Tag Archives: craft

Ugetsu (Ugetsu monogatari)

[3 stars]

War sucks. Men are greedy. Money’s pointless. Women can save us (at a cost to themselves). Love is forever. Fate’s a bitch.

That about sums up this 1953 adaptation of classic fables by Kenji Mizoguchi in one of his last films. Basically this is a ghost story, in the traditional Japanese sense, which made for some appropriate October viewing.

But I can’t say I recommend the film other than to film buffs or historians. While beautifully filmed, it’s slow, marginally acted, and barely gripping. Some of this is style choice, to be sure. However, that doesn’t mean it survived the years well. This one is definitely a choice you’ll have to make for yourself.

Ugetsu Poster

Over the Moon

[3 stars]

I don’t know a parent who hasn’t sweated the two really big conversations with their kids: sex and death. Over the moon takes on the latter in a very accessible and relatively honest way without losing the magic of the tale. The story, by the late Audrey Wells (The Hate U Give), doesn’t shy away from many of the issues and feelings while also not making it overly depressing; she was targeting tweens and younger. The result of this latest Netflix drop is definitely a movie for kids, but with a delightfully odd mix of story and craft that kept me interested.

On the craft side, it is an odd mix of high-end CGI and flat animation. And, generally, the flat animation is used for the fantasy side of the world rather than the Fei Fei, our intrepid and driven heroine’s world. It makes for an odd experience, but it somehow works.

The story, however, is probably the more interesting of the choices. It brings in science as a way to focus the action, but then leaps into fantasy without apology. It also tackles some real life challenges.

The voice talent is adequate, but nothing that really stands out, despite some recognizable names. And the music is good, but never quite finds a song that will stick in your head…it’s close, but just misses. I will, however, give them props for some of the lyrics and script being at least a bit honest about how complicated families and life can be.

Over the Moon is fun once for adults, if you like anime and particularly if you like seeing other myths than we’re used to catching in English. Kids will likely enjoy this more, and perhaps even more than once, though I’m not a great predictor when it comes to that. But it is certainly a solid achievement and a funny and poignant tale.

Over the Moon Poster

American Utopia

[4 stars]

Back in 1984 David Byrne and David Lynch gave us unequivocally the best concert film ever released with Stop Making Sense. It is the bar by which I judge every concert film and, unsurprisingly, even more appropriate in this case. So, here we are 36 years later and Byrne has teamed with Spike Lee (BlacKkKlansman) to capture his Broadway concert and bring it to the masses.

First off, the music and musicianship are great. But that’s no surprise. Byrne has a wealth of music to draw on and has always gathered capable artists around him. The shape of the concert, however, isn’t quite what he managed with Stop Making Sense.

There is a shape. But unlike Stop Making Sense, which builds on the music and performance, American Utopia focuses on message. And, oddly, that message comes most into focus most powerfully when he performs Janelle Monáe’s “Hell You Talmbout” rather than his own songs. But while there is a thread of connective tissue thematically to the song choices and presentation, it never quite has the build and completeness of the earlier movie. Lee got lost in angles and points of view the audience didn’t have rather than just making the story on stage work. It isn’t poorly done, but it feels more like a filmed performance than it does a story.

If you have any love of The Talking Heads or Byrne’s music, this is a must-see concert. But if you’re hoping for a career topper after such a long gap, you may be a bit disappointed. Go for the concert and leave  your expectations set appropriately. You won’t be sorry you spent the time. Byrne can still control a stage and his message is a timely one for our world.

David Byrne's American Utopia Poster

Chef’s Special (Fuera de Carta)

[2.5 stars]

Just how broad do you like your comedy? If you’re planning to come here for a feast, be prepared for something more Chuck E. Cheese than Four Seasons.

If you know me, you know that restaurant movies tend to get my attention. I love the environment and, particularly, watching the food being conceived and prepared. When provided enough of that  I’ll even, usually, give the action and story that surround it a bit of a break.

Sadly, director Nacho G. Velilla (No Manches Frida) couldn’t decide if he was going to give us a farce or a force for change in this tale from the other side of the passthrough. In the end, it’s just an unpalatable melange that barely held my attention and interest. The acting was only a notch above telenovela in its shrill delivery, though the messages and the intended heart were much more human, and the story was an oversimplified mess.

Unfortunately, in the end, this movie is a meal that leaves you wanting. It has neither a believable tale, nor does it give us enough about the food to keep the audience sated. Frankly, if it had been about 25 minutes shorter, I’d be less critical. In its lack of focus, there are a number of storylines and setups for emotional payoffs that just aren’t worth the effort. Coming in at close to 2 hours, the movie just can’t sustain.

Now, if you like broad, silly comedy that occasionally touches down in reality and that has a sort of positive message, this may be for you. It really wasn’t for me.

Chef's Special Poster

Sonic the Hedgehog

[3 stars]

Thanks to the pandemic, it’s taken ages to get my hands on a copy of this silly romp. Frankly, it was better than I expected; though far from a good film, it was entertaining for its intended audience.

And the intended audience is young. Fortunately, the cast truly committed to the story and, in context, it works just enough to let an adult get through it with a knowing smile. It doesn’t have the edge of Pokemon: Detective Pickachu, but it’s self-conscious enough that you don’t have to groan through it all.

James Marsden (The Female Brain) and Jim Carrey (Kick-Ass 2) really carry the story, though Ben Schwartz’s (Standing Up, Falling Down) Sonic knits it together nicely. Marsden actually outshines them both thanks to his guileless delivery and charisma. Despite the likes of Tika Sumpter (Old Man & the Gun) in the cast, women are notably absent in driving roles.

This is director Jeff Fowler’s first real foray directing. But when you realize he’s working with writing team Pat Casey and Josh Miller, best known for such tightly written gems like Transylmania and Golan, the Insatiable, you gotta cut the guy a break on what he could accomplish.

Basically, this is safe for kids and not boring for adults. It isn’t a great film, but it is a reasonable translation to screen for a game…but that isn’t too high a bar, is it?

Sonic the Hedgehog Poster

Military Wives

[3 stars]

This is exactly what you expect and need it to be, once you realize it is more Calendar Girls than GI Jane. It’s heart-warming, at times raw, and just a bit manipulative. What else would you expect from the hands of Peter Cattaneo, director of The Full Monty? This time round he delivers a feel-good, fictionalized account of military wives in the UK that formed the first wives’ choir. Sometimes “feel-good” is enough, but it isn’t all the movie has to offer.

The real reason to see the movie, other than to escape the current day-to-day, is to watch the journeys of Kristin Scott Thomas (The Valet) and Sharon Horgan (Game Night). Each of these women chart a course and evolution on screen that is magnetic, from their opening clashes to their inevitable understanding. In addition there is the simple delivery of Amy James-Kelly (Gentleman Jack) which is nicely understated without losing its power.

The rest, to be honest, you’ve seen before. These movies have a rhythm and a point, and they’ll wring you dry and make you laugh in alternate waves. They are cathartic and satisfying and I’ve no bones against them, but it isn’t something new, it’s just something comforting. The added benefit of some solid performances makes it one you should queue up. And, these days as I’ve said, sometimes comforting is enough anyway.

Military Wives Poster

Save Yourselves!

[3 stars]

Alex Huston Fischer and Eleanor Wilson’s first feature is a silly romp that, till the end, manages to stay surprising and fresh. It isn’t a new story, nor even a new way to tell the story, but their cast’s slightly abrasive-but-loving relationship makes it work. And their down-to-earth humor keeps it all rolling along.

The oddly matched Sunita Mani (Mr. Robot) and John Reynolds (Stranger Things) work well together, keeping a delightful and playful tension alive through the story. It’s thanks to them, and the light touch of the directors keeping the humor constrained, that movie works at all.

What  Fischer and Wilson didn’t manage to do, however, was provide a complete story. Instead, we have a delightfully long skit that falls apart as it rushes to an end in the final moments. And then…well, there is a pseudo-intellectual wrap-up that explains nothing, comments on little, and leaves our main characters hanging. It borders on a commentary, but because it is so literal and with no clear intent it doesn’t feel like we even got to the punchline of a long joke.

The ride is still fun. And perhaps you’ll glean more from that ending than I did. It’s still an impressive showing in a challenging and overdone genre. Enough so that I’ll be watching to see what any of the four are part of next to see what more they can do.

Weathering With You (Tenki no ko)

[3 stars]

Makoto Shinkai’s (5 Centimeters Per Second) latest piece of animation plays to his strengths, but is ultimately a little confused and problematic.

Shinkai is devoted to the passion of love; young love in particular. He waxes poetic both visually and in plot chasing that ideal. And his animation is wonderful. That’s enough to pull you along through his tales.

But Weathering, while hitting on those notes well, ends up delivering a confused message about climate change in an alternative Tokyo that isn’t quite thought through. And, frankly, it just isn’t up to the standards of his previous work story-wise. There isn’t enough meat there, nor enough resolution to really sell it all.

All this to say: it’s pretty, it’s well voiced (in both Japanese and English), and it’s certainly inventive in its telling and ideas. But after a tour de force like Your name. my expectations were higher than he could deliver.

Weathering with You Poster

Young Wallander

[3.5 stars]

This continues a trend of reinventing and revisiting established mystery icons and tracing their genesis. Young Montalbano or Endeavour come immediately to mind, and they are both good touchstones for considering this latest entry into the “Young” phase.

There are some interesting and unique aspects to this series. First, much like Casino Royale, it is a contemporary prequel to its original. And, like Casino Royale, it somehow works. Honestly, an approach which tackled similar character issues, but made them time period appropriate, would have been fine too. But I can see the beauty of setting it now and tackling the issues in more familiar terms.

Adam Pålsson (Before We Die) takes on the title character well… he even has two Wallenders to draw from, Krister Henriksson and Kenneth Branagh, which is another unique aspect to this series. It isn’t entirely clear which he focused on, though I think it leans more heavily to the Swedish version. Certainly the initial season arc is very Wallander in its structure and resolution. You know that from very early on in the first episode.

However, the show is less about drawing the early years for the later man than it is about just setting up some good mysteries, at least so far; but that’s OK too as long as they keep up the quality. Which isn’t to say we don’t see the initial threads of his rumination and dark sensibility. It’s there, as are some of the threads of his family issues.

There are a number of good roles around Pålsson. The standouts are primarily the women in his life: Leanne Best and Ellise Chappell (Yesterday). They are very different from one another and yet both buffet Wallander through his leap to detective-hood. Of the men in the cast, the standouts are Richard Dillane and Charles Mnene. Again two very different influences, and both essential to Wallander now and the Wallander to come. How they go forward from this initial foray is going to be interesting to see, assuming it’s renewed.

I really should have gotten to this sooner, but I didn’t realize it was in English and not Swedish. I was in the midst of three other subtitled shows; I just couldn’t add another at the time. But now that I have, I can definitely recommend it to lovers of the original series and those just looking for something new to feed the beast.

Fantasy Island (2020)

[3 stars]

It’s easy to forget that Fantasy Island wasn’t all 80’s kitsch and sweetness, it had a dark side. This remake tries to capitalize on that aspect. And, for the most part, it’s successful, even if the logic is stretched and the plot falls apart near the end. But up till then, director and co-writer Jeff Wadlow, along with the rest of his previous Truth or Dare? team (Jillian Jacobs and Chris Roach), is somewhat clever in how he helps it embrace both aspects of the classic show.

Much like the original, this is a collection of stories. In the wide-ranging ensemble, Lucy Hale (Truth or Dare?), Maggie Q (Priest), and Jimmy O. Yang (Space Force) stand out by force of charisma. They’re joined by a number of other good players that bump the plot along, such as Michael Rooker (Brightburn), Portia Doubleday (Mr Robot), and Parisa Fitz-Henley (My Spy). The rest of the cast serve simply to fill out the story; not poorly, just not memorably.

However Michael Peña (Dora and the Lost City of Gold), in the pivotal Mr. Roarke roll, feels utterly wrong. You have to be both pulled to the man and terrified of him. Peña has neither the presence nor the menace necessary.

What I will grant the movie is that it is a movie, not just an overblown TV episode. But while it can stand on its own, I suspect it has much more impact as a retcon of the series. Were it not for the wobble near the end, it would have been much more satisfying. But it’s a pretty big wobble as it tries to wrap it all up. Fortunately, the final moments are a bit more fulfilling. As to whether you should book a trip here…well, that’s up to you.