Encanto (2021)

Quick Summary: A tale of the family Madrigal who live in a house that has blessed every child in the family with a unique gift — every child except Mirabel.

I had heard many people talk about this, and almost all good things. So I went in with high expectations, and this was good enough to meet them. In the last few years, Disney has released Moana, Big Hero 6, Raya And The Last Dragon, and Zootopia, so it’s fair to say they’re on one hell of a roll, the only major blot being Ralph Breaks The Internet (and maybe Frozen 2, I haven’t seen it so can’t judge). It may be too soon to judge but it does seem like they’re making progress to reclaim their crown from Pixar. While I don’t see that happening, the gap is closing, and not because Pixar is getting worse, but because Disney is getting a lot better.

Everything about this is really good, mostly non-American cast (US, not the continent), and I’m only personally familiar with two of the people who did the voices: Stephanie Beatriz and John Leguizamo. I like that Disney are going that root now, casting people who are true to the character rather than just getting random sitcom performers to do “ethnic” voices. All are really good, but Jessica Darrow needs highlighting as someone who really deserves to have her career made by this.

In terms of performances, this is really a showcase for Beatriz (it’s helped that in Mirabel, Disney seem to have created a visually interesting character they can market the hell out of). You never feel you’re listening to a 41 year old pretending to be a teenager, her vocal performance has the perfect mix of youthful exuberance and teenage angst/depression. This is doubled when she sings, I’m still not entirely sure how she nailed some of the rapid vocal tracks for the opening song.

About the opening song, it really sets the tone. On the surface, it’s happy and joyful and danceable, but when you listen to the lyrics you get a slight sense of sadness and “I don’t belong”. Her panic when the kids ask what her power is and she tries to distract them, her clear envy of her “perfect” sister, and then it’s capped with how casually her sister says “oh she didn’t get one”. It’s the first sign that this film has the potential to break you.

It lives up to that potential, and then some. Everybody is talking about We Don’t Talk About Bruno, when really they should be talking about Surface Pressure. It’s not as though, but a lot more emotional and has great storytelling. The reaction to it will break, just the words “i think you’re carrying way too much”.

On the subject of music, it’s clear from this and In The Heights that Lin Manuel Miranda is REALLY good at natural music, especially for opening numbers. He adjusts the universe so that it’s not the characters making the music, it’s the world. It adds a sense of playfulness to the whole thing and elevates a very good film to a great one.

It’s not perfect, there are a few moments (as in, 3-5 second bits) where the music doesn’t flow as naturally as it could, some of the characters could be better developed, and it would have really helped the ending if we saw more of how the non-family members live in that town.

But overall this is a great film about emotional abuse, parental pressure, and feelings of worthlessness. Probably the most emotional film I’ve seen this year, but also the most joyful. Strange how it can do both so well.

Raya And The Last Dragon (2021)

A Disney movie released straight to Disney+, the last time I watched a film on that that was supposed to get a cinema release it was Artemis Fowl, and that, that was not a good movie. I had heard rumblings that this was a good film though, so that was a positive.

After watching I can confirm it is really good. It just, it doesn’t seem very Disney. Well, it doesn’t seem very 2000’s Disney, 2020s Disney with a history of Moana, Big Hero 6 etc? That makes sense. Disney don’t always knock it out the park, but when they do the results often are spectacular. Truth be told it’s usually when they step out of their comfort zone that they come up with great stuff lately. When it seems like the writers just wanted an excuse for a holiday somewhere so told Disney they have an idea about somewhere exotic and warm so that they’d be flown out there for research. It’s when Disney stick to adaptations lately that they’ve failed (with one obvious exception) or when they’ve attempted sequels (Wreck It Ralph 2 is a terrible film and I will stand by that).

This? This is a thing of beauty. It’s a running joke that the most dangerous person to be in a disney film is a parent of the protagonist (doubly so if you’re being played by Sean Bean). This goes one further, it doesn’t just kill off the parent, it kills off most of the population. It killed off a higher percentage of the population than Thanos. Most kid films don’t start off with murder on this large a scale. It’s no just Thanos this film seems to emulate, there’s a moment near the end which is very reminiscent of the end of Guardians Of The Galaxy. Yes, Disney, we know you own Marvel.

While I’m on the subject, that moment near the the end I talked about? It should have been better. Spoilers ahead by the way. Basically the villains are things that turn people into stone, and this moment is the main group standing around as it envelops them and they start turning into stone, together. For whatever reason it didn’t really resonate with me. I just didn’t hit right. It may have been because there weren’t that many good facial expressions on the characters that really sold the “if we die, we die together”. You never really got the feeling that the characters felt hopeless, it seemed like they always knew the plan would work. Compare this to Toy Story 3, the moment in the incinerator where the characters didn’t speak, but you knew that in their head they accepted what was about to happen.

Moments like that are my main issue, there’s nothing bad about this film, but there’s a few things you’ve seen done better, or you feel the film is only operating at 90% of its potential.

I know this is something that will annoy a lot of people, but not the people who read this so fuck it: the representation of this film is fucking lit yo (how do you do fellow kids?). I can’t understate how important it is that this film exists and takes the care it does to properly represent other cultures. At least, I think it does that, I’m not actually from those cultures, so it could be woefully insensitive for all I know. But I haven’t heard any complaints about people from South East Asia about it so I’m thinking it did a good job. I mean, it is super depressing that it’s the first film Disney have made that’s based off South East Asian culture (and that they seemed to not differentiate between some of them), not as depressing as the fact that Kelly Marie Tran is the first actress from the area to lead an animated Disney film. She’s fucking great though. Although not the best part of the film. She is slightly overshadowed by Awkwafina as Sisu. She nails it, bringing a delightful exuberance and playful nature to the character. It’s helped by the actual character being incredibly likeable, a powerful creature with insecurities and lightness will always be appreciated by me and I love her.

So in summary. See it, obviously see it. There are times where it will slightly break you, but it’s worth it. The big downsides: it isn’t completely original in terms of story, plus I realised that Awkwafina, who voiced Sisu, released this a few years ago. So now my brain is thinking of an imaginary song about dragons called My Drag

Films to look Forward to in 2016

Batman V Superman: March 25

PHDHoUG4AUNdHI_1_lBecause despite the last trailer giving WAY too much away, who isn’t going to see this film? It’s Batman fighting Superman…for at least a third of the film anyway. And despite that trailer there’s still hope. The idea that Batman is turned against Superman because of the chaos he caused in Man of Steel is good screenwriting; it makes sense from a character point and helps bring the films together. The casting is also very solid, with Batfleck actually looking to be one of the best iterations of the Dark Knight yet. But we all still need to take a step back to wait and see whether Jesse Eisenberg’s Lex Luthor is the trainwreck everyone is HOPING it will be, or whether like Keaton and Ledger before him he will turn in a great performance despite the naysayers. I have no idea, but I at least love how much fun he seems to be having.

 

Deadpool: February 10

I limited this list to only Deadpool_postertwo superhero films because I didn’t want it to be inundated with them, and I wanted this to be a cut away from a lot of most anticipated lists by not just focusing on the big blockbusters coming our way (but saying that I am looking forward to Civil War and Dr Strange).
Now Deadpool; the reason I chose this over the many superhero flicks of 2016 is because this is by far the riskiest. R rated, fourth wall breaking, X-Men Movie universe expanding, and Ryan Reynolds’ starring; it’s had the best advertising campaign of any superhero film that manages to introduce the character while staying true to his roots, and is being made by people who clearly care deeply about making it an authentic adaptation. So let’s hope all those good intentions don’t pave the way to hell this time.

 

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Hail, Caesar!: February 26

Because it’s the Coen brothers (who I’m not the biggest fan of so not just dick sucking), doing a satire of the golden age of Hollywood with an all-star cast of old (Clooney and Brolin) and new talent (Hill and Tatum), with a the truly Coeny plot about a Charlton Heston type movie star being kidnapped, and the hapless Hollywood fixer who has to find him. It should be a very gaudy picture, with its only hurdle to clear is the early February release date, which could be a) a sign that the Coen’s just don’t give a shit, or b) the studio wants to drop it where no one will see it. We will see.

 

 

 

Everybody Wants Some: May 13

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His first film since his cinematic milestone and masterpiece Boyhood, Linklater returns to his stoner roots, with the spiritual sequel to possibly the best hangout film ever, Dazed and Confused; the 70s set stoner comedy that always found the chuckles, but never lost the poignancy of leaving your teenhood behind. This latest outing is set in the 80s and picks up exactly where Boyhood left off (if a few decades earlier) with a group of teens (played by refreshingly unknown actors) integration into their first year of college life and their college baseball team. Now this doesn’t sound that different from your typical stoner/gross out comedy of today, but with Linklater’s sensitive directing and thoughtful mind for youth and character, what sounds like a typical set up will (hopefully) be another timelessly funny and heartfelt film that captures that moment between teenhood, everything else, and who knows what.

 

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Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them: November 18

I like the Harry Potter films about as much as the next guy, I grew up with them. But honestly I might be looking forward to this more than any of those films, because I always found the most fascinating part of them to be the world itself. And now we have a film set in that world, Seventy years before the original films (so in the 20s), set in New York, led by one of the best young British actors working today Eddie Redmayne, and was penned by J.K Rowling herself…I’m shocking myself how game I am for this film, and you all should be too! It’s Harry Potter without Harry Potter!

 

The Disaster Artist: TBA

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The adaption from the unsurprisingly hilarious but surprisingly poignant novel about the making of The Room, the infamously best worst movie ever made, but is really about the friendship between its crazy maker Tommy Wiseau and his co-star Greg Sestero. Produced by Seth Rogan and directed by James Franco (who with his directing record doesn’t scream hope), but with a screenplay adapted by Scott Neustadter and Michael H. Weber, the screenwriters behind The Fault in Our Stars, The Spectacular Now, and 500 Days of Summer, I became far less worried. And that was before the all-star cast started flocking to it like moths to an eccentric flame. James Franco of course is taking the role of Mr Wiseau himself, and his little brother Dave is Greg, but as well as them; Seth Rogan, Zac Efron, Alison Brie, Sharon Stone, Josh Hutcherson, and Bryan fucking Cranston, are also co-starring. With such a shockingly A-list cast, we can only hope they’ve all gathered because of the strength of the script and talent involved, and nothing less. If Franco can make this even half as good as the novel, this could be one of the best films of 2016.

 

The Nice Guys: May 20

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If my look at Shane Black’s Kiss Kiss Bang Bang didn’t give it away, I love Shane Black when he does buddy movies. So it’s great to see him return with what looks like a spiritual sequel (or prequel) to that, with this 70s set dark comedy crime thriller that brings us the inspired pairing of Russell Crowe and Ryan Gosling; an enforcer and hapless private eye who team up to find a missing girl and solve the murder of a porn star…how can you not be stoked for that! So let the guilty violence and laughs commence!

 

 

 

 

Moana: November 23

moana-poster-conceitual-camundongoDisney’s next animated film after the disappointing Big Hero 6 (and fuck you it wasn’t that good) brought to us by the directing duo behind some of Disney’s greatest films (Aladdin, The Little Mermaid, Treasure Planet) and will follow an ancient Oceania tribal girl as she searches the South Pacific for a fabled island, helped by a demi-god voiced by Dwayne Johnson. Don’t know much beyond that, but with the talent involved we can but hope for another Disney classic, or at least something up there with Tangled and Frozen.

 

 

 

kuboKubo and the two strings: August 19

 

But this is the animated film I’m looking forward to most in 2016! Brought to us by the same team and studio behind the stop-motion masterpieces Coraline and ParaNorman, comes this action fantasy set in ancient Japan about a teenager fighting demons and searching for the magic armor his legendary samurai father once wore….it’s a STOP MOTION ANIME! I MEAN…how can you not be wetting yourself at the awesomeness of that! And with an all-star cast, the talent behind the scenes, and the recent trailer for it, all we can do now is wait and hope.

La La Land: July 15

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A musical dramedy about the romance between a jazz pianist played by Ryan Gosling, and an actress played by Emma Stone, and J.K. Simmons is in it too. Really the only reason this has made the list is that its writer and director Damien Chazelle’s follow up to his jaw-breakingly great Whiplash. Whether he’ll be able to live up to that will have to be seen, but I find it a good sign he appears to be going for a very different vibe for this film.

 

 

High-Rise: March 18High_Rise_2014_Film_Poster

The new and probably highest profile film from the bizarre director of Sightseers, A Field in England, and Kill List (the only of his films I have seen), Ben Wheatley; and stars Tom Hiddleston as the newest resident in a self-contained block of highrise apartments with a vicious classiest system, in this dark comedy Sci-fi thriller…or something like that. Co-starring Jeremy Irons and Elisabeth Moss, there is still a bit of mystery about this film, for all those who haven’t read the books it’s adapted from, as the advertisement has done a good job in being vague on plot but specific on tone and style. And with early release reviews beginning to come in I’m seeing almost equal people calling it a failed attempt at something grand, or hailing it as a masterpiece. So I’m glad its release date isn’t too far into this year, before we get a chance to judge for ourselves whether Mr Hiddleston has been using his Marvel down time on worthy projects.

Live by Night: October 7

2E0BBB1A00000578-3300941-image-a-62_1446500565850Ben Affleck finally took a break from acting to get back to his much more interesting career as a director, with this follow up to Argo. Adapted from another Dennis Lehane novel like his first and best film Gone Baby Gone, it’s a period crime thriller that follows the prodigal son of a police captain as he becomes a bootlegger and later a gangster legend. Again here because of the director and writer’s track record, he’s currently three for three on great thrillers, and I doubt Affleck’s in a hurry to break the streak; especially with his next directorial project being the first solo Batman film in the new DCCU. And that’s before mentioning that Mr Leonardo Dicaprio has taken on a producer hat for it.

Of course these are only vague predictions on what will be some of the best films in the coming year, as we all know that best films tent to come out of nowhere with a sharp left hook, not let us see it coming from months away.