Saturday, December 31, 2016

Year-End 2016 Mini-Reviews

The year is finally at its ends, and as moviegoers now turn both to the influx of pre-Oscar awards groups and look ahead to the offerings of 2017, I'm once again back for my yearly tradition of jotting down my thoughts on smaller films that I've been able to catch up with on DVD or otherwise, even if the year proper is still not quite over for me. I hope you enjoy what I wrote, and I hope you'll check out some of these films as well. Happy New Year!

Friday, December 30, 2016

La La Land movie review.

Sharing something of the same trajectory as the Western, the Movie Musical was once one of the proudest genres Hollywood had to offer. Whether Gene Kelly was Singin' in the Rain, or Fred Astaire was dancing cheek to cheek, or Julie Andrews exclaimed precocious gibberish words, the enchanting and feathery-light genre was a beacon of spectacular entertainment for decades. But in later years, such popularity eventually waned, soon making way for the blockbuster fare that would become a staple of modern cinema.

In my opinion, the musical never truly "died" (just look at the Disney Renaissance), but not until Moulin Rouge! or Chicago did audiences begin taking more notice of the once proud "pure" musical. Which brings us to 2016, and the release of La La Land, an enchanting ode to that bygone era of 50's musicals, and as far as I'm concerned, the film likely to remain the very best of the year.

Friday, December 16, 2016

Rogue One: A Star Wars Story movie review.

The beautiful thing about the Star Wars universe is that, in spite of the fact that we've rarely left the Skywalkers' sides in the movies, there is so much out there yet to be explored. New worlds, new species, new characters of both the Dark side and the Light. Until now, it was a side of the franchise we only glimpsed upon in film, with only tie-in novels and TV series to expand. But with ownership of the franchise now under the guidance of the Disney corporation, and The Force Awakens reawakening Star Wars in a big way, we knew it wouldn't be long until the studio got those side stories geared for the cinema.

These films allow for a greater sense of exploration into the rich history of the Star Wars mythos, able to craft unique stories in the timeline, whether they be based on past events and characters, or be conjured up entirely on the spot. In the first of these anthology films, here to tide us over until Rian Johnson's continuation of the main saga next December, is Rogue One, a prequel to the events of A New Hope directed by Gareth Edwards. While perhaps lacking the same epic touch that graced The Force Awakens, the film still makes for a thrilling, surprisingly gritty diversion for the saga.

Sunday, December 4, 2016

"The Magic of Disney Animation" Retrospective: In Conclusion.

And we've finally reached the end of the story. For over eight decades Disney Animation Studios has enchanted us and captivated us time and time again, and with their very busy 2016 now being over, we'll next be looking ahead to their offerings in the future.

So what more does the Disney Revival have in store. Sadly, they won't have any output ready in time for 2017, but the next year will be a different story. First we'll see Rich Moore returning to the universe of Wreck-It-Ralph with its awaited sequel, which I hope I'm less apathetic to than its predecessor. Then later that year, they'll be returning yet again to the musical mold with Gigantic, their new take on the Jack and the Beanstalk fairy tale, and will feature the returning talents of Frozen songwriters Kristen Anderson-Lopez and Ropert Lopez. After that, it's anybody's guess, with several planned films yet to be announced securing release dates, the upcoming sequel to Frozen, and if rumors are to be believed, a secret project pairing Zootopia director Byron Howard with Moana songwriter Lin-Manuel Miranda (the latter being kept particularly busy by Disney).

Saturday, December 3, 2016

Brief thoughts on Loving.

Love is a very inexpiable feeling, taking on a wide array of various definitions and intentions, but is often best applied to that of romantic love. Itself one of the most powerful emotions to feel, as much as we may like to think we can, there's no explaining the very depths of it, or any use in restricting it. Yet that's precisely what the law tried to do for Richard and Mildred Loving, an interracial couple who were arrested and made pariahs for marrying each other, and subsequently took on the state of Virgina to legitimize their bond. It's a very modest story of accidental heroes who achieved greater things by small victories, and what makes their story in Loving such a compelling, reserved, deeply felt experience.

Friday, December 2, 2016

The Top Ten Disney Animation Studios Films.

We've finally made it. It's been 9 months since I officially unveiled this retrospective, and I've examined every square inch of all 56 (57, unofficially) of Disney Animation Studios' films. And to put it in simple terms, theirs is the perfect catalog to make a retrospective of.
Love them, hate them, or be indifferent to them, there's no denying that their set of films are among some of the most unique, eclectic, and ambitious films in all of animation, venturing through various exotic settings, classic folklore and fairy tales, moving through varying peaks and dips in quality throughout their run, and always ready to rejuvenate and redefine their own medium in both style and presentation. From their music, to their characters, to their art design, to their iconic craft and techniques that fans of animation continue to copy to this day, they still continue to place viewers under their enchanting and whimsical spells to this very day. In fact, with such a vast and high quality batch of films to pick from, it makes forming a top ten list a fascinating experience, as no two lists are exactly alike. To say that a number of their films are the best would be no faint praise since they're chock full of great successes.

And so, as a way to bring this series to a close, I now give you my picks for The Top Ten Best Animated Disney Films. As such, this means that the only rule is that the selections must come exclusively from Disney's in-house animation studio, so Pixar films or other such animated Disney films (like Tim Burton's stop-motion flicks) do not count.

But because you know me, I'm not going to get into the top ten right away, so here are my top five honorable mentions (in descending order of number 11 to number 15). Just barely missing out was Lady and the Tramp, an interesting diversion from Disney's usual musical or fairy tale mold, that made great leaps and bounds in animation for animal characters, and showcased a believable, naturally budding romance from two socially opposite individuals. Sleeping Beauty remains one of the greatest achievements of Disney's animation staff, gorgeously and obsessively detailed and lush in both art-direction and character design, and featuring one of the greatest Disney villains of all time. Zootopia has proven to be one of the most rewatchable and rewarding Disney films, a clever and hilarious send-up of buddy cop comedies building a stellar world, as well as making for a layered and deeply mature examination of casual and hurtful prejudice and racism. The writing of Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs may be dated and one-dimensional by today's standards, but still earns every praise that comes its way for its important innovations to cinema, and for setting up the classic mold of Disney as we know it. However, The Little Mermaid also deserves props for reinventing and rejuvenating that mold, setting the high standards of the animation studio's storytelling with great and memorable characters, and featured unforgettable songs by longtime collaborator Alan Menken.

It's time to wish upon a star, and spin a tale as old as time. I give you my top ten favorite animated Disney films.

Thursday, December 1, 2016

Miss Sloane movie review.

Flashback to 2011, and you may recall a total of four (or was it six?) films come out that all had one thing in common, then up and coming film actress Jessica Chastain. Moving seamlessly between existential drama The Tree of Life, action vehicle The Debt, dramatic comedy The Help, and independent drama Take Shelter, the fiery and versatile redhead quickly grew more and more in popularity, earning two Oscar nominations within as many years, and continuing to be a valuable presence to almost every film she's in.

Five years later, we now see her teaming back up with her director of The Debt, John Madden. This time around, the duo have teamed up for political thriller Miss Sloane, a film based around the world of lobbyists and gun control, that I'm luckily among the first to see.