Friday, March 17, 2023

The Magician's Elephant (2023)

Streaming Service: Netflix
Movie Name/Year: The Magician's Elephant (2023)
Genre: Adventure, Animation, Family, Fantasy
Length: 1h 39min
Rating: PG
Production/Distribution: Animal Logic, Netflix Animation, Netflix Studios, Village Roadshow Pictures, Netflix
Director: Wendy Rogers
Writers: Kate DiCamillo, Martin Hynes
Actors: Noah Jupe, Brian Tyree Henry, Natasia Demetriou, Mandy Patinkin, Benedict Wong, Miranda Richardson, Cree Summer, Lorraine Toussaint, Sian Clifford, Dawn French, Aasif Mandvi, Pixie Davies, Stephen Kearin, Caitlin McKenna
IMDb Blurb: An orphaned boy is told by a fortune teller that an elephant will help him find his lost sister.
Cat’s Point of View:
My first impression of The Magician’s Elephant, when I watched the trailer, was that it looked like it would be a heartwarming and cute family movie. I wasn’t blown away by it but felt that it would offer a wholesome viewing option out of the new releases for March 2023, suitable for a younger crowd. It was an easy selection for the Top 20, but I now feel I underestimated it a bit. 

There were so many layers to the story that went far deeper than a young boy’s quest to rescue an elephant and be reunited with his little sister. Sandwiched in with the fantasy and adventure was also a tale of a war-torn community finding healing. There’s more but I don’t want to get into spoilers. 

All told, The Magician’s Elephant was a tale of hope with great balance between the comedic notes and the more somber themes. 

I expected great things from the cast, and they certainly delivered. I wouldn’t have guessed that this was the first animated project for Noah Jupe (Holmes & Watson, A Quiet Place, The Undoing). Though, I always expect great things when Mandy Patinkin (Smurfs: The Lost Village, Wonder, Homeland) is involved. Then, there’s Brian Tyree Henry (Atlanta, The Woman in the Window, Bullet Train) and Benedict Wong (Lady and the Tramp, Raya and the Last Dragon, She-Hulk: Attorney at Law) who are quickly carving out their own place among my favorite actors. I could go on, but you get the picture. 

I do feel I must confess that I haven’t read the source material for this particular adaptation, so I am unable to comment regarding comparisons. The tone of The Magician’s Elephant did feel on par with other adaptations of the same author’s work - such as The Tale of Despereaux (2008).

If you’re looking for some good family fun this spring, The Magician’s Elephant wouldn’t be a bad choice. 
Rotten Tomatoes Critic Score – 63%
Rotten Tomatoes Audience Score – 67%
Metascore – 48%
Metacritic User Score – none
IMDB Score – 7.1/10
Trust the Dice: Cat’s Rating – 4/5
Movie Trailer:

Wednesday, March 15, 2023

Cram (2023)

Movie Name/Year: Cram (2023)
Genre: Fantasy, Horror
Length: 44 min
Rating: Unrated
Production/Distribution: Terror Films, Radical Rhinoceros Pictures
Director: Abie Sidell
Actors: John Dimino, Brandon E. Burton, Rolando Chusan
Blurb from IMDb: We all do what we gotta do to pass - except Marc. Desperate to somehow finish his final final paper, he struggles to cram all night in the library. But the library has other plans for him.

Selina’s Point of View:
The trailer for Cram did nothing to portray just how surreal it was. I expected a somewhat basic horror story with a supernatural twist. That’s not at all what it was.
Cram was a fever dream allegory. What message it was portraying, however, is up for interpretation. I have two thoughts, but I think most everyone could get something different out of it.
For instance, I see the monstrous parts of the film as representing the predatory practices of universities. As a graduate, myself, I’m aware of those practices. Not the least of which involves a debt that I’ll be drowning in until I’m old and grey. I feel like that’s one of the more obvious representations, though. Most people watching Cram will likely see some form of that.
A more personal message I saw had to do with ADHD. I think that anyone struggling to understand a loved one who suffers from executive dysfunction, as a result of ADHD, should watch Cram. There were parts of it that felt so close to what executive dysfunction is like, that I felt almost uncomfortable watching it. It was as if I could see the most private parts of my brain splashed across the screen in a horrific way.

Despite how uncomfortable it was to watch, I’m thankful for it. Even if it wasn’t the writer/directors initial meaning. Just having that portrayed makes me feel seen.
Cram is more of a short film. It sits at 44-minutes long and feels shorter. We don’t tend to review short films, but we both felt a connection to the trailer, so we made an exception. I’m glad we did.
The acting, writing, and cinematography was of a much higher quality than I expected.
I’d love to see director Abie Sidell get the chance to create a full-length version of Cram. I would absolutely see that in theaters.
Cram will be available on digital, and on demand, March 17.

Cat’s Point of View:
I was fascinated with Cram when we first saw the trailer. I had so many questions - did the main character get high while trying to write their paper or did the pressure of the last-minute efforts cause a mental break? Did they simply fall asleep while working and have a crazy dream?
To tell you the truth, now that I’ve watched this short film, I’m not sure I got any of the answers I was looking for – but I did enjoy the journey all the same.
I could relate to Marc on a visceral level. I felt the stress of the down-to-the-wire paper writing. I often found myself in that position throughout my school career. Of course, I had no idea that part of my issue was due to ADHD at that time. I didn’t even realize that could even be a thing for me until a few years ago, as an adult. Usually, I was able to rally and cobble something together that worked - but there were a couple occasions when it was a lost cause.

Without diving down that rabbit hole further, it was easy to put myself in the character’s shoes. Further, libraries can be spooky when you’re alone in them – even if it’s just the section you’re working in. When you add something potentially paranormal on top of that, it’s a good recipe.
Cram was a trippy experience that covered a lot of ground in its short timeframe. I appreciated that the production team built suspense and thrills without utilizing jump scares around every corner.
There were a few odd moments, but it didn’t turn me off of the film as a whole.
I found Cram enjoyably interesting and would be glad to recommend it to anyone looking for just shy of 45-minutes of a spooky good time.

Rotten Tomatoes Critic Score – None
Rotten Tomatoes Audience Score – None
Metascore – None
Metacritic User Score – None
IMDB Score –None
Trust the Dice: Selina’s Rating 4/5
Trust the Dice: Cat’s Rating 4/5
Trust-the-Dice’s Parental Advisory Rating: R
Movie Trailer:

Monday, March 13, 2023

Leave (2023)

Streaming Service: Shudder
Movie Name/Year: Leave (2023)
Genre: Horror, Mystery, Thriller
Length: 1h 46min
Rating: Unrated
Production/Distribution: AudioCue Tonlabor, Duper Post Punks, Duper Studio, Flambert Studio, Fuglefjellet, Ljudbang, Mainstream, Mediefondet Zefyr, Ministi Film, Norsk Filminstitutt, OPC Megaphon, Trailer Park, Trollbound Entertainment, Vaterland Studios Oslo, SF Studio, Shudder
Director: Alex Herron
Writers: Thomas Moldestad
Actors: Alicia von Rittberg, Herman Tømmeraas, Stig R. Amdam, Ellen Dorrit Petersen, Morten Holst, Ragnhild Gudbrandsen, Bjørn Myrene, Maria Alm Norell, Gerald Pettersen, Clarence Smith
IMDb Blurb: A young woman tries to find her origins after having been abandoned as an infant at a cemetery wrapped in a cloth with satanic symbols, but as she gets closer to answers a malevolent spirit is telling her to leave.

Cat’s Point of View:
The trailer for Leave hadn’t really knocked my socks off. It seemed like it would fall in line with most other basic jump-scare-riddled genre offerings. I am thrilled to have been proved wrong. 

The story for Leave ran far deeper than the obvious paranormal activity shown in the trailer. At its heart, it was a story about the mystery of an abandoned baby and the skeletons an old Norwegian family had in their closet. 

The main character, aptly named Hunter, was easy to relate to in her quest to find her roots. I did also appreciate how the story leaned in a bit to the stereotypes that surround Norwegian Death Metal. (Don’t worry, that particular musical genre is mostly a plot point. If you don’t like your metal music that dark - or even metal music at all, it’s not really present in the film. Your ears are safe.)
I was along for the ride for all of the twists and turns Leave traversed, and got a kick out of the usual facepalm moments where audiences realize that the main character is making a big mistake. I loved the way the paranormal activity was woven into the story. There was more to the ominous and terrifying encounters than the activity, itself. Alas, it’s hard for me to explain that further without spoilers. 
All around, Leave wasn’t too shabby. It, however, wasn’t without its faults. The acting was generally on point, though it was a little audibly jarring occasionally when the lead’s accent slipped. I didn’t really mind all that much. I was invested enough in the story. Also, while generally pleasant, I didn’t really enjoy the actual ending. It felt rather abrupt - as if there needed to be more and it was cut too short, or perhaps it should have capped off the story one scene earlier. 

Leave certainly wasn’t what I expected, and it proved to be a generally solid mystery thriller. The answers definitely weren’t what I was expecting, and I appreciated that. I likely won’t remember this one as well in time, but I wouldn’t steer anyone away from experiencing it themselves to form their own opinion. 

Leave will begin streaming on Shudder on Friday, March 17th.
Rotten Tomatoes Critic Score – None
Rotten Tomatoes Audience Score –None
Metascore – None
Metacritic User Score – None
IMDB Score – 5.0/10
Trust the Dice: Cat’s Rating – 3.5/5

Trust the Dice: Parental Advisory Rating – R
Movie Trailer: