Monday, June 21, 2021

Luca: Adventures and dangers and amazing moments for the whole family

Movie Review: Luca (2021) on Disney +

Disney and Pixar have a fun new animated winner, Luca, bridging the undersea and above-the-sea worlds with great new energy. 

Luca is a young sea monster shepherding a herd of fish, unhappy with his lot in life. His mother and father guard him constantly, afraid he will take after his grandmother and her lust for the life ashore. He finds "treasures" dropped overboard from human fishing trawlers, simple everyday items like watches and pictures and -- a phonograph, and feels the pull of wanderlust. Eventually, Luca escapes the binding ties of his mother's apron strings--yes, his mother wears an apron--and emerges on an isolated island beach. And there he meets Alberto, who feeds his lust for human life and discovery. 

Whenever Luca or Alberto are in the water, they appear as sea monsters. However, whenever they are in the fresh air, they lose their scales and fins and become human, with arms and legs and skin with hair. To remain human, all they have to do is avoid the water. Oh, and learn what it means to live like a human, such as eat, and walk upright, and talk. Escaping the island for a mainland fishing village and the allure of humankind, they begin to succor the good life and the pursuit of their dream, owning a Vespo motor scooter. To do that, they must win the local triathlon, with the help of a newfound friend, Giulia, and defeat the local bully Ercole, who never loses. This is complicated, but it's tons of fun to watch.

A ton of great voice talent brings the story to life. Jacob Tremblay is the voice of Luca. Jack Dylan Grazer is the voice of Alberto. You'll love Emma Berman as effervescent Giulia. And Saverio Raimondo gives life to the irascible Ercole. There are lots of others, too.

There are lots of adventures and dangers and amazing moments for the whole family on Luca. I rate it A^ for Always a winner with Disney and Pixar.

Sunday, June 20, 2021

Fatherhood: A hit way out of the park

Movie Review: Fatherhood (2021) on Netflix

Oh, wow! I'm loving Kevin Hart in this serious modern drama, Fatherhood. This puts him in the legions of some of the greats.

Hart plays Matt Logelin, a young husband who loses his childbearing wife Liz (Deborah Ayorinde) right after childbirth and is left to raise his new daughter Mandy (Melody Hurd) on his own. It's not as if he doesn't have offers of help, but he owes it to his wife's memory to get it right and he owes it to his own father not being there for him to be there for Mandy. Being there for Matt are a host of great role models of friends and family, including Liz's mother Marion (Alfre Woodard) and dad Mike (Frankie Faison), Matt's mother Anna (Thedra Porter), and close friends Jordan (Lil Rel Howery) and Oscar (Anthony Carrigan). Then friends try to link Matt up with an eligible single woman at a birthday party, Lizzie (DeWanda Wise), whom Matt finds fun and attractive but decides is a distraction in his relationship with Mandy. And then there's Matt's job in IT, where he's quite the up and coming success but being a new dad makes for complications. How can he do it all?

Now, there is plenty of humor in this movie. And that's been Kevin Hart's main ploy as an actor. But in Fatherhood, he gets to stretch his muscles and man, does he stretch. This is a great part for Hart! He plays perfectly opposite little Melody Hurd as his daughter and he matches beat for beat with the seasoned Alfre Woodard. Where he seems most natural is with DeWanda Wise, who is totally in tune with Hurd, too. 

Fatherhood was perfect for play on Father's Day, but it's great viewing for anytime of the year. It hits all the right emotional strings, light plinks of humor, heavy tones of sentimentality, deep melodies of sadness, and great sweeping rhythms of joy. Play it for the whole family, because everyone can get the various themes and love the characters. I'd rate Fatherhood A^^ for A hit way out of the park.

Wednesday, June 16, 2021

Wish Dragon: Borrows its essence from Aladdin but still interestingly vivid and lively

Movie Review: Wish Dragon (2021) on Netflix

It's fun, it's entertaining, it's colorful with interesting characters, but Wish Dragon isn't Aladdin and 1001 Nights, from which the basis of this movie richly borrows its essence--embarrassingly so. Right down to a reciting of its basic rules! C'mon guys. That said...

In this version that takes place in Singapore, main character Din (voiced in English by Jimmy Wong) discovers a magical jade teapot while pursuing his childhood friend Li Na (voiced in English by Natasha Liu Bordizzo), and out of the teapot pours the ancient dragon Long (voiced in English by John Cho but in Mandarin by Jackie Chan) who can grant three wishes. 

Long has been sequestered in the teapot by the gods until he grants the wishes of ten masters, an exercise meant to teach him valuable lifelong lessons from his masters, before he can return to heaven where he finally will be greeted by his ancestors. 

Young adult Din is Long's final master to satisfy, so he is in a hurry to grant three wishes and, of course, he offers lots of easy options from years of serving greedy masters. But Din is street wise and wants to make the most of his wishes to aid in regaining the interest of his old friend Li Na, with whom he was closest of friends as children but separated by her father's rise in fortune. The question for Din is how far he is willing to go to win Li Na's favor, to meet her new expectations after 10 years of separation but possibly compromising his own values. And this drives much of the conflict of the story. 

At the same time, while Din has the allegiance of Long to grant his wishes, someone else is trying to steal the teapot to get wishes, threatening Din's last wish.

The animation in Wish Dragon is great and the characters are vivid and lively. It really is a good film with great production values. If you can get over the in-your-face lifting of some story elements, it has enough other unique elements to allow you and your family to enjoy the film.

I rate Wish Dragon A- for Almost Great.

Tuesday, June 15, 2021

In the Heights: Awesome musical entertainment

Movie Review: In the Heights (2021) on HBO Max

In the Heights is out of this world entertaining, a musical that will have you tapping your feet all the way through the film.

Usnavi runs a small convenience store in Washington Heights, NYC. He doesn't make much, but he saves every penny can in the hope he can resurrect his father's old hurricane-ravaged home in the Dominican Republic. Surrounding his shoppe is the vibrant Latino community, full of hopes and fears for their own futures, and this modern-day story is set to the music of Lin-Manuel Miranda scores and lyrics in a celebration of life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness in Twentieth Century America. 

This film carries an amazing beat. Think Hamilton with a Latin buzz. And there is a ton of amazing dancing. All in tune with luscious storytelling. You can't help but smile through most of In the Heights, although there are delicious romance scenes, electric drama scenes, and at least one seriously emotional scene. You will make your way through all the feelings in this film, and be glad you did.

There's something for every age, the actors ranging from muchachas (children) to abuelas (grandmothers) and everyone in between. Leading the cast are Anthony Ramos as Usnavi (named for the first ship his father saw entering New York Harbor arriving in American, a ship sporting a sign saying U.S. Navy), Melissa Barrera as Vanessa, Gregory Diaz IV as Sonny, Olga Merediz as Abuela, Leslie Grace as Nina Rosario, and Jimmy Smits as Kevin Rosario. There is a "cast of thousands" in extras and dancers filling the streets, the trains, the clubs, and all the urban environments that is The Heights.

This film is 2 hours and 23 minutes, so it is long. But I don't think you'll have trouble being entertained or from being bored. It's non-stop action and singing and dancing. I'd rate In the Heights A^ for Awesome!

Friday, June 11, 2021

Sweet Tooth: I'd go there if I were you

TV Series Review: Sweet Tooth (2021) on Netflix

I haven't reviewed television here much, but there's a new Netflix original series you might want to know about: Sweet Tooth.

Have you seen it? It's really quite interesting, about a surprise new species of hybrid humans that emerges during a pandemic, creating a post-apocalyptic world of survival. The main character is a young boy named Gus raised in isolation by his fearful father, and when his plans to save his hybrid son from the dangerous world go awry, Gus sets out on his own looking for his estranged mother in a faraway place. 

We're only on episode 3 and we're already mesmerized by the compelling storytelling. Each episode begins simply but then the story complicates as you realize even in a post-apocalyptic world really, nothing is simple--Gus's life, his struggle for survival, is very complicated. Episode 1 is about Gus's relationship with his father and discovering the dangers of the outside world. Episode 2 introduces Big Man, who reluctantly helps Gus on his quest to find his mother, and new characters tied up in the pandemic. Episode 3 has Big Man trying to ditch Gus and a group of hybrids coming to the rescue. There is an excellent list of the eight episodes on IMDb.

Sweet Tooth is based on a graphic novel. And by the way, Sweet Tooth is a nickname given to Gus by Big Man, because Gus loves sweets--what 10 year old doesn't?

Cast is awesome. Gus is played by Christian Convery, who has a lot to carry on his very young shoulders and does it well. Big Guy (Tommy Jepperd) is played by Nonso Anozie, who is totally badass as the reluctant hero. Pubba (the crazed father) is played by Will Forte. And James Brolin serves as the amiable all-knowing series narrator.

This series has a lot of heart and the writing is superb. If you're saying to yourself, "I don't know..." I'd go there if I were you. I dare you to watch the first episode without feeling motivated to go to the next, and the next, and the next...

Wednesday, June 09, 2021

A Whisker Away: Delightful story anime fans should enjoy

Movie Review: A Whisker Away (2020) on Netflix 

A Whisker Away is a delightful anime story about Miyo, a young high schooler who gushes her affections for the boy of her dreams (Hinode) but only wins their returns when she dons the genuine disguise of a cat. The disguise is assumed when she puts on a mask given to her by a large cat who encourages her to live full in the disguise, knowing once she accepts the disguise as her true identity the mask will assume her face and the cat can assume her human identity and live the longer human life. 

It turns out Hinode loves the cat, but he finds Miyo's human acts kind of strange. So he pours on the affection, feeding the cat and spending a lot of quality with it. Meanwhile, Miyo's home life isn't so swell, living with her father and step-mother, who she doesn't appreciate. It looks like life as a cat is really the ideal life for Miyo. She tells the big cat she guesses she would like to remain as a cat and he takes off with the mask, much to Miyo's surprise, and she has to chase him down to try to find it. As a result, Miyo goes missing and everyone in her life, whom she has come to assume doesn't care about her, goes searching for the missing curious girl.

As with most Japanese anime, A Whisker Away is rich in natural imagery, the story coming to life in their use of amazing lifelike art of trees and grass and flowers and clouds, and the characters and animals have a unique lifelike movement. Yet much of the story is filled with exotic fantasy elements and animals with truly fantastic abilities and attributes. This film reminds me much of the works of writer, director, producer, and artist Hayao Miyazaki, especially The Cat Returns and My Neighbor Totoro

If you are a fan of anime, you should enjoy this film. I would rate A Whisker Away A for Great Anime.

Tuesday, June 08, 2021

Raya and the Last Dragon: Great storytelling and fun viewing!

Movie Review: Raya and the Last Dragon (2021) Disney +

Wow! What a cinematic experience is Raya and the Last Dragon, featuring two fearless yet vulnerable women as leads in Disney's powerful animated mythological tale from the Far East.

Raya is the daughter of the aging leader who wants to unite competing clans under the power of the one gem created by the last powerful dragon. The four other clans want to break up the gem and savor the power for themselves. When a battle separates the gem and the people into factions, and begins turning people into stone--including Raya's father--it's up to Raya to put all the pieces back together, before all hope is lost. First, however, she has to win over Namaari, the strong-willed princess of one of the most powerful clans who wants to bring the gem back to her mother to rule them all.

Features an amazing cast of characters as varied as the amazing clans. And an imaginative menagerie of settings, each clan having a sumptuous land to feast your eyes upon. The music is uplifting, as well. All making for great storytelling and fun viewing.

Raya and the Last Dragon was created during the COVID pandemic, when production companies had to come up with solutions for producing films during the lockdown. This film was gorgeously designed and brought to life by 400 artists who all worked from home in an artform that requires a lot of collaboration. The results are amazing. 

Fine entertainment for the whole family, I rate Raya and the Last Dragon A^^ for Way Above Average.