April Round-Up 2023 – Part 2


Outside of Studio Ghibli there doesn’t tend to be a whole lot of overlap between the world of anime and the world of “normal” cinema.  There are some exceptions here and there however and among the bigger names in cinematic anime these days     Makoto Shinkai, who scored a major international hit with the 2016 film Your Name but who hasn’t quite managed to turn himself into a real brand and his follow-up film Weathering With You never really managed to catch fire in quite the same way despite have plenty of strong qualities in its own right.  His latest film Suzume seems have also had trouble breaking out, possibly because it has kind of a boring title, which is unfortunate because like Weathering With You it’s really not that big of a drop from Shinkai’s hit and probably deserves to have more eyes on it.  I suppose another issue it has is that it’s kind of a hard movie to describe in a logline.  It’s basically about a girl who encounters a mysterious door in an abandoned building that reveals a portal to another world and after seeing it she starts having visions of monsters escaping from similar portals and has to travel around Japan shutting them down, accompanied by this other guy who knows more about all this but has been turned into a chair by a magical cat… yeah, trust me, it makes more sense when you’re actually watching it.  Like Shinkai’s last two films this has some really amazing animation that captures the real world in meticulous detail and also manages to have fantastical elements interact with it in seamless ways.  Also like those last films however the whole thing as a very teenage adolescent attitude and sensibility that some will have more patience for than others.  I guess my one over-riding complaint is that it feels like Shinkai has now made three very similar movies in a row, and while all three are good there is a sense of a magic trick losing some of its luster after a certain number of repetitions.  I hope that in his future work Shinkai expands himself a bit and maybe tries making something that doesn’t have a moody teenager at its center.
***1/2 out of Five


After the “Dark Universe” fell apart Universal decided they were going to take a less… cynical… approach to monetizing their “monsters” asset and would make individual disconnected movies aimed at adults and relevant to the modern world out of these characters.  Sounds like the right approach and their first effort in this venture, the Blumhouse co-produced 2020 version of The Invisible Man, was a pretty good example of how this could work.  That movie was pretty serious minded but for their next attempt they seem to have gone in the other direction and made a rather splattery comedy from the perspective of a deep-cut character from Dracula named Renfield.  Pretty much the second I saw the movie’s trailer I was pretty sure it would divide people: mass audiences would be alienated and stay away but that the movie was also likely to find something of a cult following that would dig it.  On some level that seems to have happened and yet I also suspect that the advertising might have been a little too honest and what would have been an unexpected surprise has turned out to be a rather expected one.  The film follows Renfield (Nicholas Hoult), a familiar for Dracula (Nicholas Cage) who’s been tasked with finding victims for his master in modern day New Orleans and is beginning to have a crisis of conscience about this.  There’s definitely some clever stuff to be found here like a prologue that re-enacts some of the famous sequences from the 1931 Dracula and I quite enjoyed Akwafina as a city police officer trying to take down a brutal gang that eventually becomes involved in Dracula’s plan for world conquest.  However there are other elements of the film that kind of feel like they were a bit out of date.  Some of the film’s gory but comical violence might have come as more of a shock five to then years ago but such imagery is starting to feel commonplace in movies like this.  I also think we’re getting a little done with Nicholas Cage’s shtick at this point, especially in movies like this which seem to be tailored around his over the top wackiness.  Cage is better when it feels like his wilder instincts are kind of invading an otherwise unsuspecting movie, but movies like this where everything else seems to be just as over the top as him kind of just feel desperate.  But I don’t want to be too negative here as I do think this has more going for it than the average Hollywood release and there is fun to be had with it, but it doesn’t live up to its full potential either.

*** out of Five

Evil Dead Rise(4/27/2023)

The Evil Dead franchise is unique in a lot of ways.  For one, it’s very much a cult success that has seemingly risen to mainstream popularity only much later than its original (and best) installments were made independently.  Even more odd is that it’s one of the few horror series that’s more defined by its hero than its villain.  Even beloved “final girl” horror protagonists like Laurie Strode and Ellen Ripley aren’t really as iconic as the image of the murderers they faced in their films but I do think Ash as a character kind of eclipses the “deadites” and that has been a complication as they try to make the series survive even as Bruce Campbell has ceased to really be viable as the star of a major studio motion picture.  Recasting is not really an option but putting a potentially “corny” sixty year old at the center of your movie probably isn’t going to work with “the kids” either.  They tried doing a the “big budget remake” approach with 2013’s Evil Dead and that movie was, okay.  I kind of dug it and its aggressive bloodletting and thought they did a decent job of replicating that first movie with a bigger budget.  The new movie has a title and trailer that suggest that it’s going in a different direction this time but in a lot of ways it’s kind of just doing the same thing that 2013 movie is: making a more serious horror remake of that first movie but with a bigger budget.  This difference of course is that this one is set in a run down apartment rather than a cabin in the woods but that’s not really as substantial a difference as you might think, they’re both still contained locations for a claustrophobic fight with the forces of evil.

The other big difference here is that rather than a group of college students the people at the center of this movie are a family, which is an interesting idea but also kind of a double edged sword.  On one hand the movie does a really good job of establishing this family and getting you invested in them and their various foibles and quirks but on the other hand maybe it does too good of a job at this?  Like, to the point where it becomes kind of a bummer when the bloodletting starts since you don’t particularly want these people to become victims of a zombification curse.  There’s a reason that the teenagers in the Friday the 13th movies are made to be these shallow and vapid creatures played by actors who are obviously pushing thirty, it makes it a lot more fun to root for Jason to murder them.  The teenagers here look like actual children and they seem like good people as well so there isn’t a lot of fun to be had with watching them get possessed, which could be very effective in some other contexts but the Evil Dead movies are not really supposed to disturb you they’re kind of supposed to be the “fun” kind of horror to varying degrees even when they’re not going full horror comedy like they did with some of the later Bruce Campbell ones.  But that concern aside this is a well-made flick with some quality gore and neat little set-pieces and I think most horror fans are going to want to give it a look but it wasn’t really the full revitalization I was hoping for.
*** out of Five


April Round-Up 2023 – Part 1

A Thousand and One(4/2/2023)

A Thousand and One is a movie that made a bit of a splash at Sundance and Focus Features seems to be skipping the platforming stage and giving it a rather aggressive wide release out the gate, which I think maybe sets it up a bit for failure as it’s not really the kind of movie that can bear that, especially without any real advertising.  Honestly I didn’t even know much of anything about it when I went to see it beyond the fact that it got some critical plaudits.  The film starts out seeming a bit like a Sean Baker slice of life sort of thing about a single mother trying to make it through a weekend after technically kidnapping her son from foster care in New York circa 1994.  At that stage of the film I can’t say I was overly impressed by it, but then the film takes a bit of an unexpected flash forward and reveals itself to be something that’s structurally more akin to Moonlight as it’s basically a movie depicting a black child as he ages through three stages of his life.  But, this isn’t told in the language of international arthouse cinema like Jenkins’ film was, it’s more of a gritty little indie film despite it’s recent period setting and somewhat ambitious sweep, which seeks to match the kid’s growth with the changes that New York went through during the Giuliani and Bloomberg administrations.  In this sense it’s kind of a movie that sneaks up on you, it starts out feeling rather modest but ultimately proves itself to be something of a modern day epic in its outlook at least though not it’s production values or runtime.  In fact I maybe wish that first time director A.V. Rockwell had held on to this one until she had a bit more experience and clout to turn this into something a bit bigger and more refined than it is, because it feels like with some amped up casting and filmmaking finesse this really could have been something special, but as it is it’s no slouch either.
***1/2 out of Five

Dungeons and Dragons: Honor Among Thieves(4/4/2023)

Despite the many avenues of geekery I’ve driven down over the years, Dungeons and Dragons is one piece of that culture that I’ve generally avoided.  Not out of any principal or desire, just because I never had quite the right friend group for it, but I do feel like I still know a lot about it through cultural osmosis.  Turning that property into a movie (or a video game or anything else) has always been kind of hard because it’s not really a “story” so much as it’s a rules set and a sort of collective lore, much of it so generic or so widely appropriated that it just sits as a sort of a “generic fantasy setting.”  Additionally, the very name “Dungeons and Dragons” is so widely associated with “nerd shit” that selling it to the normies would be challenging, so it’s pretty clear that in their quest to make this palatable they looked to other examples of how other studios have sold this sort of property and the model they clearly landed on was The Guardians of the Galaxy.  You’ve got a roguish dude at the center played by a Chris, leading a band of ragtag criminals on various heists across a fantasy world while quipping all along the way.  The film had enough self control not to also fill itself with nostalgic pop music, but otherwise it’s kind of a borderline ripoff.  It’s not a poorly executed ripoff however and mostly succeeds at achieving its largely unambitious goals.  The film assembles a decently likable cast of characters and mostly gives them fun adventures to go on and the film invested in some pretty decent special effects that are used in some reasonably clever ways.  The film’s directors,     Jonathan Goldstein and John Francis Daley, feel like pretty mercenary talents though and at the end of the day this movie just feels pretty empty so while I mostly enjoyed it I can’t say it’s a movie I respect much or suspect I’ll remember too well in a month’s time.
*** out of Five

How to Blow Up a Pipeline(4/13/2023)

The new film, How to Blow Up a Pipeline is labeled as an adaptation of the book of the same name by a Swedish professor named Andreas Malm, which is not a novel and is rather (as I’ve been told) a sort of nonfiction essay making the argument for sabotage and destruction of property as an acceptable tactic in climate activism.  That’s not the kind of thing that would normally be adapted into a scripted narrative feature but, perhaps taking cues from Richard Linklater’s Fast Food Nation adaptation, director and co-writer Daniel Goldhaber has opted to sort of take the argument of that book and create a fictional story that sort of illustrates it by making a film about people who put those ideas into action.  The resulting film as a heist movie of sorts that follows a group of activists who, for disparate reasons are plotting to blow up sections of oil pipelines in Texas in order to spike the price of gas and make fossil fuels less viable as an energy source.  Along the way we get flashbacks to what led each of the activists in the group to this point; what radicalized each of them and how they became involved in the central group.  The film’s cast is mostly populated by young actors who aren’t particularly recognizable outside of television and indie film and it’s shot on kind of cheap looking 16mm film stock in a way that’s kind of workmanlike.

I would not necessarily call the film a complete apologia for eco-terrorism, as there are some arguments against what they’re doing presented and one sympathetic character who’s sort of meant to be the voice of non-violence in the room, but the film also isn’t condemning of the central action and is probably more sympathetic than unsympathetic on balance.  Cards on the table, I’m not entirely comfortable with that.  Attacking oil infrastructure while America and the world is still largely dependent on it is mostly a recipe for backlash and this particular attack would ultimately lead to an increased carbon footprint through increased transport by tanker truck rather than pipeline.  Real change on this issue is going to involve a whole lot of electricity infrastructure, increased electric car production, and other boring reforms of the kind we’re getting out of the Build Back Better initiative and Inflation Reduction Act.  That transition is in fact happening, so in a lot of ways the outlook expressed by these activists feels kind of like a dated relic of an earlier time when it really did seem like fossil fuels could still be the future, which at this point they’re pretty clearly not.  As for the movie itself?  Well, the “heist” proceadural aspects of it are not without interest but if that’s all you’re looking for this is no Ocean’s Eleven and the individual stories of all the activists are a bit of a mixed bag with some of them working better than others.  There’s also kind of a lot of people the film has to cover in a pretty short amount of time so some of this feels rather abbreviated.  I almost think this may have been better served as a TV show in which each person’s flashback could have been an episode sub-plot.  There’s also a sub-plot involving FBI machinations that I don’t think really adds up.  Ultimately this is an interesting enough production to be worth a look, but it could have been pulled off better and I don’t think I’m on board with its overall message.
*** out of Five

February/March Round-Up 2023

Infinity Pool(2/1/2023)

Despite nepotism in Hollywood being fairly common, it is relatively rare for a film director to be the son of another film director.  Usually the nepotism travels in slightly less predictable patterns than that, and when it does go that way, well it’s usually in such a way as you’d barely notice.  Sofia Coppola’s movies don’t really resemble Francis Ford Coppola’s movies all that much and you’d hardly know that Jason Reitman is related to Ivan Reitman from watching most of their respective movies.  So that makes what Brandon Cronenberg is doing now kind of unique as he’s a young filmmaker who’s not running away from the legacy of his father David Cronenberg at all, quite the opposite he seems to be trying to kind of pick up right where his father has left off.  This isn’t to say that the elder Cronenberg is the younger Cronenberg’s only influence or that there aren’t differences between what the two do, but the thematic and stylistic similarities that are there are unmistakable and it’s kind of hard not to think about what Brandon Cronenberg is doing today in terms of that family legacy.  If there’s any David Cronenberg movie that Brandon Cronenberg’s newest film Infinity Pool most closely resembles it’s almost certainly Crash as both films are about people being driven by deranged and destructive hedonistic urges.

The film is set in a fictional country called Li Tolqa, which is known for its beachside resorts but is highly traditional and religious outside of those walled off resorts.  Early in the film the protagonist (played by Alexander Skarsgård) finds himself on the wrong side of those traditions but comes to find that people of wealth like himself can insulate themselves from the negative effects of them and finds himself bonding with other wealthy ex-pats who are find these same traditions intoxicating.  I’m being vague about that because the nature of these traditions are pretty wild as a concept and are worth discovering while watching the film.  There’s something of a statement being made here about the way the wealthy exploit tourist economies of impoverished countries to get away with things and more or less exploit said countries culture and traditions, but it’s not necessarily just a simple “White Lotus” eat the rich type of thing as these people’s depravity seems to run a bit deeper than mere affluenza.  Beyond the legacy of his father, there are also clear traces of Yorgos Lanthimos here, particularly in its starkness and dialogue choices and this also seems to have some affinity to the general trippiness of someone like fellow nepo-baby/likely drug user Panos Cosmatos.

Make no mistake, this movie is weird as hell and will likely be unpleasant and alienating to a lot of unsuspecting audiences.  There’s a good chance I wouldn’t have liked it either if I hadn’t seen it on a day where I was in the right mood for it.  The movie has violent and sexual imagery that will be off-putting to some, but there’s nothing here that’s exactly unprecedented in that regard, what’s really kind of disturbing here is just how wildly amoral the characters in it are.  The Mia Goth character in particular is outrageously vile and vapid and her performance is rather over the top towards the end, but in ways that do fit the extremity of the overall movie.  I’m not as sure that Alexander Skarsgård is as good in the lead; he kind of seems like he was cast more because he looks rich and is willing to be in crazy movies than because he’s quite right for this, but he doesn’t wreck the movie or anything.  At the end of the day I’m not sure if this is a movie I can one hundred percent explain or defend, but for what it’s worth this is probably the most I’ve enjoyed a movie from any Cronenberg in at least ten years so that maybe bodes well for this experiment in directorial family legacy.
***1/2 out of Five


Sharper is a movie that kind of showed up on AppleTV+ without much fanfare despite having a pretty respectable cast, and there’s probably a reason for that.  This movie is basically a personification of the word “mid,” in fact that may be a bit generous.  This is a con artist film which pretty closely resembles the Stephen Frears film The Grifters, and it plays out in a handful of segments from the point of view of various characters.  In this sense it feels a bit like a throwback to the 90s and early 2000s when playing around with chronology was all the rage, but the tone is a little mellower than what you get out of those movies… maybe too mellow?  The film was directed by a guy named Benjamin Caron, who mostly worked in TV before this and I can’t say that the feature film debut from him really makes much of a case for him to work on the big screen as there isn’t a particularly distinct style on display here.  The film isn’t bad though, necessarily, in fact I was probably on its side for its first two and a half segments or so and it rarely misfires completely but at a certain point it kind of lost me at a certain point, probably when Julianne Moore entered into it.  What’s worse, I found the film’s final triple-cross to be pretty derivative and predictable, and since being “fooled” by such shenanigans is a large part of the appeal of movies like this something like that not working is a pretty big blow.  On the positive side, the performances are mostly decent and it usually doesn’t have too many unforgivably off notes, so it’s a movie that probably can pass one’s time well enough but it’s ultimately very forgettable.
*** out of Five

Scream VI(3/9/2023)

The Scream franchise is kind of unique among the major slasher series in that it’s never really hit the depths of lousiness that other series hit with movies like Jason Goes to Hell: The Final Friday or Halloween 6: The Curse of Michael Myers.  Just about every installment has been basically competent and they’ve avoided veering off into any stupid directions but it’s also becoming increasingly clear that they’ve in large part because they’ve had little or no ambition and even by slasher movie standards have been willing to just make the exact same movie over and over again.  And I’m not just talking about screenplay structure either, even as slasher movies these movies tend not to have many variations in the kills.  Say what you will about Jason, but at least he occasionally puts down the machete and finds new weapons to rid the world of horny camp counselors but just about every kill in the Scream movies seems to just be a stab with a hunting knife after a bit of chasing a victim around a room.  To some extent they’ve tried to lampshade this by coming up with “meta” reasons to repeat themselves, like in the last film where the villains were fans of the “Stab” series who themselves wanted every Scream movie to be the same and orchestrated “Ghostface’s” action accordingly, but the more of these movies they make the less that excuse really works.

In this latest installment it initially feels like they’re finally going to shake things up, firstly by relocating the action to New York City and the opening scene this time feels different in that it ends with our new Ghostface saying “who gives a fuck about movies,” suggesting that things will change up this time as our killer isn’t obsessed with slasher movie formulas but… at the end of the day I’m not sure these promised changes really amount to much.  The killer might claim to not be interested in slasher movies but they’ve basically just replaced this by making him obsessed with the killers from the previous Scream movies, who were themselves obsessed with slasher movies, so the end result is basically unchanged.  There is some interest to be minded in a plot development in which the public has turned against Sam Carpenter (the protagonist of the previous movie) because of a conspiracy theory that she was the “real” killer in that previous film in a way that sort of mirrors the public’s blaming of Amber Heard for her own abuse, but beyond that this does feel like business as usual for the franchise.  We’ve got stock repeated characters here talking endlessly about movie formulas, the final culprit is even more obvious than usual, and most of the set-pieces are once again just endless attempts to re-create the opening scene from the first movie.

Again, the excuse the film gives for all this repetition is that the movies they’re commenting on metatextually are themselves repetitious… but they kind of aren’t actually.  By installment six most of the major slasher franchises had in fact tried to shake things up more dramatically than this… granted this was often to their detriment, but still there are only so many times they can go to this well before the act of commenting on other movies’ repetitive qualities feels less like clever subversion and more like simple hypocrisy.  Now, don’t get me wrong, the formula they’re riffing off here was a good one, almost good enough that Scream VI almost gets away with doing it again.  The change in setting alone probably makes this a bit more interesting than the last Scream movie but that one had a bit more leeway for technically being a reboot after some dormancy so it got a little more leeway in these matters.  This one though is coming out just a little over a year after the last one, which was itself pushing it when it came to doing the same damn thing all over again, and there’s something particularly galling about a franchise being smug about Hollywood formulas while being beholden to one themselves.  The last movie’s villains were depicted as being a bunch of chuds who can’t handle movies series doing the unexpected, which is fine but… you’ve got to ask when the producers of these movies are going to stop making their own movies for those very chuds.
**1/2 out of Five

Full River Red(3/20/2023)

Most cinephiles know the name Zhang Yimou but they tend not to actually show up to or get excited for his new movies when they show up in theaters.  Granted, the distributors, frequently don’t help with this.  Case in point, I didn’t even know he had a new movie out right now until I happened to notice it in theaters listings the day I saw it and I’m pretty sure it has been largely been marketed towards the Chinese diaspora rather than the film buffs that that foreign language films are usually trying to reach… to the point where the version I saw actually had simultaneous subtitles in both English and what I’m guessing was Cantonese.  As I watched the movie though I kind of see why this wasn’t given more of a red carpet stateside as it does feel like it was made a bit more for the Chinese masses than for the arthouse crowd that Zhang has been able to reach in the past.  Zhang has been in and out of favor with China at different points in his career for both political and commercial reasons and at this point seems to be working on a pretty clear “one for me, one [sometimes two] for them” kind of setup with the powers that be.  For example his excellent 2020 film One Second was one for him and I’m going to hazard a guess that his 2022 film Sniper, about a Chinese sharpshooter celebrated for killing over two hundred American soldiers during the Korean War, was one for them.  That one wasn’t released here for some mysterious reason, this one was but I think this was also “one for them” but is perhaps one where Zhang had a little more freedom to mess around with.

This film, it turns out, is something of an origin story for a famous patriotic Chinese poem which was written in the 12th Century, allegedly by a general/folk hero named Yue Fei.  This film picks up about five years after that general’s death and is set over the course of a single night in which a handful of characters run around a fortified Song Dynasty compound trying to uncover a plot that’s afoot involving the murder of a Jin Dynasty diplomat and the theft of a confidential letter.  It’s a fun concept in theory but I think aspects of it were perhaps lost in translation, both because it involves historical and political machinations that outsiders like myself aren’t very familiar with and also because those hybrid subtitles were kind of hard to read and were particularly unhelpful for a movie like this that’s filled with names and twists to keep track of.  This is also definitely a movie that was made with the approval of the CCP and while it doesn’t feel particularly political for much of its running time it does eventually pull a Hero and reveal itself to be going in the direction of propaganda in its very finale, though not in a way that’s particularly poorly executed or offensive as these things go.

The bigger problems here are just some questionable artistic decisions that feel like attempts to make the film a bit more popular with the masses.  There’s some questionable comedy to be found here and the film has a very irritating musical score that actively “Mickey Mouses” to actions on screen at times and even more curiously indulges in some anachronistic sounding tunes during scene transitions that almost sounds like some sort of Chinese equivalent of hyperpop.  On top of that the film’s visual style just feels kind of bland by Zhang’s standards.  There are certainly some well-built sets and some cool looking costumes but the cinematography, which competent, isn’t doing anything terribly beautiful or exciting and at times its digital nature shows itself in unflattering ways.  If you want to see a Zhang Yimou period piece filled with palace intrigue you would be much better served by his kind of slept on 2018 film Shadow which did pretty much everything this movie does but does it with a lot more style and a lot less… patriotism.  All that having been said as “main melody” movies go you can do a lot worse than this and if this movie (which set box office records in China) buys Zhang some more clout to make another movie like Coming Home or One Second it would probably be worth it, but from where I sit this isn’t what I want from him at all.
** out of Five

January Round-Up 2023 – Part 2


It’s become kind of difficult to keep up with the output of the filmmaker Hirokazu Kore-eda, who was seemingly putting out a movie every year before the pandemic slowed things down a bit.  These days he seems to be on a bit of a run making movies outside of his native Japan as his last movie The Truth was made in France with an international cast and for his newest movie he has traveled across the Sea of Japan to work in South Korea, a decision I’m assuming was made because of that country’s history of overseas adoptions and seeming excess of orphaned children.  The movie follows a pair of “brokers” in abandoned children who acquire children who’ve been left in “baby boxes” and try to find domestic adopted parents for them under the table.  They are doing this for profit but also do view this as a calling and that they’re saving these children from being sent to overcrowded orphanages or foreign adopters.  The most recent baby they’ve acquired proves more problematic for them as the baby’s mother re-emerges after having left her child in one of those boxes and finds her way to the brokers, at which point the three of them decide to go on something of a road trip to find adoptive parents for the baby, but unbeknownst to all of them, the police are on to their operation and are surveilling their actions this time around.

If there’s a major complaint to be made about Broker is that it sort of sees Kore-eda treading familiar ground.  The film’s focus on marginalized people forming a chosen family of sorts around a low stakes criminal enterprise is very similar to Kore-eda’s Palme D’or winning Shoplifters and even has structural similarities with that film.  Additionally the film’s focus on questions of what constitutes a family and how important genetic bonds really are is classic Kore-eda almost to the point of repetition.  That having been said, Kore-eda remains a strong dramatist and has once again assembled a pretty interesting cast of characters to build his latest humanist slice of life around.  Song Kang-ho remains a pretty strong actor and other characters like Lee Ji-eun as the mother of the soon to be handed off child are also well rendered and the film comes up with interesting ways to bond all these characters and build drama between them.  The plot does take a bit of a turn for the melodramatic in the third act and the whole subplot with the detectives following them through this whole situation doesn’t quite ring true to me (seems like an odd allocation of resources) but otherwise this is a good if familiar exercise by Kore-eda, who I do hope comes to switch things up a little going forward.
***1/2 out of Five


I’m going to be honest, I did not go into Living planning to be charitable.  This is a remake of the 1952 film Ikiru, from the master filmmaker Akira Kurosawa, and as a hardcore Kurosawa stan I really had no interest in seeing his work remade by pretty much anyone.  Of course the obvious rejoinder to that attitude was to remember that A Fistful of Dollars and The Magnificent Seven were remakes of Kurosawa classics and they are pretty much bona fide classics, which is fair enough but those movies were at least trying to turn samurai movies into westerns which is a kind of translation effort that seemed interesting, but what’s the point of turning a movie about a dying Japanese bureaucrat in the 1950s into a movie about a dying English Bureaucrats in the 1950s?  Honestly I’m still not sure what the answer to that is, but I must admit, Living does a more dignified job of trying than I anticipated.  I actually didn’t know much about this movie before going and I don’t think I even saw a trailer so I was a bit surprised to find that the movie was actually to some extent trying to replicate the look and feel of a 1950s technicolor film; it’s in the Academy ratio and largely uses classical film style and has old fashioned opening credits, though the film’s dedication to this style kind of dissipates as it goes on.  The film’s screenplay was written by Kazuo Ishiguro, the Nobel winning Japanese-English novelist responsible for such works as The Remains of the Day and someone who is perhaps uniquely suited to translating the face-saving ways of Japan into the “stiff upper lip” ways of England.  Bill Nighy does a decent job of stepping into Takashi Shimura’s shoes in the film’s lead and the supporting cast does some solid work as well.  So, I ended up respecting this movie for the most part but at the end of the day it is standing on the shoulders of a giant and by the time it started replicating that scene on the swings (you know the one) the sheer impossibility of matching what came before became pretty apparent.
***1/2 out of Five

The Quiet Girl(1/29/2023)

The only movie from this year’s Best International Feature category I hadn’t seen before nomination announcement day was this one, a film from Ireland that’s in the Irish language.  I think this is the first time I’ve seen an Irish language film, I don’t know how much of a market there is for them, and there’s not necessarily anything intrinsically Irish about this story.  The film concerns a young girl of about nine who lives in a rather chaotic home who is sent to live for a summer with her middle aged cousins she doesn’t know very well in order to free up time for her parents while they are expecting a new baby.  While at this new home she experiences a different and perhaps new lifestyle that may prove to be difficult to leave behind once the summer ends.  This movie is, nice.  I’m not sure I’m going to say it’s much more than that though.  The girl in it isn’t the only quiet part of it, the whole movie is kind of low key and understated, a real toned down slice of life and it does go for a pretty emotional catharsis at the end if that’s what you’re looking for.  Personally, I was perhaps less moved than a lot of audiences and apparently a lot of Academy voters were, though possibly through no fault of its own.  The movie beat out a lot of competition in that Best International Feature shortlist that I would say are bigger accomplishments and that is perhaps giving me a bit of an unfair bias against the film.  It’s also entirely possible that this might have hit me a bit differently on a different day an under different circumstances but as it was I mostly only thought it was okay.
*** out of Five

January Round-Up 2023 – Part 1


Today the word “Corsage” mostly refers to flowers that get pinned to peoples’ jackets but it can also be used to refer to “the waist or bodice of a dress,” which is what this title refers to and the specific kind of bodice in question is a corset, which the main character wears extensively and is something of a symbol of how her life is restrained and suffocating in the service of looking a certain way in the world.  The film looks at the life of Queen Elisabeth of the Austo-Hungarian Empire, a woman married to Emperor Franz Joseph I circa 1871.  She’s a very well-known figure in that part of the world but I’ll admit I was largely unfamiliar with the history before seeing the film.  The movie’s poster, which features the empress giving the finger, suggested to me that this would be a sort of irreverent costume drama in the vein of something like The Favourite but it sort of plays a bit more reverently than I expected.  There are anachronistic moments here including some musical decisions and some fudging about the year that the motion picture camera was invented but it’s not a particularly satiric film and one wouldn’t necessarily know it’s not playing things straight unless you’re paying close attention or know the history.  And the movie most definitely is not playing straight, I was pretty surprised upon coming home and looking up the Elisabeth’s Wikipedia page to find that the film changed pretty major aspects of her life and not necessarily in the same “dramatic license” way you would normally expect from a movie, for instance the character’s eventual death in real life was in fact quite a bit more dramatic than what you see in the movie rather than less.  I guess what they’re trying to do here is simply use this character to make a larger point about the pressures put on women in the public eye and makes Elisabeth into a sort of late 19th century Marilyn Monroe figure, which is kind of interesting I guess but it didn’t seem as outlandish when I was watching it and I feel like we’ve gotten a lot of other movies telling similar stories about tragic women in history a little better.  I’m not sure I full “got” this one, but the performances are solid and it kept my interest well enough.
*** out of Five

Holy Spider(1/12/2023)

So, peak into how my mind works… ever since I heard the title to this movie in Cannes Film Festival coverage in my mind I’ve always said the title with the melody and inflection of the Dio song “Holy Diver,” which is very funny if you know the song and you know the movie, but the film is actually pretty serious and having seen it I probably won’t be doing that any more.  The film is set in Iran and features a largely Persian cast and was directed by an Iranian emigre but was made outside the Iranian censorship regime and is officially Danish.  The film is based on a real life serial killer named Saeed Hanaei, who murdered over a dozen prostitutes in the city of Mashhad in what were essentially acts of misogynistic vigilantism as he believed their “sinfulness” were an affront to society.  The version of Hanaei featured here is lightly fictionalized and given a different surname, but is otherwise pretty much the same person.  What the film does add is a fictional protagonist, a female journalist from Tehran who is ducking the “scandal” of having been sexually harassed in a job, who is investigating the murders.  This character, played by the actress Zar Amir Ebrahimi (who was driven out of Iran because of a sex tape scandal) is a no-nonsense pursuer of truth and a nice counterpoint to the villain we are following through other points of the film.

All of this is in many ways supposed to be a lens on the toxic culture of repression in Iran but I wouldn’t be too quick to look at it strictly as a work about what goes on “over there.”  Most of the misogyny that the killer expresses is not that dissimilar from what you’d hear from serial killers all over the world and most of the systemic cracks he exploited are the same ones that serial killers elsewhere use.  In a way it seems that what distances this from the true crime narratives we’re used to is just the way people on the street talk about what’s going on, but are the outcomes really that different for the victims?  At least that’s what I got from it but I also kind of feel like I’m doing a lot of the work to come to that conclusion, the film itself seems a little more… I don’t know, it’s sort of going after an easy target when it says that Iran’s theocratic regime is kind of sexist.  Regardless, this is an interesting bit of true crime that does give us a peak behind the curtain of a country in a way that that country’s national cinema can’t really and I think there’s some inherent value to that.  Additionally this is just a pretty well made thriller/procedural regardless.  The investigative techniques of the journalist and here general depiction are both interesting and the depiction of this serial killer and the way people respond to them are both fascinating, so this is definitely a movie that’s worth a look.
***1/2 out of Five

Saint Omer(1/14/2023)

Saint Omer is the first scripted film from the French documentarian Alice Diop, though it’s a scripted feature that has a heavy dose of docudrama so I wouldn’t say it’s a complete 180 for the filmmaker.  In fact the film’s point of view character is a clear self-insert as the whole film is based around a semi-high profile French trial that the filmmaker traveled to the titular city in order to witness for inspiration into a new project.  The version of that case seen here is fictionalized.  The names have been changed and the Diop surrogate is made to be an academic rather than a filmmaker, but this fictionalization is thin as by all accounts large portions of the court room scenes are taken verbatim from court transcripts.  Oddly enough I’m not sure that the case at the center of all this seems all that novel to me.  It’s about a Senegalese immigrant who is accused of having murdered a baby she gave birth to secretly and was fathered by a married man thirty years her elder who seems to have somewhat abandoned both of them.  The trial scenes themselves sort of threw me for a loop as the French justice system seems to work rather differently from the American courtroom scenes I’m used to, in which defendants would not be compelled to testify to the same extent and it’s also frankly not that clear to me what the defense strategy here is.  They ultimately appear to be going for a “not guilty by reason of metal impairment” but we don’t really see psychologist testimony and much of the questioning doesn’t seem to be directed towards this.

However, the movie isn’t really about courtroom strategy and in many ways it downplays questions of guilt and innocence and is instead framed to be more about the way that Diop’s surrogate protagonist reacts to the trial she’s watching.  The film incorporates a rather unique editing style that seems to place special emphasis on reaction shots and we’re to intuit that the point of view character finds what she’s watching rather affecting, possibly because she sees so much of herself in this defendant.  Like the defendant she’s the daughter of Sengalese immigrants and she’s pregnant at the time of witnessing this, so she may also be sharing a similar anxiety towards motherhood.  Additionally we’re given some hints that the point of view character has a complicated relationship with her mother that seems similar to issues the defendant has, but I might have liked a bit more detail on both sides of that.  It reminded me a bit of Aftersun, another import that seems rooted in familial baggage, albeit coming from the other side of things temporally.  I didn’t really connect with that movie as strongly as some people have and I similarly am not sure I entirely connected with this one either, though I definitely respect what both movies are doing intellectually.
***1/2 out of Five

December Round-Up 2022

The Menu(12/4/2022)

I wasn’t quite sure what to make of The Menu pre-release.  The trailers more or less made it look like a mainstream horror movie, albeit one with a tinge of a post-Get Out social commentary.  But I’m not sure “horror movie” is really the right term for this.  It’s not really trying to scare its audience or even really be much in the way of tense suspense.  I’d maybe call it more of a satire, but it’s also not really trying to be laugh out loud funny, though perhaps senses of humor vary.  And despite the difficulties in classifying it, this is hardly some kind of mold busting experimental work, on the contrary, it’s pretty straightforwardly understandable.  The film revolves around a dinner service at an extremely high end restaurant located on an island that the customers are ferried to, but this is no ordinary dinner, rather it’s a trap that the chef (played by Ralph Fiennes) has set in order to lure in and get revenge on his enemies over the course of a night.  So, it’s kind of like a riff on Agatha Christie’s “And Then There Were None” but without any pretense of being a mystery as the responsible party is apparent from the start.

Of course, all of this is rooted in a sort of extreme exaggeration of “foodie” culture, in ways that seem pretty authentic from where I sit but I’m quite the outsider to all of this.  I’ve never eaten at a restaurant anywhere near as fancy as the one in the movie and for that matter rarely go to overly nice restaurants at all so any recognition I have of all this stuff is basically third hand.  In addition to not loving food enough to be enticed by some of the food things that go on here I also kind of don’t really care enough to be angered by a number of the things this movie is raging against and very few of the things that the evil central chef is angry about really strike me as offenses worthy of violent retribution.  And if looked at more as a statement about capitalism writ large I still find the message here pretty muddled.  The rich customers here are dicks, but the chef raging against them strikes me as plainly a bigger dick so this could just as easily be seen as a vilification of anti-capitalism as capitalism.  So, as a social satire I find this muddled but I did enjoy myself just the same.  Ralph Fiennes and Anya Taylor-Joy are both very strong here as is much of the rest of the cast and the production design of the restaurant is quite effective.  The movie kept me interested the whole time, though I must say it maybe shows its hand pretty early and has trouble escalating the tension in its second half and doesn’t really deliver on any stunning revelation at the end.  As a neat little genre exercise you can do worse but the film itself never really elevated past that for me.
*** out of Five

Empire of Light(12/8/2022)

I will say, I went into Empire of Light not expecting much.  The phrase “Oscar bait” gets overused a lot but this certainly seemed to fit the bill and it’s been damned with faint praise by pretty much anyone who’s seen it since it debuted at Telluride.  The film is about the goings on at a beautiful old movie theater in coastal England during the early 1980s.  At its best that could give us a sort of British Cinema Paradiso and at worst it could lead to an overwrought rhapsody for “the magic of the cinema” that basically plays like a feature length version of Nicole Kidman’s “We Make Movies Better” AMC ad. The actual movie lies somewhere between those two things.  Director Sam Mendes has a palpable nostalgia for this era which can be contagious and intoxicating but he also feels compelled to acknowledge that this was in fact a very bad era for people who weren’t white men, which isn’t an inherently bad instinct but it means the movie tries to take on themes of racism, sexual harassment, and mental health that it really cannot sustain and sort of feels like a social realist square peg trying to be inserted into a gooey nostalgic round hole.

At the film’s center is a middle aged theater manager played by Olivia Colman who suffers form mental illness and is also having a not very consensual affair with the theater’s owner, played by Colin Firth, and finds solace in another theater employee in his early twenties played by Michael Ward.  The film frankly doesn’t sell this relationship very well.  The fact that she is in just as much of a power imbalance with him as she is with her boss is an irony that’s not very well explored and even without that issue the movie just does not really make it terribly clear what he sees in this older and seemingly not very well adjusted woman.  Frankly, if the genders were reversed this would feel like somewhat creepy wish fulfilment for some old sad sack writer.  It also doesn’t help that Sam Mendes does not seem to have the slightest clue how to write this black character and makes him into a rather awkward “model minority” rather than a three dimensional character and its interest in exploring the racism of the Thatcher era feels slight compared to something like “Small Axe” or even Blinded by the Light.  Having said all that, the film is not without its charms.  The film also has some really slick cinematography by Roger Deakins, a good score by Trent Reznor and Atticus Ross, and it’s generally pretty well acted by its cast as well and all of this generally makes the film a perfectly watchable experience but there isn’t really a lot of substance beneath the surface despite pretentions of import.
**1/2 out of Five

Guillermo Del Toro’s Pinocchio(12/9/2022)

I must say, for whatever reason animation really hasn’t been doing it for me this year.  Not even when it comes from otherwise strong voices in the medium like Pixar (Turning Red), Cartoon Saloon (My Father’s Dragon), or Henry Selick (Wendell & Wild).  Not sure if that’s just a “me” problem or if it really has just been a weak year on that front, or maybe a combination of the two.  For a while the film that looks like the best bet to break this streak has been Guillermo Del Toro’s latest film, a stop motion adaptation of Pinocchio, but while I did indeed admire a lot about the film I’m not sure even it got me truly excited, possibly because I’ve never had much use for Pinocchio as a story in any of its forms.  Del Toro’s adaptation has most of the usual elements like a talking cricket, a blue fairy, and a whale sequence at the end but he moves the action of Carlo Collodi’s late 19th Century story and places the action in Italy during the fascist period and puts less of an emphasis on the title character becoming a flesh and blood human and more on questions of his mortality or lack thereof.

That’s not a bad idea for where to take this at all and it also fits within many of the director’s usual theme.  In fact he’s made a plausible case that this finishes a trilogy started by The Devil’s Backbone and Pan’s Labyrinth (much to the chagrin of Criterion, who have been pretending that Cronos has anything to do with those other movies for some reason), but I must say I didn’t like this nearly as much as those other films.  Part of that is that I’m not sure I was entirely sold on the movie’s visual style.  On a technical level the stop motion animation is solid, but not quite as detailed and articulated as what Laika has been doing recently.  From a design perspective I think it’s more of a mixed bag.  There are certainly some creatures and sets in this that are straight out of Del Toro’s imagination and are quite cool looking, but Del Toro has been so effective in the past of bringing similar designs to life in his live action films that I maybe expected him to be even more next level when unmoored from even the limitations of modern visual effects here and I’m not sure that really happened.  I would also say that the design for Pinocchio himself never quite worked for me.  This is actually one of the least human designs for the character we’ve ever gotten, making him look less like a puppet that would actually be put on a stage and more like a misshapen wood creation that Geppetto threw together in a moment of grief induced drunkenness.  The resulting puppet looks a little odd to me, especially as he starts becoming a war asset they’re trying to exploit late in the film.

Oddly enough the movie is actually a full blown musical, but I’m not sure that was a smart move, firstly because the songs themselves are kind of mid and secondly because the movie sort of doesn’t commits to this and just quits bursting into song around the halfway point.  I also thought the side characters like the cricket and the film’s villain were kind of questionable and also that the film’s voice cast including the kid they got to voice Pinocchio wasn’t top notch.  In general the movie starts well and ends well but sags a bit in the middle, but I don’t want to come off too negative about it.  Truth be told this is probably the best version of this story to date unless you want to count Spielberg’s A.I.: Artificial Intelligence.  It certainly blows Robert Zemeckis’ live action remake of the Disney version out of the water and for that matter it’s a clear improvement over the original Disney version, at least outside of that movie’s animation innovations, and let’s not even speak of Roberto Benigni’s misguided disaster of an adaptation.  But fairy tales are generally not my thing and this is still basically a fairy tale and while it’s a darker version of one than you’re going to get out of Disney it’s still nothing close to the cool fusion of wonder and grit that Del Toro achieved with Pan’s Labyrinth.
*** out of Five

The Eternal Daughter(12/11/2022)

In recent memory there aren’t many examples of a larger disconnect between me and critics more broadly than there was with Joanna Hogg’s The Souvenir and The Souvenir Part II.  Granted these are relatively small movies so it’s not like this disconnect was to widely discussed, but the people who did like them were absolutely rapturous about them and I just didn’t get it.  I mean, I think I understood intellectually exactly what the movies were doing but I didn’t exactly understand why I should care.  But believe me, I tried, I even made a point of seeing Part II in theaters so I could watch it with perfect focus but it all never really clicked.  But there was at least something there, they weren’t movies I wanted to completely dismiss and with that in mind I did want to give Joanna Hogg another shot, this time outside of the “franchise” that made her “famous.”  Her new film The Eternal Daughter shares a similar deliberate slowness and tone to it, but it’s also noticeably more psychological and overtly weird than its predecessors.  If those movies were like memories, this is more like a chronical of someone while they’re in the process of remembering and are getting lost in those not always happy thoughts.

The film is set in a hotel somewhere in the English countryside that feels rather dark and sparsely populated when the film’s protagonist arrives.  This protagonist, played by Tilda Swinton appears to be something of an alter ego for the director and has planned to spend a week at this hotel with her aging mother (also played by Swinton) in hopes of bonding with her a bit more than before while also getting some material for a screenplay she’s working on that will in part be based on her mother and her relationship to her.  The mother, on the other hand, thinks the daughter is a bit of a “fussbucket” and tends to deflect a lot of this plan, preferring to just relax through the vacation.  Something seems “off” about this whole setup.  Obviously the fact that Swinton is doing a double role is part of this, and the timeline being laid out in the film doesn’t seem to entirely line up with the dates we’re being given from the mother’s life.  Additionally, this whole hotel seems oddly creepy.  I don’t want to give the impression that this is a horror movie, because it absolutely isn’t and the film would disappoint anyone coming to it expecting to be scared, but the mood at this hotel does make it seem like a place that literal ghosts might exist in.  The film is leading up to a reveal, one that isn’t terribly hard to guess, but it doesn’t really feel like a true “rug pull” twist ending despite technically being one.

In this sense the movie could almost be a good double bill partner with another A24 distributed British movie with a female director focusing on a parent-child relationship over the course of a vacation: Aftersun.  And I say that both for better or worse, because another thing the two films share is that they could feel a bit like movies where nothing really happens for much of their runtime leading up to an emotional revelation that reframes much of what came before.  And patience with that will vary in both cases.  I think the details of the vacation in Aftersun has more to offer in terms of nostalgic detail and has characters that I generally found more relatable.  But I’d say The Eternal Daughter does a better job of foreshadowing where it’s going and builds more in the way of offbeat tension through the mood of the hotel.  I don’t think either of these movies are quite my cup of tea, but I will say that I think I got more out of this one than I did out of either The Souvenir films, possibly just because I found the feel of the location more interesting and found its psychological trickery to be a bit more interesting overall.  That said this is all relative and I would only recommend the film to a very certain kind of person and warn them a lot that this is not going to be a movie that’s what you’d call “conventionally entertaining.”
*** out of Five

White Noise(12/18/2022)

I’m not usually one to root for Netflix given that they seem hell bent on destroying movie theaters among other potentially malignant effects they have on cinema culture, but still I do feel kind of sorry for them this year.  They put a lot of big investments in certain auteurs to deliver award season triumphs for them and basically all the horses they bet on seemed to trip before even leaving the gates with both critics and audiences.  Blonde seemingly enraged more people than it entertained, Bardo (False Chronicle of a Handful of Truths) was declared “pretentious” and dismissed right from its festival premiere, and even Guillermo Del Toro’s Pinocchio hasn’t really lit the world on fire.  Damn near the only thing that seems to be working out for them is Glass Onion: A Knives Out Mystery, which being a sequel filled with stars is almost certainly the least ambitious of the projects I named.  On some level I should be happy that these filmmakers somehow conned the deep pocketed streamer into funding their weird-ass visions, but the truth is that if Netflix doesn’t get rewarded for these investments even with award season soft power they’re going to stop making investments like this at all, which is kind of dire since they’re some of the only ones left funding these things.  And perhaps the least lucrative of all these investments is the one they saved for last: Noah Baumbach’s adaptation of Don DeLillo’s 1985 novel “White Noise,” which reportedly cost $80 million to make and will likely annoy and befuddle the majority of their customers who stumble upon it.

I actually did read the Don DeLillo book this is based on about ten years ago when I was exploring some of the canonical 20th Century novelists like Phillip Roth and John Updike and I must say I didn’t really “get it” at the time and revisiting the subject matter via this film (which is pretty faithful in both tone and text) I’m not much more impressed.  That novel is a highly postmodernist and is meant to be a social satire about various broad cultural trends in the mid-eighties more so than a straightforward story or character study.  It follows a college professor who’s the head of the Hitler Studies department at a fictional university who has a strained relationship with his wife and the plot so much as it exists looks at the fallout (literal and otherwise) of what happens to the family after a nearby chemical spill leads to a “toxic airborne event that forces them to evacuate their home rather abruptly and the aftermath of this.  The film maintains the 1980s setting of the original and that novel has aged… interestingly.  Certain ideas in it, like the supermarket as a symbol of everything wrong with modern consumerism, feel dated and passé.  Meanwhile other aspects of the novel like the frenzied and misinformation fueled response to a big emergency in the second act, feels like they could at least theoretically take on a new life in a modern post-Covid context but I’m not sure Baumbach really had the time to make that connection fully.

Honestly I’m not sure Baumbach was the best fit for this material to begin with.  Upper class ennui and academic pretentions have certainly been themes in his work before, but he usually handles this through lightly comic but ultimately pretty naturalistic film styling.  By contrast this movie is heightened to the nth degree.  Basically no one hear speaks or acts like normal real world people, rather, pretty much everything that happens here is meant to make some satirical point.  The main character is comically stubborn and inept in the real world while engaging in an inherently ridiculous field of study and much of his wife’s arc is based around an absurd literalization of the intellectual and spiritual decay of the intellectual classs, a situation that frankly looks like quite the first world problem from where I sit.  The movie (and novel) kind of wants to make a point about every issue under the sun and ends up not making many of them very well and as a simple movie-going experience the whole thing is just rather alienating and disconnected from reality more than it’s plugged into it.  These kinds of outlandish and over-ambitious statements about “everything” do work sometimes when you get someone like Charlie Kaufman making something like Synecdoche, New York, but more often you end up with something like White Noise where you have no idea why anyone thought this was a good idea.
** out of Five


Emancipation is probably a movie that’s forever going to be known as the first Will Smith film to be released after the publicity hit he took in the wake of “the slap,” which maybe speaks to the fact that it’s not really a movie that’s good enough to transcend that situation despite certainly being a movie that aspires to be.  The film is set during the civil war and follows a slave named Peter who is requisitioned by the confederate army to help build a base five miles away from the plantation he had been stuck in, separating him from his family.  There he mounts an escape and must move across five miles of swamp while being pursued by a brutal slave hunter played by Ben Foster.  From there the film feels almost more like an adventure movie than it does a more somber slavery drama like 12 Years a Slave, in fact it rather strongly resembles Mel Gibson’s Apocalypto more than anything.  The morality of making such a wilderness survival film out of what is a pretty sensitive historical subject matter is… kind of dubious, and on some level I think director Antoine Fuqua knows this because he and cinematographer Robert Richardson saturate the colors in the film down almost to the point of being black and white.  That’s an interesting decision but one that ultimately feels kind of gimmicky and frankly it’s not fooling anyone into making this feel more serious than it really is at its core.  Fuqua has always primarily been someone who makes action movies and is usually at his best when he’s elevating B-movie hokum, and here he probably would have been better off just letting the carnage here look good on screen instead of trying to fool us into thinking this was a prestige project.
**1/2 out of Five

Strange World(12/27/2022)

Though it isn’t quite the nexus of discussion that Babylon and Amsterdam were, the box office failures of Strange World are perhaps among the most ominous for the future of cinema out of any of this year’s “bombs.”  This is in large part because there’s basically nothing wrong with the movie and its failure basically suggests that no big budget animated movie that doesn’t star a Minion is ever going to be viable in theaters again.  That isn’t to say that the movie is great exactly, but it’s a solid adventure movie with a lot of neat visuals.  The film looks at three generations of a family as they meet in a “Journey to the Center of the Earth”-esque pulpy adventure into the core of the film’s fantasy world.  The world building both on the world’s surface and in the core look really cool and while the characters and their conflict is a bit stock, they work well enough.  It’s also possibly the most progressive movie Disney has ever made in terms of representation and has a simplistic but strongly stated environmental message, and with Disney having gotten zero credit or profit from this decision it may well lead to them being a lot more cautious and conservative about such themes, which is unfortunate.   I do worry I’m over-defending this thing a little because of its box office woes, but there was clearly some love put into this particularly in the animation and it kind of feels weird that this is the one that was fully and unambiguously rejected by audiences.  But for what it is I think this is pretty solid Disney, so, I guess this is the Treasure Planet of the 2020s.
***1/2 out of Five