Quick Hit: Family, music, and how they go together – Pixar lands another winning movie.
Coco starts off fairly quickly – Miguel wants to play music, but his family doesn’t even allow music. And despite the quickly approaching Dia de Los Muertos, Miguel is unable to understand the holiday, unable to understand the reason for his family’s hatred of music, and their love of, of all things, the shoe trade. This leads Miguel to rebel, and eventually, land in the Land of the Dead (not the Romero movie).
And wow – the movie absolutely picks up from there. Pixar’s animation style is always beautiful, but here, they completely take it away. Every single image is wonderfully rendered, including every emotion, every movement, every blink and every dance move. And Coco relies on the motion of the characters as much as it does the look of them. This leans into some of the cultural aspects of the film – the Mexican culture is one full of love, life, and laughter, and the Land of the Dead as been rendered as such. It’s huge and colorful, even more so than the real world. What is normally Pixar’s strongest aspect here is probably the second strongest, falling behind even the story.
Visitors to their own ofrendas, altars set up to honor the memories of the dead. Without a picture placed on an altar, there can’t be any visiting the real world, or their living family. Enter Hector, a skeleton who is nearly forgotten that just wants his picture placed on an ofrenda. Music is also a big part of Hector’s life, but Miguel doesn’t see it. This film is as much about Miguel growing up and understanding that life goes beyond his own desires as it is about how music, or creativity, can get inside someone and truly infect them. Nearly all the characters have this same infection – whether it’s the desire to make shoes or music, they’re all driven to the same conclusion – they have to do anything to give into their gift.
Miguel’s gift, the music, floods the film. Often times shown in conjunction with Ernesto de La Cruz, Miguel is a master, and the music is the heart and soul of the whole film. It’s touching, emotionally driven music. Sometimes it’s extremely uplifting, pulling you up as high as you can go. Other times it’s a humourous but saddening tune to a man who is about to disappear forever. And finally, nearly all the songs head straight from your ears to your heart. It’s emotion in arguably its purest form, and throughout the film, the anthem of “Remember Me” plays, eventually leading to a closure that had me crying wet, beautiful, musical tears.
I loved Coco, nearly every moment of it. I had some small detractors, but they’re minor, and you can find them out for yourself. In the meantime, check out the film – it’s one of Pixar’s best. I’m giving it an “A”.
For more on this film, check out IMDB.
Quick Hit: This movie is a funny, beautiful, independent comedy.
For those of you that don’t know Mark Duplass – what’s wrong with you? Star of Creep and Creep 2, and The League, and also helping run a production company with his brother, Duplass has broken on to the scene as one of my favorite actors to watch. In my humble opinion, he’s not in nearly enough. That’s why Safety Not Guaranteed found its way onto my watch list for this year – well that and it’s about time travel. I mean, who doesn’t love time travel?
There’s really not a good descriptor for this film. It features a mashup of several genres – comedy, romance, science fiction, and action – and does so flawlessly. The basic gist is that three writers (two interns and a staff writer) go to investigate a personal ad where a man is advertising that he has built a time machine before and wants to go back again, but wants a partner. Jeff, the staff writer (played by Jake Johnson), really only wants to go back to bed a former childhood sweetheart. Darius (Aubrey Plaza) is trying to make her mark on the industry. But their experiences with Kenneth (the aforementioned Mark Duplass) change their perspective and ultimately their lives.
I’m going to start with what I disliked most about this movie – because there is only one thing. Towards the end of the story, I thought that Jeff’s story was a bit mishandled. Jeff and Liz’s story is really, really realistic, because people often idealize the past. I understand not everything has a happy ending, and the scene between the two actors is wonderful. But it does feel rushed, and almost as if there’s no final conclusion to their story.
But that is literally my only critique on this film.
I loved this movie. I loved the idea of it. I loved the execution. The characters were well written, each has their own independent motivation, and there is an economy of characters that is absolutely superb. No one is wasted, which is the mark of a truly talented cast. I haven’t always loved Plaza in everything that I’ve seen her in, but here her distinct brashness mixes perfectly with the outspoken braggadocios personality seen in Duplass’s Kenneth. But there’s a sweetness here that is underlying throughout the whole film. There’s very little that doesn’t mesh – from Jake Johnson’s ridiculing of Arnau, to Kenneth and Darius’s obvious chemistry. There’s even some twists even veteran movie goers don’t see coming.
************************************Slight Spoiler section*****************************************************
I’m not going to go into depth about what happens in the end. I don’t need to, because in the end it doesn’t really matter. All that I do know is that the ending is emphatic, triumphant, and full of glory. I was ecstatic throughout the final scene. It’s something that is full of hope, love, and life, and something we sorely need more of in this conflicted world. The moral here is - if someone offers you the opportunity to go with them back in time - then just do it. Failure or success, you're probably in for a ride.
In the end, this film is witty, fun, and tremendously enjoyable. I highly recommend it to all parties. I’m giving the film an “A”.
For more on this film, check out IMDB.
Quick Hit: Offbeat comedic mind of Taika Waititi mixes with Sam Neill and a young child.
I’m a pretty big fan of more offbeat comedic movies. Taika Waititi, who we most recently reviewed in Thor: Ragnarok, is a director that continues to make a career out of that. The Hunt for the Wilderpeople, his movie prior to Thor, is a classic example of that. The story follows Ricky (Julian Dennison), a thirteen year old who is placed into care at a New Zealand backwoods farm in the care of Hec (Sam Neill) and Bella (Rima Te Wiata). Ricky is a rebellious child, full of clichés – he’s fat, wears bright oversized hoodies, and spouts pop culture like a fountain. Hec is a cantankerous old man, and Bella is overzealous but full of love.
Eventually, Waititi pushes his two brash characters together via an accident. This leaves plenty of humorous bits of “fish out of water” comedy, but it also sells a ton of heart. Neill is fantastic in his role, essentially picking up where he left Jurassic Park in a way that suggests that Dr. Grant decided to retire to the island of New Zealand and take up farming. His attempts to distance himself from Ricky are a source of pain and humor, but Neill isn’t the true talent here. Young Dennison shines at toeing the line of what is an extremely tough character. You have to both be annoyed by Ricky but still enjoy him enough that you feel a connection to him. Dennison does this by being filled with over-confidence, while still maintaining an immense air of need. There’s a lot in that performance that comes across – and all in all, Dennison is also really funny.
This trademark comedy does come with some tradeoffs though. There’s a large portion in Wilderpeople where time moves forward rapidly (if memory serves, it may actually do this multiple times). While I understand the economy of filmmaking, I think this time lapse actually loses some of the good will that Waititi has built up throughout the film to this point. It also means that we miss out on a lot of good character work – something that Waititi excels at. I think the desire to push the story forward to the climax (more on that in a minute) meant that we lost out on what probably would have been a better movie focusing on Ricky, Hec and Bella.
The climax is something that is fun to behold. The scale is outrageous, with huge trucks and helicopters all coming after this young man and his foster father. It’s a finale that was hinted at throughout the film, but it also seems a bit tone deaf to what has made the movie enjoyable so far. If I’m being completely honest, I didn’t like it – I thought that all of it was a bit of an action movie parody, which would have been fine if that was what the rest of the movie had been. So this high speed chase end, while entertaining, is at odds with the rest of the tone, which takes the enjoyment out of both.
All in all, if you enjoy this type of comedy (think Flight of the Concords), you’ll probably enjoy most of it. I found myself laughing throughout, even though I had several parts that I didn’t agree with Waititi’s choices. It’s enough for me to give the film a “B-“.
For more on this film, check out IMDB.
"All work and no play makes Jack a dull boy"