Shmee Witnesses The Power Of The Witch’s Flower!

‘Mary and the Witch’s Flower’ is the first feature film from Studio Ponoc, but the visual style may seem familiar to fans of Studio Ghibli (Spirted Away, My Neighbor Totoro) since Studio Ponoc was founded by long time Studio Ghibli producer Yoshiaki Nishimura and directed by former Studio Ghibli animator Hiromasa Yonebayashi.  While I don’t think ‘Mary and the Witch’s Flower’ is as good Studio Ghibli’s classics, it is still a great debut for this new studio and well worth watching.

The story is based on the short children’s fantasy book ‘The Little Broomstick’ by Mary Stewart, and follows a lonely young girl named Mary (Ruby Barnhill) who is led to a magical flower by some local cats.  This flower takes her on a fantastic journey.

Considering this is Studio Ponoc’s first solo outing it would have been nice for them to try something outside Studio Ghibli’s wheelhouse, everyday girl being brave and all that, but none the less it is a gorgeous movie.  It is no wonder that Hiromasa Yonebayashi was chosen to be Studio Ghibli’s youngest director for the ‘Secret Life of Arrietty’ before moving over to Studio Ponoc.  Plus the story is very sweet.  My wife and daughter loved it, and I can’t say I disagree.  Though their red hair probably gave them an even greater affinity for this film.

‘Mary and the Witch’s Flower’ was one of the rare anime movies to get a major push here in the States, and given its pedigree and quality it is easy to see why, but if you were like me and missed it when it came out, now is the time to give it a watch since as of mid-July it has been added to Netflix.  It is more than worth your time, and I would love to see more of Mary and her fantastic world.  If you have any frizzy red heads in your life, then this is a must watch.  I am thinking a Blu-Ray copy of this film may end up in my daughter’s collection at some point.

Shmee Meets Tonya!

For us kids of the late 80’s and mid 90’s, we remember the Tonya Harding/Nancy Kerrigan incident vividly.  Low class villain Tonya Harding tried to get ahead by bashing in the knee of her main rival, America’s Sweetheart, Nancy Kerrigan.  Of course that isn’t quite what happened.  That is just the way it was reported, and thus how we remember it.  In all actuality Tonya’s ex-husband hired some guys to scare Kerrigan, and they went a little rogue.  According to him anyway.  The movie “I, Tonya” explores all this, and it does its best to get across all the wildly different stories about what happened.  It is an interesting and funny film, but sometimes the tone doesn’t quite jell with the content.

“I, Tonya” follows the life of Tonya Harding (Margot Robbie) from her early life to her trial and judgement just after the 1994 Winter Olympic Games.  It is also partially told through re-enactments of interviews with Tonya, Tonya’s Mother LaVona (Allison Janney), and Tonya’s Ex Jeff Gillooly (Sebastian Stan).  Gillooly and his crew are rubes of the highest order.  So much so that the movie is more comedy than drama.

The main problem with film, other than the fact it is told by very unreliable narrators, is that its comedic tone often clashes with the violent and verbal abuse that is directed at Tonya by LoVona and Gillooly almost nonstop.  We will be laughing at the idiocy of Gillooly’s goons one minute and then see him punch Tonya in the face the next.  It is jarring to say the least.  The juxtaposition happens so often that you almost feel like the movie wants us to laugh at it, but the director Craig Gillespie and the actors made clear in interviews that we are not.  They were just going for that whiplash effect.  I am just not sure it is always successful.

As with all character movies, they are only as successful as their characters, and the lineup for “I, Tonya” is fantastic.  Allison Janney makes everything better, and Margot Robbie and Sebastian Stan more than keep with her.  The side characters are all wonderful too.  It is a real acting showcase.  It is no wonder that Janney won an Oscar and that Robbie was nominated.

“I, Tonya” is streaming right now on Hulu, and it is well worth spending the two hours to watch it.  The abuse may be hard to watch, and the language is rough, but it was insightful to finally get Tonya’s take on the scandal.  Plus, the actors are all great.  “I, Tonya” is not your average sports movie, there are no heroes, and nobody wins the gold, but I enjoyed being introduced to Tonya Harding.

Alien: Covenant Is The Alien Movie For People Who Don’t Like Alien

I don’t think Ridley Scott really wants to make Alien movies anymore, but he knows if he slaps the Alien name on something people will give him the money to make whatever he wants.  With Alien: Covenant, Scott wanted to make a movie about a being’s hatred for its creator, and then he tacked some Alien stuff on to it.  It is kind of interesting, but the two conflicting ideas don’t really coalesce in to a coherent film.

Covenant takes place a few years after Prometheus, and the colony vessel Covenant gets a strange message on its way to its new home destination.  The crew decides to check it out, and guess what?  That was a terrible idea.  It turns out that this is where Elizabeth Shaw and David (Michael Fassbender) crash landed with a ship full of the Alien virus.  David meets the newer, more obedient, version of himself Walter, and things get very strange.  The crew makes more bad decisions, and a lot of them get killed by the xenomorph.

The xenomorph is kind of secondary to what is going on with Walter and David, and it should never be said in an Alien movie that “the” alien is taking a back seat to a robot that clearly has the hots for himself.  Like I said Scott brings some interesting ideas to the table, but they are never fully fleshed out, and this never truly feels like an Alien movie.  Just one where the Alien is around.

Covenant is beautifully shot, and the special effects are really well done, so Scott still has what it takes to make a major motion picture, but this movie is just kind of a mess.  Which is a shame because I wanted to like it.  I was one of the seemingly few people that enjoyed Prometheus.  Sure it was dumb, but it was dumb fun.  This movie forgets the fun, and instead wants to focus on its “themes”.

If you are looking for a good Alien movie, Alien: Covenant is not what you are looking for.  If you are looking for some high concept Sci-Fi, you might like this, though it is not realized enough.  I enjoyed parts of this film, so if you really like the genre, it is probably worth spending an afternoon checking out, but you won’t really miss much if you skip it.  Maybe they will finally get it right  with the next one.

Dead Movie Franchises Don’t Tell Tales!

When Disney said they were returning to the series’ roots for Pirates of the Caribbean: Dead Men Tell No Tales, what they really meant is that they were going to forget that On Stranger Tides ever happened (heaven knows we all did) and just copy the highlights of the first films.  Like all poor photocopies of an original, the cracks are showing and it has faded quite a bit.  Dead Men Tell No Tales was a waste of everyone’s time.

You already know what happens in Dead Men Tell No Tales.  Jack will bumble around while crazy set pieces explode and fall apart, all while searching for a magical MacGuffin that will save him from a pirate ship full of undead seamen.  The only change this time around is the kid he has teamed up with is the son of Will Turner.  Henry Turner (Brenton Thwaites) is hoping that Poseidon’s Trident can save his father from having to serve for all eternity on the Flying Dutchmen.  As luck would have it a very smart, very pretty girl Carina Smyth (Kaya Scodelario) is also looking for the Trident, so they will all have to reluctantly team up.

Another fun change for Dead Men Tell No Tales is that Jack has almost no agency of his own.  He is not a mastermind playing dumb, he just is dumb.  He is being dragged along by these youths, and is now just a bumbling violent drunken nitwit.  It is like Johnny Depp and Jack Sparrow have completed their merge in to one another.  The thing is, had they written an okay story this all still might have been fine, but that is not the case.  Stuff just happens in this movie, and it is all a big coincidence that all these things all just happen at the same time.  I understand that all adventure films require a little ‘destiny’ to make them work, but this ‘plot’ completely relies on it, without ever even acknowledging it.  All the while stealing things from other movies without even as much as a wink or a nod.  Gee I wonder what Carina will say when someone mentions that ‘no man’ can read the map to the Trident.

You should not waste your time watching this movie like I did.  Yes, I know it is on Netflix now, and you are looking for a movie to watch with your family, but trust me, there are a lot of better things to watch.  It makes me angry that no one even tried to do something fun or original with this film.  It could and should be an exciting franchise, but instead everyone involved is willing to let this franchise slide in to mediocrity while they count their money.  If Dead Men Tell No Tales then everyone who made this movie must be six feet under.

The War For The Planet Of The Apes Proves There Are No Bad Ideas!

At this point you have either seen the Planet of the Apes prequels, or you are not interested in seeing them, but here is the deal, they are way better than they have any right to be.  War for the Planet of the Apes continues this trend, finishing the trilogy off perfectly.  Though it makes no sense by itself, so if you haven’t watched Rise and Dawn yet, than you really need to because War is the best of the three.  Somehow beating the curse of the third movie.

Since it is hard to review the third movie in a series were they all build on one another, I am instead going to use it to prove a point: For the most part there are no bad ideas.  If someone a decade ago would have come up to me and told me that some of the most thoughtful and well constructed blockbusters of the next ten years would be prequels to the old Planet of the Apes movies, I would have laughed at you.  What a terrible idea, but instead Rupert Wyatt (Director of Rise) and Matt Reeves (Director of Dawn and War) have created something wonderful.  How? By working hard and elevating the material.  Finding ways to explore humanity through the eyes of apes just gaining their sentience, continuing to find new and interesting ways to explore a being’s fight for survival, and the universal importance of family.

That can be true for all movies.  Movies with terrible premises can teach us and entertain us in all sorts novel ways, while movies with the best setups can be utter bores, or slapdash in their execution.  Wyatt and Reeves went the extra mile for movies that most people wouldn’t have given a second thought to, and they were fantastic and should be lauded for that.  All this to say, that I am still not sure I would greenlight a Planet of the Apes prequel if I was sent back in time, but at least it is good to know there are people out there who can make an outrageous idea like that work.  Plus, I am sure having Andy Serkis around always helps too.