Playing Catch-Up: Zootopia (dir by Byron Howard and Rich Moore)


zootopia

Speaking of animated films

I finally got a chance to watch Zootopia last night and oh my God, what a sweet and wonderful little film it turned out to be!

Zootopia is an animated film from Disney and it started out with a premise that sounds very Disney-like.  Zootopia takes place in a world where there are no humans.  Instead, animals walk and talk and scheme and plan and joke and dance and … well, basically, do everything that humans do.  Except they’re a lot cuter when they do it because they’re talking animals.

Judy Hopps (voiced by Gennifer Goodwin) is a rabbit who happens to be an incurable optimist.  (We should all try to be more like Judy.)  Even when she was growing up on the farm, Judy knew that she would someday move to the sprawling metropolis of Zootopia and become the first rabbit on the city’s police force.  When she finally does graduate from the police academy, Judy gets a lot of attention as a trailblazer.  But she quickly discovers that she’s only been hired to be a token, a political tool to help the city’s mayor, a blowhard of a lion named Lionheart (J.K. Simmons, voice the role that he was born to voice), win reelection.

See, Zootopia may look like a wonderful place to live but, as quickly becomes apparent, it’s a city in which the peace is very tenous.  Animals that are traditionally prey — like Judy and her fellow rabbits — may live with the predators but they certainly don’t trust them.  And the predators may not eat the prey but they certainly don’t respect them.  Underneath the cute face of every talking animal, there lies prejudice and resentment.  Lionheart is a predator who needs the votes of prey to remain in office.  What better way to win their trust then to make Judy Hopps a police officer?

Judy may be a member of the police force but that doesn’t mean that she’s going to be allowed to actually do anything.  While every other member of the force gets an exciting assignment, Judy is assigned to traffic duty.

However, an otter has recently vanished.  He’s just the latest of 14 predators to vanish in the city.  With the help of seemingly sympathetic deputy mayor, Judy gets herself assigned to the case.  But there’s a catch.  She has 48 hours to find the otter.  If she doesn’t find that otter, she’ll resign from the force and go back to the farm.

Luckily, Judy is not working alone.  She knows that the last animal known to have seen the otter is a fox named Nick Wilde (Jason Bateman).  Nick’s a bit of a con artist and, as a predator, he wants nothing to do with Judy and she doesn’t quite trust him.  But, events — which I’m not going to spoil here — force them to work together and uncover the darkest secrets of life in Zootopia…

If Zootopia sounds cute, that’s because it is.  It’s perhaps one of the most adorable films that I’ve ever seen, full of wonderful animation and memorable characters.  But, at the same time, there’s a very serious theme running through Zootopia.  Zootopia is about more than just talking animals.  It’s a film about prejudice, racism, sexism, and intolerance.  It’s a film that invites us to not only laugh but also to reconsider the world around us.

Zootopia is currently on Netflix and, if you haven’t seen it yet, I highly recommend it.  It’s great for children and adults.

The Indiana Film Journalists Honor Moonlight and Rebecca Hall!


moonlight

The Indiana Film Journalists announced their picks for the best of 2016 on the 19th!  Along with picking Moonlight for best film, they also gave best actress to the destined-to-be-nominated-some-day Rebecca Hall for Christine!

Best Film
Winner: “Moonlight”
Runner-up: “Hell or High Water”
Other Finalists (listed alphabetically):
American Honey”
“Arrival”
“Deadpool”
“Everybody Wants Some!!”
“La La Land”
“The Lobster”
“Manchester by the Sea”
“Sing Street”

Best Animated Feature
Winner: “Kubo and the Two Strings”
Runner-Up: “Sausage Party”

Best Foreign Language Film
Winner: “The Handmaiden”
Runner-Up: “A Man Called Ove”

Best Documentary
Winner: “O.J.: Made in America”
Runner-Up: “Weiner”

Best Original Screenplay
Winner: Kenneth Lonergan, “Manchester by the Sea”
Runner-up: Taylor Sheridan, “Hell or High Water”

Best Adapted Screenplay
Winner: Barry Jenkins, “Moonlight”
Runner-up: Eric Heisserer, “Arrival”

Best Director
Winner: Damien Chazelle, “La La Land”
Runner-up: Kenneth Lonergan, “Manchester by the Sea”

Best Actress
Winner: Rebecca Hall, “Christine”
Runner-up: Natalie Portman, “Jackie”

Best Supporting Actress
Winner: Viola Davis, “Fences”
Runner-up: Naomie Harris, “Moonlight”

Best Actor
Winner: Casey Affleck, “Manchester by the Sea”
Runner-up: Ethan Hawke, “Born to Be Blue”

Best Supporting Actor
Winner: Mahershala Ali, “Moonlight”
Runner-up: Jeff Bridges, “Hell or High Water”

Best Vocal/Motion Capture Performance
Winner: Alan Tudyk, “Rogue One: A Star Wars Story”
Runner-up: Nick Kroll, “Sausage Party”

Best Ensemble Acting
Winner: “Everybody Wants Some!!”
Runner-up: “Don’t Think Twice”

Best Musical Score
Winner: Mica Levi, “Jackie”
Runner-up: Justin Hurwitz, “La La Land”

Breakout of the Year
Winner: Robert Eggers, “The Witch”
Runner-up: Sasha Lane, “American Honey”

Original Vision Award
Winner: “The Lobster”
Runner-up: “Sausage Party”

The Hoosier Award 
Winner: Andrew Cohn, “Night School”

No Ewoks, No Jar Jar: Rogue One: A Star Wars Story (2016, directed by Gareth Edwards)


rogue_one_a_star_wars_story_posterA long time ago in a galaxy far, far away…

The evil Galactic Empire spent what had to be billions of Imperial credits to build the greatest weapon in the universe.  It was known as the Death Star and it housed a laser so powerful that it could blow up a planet with just one shot.  And yet, for all the effort and all the years that were spent building it, the Death Star had one glaring vulnerability, an exposed exhaust valve that the Rebel Alliance twice used to the destroy it.

For years, fanboys debated why the Empire would go to the trouble to build a super weapon with such an obvious design flaw.  I have to admit that I was often one of them.  No one else seemed to care but, to us, this was a huge deal.  If the Empire could figure out how to blow up a planet with one super laser, why couldn’t they figure out how to protect that one valve?

Now, thanks to Rogue One: A Star Wars Story, we have an answer.  We not only know why that valve was there but we also know what was meant in New Hope when the rebel general said that the plans to the Death Star had been stolen at great cost.

Rogue One is a fan’s dream, one that answers questions while expanding on the Star Wars mythology.  Unlike the previous prequels, it adds to the story without cheapening the original films.  In fact, of all the Star Wars films, Rogue One is the first to make the Death Star into a believable weapon of mass destruction.  When it appears over one planet, it blots out the sun.  When it blows up a rebel base, we see the destruction from inside the base instead of observing it from the safety of Death Star.  Director Gareth Evans does for the Death Star what he previously did for Godzilla.

death-star

Unfortunately, like Godzilla, the action and the special effects in Rogue One are usually more interesting than any of the film’s characters.  Felicity Jones, Diego Luna, Donnie Yen, Jiang Wen, Alan Tudyk, and Riz Ahmed are all good actors but they’re all playing underwritten parts.  No one steps up like Harrison Ford did in the original trilogy.  Commander Kennec, played by Ben Mendelsohn, has a little more depth than the typical Imperial villain but, for better or worse, the film’s most memorable performances come from a CGI Peter Cushing and James Earl Jones providing the voice of Darth Vader.

rogue-one

Despite the underwritten characters, Rogue One is still the best Star Wars film since Empire Strikes Back, a return to the grittiness, the thrilling action, and the awe of discovering new worlds that distinguished the first two movies.  For once, a Star Wars film seems to have more on its mind than just selling toys.  Though we already know what is ultimately going to happen to the Death Star at the end of New Hope, Rogue One is a frequently downbeat film.  There are no Ewoks and, to great relief and rejoicing, Jar Jar is never seen.  The closest that Rogue One gets to comic relief is Alan Tudyk providing the voice of a cynical robot.  The emphasis is on the horrors of war and even the rebels are troubled by some of the things that they have done.  For once, the Rebel Alliance actually feels like a rebellion and the evil of the Empire feels real instead of cartoonish.

Rogue One is projected to be the first of many “Star Wars stories,” stand-alone film that will expand the universe and hopefully clarify some of the points that were left unclear by the original trilogy.  I think it’s going to be very successful very Disney.  I’m just dreading the inevitable Jar Jar origin story.

 

Film Review: Moana (dir by Ron Clements and John Musker)


Look, I get it.

Everyone’s depressed right now.

You’re depressed.

He’s depressed.

She’s depressed.

That random guy over there is depressed.

Your cat’s depressed because you’re so depressed that you’re probably not feeding him on time.

I’m not depressed but I’m currently pretending that I am in order to show solidarity for the people.

Everyone’s depressed!

But you know what?  No matter how depressed you are, don’t take it out on the movies.  I actually had someone tell me recently that he didn’t see how I could worry about movies with so many terrible things happening in the world!  Well, listen up — the world may be a terrible movie but movies help to make it a lot more bearable.

For instance, there’s Moana.  Moana is the latest Disney film and it is a burst of pure joy, a wonderfully entertaining animated adventure that also carries with it an important, timely, and welcome message of empowerment.  Some day, when I have a daughter, Moana is one of the many films that I look forward to watching with her.  We’ll watch Moana and then we’ll watch Brave.  And then we’ll close things out with Frozen.  I can’t wait!

moana

Now, I’ll be honest.  The film’s plot, in many ways, sounds like almost every other Disney princess film.  Moana (voiced by Auli’i Cravalho) is the headstrong daughter of the chief of a Polynesian tribe.  Moana dreams of sailing to the ends of the Earth but her loving but protective father refuses to allow her to go beyond the reef.  However, when a force of darkness threatens to consume the island that Moana calls home, she defies her father and sets sail with her pet rooster.  The only way to stop the darkness is to track down a demigod named Maui (Dwayne Johnson) and go with him to return a sacred stone to Te Fiti, the island Goddess.  (The stone is Te Fiti’s heart.)

Now, that may all sound like typical Disney fare but the brilliant thing about Moana is that it realizes that the plot sounds like typical Disney fare.  When Moana finds Maui, he asks her where he animal sidekick is because all princesses travel with an animal sidekick.  Moana argues that she’s not a princess but then realizes that, as the chief’s daughter, she kind of is.  Moano is full of self-referential humor, the type that tells the audience that we’re all in this together.

Maui himself is a brilliantly animated, written, and voiced parody of the type of muscle-bound character who, in the past, would have automatically been this film’s main character.  Dwayne Johnson has always been willing to have fun with his persona and he continues to do that with Maui.  For that matter, Heihei the Rooster also pokes fun at the typical Disney animal sidekick.  As opposed to the usual all-knowing, often snarky sidekick that we’ve come to expect from Disney, Heihei spends most of his time searching for something to eat.  It doesn’t matter if it’s edible or not.  He’ll eat it.  As a result, Heihei doesn’t really do much to help Moana on her journey but he’s still adorable.

But ultimately, this film is all about Moana and what a wonderful character she is!  Strong, independent, intelligent, and occasionally just a little unsure of herself, Moana is perhaps the most 3-dimensional Disney character since Brave‘s Merida.  It’s her character (and  Auli’i Cravalho’s voicework) that brings the film its humanity and makes it a truly special viewing experience.

Moana is wonderfully animated and if you don’t fall in love with the coconut pirates then there is no hope for you.  (Is this film worth seeing in 3D?  I would say that it is.)  The insanely catchy songs are provided by Lin-Manuel Miranda and Opetaia Foa’i and I’m looking forward to the inevitable Broadway adaptation.

So, seriously — stop feeling sorry for yourself for two hours and go see Moana!  You’ll be glad you did.

Rogue One: A Star Wars Story Official Trailer Finally Arrives


Rogue One

The Rogue One official trailer finally came out after weeks of fans waiting for it since last month’s Star Wars celebration over in London.

At first, people thought the trailer would be released during the celebration, but that didn’t come to pass. Then San Diego Comic-Con came and went and still no official trailer. We already seen the teaser, the sizzle reel from London celebration and even a tv spot that aired in the last week or so. Yet, there was still no full trailer. Fans were waiting with extreme patience.

Once news came down that the first official trailer will show during the Olympics the guessing game began on which day it will be. When it was confirmed that it was to be tonight people worldwide began to wait for the trailer to premiere. And waited during each Olympic event. And waited some more. I, myself, decided I needed a nap and left orders to be awoken when it finally did show.

Well, it did show just an hour into my nap and despite being groggy from being woken up that first image of the desert planet with Forest Whitaker and Felicity Jones conversing got my full attention. The wait was long, but it was well worth it and now the wait for the film’s premiere begins.

Rogue One: A Star Wars Story is set for a December 16, 2016 release date.

Disney’s First Official Teaser Trailer for Moana


Moana

Since 2012’s surprise hit Wreck-It Ralph, Walt Disney Animation Studio (you know the other one that’s not named Pixar) has been on quite a winning streak. With each new film this animation studio cranks out it’s building a portfolio of critically-acclaimed animated films that’s also huge hits with the audience. This year, the studio released Zootopia which seems to have surprised many with it’s staying power.

This Thanksgiving we’ll see the second feature-length film from this studio with the fantasy adventure Moana.

A story set in ancient Oceania and about a young girl with the natural born gift of being a navigator who goes on a quest to find a fabled island with the help of Maui, her favorite hero who also happens to be a demigod (voiced by Dwayne Johnson, who is as close to a real-life demigod).

Moana is set for a November 23, 2016 release date. Just in time for Thanksgiving.

Rogue One Wakes Up the Internet with Its First Trailer


Rogue One

The world has been dying to see the first teaser trailer for the next Star Wars. The most recent one came out at the end of last year and already people wondering why this next one hasn’t already come out.

Well, it will come out this December when the public is flush with money to spend on the holidays (though we all know it’s probably to buy Rogue One: A Star Wars Story tickets as holiday gifts for themselves).

This teaser trailer shows us stuff that happened between Episode 3 and Episode 4. It also focuses on a new hero character which has raised the ire of the most vocal minority (very tiny) of the Star Wars fandom. We’re introduced to Jyn Erso played by English-actress Felicity Jones who we learn is not just a criminal of sorts, but one ready with a smartass quip.

Star Wars has another woman in the lead role! First it was Rey in Star Wars: The Force Awakens. Then just the last couple weeks, one of the few redeeming things about Batman v. Superman was the appearance of Wonder Woman. We can’t forget how last year’s Mad Max: Fury Road was being called Mad Max Furiosa Road.

The MRA mouthbreaters and Mary Sue labelers have had it up to their neckbeards of having their beloved franchises being invaded by the opposite sex. They’re already calling for boycotts and petitions to get Rogue One from being released as is. They want their fictional heroes to return to the good ol’ days of privileged, white men who rescued and kissed damsels (even if they to be their sister) in distress.

Their shouts and cries of impotent rage has been drowned out by the massive majority of even more vocal supporters of another female heroine in a fictional universe which dares to posit that dangerous question: can women be heroes? It looks like after Rey and now, with this upcoming film’s Jyn Erso the answer may be a collective and very loud “Yes, Yes, Yes.”

Rogue One: A Star Wars Story is set for a December 16, 2016 release date or be on hold indefinitely if the MRA neckbeard mouthbreaters get their court injuction to delay its release.