Pixar’s COCO exceeds expectations

The trailers for Pixar’s newest animated film “Coco” aren’t particularly captivating.  At first glance, the story seems confusing and vaguely reminiscent of last year’s motion-capture feature “Kubo and the Two Strings”.

As it turns out, trailers can be misleading and skipping “Coco” would be the biggest mistake of the year.  Miguel’s (Anthony Gonzalez) search for his father through the land of the dead is a visual masterpiece.  The production design is rich with detail and the character design is fabulous. Whoever first imagined skeletons could embody a range of emotions as sympathetic characters had tremendous foresight.  “Coco” is a prime example of Pixar at its finest.

Aside from the look of the movie, it’s the themes and story that push it over the top in the best possible way.  “Coco” explores what it is to follow your dreams, respect your family and that seeing is not always believing.  Similar elements exist here as in the other Pixar success stories as well; death and sacrifice are significant and, as was so beautifully expressed in 2015’s “Inside Out”, while emotions may guide us, they shouldn’t define us.

The movie also stars the voice talents of Gael Garcia Bernal and Benjamin Bratt.

For more about “Coco” and how the color design influences the film, take a look below:

–>Keep in touch with the author on Twitter and Instagram @realZoeHewitt.  Looking for the direct link to the video?  Click here.

All film photos are courtesy of Walt Disney Studios / Pixar.

ROMAN J. ISRAEL, ESQ. Review & Analysis

“Roman J Israel, Esq.” isn’t quite as the trailers suggest.  It’s a redemption story of sorts as Roman (Denzel Washington) transforms from idealistic advocate into someone who is out for himself.

Colin Farrell also stars.

For more about “Roman J Israel, Esq.”, including some significant product placement, take a look below:

–>Keep in touch with the author on Twitter and Instagram @realZoeHewitt.  Looking for the direct link to the video?  Click here.

All film photos are courtesy of Sony Pictures.

MURDER ON THE ORIENT EXPRESS Review & Analysis

Kenneth Branagh stars in and directs the latest adaptation of Agatha Christie’s “Murder on the Orient Express”.  It evokes the period setting while allowing for more modern cinematic moments.

Murder on the Orient Express” also stars Michelle Pfeiffer, Judi Dench, Johnny Depp, Daisy Ridley, Penelope Cruz and Josh Gad.

For more about the film, including the significance of 3s, take a look below:

–>Keep in touch with the author on Twitter and Instagram @realZoeHewitt.  Looking for the direct link to the video?  Click here.

All film photos are courtesy of 20th Century Fox.

THREE BILLBOARDS OUTSIDE EBBING MISSOURI Review & Analysis

“Three Billboards Outside Ebbing Missouri” is officially billed as a darkly comedic drama, but it’s far more drama than comedy.  Mildred (Frances McDormand) pays for three billboards questioning the local police chief’s investigation into her daughter’s murder when the case stalls after seven months.  The murder mystery, though, is more a device than actual plot point as the case takes backseat to Mildred’s grief, actions and evolution.

The local police chief (Woody Harrelson) and detective (Sam Rockwell) are as multi-dimensional as Mildred.  However, particularly with Mildred and Detective Dixon, it’s up to viewers to decide if they are truly better versions of themselves by the end.

The movie also stars Woody Harrelson, Sam Rockwell and Caleb Landry Jones.

For more about the evolution of the characters in “Three Billboards Outside Ebbing Missouri“, take a look below:

 

–>Keep in touch with the author on Twitter and Instagram @realZoeHewitt.  Looking for the direct link to the video?  Click here.

All film photos are courtesy of Fox Searchlight.

SUBURBICON Review & Analysis

“Suburbicon” is a film of broad-stroke social commentary that uses the concurrent experiences two families to reflect on society’s biases.

For a more in-depth examination of “Suburbicon”, take a look below:

–>Keep in touch with the author on Twitter and Instagram @realZoeHewitt.  Looking for the direct link to the video?  Click here.

All film photos are courtesy of Paramount Pictures.

THOR: RAGNAROK Review & Analysis

“Thor: Ragnarok” may be the third stand-alone Thor movie, but it revitalizes the franchise, as well as the superhero genre, in a way that the previous chapters have not.  Director Taika Waititi’s vision presents Thor (Chris Hemsworth) as more smart-alecky yet relatable than ever before.

The movie’s opening scene shows a new Thor.  While there’s never really a fear that he’s not as all-powerful as ever, there’s also a different tenor to his wisecracking jokes.  He’s cocky, but not standoffish.

A good portion of “Thor: Ragnarok” takes place on Sakaar, a planet ruled by the Grandmaster (Jeff Goldblum).  He’s a brand of nutty reminiscent of Gene Wilder’s Willy Wonka, a connection further emphasized by several references to the 1971 film.  Though the Grandmaster is a more heavy-handed ruler of his domain than Wonka, there’s a lightheartedness to his world despite evidence to the contrary.

In fact, the entire movie is lighter than many of the others within the superhero genre, both in terms of humor as well as on the technical side.  The visibly brighter way “Thor: Ragnarok” is shot becomes a big clue that things aren’t as grim as the story may suggest.

That said, Hela (Cate Blanchett) may be the realm’s most powerful villain yet.  She’s both awe-inspiring and horrifying in everything from her behavior to her backstory–which is better left unsaid in the interest of avoiding spoilers.

The movie also stars Tom Hiddleston, Tessa Thompson, and Idris Elba.

For more about “Thor: Ragnarok”, including a great behind-the-scenes story about Cate Blanchett’s fight scenes, take a look below:


–>Keep in touch with the author on Twitter and Instagram @realZoeHewitt.  Looking for the direct link to the video?  Click here.

All film photos are courtesy of Walt Disney Studios.

MARSHALL Review & Analysis

“Marshall” has all the makings of a fantastic biopic: a venerable subject matter, impressive actors, and an Oscar-nominated director in Reginald Hudlin (“Django Unchained”).  While this film is undoubtedly an Oscar-contender, it turns out that it’s not so much a biopic after all. Despite former Supreme Court Justice Thurgood Marshall’s remarkable record winning 29 of 32 cases before the Supreme Court as a private attorney, he doesn’t even argue the central case in this film.

Why would Hudlin appear turn away from the story of civil rights leader Marshall in favor of white, Jewish attorney Sam Friedman?  It seems this isn’t the well-known story of Marshall-the-attorney, but one that explores a lesser-known side of him.  Here, Thurgood Marshall (Chadwick Boseman) shines as a brilliant recruiter and motivator.

In “Marshall“, Thurgood travels to Connecticut on behalf of the NAACP to defend Joseph Spell (Sterling K Brown) on a rape charge.  As he’s not a licensed attorney in the state, Marshall needs one to appear in court on his behalf, presenting a motion allowing him to argue before the court.  Sam Friedman (Josh Gad) reluctantly agrees, insisting that he’s through with the case afterwards.  The judge won’t allow Friedman to step down and forbids Marshall from speaking, effectively muzzling him in favor of an attorney who has never even tried a criminal case.

The surprise ruling means Marshall must motivate Friedman to defend their client, while teaching him the intricacies of criminal law.  Friedman becomes part of a movement he never intended to champion.  In fact, the film’s post script says he spent the rest of his life working as a civil rights advocate following this experience.

The real-life Friedman undoubtedly saw the parallels between what he faced as a Jewish attorney and the plight of his African-American client, a point that’s emphasized through repeated emphasis on how both suffer from racism and stereotypes.  The director ensures this connection is clear, with Marshall telling Friedman he’s “one of us”.

For more about “Marshall”, including some interesting stylistic choices, take a look below:

 

–>Keep in touch with the author on Twitter and Instagram @realZoeHewitt.  Looking for the direct link to the video?  Click here.

All film photos are courtesy of Open Road Films.

AMERICAN MADE Review & Analysis

American Made showcases all of star Tom Cruise’s major strengths: the charisma, the winning smile and the lovable cockiness.  While the story may be vaguely based on the experiences of government informant Barry Seal, this is a Tom Cruise movie through-and-through.  Every character fades into the background as little more than poseable set dressing.  It isn’t that the actors aren’t good in their roles, but that they haven’t been given parts other than as hangers-on.

Perhaps the biggest surprise from American Made is the product placement connected to Tom Cruise.  He’s a star who knows the value of branding and, as such, rarely allows any recognizable products in a scene with him and certainly not in his own hands if possible.  So, when he mentions Harley Davidson motorcycles by name, it’s a far bigger shock than any of the plot.

For more about American Made and product placement, take a look below:

—>Keep in touch with the author on Twitter and Instagram @realZoeHewitt.  For the direct link to the review, click here.

All film photos are courtesy of Universal Pictures.

BATTLE OF THE SEXES Review & Analysis

Battle of the Sexes is based on the 1973 real-life tennis match between Billie Jean King (Emma Stone) and Bobby Riggs (Steve Carell).  While the event itself is significant, it shouldn’t come as a surprise that a 29 year old player triumphs over a 55 year old.  The meaning is derived from the context the time period provides King’s personal life and professional career.

During the years leading up to the match, female tennis players on tour made 1/8 of the men’s earnings.  Arguments for the disparity ranged from the need to pay men more as the household breadwinners to the fact that the women weren’t as competitive.  This film is about more than a single tournament; Battle of the Sexes shows how fundamental King is to the feminist movement.  It’s not a matter of being better than the men, but equal to them.  King’s triumph on the tennis court is analogous to that of women everywhere.

King personal life is a challenge as well.  She has to conceal her homosexuality through marriage to an inexplicably understanding husband in order to retain her place on the professional tennis circuit.  Exposure can end her career.  As with 2015’s Carol, the time period contributes to the gravitas of the story.

Battle of the Sexes strives to balance the personal and professional aspects of King’s career within the the movie’s runtime.  Yet, neither storyline feels complete through no fault of the actors.  Stone is as solid as expected.  Carell and Sarah Silverman (Gladys) are particularly impressive.

Battle of the Sexes also stars Andrea Riseborough, Natalie Morales, Bill Pullman, Alan Cumming and Elisabeth Shue.  It was directed by the husband and wife team Jonathan Dayton and Valerie Faris.

For more about themes in Battle of the Sexes and eagle eye details to watch for, take a look below:

 

—>Keep in touch with the author on Twitter and Instagram @realZoeHewitt.  Looking for the direct link to the video?  Click here.

All film photos are courtesy of Twentieth Century Fox Film Corporation / Fox Searchlight.

VICTORIA AND ABDUL Star Interview and Full Review

Judi Dench has played so many queens that she should be honorary British royalty.  In Victoria & Abdul, the time period is 1887 and Queen Victoria (Dench) is floundering.  The most powerful woman in the world, she languishes from personal loss, sleeps through her own banquets and suffers the indignity of reporting her bowel movements.

Enter Abdul (Ali Fazal)–literally.  He’s honored with the job of presenting a ceremonial Indian coin to Queen Victoria alongside Mohammed (Adeel Akhtar), a last-minute fill in who wants nothing to do with the task.  Following an arduous journey from India, the pair receive strict instructions about protocol.  They are props just as much as the coin.

After giving Queen Victoria the coin and backing away as etiquette dictates, Abdul breaks convention and locks eyes with the monarch.  A tense moment ensues: how will she react?  Declaring him handsome, the queen decides both men should stay and thus marks the beginning of their relationship over the final 15 years of the queen’s life.

The chemistry between Dench and Fazal is integral to the course of the film and the pair’s on-screen ambiguous relationship.  Why exactly is Queen Victoria so taken with Abdul, whom she elevates from servant to teacher/advisor over the course of their years together?  Is it a matter of physical attraction or something more?

There’s a beautiful moment in the film when the queen and Abdul dance together on the verandah.  An interview with Fazal reveals the words were scripted, but the action was not.  He says director Stephen Frears asked them to dance while saying their lines, a move that results in Fazal beginning by reaching out rather gracelessly–an entirely real moment that appears in the final cut of the film.

What didn’t make it into the film?  Dench and Fazal slapping their faces as a multitude of mosquitoes swarm them in a boat.  Fazal says even coming from a country like India where the pests are everywhere, these were intolerable.  The scene with the boat remains in the film, though Fazal can’t help but laugh in memory at the outtakes.

For more about Victoria & Abdul directly from Ali Fazal, along with a discussion about themes and symbolism in the film, take a look below:

—>Keep in touch with the author on Twitter and Instagram @realZoeHewitt.  Looking for the direct link to the video?  Click here.

All film photos are courtesy of Focus Features.

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