Saturday, December 9, 2017

But I Digress... Jingle Bells and Shotgun Shells: A Netflix Christmas

By Cat

Movie Name/Year: El Camino Christmas (2017)
Tagline: Bullets, Beer, Holiday Cheer.
Genre: Comedy
Length: 82 minutes
Rating: TV-MA
Production Companies: Goldenlight Films, Brother, Netflix
Producers: Rich Carter, Theodore Melfi, Mike Milaccio, Jack L. Murray, Kimberly Quinn, Uri Singer, David E. Talbert, Lyn Talbert
Director:  David E. Talbert
Writers:  Theodore Melfi, Christopher Wehner
Actors: Vincent D'Onofrio, Jessica Alba, Dax Shepard, Tim Allen, Kurtwood Smith, Luke Grimes, Michelle Mylett, Emilio Rivera
Stunts: Brian Avery, Joe Bucaro III, Richard Burden, Jeremy Fry,Roberto Garcia, Efka Kvaraciejus, Paul Lacovara

Blurb from Netflix: Stuck in a liquor store during an alleged robbery, a group of strangers shares hidden truths and forms an unexpected bond on Christmas Eve.

Netflix lied to me.

IMDb lied to me.

It’s a conspiracy! OK, maybe not that. To be fair, it was more of an error-of-omission situation than any sort of falsehood. What am I talking about?  I’ll get to that in a moment.

Today’s digression was inspired by a Netflix Christmas surprise. I say that because somehow this movie escaped our radar, and therefore missed the potential to be named among our Top 20 Movies to Look Out for in December 2017.

“It’s the Christmas no one wanted,” the trailer explains. I wanted it, though, the minute that trailer began to auto-play when I loaded Netflix to search for a compilation of holiday movies. Why give you all another list when a Christmas comedy was on the table, right?

Shame, shame Netflix. Shame. I was not prepared. 

Don’t get me wrong, though. I really liked this film. That wasn’t the issue. There aren’t a lot of review-based ratings available to offer viewers informed decisions to potential audiences either. It was just released to stream on December 8th, after all. My issue was that this is absolutely not a straight up comedy. There are some heavy feels involved here, too. To play devil’s advocate, I see why they went with the single genre but ugh. The movie is somewhere in the nebulous space between drama that is dark comedy with a sense of irony, a doofus comedy romp, and a tragedy.

On to the movie!

Talk about a cluster situation of wrong-place and wrong time – or perhaps, it was kismet. Events either spiraled completely out of control or they were artistically dropped into place by the hands of fate. Either way you look at the circumstances within this film; it’s hilarious, face-palm inducing, heart-warming, and occasionally heart-wrenching at the same time.  

I almost don’t know where to start, because I don’t want to give too much away.

This wasn’t a fly-by-night production. I have to tip my hat to director David Talbert (First Sunday, Baggage Claim, Almost Christmas) for finding a way to bring laughter to the darkest corners of this film. The characters were well nuanced and relatable. So much was evident between the actual lines, and it made it easier to invest in the people and their situations.

Luke Grimes (Taken 2, True Blood, American Sniper) did a good job with his lead role, but it was really Vincent D'Onofrio (Daredevil, The Magnificent Seven, Rings) and Tim Allen (Wild Hogs, Crazy on the Outside, Last Man Standing) that stole the show. I don’t say that lightly about Allen, either. I’ve mentioned before that he isn’t my favorite actor, but I find myself regarding him with increasing respect for his projects that step out of the stereotypes he created for himself with his past work. 

Kurtwood Smith (Hitchcock, Agent Carter, Amityville: The Awakening) and Dax Shepard (Without a Paddle, When in Rome, Parenthood) can be counted on for a lot of the laughs in this movie. Their dynamic is what you expect from the movie after watching the trailer. They’re the setup that allows the surprise left-hook to the feels.

Michelle Mylett (Antisocial, Lost Girl, Buckout Road) really impressed me with her portrayal of strong single mom, Kate Daniels. Her family dynamic is integral to the plot, even though the primary story revolves around Grimes’ character. 

If you’re looking for an interesting holiday-themed movie that’s amusing but not a one-dimensional laugh-track fest, this just might be the movie for you. I’d certainly recommend it. It’s got Christmas carols, friendship, family, and fire-fights. What’s not to love? Just maybe have some tissues nearby. Unlike Netflix, you can't say I didn't warn you.

P.S. I’m almost positive that Vincent D’Onofrio sings the holiday song that plays during the final credits.

Speech Available: English, English –Audio Description, French, German, Italian, Spanish
Subtitles Available: English, Simplified Chinese, Traditional Chinese, French, Spanish

Rotten Tomatoes Critic Score – None
Rotten Tomatoes Audience Score – 62%
Metascore - None
Metacritic User Score – None
IMDB Score – 6/10

Trust the Dice: Cat’s Rating4/5

Movie Trailer:

But I Digress... is a weekly column for that can't be pinned down to just one thing. It's our celebration of tangents, random references, and general fan geekdom that both intertwines with, revolves around, and diverges from our movie-review core. In homage to the beloved Brit comedians, we want to bring you something completely different!

Friday, December 8, 2017

Under the Sun (2015) - Foreign Film Friday

Number Rolled: 36
Movie Name/Year: Under the Sun (2015)
Tagline: None
Genre: Documentary
Length: 109 minutes
Rating: TV-PG
Production Companies: Vertov Studio, Saxonia Entertainment, Hypermarket Film
Producer: Simone Baumann, Vit Klusak, Petr Kubica, Natalia Manskaya, Nataly Manskya, Filip Remunda
Director: Vitaliy Manskiy
Writer: Vitaliy Manskiy
Actors: Lee Zin-Mi, Yu-Yong, Hye-Yong, Oh-Gyong, Choi Song-min, Lim Soo-Yong, Su-Yong
Stunt Doubles: None

Blurb from Netflix: Shot over a year under strict government control, this film reveals the conflicted life of a young girl chosen to join North Korea’s Children’s Union.

Selina’s Point of View:
My first thought when watching this was that it didn’t seem like a documentary. Then I read the IMDb description and saw that it was labeled a ‘propaganda’ documentary. That makes much more sense.

‘Propaganda’ felt like a more honest description of the film.

I get the point of continuing to film between scripted parts. It’s to show the face of what propaganda looks like when there’s brainwashing involved… and to show the little bits of truth they were able to show. Still, I found it unbearably boring.

Even if I could have watched it without subtitles, it still wouldn’t have made anything any better.

There was absolutely no substance to Under the Sun. I might as well have been a kid in that class, staring out the window because the teacher couldn’t hold my interest. It was just a really long mandatory middle school assembly.

The attempts to be harrowing simply didn’t work. The only thing I’m left knowing about North Korea that I didn’t know before is that it must be boring as all hell to live there as long as you’re not blatantly causing any issues.

Cat’s Point of View:
Our foreign film days are generally extra random, but I think this one takes the cake.

I rather enjoy the occasional documentary, if the subject is interesting enough. I grew up watching shows like Wild America (1982-1994) and Nova (1974-), and I still enjoy them. I also love the shark-centered shows during Discovery Channel’s Shark Week. I’ve even been known to watch an episode or so of those programs that show you how things are made.

While I didn’t have any lofty expectations for this particular documentary, I certainly hoped that it would be interesting. It’s not every day that you get a chance to take a peek into the mysterious and xenophobic North Korea. Given current world events, it’s also quite topical.

Sadly, I was rather disappointed. Aside from being rather disturbed by the propaganda aspect as it pertained to the children, it just couldn’t keep my attention. It’s abhorrent that the country actually teaches its children to hate.

Some of the scenery was interesting, as well as the peek into one of their festivals. The costuming employed was colorful but the droning on about the ‘great’ leaders and such frankly made the whole thing a giant snooze-fest. Not only did my mind wander, but I think I actually dozed off for a minute out of boredom.

I appreciate what I think the film-makers were trying to do here, but this documentary was dry and underwhelming.

Speech Available: Korean
Subtitles Available: English, Simplified Chinese, Traditional Chinese, French, Spanish

Rotten Tomatoes Critic Score – 93%
Rotten Tomatoes Audience Score – 68%
Metascore - 81/100
Metacritic User Score – 6.1/10
IMDB Score – 7.4/10

Trust the Dice: Selina’s Rating1/5
Trust the Dice: Cat’s Rating1.5/5

Movie Trailer:

Wednesday, December 6, 2017

Extraordinary Tales (2015)

Number Rolled: 14
Movie Name/Year: Extraordinary Tales (2015)
Tagline: None
Genre: Animation, Horror, Mystery
Length: 72 minutes
Rating: TV-14
Production Companies: Melusine Productions
Producer: Didier Brunner, Raul Garcia, Stephan Roelants, Serge Ume
Director: Raul Garcia
Writer: Edgar Allan Poe, Raul Garcia, Stephan Roelants
Actors: Christopher Lee, Bela Lugosi, Julian Sands, Guillermo del Toro, Roger Corman, Stephen Hughes, Cornelia Funke
Stunt Doubles: None

Blurb from Netflix: Edgar Allan Poe’s dark words come to life in this animated anthology including stories such as “The Pit and the Pendulum” and “The Tell-Tale Heart.”

Selina’s Point of View:
Edgar Allan Poe was always a favorite of mine. I fell in love with his work when I was very young… and he’s probably one of the reasons I have such a dark sense of humor. By 13-years-old, I was already half-way obsessed with his poetry. Especially Annabel Lee, which I can still recite from memory.

Needless-to-say, I was VERY interested in watching a film based off his work, especially one that prominently featured a dead man’s voice: Bela Lugosi (Scared to Death, Ghosts on the Loose, Night Monster).

The anthology aspect of the film was good, it got to cover several popular stories at once. Most of the animation was interesting to look at, and the narration was capturing... for the most part. I was less fond of the end stories than the beginning.

Usually, I love the story of the Pit and the Pendulum, but I wasn’t fond of a lot of what the director did with his segment for that story. The animation was fine, but there were choices with the actual layout that just distracted from the film. 

I didn’t like the way the Red Masque of Death was handled at all. It was about one step away from a silent film and that’s just not something I enjoy – though I wasn’t even fond of the animation there, either.

My favorite of the anthology was the House of Usher. It was exactly what I would think it should be, and the animation was engaging – without turning cartoony.

As harrowing as some Poe stories can get I wasn’t creeped out by any of them. Likely because I’ve read them all about a thousand times. The framing device used for the film, though, made me uneasy and nervous.

The conversation between Poe and Death – as it escalated between the stories – was terrifying to me. It was so simple… but so well done. It was absolutely perfect. I’m betting Poe, himself, would have approved.

I’d recommend this film to other lovers of horror prose out there.

Cat’s Point of View:
I was extremely excited to see Extraordinary Tales pop up on Netflix, and have been looking forward to when the dice would give us a chance to watch it. Edgar Allan Poe is likely one of my favorite poets, and I generally can’t resist the pull to partake of adaptations of his work. His macabre tales of terror and dark poetry have always fascinated me.

Stylistically this anthology project is quite interesting. It reminds me of The Animatrix (2003), at its core at least. This anthology of animation illustrating Poe’s work explores different styles with each story, which is where I draw my first parallel. My second is that, like the animated prequel anthology, this likely won’t be everyone’s cup of tea.

Some segments appear to almost be animated origami, made of lovely computer-rendered papers. Other styles employ stark black and white, graphic-novel type formatting that seemingly brings the pages of a comic book to life, computer generated ‘realism’ in the animation, and also a dark watercolor tableau.

Another aspect I really enjoyed about this production was that all of the narrators and voice actors either have iconic ties to the dark and macabre, a significant connection to Poe’s work, or excel at storytelling.

The female lead that lends her voice to the framing device together is Cornelia Funke (The Thief Lord, When Santa Fell to Earth, Ghosthunters on Icy Trails). While this is her only acting credit listed on IMDb, she is an accomplished author. Many of her works have been adapted for the screen – my favorite is Inkheart (2008). I would love to just curl up in a blanket and listen to her read.

Other voices collaborating in this project include the late Sir Christopher Lee (Hugo, Dark Shadows, The Girl from Nagasaki), director-extraordinaire Guillermo del Toro (Diary of the Dead, Quantum of Solace, The Book of Life), and Julian Sands (The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo, Banshee, Crooked House).

Then you have Roger Corman (Rachel Getting Married, Dinoshark, Attack of the 50ft Cheerleader), whose name is synonymous with titles such as Death Race (2008). He directed a number of films based on Poe’s work in the 60s, such as The House of Usher (1960) and The Pit and the Pendulum (1961). Ironically, while both of those stories appear in this anthology, neither are the segment he lends his voice to.

I think what blew my mind the most was that the legendary Bela Lugosi (Son of Frankenstein, Vampire Over London, Bride of the Monster) narrates one of the segments through the employ of archive footage. Lugosi, of course, passed away in 1956. The grainy quality of the old recording only lends more depth to the part.

This is one of those animated features that isn’t necessarily for children. While most of the anthology is generally benign for anyone age-appropriate for Poe’s work; one segment includes some adult content as it illustrates the hedonist abandon and class-bred arrogance of the characters. There isn’t anything really graphically explicit, but there’s some cartoon nudity here and there and background sounds illustrating the activities in the scene. The scene is short, and is contained in the final story segment, so it should be easy to get past.

While I don’t feel that everyone will be head over heels for the various animation styles, Poe’s work is timeless and speaks to the fears in all of us. This collection of stories is well executed and remains true to the heart of the works. I would definitely recommend this to anyone who enjoys the less gory side of horror and anyone that enjoys Poe.  For anyone that doesn’t like the particular stylings, simply think on it nevermore.

Speech Available: English
Subtitles Available: English, Spanish

Rotten Tomatoes Critic Score – 61%
Rotten Tomatoes Audience Score – 51%
Metascore - 59/100
Metacritic User Score – 5.4/10
IMDB Score – 6.4/10

Trust the Dice: Selina’s Rating3.5/5
Trust the Dice: Cat’s Rating 4.5/5

Movie Trailer:

Monday, December 4, 2017

Beauty and the Beast (2017)

Number Rolled: 69
Movie Name/Year: Beauty and the Beast (2017)
Tagline: Be our guest.
Genre: Family, Fantasy, Musical
Length: 129 minutes
Rating: PG
Production Companies: Mandeville Films, Walt Disney Pictures
Producer: Steve Gaub, Don Hahn, David Hoberman, Jeremy Johns, Todd Lieberman, Jack Morrissey, Thomas Schumacher, Jeffrey Silver, Greg Yolen, Alexander Young
Director: Bill Condon
Writer: Stephen Chbosky, Evan Spiliotopoulos, Linda Woolverton, Gabrielle-Suzanne Barbot de Villeneuve, Jeanne-Marie Leprince de Beaumont
Actors: Emma Watson, Dan Stevens, Luke Evans, Josh Gad, Kevin Kline, Hattie Morahan, Haydn Gwynne, Gerard Horan, Ray Fearon, Ewan McGregor, Ian McKellen, Emma Thompson, Nathan Mack, Audra McDonald, Stanley Tucci, Gugu Mbatha-Raw, Clive Rowe, Thomas Padden, Gizmo, Adrian Schiller, Harriet Jones, Adam Mitchell, Tom Turner, Alexis Loizon,
Stunt Doubles: Guiomar Alonso, Adam Basil, Matt Crook, Douglas Robson

Blurb from Netflix: Held captive in an enchanted castle where clocks and candlesticks come to life, a brave young woman clashes with a beastly but good-hearted prince.

Selina’s Point of View:
Growing up, Beauty and the Beast (1991) was my all-time favorite Disney movie. Needless to say, when this live-action remake came out with such a brilliant cast attached, I was all about wanting to see it.

I wasn’t able to go to theaters for it, I can’t remember why. But I was disappointed when I couldn’t. I’m glad it hit Netflix so quickly.

As the movie goes, there was a lot of recognizable scenes and music, but with extra bits and pieces thrown in. New songs to get into, and more in-depth bits of story added to explain smaller aspects of the characters. On top of that, the cast was well chosen… though I wasn’t overly fond of Dan Stevens’ make-up job when he wasn’t in the form of the beast.

I get that the beginning make-up job was to stay true to the fashion of that era in France, but after he was returned to his human form? There was no excuse for that.

There are definite parts of this story that I can appreciate the artistic reality of more as an adult.

For instance, when Gaston finally learned about the Beast from the mirror and used a five second glimpse of something he didn’t understand to whip the villagers into a blood-lust frenzy. When I was a little girl, I didn’t understand that. I figured they were just doing that to make it a scarier part, but that there was no actual real-life translation there. Now, however, we’re pretty much living that moment on constant loop here. No one double checks fact. No one is willing to get the whole story. Everyone is willing to blame whomever a finger is pointed to for all the evil in the world.

I had no idea, as a child, how true-to-life that mob mentality scene was. Knowing it now, that scene is much more terrifying.

I greatly enjoyed this adaptation of one of my favorite childhood films. They did the story proud.

Cat’s Point of View:
My daughter and I went with some friends to see this movie in the theater when it was first released. We thoroughly enjoyed ourselves and I was quite happy to watch it again. I am immensely glad that I did get to see this on the big screen, though. While excellent at any size, it was quite breathtaking with the stunning visuals throughout.

It’s hard to know where to begin in describing just how amazing this was. It was satisfying on so many levels.

My daughter had one of those ‘ugh mom!’ moments watching this in the theater with me because I couldn’t help myself and was singing along with a few of the songs – very softly, of course. All of the classic songs from the 1991 animated movie are present – and there are new ones added for this film.

This movie is a bit longer than the original due to some of the added content. Purists shouldn’t fret, however, because the music was co-written by Alan Menken (Enchanted, Galavant, Mystery Science Theater 3000: The Return), who was responsible for all of the iconic original numbers.

Honestly, there are places that almost feel like you could frame by frame compare this movie to the animated classic. There were just enough changes to update it stylistically; which kept it feeling nostalgic, familiar, and yet fresh. I can’t tell you how happy I was that they kept the movie a musical rather than converting it into your average cinematic experience as with the live action Cinderella (2015).

The cast was absolutely phenomenal. They really captured the essence of the roles.

Emma Watson (The Bling Ring, Noah, Regression) is far more than the brightest witch of her age – she has quite a lovely singing voice. I was really happy with her nuanced portrayal of Belle. I have yet to see Dan Stevens (The Guest, The Cobbler, Colossal) in a role where he didn’t knock my socks off. To play the Beast here, he was fitted with some stilt prosthetics and a motion capture suit to pull off a blend of both practical and CGI effects.

Luke Evans (Immortals, No One Lives, Dracula Untold) also did well with the character everyone loves to hate – Gaston. I didn’t realize that he had such a good singing voice. His scenes with Josh Gad (Marmaduke, Love & Other Drugs, Jobs) were hilarious. Of course, the role of LeFou was expanded a bit here, and I loved the spin they put on it. It made so much sense for the character. Evans and Gad were able to improvise a good deal within their characters’ rapport.

If you’re a fan of the fairytale at the heart of the story or the original 1991 movie, you won’t be disappointed here. The live-action treatment only enhances the magical qualities of the animated film and gives a spectacular visual feast that, paired with the music, is a treat for the senses. I don’t think I could get tired of watching this one.

If you’re looking for a good movie to curl up with the family to stream at home this holiday season – this one should do the trick.

Speech Available: English, Spanish
Subtitles Available: English, Spanish

Rotten Tomatoes Critic Score – 71%
Rotten Tomatoes Audience Score – 81%
Metascore – 65/100
Metacritic User Score – 6.8/10
IMDB Score – 7.3/10

Trust the Dice: Selina’s Rating4.5/5
Trust the Dice: Cat’s Rating5/5

Movie Trailer: