Sunday, February 12, 2017

Theatrical Review: 50 Shades Darker

Image result for 50 shades darker
 
Date: Saturday February 11 2017
Time: 1:30pm
Party: 2 (my mom and I)
 
Director: James Foley (I looked it up and he is the same James Foley who almost directed purple rain- he turned it down and suggested Al Magnoli who went on to do an amazing job with it)
Writers: EL James (novel), Niall Leonard (screenplay) (fun fact: they're married! mind=blown)
Composer: Danny Elfman
 
Cast:
Anastasia Steele- Dakota Johnson
Christian Grey- Jamie Dornan
Jack Hyde- Eric Johnson
Elena Lincoln (aka Mrs. Robinson)- Kim Basinger
Leila- Bella Heathcote (Victora in Tim Burton's "Dark Shadows")
Elliot Grey- Luke Grimes
Mia Grey- Rita Ora
Taylor- Mark Martini
Jose- Victor Rasuk
Kate Kavanaugh- Eloise Mumford
Dr. Grace Gray- Marcia Gay Harden
 
Duration: 118 minutes (+3 trailers)

Write-up:
my review of the original movie for those who are interested... then maybe you'll get an idea of what kind of review is about to follow
Opening comments 
 
I still can't believe how excited I was about this movie and waited 2 years practically counting the days for it. It seriously has to be the guiltiest guilty pleasure ever for me. I should not like it as much as I do.
Of the books it was my favorite in the trilogy just because Christian wasn't as daunting and abusive although he still had his typical control freak moments.
The theater has way more people than the first one did. (A good metaphor for the crowd size: think of it like the mathelete championship in "Mean Girls"). At least 3 couples in their mid to late 20s maybe older. I said last time there was only 2 other people in the theater and they wouldn't have been there if they had anything better to do cuz they weren't terribly into it. [I think both days were particularly rainy ones].
 
The more I watched the movie and it was maybe 3-4 times since (still need to get the DVD back from my aunt- don't know if she even saw it yet- I'd seen it once or twice on HBO for the heck of it) I disliked Christian more. But I still liked it for some odd reason. And of course it gave me 2 great songs. "Love me like you do" especially. I'm using it in my latest figure skating montage. Not because I have those strong romantic feelings for the skater in question but because his skating fits the timing of the music so well- I couldn't not do it. (Hopefully will post it to YouTube soon).
Trailers 
It's kinda lame when they show the same trailers for movies a couple trips in a row. Saw "Julieta" (I tried to look it up online and couldn't find it... but I found out I was googling the wrong name... the lesbian relationship is the daughter and her friend and she's estranged with her mother because she's afraid her sexuality led to her father's death- like God was punishing her)..
Then "love and friendship"(which is based on a Jane Austen novel and looks like a fun thing to get on DVD for a rainy day- when/if it hits DVD it just said coming soon).
Then there was "Amityville Awakening"- why the hell do they have to keep making these movies? And why is this in 50 shades? Is this movie so genre-less and random that they don't know what to lump in with it?

Ok moving on...
 
The Main Event 
(I see a patten developing- I might keep doing that heading for my movie reviews).
 
So the movie picks up exactly where the book said it would- we have a Christian Grey flashback and we catch up with Anastasia Steele 5 days or so after she ran out of the red room. She's got her life together with a brand new job in the publishing industry. Things are good but she does seem kinda miserable at times- for only one conceivable (although not necessarily believable) reason. 
Christian shows up at her friend Jose's photography show and asks to "renegotiate terms." And much of the movie is about that. Anastasia and Christian figuring out their relationship and what they're willing to give the other.
Add in a few chance encounters with Mrs. Robinson, Anastasia's boss Jack Hyde and Christian's ex submissive Leila stalking her and just about anything can happen.

Book to Movie Adaptation I'll add this in briefly (I actually wrote most of this post on my iPhone because I didn't want to be stuck behind a computer screen yesterday).
Again, another really good book-to-movie adaptation. But anything that erases Anastasia's "inner goddess" monologue is a huge plus in my book (I think this was the book that combined gymnastics and figure skating terms in one metaphor... just no!).
The storyline follows just about the same way. But obviously there's a scene or two that Anastasia isn't physically in that helps bring more to the story. One of which I was very skeptical about in the book and seeing the visual made me believe it actually happened.

Then after posting this, I forgot a couple things I wanted to address.

First, there's a certain sex toy that comes into play in the movie. One that Anastasia was a fan of... but the discrepancy is that in the movie, she was seeing them for the first time. Whereas in the books, they were first introduced to her in the first book and they make a comeback going to the masquerade ball and she's eager to use them again. [A couple silver balls connected by a chain that- to quote the movie- "don't go up your butt"].

And at the final scene where there's another huge party (this time for Christian's birthday), Kate somehow finds the original contract about Christian's "master & servant" arrangement and Anastasia talks her out of confronting him about it.

That was actually a great touch in the book because it seems like Christian has so much control over Anastasia, isolating her from everyone else in her life. And he was finally going to be held accountable. In the movie, Kate and Elliot spent most of the time away on vacation and communicating via Skype. Almost like Christian had Elliot frisk Kate away on this trip so he could have time alone with Anastasia to get her back... but he left out the part that she broke up with him.
Yeah, that second party was already crazy enough with that all-too brief Mrs. Robinson/Dr. Gray cat fight. [Also kinda funny in an odd way how Kate is so fixated on Anastasia losing her virginity in the first movie yet here she's only concerned that she's happy]

Other commentary

For starters the movie was better than the first one. There's the same amount of sex scenes (counting the ones fully fleshed out- yeah that innuendo was impossible to avoid- if you add the scenes where they're making out and in the next they're in bed covered up with blankets then it's twice the amount of the original). 
I mean I'm still a virgin and nothing has really changed between this movie and the last one from a maturity perspective. But at the same time- the sex scenes were very vanilla for the most part- so they weren't as intimidating as the last movie- but they were actually kinda boring because the first two were in the same position. Going from that perspective alone though just talking sex- the one masquerade ball was the hottest. (It boggles my mind how people can go somewhere during a party, hook up and return to the party. It seems exhausting. I wouldn't have the confidence, let alone the stamina for that).
 
Sex aside... I spent the first 10 minutes of the movie on edge about Christian coming back into Anastasia's life and if she'd be able to handle him. The first few times they were alone together I'm thinking "don't have sex with him"- because that would be okaying him to have his way with her again and just erasing her free will cuz she can't help herself around him. But I give her credit for not compromising right away and even though she did give him some free passes, she at least made him work for it. She also had some good burns on him. One went like "you can't use sex to solve this" (got a laugh from the audience- cuz that's kinda their relationship) and after he tried to take her the same salon he took all his past submissives to and he tried to explain how she's different than the others she says something "yeah I'm so special you tried to take me to the same salon as your other submissives."
As for the other characters, they certainly made things interesting. Like Mrs. Robinson- she's so cordial with everyone else but when she's alone with Anastasia she's such a bitch- putting the idea in her head that she can't give him everything he needs and she isn't good enough. Easy to say for someone who took advantage of him as a teenager and turned him into the sex freak he became. (Yeah it is kinda impossible to review this movie without taking about sex- even in general terms cuz it is the plot and character development).
I cheered at the end of the movie when Christian's mom bitch slapped her when she overhears a certain conversation.
Taking a moment aside from the new characters it was great seeing more of Marcia Gay Harden in this. Since the release of the first movie, "Code Black" has kinda made her a fixture in our house and it brought a sense of comfort. Especially during a scene late in the movie where there's a family crisis.
Rita Ora also gets a little extra screen time as Mia. But I didn't really feel a connection to her cuz the blonde hair was such a random aesthetic change. She was at the masquerade ball and I thought she was Anastasia's friend Kate. Same exact hairstyle. She's not nearly as fun to be around as Alice (the "Twilight" character she's supposedly based on).
Jack Hyde I liked at first. Seemed like a good guy who was very open to Anastasia's opinions. But when he finds about her and Christian, it gets intense. Anastasia taking care of him was another "hell yeah" moment but a bunch of us just said "oh!!" when she did what she did. (Nothing excessive- just enough to get away- in the book she said her mom's 2nd husband taught her special defense... maybe moves she should have maybe used on Christian but won't).
Then Leila- her storyline was just sad and kinda intense- how it all is developed and resolves. I just found it weird we see her stalking for several moments early in the movie and she disappears until we completely forget about her and there's a dramatic confrontation.
My opinion on Jamie Doran hasn't really changed. I'm less intimidated but I'm still not head over heels. With Christian Grey, it's kinda hard to be. (There's a moment coming up in the last movie that I'm not looking forward to because in the book he was so loathsome I wanted to beat the shit out of him).
Dakota Johnson is still great. If she wasn't, I wouldn't be as engaged in these movies as I am. I go through the events of the plot through her. Although once or twice there was slight disconnect. There was one point in the movie I was actually bored but it lasted all of 10 seconds. (And no- it wasn't a sex scene that fixed that- I think it came either before the confrontation or the crisis).
Music and directing

It was a little grittier at points with the change in directing, but it wasn't distinct enough for me to say much more with this script. (If "Purple Rain" had him directing with Vanity still playing the love interest- it'd be a little more intense. It'd be interesting if both versions of that movie actually existed so I could compare them- but I also hadn't watched the one and only version since Prince died so it's a moot point). 
Danny Elfman did the score but it's kinda hard to pick that out when it's not in a Tim Burton movie.
I'm doing the music subheading because of the Zayn/Taylor Swift duet that's been on the radio for a month. It appears in the scene where Anastasia and Christian are on the sailboat. And also the end credits. I didn't really love the song but it grew me when I found it at home- the movie it was created for. It was because of it that I saw a post credits preview of the next movie- which will be out next year. I heard they were filmed back to back but didn't think it'd be that soon. I had to wait 2 years for this one. And it was definitely worth the wait.

Grade: A-
(I had an A yesterday on my iPhone and changed it to A-. I thought a bit about how one or two moments were unintentionally funny and a movie like this, you can't really rate too high. But dammit, we had fun with it for what it was. I gave the original a B+.)
 

Theatrical Review: La La Land

Date: Saturday January 28 2016
Time: 1:10pm
Party: 3 (my mom, sister and I)

Writer/Director: Damian Chazelle (of "Whiplash" fame... I still don't want to see that movie)
Composer: Justin Hurwitz (also of "Whiplash" fame- you know how directors like to work with the same composers a lot of the time)


Duration: 2 hours and 8 minutes (+3 trailers)

Cast:
Sebastian- Ryan Gosling

Mia- Emma Stone
Keith- John Legend
JK Simmons

Awards and Nominations [as of January 28th]:
GOLDEN GLOBE- Best picture (comedy/musical)
GOLDEN GLOBE- Best comedy/musical actor- Ryan Gosling (still think it should've been Ryan Reynolds- but it was one of the best moments of a kinda unpleasant Golden Globes... Meryl Streep's speech pretty much ruined it]

GOLDEN GLOBE- Best comedy/musical actress- Emma Stone
GOLDEN GLOBE- Best Director- Damian Chazelle
GOLDEN GLOBE- Best Screenplay- Damian Chazelle
GOLDEN GLOBE- Best Original Score- Justin Hurwitz
GOLDEN GLOBE- Best Original Song-
nomination-OSCAR- Best Picture

nomination-OSCAR- Best Actor- Ryan Gosling
nomination-OSCAR- Best Actress- Emma Stone
nomination-OSCAR- Best Director- Damian Chazelle
nomination-OSCAR- Best Cinematography
nomination-OSCAR- Best Costume
nomination-OSCAR- Best Film Editing
nominations-OSCAR- Best Song- "City of Stars" and "Audition (The Fools Who Dream)"
nomination-OSCAR- Best Production Design (used to be called "Art Direction")
nomination-OSCAR- Best Sound Editing
nomination-OSCAR- Best Sound Mixing
nomination-OSCAR- Best Original Screenplay- Damian Chazelle
nomination-OSCAR- Best Original Score- Justin Hurwitz


Write-up:


Introduction

It's been a LONG time since we've gone to the movies to see an award nominated film upon knowing it was nominated for a Best Picture Oscar. The last time was when "Les Miz" came out. Once I got lucky and saw "The King's Speech" and "The Artist" and both of them won Best Picture. Both were at the downtown community theater and both happened to be Weinstein Company films. ("The King's Speech"- we saw the day OF the Oscars. But after seeing "The Social Network," I kinda wished Jesse Eisenberg and "The Social Network" won Oscars instead of "The King's Speech" and Colin Firth... just so the Oscars can go non-traditional for a change).

Anyway... "La La Land" swept all the Golden Globes they were nominated for. Best Actor and Actress, Best Director, Screenplay, Score, Original Song, and of course, "Best Comedy/Musical"... one much more worthy of the category than "The Martian"... yeah, we're not letting that one go anytime soon :P I will have to review that at some point because I did enjoy that one a lot.


Trailers

I found it kinda interesting that all three trailers were for female-forward movies.

The first was "Certain Women" starring Laura Dern and Kristen Stewart. An IFC film that is running the festival circuit. I don't really know what to make of what it's about.
Next- "Julieta"- which was foreign language, maybe French or Greek. I couldn't tell, but it looked like it was about a same sex female couple. Why that garnered an R rating, it's hard to tell from the trailer. But the context seemed weird... almost like it was a mother falling in love with her daughter.
Then there was this Amazon series "Love & Friendship" based on the Jane Austen novel. It looks like something I'd like to watch if it ever came out on DVD. (We don't do Netlfix, Amazon or streaming in our house... except the occasional YouTube and Hulu).


The Main Event

We get to know our two stars pretty well early on in the movie.

We learn that Mia (Emma Stone) is a struggling actress trying to make it into the business  and Sebastian (Ryan Gosling) is trying to break through in his own business-- jazz music.

The two of them meet in a rocky place (a traffic jam of all things... neither of them are in that opening dance number at all for whatever reason), bump into each other randomly a couple other times, and somehow they get together.
Then things start to happen in their careers, more ups and downs, their relationship is tested... we have our typical Hollywood romance with all the trimmings and some musical numbers thrown in to keep up the heart rate.

Characters and Actors

This is the third time these two have been cast together in a movie and were romantically involved. It's great for the actors, of course, to go in knowing each other this well, so they don't need to work on their chemistry too much. Although at first, I didn't really feel that chemistry. I didn't buy into them as a couple. Maybe because he was a little unlikeable at first. But when they had their stumbles, I just wanted so badly for them to stay together.

I'm still teary-eyed thinking about it, but that's not the only reason why I was a complete mess when the movie ended.

I really hadn't seen much of Ryan Gosling. I think he was in "The Big Short" (which I kinda don't remember much of because it was so damn hard to follow). I saw "The Notebook" just like everyone else (but it was such a tearjerker that it was hard to forget what he and Rachel McAdams brought to the movie). And I saw him with Emma Stone in "Crazy, Stupid, Love." I liked him a lot in that movie (but the movie went downhill when the truth came out... that Steve Carell is her dad and suddenly he's not jazzed about them as a couple).

Yikes... I guess I have a problem with a lot of Ryan Gosling movies, but it's not entirely his fault. It's just how they're written.
Sebastian is an interesting character for him, something a little different. I read an article about he's one of those characters who are so into music and their playing and composing that the rest of their life kinda suffers because it's life vs. art and choosing one over the other. He had some comments on jazz that had me thinking about the genre like I never had before. I mean, Prince did some great jazz and "The Rainbow Children" has some great jazz aspects to it, but the overall message of the lyrics gets in the way of that.

All Mia had to go by at this point with jazz music is Kenny G and elevator music. But Sebastian takes her to a club with some really good jazz musicians and shows her how it's supposed to sound.
It's also a little ironic, considering the way his career eventually does take off.

Mia is the girl that all of us can relate to. She wants so badly to make her dream a reality, but keeps hitting all these stumbles. Lots of auditions that just don't go anywhere. Then she's caught in this whirlwind romance with Sebastian, who she leaves her current boyfriend for (why they had to write she was already in a relationship really made no sense).
Of course, Emma Stone I've loved since "Easy A" and this is another shining moment for her. Particularly her final audition where she sings "Audition (The Fools Who Dream)."

Music and Sound

From the get-go, I knew I was going to be excited about this movie. The opening traffic dance scene was parodied on the opening of the "Golden Globes" (that nobody liked for whatever reason... we all thought it was great). I think anyone who's been stuck in traffic in LA wished that something like that happened if only as a way to pass the time.

The music was so great and there were so many great songs. I almost want to run out and buy the soundtrack.
Another bit of irony: the music sorta helped make up for a technical issue we kept having.

I don't know what was going on with our particular theater that day, but the sound kept having problems. The volume on the voices was quiet and, even worse, muddled. We were in a theater with maybe half a dozen other people (all older than the age of 50) and they took turns going to the concession stand to get someone to fix the sound.
After a while, it just got exhausting to mentally try to stay engaged in the movie and keep track of what was going on. Again, it's lucky that there was a lot of music, so there was less dialogue, but that excuse could only go on for so long.

For the record, the sound started out muddled in the trailers and we had to get it fixed at least 4 times.

Maybe that's why I didn't like "City of Stars" so much. It was hard to hear it, but compared to some of the other numbers, it didn't get me particularly excited. Maybe I was too busy thinking about how unfair it is that this movie got two songs nominated for Oscars. Obviously, they can't both win.

Additional Comments and Spoilers

Yeah, what really got me was that the movie just had a sad ending....

All the movies do this where things are so great for a couple in a romance, but then it all falls apart and the rest of the movie kinda does. Emma Stone helped me get me through it because I wanted to see how her character fared and how her one-woman show (that her relationship with Sebastian inspired her to write-- since it was something she used to do as a kid).

Why is it that people who both are in the entertainment business never stay together? That seems true in real life as well. Nearly every notable Hollywood couple has broken up after long marriages (Robert Downey Jr.'s seems the safest in this aspect because his wife isn't an actress, she's a movie producer and a damn good one).

Anyway... I think I'm going to be mad at John Legend for a while because it was his fault that our protagonists broke up.
Granted, Mia pushed Sebastian to consider the proposal from Keith (his character's name) to join his jazz band. But then they have some stupid fight about it. He's going on tour with them and he misconstrues her comments. She asks if this is something he really wants because the music isn't exactly the kind he introduced her two. He thinks she's saying that she was happier when he was struggling like her because it made her feel better about herself.

We see one performance of it and she seems taken aback by it. It starts out kinda cool and such, but then it just gets way too big and flashy. It teeters more towards R&B than jazz and Sebastian seems like he's in the background more than being part of this team. (At least when he was part of an 80's cover band-- not a bad one by any means-- he could walk away after a couple gigs with no problem).

I would have preferred to see Mia's one-woman show performance than that. We never get to see it, which I was disappointed about. I didn't even know what it was about.

Back to the positive... Mandy Moore did some really great choreography for this movie and I loved the fantasy aspect of it.

A couple of cool little parts: Emma goes by a mural on the jazz club where she sees Sebastian perform for the first time. On it, it had a bunch of old Hollywood stars sitting in theater. Among them, Charlie Chaplin, Marilyn Monroe and James Dean. And there are a few nice references to "Rebel without a Cause" including the movie itself and the two stars going to the actual planetarium from the movie.

I think I'll be getting this movie on DVD as soon as it comes out. Possibly the soundtrack as well. And I'm going to watch it a bunch of times.
Either way, it'll be nice to be able to hear the entire movie without interruption.


How Many Oscars?


I don't see them running away with every award, not counting the whole bit about them having two songs nominated.
The film editing had a few rough patches for me that I didn't like. They show place cards saying the names of the season we're in, but they came about abruptly some of them.

I want badly for Emma Stone to win Best Actress, but considering who she's up again (Meryl Streep doesn't always win... but maybe with her Golden Globes speech they might give her another trophy so she'll have another soapbox moment none of us in my house want to hear again), it's not likely.
Ryan Gosling isn't a shoe-in for best actor either. I see Casey Affleck as a more likely candidate and Denzel, you can never count out.

So I think they'll get at least 10. Take away the acting categories, one song and probably costume (they were nothing out of the ordinary, I don't think).
I want it to win Best Picture simply because I saw it. I go to a movie that's nominated, of course I want it to win. But I wanted to see this even before all the accolades came out. I just heard whispers about it being a great tribute to old Hollywood musicals with a modern twist.

Grade: A
(despite what Saturday Night Live said, the movie was kinda slow in the middle and the ending... even then, I don't think I'd give this a perfect A+).

Odd Side-Note

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=5R4T0Nc4jig

It's hard for me to hear "La La Land" without thinking about this song by Jax from "American Idol." Her finishing third was one of the most crushing moments I experienced on the show. She'd gone through so much since then, including a bout with thyroid cancer, but she's doing much better now. She also released an EP that I should at least listen to on iTunes.

Saturday, January 7, 2017

Theatrical Review: Sing

Date: Saturday, January 7 2017
Time: 2:00pm
Party: 3 (my mom and sister)

Directors: Garth Jennings and Christophe Lourdelet
Writer: Garth Jennings (directed "Hitchhiker's guide to the galaxy")

Cast
Buster Moon- Matthew McConaughey
Eddie- John C Reilly
Mike- Seth MacFarlane
Rosita- Reese Witherspoon
Gunter- Nick Kroll
Norman- Nick Offerman
Ash- Scarlett Johansson

Lance- Beck Bennett
Johnny- Taron Egerton
Nana Noodleman- Jennifer Saunders
Miss Crawley- Garth Jennings (also did the voice of Bean's Son in "Fantastic Mr. Fox")

Meena- Tori Kelly
Meena's grandfather- Jay Pharaoh
Meena's mom- Leslie Jones
Judith the banker- Rhea Perlman

Duration: 108 minutes (+3 trailers and a number of commercials per the usual)

Opening Comments:

First movie of the year! I was hoping to catch it at the end of last year, but we went away the last week and I didn't have a time otherwise to go.
The theater had a decent amount of people, most between the age of 7 and 10. Not bad for a movie that came up two weeks ago... was it really Christmas two weeks ago tomorrow?

Front & Center:

This is the segment they sometimes show before movies for those who get to the theater early. They show behind-the-scenes of some upcoming movies.
The second of the two got its own full length trailer later on.
But the first- I have to address.

NERD ALERT!!!
Apparently, they are releasing a new Yu-Gi-Oh! movie in theaters in 10 days. Where Yugi looks like he'll be tested once again with a new villain and considering the end of the animated series, he might not have the assistance of the Pharaoh from the Millennium puzzle this time. And of course Seto Kaiba returns to find away to regain his dignity... he never quite got it back after the first time Yugi beat him with Exodia (short version: it's a 5 card combination that gives the player who uses it an automatic win).

Anyway... why I'm bringing extra special attention to this... aside from just another chance to have a great time with one of my favorite animé series... they introduced it by showing the voice actors. For the first time, I saw Dan Green (who also did Mewtwo in "Mewtwo Returns" and Entei in "Pokémon: Spell of the Unown) and Eric Stuart (who also did Brock and James in Pokémon). I had a full-on fangasm (or nerdgasm... I think the terms might be interchangeable) seeing these guys in the flesh and that high rose with all the effects, seeing the characters again and how much they talk about how they love their characters.
This is why I love English dub voice actors- they really love their job. Every now and then, Veronica Taylor will tweet or answer someone's tweet about how much she'd love to play Ash again. If only the Pokémon casting people would listen...

I'm sorry :P I'll tack on a "nerd alert" at the top of this...although it was kinda funny to hear my mom's reaction to my sister and mine's reaction to this news... if we can't see in theaters (where it's sure to be amazing), we'll get it on DVD as soon as it comes out.

Okay, now for the actual trailers...

THE ACTUAL TRAILERS

The first (that I waited to talk about) was for "A Dog's Purpose." The behind the scenes special had the actors from the movie talking about the dogs they owned in the movie as well as their own dogs in real life.
I mean, any movie with a beloved pet has the potential to be a tearjerker. "Marley & Me"... forget it... but there's a bit of safety net here because the movie is about a dog and how it lives many different lives in different forms and with different people. He starts out as a retriever and later becomes a German Shepard, Corgi, etc. Josh Gad (Olaf from "Frozen" does his voice) and Dennis Quaid plays the grown-up version of the dog's first owner, Ethan.

I think it's based on a James Patterson book [nope, author's name is W Bruce Cameron] and it looks like a good movie. And I'm sure my dog will love it when it premieres on HBO (he runs up to the TV and whines/barks when he sees another dog on screen).

Second... Boss Baby... we saw the posters for it at this theater and seeing it in full... it just looks so stupid. Animated movie about a kid's new baby brother who happens to be a secret agent or something... I don't know... I don't really care. Alec Baldwin is the baby. Even if Bruce Willis did his voice, there's no saving this movie.

Third... it has been such a long time since I had this much fun during a movie trailer. Fun from start to finish. "Despicable Me 3" shows Gru and Lucy up against a new villain who has retro fashion sense and killer taste in music.
When he goes off to pull a job, "Bad" by Michael Jackson starts to play. I'm dancing in my seat, having a good time. And he does this heist on a ship encasing all the shipmates in giant balls of bubble game. Gru gets on the ship and the music temporarily changes to "Sussudio" when they get into an altercation.
Such hilarity happens in this trailer... I can't even remember when the darn thing is supposed to be released... but I'm super excited for it already.

2017 is already full of so many great possibilities. Now onto the actual movie...


The Actual Movie

yeah... I couldn't resist keeping that theme again...

Buster Moon is a koala who owns a theater and it's in financial trouble. It used to be known for these great stage shows and dramas. But he gets the idea to hold a singing competition to save it. It was handed down to him by his father and he loves it more than anything. You'd think going in that he'd be in this just for himself and he has a lot of silly suggestions for some of the contenders, but he offers them a lot of support, which is nice to see.
Hard to believe McConaughey is doing this when he has an Oscar that made him so expensive that the "Magic Mike" sequel couldn't afford him. But he must have really wanted to do this movie.

The singing competition meanwhile gives opportunity to a great cast of characters we get to know throughout the movie. They're all dissatisfied with things going on in their lives and this is their way of changing that.

Because Reese Witherspoon gets 2nd billing, it's hard not to talk about Rosita first. She's a pig with a husband and 25 kids. She is run-down and feels underappreciated. In the competition, she was assigned a partner because she wasn't deemed strong enough by herself. When she can't find a babysitter or get her husband to help her out (he's busy working a job he doesn't really like), she puts together this crazy contraption that gets everyone up and fed and laundry done and put to bed. Just... no way... but somehow, it works.
Gunter... throughout the trailers, I thought he was her husband and that she was unhappy about being overshadowed by him, that he thinks he's more important than her. But Gunter really just a flamboyant pig that looks more like he'd be better for a dancing competition. He's got a lot of Spanish flair with somewhat of a delusional ego to match. Over time, though, he got a little less annoying and he really did care about Rosita as much as them putting on a good show together.

Ash is a porcupine who auditioned with her boyfriend Lance. They're kinda of a grunge rock band who were having trouble breaking through. Ash is the only one who gets through in the audition and it puts a damper on their relationship. Buster Moon wants her to do cheesy pop songs like "Call Me Maybe," but after she gets out on her own, she puts together a really good original song called "Set It Free." I think it's even nominated for a Golden Globe. [nope, that was "Faith"- the song played at the end of the movie].
"Set it Free" was still pretty awesome.
Scarlet Johansson totally rocks it.

From the audition trailers, you get familiar with a lot of the characters. But most of them didn't make the final cut. Only maybe 5 of them.
One of the ones that got the most buzz was Meena the elephant played Tori Kelly. She's gotten a bit of notoriety over the past couple years. After she was dismissed from American Idol season 9 in Hollywood week, several years later, she finally somehow got together with the right studio and press team and her career exploded in the best way.
And of course people like Lyndsey Parker will roll their eyes whenever "American Idol" tries to claim ownership for her YEARS after she was dismissed before she could make the top 10.

It was so long ago, I didn't remember her at all. But I often don't with those who don't make the top 10. Plus Season 9 was mostly forgettable.

Meena's deal is that she has a huge voice, but she's too shy to get up on use it. She fumbles her audition, winds up working as a stagehand for Buster Moon and gets a spot when a couple acts get quit or get injured.

Don't know why I remember this, but one team that quit was three frogs. Buster Moon walks past them into the theater as they're leaving and one says how they called him "an intolerable egomaniac" and stops away moaning "I don't even know what that means!"

To quote Yoda: "and that is why you fail..."

For a while, there was also a running gag with these five little Chinese pandas who do this cutesy K-Pop act and can't get the hint that they didn't move on to the next round. And of course when he tries to translate what he wants to see with a book, he says the wrong thing.
I kinda saw that coming after what happened with Gru in the first "Despicable Me,' although it took awhile for his mistranslation to be found out.

Of the group, one I liked the least was Mike, this mouse who we first see on the street playing a saxophone and hustling a guy when he gives him a penny for a tip. He's good with the Frank Sinatra type stuff he does, but he is just mean to a lot of the other characters. Now he was an egomaniac. Finding out he was Seth MacFarland's character in this... I should have guessed... he doesn't even have to try to be unlikeable sometimes. He also impacts the plot in multiple ways, but also gets some karma coming back at him to balance the scales of justice a bit.

I like a lot of the characters, so I can't just say that Johnny the gorilla is my favorite. He's just one of them. Everyone but Mike is pretty darn likeable.
Johnny's family likes to pull robberies and heists and he wants more than that. In one job, he's their getaway driver, but considering he's up against rehearsal... you can kinda see where this is going.
But it's great that he earns his dad's respect back when he sees him perform.
In the trailers, I thought for sure Ed Sheeran was doing his voice because he had a British accent. But he didn't... which kinda sucks... I mean, the movie is called "Sing" and they played the Ed Sheeran song in their trailers... he should've been in the cast or they should've at least played his song somewhere in it.

A couple of scene-stealers: Miss Crawly, Buster Moon's chameleon assistant with a glass eye she keeps losing. Hard to believe the writer/director of this, a dude, did her voice (although Brad Bird did do a female character in "The Incredibles" so it's not too outside the box). She has a bit of dry sense of humor that's a little left of center, but she was great.
And Nana Noodleman- she was an old star of the theater. Who happens to be the grandmother of Buster Moon's friend Eddie. He spends part of the movie trying to convince her to help finance the future of the theater. Jennifer Hudson did her voice in the beginning where we see her singing.

I've seen a lot of serious and dramatic movies lately, so I thought this would be a nice change of pace. There were moments in the beginning with the writing came off as cheesy without a lot of thought really put into it. But they more than made up for it as the movie progressed. It follows that typical pattern movies follow where they introduce characters and their quirks and struggles. Something big and dramatic happens halfway through that almost derails the whole thing, but we get a happy ending after all.

The final half hour where everyone performs... it isn't just the best part worth sitting through the movie for. But seeing everyone come together and supporting each other and stuff... and of course the power of music in general. I was super stoked and loving every minute of it. I actually was thinking about seeing it the next time and spending more time with these characters. If you're not invested from the beginning, at least one of them will grow on you over time. I have no doubt of that.

The trailer did it justice where you know what to expect going on in. But as it progresses, you get a lot more than you expect. And that's pretty cool.

Grade: A

Saturday, December 31, 2016

2016 in movies [that I saw] and lives we lost

What a crazy year it's been... and within the next 3 hours and 15 minutes, it'll be all over. I've got some plans for my Prince blog (and maybe some podcasting) in 2017. And here's hoping it'll be a better year.

Particularly with fewer significant celebrity deaths...

But first, the movies.

I went through all the movies I saw this year and it wasn't many. Only 56. And like last year, it looks like only a dozen movies in the theaters. Back then, I ranked them from 12 to 1.

Kung Fu Panda 3
Allegiant
Captain America: Civil War
Now You See Me 2
Finding Dory
Ghostbusters (the remake)
Kubo and the Two Strings
The Magnificent Seven
Doctor Strange
Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them
Moana
Rogue One

I don't know if I feel like ranking them. Most of them aren't even fresh in my memory.

One thing I noticed: I saw a lot of animated movies this year. All because my sister wanted to see most of them.
If all of them are nominated for Best Animated Film, I think "Finding Dory" is most likely to win just because Pixar has a pretty strong grip on awards shows. Rarely does it come in and lose.

But "Kubo" shouldn't overlooked either. It might geared a little more towards an older audience (like teens and older), but it's unique in so many aspects. The animation for starters. Spectacular effects. The only thing that brings it down is the ending- kinda bittersweet.

"Moana" is also a good candidate. It's not as good as "Frozen," but it has a lot going for it. Great animation again. And surprisingly good voiceover work by Dwayne Johnson as Maui.

Of the three, I probably had the most fun with "Moana"... I mean when it ended, I wished it kept going or at least had more to it. There was so much drama between her and her family and I just wanted them to reacquaint with some good heartfelt dialogue.

"Kung Fu Panda 3"- it was a fun movie. A good note to start the year on.

The Ghostbusters remake was a theater trip by myself I won't soon forget. Especially since the theater people shut it off at a point cuz they didn't know I was in there watching it. By myself. Maybe I got the humor a bit more because I know these people from SNL and enjoy them there... every now and then.
I certainly see Kate McKinnon becoming more of a movie star as time goes by. She just needs more roles like this. And less of her impersonating other people.

If I'd rank any of these dead last, it'd be "Now You See Me 2"... the effects looked so cool in the trailers and the behind the scenes special. But I feel like maybe the critics got in my head and I became disillusioned the longer the magic tricks went on.

Between the two Marvel movies, I'd have to give the advantage to "Captain America" but only because I know the characters so well.
Plus the story was written better. "Doctor Strange" was still really well done with the acting and the effects. But the defeat of the villain was not well-played. It was like a running gag that ran out of steam after 90 seconds.

I also like how "Captain America" kinda helped the Marvel Universe come full circle with Captain America and Tony Stark's character arcs. Daniel Bruhl also made a really good villain.

I guess "Captain America: Civil War" was my favorite movie in the theater this year... all things considered.

"Rogue One" was a good addition to the Star Wars canon, and the action scenes were some of the best I'd seen in a while. But the slow scenes dragged on and I didn't care quite enough about the characters (not this time around anyway) to get invested.

"Fantastic Beasts" was a really good return to the magical world before Harry Potter. I just wish the action scenes weren't as intense and that they were easier to follow. I really did like Eddie Redmayne and Dan Fogler and their characters. If we see more of Newt Scamander in the future, I'm absolutely game for it.

"Allegiant" was also great. The Divergent series was really well done on the screen. It didn't vary too much from the books, although the books aren't in my current memory. I read through them a couple years ago.
It's just sad that the series might not get a proper ending. I mean, the ending of the books in general... it was heartbreaking. One of my favorite female protagonists in any of the books I read. I'm certainly more for Tris Prior than Katniss Everdeen- mostly because of the universes they're a part of. But I can relate more to Tris- I read the books and experienced all of these things with her. I hadn't felt that close to a narrator/protagonist since Bella Swan.

And I will go into more detail and discussion about Bella and the Twilight universe in the future. I know that series gets a lot of criticism, but Kristen Stewart's interpretation of this character has a lot to do with it. She's a lot stronger and braver than that emo version of her.

That just leaves me with "The Magnificent Seven." Overall, it was a mixed bag of experiences. It had some slow dragged out points, but it had characters I grew to care about. And a great variety of personalities. I'd probably watch it again a bunch of times. Whether or not I want to buy it, I'll have to see. Maybe when the price drops :P

So I guess... a top 5...I can't rank all 12.

1. Captain America: Civil War
2. Allegiant
3. The Magnificent Seven
4. Doctor Strange
5. Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them

As for movies I didn't see in theaters... there were a few stand-outs.
These aren't ranked, by the way.

1. The Imitation Game

I mean, everyone said this was Leo's year to win an Oscar. He finally got it. [Now let's campaign for Robert Downey Jr. to win... I'm gonna keep saying it until it happens..]

But Benedict Cumberbatch was really good in that. I didn't know much about this Alan Turing guy, but he was right in the interviews- he should be in the history books for breaking that unbreakable Nazi code. So sad what happened to him later in life- all because he was gay. Like all the good he did didn't mean anything anymore.
The guy was brilliant- and nobody could play him as well as Benedict Cumberbatch. He's really come into his own in the past couple years.
Although Eddie Redmayne was brilliant as Stephen Hawking.

2. Deadpool

Tonight, we're watching it for at least the 5th or 6th time this year. And we didn't even see it in theaters.
I think I already reviewed it here once. I say Ryan Reynolds is overrated because he's considered good-looking in Hollywood. But he has such a great wit and humor in this movie. Although it kinda helps to take his looks out of the equation.
It'll be a little bittersweet, though. There's Wham! references in this movie.

3. The Martian

If I got to my computer a lot sooner afterwards, I would have done a write-up on this. It's interesting how there was no villain in this movie aside from the harsh Martian environment. And it's still not quite a comedy. But Matt Damon was good. It's kinda crazy how he was managed to live on Mars that whole time he was marooned. Crazy that he was the one person who knew how to grow crops and such because he was a botanist (if it was Jessica Chastain instead, it'd be a much shorter movie... not hating on her acting at all. Her character just wasn't a botanist with insane ingenuity).

Plus- it's lucky he had that sense of humor or he wouldn't have lasted a week.

4. The King & I

I reviewed this one almost as soon as I saw because I liked it that much. It's the kind of movie you can't watch often because it's lengthy and that's kind of a big commitment. Not as big as "Dr. Zhivago," though.
Yul Brunner was so good in this role and it was interesting to see how Anna was able to stand up to him. And those sets and costumes were massive. They sure don't make 'em like that anymore

5. Straight Outta Compton

This was an interesting one for sure. After all the hype and outcries from the awards show critics, I got to see it on HBO. And it deserved something... They told a good story of true events, the characters were well-portrayed. And it was good seeing the other perspective on things.
Not to mention- I hate rap and hip-hop in general. And I liked the sound of the music they put out. The lyrics, not so much. They're very controversial in nature, but these songs were constructed a lot better than what hip-hop developed into.

6. Brooklyn

I got lost in the world of this movie, which is the biggest compliment I could pay. Saorise Ronan deserved an Oscar for this. She was amazing. Her character grows so strong in the face of adversity and change. That's inspiring in of itself.


7. How to Be Single

Dakota Johnson might be getting a bad rap just because she's playing Anastasia in the Fifty Shades movies... but I loved her in this movie and just this movie in general. It was so much fun, again, getting lost in the scene of this movie. And this was another female protagonist I could see myself in. With the exception that I hadn't experienced anything that they have.

Not yet anyway...


8. Race

Don't know why the critics didn't get behind this movie more. The guy who played Jesse Owens was so good. And it was nice to see Jason Sudekis do a good role for a change. Someone who wasn't an idiot or a loser.
It was interesting to see this part of history- before Hitler kinda took over Europe and how we were sticking it to him, but also playing by his rules some of the time.
Also interesting how some of it really did happen- like the moments between one of the German runners and Jesse Owens.


9. Hail, Caesar!

Maybe not the best movie of the bunch... but it's worth including because it was so certifiably nuts.
George Clooney plays a Kirk Douglas type character in a "Spartacus" type movie. But he gets kidnapped and is thrown in a house full of Communists. And Channing Tatum is hanging out with the Communists. And there's a suitcase that gets lost forever in a pretty hilarious fashion.
It's a Coen brothers movie... they did "Fargo"... it has that certain warped sense of humor. And I liked it more than a bunch of their movies. It is kinda slow in parts and I fell asleep once. But it felt an impression.
And one of the actors, I found out later, will be playing Han Solo in an origin story Star Wars movie. I didn't get him at first, but he grew on me over time. He started out as a western star, got thrown into some random movie being directed by Ralph Fiennes, and in a weird twist of fate, he's the one who saves George Clooney from the Communists.

In Memorium  [one day I'm gonna spell that right]

...I hope we never have another year like this again... Just lost way too many good people. I'll just list the ones that made the most impact for me. The ones that were personal or just the most shocking...


  1. David Bowie [I crank up the radio every time one of his songs comes on]
  2. Alan Rickman [Harry Potter movies will never be the same]
  3. Prince-- never forget!
  4. Muhammad Ali -- need I say more
  5. Anton Yelchin-- that was particularly tough one...
  6. Garry Marshall-- from Pretty Woman to Happy Days, we owe him a lot
  7. Gene Wilder-- I predicted when he died, it'd be sad... and it still is... still miss him
  8. Arnold Palmer-- been watching golf for nearly 20 years, but I didn't know much about this legend (other than his legendary status) until after he passed. Class act!
  9. Florence Henderson-- hard to believe, she'd been so alive these past couple years while she appeared on Dancing with the Stars
  10. John Glenn... sadly, one of two I said "they were still alive?" shortly before they died
  11. Kenny Baker [this didn't get a lot of public attention, I don't think, so I'm still kinda shocked he died]
  12. George Michael-- I'm still dealing with this one. I liked his music a lot, but I wasn't a mega fan... still going to miss him, though.
  13. Carrie Fisher... if anyone could have survived this year, we were all sure it'd be her... it's like Alderon was destroyed by the Death Star all over again...
  14. Debbie Reynolds [didn't know she was still alive either... and how she died was troubling and sad]
An article was recently released saying how 2006 was worse as far as celebrity deaths go...

I beg to differ. Prince took a piece of me with him when he died... and I'm fighting as hard as I can not to lose it forever.

At the very least, though... I saw Hall & Oates in concert this year because I felt like I might have regretted it if I didn't. I sure regret not trying to see Prince when he did the Welcome to America tour at the Meadowlands and Madison Square Garden in 2010. He never came to my neck of the woods to tour again...

Lady Gaga and Taylor Swift- my next opportunity to see either of them, I should probably take it... just in case... in this unpredictable world, you never know what to expect.

But I expect 2017 to be better.

Although there were some good things too... particularly in my professional life...

Oh and the Cubs won the World Series. That was pretty cool.

Christmas Nostalgia: Emmett Otter's Jugband Christmas (1977)

Mom surprised us this Christmas with a DVD version of this classic Jim Henson special and we watched it the other night.

So I'm gonna have to do write-up about it now. Not that this in anyway makes up for the fact I'd seldom posted on this blog these past few months except for when we've gone to the movies.

I said in my previous post how this was one of the Christmas specials we had on a recorded VHS and used to watch when we were kids.
And I was always kinda annoyed that my mom never let us sit through all of it in one sitting.
I mean, c'mon... all that Christmas goodness, why stop it?
Getting to the last two specials (Charlie Brown and Claymotion) was always a bit of a... I don't even know what word I want to use here... it wasn't easy to do. We'd get so far along, stop, and sometimes we just never got around to finishing and next year we'd be back at the start.

Anyway... trip down memory lane aside...
I had so many thoughts on this as I was watching, but I'll start with the craziest revelation that might not be so crazy...

Emmett Otter's special is universal in that it's good for all ages. And I found that I was getting a lot more out of it as an adult than I ever did as a kid.

This time around, for example, I was just marveling at the craftsmanship of the whole thing. Just looked it up and by the time this special was made (and apparently it was based on a book), Sesame Street and The Muppet Show were already in full swing.
So it's interesting to see marionette work at the forefront opposed to the muppets we got to know over the years.

I remember seeing this a few years ago, maybe on a home video VHS (that one of my aunts gave to us), and noticing the strings for the first time. I made a bit of a ruckus during Rudolph this year because our HD TV revealed strings I never knew were there. Not that totally ruins the illusion.

With this, I see strings with Emmett and his Ma and his friends. Moreso this time around, but the illusion isn't ruined at all. I find it endearing at certain points actually. Particularly where Emmett and Ma ride the slide onto the newly frozen lake. So cute to see them running and sliding around.

And the sets... just wow... in real life, all these buildings are probably so small, but they look so big on TV. And the way they're adorned, that's Christmas nostalgia right there.

I guess that means I need to get to the main story, then.

Emmett and his Ma, Alice, live in the town of Waterville. They get by doing odd jobs for neighbors like fixing things and doing laundry. They don't have a lot of money, but they always had each other. And a washtub, apparently.
It'll make sense later...

This year, both of them decide on their own that they really want to give the other a nice Christmas present, but they can't quite afford it. Alice wants to give Emmett a guitar they saw in a music store in town and Emmett wants to put a down payment on a piano for Ma. They had to sell it after Emmett's Pa died and they started struggling with money. Even though they were never rich with him being a snake oil salesman (haha- I didn't get that joke until a couple years ago- "there just aren't enough people who want to oil a snake").
And a local talent show presents the opportunity both of them want to take advantage of. But certain sacrifices need to be made...

This is sort of a take on "The Gift of the Magi," except that both of them sacrifice something that the other needs for their odd jobs.
Maybe 5-10 minutes after the two of them sing about not having a hole in the washtub... Emmett has to put a hole in it so he can play washtub bass in his friends' jugband. And Alice hocks Emmett's tool chest (that originally belonged to Pa) to get dress fabric so she has something nice to wear.
In the end, it is the thought that counts, though.

Throughout this special, we also see the residential antagonists from River Bottom. They're a bunch of delinquents with attitude. And surprise, surprise, they make an appearance at the talent contest as well.
Now that I think about it, I don't think I know any of their names aside from their leader, Chuck.

Oh man... that was something I found so hilarious as a kid and I still do. Chuck is a man (I have no idea what kind of furry creature he is, a bear, maybe?) of few words, but when he talks, you listen.

One of the them is a weasel who's very chatty and kinda talks for the group, but Chuck will often correct him and intimidates the crap out of him with his tough-guy voice. Just love it.

Chuck: I'm hungry
Weasel: Hey everybody, Chuck's funny
Chuck: No, I'm not hungry. I'm HUNGRY... now!

Oh geez... I guess Chuck is supposed to be a woodchuck, then, lol.
I just know there's a weasel, a lizard, a snake and some fish/mudskipper thing that they always seem to have a tub of water for him to swim in when they're traveling around town.

The talent show... wow, the nostalgia the first few minutes in that concert hall before it even starts... I'm just transported back with that. I remember watching the horse- which unfortunately gets split up in an earlier scene and the whole act gets ruined. I remember the dancing squirrels (omg, so cute!) and their mom cheering and clapping like a maniac when they're all finished.

An interesting curveball gets thrown at the jugband and they easily could have avoided having an issue if they rehearsed more than one song.
It turns out "Barbeque" is popular and some hillbilly badger takes up a banjo and performs it before it's their turn. So they need to put together a new song and fast.

Alice goes on just ahead of them and gives a really moving performance with a ballad. Complete with that out-of-tune piano (Rowlf might have been onto something- he said in "Muppet Family Christmas" how he loves out of tune pianos), nostalgia hits again.

With the jugband, they sound and look really good considering how last minute this song change was. But "Brothers" is not as catchy as "Barbeque"... I've always felt a little bit of disappointment where the first chords begin and it's not the same song. Just doesn't have that same impact.

Then the "River Bottom Nightmare Band" shows up and all hell breaks loose :P
Now this was memorable. The whole song and look of it. And each time, you pick out something different. Weasel does the main vocal on the bridge and his voice still stands out to me. And of course all Chuck has to say/growl is "River Bottom Nightmare Band!"... he's all decked out like Elton John or Liberace with this long blue shiny cape and Kiss-style platform shoes.

Gotta give them credit- they were true to themselves and didn't sugarcoat anything. This is more of a heavy metal type song with an organ, guitars and drums, so the song really isn't sing-along-y. But they do play good music.
There's an earlier scene where they're playing instruments in a music store and they sound better than you would think. Maybe they wouldn't be as troublesome if they spent more time with the music because it's a good outlet for them.


Anyway... the results are kinda disappointing. The Nightmare winds up winning. It's slightly more annoying when you consider the fact that they were a last minute entry. And they heard from the jugband about the talent contest... although Weasel says something like "they think they're gonna win the talent contest" jokingly, which says to me that they already knew about it.

But our heroes do get a happy ending and all they had to do was invent the song mash-up. They're walking by Doc Bullfrog's diner as they put their songs from the talent show together and he recruits them to be regular performers there with a salary and free food.

If I were to nit-pick anything... you hear a couple songs more than once and if you're not feeling it, you might get sick of them. But they are great songs.
"When the River Meets the Sea" is great and beautiful and it became a Henson classic because it was written for this and also featured on the Muppet Christmas album with John Denver. Even was played at Jerry Nelson's funeral, which was a fitting tribute. He did the voice of Emmett.

When they showed this on TV (and this carries over to our recorded VHS), they had an intro with Kermit pedaling his bike to Waterville, introducing the special and the River Bottom gang interacts with him.

It's a pretty funny exchange.

"What about the scarf?"- Chuck says after he's asked by Weasel whether he wants to take anything from Kermit.
And they argue among themselves before that whether he's a frog or toad :P

Kermit also appears at the end of the diner scene- they pan over to him as they're performing and he says (I think) how they were a big hit and their lives became better as a result. It's been so long that I don't remember the exact dialogue.
OH- someone posted them on YouTube calling them "the lost scenes"

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=x_B8xVwHTgw

Overall... great special and definitely will look forward to bringing it back every year from now.


Saturday, December 24, 2016

Christmas Nostaglia: Muppet Family Christmas (1987)

A Trip Down Memory Lane...

I would have dubbed this as one of my Christmas essentials, but it isn't among those specials that are shown every year around this time.

In fact, it hasn't been shown on TV maybe since its first airing. And my mom had the foresight to record it so my sister and I could watch it again in the future.
This was one of several Christmas specials recorded on this old VHS. I keep meaning to record it onto DVD- we have the machine to do it- but I just keep forgetting. Plus YouTube makes things so much more convenient and accessible.

Other specials included:
* Disney cartoons featuring Donald, Mickey and Pluto, leading up to their "Christmas Carol"
* behind-the-scenes footage of "Oliver and Company" (not Christmas-y, but if I ever see that footage again... man... I can only imagine the nostalgia- between that and the commercials that somehow made the cut)

* Rudolph
* Emmett Otter's Jugband Christmas (which I may write-up one day as well)
* Charlie Brown
* Claymotion's Christmas (also on YouTube- we may or may not get to it this year).

Anyway... the short of it is... I know my sister had watched this particular special on YouTube one other year and I only heard it going on. I didn't get to see this. This year, I finally got that opportunity and Google Chrome did a great job casting it. [YouTube is the only website where the streaming works perfectly without the audio and video being out of sync].

And the nostalgia hit me right in the heart and it was AWESOME... I don't think I'd seen this in 15-20 years. And I still remember so much of it like it was yesterday.
The coolest part... my mom was late recording the special and I did the math... this was the first time I saw the first 2 minutes of this special ever. And it does explain one thing I never thought to ask...

In a Chestnut[shell]... with all the trimmings


I never thought to ask why they came to Fozzie Bear's mom's farmhouse. I didn't add up that fact and her being ready to go to Hawaii. All I knew is that they crashed at her house, which was a huge surprise to her as well as Doc, the boarder she invited to watch the house while she was gone.

BTW, RIP Gerry Parks. He passed away in 2014. And he was such a great guy in a special where he was the only human character.
Fraggle Rock had been around for a couple years before this special, but Doc and his dog Sprocket were in it and he always told his dog that he was crazy for imagining Fraggles.

I actually caught one interesting bit of dialogue for the first time- when the Muppets invade, he asks Sprocket if they were anything like the Fraggles he kept telling him about.

Funny he should mention that... but more on that later...

Anyway, he starts as this curmudgeon of an old man, being bent out of shape that he's being denied this "nice quiet Christmas" he'd been promised.
But at the same time, Fozzie's mom is a little miffed that she took 3 months of surfing lessons and getting nothing in return for it.
Uh... I guess she didn't have the heart to tell Fozzie and the others that she had plans?? I thought for years that she found out she couldn't go because of the upcoming snowstorm. But she might have been out of dodge before it got there...

I'm thinking too much about this :P time to move on.

So anyway, everyone is here to celebrate Christmas at the farmhouse. And three spheres of Jim Henson's incredible universe [four if you include the Muppet Babies footage] come together for the first time EVER... and never really did again. Unless you account for the fact Kermit occasionally cameos on Sesame Street.
There's a running joke that they're having trouble finding room for everybody to spend the night, the icy patch at the front door keeps getting tripped over (it's still funny every single time, lol), and Miss Piggy is literally doing every last minute thing before she gets over there.
And we have this impossible snowstorm on the horizon- barometers are falling sharply!!!

That was one of those jokes I didn't get until I was older. :P

Much of Kermit's storyline was worrying about Miss Piggy and whether she'd get to the farmhouse safe and sound. As materialistic as she is, it's not surprising that she has to go to a photo shoot (that she somehow forgot she scheduled) and does some last minute shopping (and we never see her give away those great fuzzy flipper snippers) before actually making the trip.
I mean, these are just puppets at the end of the day, but that part of the story has so much suspense in it. I mean, it didn't make me a sobbing mess when I was a kid (Mickey's Christmas Carol on the other hand... I have to just think about Christmas Future and the song at the beginning and end... that messes me up... Muppet Christmas Carol has a few spots that do the same thing)... but it's kinda sad and kinda scary. Right along with Kermit, I'm worried if things will work out all right even though I know the ending.

Kermit does have some good distractions to help keep his mind off things, though.

Fozzie, as anyone knows, is a comedian and he finds a new act after he builds a snowman.

Yeah, the snowman comes to life. And the act kinda goes bust, but hey, certainly can't blame him for trying.


Then there's the great scene where Robin takes Kermit to Fraggle Rock and we get to meet some Fraggles. Of course, the main characters from the TV series. (I'd only seen it a couple times maybe ever, but it might be worth looking up in the future... maybe YouTube will indulge me like it did with this).
And they introduce to us the art of regifting... and they're happy to receive any gifts at all, which is kinda nice.

And they get their own musical number too. Good times 8-)

And just to finish my comments on Doc- the way his character evolves throughout these 45 minutes is a great example of Christmas spirit. He doesn't get the Christmas he wanted when he first arrived, but he comes to like the Muppets a lot and goes above and beyond in a couple ways.
One of them, of course, has to involve Miss Piggy. Despite all the hardship, they make a pretty amazing and touching entrance (complete with a duet of "There's No Place like Home for the Holidays" with her and Kermit). Makes me wonder if she really is that composed a person... er, pig. Or she was a complete mess and she threatened to karate chop Doc if he said anything about the state he found her in.
The other way... you'd have to watch it to see, but it allows for a really nice cameo by Jim Henson himself. For years, I didn't know it was him and learning how he died a couple years later... it's a sweet and bittersweet moment all at the same time.

Only Jim Henson could come up with something where you have nothing but puppetry and you get to feel all kinds of emotions. Everyone takes part a really sweet Christmas Carol medley where they cover pretty much all the songs we grew up on. Plus maybe two I hadn't heard anyone but with the Muppets.

Of course there's also a lot of comedy. The icy patch is only the... I guess, the tip of the iceberg... shut up!
Maybe the funniest beside that is the saga of the Christmas Turkey and Swedish Chef. The turkey shows up, alive and well and Gonzo tries to talk him into leaving.

The Swedish Chef gets all confused about which creature is the turkey.
Doc: I don't care if the turkey says the dog is the turkey. The dog is not the turkey. The turkey's the turkey, you turkey!

There's a love triangle between Gonzo, Camilla and the turkey.
Gonzo: But Camilla's my girlfriend
Turkey: You gotta be kidding! You're not even a bird!
Gonzo: [shrug] well, nobody's perfect

Then he beats the stuffing out of the turkey when he finally catches him... but then this turkey is so slick, he thought up another lie and he thought it up quick... yeah, I'm quoting The Grinch :P so what? I'm finishing this up on Christmas Eve.

Yeah, he told Swedish Chef that Big Bird is a turkey. And he exclaims: "Gobble Gobble Hugmungo!"

I believe Doc gets into the Christmas spirit right around the time Bert and Ernie show up and they do their "small talk" routine.
You know... Doc starts with the letter D, and so on...
and he cheerfully says he's gotta build some bunk beds.

If I watched Sesame Street as a kid, I don't remember it... but after all these years, when Big Bird shows up, I get warm and fuzzy.
His big moment in this special is when he talks to Swedish Chef, saying how he might be lonely because his family is back in Sweden and Christmas is about spending time with family.
I mean, I've said it a bunch already... these are puppets! Yet their duet of "The Christmas Song" is a tearjerker every time :P And the sweetest part is that Swedish Chef decides on a vegetarian menu as a result of this.

"Shredded wheat and cranberry sauce- my absolute favorite!"

At least "There's No Place Like Home for the Holidays" has the icy patch gag to keep it from getting too sappy and too teary :P

And while we're going with the animal friendly theme here- I love Kermit's present to Miss Piggy. It's a live mink [opposed to a mink coat or stole] who's Miss Piggy's biggest fan.
"I've seen everything you've done... I worship the ground you walk on."
If there's one thing Miss Piggy loves more than minks and Kermit, it's herself. So it's perfect.

And Robin has a nice moment where he continues to the Fraggle tradition of regifting, but he gives it to one of the Sesame Street gang.
Also RIP Jerry Nelson- who did the voice for The Count, Fozzie's mom and Robin in this special. I don't know if it's because of this special or Muppet Christmas Carol where he plays Tiny Tim [ :sniff: ]... he's always been one of my favorite Muppets characters and Jerry Nelson is the biggest reason for that.
Also he was Emmett Otter and Doc Bullfrog in "Emmett Otter's Jugband Christmas"... and I just found that that Emmett Otter was made in 1977... 10 years before Muppet Family Christmas... just wow... I don't know how I feel about Emmett Otter being older than me :P

Most of the other cast members are still alive, which is good. Or I'd be here for ages.

A couple more things:

* Animal has some of the funniest moments. Like when he eats all the Christmas cookies and Cookie Monster says "that my kind of fella."
And Gonzo and Animal are totally game for sleeping on hangers in a closet- the only places left to sleep in the house. ["That's the only way Animal ever sleeps, man."]
* Mechanical Mayhem do a kick-ass version of "Jingle Bell Rock."
* Oscar and Rizzo bond in a cute scene- Rizzo asks if he can bunk out with Oscar and Oscar says "I've never had a rat in my trashcan before. That might be kinda nice."

...
and it looks like we might be entering into a similar situation. Some unexpected guests are coming to our Christmas Eve gathering.
And I guess we'll see how it goes. The idea of it is getting some mixed results.
Hopefully it all turns out ok in the end.

Sunday, December 18, 2016

Theatrical Review: Star Wars- Rogue One

Date: Sunday December 18 2016
Time: 12:45pm
Location: Pocono Movieplex (theatre 5)
Party: 3 (my mom, sister & I)

Director: Gareth Edwards (directed the recent "Godzilla" remake)
Writers: Chris Weitz (directed "New Moon"), Tony Gilroy (wrote for the "Bourne" franchise), John Knoll (apparently this movie was based on an idea he had while working on previous parts of the "Star Wars" franchise in the visual effects department), and Gary Whitta (wrote "Book of Eli" and is now working on "Sherlock 3"
Composer: Michael Giacchino

Cast:

Jyn Erso- Felicity Jones
Cassian Andor- Diego Luna
Chirrut Îmwe (the blind jedi)- Donnie Yen
Baze Malbus (the mercenary)- Jiang Wen
K2-SO- Alan Tudyk
Bodhi (the Imperial pilot)- Riz Ahmed
Galen Erso- Mads Mikkelsen
Saw Gerrara- Forest Whitaker
Orson Krennic- Ben Mendelsohn

Duration: 134 minutes (+2 trailers)


Write-up:

Opening Comments

My mom tried to talk my sister out of seeing the movie with us. Hearing rumors of its PG13 meaning a lot of bloodshed and a high body count, she thought it might be too much. In the end, it all turned out okay. My sister liked it and we all have a good time of it.

The theater started empty at first. Just us three and one other person. Then little by little, people started trickling in... when the movie was already starting.
We got there early just to be sure we got a seat and we didn't have to sift through the dark and maybe we were too early, but still...

Trailers:

Thankfully we didn't start with a million commercials and got right to the trailers. That might have had something to do with the fact we had to tell the people in the theater to run it... it was a slow day. Kinda miserable outside with cold and rain, but it wasn't too bad. Nor was the snow the previous day.


Anyway, trailers...

we had the teaser trailer for the latest "Pirates of the Carribeean" again.

But afterwards, we had "Logan," which sounds like the last Wolverine/X-Men movie on Hugh Jackman's contract. It looks like a post-X-men world where Logan and Professor Xavier are the last mutants left. But then there's a girl with mutant powers who they need to protect from authorities. The overall look: it reminds me a bit of the Avengers movies. So maybe Marvel studios has more influence here- compared to the other parts of this franchise that's otherwise been independent.

The Main Event:

Within the first ten minutes, this movie sets itself apart from all its predecessors in two ways. And it all has to do with the iconic title screen and crawl.

What we have in a nutshell is the following: we're following the members of the Rebel Alliance who steal the plans for the Death Star.

Our main protagonist is thrust into the plot because of her father, Galen, who is the engineer who built the Death Star. While he is the very reason for its existence (in that it's a powerful planet-destroying space station), he is also a big part of its inevitable destruction.
Those who follow the Star Wars franchise will find this particularly interesting because it answers a few questions and criticisms.

After Felicity Jones earned Oscar buzz for "The Theory of Everything," she'd gotten a lot of good roles and this will probably go down as one of her best. She's the person that we experience the movie through, physically and emotionally.
It's also interesting to see Mads Mikkelsen in this after seeing him as a villain in "Doctor Strange." A bit of a different role for him and just as complex.

Cassian Andor is the head of the mission and he's interesting in that you don't entirely know which side he's on until the movie progresses far enough. The Rebel Alliance was a united front in the previous installments, but it's oddly disjointed in this film because these times are uncertain. Especially with the threat of the Death Star becoming more and more real every passing second.
But he's one of my favorite characters for sure.

One article previewing this movie said that the blind jedi would be a scene stealer and that couldn't be more true. Chirrut Îmwe was simply a bad-ass. And he and his buddy Baz Malbus are a great combination that offers the few moments of comic relief this movie has- but both are strong additions to the alliance.

The main villain is Orson Krennic. Just seeing him on screen makes the hairs on your neck prick up. With that stage presence, you know nothing good is going to come. But he does have superiors to answer to and they're not to be taken lightly either.

The slow scenes- while they're good for character development, they had trouble holding my attention and I was close to falling asleep once or twice. But the actions scenes are so well done that they help make up for that.

For those familiar with the franchise, this film has a foregone conclusion that's easy to guess, but it's interesting to see how that destination is reached. It still keeps you on the edge of your seat through the course of the last 45 minutes.

And without giving too much away, there are some pretty cool cameos throughout the film. Some come about with the help of the latest CGI technology. It's pretty impressive.

Grade: A