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DVD Review: Zootopia

zootopia

Judy Hopps, voiced by Ginnifer Goodwin, faces up to life in the big city in Zootopia.

I admit it. I bypassed Zootopia when it first came out in March 2016. It’s common for me to be ‘all Oscared out’ at that time and I’d be too tired to go to the movies. However its buzz leading up to the Oscars led me to want to see it. I’m glad I finally had the chance.

The film has a very entertaining premise with a rabbit trying to succeed as a policewoman in a multi-species city. To make it work, the film had to create the city of Zootopia and make it work with all the animal species there. Disney is already renowned for its talking animals and having such would work here. However to have them in the city of Zootopia and existing together in its various areas took a lot of thought to arrange it properly. On top of that, having someone like Judy Hopps just move in adds to the complexity. As she experiences Zootopia and what it has to offer, we experience it too.

One thing about this movie is that with it coming from Walt Disney Studios, you know it has to have the ‘Disney Vibe’ to it. You know, the look, sound, and feel of a Disney show. All the shows on the Disney Channel are known for having that vibe. It’s evident as all the actresses act like Minnie Mouse. So it becomes expected that a film from Walt Disney Studios looks, sounds and feels like a Disney film. There’s no shortage of the Disney Vibe in Zootopia. Even with it being set in the present times, the Disney feel is very much there.

Top praise should go to directors Byron Howard and Rich Moore for directing an excellent animated film. The two have had past experience doing Disney films and Howard even goes as far back as Disney’s 2D animation days. Both Howard and Moore are two of seven who wrote the story for Zootopia of which, storywriters Jared Bush and Phil Johnston would do the final script. The final result is something entertaining and flawless. The vocal talents were also excellent with Ginnifer Goodwin as Judy Hopps, Jason Bateman as Nick Wilde and Idris Elba as Chief Bogo.

This is another plus for the Walt Disney Studios. For so many decades, they had the reputation of being the top animation studio in the business. However they faced a serious challenge from Disney partner Pixar once they became the game changer by making 3D animation the new norm. WDS knew they had to make the transition to 3D but it wasn’t easy. It was almost like Pixar was the professor and those at WDS were the students for a long time. However it’s become evident that Walt Disney Studios is now able to hold its own in 3D animation as it has delivered stellar hits in the last five years like Wreck-It-Ralph and Frozen. It even looks like it’s beating Pixar at its own game! Zootopia is another accomplishment for WDS as it continues to reclaim its #1 status in animation. Besides anything less than #1 should be taken as an insult by Disney.

Zootopia looks to be the top favorite to win the Oscar for Best Animated Feature. It’s top competition appears to come from Kubo And The Two Strings. Kubo has won most of the awards in that category but Zootopia has claimed most of the major awards like the Critics Choice, the Golden Globe, the Producers Guild and the Annie Award. However Kubo has won the National Board of Review and most recently the BAFTA. The Oscar result should be interesting.

Zootopia is another hit for Disney. It’s sweet and entertaining but smart and well thought-out. It’s easy to see why it’s arguably the top animated movie of the year.

 

 

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Double Movie Review: Mad Max- Fury Road and Jurassic World

Here I am back to my blogging habit. Yes, I have quite the backlog in terms of movie reviews. I have the energy to post now and I’m able to post a double review of two of the hottest movies of the summer: Jurassic World and Mad Max: Fury Road. Both were either sequels or part of a franchise. Both cost $150 million each to make. Both are different in terms of the audience they can win over and both have differing success results.

Tom Hardy (left) and Charlize Theron pursue a post-apocalyptic world in Mad Max: Fury Road.

Tom Hardy (left) and Charlize Theron fight for survival together in a post-apocalyptic world in Mad Max: Fury Road.

MAD MAX: FURY ROAD

Yes, it’s been a long time since there’s been a Mad Max movie: 30 years to be exact. George Miller is back in directing this Mad Max movie, or picking up where he left off as one could assume. And believe me this movie was quite something else.

Right at the beginning you’re left wondering what kind of world this is. The world is a complete bizarre wasteland and the whole universe in existence is fighting each other and Max. Mind you even the bad guys are insane enough that Joe uses Max as a universal blood donor and has five wives for the sake of breeding purposes. Over time, some of the people become Max’s friend in order to save civilization from Joe.

Already that’s a lot of craziness most fans of the original three Mad Max movies would find hard to fathom but watching the movie even gives it enough craziness for any movie viewer hard to fathom. Even the people all act like they’re all on something–crack, smack, speed–and it’s not just the bad guys. Just one insane place full of insane people. However what would have to make people adjust to this new version of the Max Max franchise would have to be good characters. First would have to be Furiosa. Right in the middle of the movie, you could see the pain in which she’s going through. It’s also a pain shared by the other four wives of Joe. Once these characters were made more human, it made for something for people to connect to the story. In addition is the connection of the character Nux. Nux was very unhuman but his human side was more noticeable later on and it gave cause for people to feel for him even as he sacrifices himself.

The character work couldn’t have been done firstly without Charlize Theron as Furiosa. It’s her performance that made people feel the pain of Furiosa. There’s even talk of Oscar buzz for Charlize this early. Nicholas Hoult’s performance help turn a beast of a character like Nux into a character with dimension and actually makes the audience feel for him. Tom Hardy did a good job as Max Rockatansky. I’m sure in this film he had the duty to try to fill Mel Gibson’s shoes. I don’t know if he did it but he did a good job as Max.

George Miller did a good job not just in directing the movie and co-writing the script with two additional writers. He also created the bizarre world in which Mad Max and his allies had to survive in and fight for their freedom. Also instrumental in creating this bizarre world are the set designers, costumers and the visual effects team. The music from Junkie XL also adds to the drama and the insanity of the movie.

Of the $150 million Mad Max: Fury Road cost to make and produce, it has so far made $152.6 million in North America and $368.6 million worldwide. Not huge spectacular numbers as far as summer movie fare goes but pleasant enough for a sequel– Mad Max The Wasteland— planned for either 2017 or 2018. It has even impressed critics that it received 98% on Rotten Tomatoes. Who says all summer movies are money-grabbing junk?

Mad Max: Fury Road may not be exactly the type of movie most would expect, not even fans of the original Mad Max movies, but it exceeds the expectations of whatever you throw at it. I know for me it didn’t appear at all like what I normally expect from a sequel. And many of you already know what I feel about Hollywood sequels. I don’t even think this is even a sequel. Mad Max may just be a franchise instead of a chronological series. Nevertheless it’s way better than most common summer fare.

JURASSIC WORLD

Jurassic World is about the latest Jurassic theme park where chaos ensues any minute.

Jurassic World is about the latest Jurassic theme park where chaos will undoubtedly ensue any minute.

Already you know a movie like Jurassic World will be a hit simply because of the title. This is the few times where judging a book by its cover is legit. Whether the movie is all that great remains to be seen.

The film doesn’t really carry on the tradition of the Jurassic Park book of Michael Crichton. Instead it’s a new story concocted by Rick Jaffa and Amanda Silver and adapted to screen by Jaffa and Silver along with Derek Connolly and Colin Trevorrow who directs the movie. What happens is Jurassic Park is long defunked especially after the fatalities. The writers and directors create a story in a new park, Jurassic World. Jurassic World is a theme park that`s a whole island that includes exhibits that make it both a museum and like one of those safari parks one can drive through.

Clever work for a popcorn movie but over time, you feel the story is as simplistic as one would expect from a Hollywood story. A park worker is a woman out of love while looking after her about-to-be-divorced sister`s kids and dealing with the dinosaur trainee whom she finds charming but had a flop first date with. Sometimes it seems as though the characters seem too simplistic as well: Owen as the charming but stuffy trainer, Claire as the out-of-love-and-depressed type, Vic as the slacker security operations person, Grey as the cute kid with sad puppy dog eye and his bother Zach as the typical bored miserable teen who somehow gets cheered up by the dinosaurs.

Even the drama becomes a bit predictable over time. You sense there would have to be some sort of havoc at the World to get the story rolling. Sure enough, the escape of Indominus is what starts the drama. You have to admit it was a tad predictable. Even how the two boys become threatened in the ensuing drama is predictable too. I will admit the one unpredictable thing was when Indominus breaks into the park`s pterosaur aviary and has them all on the loose chasing all the other park visitors. I did not expect that nor did I expect the whole Jurassic World to look like a war zone at the end. I give that credit.

Overall, Jurassic World came across as a common popcorn movie where a lot of the excitement was either missing or anticipated right from the start. It`s a movie that appears undecided whether it wants to be charming or a thriller. I kind of blame it on the lack of Spilberg magic that came with the first Jurassic Park movie. I also kind of blame it on some of the character acting that appears so stocky like Bryce Dallas Howard playing another unlucky in love type, Vincent D`Onofrio playing an all-to-common slacker player and Ty Simpkins playing a typical cute kid with sad puppy dog eyes. The one good performance although in a typical popcorn movie character was from Chris Pratt. He was able to make his character of Owen Grady charming and even a bit charismatic. I also give credit to the set design team for creating this island where Jurassic World is situated on and credit to the visual effects team for delivering top notch visual effects and even delivering some thrills to the movie. Although I said the action was mostly predictable, it did deliver in some thrills.

Jurassic World wasn`t too much of a critical darling as it received 71% on Rotten Tomatoes. Good but it could be better. However the big payoff came for Jurassic World at the box office as it broke a ton of records. It all started in breaking the opening weekend record and becoming only the second movie ever to have an opening weekend that grossed more than $200 million (the 2012 Avengers movie is the first ever) and it`s been growing ever since:

  • All-Time Opening Weekend: $208.8 million.
  • All-Time second weekend: $106.7 million
  • Fastest to $500 million (North America): 17 days
  • Worldwide Opening Weekend: $524.4 million
  • Fastest to $1 billion (Worldwide): 13 days

That`s just a sample of the records Jurassic World broke. I`m sure you`ll find more at Box Office Mojo. I don`t think it will break the all-time gross records especially as it finds itself out of the Top 10 in its ninth week. It may eclipse Titanic as the second-highest grossing movie in North America but it would still need at least $100 million more to contend to beat Avatar`s record.

Sure enough, there will be a Jurassic World sequel. It`s not clear if Trevorrow will return as director but he will write and produce it. Bizarre because if the Jurassic World wreaked that much havoc on that many visitors, you`d figure Jurassic World would mark the absolute end of any Jurassic theme parks. Hey, money talks especially in Tinseltown.

Jurassic World and Mad Max: Fury Road were two of the big movies of the summer of 2015. One didn`t do as well as expected while one was a record-breaker. One had a better story and better character than the other. Both gave a good statement of what the summer movie season of 2015 was like.

Movie Review: Lee Daniels’ The Butler

Forest Whitaker plays a butler in The Butler who serves the White House and includes himself in history.

Forest Whitaker plays a butler in The Butler who serves the White House and includes himself in history.

Lee Daniels’ The Butler is another surprise hit movie of the summer. It doesn’t feature the typical fare for what one would call a ‘summer movie.’ Actually it features more mature fair that’s meant for a release around October, November or even December. So how did it manage to become a hit this summer?

The Butler is a unique story of Cecil Gaines. Born in a cotton field, he was forced into labor by the Westfalls, a Georgia family who owned the plantation. Even though slavery was out of existence, it didn’t stop people from treating their black employees like slaves. The son raped Cecil’s mother and shot his father dead. The state’s caretaker, the mother, takes Cecil out of the farms and assigns him to be a house servant. However it would be a businessman whom encounters Cecil after he breaks into a bakery and steals a cake after running away. The businessman turns him into a successful butler who’s able to provide a good income for his wife and children. Something very rare for an African-American man to be able to do before 1960.

A breakthrough occurs when Cecil is offered a job as a butler at the White House. This is a big breakthrough for the Gaines family as they can improve their way of life. However it does not come without its prices as Gloria feels alienated from Cecil and his workaholic manner and turns to adultery. His son Louis becomes very involved with political activism and the Civil Rights Movement from restaurant sit-ins to the Black Panthers movement. That doesn’t sit well to Cecil at all to the point they fight and they don’t speak for years. His 34 year career as a butler in the White House takes some turns as he’s able to converse with the president and even influence many on how they deal with African-Americans. Cecil is also involved in other incidents such as the riots after Martin Luther King’s assassination to losing his son in the Vietnam War. The story intertwines with his career with social changes for Black America during that time period with his own family life from his childhood to his career to Obama’s inauguration.

A short while back when I was doing a Wikipedia search on the movie, I learned that this film is loosely based on Eugene Allen: an African-American butler who first served in the White House in 1952, advanced to Maitre d’Hotel in his career and finally retired in 1986. The movie admits that this is inspired by a true story rather than actually being a true story. Though one can doubt the truthfulness of the story, the script by Danny Strong does capture one’s attention and is able to mix the White House life of Cecil with moments of history and even the struggle of one family dealing with the changes and trying to make life better for themselves and for their race. It’s almost like Cecil could be labeled the ‘Black Forrest Gump.’ The relationship between Cecil and Louis also highlights the divisiveness between two generations of African Americans. One learned he had to work hard to get places. Another adopted the new attitudes of Black pride during the 60’s. The clashes between the two represent the clashes of the two generations of Black America. Lee Daniels also does a very good job of directing the movie with its complexities. This is a big move for him to go from something like Precious to something more polished. Nevertheless it’s a very good move and can allow him to replace Spike Lee as the top African American director in the business.

The actors were also excellent, especially Forest Whitaker as Cecil. I’m not sure if Forest is trying to imitate Eugene Allen or trying to make Cecil into his own character–I admit that I myself have never seen video footage of Eugene Allen–but he gave an excellent performance both in terms of the character’s personality and his aging. Oprah Winfrey also gave an excellent performance as Gloria encompassing the struggles of maintaining family unity while dealing with a husband that seems too preoccupied with success. David Oyelowo achieves a personal breakthrough here as Louis Gaines. He does a very good job of representing the new black attitude of his times in both life and personal political attitude through Louis Gaines. Supporting acting was also very good from star actors like Terrence Howard, Lenny Kravitz, Vanessa Redgrave, Mariah Carey and Jane Fonda. The supporting acting performances from the lesser-known actors like Mika Kelly, Nelsan Ellis, Elijah Kelley, Clarence Williams III and Yaya da Costa were also very good and added to the ensemble cast. One thing that struck me about Yaya da Costa’s performance of Louis’ girlfriend is the Black Panthers scene where she has a big afro and admits her desire to kill. Didn’t she remind you of Angela Davis in that scene?

There’s one glitch in the movie, it’s the casting for those who portray presidents in the past. At first I thought Robin Williams as Eisenhower was a good choice but the others didn’t seem so.  John Cusack made Richard Nixon seem awfully young as did Liev Schreiber as Lyndon Johnson and James Marsden as John F. Kennedy. All three of them were at least ten years younger than the presidents they played when they assumed office. I feel the biggest miscast was Alan Rickman as Ronald Reagan. Reagan had a charming personality and Reagan was not seen as charming at all in the film but rather a toughie. Makes me wonder what was with this? Was it miscasting? Or were those the ways the presidents looked to Lee Daniels or through the eyes of Cecil Gaines?

One final note of the movie. This was the scene near the end showing Obama’s election to the Presidency in 2008. I know that there has been a ton of flack given to Obama over what he’s done or what he’s failed to do as President of the United States. One thing you can’t deny is that even in the five year’s since his election, he’s still the face of hope for a race and other racial minorities. That’s one thing that can’t be taken away.

Lee Daniels’ The Butler is an excellent movie worth watching. I have sometimes co-related to movie to Forrest Gump where a man is part of history. Despite some of its flaws, it was an excellent intelligent alternative to the hyped-up summer stuff and still draws audiences now.

Move Review: The Help

I know what you’re going to say before I talk about The Help. There have already been a lot of movies about racism and segregation. Yes there have been. Nevertheless The Help is a well-made story about showing a black woman’s point of view on racism from a state most synonymous with segregation: Mississippi.

The movie revolves around three women in particular. The first is Abilene; an African American maid whose latest maid work comes right after the death of her son. The second is Milly; another African American maid who was recently fired from Hilly Hollbrook–Jackson’s white female ringleader–for using a toilet meant only for Hilly’s white family and is only rehired by a white ‘misfit’. The third is Skeeter; a white journalism grad from Ole Miss who is unmarried and wants to make a career for herself in writing but lacks a story.

The setting is Jackson, Mississippi. Segregation is alive and well but is facing abolishment. The black maids have had enough while the white upper class females want to see it kept. Hilly herself wants to enact a passage of a law to make it standard for separate bathrooms for white and colored people. Skeeter is tired of writing a housekeeping column and wants an actual story. She comes across it just after her former maid Constantine, who she always looked up to as a child, is mysteriously gone, Hilly speaks her pro-segregation mind at her ‘clique meetings’ and she encounters Aibilene and Minny. They have quite the story to tell and she learns a lot from what they have to say and what they’ve experienced. Even Milly’s story of her revenge on Hilly with ‘the pie’ makes for some colorful. Nevertheless a book publishing company wants to have the points of view from twelve maids, not two. It’s a struggle for Skeeter as she becomes more of a misfit in Hilly’s clique for being unmarried and being opposed to segregation and because of state law: Mississippi law can imprison writers and interviewees for cross-race writing. It isn’t until the shooting death of Civil Rights leader Medgar Evers that Skeeter finally gets her twelve to interview, however giving them pseudonyms to protect their identity. The result is the novel finally being made and boy does it stir up a lot of debate and reactions.

One thing about the ending is that a lot is accomplished and many good things come out of it. Despite positive changes, some bad things still remain and the movie doesn’t end on a completely positive note. The ending takes a turn for a different more negative ending. Nevertheless it did so on the right note. It reminds us that even after segregation was ended for real in the Southern States, some negative aspects of racism still remained and some changes didn’t go as far as it should have.

There have been movies about racism in the past and conquering racism but hardly has there ever been such where it’s on the basis of the black maids for white families. It touches on a common notion. The white children were raised and cared for by the African American maids and many of the children would look up to them as a mother figure. As most of those white children grew up as adults, they would then go on to the hiring and firing of them. They would adopt the cruelness to the maids their own parents had. The story is set in Jackson, Mississippi around the time of the civil rights movements and around the time Jackson, the capitol of Mississippi, is where segregation is possibly the most alive and well. The story features Skeeter, an aspiring writer who’s looking for a story and sees one. Remembering how Constantine was like a mother to her and wondering whatever happened to her, she hasn’t developed the hardness of heart her girlfriends had developed over the years. It is with her willingness to see the maids’ side and write about it that made her want to set the record straight. That helps to create the intrigue of the story.

One of the interesting themes in the movie is oddly enough its use of toilets. Many people including myself still look at toilets as something taboo but in recent decades, many people and many creative artists have defied this taboo and become more public about it and even incorporated it into art. In this film, it plays a significant role because as we remember, toilets were a part of the days segregation: separate ones for whites and colored. The Help presents toilets in many different references. It is Aibilene’s toilet teaching where she shows she’s a better mother to Mae Mobley Leefolt than Mrs. Leefolt is. It is where Minny uses a toilet for white people only in Hilly’s house that gets her fired. It’s where Hilly strongly believes in segregated bathrooms to the point to where she’s willing to take her plea to the surgeon general. It’s also the prank Skeeter uses to pull on Hilly for her lobbying. As taboo as it is, there’s no denying the significance of toilets in the movie.

One thing about the movie The Help is that it’s based on a novel that is complete fiction. That fact might make some question the triumphant moments in the movie. Question it all you want. One thing you can’t deny is that despite it being fiction, there are a lot of hard truths experienced by the African Americans in Mississippi that are portrayed very well and will make you think. Seeing how Hilly treats her maids meanly to the point of firing them instantly and even getting them arrested makes you think how many others were as mean as Hilly. That scene where Minny is with her eldest daughter in a maid’s uniform about to board the bus can also disturb you. Imagine a future that limited. Also that scene where Charlotte told how and why she fired Constantine. How many times do you think that has happened in the past? So the novel may not be based on a true story but possibly based on a thousand true stories.

The directing from Tate Taylor was top notch. He did an excellent job of directing the movie and writing the storyline well. The acting however is what made the movie most. The standout without a doubt was Viola Davis. Her performance of Aibilene was the glue of the movie and had the most to tell. Her acting was full of believability from start to finish. Octavia Spencer was the top scene-stealer as Minny. She was able to make for an excellent turn with adding elements of humor to her role. Emma Stone delivered possibly the best performance of her career. Already people are saying she’s the next big thing. Her performance of Skeeter demonstrates she can also make a good actress of herself. Also a standout is Bryce Dallas Howard. Her character acting was so excellent, she will easily make you hate Hilly.

Overall, The Help is a very excellent movie revealing a harsh reality of 60’s Southern racism. Some say it’s not as harsh of a depiction as it should be. Nevertheless we shouldn’t forget that even in racism situations that aren’t as harsh, the hurt can still be felt and the picture can have an ugliness of its own.