Coco (2017, Directed by Lee Unkrich) English 8

Voices of Gael Garcia Bernal, Benjamin Bratt, Anthony Gonzalez, Cheech Marin

Mexico’s Day of the Dead is an incredibly lively and colorful event. It’s fascinating, and I was amazed that it wasn’t featured in more films. Sure, I saw it somewhere in the background of John Huston’s Under the Volcano, but it wasn’t until 2014’s Book of Life that the annual  holiday was given a full film. Now the Day of the Dead is given the Pixar treatment which means tons of heart, humor, and glorious animation. While Book of Life was good, Coco will be the film best remembered and linked to Dia de los Muertos. It’s another feather in Pixar’s cap. A wonderful movie.

Miguel Rivera (12 years old) was born into a family that loves each other but hates music. Long before he was born, his great-great grandfather left home, a wife and child, to pursue a career as a musician. His great-great grandmother, left alone to raise a child, worked hard to overcome, but banned music from her life and the lives of her descendants. Miguel knows all of this, but also knows that his destiny is to be a musician. He can sing and play the guitar just like his idol, Ernesto De La Cruz, but how can he follow his dreams without alienating his family? With that he embarks on a journey through the Land of the Dead, where he meets his ancestors and an untrustworthy rogue named Hector on his way to finding his hero Ernesto.

There’s an entire history of American cinema borrowing elements from foreign cultures through half-baked representations. Coco gets it all right. The voice cast (all stellar) is hispanic. The animators clearly and typically went to painful stakes to nail the small details. The writing conjures up a foreign culture lovingly and believably. The amazing thing is the film’s ability to show a separate culture but make it relatable to all. I loved the characters in this film, loved the family. I was impressed by the teamwork between animators and actors in creating them. The Day of the Dead offers a wealth of imagery for Pixar to play with, and they do their best work since Brave (which was technically brilliant, but weak story-wise).

When it comes to original, high quality animation, Pixar is in a class of their own. There was a period when Pixar was doling out an original, creative, masterful animated film every year, culminating in Oscars and huge box office returns. Lately, like the film industry as a whole, they’ve turned to a number of sequels: Monsters University, Finding Dory, Cars 3. These efforts though entertaining, beautifully animated, and well-crafted, they’ve failed to generate the same acclaim and excitement that Pixar was accustomed to. Coco is a return to form, in league with Inside Out, and Pixar’s early efforts.

-Walter Howard-

Spielberg Sleepwalking

I haven’t been excited about a Spielberg film in close to a decade. The year was 2008. The film was Indiana Jones 4. The results were middling. It’s been 12 years since he made War of the Worlds, in my opinion, the last interesting film he made. Since then he’s made ultra-safe award bait- Lincoln (2012), War Horse (2011), and Bridge of Spies (2015)-and unspectacular blockbusters: BFG (2016), Adventures of Tintin (2011) and Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Chrystal Skull (2008). It isn’t that he’s forgotten how to direct. It isn’t even that these films are bad. I like many of them, but he could make these films in his sleep. The artistry is gone.

Now I see the trailer for his next film, The Post, starring Meryl Streep and Tom Hanks, and I’m bored already. An inspiring true story. A-list actors. It’s destined to get a number of Oscar nominations, and then slink into Oscar bait obscurity. Next year, he’s adapting Ready Player One. A possible return to his days of producing great spectacles? I hope so. I was underwhelmed by the trailer.

I love Spielberg’s popular entertainments: Jaws (1975), the Indiana Jones trilogy, Minority Report (2002), plus the war epic Saving Private Ryan (1998). I also privately love The Terminal.  I’m hoping Spielberg puts himself out on a limb once more while he’s still working, but it doesn’t seem like he’s out to prove anything.

-Walter Howard-

Uncle Buck (1989, Directed by John Hughes) English 8

Starring John Candy, Jean Louisa Kelly, Jay Underwood, Macauley Culkin, Gabby Hoffman, Amy Madigan

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Heart and humor overflow when John Candy’s rascally Uncle Buck is asked to take care of his nieces and nephew while their parents are away. He’s in over his head, especially since the oldest, his niece Tia, is determined to make everyone miserable. There’s nothing original in this material. It’s all a matter of execution, and Candy and Hughes are simply better at this stuff than the rest.

The Void (2016, Directed by Steven Kostanski and Jeremy Gillespie) English 5

Starring Aaron Poole, Kenneth Welsh, Daniel Fathers, Ellen Wong

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Sporadically effective low-budget horror film following a cop and other assorted guests trapped inside a hospital as unexplained forces terrorize them and a mysterious otherworldly cult surrounds them. The effects are impressive, not even condescending to the film’s budget, the effect are scary and thrilling. The emotional build-up with the characters is less compelling, and the wild ending suffers.

Highlander (1986, Directed by Russell Malcahy) English 4

Starring Christopher Lambert, Sean Connery, Clancy Brown, Roxanne Hart

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I’m amazed that this film is as favored as it is. Highlander is a poorly executed action flick with a handful of good ideas. Lambert (a Frenchman) plays an immortal Scottish warrior in the 16th century who lives out his eternal life mourning the loss of a loved one and battling his archenemy, The Kurgan. There’s, of course, more to it than that, but I stopped caring. The acting is bad (even Sean Connery is squandered playing an Egyptian in a film about Scots). The camera trickery is cool at times, before it becomes ultra-gimmicky.

Justice League (2017, Directed by Zach Snyder) English 5

Starring Ben Affleck, Gal Gadot, Jason Momoa, Amy Adams, Diane Lane, J.K Simmons, Ezra Miller, Ray Fisher, Jeremy Irons

A DC counterpart to Marvel’s The Avengers, Batman and Wonder Woman construct a team that consists of Victor Stone a.k.a Cyborg, Barry Allen a.k.a Flash, and Arthur Curry a.k.a Aquaman to combat the nearly unstoppable Steppenwolf from destroying Earth with his army of “parademons.” A film that oscillates between good and bad at every turn, I was once again (as has been the case for most superhero fare) bored to death by the plot and its villain. I was, however, mostly happy with the cast (though Miller as Flash was overly silly at times). The members of the Justice League were given distinct personalities, and that in itself makes the proceedings much more enjoyable. Fisher and Momoa especially do a nice job with what, in my opinion, are lame characters. The CGI was weak though, and that’s shocking for, “one of the most expensive films of all-time.” I’m willing to watch more adventures with these characters, but find a filmmaker with some unique ideas.


The Snowman (2017, Directed by Tomas Alfredson) English 4

Starring Michael Fassbender, J.K Simmons, Charlotte Gainsbourg, Rebecca Ferguson, Val Kilmer

Something about me: A murder mystery has to be extremely bad for me not to enjoy, and so, full disclosure: I was entertained for much of this 8% on Rotten Tomatoes travesty. Michael Fassbender stars as Harry Hole, the lead detective from a series of novels by Jo Nesbo, this time out chasing a serial killer who stalks wanton women and leaves snowmen as his calling card. The tone is lifeless, Val Kilmer’s brief role is bizarre (his dialogue is dubbed over), the mystery reveal is contrived, as all mysteries are, but generally with more skill, and there is a whole segment of the film (a side-plot, I guess) that’s left completely unanswered. I believe the director when he says that a large chunk of the film’s script was unshot due to budget concerns and lack of time. The Snowman is, at times, skillfully made, but the lack of coherence makes the central gimmick come off as silly rather than scary. Overall, I’d say The Snowman is in need of a director’s cut that unfortunately will never come.