Coco (Full Review)

No one brings grown men to tears like Pixar. Up, WALL-E, Inside Out, any Toy Story movie… those are just a few of the instant classic films that the Disney owned studio has created. Their newest film, Coco, is another example of their ability to create emotional, yet fun animated, family entertainment.

Coco_(2017_film)_posterCoco is the story of a young Mexican boy named Miguel (Anthony Gonzalez) who loves music and has dreams of becoming a famous musician. But Miguel is forbidden to play or even listen to music due to his great great grandfather walking out on the family to pursue life as a musician. So, his great great grandmother Imelda (Alanna Ubach) instilled a generational hatred for music that keeps Miguel from following his dreams.

But on Dia De Muertos, a holiday when deceased ancestors visit their living relatives, Miguel discovers that his great great grandfather was a famous musician named Ernesto De La Cruz (Benjamin Bratt) and decides to sneak into his grave site and steal his unique guitar to perform at a talent show. The act of thievery traps him in the land of the dead where he must travel to find Ernesto before the holiday is over or be trapped forever. Helping him on his journey, is a trickster named Hector (Gael Garcia Bernal) who needs Miguel’s help to preserve his memory in the living world less he cease to exist.

Coco is nothing short of a marvel of storytelling. Like many of the Pixar films, the story is a brilliantly paced adventure with the appropriate touch of heart and Disney fairy tale magic. Though as hard headed as he is brave, Miguel is a character that is easy for audiences to gravitate toward and his companion Hector is charismatic and holds a backstory that is equally heartwarming. What stands out most about the perfectly crafted script, is that it allows each of its characters to grow so that by the end, Miguel learns the value of family, and the family feels genuinely apologetic about holding him back.

One of the greatest hallmarks of Pixar isn’t just its intricate storytelling, but also its attention to detail. Coco is even more visually stunning than Pixar’s greatest creations. The animators craft the land of the dead as a marvelous spectacle of light and sound. Little details like the texture of objects, the flowing of water, and the complex movements of fingers along a guitar make the environment feel as real as a live action film.

As a children’s film, it may not be as splendid for the youngest of viewers. There are a few eerie and dark aspects to the film, like murder, but that shouldn’t come as a surprise from a studio that has never shied away from the concept of sudden death before. There also aren’t as many heavy and memorable comedic moments as you’d find in some of the Pixar classics, but holding Coco to the standard of family films rather than Pixar greats makes it a sensational creation none the less. Coco succeeds in delivering its message with near tear inducing effectiveness and also deserves the utmost credit for being true to the heritage and culture of its setting.

FINAL GRADE: A

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Cars 3 (Full Review)

Cars has always been the black sheep of the Disney Pixar family. The first film is pretty good, but its unwarranted sequel is the only purely bad film in the studio’s illustrious gallery. And yet, thanks to the magic of merchandising revenue, the sequel no one liked has begat the sequel no one asked for in Cars 3.

Cars_3_posterOwen Wilson returns to voice Lightning McQueen, the famed champion of racing in this world where vehicles replace people as living beings. When a sleeker, more dominant young racer named Jackson Storm (Armie Hammer) threatens to force him into retirement, McQueen decides to work with a spunky young trainer named Cruz Ramirez (Cristela Alonzo) in hopes of proving that his best days aren’t behind him. Larry the Cable Guy reprises his role as McQueen’s best friend Mater and Bonny Hunt returns as McQueen’s girlfriend Sally.

Cars 3 is as wholesome as ever, for better and worse. ‘G’ rated films have become increasingly rare, as more and more animated family films try to keep things as interesting as possible for older audiences while still remaining kid friendly. Thus, Cars 3 feels like the Nick Jr. to the rest of the animated world’s Nickelodeon. The jokes are pretty simple which makes things delightful enough to warrant a smile but never anything heavier than that. The story might also fail to interest any non-toddler as it lulls in the middle before finally becoming exciting in its final act.

While it is by no means on par with any of Pixar’s masterpieces, Cars 3 does deserve points for being far more necessary than its predecessor. It is undoubtedly a fun film for youngsters, even if their parents might dose off once or twice. And if you are a childless adult who scoffs at the idea that Pixar movies are only for kids, I suggest you pass on Cars 3.

FINAL GRADE: C

 

 

Pirates of the Caribbean: Dead Men Tell No Tales (Full Review)

Few summer blockbusters have ever been as much fun as Pirates of the Caribbean: Curse of the Black Pearl. The movie had thrills, humor, and charming characters. But the more movies they attempted to squeeze out of Johnny Depp’s iconic Jack Sparrow, the more the franchise began to lose its luster. Dead Man’s Chest was good, not great. At World’s End was far too long and overstuffed to truly enjoy. And… and… there was a fourth one, right? Something about Blackbeard? Anywho… this newest installment hopes to bring the Disney magic back to the eerie waters of the Pirates franchise.

Pirates_of_the_Caribbean,_Dead_Men_Tell_No_TalesThe aptly named Dead Men Tell No Tales once again finds an undead sea captain searching for the bumbling, alcoholic, but keenly clever scoundrel known as Jack Sparrow. This time, said sea captain is Captain Salazar (Javier Bardem), a Spaniard who once hunted pirates but was tricked into defeat by a young Jack. To escape Salazar, Jack must team with a female astronomer (Kaya Scodelario) and Henry Turner (Brenton Thwaites), the son of Jack’s old ally Will (Orlando Bloom returning in a cameo role), to find a legendary trident that will grant them power over the sea.  Meanwhile, Jack’s old rival Hector Barbossa (Geoffrey Rush) seeks to save himself from Salazar and his henchmen of zombies who can’t step on land by helping in the hunt for Jack Sparrow.

Like most Pirates movies (even the good ones), the plot can get a bit caught up in itself as it lumbers on for over two hours. There are some characters, like a British Naval Captain (David Wenham), that take up too much screen time despite being both generic and unnecessary. The plot itself also carries its fair share of conveniences. But what is Pirates of the Caribbean if not an unbelievable tale hidden beneath massive set pieces and well crafted costumes?

For the most part, Dead Men Tell No Tales manages to recapture the swashbuckling fun that made the franchise so popular. Yes, the plot often seems filled with holes so big that previous films can even get sucked into them, but that doesn’t take away from the fun at all. Johnny Depp and Geoffrey Rush effectively step back into their roles as if they never left. Newcomers Thwaites and Scodelario provide wholesome focal points as a boy fighting to reunite with his father and a woman trying to forge her own path in a world where a woman is deemed a witch if she reads a book. Javier Bardem even manages to succeed in being a wholly threatening adversary even though he’s essentially no different from the villains in the other Pirates films.

The movie is filled with some scenes so over the top or cheesy that your eyes might fall out of your head. But those moments are eclipsed by all of the genuine laughs and charm brought to the story. With stunning CGI effects and likable new characters, this entry feels much more like what audiences fell in love with. By reconnecting with the original trilogy (something the fourth film almost completely failed to do), this new Pirates manages to give us an adventure both nostalgic and compelling.

FINAL GRADE: B

My Top 15 Favorite Film Musicals

Almost everyone, at some point in time, loved a musical. As children, musicals are one of the first genres we are exposed to thanks in large part to the Disney Renaissance of the late 80’s and 90’s. As a film buff who was also exposed to theater in college and has a sibling who is a dancer, the genre has always been one of my favorites (when done correctly). So here is the list of my Top 15 musical films of all time. There have been plenty of sensational musicals on Broadway over the years (*cough* Hamilton), but this is a movie blog so every movie on this list will be ranked based on the quality of the film as well as the music. Enjoy!

15. SINGIN’ IN THE RAIN (1952)

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It only makes sense to start with a musical classic. Singin’ in the Rain is a staple of old Hollywood cinema and features vibrant set pieces and some fun choreography performed by an iconic cast. For all intents and purposes, it is the first film that comes to my mind when I think of classic musical films.

FAVORITE SONG: “Singin’ in the Rain” of course. It has a wonderful jazzy feel to it.

 

14. INTO THE WOODS (2014)

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This movie had great potential until its somewhat jarring and poorly fitting final act. But that doesn’t change the fact that this blending of classic fairy tales set to music by iconic composer Stephen Sondheim is an overall fun film with a great cast.

FAVORITE SONG: “Agony” is not only a great song, but seeing the two pompous princes (Chris Pine and Billy Magnussen) perform it is the funniest part in the movie.

 

13. THE WIZ (1978)

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The Motown re-imagining of L.Frank Baum’s classic novel doesn’t get enough credit. The set pieces and costumes are gorgeous. And you can’t go wrong musically with the likes of Diana Ross and Michael Jackson.

FAVORITE SONG: Young Michael Jackson’s soulful rendition of “You can’t win” will always be my favorite.

 

12. LES MISERABLES (2013)

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This would be much higher on the list if I actually enjoyed the movie as much as I enjoyed the stage performance. Casting Russell Crowe and Amanda Seyfried was almost an insult to the incredible music created by French composer Claude-Michel Schonberg. I was also not a fan of having the actors sing live rather than having the songs dubbed like most musicals. But Hugh Jackman was amicable as Jean Valjean and Anne Hathaway, Eddie Redmayne, and Samantha Barks all give sensational performances.

FAVORITE SONG: Not even Russell Crowe and Amanda Seyfried’s lackluster vocals can spoil “One Day More”.

 

11. THE LAST FIVE YEARS (2014)

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This film is undoubtedly the least known as it was essentially only released On-Demand. But if you’re a fan of musicals or romantic comedies, I suggest you check it out. The film chronicles the relationship between a struggling actress (Anna Kendrick) and a successful writer (Jeremy Jordan). It earns points for its unique non-linear narrative along with a great soundtrack.

FAVORITE SONG: The song “A Part of That” shows off Kendrick’s enchanting vocals and also personifies her character’s inner struggle with the success of her significant other while her career sputters.

 

10. DREAMGIRLS (2006)

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This film featured an all star cast that included Jamie Foxx, Beyoncé, Eddie Murphy, Anika Noni Rose, and famously won Jennifer Hudson a much deserved Academy Award. It does get a bit lengthy, but what Broadway musical turned film doesn’t?

FAVORITE SONG: While I love the song “Heavy”, because it has a Destiny’s Child vibe to it, it’s only about a minute and a half long, I’ll go with the obvious choice in “And I Am Telling You I’m Not Going” which was powerfully performed by Hudson.

 

9. IDLEWILD (2006)

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This film is highly underrated and features incredible Hip Hop duo Outkast in their musical production debut. It also helped launch the career of Paula Patton. A unique hip hop musical before the likes of Hamilton, this film features some great cinematography (albeit a bit jarring at times) as well as a soundtrack that’s basically just another Outkast album.

FAVORITE SONG: “Movin’ Cool” (which ironically isn’t on the official soundtrack) is a wonderful duet that also marks one of the most endearing moments in the film when Andre 3000’s Percival helps Patton’s Sally B. Shelly become the actual star she had been posing as.

 

8. ALADDIN (1992)

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You didn’t think this was going to be a list of greatest musicals and not include Disney films, did you? Well get ready, because they’re about to come in droves. This film is an animated classic and features a ton of iconic songs as well as some great characters like The Genie.

FAVORITE SONG: “A Whole New World” is easily the best romantic ballad in all of Disney history.

 

7. THE PRINCESS AND THE FROG (2009)

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The most underappreciated Disney film of all time. The characters were fun and endearing, but what won me over was the music which carries a beautiful touch of New Orleans jazz that is fitting and unique.

FAVORITE SONG: “Friends on the Other Side” is my all time favorite villain song and the scene probably would’ve given me nightmares if I wasn’t 21 years old when I first saw it.

 

6. THE PRINCE OF EGYPT (1998)

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Take notes Ridley Scott. THIS is how you tell the story of Moses. This is still the greatest non-Disney animated musical ever made. The animation is vibrant and pays homage to the art of the era and the music (written by Stephen Schwartz and Hans Zimmer) is nothing short of breathtaking.

FAVORITE SONG: Choosing the late Whitney Houston and Mariah Carey’s rendition of “When You Believe” would be a cop out since it isn’t in the actual movie until the end credits, so I’ll go with the hauntingly beautiful “The Plagues” which features a duet between Moses (performed by Amick Byram) and his brother turned enemy, Rameses (Ralph Fiennes).

 

5. LA LA LAND (2016)

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I knew there was a reason I had waited to post my list of favorite musicals. La La Land was one of my favorite films of 2016 and it featured captivating performances by Ryan Gosling and Emma Stone as well as some excellent jazz music fused with the style of old Hollywood.

FAVORITE SONG: “Someone In the Crowd” is a great toe tapping arrangement and the scene features some sensational cinematography.

4. THE LION KING (1992)

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I originally had this higher on my totem pole until I realized I loved the story and characters more than the music itself. But that’s not to say the music isn’t great as well. Lion King still has the best intro song of any Disney musical and all of the songs are memorable.

FAVORITE SONG: “Can You Feel The Love Tonight” arranged by Elton John, comes in a close second. But my favorite is “Hakuna Matata”… duh. It means no worries. Who knew the safari was so hip to jazz music?

 

3. BEAUTY AND THE BEAST (1991)

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Emphasis on the 1991 version. The remake was fine, but Emma Watson doesn’t have the vocal range of Paige O’Hara. This film features one of the most angelic compositions in any movie to date and it helps that the story itself is full of memorable characters.

FAVORITE SONG: The title song, performed by the great Angela Lansbury, is a fan favorite. But my actual favorite song from the film is the opening number titled “Belle”.

 

2. SWEENEY TODD (2007)

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Tim Burton’s grungy, wonderfully gory and gothic, musical horror film adaptation is not actually as great as the musical stage play I once saw in person at my alma mater (UNCG), but it’s still excellent. Johnny Depp, Helena Bonham Carter, and the late Alan Rickman deserve credit for holding their own musically and not spoiling Stephen Sondheim’s vivacious soundtrack. If the movie had true vocalists, this would actually be #1 on my list as it is my favorite musical (excluding Hamilton).

FAVORITE SONG: As a fun and exciting duet that is ironically vibrant and boisterous despite being the prelude of attempted murder, “Pretty Women” is the epitome of the overall tone of the film.

 

1. MULAN (1998)

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One of my favorite animated films features a soundtrack that I believe is flawless. The empowering story is also great so this film is in this spot simply because it is the ultimate combination of wonderful music infused with the culture of its setting and a movie worth watching even without the music.

FAVORITE SONG: Let’s get down to business, to defeat the Hun. Did they send me daughters, when I asked for sons? You’re the saddest bunch I’ve ever met, but you can bet before we’re through… mister “I’ll Make a Man Out of You!” Yes… I wrote that without looking up the lyrics. Judge away.

 

Honorable Mention: West Side Story (1961), Willy Wonka and the Chocolate Factory (1971), Hairspray (2007), Chicago (2002), Lady and the Tramp (1955), Pocahontas (1995), Tangled (2007), Moana (2016)

Think I left something off of my list? Feel free to comment and share! And if you have any suggestions for other lists, feel free to comment them below! Thanks for reading!

Beauty and the Beast (Full Review)

Disney’s 1991 animated Beauty and the Beast is in the pantheon of classic animated films along with the likes of Aladdin and Lion King. As such, it isn’t really a story that begs retelling. But Disney has already proven that it can turn its animated properties into worthwhile live action films with 2014’s Cinderella and last year’s Jungle Book. With a star studded cast and a bit of CGI magic, director Bill Condon (Dreamgirls) looks to make Beauty and the Beast into a refreshing take for a new generation.

Beauty_and_the_Beast_2017_posterIn case you’ve lived under a rock and don’t know the story: Beauty and the Beast is the tale of a shallow prince (Dan Stevens) who is turned into a beast by a sorceress and his servants all turned into objects. Only the affection of someone who recognizes his inner beauty can end their curse. Emma Watson stars as Belle, the humble daughter of a widowed craftsman (Kevin Kline) who defies the norms of 18th century French girls by reading in her spare time and has the unwanted affection of a pompous soldier named Gaston (Luke Evans). When her father is kidnapped by the beast, Belle takes his place as the Beast’s prisoner.

Jokes of Stockholm syndrome aside, Beauty and the Beast, while dated, is an enchanting story with a valuable lesson that life is happier when you aren’t an a-hole. The animated version was full of charm and the impressive cast does a solid job carrying the torch. Ewan McGregor and Ian McKellen have fun, effective chemistry as Lumiere the talking candle and Cogsworth the talking clock. And while she isn’t quite Angela Lansbury, Emma Thompson manages to bring a similar wholesome vibe to the role of Mrs. Potts the talking teapot. Several of the characters even have a bit more weight than they did in the animated version. Josh Gad, bringing a solid dose of bumbling comic relief as Gaston’s flamboyant sidekick Lefou, is a perfect example of this.

Because no one in the cast drops the ball in their roles, the film succeeds in bringing a bright burst of nostalgia to anyone who is a fan of the 1991 version. If only they could sing as well, because the music is essentially the same and all of the songs are back but noticeably underperformed. A few new songs are also added, some welcomed, and some that feel completely unnecessary which becomes a trend for the entire narrative. While some of the changes from the animated version add depth to the story and characters, many of the additions and changed scenes serve little to no purpose and make the movie drag a bit.

Visually the movie is also a bit inconsistent. Look no further than the Beast and the enchanted objects, who at times look strikingly real and at other times look clunky and underdeveloped. The gorgeous scenery, costumes and set pieces, however, don’t disappoint and bring an added dose of French culture that pay homage to the era better than any animated film ever could.

As a musical, the vocals all being a noticeable step downward is a bit of a crutch that is hard to overcome when you’re attempting to remake a beloved classic. With an updated narrative that is more in depth but also more cluttered, it’s difficult to consider this version better, as good, or even inherently necessary aside from a pleasant dose of diversity to its cast. Beauty and the Beast ends up being a fun trip down memory lane that is at times visually captivating, but if you’re looking for the definitive version of this classic fairy tale, look up the 1991 version.

FINAL GRADE: B

Rogue One: A Star Wars Story (Full Review)

Even if you like the Star Wars prequel trilogy, it’s hard to ignore why many don’t. The characters were never as charismatic or likeable as the ones from the original films and the overkill on CGI made the universe feel less tangible. But never fear prequel haters, now Disney is in charge of Lucasfilm and their here to right the wrongs in the form of spinoff films like Rogue One.

rogue_one_a_star_wars_story_posterRogue One focuses on the events leading up to the very first Star Wars film (Episode IV: A New Hope). The Evil Empire has just finished their planet destroying super weapon known as The Death Star with the forced aid of a brilliant engineer named Galen Erso (Mads Mikkelsen). Little do they know, Galen has created a weakness in the Death Star and has sent message to his long lost daughter, Jyn (Felicity Jones), on how to access it. Now, the rebellion’s only hope lies in Jyn and a motley crew of rebels to steal the schematics before an Imperial General (Ben Mendelsohn) can track them down.

Rogue One does in two hours what the prequels failed to do in three movies. It perfectly molds an intricate yet acutely focused plot seamlessly into the overall Star Wars mythos while also delivering characters that are memorable and endearing. The evenly paced story is perhaps the most well written since The Empire Strikes Back. From a blind warrior fateful to the force (Donnie Yen) to a rebel assassin (Diego Luna), to an Imperial deserter looking for redemption (Riz Ahmed), each character is well rounded and poignant. Alan Tudyk’s performance as K-2SO, a reprogrammed Imperial droid, brings excellent comedic timing and a dry wit that rivals only R2-D2 in loveable Star Wars lore.

There is plenty of fan service to go around too. The film is packed with several cameos and easter eggs as well as a brief but memorable scene that exemplifies why Darth Vader is such an imposing character. But most importantly, despite piggy backing on the original Star Wars several times, it manages to feels like it’s own film. If the primary films are considered a space opera, then Rogue One puts the ‘War’ in Star Wars. The thrilling final act feels like Saving Private Ryan in a galaxy far far away.

I enjoyed The Force Awakens, but even I had to admit that it’s story arc felt too much like a retread. But Rogue One delivers  something original and gripping while still feeling like a missing piece of a larger whole. With a fantastic cast of characters, gorgeous scenery, and riveting action sequences in droves, Rogue One succeeds in being the prequel Star Wars film diehard fans have been waiting for as well as an entertaining ride for anyone who enjoys a good war epic.

FINAL GRADE: A

Moana (Full Review)

Back in 2010 Disney’s Tangled wound up being a surprise hit and thankfully resurrected the animated musical. Then in 2013, Frozen took the world by storm and fully solidified the return of the genre. Now that the animated musical’s swagger is back, the family juggernaut that is Disney is free to explore realms outside of the common fairy tale, like the story of a Polynesian princess for instance.

moana_teaser_posterMoana tells the story of the young daughter of an island chief. While her father wants her to accept the structured lifestyle of a future leader, Moana (voiced by newcomer Auil’i Cravalho) just wants to explore the wonders of the sea. When darkness starts to fall on their island, killing vegetation and scaring away their supply of fish, Moana’s quirky grandmother (Rachel House) inspires her to follow her dreams and search for the shapeshifting demigod Maui (Dwayne Johnson) who they believe can restore a magic gem to a legendary island and save their home.

The films features all of the things we’ve come to love about the best Disney films. The characters are all memorable and magnificent. Though not much different from other female Disney heroines in story arc, Moana is a loveable and feisty lead who still holds a warm vulnerability that makes her relatable to audiences. Dwayne Johnson’s Maui is a perfect counterpart. The character has a comedic brashness accentuated by a funny sentient upper body tattoo. Even minor characters, like Moana’s Grandma Tala and a dimwitted chicken are wonderful every second they are on screen.

The music, which was written by Hamilton creator Lin-Manuel Miranda, is mostly solid. The opening song is a catchy and beautiful chorus that sets the bar high but by the end some songs, like one performed by a giant hording crab (Jemaine Clement), are a bit forgettable. Nevertheless, the movie makes up for any lagging music or cliche story elements with dazzling animation and captivating visuals that perfectly capture the unique world and rich culture of Polynesia.

But what makes Moana the most unique are its endearing characters each with amiable flaws that allow for growth and great chemistry. Carried by strong voice acting and a fun story filled with humor and adventure, Disney has once again created another classic. It’s been a strong year for animated family films, maybe the strongest ever, and Moana manages to put itself on par with the best of the best.

FINAL GRADE: A

Doctor Strange (Full Review)

“Forget everything you think you know”. That’s what seasoned sorcerer Mordo (Chiwtel Ejiofor) tells Doctor Strange (Benedict Cumberbatch) when he first encounters him. It’s a perfect mantra for Marvel’s latest addition to their vast, successful universe. A superhero film with a dash of Harry Potter and a sprinkle of Inception makes Doctor Strange unlike anything you’ve ever seen before.

doctor_strange_posterThe film stars Cumberbatch as Stephen Strange, the world’s best neurosurgeon whose ego makes Tony Stark seem humble. After a car accident leaves his hands damaged beyond medical repair, Strange pushes away his only friend (Rachel McAdams) and ventures out to Nepal in a last ditch effort to heal himself. There he encounters the Ancient One (Tilda Swinton), an ageless guru who trains Mordo, snarky librarian Wong (Benedict Wong), and many others to conjure up magic and defend the world from a former pupil (Mads Mikkelsen) keen on releasing an ancient evil. Strange must put aside his ego to not only heal himself, but also summon the hero within.

One thing that makes Marvel movies so inherently watchable is their ability to add humor and charisma to everything they make. Doctor Strange is no different. Fused with a phenomenal cast and snappy dialogue, there isn’t an ounce of stiffness to speak of, giving the film loads of personality that helps usher the audience into this trippy new universe.

But it’s that trippy universe that truly makes Doctor Strange a unique film. Remember that amazing hallway fight sequence in Inception. This film has that x 10. Stunning visuals made for 3D create sequences that are jaw dropping. From intricate CGI runes and shifting camera angles to scenery that literally twists and turns like a kaleidoscope, almost every action scene is compellingly unusual but never nauseating.

Being so different from anything else in the comic book genre, Doctor Strange manages to pace things well, explaining key information when needed but never overindulging with exposition. With Cumberbatch at the helm, there is a sense of tangibility that makes it all feel possible. Even the villain (usually Marvel’s biggest weak spot) has a slight wit and intelligence to him that makes his plot seem like an interesting perspective even if it’s the same as any stock megalomaniac.

Without the subtle references to other films in the MCU and the obvious post credit connections, Doctor Strange would manage to feel like its own entity. One that is rich in lure and fascinating characters. It almost makes you wish that it was its own franchise instead of just another precursor to an Avengers movie. But even if we never get a dose of Strange as good as this film, the mark has undoubtedly been set as an entertaining and memorable one.

FINAL GRADE: A

Finding Dory (Full Review)

Pixar is the gold standard of animated family films. Among their many classics, few movies are as beloved as 2003’s Finding Nemo. The story about a father searching for his disabled son and learning not to be overprotective was highlighted by a cast of great characters. Ironically, the most unforgettable character was the one who couldn’t remember anything. And now, 13 years later, the Disney animation goliath brings us a much anticipated sequel that follows Dory on an all new adventure.

Finding_DoryPixar proved it can follow one of its classics with an equally fantastic film with the Toy Story trilogy. But before you go thinking Finding Dory is a lock to be a great follow up, I have two words for you… Cars 2. With Dory, the Pixar filmmakers had the challenge of making a movie with just as much heart, while maintaining a similar message about cherishing family and overcoming adversity that could easily feel repetitive. They manage to succeed, with flying colors.

Finding Dory picks up one year after Finding Nemo. Blue tang fish, Dory (Ellen DeGeneres) continues to suffer from short term memory loss and now lives with her best clownfish buddy Marlon (Albert Brooks) and his son, Nemo (Hayden Rolance). One day, a series of familiar phrases triggers her memories of her long lost parents (Diane Keaton, Eugene Levy) and Dory sets out on a mission to reunite with them. The journey may seem like a retread, but a fantastic set of characters make it feel like anything but.

Pixar’s ability to create memorable characters is often what sets their films apart. Well… that and flawless animation. Finding Dory is a magnificent follow up to a beloved classic mainly because of its large cast of new characters, each one hilarious and unique. There’s a near sighted whale shark (Kaitlin Olson), a beluga whale that thinks it’s sick (Ty Burrell), and a pair of lazy and bossy sea lions (Idris Elba and Dominic West). But perhaps no character is as critical to the movies fun and charisma as Hank (Ed O’Neil), a temperamental octopus trying to prevent being released from a safe and secure Marine hospital.

Sure, Ellen DeGeneres is once again endearing as Dory and Marlon and Nemo provide several laughs and valuable lessons, but without the new faces, the movie would feel like a good, but relatively unnecessary sequel. But these new characters make this heartwarming story about Dory overcoming her shortcomings and finding her family feel fresh and the missing piece we didn’t even realize we needed. I’ve always said, every movie doesn’t need a sequel, but sometimes… when the right people are behind it…. some movies most certainly do. And in the case of Finding Dory, despite being a bit more over the top than the original, it’s the sequel adults and kids have been waiting for.

FINAL GRADE: A+

Disney’s The Jungle Book (Full Review)

It seems as if we are now in full swing remake mode as Disney is now updating their animated classics with the live action treatment on a yearly basis. Last year’s Cinderella proved that, while redundant, this can still be a relatively pleasant experience for old and new audiences. With Beauty and the Beast on tap for next year, we’d better get used to seeing our childhood films recreated.
220px-The_Jungle_Book_(2016)The latest Disney classic to get the reboot treatment is the 1967 adaptation of Rudyard Kipling’s The Jungle Book. The story itself has seemingly been done to death over the past century, but the Disney animated version is hard to forget. The catchy songs and solid voice cast helped ingrain it in our minds, giving this new film some lofty expectations to live up to. Luckily, the film has a strong director at the helm (Jon Favreau) and a wonderful team of CGI artists to help make this new version just as memorable.

For anyone who’s been living under a rock, The Jungle Book tells the story of talking animals and Mowgli (Neel Sethi), a human boy found as a baby in the jungle by a panther named Bagheera (Ben Kinglsey) who entrusts him to a family of wolves. After a vicious tiger named Shere Khan (Idris Elba) threatens to kill the outsider, Bagheera and Mowgli’s wolf parents (Giancarlo Esposito and Lupita Nyong’o) decide it best to return Mowgli to a nearby village where he can be with other humans. On their journey, they encounter an easy going bear named Baloo (Bill Murray), a hypnotizing snake named Kaa (Scarlett Johansson), and sly monkey king, Louie (Christopher Walken), who wants the boy to teach him how to create fire.

While the story won’t feel new to anyone who isn’t in grade school, the film manages to feel refreshing from start to finish. This is due in part to a well crafted script that manages to make slight adjustments to make the story match the realness of its imagery. And the imagery is stunning, but this should be no surprise as Disney is known to spare no expense for their films. The animals are animated to look as real as possible, and the jungle scenery is breathtaking.

But the number one reason that this new version of The Jungle Book is an absolute triumph that now has me excited and eager for more animation remakes, is due to the awesome cast. Giancarlo Esposito, Lupita Nyong’o and Ben Kinglsey all bring a beautiful nobility to their roles as Mowgli’s guardians while Scarlett Johansson is fittingly hypnotic in limited screen time. Neel Sethi is perhaps the weakest link as Mowgli, but that is mainly due to the fact that he’s a child actor. Considering the fact that he’s essentially the only non-CGI character in the movie, he actually does a remarkable job as well.

There are two actors who unsurprisingly steal the show. Bill Murray manages to bring even more charm and charisma to the character of Baloo than we saw in the iconic 1967 animated version. As for Shere Khan, the best movies have the best villains, and Idris Elba owns every second the character is in. From the moment the imposing tiger enters the film, he brings an intimidating, yet captivating aura that makes you absolutely love him.

Yes, Hollywood needs to take chances on original ideas more. Pretty much every blockbuster is a sequel or a remake. But if Jon Favreau’s Jungle Book is any indication of the quality Disney is putting into these live action updates, then by all means keep them coming. Pretty much the only flaw to this movie is the shoe horned songs in the second half that turn the movie back into a musical all of a sudden. But even they work for nostalgia’s sake. I originally cringed at the idea of seeing my childhood favorites recreated, but after watching this movie, I honestly say bring on a CGI recreation of The Lion King next.

FINAL GRADE: A