‘Moana’ Review: Ali’i Cravalho and Dwayne Johnson Charm In This Typical Disney Movie

Disney’s magnificent animation carries Moana through some rocky waters

Sticking close to Disney’s wheelhouse, Moana is something both different and very much the same. Still hitting the same beats and the same narrative style, Moana is far from the deep ocean. However, Lin-Manuel Miranda (Hamilton) delivers some sweet tunes, and there is still that Disney charm buried deep within.

The movie opens with a legend told by Moana’s grand-mother, Tala (Rachel House). The legend follows Maui (Dwayne Johnson), a demi-god, who stole the mother islands gem. This act awakens the villainous Te Ka, who attacks Maui only to let his magical stick and the gem fall deep underwater.

Moana (Ali’i Cravalho) is the princess chosen by the water itself. Her mission is to find Maui and deliver the gem back to the mother island. The only problem is that Te Ka stands in their way and prevents both from entering the mother island.

It may appeal to some that Moana is the same old Disney movie. However, with that comes both brilliance and tiresome. On the surface, Moana is filled with beautiful Hawaiian-like islands with the water being almost life-like. On the other hand, nothing in Moana is particularly original. You can describe Moana as being a hybrid of The Little Mermaid and Pocahontas with shades of Mulan. Her dream to see the open water is reminiscent of Ariel’s dream to see the land.

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Disney creates a princess for our rapidly changing times

Unlike Ariel, Moana is fresh in the sense that her journey is not dependent on a prince. Being chief of her village, she needs to save her people from the harm that Maui caused. There is much riding around her character and Johnson does not prove to overshadow her. Moana gets her time shine, and both characters work together to get things done.

Lin-Manuel Miranda’s magic successfully transcends to the big screen as Moana has the best soundtrack since The Little Mermaid. There are at least 2 songs that stand out from the rest. Johnson’s song is sure to be a hit. It is catchy and fun, while Cravalho’s song is sure to be the new “Part of Your World.”

However, even with all that Moana still had a hard time being engaging. The Disney tropes were a bit much to swallow, and the story arc has very predictable. Disney continues to copy itself without many consequences. However, there will be a time when the Disney princess formula will become tiring for everyone. For this reason, it was challenging to bring its viewers who are all familiar with their movies to get engaged with a story that was done in the past.

Though, Disney’s latest film still stands tall and has just enough to differentiate themselves from their previous works. If you are someone who enjoys the formula, then this won’t prove to be much of a bother. Disney still speaks to a wide audience, and Moana will definitely not be the movie that kills it.

GRADE: B-

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‘Allied’ Review: Robert Zemeckis Directs A Tonally Jumbled War Thriller

Brad Pitt and Marion Cotillard disappoints in an all-around hit and miss thriller

You know when you have two brilliant ideas but just can’t pick one? Yes? Well, Robert Zemeckis feels your pain. On the one hand, Zemeckis wants to tell a story about two agents who fall in love with each other and on the contrary, he intends to tell a story about a doubtful relationship. Although, both are great ideas and none of them get the attention they fully deserve.

During WWII, an agent by the name of Max Vatan (Brad Pitt) gets set up with a beautiful French girl named Marianne Beauséjour (Marion Cotillard). Both of the missions are clear – to take down a German official. At first, they both act as husband and wife before beginning to fall in love.

Just when things look to be in the right direction, Max gets a phone call from his superior. This call is an important one as they reveal to him that suspicion has risen that his loving wife may actually be a German spy. If this is proven to be true, Max will have no other choice but to kill her himself.

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Brad Pitt and Marion Cotillard lack chemistry in this war romance-thriller

Allied has its moments of pure joy, and that is exactly why it is hard to forgive its flaws. When moments of pure dread and suspense happen, the movie feels fresh. Each character is pinned against each other, and the anxiety is ready to rise. However, the tone constantly changes, and it does it always do it with ease. The change to romance halts the movie without ever giving Pitt and Cotillard’s characters some depth.

Speaking of Pitt and Cotillard, they both look bored and uninspired throughout the film. Pitt’s quiet voice down to Earth style of acting only comes off as boring. Cotillard, while better, does not fully commit to her intelligent livelier character. What is weirder is that the changes in their characters are abrupt and it does not work. Allied‘s shift in tones proves a challenge for both actors.

On written paper, Allied should work except that everything that should work about a spy thriller fails. A bright spot is that of the accurate depiction of the aesthetic of the era. Joanna Johnston’s (Lincoln) costume designs are a thing of beauty, capturing both the vintage and the vibrancy of the period. What everyone loves about the era of the war is stuffed in the movie. However, the style is all that Allied has. Screenwriter Steven Knight (Locke) failed to create the ticking bomb effect that is so important in a thriller. Also, Knight fails to create a compelling love story between both uninspired actors.

It is ironic that even something as nerve wracking as war cannot offer a bit of suspense to Allied. Pitt and Cotillard cannot find the dazzling chemistry that is needed to compensate for the movie’s many flaws. Vaguely similar to The Light Between Oceans, both actors are stuck in a hollow romance thriller that is all style and no substance.

GRADE: C

‘It’s Only The End Of The World’ Review: Xavier Dolan Seriously Misfires With His Latest Drama

Canada’s bad boy Xavier Dolan waste a perfectly good cast in his new dysfunctional family drama

It is hard to deliver movie after movie, and just when you think Xavier Dolan has got it, he seriously misses the mark with his new movie, It’s Only The End Of The World. A lot is riding on his latest film. It won the Grand Prix at Cannes Festival this year, and it is Canada’s submission for the Foreign Language category at the Oscars. However, Canada has substantially wasted their submission. It’s Only The End Of The World is Dolan’s only blemish on his resume to date.

Adapted from the Jean-Luc Lagarce’s Juste La Fin Du Monde, it follows a young gay man, Louis (Gaspard Ulliel), who comes home to tell his family that he is dying from AIDS. His single mother (Nathalie Baye), his sister, Suzanne (Léa Seydoux) and his brother, Antoine (Vincent Cassel) are not the most caring family. In fact, they are quite violent and dysfunctional. It is hard for Louis to tell them this devasting news as no one in his family is a particularly good listener. The only caring person present in the house is Antoine’s wife (Marion Cotillard). She and Louis can relate on many points and may be the only person there that can ever understand him.

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One of the few scenes where the camera is not up in the actors’ faces

Ultimately, it becomes a story about a bickering family rather than a powerful story about a dying young man. The cast is amazing, and they do the best they can with what they are given which is not a lot. The whole family is given little to no layers even the main character, Louis. The most wasted actor has got to be Marion Cotillard. She is never given anything interesting to do and falls in the cliched abused wife.

Perhaps as disappointing as the cast is the monotonous cinematography. The excess use of close up adds nothing special to the movie. Dolan only gives teases of what could have been some beautiful cinematography. A scene showing the outdoor table as the family is preparing to eat is a nice change of pace. The audience gets to see a beautifully captured scenery. But, Dolan quickly goes back to putting the camera directly in each character’s faces thinking that it adds to the atmosphere.

Together it makes the movie’s pace unbearable, and the main story is backseat to all the cussing and fighting. Dolan’s addition of weak metaphors come off as pretentious instead of deep. The movie tries to be a sophisticated look at a dying person’s psychology, but instead we get 95 minutes of bickering.

It’s Only The End Of The World is a disappointing movie. Everything it tries to do fails. A talented cast is wasted just as Canada’s chance at an Oscar. However, it may not be the end of the world just yet for Dolan as he is set to release his first English movie, The Death and Life of John F. Donovan. We can only hope that a change of language will help him return to his previous form.

REVIEW: D

‘Fantastic Beasts And Where To Find Them’ Review: J. K. Rowling Outshines Director David Yates In This Harry Potter Spinoff

Eddie Redmayne leads a brand new cast in this heavy mythological spinoff

Forget sequels! World building is where all the craze is at right now. From the Marvel Cinematic Universe to the DC Extended Universe to the recently announce Cloverfield Universe, it is no surprise that the widely beloved Harry Potter franchise has now become a cinematic universe. The “wizarding world” is getting an expansion and Fantastic Beasts And Where To Find Them brings the same great elements from the beloved Harry Potter films.

Not set in Hogsworth, Fantastic Beasts visits political tensions in a 1920s New York. Newt Scamander (Eddie Redmayne) is a British fellow visiting America hoping to find new fantastic beasts. Although not totally obedient, his beasts sometimes get him in trouble. With political tensions high, wizards are not to use magics around the No-Majs (Muggles as Harry would call them). Scamander gets himself in trouble when his suitcase full of magical creatures gets misplaced with Jacob Kowalski’s (Dan Fogler) suitcase. When he opens the briefcase, the creatures escape all over town, and Scamander must find them.

Although his job is not so easy as a new group of individuals called the New Salem Philanthropic Society, believe that witches are terrorizing their city. As they strive to return to a time where people could openly burn accused witches, Scamander must find his beasts before they find them and the wizard community.

It does seem like a lot for a movie. However, J. K. Rowling gets the viewers on track. It is an exposition heavy film, and that is to be expected. The writing is the best part of the movie. Rowling created some fascinating characters. Even the characters that get almost no screen time are crafted in a way that the audience will remember them.

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Fantastic Beasts boast many easter eggs for fans of the Harry Potter series
The beasts are quirky, and they each get a very likable trait. Just like the human characters, the memorable features are what makes the beasts so likable. The Niffler – a platypus-like creature – will definitely win over the audience’s heart. Also, the Bowtruckle is bound to be another fan favorite as it rides the coat tail of Guardians of the Galaxy’s own baby Groot.

Just like GotG, the creatures are magnificently brought to life. They are beautiful to look at and it works most of the time. Other times, though, it can get a little fake. With the movie’s overuse of blue screens and CGI together, the scenes look more cartoonish than reality.

There is a lot of grounds for Fantastic Beasts to cover and while they do succeed most of the time, sometimes certain plot points are rushed. For all the mythology and expositions this spinoff is trying to achieve, it is incredible that they manage to get so many things right. However, the first Harry Potter movies suffered the same fate as they were mostly exposition movies for later sequels. Fantastic Beasts works more of the same way.

If you are fanatic of the Harry Potter movies, then Fantastic Beasts is sure to please you. It does a lot of fan service, and little hidden easter eggs are sure to make you smile. J. K. Rowling remains the strong point for the franchise going forward, and David Yates makes her imaginative world come true with an ease.

REVIEW: A-

‘Arrival’ Review: Amy Adams Shines In This Complex Cerebral Sci-Fi Masterpiece

Denis Villeneuve has created his most intelligent movie yet

There are so many things right in Denis Villeneuve’s latest directorial masterpiece. From Bradford Young’s crisp cinematography to Johann Johannsson’s minimalist score, Arrival is probably this year’s best movie. It will likely spawn comparison to Christopher Nolan’s Interstellar as they both deal with complex philosophical concepts and life beyond Earth. While the comparison is earned, Arrival is smarter and better executed than Interstellar.

Dr. Louise Banks (Amy Adams) is one of the best linguists in the world. When aliens have landed in 12 distinct places on Earth, the military calls upon Louise to translate the alien’s foreign language. They speak by releasing black smoke that creates weird circular symbols. Those symbols represent an intricate language that humans need to understand in order to ask the pivotal question – “What is your purpose on Earth?”

With the help Dr. Ian Donnelly (Jeremy Renner), Louise must find out if their otherworldly friends may actually be foes. Louise knows more than anybody else that language is the key to understanding a group of people and she may not be ready for the consequences this knowledge brings to her.

Again, Villeneuve continues to create visually stunning films. The long wide shots of the alien pods and the interaction with the aliens capture some of the most beautiful cinematography this year. Using symbolic language helps add to the movie’s already incredible visuals. The aliens themselves, covered in white smoke, are elegant even if they are not ascetically attractive.

 

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Amy Adams gives an incredible performance as an intelligent linguist

Amy Adams give one of her best performance as the gifted linguist. Her story is emotional and powerful. Adams convey every emotion and help paint a strong female character. Her character is always one step ahead of everyone including the audience. She establishes that she is, in fact, the best linguist for the job.

Just as smart of Adam’s character is the incredibly complex story. Sci-fi is always a difficult genre to execute. Usually dealing with complex philosophical ideas and theories, Arrival is not different. Villeneuve tackles the Sapir-Whorf hypothesis, which is the idea that learning a foreign language rewires your brain. Along with the theories of time and dimensions, these big ideas get executed to almost perfection. The puzzle this movie assembles gets every piece to fit together

Villeneuve never gets scared of Arrival’s big ambitions. He takes the necessary time to tell his story both visually and verbally. The pace may get tiresome for mainstream viewers, but for fans who enjoy great cinematography, you will not get bored.

Arrival is ambitious, and while sometimes that ambition can be a movie’s downfall, it is its biggest strength. It draws upon complex ideas and nails every one of them. Amy Adam, cinematographer Bradford Young and composer Jóhann Jóhannsson all add to propel the movie to success. The team has made a film that they can all be proud of because not many of this sorts of movies can say that they nailed every ambition.

REVIEW: A+

‘Doctor Strange’ is the trippiest Marvel movie yet – REVIEW

The Marvel Cinematic Universe just got a very strange change

Move over Scarlet Witch; there’s a new wizard in town, and his name is Doctor Steven Strange. He brings with him new destinations, never before seen universes and some visually stunning CGI work. While Doctor Strange continues with old grounds, there is an enrichment of the MCU. The final product is, however, still a Marvel movie filled with costly Marvel mistakes, but the changes prove to be a nice step forward.

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A neurosurgeon both charming and arrogant, named Dr. Strange (Benedict Cumberbatch), lives life to the fullest. His arrogance leads him to a car crash which severely damages the nerves in his hands causing him to develop shaky hands. After the numerous attempts to recover, Strange decides to embark on a journey to Nepal.

There he meets The Ancient One (Tilda Swinton), a powerful and magical being, who shows him the way of magic. As Strange uncovers the power of the magic, Kaecilius (Mads Mikkelson) tries to destroy his plans using the forbidden dark magic. As worlds clash, Strange will soon find out about his true potential.

There isn’t any question that Doctor Strange’s dazzling visual effects are this movie’s strength. The buildings of New York bending and twisting is phenomenal work that aids the film with its flaws. The magic is also a great addition to the MCU. This mystical element added to the amazing fight sequences as well to the overall Marvel universe.

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Benedict Cumberbatch and Tilda Swinton continue to be great actors. Their performances were both powerful and emotional. Cumberbatch is the star of this movie, and he drives it home. His character arc changes as he learns different information about chakras and energy. Swinton’s performance is excellent as well. While questions may have arisen about the whitewashing of Asian talent, Swinton delivers yet again an incredible performance to here diverse roles. She was fantastic, but that role could have gone to an Asian actor without any fuss.

Though, Doctor Strange isn’t without its Marvel tropes. The villain is completely forgettable, and the movie greatly underutilizes him. His fight sequences are nothing special, and he is only there to provide the film with a villain. Though not the first time Marvel has made this mistake, and it is time to call them out on it. Kaecillius falls yet again into the forgettable Marvel villains that you probably won’t remember in a week.

The strangest flaw is something that Marvel has had problems with sometimes. The comic relief in Doctor Strange comes in such awkward places. Sometimes, it hit, but other times it completely affected the tone of the movie. The poorly timed humor robbed some of the most powerful scenes in the film and what could have been pivotal scenes were sometimes crushed by a single misplaced joke.

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Doctor Strange does take a jab at the MCU formula that people grew tired of yet prove that there is still much more to do. However, it is a change of pace and a glimpse of what’s to come. The future Marvel films will surely adopt this mythology. Of all the gates they opened, who knows what’s next?

REVIEW: B+

‘Hacksaw Ridge’ is a powerful Christian war story – REVIEW

Mel Gibson makes a comeback, and it may be his best-directed movie to date

Violent wars have been an intrigue to many directors over the past couple decades. Crafting war scenes is fun and probably the main reason a director chooses to re-tell a WWII story. But what if that story is centered on an individual who opposes war? One must wonder what is Gibson’s real motive in doing Desmond Dawson’s story. His controversial Passion of the Christ is still widely criticized today for exploiting Jesus’ crucifixion in such a sadistic way. Some will say that Hacksaw Ridge is no different. However, if you can look past Gibson’s struggle between telling a war story and a story about a famous pacifist, then hiding in there is one of his best movie to date.

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Desmond Dawson (Andrew Garfield) is a fascinating figure. Living in a toxic home environment, Dawson is showed first hand the consequences of violence. Being a very religious person, his decision to enlist himself as a medic doesn’t come without personal restrictions. He is not to bear nor touch any loaded weapons. His wish is to go to war without one single protection in his hand. Controversial at first, the jury decides to give him the freedom to go to Hacksaw without any weapons.

Struggling with leaving his newly-wed wife, Dorothy (Teresa Palmer), Dawson must hold on to his beliefs to try and save as many lives as he can. In the end, Hacksaw Ridge becomes more of a moral story about war and how one man changed that morality.

The film’s best strength lies in Garfield’s spectacular portrayal of Desmond Dawson. Staying clear of any over acting or caricaturing, he delivers such a powerful and emotional picture of a soldier. Dawson’s beliefs are at the center and through flashback we learn how that came to be. Just one of the reason Garfield’s character fits perfectly in the serious and dramatic world Gibson has so masterfully crafted.

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Playing very nicely within the movie’s drama is the terrific shots Gibson creates. The war scenes, in particular, shine through. Describing the scenes of Hacksaw as gruesomely beautiful is ironic considering this movie is about a pacifist. Dawson’s ideology on war is very different than Gibson’s visual depiction of war. He directs the camera to let you see every cut, wounds, and bullets piercing through the solidiers’ bodies. There is an irony there can be seen as contradicting to the movie’s values.

At the same time, the war imagery is supposed to be shocking and gruesome. The point of Gibson’s story is to sell you the idea that war is morally incorrect. Therefore, a realistic portrayal of war is needed. There is a fine line between realism and exploitation. Gibson does cross that line more often than not but never does he do it at the expense of its message.

The message certainly gets across clearly thanks to Garfield’s terrific performance. Visually stunning and well-crafted war scenes help you forgive Gibson’s careless carnage. The central message is a timeless one, and the Christian understanding can be understood differently by the secular audience. Getting past the irony of pacifism vs. violence is the movie’s toughest sell. However, never have you seen director Mel Gibson at his finest.

REVIEW: A-