Ultimate Decades Blogathon 2021: Shrek (2001) by Starry Traveler’s Road

Next up for the Ultimate Decades Blogathon is from my (now in hiatus) Battle of Ingredients co-host, Phoebe from Starry Traveler’s Road. While Starry Traveler’s Road is posting far and few the last few months, you can go check out her DIY crafts, gardening and other projects and thoughts. Being a regular of the blogathon, Phoebe brings us a review of 2001 family animated film, Shrek.


Starry Traveler and family review: Shrek (2001)

Big thanks to my Battle of Ingredients co-host Kim and Drew of Drew’s Movies Review for hosting this Ultimate Decades Blogathon! It has definitely been a nice distraction from COVID-19’s brouhaha and caregiving tasks to spend some time trying to watch a movie as a family.

Why did I say, “trying to watch a movie”? The story behind it is, we tried to watch Shrek over dinner, but Bun Bun freaked out and asked me to stop because she finds some scenes scary even if there were some parts in the introduction that she laughed her head off like potty humor. I went on to finish the movie on my own that night only to ask Bun Bun the next day if she wants to try and finish it again while I prepare dinner and dad can watch with her (my husband successfully calmed her down when we watched Frozen 2 for last year’s movie review). They did finish it but Miss Bun Bun did not want to discuss it on numerous days so my conclusion is that I will do future movie reviews alone or with my husband unless Bun Bun volunteers to watch it with us.

Before I go into the movie review, I must be honest and say that I am extremely puzzled by Miss Bun Bun’s avoidance of kids’ movies. She told us that many movies are scary or too sad (she cried buckets when we watched Tigger Movie during first lockdown but she was fine with Zootopia on a flight a few years back). As a concerned mom, I ultimately decided to look up the phenomena only to find out there are other kids like her who find some TV shows or kids movie scary. (https://www.todaysparent.com/kids/is-your-child-afraid-of-kids-movies/) For parents with sensitive kids like Bun Bun, sounds like family movie nights with popcorn are not part of quality family time.

Without further ado, here is a summary of Shrek from IMDB:

A mean lord exiles fairytale creatures to the swamp of a grumpy ogre, who must go on a quest and rescue a princess for the lord in order to get his land back.

Directors: Andrew Adamson, Vicky Jenson

Writers: William Steig (based upon the book by), Ted Elliott | 6 more credits »

Stars: Mike Myers, Eddie Murphy, Cameron Diaz | See full cast & crew »

To be honest, I did not really like Shrek when it first came out. The fact that it was a dysfunctional fairy tale while containing a bad sense of humor did not really appeal to me. Also, I found donkey utterly annoying in capital letters. Fast forward ten years for 2021, I still did not like it except for some of its messages like not judging people by their looks. I did learn to appreciate the strong female lead that I found in Princess Fiona. Her internal struggles about her terrible secret make her very relatable. Her fighting scene with Robin Hood and his Merry Men to defend Shrek was wonderful.

There might be some bad words that are not so good for younger kids (especially those in copycat phase) but I do use some of them when I am extremely angry, so it is not as if Bun Bun has not heard them before. Therefore, I let this category slide a bit.

Music is so-so if I must compare. The only one that stood out was the Hallelujah with some modified lyrics as it went well with the emotional scenes. I am maybe biased as well since I performed it with my choir group in my graduating year.

Graphics are ok for that time period after double checking movies from 2000s as I did not watch that many movies during that time period.

To end, this is my husband’s review for Shrek:

I found it clever in that it inverted a lot of the usual fairy-tale tropes. All the typical expectations were subverted. However, I still do not get why Shrek mysteriously decides to pick up random bits of knights’ helmets and put them on while looking for the princess nor how she fails to notice that Shrek has green skin. Regardless, the movie was funny and decent overall. It probably takes a good amount of knowledge about other fairy tales and nursery rhymes as there are many cameos. I would not necessarily expect young children to have known even most of them. I would consider this an above average movie.

Thank you for reading my little family’s movie review. I definitely hope all of you stay healthy and safe in this difficult period!


A huge thanks to Phoebe and her family for offering up this review!

To see the full list of entries of this blogathon, you can see HERE.

Double Feature: Over The Moon (2020) & Mamma Mia! Here We Go Again (2018)

Welcome to the next double feature! This time is something of a musical double feature as we look at Netflix animated film Over The Moon and the Mamma Mia sequel, Mamma Mia! Here We Go Again. Let’s check it out!

Over The Moon (2020)

Directors: Glen Keane, John Kahrs

Voice Cast: Cathy Ang, John Cho, Edie Ichioka, Ruthie Ann Miles, Sandra Oh, Robert G. Chiu, Margaret Cho, Phillipa Soo, Ken Jeong

In this animated musical, a girl builds a rocket ship and blasts off, hoping to meet a mythical moon goddess. – IMDB

Over The Moon tells the story of a Chinese girl Fei Fei who is told the story of the Moon Goddess who takes a potion of immortality and is sent to live on the moon with her Jade Rabbit and waits for her lover there. A story that has its own different versions but has its own set of life lessons. Living with her parents who make moon cakes for a living, her life eventually falls apart when her mother is sick and eventually leaves her and her father as well a little pet bunny Bungee. Years later on Moon Festival, her father introduces her to Mrs. Zhong, a woman that will be her stepmother and Chin, a weird little boy who thinks he has the superpower to run through walls to be his stepbrother. Her father and family judge her for her belief in Chang’e and she goes to build a rocket to go to the moon which takes her a crazy journey when Chang’e and the moon isn’t all that she imagined, especially when she finds that Chin has tagged along for the ride. 

Using the legend of the Moon Goddess and a quick look at the Moon Festival as a jumping point for the story, Over The Moon’s delivers a message about moving on and family. With some colorful imaginative parts especially from the part of building the rocket and flying to the moon and the whole sequence on the moon with Chang’e and all of the moon’s occupants, it’s a fun little adventure and the studio’s take on what the Moon Goddess is doing after being sent to the moon. The animation and creativity in those sequences are pretty good but perhaps the parts of the animation with the Fei Fei’s mom at the beginning with some watercolor/Chinese painting coming to life stands out even more just based on how beautiful those scenes are executed. 

Over The Moon also has a great voice cast with John Cho, Margaret Cho, Sandra Oh and Ken Jeong even if some of the roles might be a little smaller. Fei Fei is voiced by Cathy Ang and does a pretty good job much like Chang’e is voiced by Phillipa Soo. This is a musical so the songs are pretty fun for the most part. It’s not quite as memorable as other musicals but some of the scenes are pretty nice as well. Talking about voice casts and languages, the film actually took some time for the Mandarin voice casts and script to have little changes that cater to their own audience especially with the comedic elements, which is a cool little detail seeing as this is American-Chinese but it is based on an animated film set in China. 

Overall, Over The Moon is a fun little animated film. It might not be particularly as deep and probably caters more to children with its cute little elements of Bungee and the dog on the moon Gobi and other little colorful creatures on the moon. It is rather heartwarming.

Mamma Mia! Here We Go Again (2018)

Director (and co-writer): Ol Parker

Cast: Lily James, Amanda Seyfried, Andy Garcia, Alex Davies, Jessica Keenan Wynn, Dominic Cooper, Julie Walters, Christine Baranski, Hugh Skinner, Pierce Brosnan, Josh Dylan, Jeremy Irvine, Colin Firth, Stellan Skarsgard, Cher, Meryl Streep

Five years after the events of Mamma Mia! (2008), Sophie prepares for the grand reopening of the Hotel Bella Donna as she learns more about her mother’s past. – IMDB

Being a fan of the first movie, Mamma Mia! Here We Go Again is released ten years after and its a rather good look as the characters have all gotten older as well just like Sophie and her return. In some ways, the movie does feel like a fun little jump back into the story especially for fans of the musical since they got back a lot (if not all) of the original cast of the first one and the sequel adds a little something as it fills in those pieces of the first movie, like how Donna met her three suitors and ended up with Sophie and staying on the island. For sure, its not exactly a needed story to tell but as much as I had my own doubts about it, it still has that feel-good vibe of the first film that left me really happy as I watched the musical and the musical numbers play out one by one.

With that said, one of the best things for sequels is having the original cast show up for this one. It shows the family essentially being separate but each on a different path in this future but the island and the family pulling them all back together. These characters are rather fun and charming. Fluctuating between the past and the present does add a lot of fun to it. The younger cast still manages to carry the film fairly well especially as Lily James plays the young Donna. It also comes with a cameo of Cher and Meryl Streep which is also pretty cool.

Overall, I honestly feel that Mamma Mia! Here We Go Again is for the fans of the original film. If you didn’t care of it, this sequel probably will do nothing for you. While its story is fairly straight forward that you don’t really need to know the first film to catch on to the story (maybe it will hinder the relationships of the characters in the present time), its still just a feel-good musical with those fun ABBA songs. Its just a fun time for those who enjoy musicals. Plus, I really liked the Waterloo performance in those outfits at the end of the first film and they did it again for this one in a slightly different way which was also entertaining.

Double Feature: Angela’s Christmas Wish (2020) & The Grinch (2018)

Merry Christmas everyone!

Wrapping up this year’s Holidays marathon on Christmas day is how it usually works so the next double feature is the final 2 movies of the marathon, although I did have one more alternate Christmas movie but we’ll pair it up later after Christmas. This time, its a animated Christmas films double feature with a Netflix sequel, Angela’s Christmas Wish and 2018’s adaptation, The Grinch.

Let’s check it out!

Angela’s Christmas Wish (2020)

Director (and co-writer): Damien O’Connor

Voice cast: Lucy O’Connell, Ruth Negga, Moe Dunford, Brendan Mullins, Shona Hamill, Oscar Butler, Janet Moran

A sequel to the much loved Angela’s Christmas, Angela’s Christmas Wish is a heart-warming tale of a determined little girl who sets out to reunite her family in time for Christmas. – IMDB

There’s something so heartwarming about Angela’s Christmas Wish. It has that same type of charming little girl character for Angela that continues from Angela’s Christmas (review) where Angela’s imagination is one that makes it so beautiful to be a child because of the naivety to believe in the things that she knows probably isn’t true but also shows her big heart. Last year was keeping baby Jesus warm and stirring up a lot of commotion that the townspeople hasn’t quite forgotten as it still gets mentioned but this year, its running around trying to bring her father home. Being an adult watching this, its obvious that whatever she is thinking up is absolutely impossible to happen and the adults do bring it up, however its the persistence and the pure hope of bringing her father back home that makes this such a heartwarming tale, which takes her on an adventure and makes a new friend in the process.

Wrapping it up with a tale about a pauper and what he wished for that made him happy as a string between the conversation and a Christmas surprise to look forward to, Angela’s Christmas Wish is all about family, the meaning of happiness and the best intentions. The story is all about the kids and their shenanigans especially based on their simple minded ideas that kids have, liking digging to Australia. Its all the world that crafts up these cute funny moments that make up this story and makes Angela such a charming character who has this convincing enthusiasm that makes her brother and this other little girl to follow along her since her wish would make for her father getting involved and that would allow him to spend time with her. Its all these little desires from children to be close to their parents and yet, adults can see through those beyond the lines moment that make it so meaningful to watch.

Angela’s Christmas Wish is a fun and heartwarming story. One that has all the right values and such charming characters in a cute little town. The ending bit was so touching also that I got a little teary. Its one definitely worth a watch, especially since its less than 50 minutes in length.

The Grinch (2018)

Director: Yarrow Cheney & Scott Mosier

Voice cast: Benedict Cumberbatch, Cameron Seely, Rashida Jones, Pharrell Williams, Tristan O’Hare, Kenan Thompson, Sam Lavagnino, Ramone Hamilton, Angela Lansbury, Scarlett Estevez

A grumpy Grinch (Benedict Cumberbatch) plots to ruin Christmas for the village of Whoville. – IMDB

*Originally posted on Movies and Tea Friday Film Club*

Based on the 1957 Dr. Seuss book How The Grinch Stole Christmas and the third screen adaptation following the 1966 classic TV adaptation and the 2000 live action film, The Grinch is a computer animated film and the second Dr. Seuss by Illumination following The Lorax. Illumination is rather on point with these adaptation. For those who are unfamiliar of How the Grinch Stole Christmas, its about a green-furred Grinch who was born with two hearts too small who lives alone in the mountains with his dog Max above Whoville. The Whos are festive and love Christmas a lot which rubs The Grinch the wrong way that he decides to put a stop to it by disguising as Santa on Christmas Eve and stealing all their decorations, gifts and foods to stop them from celebrating Christmas however, he soon realizes that Christmas is more than the material things and that its all about the Christmas spirit which lives in them and ends up with this revelation making his heart grow two sizes and deciding to give back all that he stole to the Whos who in turn, take him in for their Christmas holiday.

While the first adaptation in 1966 is the one that most interprets the original story, these adaptations all add their own twists to fluff up the full length. In this adaptation, it gives the Grinch a backstory that makes him less of the disagreeable character but one where he grows up suffering from being alone that he doesn’t know how it feels to have companionship whether as friends or family. At the same time, giving a lot of life to certain characters in Whoville and not just focusing on Cindy Lou Who. She still plays a big element but giving her more of a backstory, a ploy to meet Santa with her friends and a connection with her mom. Sure, maybe it does stretch far from the original but all this does add a lot of fun characters. Cindy Lou Who and her friends are very adorable in design just like Max and the addition of a buffalo and then there’s the very fun neighbor Mr. Bricklebaum.

Plus, there’s a decent cast of voice actors from Grinch by Benedict Cumberbatch, Cindy Lou’s mom by Rashida Jones, Cindy Lou by Cameron Seely and Mr. Bricklebaum voiced by Kenan Thompson. Of course, a big part of Dr. Seuss story is the Narrator. In this case, its narrated by Pharrell Williams who actually has some narration that strays away from the original text but still keeps the rhyming and creative elements.

This adaptation of The Grinch still has a lot of heart. Its light and fun and fairly entertaining. There’s no doubt that The Grinch Who Stole Christmas is its best without all the extra bits but as its straightforward story like the 1966 TV movie, however this version does an exceptional job at making it very entertaining. Its still full of the Christmas spirit and its a great effort as an adaptation plus in my opinion, its much more redeeming than the 2000 live action adaptation. This one might have some slight pacing issues but it still delivers as a family holiday animated film.

FNC 2020: Kill It and Leave This Town (2020)

Kill It and Leave This Town (2020)

Kill It and Leave This Town

Director (and writer): Mariusz Wilczynski

Voice Cast: Krystyna Janda, Andrzej Chyra, Maja Ostaszewska

Fleeing from despair after losing those dearest to him, the hero hides in a safe land of memories, where time stands still and all those dear to him are alive. – IMDB

Kill It and Leave This Town is a Polish animated film which upon research is well worth a watch because of the time it takes to make it ( 15 years!!). While time isn’t exactly a defining factor of how good a movie will be and this one is rather bizarre, it absolutely is a personal film to the director/writer Mariusz Wilczynski. The story feels a little jumbled as it moves between a mother preparing and going to work, her son and husband that goes to the beach, an old woman in a hospital and her son and this old woman’s life going in reverse to when she is in younger scenes while her son turns into this giant observing everything going on. Its rather odd when the only significant standout color in this doodle drawing world is red with some lighter contrast colors for the backdrop of buildings or lights or the blue sky, etc. Its a bit confusing to figure it all out since it feels like there’s a lot of imagery at play here.

One of the most original elements of this animation is the art style. It feels like a doodle project where its simple sketches in a notebook put together. At a closer look, its like a craft project as different elements are cut and glues on top of each other and there are even faint fold lines in each scene but the elements all move like stop motion animation with moving trains and birds flying around. The people are drawn in the most simple and have simple scenes where its focused a lot on one person talking in the one scene and having some conversation with someone off screen or off-centre conversation between two people. The use of color and how something that feels simple like a 2D drawing on paper all comes together piece by piece literally. The amount of thought and creativity (and heart and patience) just seems to flow off the screen.

Kill It and Leave This Town does feel like its an interconnected story between the scenes. There are some well-constructed scenes where one person is in one shot but then shows them in another shot in the background. It seems to live in memories of the characters and there is something deeper to explore in the story once the proper characters and their cross with each character is set straight. Talking about the characters, the voice actor (while unfamiliar with the language) does work really well with the characters (from how I interpreted the scenes, at least). Its a little odd and has a few weird scenes in between and its a little out there in what its trying to portray. This animation is rather dark and sad so its not really for everyone as there are some graphic bits to it as well. Overall, its one that I’m still trying to piece together in my mind in entirety but definitely a unique film to say the least especially since Polish cinema is not something that I’m familiar with.

Double Feature: Gwen (2018) & The Garden of Words (2013)

As we get back to more frequent double features, we head into the next letter in our alphabet run as we get to G. G selections on Shudder are rather slim pickings so I went ahead and started up 2018’s slow-burn film Gwen and then paired with also a shorter title with Japanese animated film by the same director as Your Name, The Garden of Words. Let’s check it out!

Gwen (2018)

Gwen

Director (and writer): William McGregor

Cast: Eleanor Worthington-Cox, Maxine Peake, Richard Harrington, Mark Lewis Jones, Kobna Holdbrook-Smith, Richard Elfyn

A folk tale set in the hills of Wales during the industrial revolution. – IMDB

Gwen is a slow pace Welsh horror drama set during the Industrial Revolution, mostly set in the isolated hills where this family of a mother and two daughters live on their farm. Unfortunate situations keep happening as the older daughter Gwen holds up the family and strives to survive while dealing with the farm animals dying mysteriously and her mother being overcome with a mysterious illness. Its a dark story and well-portrayed in its landscape and setting under its dim lighting and gloomy shots.

If we look at the characters, Gwen is played by Eleanor Worthington-Cox who does a really great job in this character. Its a quiet movie so dialogue is much less and there’s more of an observation of the situation and she does that very well. At the same time, her mother is played by Maxine Peake who also captures her role fairly well. There’s some rather “creepy” moments for lack of a better word. The movie itself isn’t exactly scary per se but it is a little unsettling at parts.

Gwen is for the patient audience that doesn’t mind a slow paced horror drama. Its not scary in the jump scare sense but more of a slow unwinding unsettling feeling that goes with where its set and the gloomy darker environment that surrounds this tale.

The Garden of Words (2013)

The Garden of Words

Director (and writer): Makoto Shinkai

Cast: Miyu Irino, Kana Hanazawa, Takeshi Maeda,

A 15-year-old boy and 27-year-old woman find an unlikely friendship one rainy day in the Shinjuku Gyoen National Garden. – IMDB

The Garden of Words is a 45 minute Japanese animated drama film written and directed by Makoto Shinkai, the person behind Your Name. Its interesting to see that this story also features two strangers Takao and Yukari who the latter is the mysterious woman who we actually don’t know the name until much later when her identity is revealed. The Garden of Words is something of a coming of age as the two characters have their own personal struggles of being a bit of a loner or misunderstood and finding it hard to know how to move forward. It uses the 15 year old boy, Takao’s passion for being a shoemaker and shoes in general as a metaphor for life.

Because of that focus, there’s a lot of scenes that capture the feet with how they sit and position their feet or walking through the streets, etc. Makoto Shinkai is a nice storyteller. His stories, at least the two to date that I’ve watched, has been rather meaningful. Its always about some element of life and adds a hint of romance in it that helps the characters grow. While this story isn’t quite as complex, it does take a level of careful execution to allow the story to work in the realm of keeping one of the character’s a mystery until giving her identity reveal. At the same time, Shinkai always gives these rich in color and beautiful animated scenery. In this case, its capturing the realistic rain fall set in the beautiful garden and capturing the light beams  and such.

The Garden of Words is a mere 45 minutes and because it doesn’t have a overly complex story but still with a little mystery, it adds enough to move the story in a quick paced. Its well-animated and has a rather careful metaphor. The story focuses on two characters with an age gap and while there are some elements of it that feels a little odd at first, its a rather interesting friendship that happens between them. Its a bit unlikely but then its not the friendship itself but rather how it develops emotionally perhaps. The Garden of Words is a quick viewing that’s definitely worth your time if you liked Your Name. Its not the same sort of story but its still a pretty good watch.

That’s it for this G double feature!
Have you seen these two movies? Thoughts?

Ultimate 2010s Blogathon: Frozen (2013) & Frozen 2 (2019) by Starry Traveler’s Road

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Next up in Ultimate 2010s Blogathon is from my Battle of Ingredients co-host, Phoebe from Starry Traveler’s Road sharing with us a double feature of a popular Disney animated film and its sequel, 2013’s Frozen and 2019’s Frozen II. After you check out her review, head over to check out her blog where she does event recaps, DIY crafts and recently her updates in from jewelry school. Check out her blog HERE.


DOUBLEFEATURE (94)

Frozen (2013) & Frozen II (2019)

(sing to “Do you want to build a snowman?”) Do you want a movie review? Husband, Miss Bun and I got one just for you! We plan to discuss Frozen 1 and 2 as it really makes sense. We really need to send a BIG thank you to Kim and Drew for hosting us… (tick tock tick tock) for the Ultimate 2010s Blogathon!

Our little family saw Frozen during a long flight several years ago and it became a craze around our home thanks to my husband who told me to watch it. I caved in and ended up liking Anna while Bun Bun liked Elsa for her magical abilities. Even our Scholastic book orders are Frozen oriented to the point her educator remarked on it the other day when I submitted the order.

I have no idea where to start but both soundtracks blew my mind. They are both excellent and I really liked how music in Frozen can be found in Frozen 2 like the opening sequences. I love both Let It Go and Show Yourself as they feel empowering. Bun Bun prefers Frozen songs better so I guess that I will be stuck with them for a long time. Husband thinks the Frozen soundtrack was stronger, more original. Missy’s daycare friends’ parents say they thought Frozen 2 songs are better.

I find it hard to judge graphics as 6 years have elapsed between the two. Also, I do not watch movies enough to know what is done as visual effects nowadays. Frozen 2 is definitely prettier.

Scary factor? Bun Bun freaked out in both movies, but definitely more in Frozen 2. We both needed to comfort her at the theater as she asked for daddy. She barely wanted to talk about it when we got out of the theater. As a parent, I think Frozen 2 is scarier for kids under 5 with battles and tragic events as the sisters need to dig up the skeleton in the closet to right the wrong. Husband believes Iduna’s haunting presence throughout the movie also contributed to the eeriness factor. My research has also indicated that it should be 6+.

Husband and Bun Bun both prefer the Frozen storyline. Husband thinks that Frozen 2 had a lot to live up to and was unable to Let It Go. I am okay with both but admit the Frozen 2 storyline was a bit obvious from the start and there is definitely more suspense with Frozen. I also laughed a lot with Frozen 2’s Olaf’s randomness and at a few running gags at Kristoff’s expense. One thing that I definitely liked is aging the characters a little compared to older Disney movies like Mulan and Mulan 2. It is a nice change.

Our overall preferences between the two movies:

Husband: Frozen

Bun Bun: Frozen

Me: Frozen 2

As for other families that I talked to, they are very divided between the two movies with one family leaving midway of Frozen 2. That is it for our review! Thank you for reading! What is your opinion if you watched them?


A huge thanks to Phoebe for sharing her and her family’s views on this Disney double feature of Frozen and Frozen II.

You can find all the posts for the blogathon updated daily HERE.

Double Feature: Shazam! (2019) & Klaus (2019)

The next double feature is here! While an unlikely pair (to those who haven’t seen Shazam!), its actually both films set at Christmas time. Imagine my surprise when I went to watch a superhero movie (in the last remaining hours of the rental, might I add) to find that I had opened one fitting to the current movie theme this month. Catching up to 2019 movies while watching some holiday films, here we go!

Shazam! (2019)

shazam!

Director: David F. Sandberg

Cast: Zachary Levi, Mark Strong, Asher Angel, Jack Dylan Grazer, Adam Brody, Djimon Hounsou, Faithe Herman, Meagan Goode, Grace Fulton, Michelle Borth, Ian Chen, Ross Butler, Jovan Armand, D. J. Cotrona

A newly fostered young boy in search of his mother instead finds unexpected super powers and soon gains a powerful enemy. – IMDB

I don’t really know the different superheroes and I’ve already mentioned it before too much. Shazam is one that I’m actually not familiar at all and when I realized that it was from DC, I kind of got a little worried. So far, my favorite movie experience has been Wonder Woman as everything else is a little bit of a mixed bag. Shazam got some pretty good reviews when it was released in theatres so I had it on my list since then to check it out.

Shazam is something of a breath of fresh air. It has some nice moments that feel parallel to some of the Marvel film scenes but, it also has a really nice comedy element to it that works really well with the age of the actors here and just really nailing that age difference and superhero responsibilities and all that fun bits about family and whatnot. It embraces the whole being a child and wanting to be someone different, bigger or stronger or whatnot and somehow as Shazam gets thrown this responsibility out of nowhere, its all a bond with his new foster brother to figure out what is the best way to approach this and all the fame that he has gotten because of it and how to find the balance of his real life. Zachary Levi as Shazam definitely takes it on with so much style and fun. At the same time, his foster brother is played by Jack Dylan Grazer who does a great job (just like he did in IT Chapter 1 & Chapter 2).

Mark Strong plays the villain here which does work. Superhero movies always have the not too threatening villain and here as Black Adam, he does have quite a nice overall appearance and vibe although he never feels like his threats are present enough since its more the second half of the film that the two collide together and then fight it through until the end.

Shazam! does follow the superhero formula but probably because it has that comedic twist and the whole age change between reality and superhero form that it adds a little more charm to the whole experience. There is this innocence and simplicity to Shazam and that works its wonders here. Plus, I’m a sucker for movies set during Christmas, giving it a somewhat alternate Christmas movie vibe, which gives it extra points.

Klaus (2019)

Klaus

Director: Sergio Pablos, Carlos Martinez Lopez

Voice Cast: Jason Schwartzman, Rashida Jones, J.K. Simmons, Joan Cusack, Norm Macdonald, Will Sasso, Sergio Pablos, Neda Margrethe Labba

A simple act of kindness always sparks another, even in a frozen, faraway place. When Smeerensburg’s new postman, Jesper, befriends toymaker Klaus, their gifts melt an age-old feud and deliver a sleigh full of holiday traditions. – IMDB

Netflix has had its hit and misses but it really needs to get more of these Netflix Originals where its animated. So far, they have picked up some really nice projects with this one and of course, French-animation I Lost My Body (Review). I’m sure there are others but I still have a lot of Netflix Originals to catch up with other than you know, Super Monsters or something that I happen to keep watching during some kind of holiday. With that said, Klaus is a family animation which goes back to creating an original story of how the concept of Santa Claus started out in the middle of nowhere with a feud tradition between two families and a rich boy of the postal company getting sent to the middle of nowhere by  his father to find some worth. A scheme to boost the almost non-existent need and desire for the postal service  through the kids turns into something of a kind act leading to the quote and powers this movie: “A true selfless act always sparks another.”

Klaus might not sound very special or different as it piles on some rather similar plot points together but no one has really done the origins of Santa Claus (at least from what I know) and that in itself is rather fun and the story itself becomes a heartwarming experience of finding purpose and bringing together the society that was previously filled with hate that had no other reasoning than to keep up a tradition. It is filled with a lot of positive messages and the animation itself is absolutely beautiful to watch with a lot of charming and/or cute characters. Plus, there is some really great voice acting with Klaus voiced by the talent J.K. Simmons and one of the opposing families is lead by Mrs. Krum who is voiced by Joan Cusack, who has been frequently seen in Netflix Originals and very talented as well.

Klaus is a charming little Christmas movie addition for sure that will make it onto my annual line-up in coming years because its so fun to watch. If nothing else charms you, the little girl Margu voiced by Neda Margrethe Labba and there is one scene that always makes me so happy. A surprisingly wonderful film that you should definitely check out if you haven’t yet.

That’s it for this double feature!
Have you seen these two? Thoughts?

TADFF 2019: International Shorts After Dark

Toronto After Dark Film Festival

Compiled as 8 short films from various international locations, a few of them from the USA and screened as the International Shorts After Dark, here are 6 of the 8 shorts reviewed. One of them called Bar Fight was paired with a feature during Fantasia Festival in July so the review is linked at the bottom.

Maggie May (2018)

Maggie May

Director (and writer): Mia Kate Russell

Cast: Lulu McClatchy, Katrina Mathers, Sophia Davey, Ditch Davey, Don Bridges

Maggie May is about a sister who stays back to help out after their mother dies to end up in an accident which leaves her dying but her sister Maggie May simply ignores it. Sometimes, the scariest thing is not what someone does but in some situations, what someone doesn’t do. That is what powers the horror and unsettling feeling in Maggie May.

While the short itself is done fairly well, there’s this over exaggeration (perhaps deliberate) of the character of Maggie May and that makes it too over the top to make it feel as horrifying and more just a loathing in general to watch. What does work for the concept itself is the whole idea of passivity being more dangerous than the other way around in some cases. However, what does balance it out is the whole process of dying with the sister and the both the psychological and physical changes that she goes through hoping for help but also noticing the pieces around her fading away.  There’s a decent amount of blood and gore that somehow balance with the psychological elements of the whole story and pulls through a fairly effectively little short.

Puzzle (2019)

Director: Vincenzo Aiello

Cast: Marie Wyler

In a fairly concise story, Puzzle is a rather creepy one as it is based on the premise of a woman finding puzzle pieces around her home. As she pieces them together, it reveals something frightening. This one is very well-executed. It keeps its setting confined in a room mostly while using the puzzle pieces to each lead to the next one and it having the final unveil of what and possible who is responsible and yet, it still manages to keep some mysteries, mostly because its less than 5 minutes and the ability to craft something rather unnerving is already very impressive.

Eject (2019)

Eject

Director (and writer): David Yorke

Cast: Elena Saurel

Eject is about a woman that finds her arm has a USB port and proceeds to plug it in and ends up in another place where she can sort through files of her life. There are some fairly horror elements here and yet, characters finding too good to be true situations and using it to their advantage is not a new concept although this one for being a short did leave a fairly precious deeper message (in my mind but I might be overthinking) about the impossibilities of casting everything bad out of life as that isn’t reality. Its the mechanics of how this dimension works that becomes the mystery and the horror all wrapped up together. Its not a long short, less than 10 minutes and yet, long dark tunnels and empty room with a cabinet and a mysterious door leading to who knows is the unknown factors that add to this short film.

La Noria (2019)

La Noria

Director (and writer): Carlos Baena

La Noria is a Spanish animated short with no dialogue about a grieving boy who sees creatures in his attic who ends up showing him compassion.

La Noria is possibly the best short so far in all of the shorts shown at the festival. The animation is absolutely brilliant. On a visual level, the color palette is beautiful. The creature designs are also incredibly creative. There’s something of a Christmas holidays setting but somehow its the tint of light that works here. What starts off as failing to put together a ferris wheel and remembering his father turns into an intense walk through  his home festering with all kinds of creatures, all different in their appearance and having their own characteristics but all takes a surprising turn of events to something very touching. This one shows off the concept of being able to deliver an effective story with the power of visuals and sound effects and score to give it all it needs. Even the ending credits are done fantastically.

The Haunted Swordsman (2019)

The Haunted Swordsman

Director: Kevin McTurk

Cast: Jason Scott Lee, James Hong, Franka Potente, Christopher Lloyd

In terms of uniqueness, The Haunted Swordsman is a short that definitely fills that criteria. Its a ghost story puppet film that takes a horror adventure following a samurai in a world of witches and creatures. Made with 36 inch tall bunraku puppets and in live action, The Haunted Swordsman is a lot of fun filled with sufficient amount of horror, fantasy and adventure.

The story itself is a lot of fun as it starts with a samurai on a quest with a severed head, The Navigator as his companion guide, whichever it is in search of the The Black Monk, voiced by Christopher Lloyd. The samurai being voiced by Jason Scott Lee and The Navigator voiced by James Hong. The score itself blends well with the samurai tale elements and for a puppet film, the action is incredibly on point. A lot of compliments go to the attention to detail given to the puppets and how great it all looks as well as the puppeteers who make it all come to life convincingly. Its definitely a realm well worth looking at. While this is a short animated film at about 15 minutes or so, the samurai is sent on a quest, giving this concept and story a lot of potential to explore further and hopefully, director Kevin McTurk will do just that in the future.

Place (2019)

Place

Director: Jason Gudasz

Cast: Emily Green, Nick Hurley, Stella Edwards, Emmanuelle Roumain, Willy Roberts

Place is a short about a couple the goes into their new home to find the electrician dead in a freak accident to find that something seems to also be inhabiting it.

Place is about a family adjusting to all the ghosts in the place. While the ghosts never quite reveal itself, it does take over the family one by one. It gives them a rather edgy character and each of them change in their own way as they each take on a different oddness to them, whether its their change in how they talk. A lot of it is rather deliberate and possibly in a fairly dark comedy sort of way. Each of them interact with it in a different form as well. The character changes are a bit abrupt for a short, it needs to be paced fairly quickly. However, the daughter in here does bring in those little details of giving out clues of what legends are in the equation, inhabiting their place. Place is quite odd but then its meant to be that way with those little details which adds to the story plus it does have a rather good twist at the end.

Other shorts in this showcase not reviewed here:

Bar Fight (Fantasia Review)
Your Last Day on Earth

FNC 2019: J’ai Perdu Mon Corps (I Lost My Body, 2019)

J’ai Perdu Mon Corps (I Lost My Body, 2019)

J'ai Perdu Mon corps

Director (and co-screenplay): Jeremy Clapin

Voice Cast: Hakim Faris, Victoire Du Bois, Patrick D’Assumcao

A story of Naoufel, a young man who is in love with Gabrielle. In another part of town, a severed hand escapes from a dissection lab, determined to find its body again. – IMDB

French animated features always seem to have a darkness to its overall premise. In this case, this upcoming Netflix France Original film (according to this poster is set to release in the end of November) follows two sides of a story. The first is the story of Nafouel, a pizza delivery boy having a bad day that ends up having a random conversation with a girl through a building intercom during a rain storm outside and is intrigued by this stranger and finds a way to approach her while on the other side, it follows a severed hand trying to go through the city to reunite with the body it belongs to. Its easy to see that these two stories are linked together and who this severed hand belongs to and yet, alternating between the two and having it converge at the end gives this film so much charm. Perhaps of the timeline jumping back and forth between the two that the story sometimes does have moments of disjointedness.

Somehow French animated films have such good grasp hitting those bizarre themes and finding just the right balance of humor to make it work. J’ai Perdu Mon Corps is a fine example of this. While Naoufel’s side of the story feels a bit awkward and maybe a tad sketchy if you think about the almost stalker-ish way he chooses to approach this girl. At the same time, he is somewhat of a rather unpleasant character or simply flawed and fairly shallow which is where this film falls short slightly. It all depends on how his character is viewed although there are some believable moments of clumsiness and his trying to work hard to get her attention and some missteps that he does which makes some funny moments. As I always like to mention, flawed characters to begin with makes for the better development characters as they have so much more room to grow and that definitely applies in this story.

Where it does shine right from the beginning is starting with how the severed hand is introduced and the moments of how it goes from location to location. There’s a lot of dark humor to be had, especially as it meets all kinds of things and dangers along the way and is essentially defenceless. Some come out with mostly unexpected outcomes and that just makes each step of its way back to the body that it belongs to even more rewarding in the end.

Overall, J’ai Perdu Mon Corps is exactly as its title hints at. The winning factor here is how it uses the whole concept of a severed hand and can create a rather charming and humorous story out of it. It fits into the whole charm of French animation that is a tad odd but still works out overall to have those dramatic moments as well. As a feature-length directorial debut for Jeremy Clapin, its definitely one that lands very well and has a unique premise.

J’ai Perdu Mon Corps will be hitting theatres for a limited release in US (November 15) and UK (November 22) and also hitting Netflix (for most countries) on November 29th (all based on research on the Internet, so please check or correct me in the comments if you have other more accurate info).

Double Feature: Mary Poppins Returns (2018) & Tall Girl (2019)

DOUBLEFEATURE

The last double feature before the horror month is this one! As I try to work through some of the Disney movies on Netflix before it leaves, I managed to get in Mary Poppins Returns and then paired it up with something that I ended up watching as a multitasking film and it was the rather new Netflix Originals, Tall Girl.

Let’s check it out!

Mary Poppins Returns (2018)

mary poppins returns

Director: Rob Marshall

Cast: Emily Blunt, Lin-Manuel Miranda, Ben Whishaw, Emily Mortimer, Pixie Davis, Nathanael Saleh, Joel Dawson, Julie Walters, Meryl Streep, Colin Firth, Jeremy Swift, Kobna Holdbrook-Smith, Dick Van Dyke, Angela Lansbury

Decades after her original visit, the magical nanny returns to help the Banks siblings and Michael’s children through a difficult time in their lives. – IMDB

Arguably, a lot of the Disney remakes or sequels feels unnecessary and the same goes for Mary Poppins Returns. However, while it is unnecessary, Mary Poppins Returns still achieves quite a fun family adventure. It follows a lot of the same formula as the original in terms of the events and even using some of the same lines in reference. It all helps link the two together even if the setting is decades apart and Mary Poppins isn’t the same actress and the children in the original are all grown up and the children in this one are the children of Michael Banks of the original. In all those elements, it does build a good bridge between the two and holds a lot of the essence of the original even if it still doesn’t have the same charm as the first one.

What does change in this one are the songs. All the songs are different from start to finish even if say what used to be the Chim Chimeree song is another sequence with streetlight leeries (is that what its called?) and they do the big dance number also . Then the bird lady is replaced by the balloon lady portrayed as cameo by Angela Lansbury. Dick Van Dyke comes back not as his original role but as another cameo role as well. Not to mention, Colin Firth comes in as a supporting role as well. Some of the other changes is adding in a bit of romance for its characters. Of course, the biggest change is Emily Blunt playing Mary Poppins which was always a question of how it would change. While she doesn’t have quite the same charm as Julie Andrews, she does hold up her own. In fact, this role is so different from other roles she’s done (that I’ve seen) that it actually surprised me in a good way and I really enjoyed her take of Mary Poppins plus they still gave her some sharp dialogue and replies.

Mary Poppins Returns might not be necessary but its still a fun family film with some decent music and characters that I wouldn’t mind watching a few times (not hard since I’ve already watched it one more time afterwards). All in all, a pleasant surprise!

Tall Girl (2019)

Tall Girl

Director: Nzingha Stewart

Cast: Ava Michelle, Griffin Gluck, Sabrina Carpenter, Paris Berelc, Luke Eisner, Clara Wilsey, Angela Kinsey, Steve Zahn, Rico Paris, Bria Condon

Jodi, the tallest girl in her high school, has always felt uncomfortable in her own skin. But after years of slouching, being made fun of, and avoiding attention at all costs, Jodi finally decides to find the confidence to stand tall. – IMDB

Netflix Originals teen movies are usually a big bet to take. So far, I’ve really only liked the To All The Boys I’ve Loved Before and was alright with Sierra Burgess is a Loser (which really doesn’t hold us as much when you think more about it). In many ways, the issues with Sierra Burgess are pretty much the same ones that apply here. Teen romances have that really big issue with making girls always question their own self-confidence when they want to get the attention of a guy they like when they should be confident about themselves and their physical appearances, in this case, its her height, which constantly gets mocked by the people in school.

In the case of Tall Girl, the characters go through a weird character arc that everyone ends up going through this segment in their story where they are very hard to root for and somehow find their way back, of course whether its too late is the question for whatever situation they are tackling. While Tall Girl does have a few okay things and the better ones is how it chooses to end and the more inspirational speech that the main character Jodi talks about as she embraces her confidence and feels confident with her height.

Tall Girl just feels shallow and hollow. All the characters aren’t too deep and the story is rather formulaic and predictable. Its a story about finding your self-confidence and facing your feelings sort of deal, which is pretty basic but has a few good messages to share. What its trying to share has good intentions but just the execution and the script and some of the acting left a lot to be desired.

That’s it for this double feature!
Have you seen Mary Poppins Returns and/or Tall Girl?