. It lasted for merely two years when the alcoholic Flynn died suddenly of a heart attack. Seemed that beneath the devil-may-care facade, even Flynn knew that death was looming.

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The real Erroll Flynn & Kline in the role

I feel like this story is perhaps more suited for a TV movie or something in terms of its production quality. I think the performances are good, both Kline and Fanning are pretty committed to the role, and Kline’s resemblance to the older Flynn is pretty uncanny. Sarandon plays the ruthless and fame-hungry Florence convincingly, up until the end she still sought attention when she spoke to the tabloid about the whole affair. Despite Beverly’s insistence that she dropped the book deal, her book was still published.

If you’re a big fan of Errol Flynn this should be an interesting movie to rent. Even if you aren’t [like me, as I haven’t seen any of his movies], surely you have heard of him. It’s a pretty stylish film by Richard GlatzerWash Westmoreland, I think they managed to capture the era quite well. Just don’t expect anything profound or poignant, it’s merely amusing for me, but falls short from being a truly engaging biopic.

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What do you think of these two films? 

Action/Comedy Weekend – The Living Daylights, The IT Crowd & Dredd

MLKdayHappy Martin Luther King Jr Day!

It’s cool that it also happens to be Obama’s second presidential inauguration day. I posted two MLK-related movie posts [here and here] two years in a row to celebrate our hero of the civil rights movement. I don’t know if any of those films are going to be made anytime soon. I certainly hope so, I’d love to see a proper biopic made on Mr. King.

Well, this weekend I didn’t go to the movies, apart from The Last Stand screening I went to last week. Too bad that it bombed, I thought it was a fun action flick. I wasn’t expecting it to win the box office, but at the very least it’d make it to the top 5. In any case, it’s a big weekend for Jessica Chastain with TWO of her movies at number 1 and 2 at the box office. I don’t think I’ll be seeing Mama but nice to see Zero Dark Thirty is still gaining momentum.

Well, it’s been quite an action/comedy-filled week for me. Here’s a breakdown of what I saw:

The Living Daylights (1987)

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[Poster courtesy of DeviantArt – LOVE it!]

I don’t know how many times I’ve seen this movie but I love it more every single time… and Timothy Dalton is the main reason for it. Every time I watch his Bond movie it’s a bittersweet moment as I miss that third outing I wish he had done… I often imagine what it’d be like to have a Skyfall-quality production with him in the role. Oh be still my heart! I’ve already posted a review of this movie a couple of years ago but I plan on doing a proper appreciation post for The Living Daylights to celebrate its Blu-ray Amazon release next month! I’ve already pre-ordered my copy 😀
,,,


The IT Crowd (BBC sitcom, 2006-2010)

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Thanks to all who recommended this sit-com to me when I mentioned Chris O’Dowd on this ‘discovery’ post! O’Dowd, Richard Ayoade and Katherine Parkinson are so hilarious! The show is about a ragtag group of tech support workers who works at the basement at a large corporation. It’s classic, off-the-wall British humor which I love and everyone is just hysterically funny, even the supporting cast: the CEO Denholm (Christopher Morris) and Richmond (Noel Fielding whom I’ve just found out from Novia from the Mighty Boosh show). I’ve watched about six episodes so far on Season 1, so a lot of catching up to do as there are four years worth of stuff to watch. I’ll never get tired of Roy [or his recording] answer the phone with:

Hello, IT. Have you tried turning it off and on again?


Dredd (2012)

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In a violent, futuristic city where the police have the authority to act as judge, jury and executioner, a cop teams with a trainee to take down a gang that deals the reality-altering drug, SLO-MO.

I LOVE Karl Urban but I knew I can’t handle this movie on the big screen, let alone watch in 3D! Seriously, this movie is so gory I’d probably pass out. It’s one of the most violent movies I have ever seen, I think I had my eyes closed a couple dozen times, at least. My hubby actually cued me when the really gruesome stuff was on as he knew it’ll give me nightmares. The movie is only 95 minutes long, though with all that slo-mo [no, I don’t mean the drug but the film-making style], it’s probably only an hour long ahah. Boy, but was it intense. Right from the opening sequence when Dredd was tailing a gang of criminals using the banned substance, the action rarely let up.

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This is quite a different movie I expected from English director Pete Travis, whose credit include Endgame and BBC miniseries The Jury [which featured one of my favorite Gerry Butler roles]. Dredd is super violent, bloody and gruesome, but yet the style & sfx is quite distinctive. I question whether it’s necessary for it to be so gory though, some of it could’ve been toned down a bit and perhaps still achieve the desired effect. I mean, I get that they’re trying to portray this tarnished, grim dystopian world, but at times the violence seems to have be done as pure shock value.

That said, I thought the script by Alex Garland (28 Days Later, Sunshine) is pretty good, it’s not unnecessarily convoluted, plus the self-satirical humor actually works. Yeah, I wish I could see more of Karl Urban’s gorgeous face, but y’know what, he’s VERY good in this role. He’s able to somehow act with his voice and mouth alone, and partnering him with a rookie psychic Anderson (a blond Olivia Thirlby) is brilliant as it brings a level of humanity to his robot-like persona. Stunning Lena Heady as the drug lord Ma-Ma is even more bad ass than 300‘s Queen Gorgo, sporting a huge scar on her cheek, she looks like a sadistic mutant.

The movie’s definitely not for the squeamish [and I’m one of them], but I’m glad I gave it a shot. It’s a decidedly simple story but the execution [pun intended] hits the bulls eye. I never read the comics but I read some reviews that this pleased die-hard comic fans. Well, it might’ve won over new ones, too!

4 out of 5 reels


Well, that’s my weekend viewings. Did you see anything good?