Category: arts and entertainment

Disney Canon Project Finished!

Hey guys! I just wanted to quickly share something with you. Last week I finished my 56 week project of reviewing the Disney Canon on my youtube channel. I’m really proud of each of these videos and it was interesting to see how some opinions changed on rewatch:

Give the videos a watch and I would love to have your feedback.  Thanks!

My Top 15 Films of 2016

It’s finally here my friends! The moment you have all been waiting for. My top 15 best movies of 2016 list! Make sure you are following my movie blog for more post like these at http://54disneyreviews.com

Here is the youtube version:

You guys have no idea how much thought I have put into this list. I have moved films around and thought weighed the pros and cons countless times. It’s so hard because I like all of these movies for different reasons and how do I decide which reason is better than another? Well, I did the best I could. I must admit I am kind of proud of my list. I think it is thoroughly unique and represents me very well.

So let’s get started!

hidden-figures215. Hidden Figures- I love movies that make me want to cheer and this movie did that in droves. I loved how it chose to forgo the evil redneck violent racist and instead took on institutional racism which I think can be just as virulent and much harder to strike down. I loved all the performances and that it is PG so kids all over the world will know about these amazing women.

hell-or-high-water14. Hell or High Water- Basically a perfectly executed film about two brothers pushed to the edge and the officers who are following them. It has such a sense of place and feels very relevant to many issues we face today. I felt for the characters and was engrossed the entire time. Not my typical genre but it won me over any way.

10_cloverfield_lane13. 10 Cloverfield Lane- I don’t see that many thrillers/horror movies but this one blew me away. I loved how it kept surprising me. I really didn’t know where it was going or what was going to happen. I loved Mary Elizabeth Winstead and John Goodman in the leads and even the ending that others didn’t like I kind of dug. It’s one of the only times in recent years I had genuine fun at a horror movie.

presenting-princess-shaw-poster12. Presenting Princess Shaw- 2016 was an amazing year for documentaries and this was one of my favorites. As a youtuber, this story of Samantha from Atlanta who ends up as part of a video for an Israeli man named Kutiman meant a lot to me. It reminded me that this sometimes toxic medium can be a powerful tool to serve others and bond with strangers.

pete's dragon 811. Pete’s Dragon- Yes, I’m kind of ashamed of myself that this didn’t make my top 10 because I loved it so much. This is the kind of movie I want Disney to make. It was small, intimate with humongous heart. I can’t believe they pulled off the dragon on such a small budget. I loved the cast especially Oaks Begley as Pete. Bryce Dallas Howard and Robert Redford were completely lovely. It reminded me of live action movies we used to get from Disney that weren’t afraid to be real and deep with kids. Now we get the next warmed over bland remake…

tower410. Tower- This documentary was new and fresh and unlike anything I’ve ever seen before. It profiles a sniper standout at the University of Texas in 1966 but it uses animation to make the experience more rich and textured. The different characters were compelling with a variety of reactions and getting to see them in the real and animated forms was very absorbing. It amazed me how some had never really dealt with the incident after all these years making the documentary very raw.

zootopia poster29. Zootopia- I admit some of the criticisms of Zootopia had started to get to me and then I rewatched it and remembered how much I love it. Sure the metaphor has holes if you overthink it but it’s still powerful for children and the movie isn’t only the metaphor. There are lessons about never giving up, facing bullies, forgiveness and friendship. Mostly it is about not letting our fears dictate our behaviors. I love Judy as a character and the friendship between her and Nick is very heartfelt. The world building is amazing and it is so funny.

things-to-come8. Things to Come- This film has 100% on rotten tomatoes and there is a reason why- it’s amazing! Isabelle Huppert is incredible in this role of a woman who’s life goes completely upside down in every way possible. She’s devastated of course but it actually becomes this empowering experience for her. It’s a very fly on the wall kind of film without a strong plot but I loved it. Huppert is so great in the lead role and the writing is honest and powerful. It’s the only time I have felt moved to tears by the speech of an agnostic explaining her views on life.

red-turtle107. The Red Turtle- A combined project between director Michael Dudok De Wit and Studio Ghibli is one of the most stunning films I saw all year. With no dialogue, The Red Turtle manages to tell a stirring story about fate, love and how nature sometimes knows best. The animation is awe inspiring and the music is the best of 2016.

lion6. Lion- This is how you do a true story right. I loved everything about this movie. The child actor is incredible and I felt his chaos, joy and fears as he carries the first hour of the movie. Then Dev Patel comes in and does a great job showing the highs and challenges of adoption. Nicole Kidman was fantastic as his mother and the cinematography and music were so well done.

love and friendship35. Love and Friendship- This movie gave me a new Jane Austen book. How can I not love it for that reason alone but it’s not just that. It’s super funny and has an energy and pizazz to it the other Austen adaptations (as much as I love them) don’t. Lady Susan is kind of an anti-hero who’s self-interest ends up being to everyone’s benefit in the end. The dialogue is hilarious as well as the costume, product design and everything else. I love it more each time I watch it.

moana144. Moana- I can hear the shocks now. I am sure most thought this would be my top pick. I really do love it so much. I love Moana as a character. I love how unselfish her quest is. I love the animation, music, humor, and characters. I love that it focuses on Polynesia, which has my heart. I really don’t have any big flaws with it. I just felt my top 3 were a little more unique than this but I LOVE Moana!

hacksaw_ridge_poster3. Hacksaw Ridge- Moana entertained me. Hacksaw Ridge made me want to be a better person. Yes it is super violent but it’s a rare case where the violence actually made it a better movie. I love that Desmond’s abstaining from war is not dictated by his faith but is a personal covenant between him and God. It reminded me of Daniel and the Lions Den. Sure he could pretend and play along, just hold the gun, but that wouldn’t be true to his promise to God. So, when he cashes in that faith with his pleas for ‘One more Lord’ it blew my mind. It made me want to go out and be more faithful and serve others more.

sing-street2. Sing Street- This movie is like joy in movie form. I watch it over and over again. I love everything about it. I love the relationship between the brothers and their dialogue. I love the romance and how they make each other better. I love the music and the payoff concert. It’s a movie I could watch 100 times and never tire of.

your-name31. Your Name- I thought long and hard about it and I believe Your Name is the best movie I saw in 2016. It’s so original, stunning and emotional. It starts off as a fun body swap movie and then a friendship grows which is challenged when a complication is introduced. Then it takes on a sci-fi element that was surprising and I had no idea what was going to happen without being too twist dependent. I loved the characters and what they learn from each other. The animation is stunning and the music (both score and songs) are perfect. It’s a movie that each time I watch I see layers I had missed the first time. It’s stunning and my favorite movie of 2016!

So there you have it! What did you think of my list? How does it match up with your list and what are your favorites of 2016?

And if you were wondering my 16-20 are

16. Kubo and the Two Strings

17. Queen of Katwe

18. Midnight Special

19. Kung fu Panda 3

20. Manchester by the Sea

If you are wondering I will see My Life as a Zucchini next week at Sundance and then I will do my 2016 animation ranking.

Now on to 2017!

Fences: Stage vs Screen

fences

Last month a movie called Fences came out starring Denzel Washington and Viola Davis. This naturally caught my attention and then I realized it was based on a pulitzer prize winning play of same name by August Wilson written in 1983 and I got more excited.

Then I found out that Pioneer Theater Company here in Utah was doing a production of the play at the same time the movie was released. So I thought it would be fun to see both the play and movie and compare/contrast them.

I was going to do a video analysis but the truth is they ended up being so similar I didn’t have much to go off of.  Nevertheless, let me profile both as there is still plenty of time to see both if you are interested.

Fences Summary- Before I go into both versions let me give a quick plot summary. Fences is about a black man named Troy in the 1950s. He has a wife named Rose and 2 sons- one from his relationship with Rose who is high school athlete named Corey and another who is a vagrant musician. Troy resents pretty much everything about his life. He believes he was robbed of being a professional baseball player because he was black and so everything has become about duty and obligations to him. The story goes over the course of 6 or 7 years as Troy makes selfish choices that impact his marriage and family. The whole time he is building a fence that is an analogy to his building fences on the inside and his attempts to scare away death.

Pioneer Theater Company Play-

fences-playThe Pioneer Theater Company’s production of Fences stars Michael Anthony Williams as Troy. He originally played the part of Troy’s friend Bono in the original broadway production, and he is up for the task here. My only qualm with him is I don’t know if he is physically imposing enough for the role. He doesn’t seem like an ex-athlete and for what a beast he becomes there is something that always feels a little slight about his appearance.

fences-play2The part of Rose is played by Gayle Samuels and she is very good. I don’t know if she is quite Viola Davis good but who is? I kind of wish the play gave a bit more time to Rose.  There are a couple of dialogue sections between Troy and his buddy or son that I think could be swapped out for more time with Rose. She is the one who has to adapt and forgive the most so I kind of wish I saw more of her.

JJ Jeter plays the son Corey and he is fine in the role. There is a final scene between Corey and Rose that he pulls off quite well as he is struggling to forgive his father and fighting off the amount of his father he sees in himself.

fences-play4Fences is a very intimate experience as a play. There are only 6 actors in the cast and the set is the front of house with a yard and tree. It never changes aside from the ever-growing fence. At Pioneer Theater Company it looks convincingly like a real house with a kitchen inside you can see through the door. I also thought the tree looked very realistic.

The play in comparison to the movie feels a bit brisker and maybe that is just because I saw it second so I knew what was coming? I’m not sure because they are nearly identical in content.

If you take kids to this play be forewarned they do use the ‘n word’ and there are mature topics like infidelity discussed.

Overall, Pioneer Theater Company did a great job with their production of Fences. Aside from wishing August Wilson had given us more Rose and feeling Williams was a little slight for the role of Troy I have nothing else to really say about it. PTC could keep the prices down a little bit as $44 is pretty expensive. Also the people next to me had clearly never been to a play before and were acting like it was a sports game. Ugh…

But if you live in Utah I recommend checking out Fences at Pioneer Theater Company

Fences Movie-

fences-movieI don’t know if I have ever seen a more faithful stage to screen adaptation than the recent film version of Fences. Pretty much the only difference is they can have a few more sets as opposed to the constant house-front of the play. They on occasion actually go in the house in the movie!

Other than that, they are exactly the same. The dialogue is exactly the same in the same spots with the same characters. At least to my eyes they were.

So it comes down to the cast. Denzel Washington plays Troy and he is more believable than Williams as the bitter ex-athlete. He feels intimidating and I think part of that may be the ability of film to get up close and personal with a character that you can’t in a stage play.

fences-movie2Jovan Adepo isn’t that great as his son but in a way that works because it makes Troy seem all the more dominating and controlling. I mean this kid doesn’t stand a chance against his Dad! If you watch this clip I think you will agree Denzel owns this kid actor.

fences-movie35Viola Davis is amazing in the role. Even though I still wish August Wilson had written more dialogue for Rose, Viola makes the scenes she does have so powerful. It feels like Rose is in more than she actually is and has more dialogue than she actually does.  A particular scene between Rose and Troy where she says “I’ve been standing right here with you” is unforgettable.

The rest of the supporting cast is all good and feels like they know the parts from a Broadway production. I particularly liked Troy and his friend Bono played by Stephen McKinley Henderson. They had nice chemistry together.

fences-movie3For some people it will be a little bit tough to sit through a movie that feels like a play. There’s something about the way dialogue is done in a play that can be an adjustment for a movie and that won’t be for everyone.

The story of Fences is pretty simple and will be depressing for many but the true gravitas comes from the performances. I think it is worth seeing just for Viola Davis alone who puts on an acting class. The fact she will be beat out at the Oscars by Emma Stone or Natalie Portman makes me kind of sick. Sigh…

So I recommend Fences but I suppose just know what you are getting into when you get your ticket. It’s basically a play on the big screen but a good one at that with great performances.

I’m curious after reading those 2 summaries/reviews which experience sounds the most appealing to you?  Which would you like to attend? If any of you in Utah get to see both let me know what your thoughts are. As there are many wonderful theaters here in Utah I hope to do more of these compare/contrasts in 2017. Hopefully most of them will be a little more different than these versions of Fences but I enjoyed seeing both.

Happy 115th Birthday Walt Disney!

walt-disneyHey guys! I hope you are all having a wonderful start to your December. I thought for today’s post I would give a little shout-out to the man behind the mouse Walt Disney. Dec 5th would have been his 115th birthday and I think we could all benefit from being a little bit more like Walt.

The thing that I admire most about Walt Disney is what a bold risk taker he was. Going all the way back to the laugh-a-gram days he pushed the boundaries in every avenue of life. He made Steamboat Willie which revolutionized movies and gave birth to the branding animated icon in Mickey Mouse. He then mortgaged his house to make Snow White- a film that was dismissed by many for years. Some people even believing full-length animation would be bad for the eyes. It of course was a mammoth hit and changed everything.

He then was bold in future films both live action and animated, never green-lighting an animated sequel despite much pressure to do so. He said “we keep moving forward, opening new doors, and doing new things, because we’re curious and curiosity keeps leading us down new paths.” I often think of this when I hear about the next live action remake Disney is doing. Walt would not like this trend a bit…

Anyway, he then was bold in founding Disneyland- an expensive gamble that took nearly 2 decades from conception to complete. People called it ‘Walt’s folly’ and many saw it failing within a year. Now we accept the parks as a obvious choice but it was far from it at the time.

There are some who claim Walt was a mean man but I sat in a lecture with Disney animator Floyd Norman at comicon and he said he never saw Walt get on a person where it wasn’t deserved. He also said Walt was actually quite progressive in hiring women like Mary Blair and people of color like himself.

I’ve also heard claims he was anti-Semitic but these claims are weak at best. They are so weak that when PBS did a documentary on Walt they looked into the claims and said:

“It’s not based on any truth,” panelist Sarah Colt, the docu’s producer and director, said of  the long-rumored charge of anti-Semitism, “so we saw no reason to bring it up in the film.” Colt said she looked for evidence of Disney’s bigotry, but to no avail, unlike the subject of her previous PBS film Henry Ford, “who was a virulent anti Semite.” In the case of Disney, she said, “it wasn’t relevant to who he was, so it’s not part of the film.”

PBS is a pretty liberal organization and like the director said they published the vitriol of Henry Ford so I’m confident if it had been there they would have put it in the documentary about Walt. Walt’s biographer Neal Gabler found ‘no evidence of anti-Semitism” and Richard Sherman, frequent Disney composer said the allegations were “preposterous”.

Anyway, none of us were there so I suppose we will never know for sure. Today I am grateful for all he gave us. My life would certainly be very different if he hadn’t taken those risks and I hope I can follow his example from time to time. I hope I can be bolder, try new things, take more risks.

Happy Birthday Walt!

Why are the Classics so Long?

Tonight I am going to see the classic film Gone with the Wind. Megaplex theaters here in Utah are doing a Silver Screen Series of 10 classic films for only $10. This gives us the chance to see classic films on the big screen!  Here is the series:

This is an awesome opportunity but also a lot of fun because I am podcasting about them with my friend Christine. We have already talked about Lawrence of Arabia, which we both loved. You can listen to that analysis here.

I must be honest though a side of me doesn’t really want to see Gone with the Wind tonight. It’s just so long and so full of melodrama. Plus, there are the racially insensitive moments and all that Magnolia rosy versions of the Slavery South. But mostly it’s just hard for me to get super excited for a 4 hour movie…

It got me thinking 6 of the 10 selections are 3 hours or more. Occasionally you will see a 3 hour movie these days with Lord of the Rings but most are under 3 hours. In fact, films like Batman v Superman will be hacked up to keep it under the 3 hours. I know why this happens because over 3 hours limits screening times which then limits income for the studio.  The 3 hour version is saved for the bluray these days.

But economics aside I think there is something more to this. I mean there is no way a movie like My Fair Lady or Sound of Music would ever be 3 hours these days no matter how many screenings they could fit in. It makes me wonder why?

classics1We can look at the same phenomenon with literature. Classic novels like David Copperfield are so long they took multiple parts to print. Books like Count of Monte Cristo, Nicholas Nichleby, Don Quixote, Moby Dick are well over 1000 pages. Occasionally you will find such a book these days but I think it is the exception rather than the rule.

Just like with movies there was an economic reason for the length of these novels. Authors at the time were paid by the word so the longer they could make the story the better. I love classic novels but some even try my patience including Les Miserables which despite my love for the musical I have never been able to get through.

But just like with movies I think there is more than economics to explain these changes.  Sure occasionally we get a novel that feels like a classic in length but it is definitely the exception to the rule (I haven’t read but been told Infinite Jest is such a book).

It makes me wonder what has changed in our collective storytelling patience in the last 50 years or so? Is it the prevalence of television and it’s 30 minute storytelling platform that made the difference? Is it the amount of material to read and view that makes us anxious for the next item? Perhaps if we only got 2 or 3 major books a year we wouldn’t mind the ones we got being long and drawn out?

Again, I love the classics but I’m not always in the mood for them. Sometimes I am in the mood for a more succinct modern story. Maybe it is just the longer novels/films which have persevered as classics while the shorter ones were digested and forgotten?

What do you think? Why do you think there is this difference in modern and classic books and movies?

What do you prefer? Do you like modern tight storytelling or the more leisurely paced classic?

Thoughts on SJWs

sjwRecently I became aware of a new acronym in the internet nomenclature- SJW. This stands for Social Justice Warrior, which is officially defined by Urban Dictionary as “a pejorative term for an individual promoting socially progressive views; including feminism and civil rights”.  When the term is used correctly it is basically a way to describe an intellectual troll. So these aren’t the people who are just saying someone is a moron or an idiot for liking a movie or book.

No, these are the people who won’t let others have an opinion because their views are ethically and intellectually better. If you have been involved with the internet world you have met someone like this. For example, I’ve heard people claim as if it is a fact that the Little Mermaid is sexist and that Ariel is a bad role model. I happen to see the character and movie differently. A normal person would let me have my view, an SJW will never let it down.

That said, the problem with this grouping is that it has now become an easy accusation for anyone who makes an intellectual argument against something. Let’s take the movie Birdman. I personally found that movie to be misogynistic in troubling ways. Some people would call me an SJW for having this feminist view. However, I don’t think I am an SJW because I allow other people to interpret the film differently. I was a bit frustrated when it won tons of awards but for the most part I don’t care if other people love it. More power to them.  The world would be boring if we all liked the same things, for the same reasons.

I have no problem with people bringing feminist or diversity concerns into a discussion of art, movies or books. This is a good thing we should be discussing. The arts and literature are important catalysts for change in our society. Sometimes reading or seeing a problem is the only way we make things better. It’s not being an SJW to say ‘I wish there were more Asian actresses in movies” or “I wish a woman was allowed to lead a superhero film”.  That is a good discussion to have and creators need to know we want those things.

Like I said, where it crosses the line into the SJW is when you shame others or harass them because they see it differently.  That’s being the reverse of a warrior in my book. It’s being a social justice tyrant! You have to remember that change takes time and rarely is something so misogynistic or hateful that there isn’t a reason someone might like it. Try to see it from others points of view and then explain your own view as succinctly as you can (I know this is a lot to ask for the internet!).

And if you know it is a hot button issue for you than maybe step back a bit and make sure you won’t post something you will regret.  It’s as simple as that. Give people their space to have different opinions, explain yourself as best as you can and then be patient.

On the other side, internet world- try to listen to people’s concerns instead of immediately branding them an SJW. They may actually have something important to share.

That’s my story and I’m sticking to it.

What do you think about SJW’s and these types of discussions?

A Few Thoughts on Diversity

diversity-embrace

So in the last few days youtube has erupted with controversy over the topic of diversity in literature. A youtuber who I do not follow or particularly care for posted a 22 minute video about how diversity was not needed and that all that mattered is good books not the diversity of the characters in said books. I honestly thought her video was kind of insane so I will refrain from posting it here and giving her more views but it is easy to find if you want to.

Anyway, I thought I would bring up a quick point that I think often makes these discussions very messy.

It’s a question of MACRO vs MICRO

Here’s what I mean by that-

In the world of economics there is microeconomics, which is the study of an individual, group or company. This gets you into the nitty gritty of one person’s spending habits or the sales forecasts of a particular business.

Then we have macroeconmics, which is the study of a national economy as a whole. This is where we talk about GDP, trade numbers, national unemployment rates and federal interest rate changes. These are broader, longer trends.

So how does this relate to books and diversity?

Well, it is important to talk about diversity on a macro level.  To look at trends and statistics so that hopefully we can implement small changes to make things better.

I don’t know anyone that thinks having more diverse characters is a bad idea. For example, I’ve always been a defender of faith-based films because I think it is good for that audience to have films that they relate to. It feels good to read a book or view a movie and find characters that feel and look like us. Is not part of the reason we go to the cinemas is to occasionally have someone like us staring back at us? To see our world in new and interesting ways through storytelling?

Just this year I really enjoyed Ghostbusters and for me it was cool to see a woman like Melissa McCarthy in kind of a superhero role. She looks a little like me, and I’ve never seen anyone who looked remotely like me in a superhero movie. That was cool. I can only imagine how much more important that is for someone of a minority race or sexuality.

All of these issues are good to discuss so we can support those books and films that do showcase diversity. Now they still have to be good movies/books. Don’t get me wrong. Niche audiences should not be placated too, but we also should seek out those books and movies that do it right.

Where we get into problems is when we start mixing in a micro level perspective in this discussion. For example, talking about the lack of representation at the Oscars is a good thing because it is looking at movies as a whole and how we can do better.  However, when a particular movie is focused on and declared as racist because it is not diverse that’s taking a macro discussion and making it micro. Certainly racist movies and books exist and should be called out but just because an individual movie does not have a diverse cast does not make it racist.

I also think that authors and directors should be free to write about any culture or race that they want but they should do the job well. I hated Me Before You for a lot of reasons but one was how obvious it was the author had never met a person with quadriplegia before writing her novel about one. That’s irresponsible in my book. If she had done a good job than more power to her. Harper Lee was a white woman from the south and wrote one of the most stirring Civil Rights novels ever. But again we are talking about individual books, which is a micro-level discussion not the macro that is really effective.

It also should be noted that many times those of different ethnicities or races require no real adaptation to include in a book or movie. I mean when I loved Clueless growing up I never thought about Dion being black and Cher being white. They were just 2 girls in a funny movie I liked. 

I do think the macro discussions are making a difference. I don’t know much about the publishing world so can’t speak for that but in movies I am seeing changes. Look at Marvel for example. We are getting Black Panther with a black cast and Captain Marvel with their first female superhero led movie. That’s great!

Next year we get Wonder Woman and I pray that will be handled well. We have Oceans 8 coming out with an all female cast. That has potential to be great. Star Wars has been outstanding in featuring women and a diverse cast in both Force Awakens and Rogue One. Disney has recently had success with Elena of Avalor- their first Latina princess and Moana is going to be an islander with a more natural size and shape to her body. That’s a good thing!

We still have a long way to go but I don’t think we get anywhere when we focus on the micro instead of the macro.

ps. I also want diversity for purely selfish reasons. I get tired of reading the same types of characters with the same backgrounds. Same holds true for the movies. Shake it up!

So that’s what I have to say about that!

What do you think about what I have said? Do you see the difference between a micro and macro discussion? And how do you think we can improve diversity in both movies and books?