Earlier this week, I published a Q & D post on some of the movies I watched in preparation for the 2015 Dellies. Well, they're done and will publish in a couple days. What may or may not surprise you is that I've also been making a hard push to get the 2016 Dellies done. My hope is to get them posted before the summer is over. That means I've been watching lots of movies with not enough time, nor desire, to create a separate post on each one. So, here we are. Let's see what I've been up to. Again, these are all 2016 releases.
The Angry Birds MovieRed (Jason Sudeikis) is one of the many flightless birds who inhabit Bird Island. He has some issues with his temper and is sentenced to Anger Managment Class where meets a group of misfits. Later, a group of pigs from Piggie Island show up and basically say "We come in peace," before trying to steal all the eggs from the birds. Red never trusted the pigs for a moment, and thus, it's up to him and newfound friends to save the day. For a movie meant for kids, this one is awfully crude. I know lots of kiddie flicks are, but this one surpasses most. It goes beyond fart jokes and general toilet humor right into specific toilet humor, like long close-ups of a bird's stream of urine as he pisses in the water. Crassness aside, most of the jokes don't quite work and the story is simultaneously predictable and all over the place, if that makes sense. The two sides never come together to form a cohesive whole. The result is movie that feels like it's just throwing things against the screen and seeing what sticks. Unfortunately, not much does. The finale, taken directly from the video game this movie is based on, is also problematic from a logic standpoint. However, I'm willing to bet the powers that be weren't considering the reasoning skills of their target audience when they made this. They did, however, assemble an outstanding cast that does their best with the material. Aside from Sudeikis, it includes Peter Dinklage, Danny McBride, Maya Rudolph, Kate McKinnon, and Sean Penn, among others. Unfortunately, what they're working with is subpar. The message the film sends is confusing since it tries to have it both ways, particularly on the issue of religion. If you can't tell, this movie just didn't work for me.
Possible Dellies Considerations: Best Voice-Over Performance (Peter Dinklage)
Collateral BeautyAfter his daughter's death, Howard (Will Smith) is mired in deep depression, seemingly with no light at the end of his tunnel. The business he runs is going down the tubes as he literally refuses to work despite showing up every day. Things are so bad, he writes letters to Time, Death, and Love, and mails them off. Fearing he's going to take them down the tubes with him, Howard's business partners/estranged friends hatch a plan to get him to sell his majority share of the company so they can save it. The plan involves making Howard realize he's completely lost it, and possibly nudging him over the edge as they hire actors to portray the entities he's been writing to. Will Smith gives us the same sort of morose character he played in Seven Pounds with similar results. It's solid, if unspectacular, work. He's aided here by a wonderful supporting cast. Helen Mirren is the standout, but Kate Winslet, Edward Norton, Keira Knightley, Naomie Harris, and Michael Pena are all very good. The story tries to take things in a magical direction, but it falls apart by that point and doesn't quite have the effect it wants. Overall, it's not as bad as many would have you believe, but it's a far cry from the Oscar contender it desperately desires to be. In fact, I'd describe it as overwhelmingly "meh."
Possible Dellies Considerations: Best Supporting Actress (Helen Mirren), Best Ensemble
The HandmaidenWe meet Count Fujiwara (Ha Jung-woo) as he is deciding on which of the wayward women in a family of con artists he's going to hire to help him bilk wealthy Japanese heiress Lady Hideko (Kim Min-hee) out of her fortune. Fujiwara settles upon Sook-Hee (Kim Tae-ri) and gets her hired as a maid in Lady Hideko's mansion. There are a couple of things to note, here. Fujiwara and Sook-Hee are both Korean, but have to pass for Japanese. Next, The mansion, and Hideko's fortune is actually under the control of her domineering Uncle Kouzuki (Cho Jin-woong). As is typical of a film directed by Park Chan-wook, we can't help but notice the look of the film. There are too many gorgeous shots to count, even when the content of those shots is violently or sexually graphic. What keeps us engaged, however, is the maze of twists and turns the story takes. Chan-wook handles each curve expertly as not to throw us too violently for a loop. The weight of all that's going on never feels as if it's too much for the film. It's a magnificent piece of story-telling.
Possible Dellies Considerations: Best Actress (Kim Min-hee), Best Supporting Actress (Kim Tae-ri), Best Villain (Ha Jung-woo), Best Ensemble, Best Overall Technical Achievement, Best Director (Park Chan-wook)
The Jungle BookBy now, you probably know the plot of The Jungle Book. In case you don't, it's about Mowgli (Neel Sethi), a boy who has been raised by wolves. Everyone in the jungle doesn't take too kindly to having the "man-cub" around, least of all the tiger, Shere Khan (Idris Elba). Shere Khan wants nothing more than to kill Mowgli. To keep Mowgli safe, the Bagheera (Ben Kingsley) volunteers to escort Mowgli to the man village. Shere Khan trying to catch up with them ensues. There are some changes made to the original story, particularly the ending, but it all works to keep us fully invested in Mowgli's journey. Director Jon Favreau once again proves he really knows how to tell a good adventure story. He does so with the help of some amazing visual effects and some outstanding voice-work from his top-notch cast. The latter includes a dynamite cameo by Christopher Walken. According to IMdb.com, there is another version of this story coming out in 2018. For the life of me, I can't figure out why. This one is excellent which makes it totally unnecessary to revisit the same material so soon.
Possible Dellies Considerations: Best Actor (Neel Sethi), Best Voice-Over Performance (Idris Elba, Ben Kingsley, Lupita Nyong'o, Bill Murray, Christopher Walken), Best Action Sequence (opening), Best Ensemble, Best Overall Technical Achievement, Best Director (Jon Favreau)
Kubo and the Two StringsAs an infant, we're told, Kubo had one of his eyes stolen from him by his grandfather The Moon King (Ralph Fiennes). Now, as a tween, he's sports an eye patch, lives in a cave with his sickly mother Sariatu (Charlize Theron), and uses his off-the-charts origami skills to make money by telling stories to the villagers. Well, it seems The Moon King wants to come and get Kubo's other eye and sends his two henchwomen after the boy, Karasu and Washi (both played by Rooney Mara), who happen to be Sariatu's sisters. Sariatu tries valiantly to protect her boy, but succumbs to her sister's. Before she does, she uses her last bit of magic to animate a small wooden charm, Monkey, to watch over the boy in her absence. The stop-motion animation is wonderfully done giving the film an exquisite look. The voice work by the cast is excellent with Charlize Theron doing a particularly great job. Brenda Vaccaro and Matthew McConaughey are also really good. More important than any of that, the story is told exceedingly well and really tugs at your heartstrings. It also makes use of some Studio Ghibli influences and incorporates them seamlessly into its own universe. The product is a beautiful film.
Possible Dellies Considerations: Best Voice-Over Performance (Charlize Theron, Ralph Fiennes, Brenda Vaccaro), Best Ensemble, Best Animated Feature, Best Overall Technical Achievement
La La LandMia (Emma Stone) is a struggling actress who spends her days as a barista on the lot of a Hollywood studio and many of her evenings going to auditions in hopes of making it big. Sebastian (Ryan Gosling) is a struggling musician who aspires to own his own club, and save jazz in the process. When the two meet, they embark on a whirlwind romance involving lots of musical numbers. Gosling and Stone have an easy chemistry that carries the film to whatever heights it reaches. The songs are pleasant enough, with only the Oscar-winning tune "City of Stars" being truly memorable. That one is so memorable that in the twenty-four hours since I watched this movie, it's played itself in my head roughly 6,572 times. That said, even though I give kudos to Ryan Gosling and Emma Stone for singing, I'm not sure I would want either on my team if I were a coach on "The Voice." Plot-wise, it moves along nicely through the first half and ensures we really buy into the relationship we're watching grow and develop before our eyes. Unfortunately, it drags itself through the second act. AS a saving grace, the film does include two absolutely magical scenes. The first is one you may have seen clips of, if you haven't already seen the film, and that's the dance in the planetarium. The other, to me, is the better scene. It happens late in the movie and rejuvenates it. Saying anything further might get into spoiler territory so I won't do that. Personally, I try not to know much about a movie before watching it, but that was virtually impossible with this one. I managed to avoid any spoilers, myself, but I was well aware of the way this film has been received and the evolution of that reception. When it first came out, it seemed everyone loved it. Then it won a slew of Oscars and it became the cool thing to hate on. I am firmly in the middle of those extremes. It's a very good movie, romantic and extremely cute homage to the golden age of Hollywood, and jazz, for that matter. However, as Mrs. Dell put it once the credits rolled "It wasn't ten-leven Oscars good." By 'ten-leven' she means the 14 nominations and 6 wins the film earned. In short, we liked it, had fun watching it, but not sold on the idea of this being one of the greatest movies ever.
Possible Dellies Considerations: Best Actor (Ryan Gosling), Best Actress (Emma Stone), Best Overall Technical Achievement
Queen of KatweWhen we meet Phiona (Madina Nalwanga) is a ten year old girl living in the slums of Kampala, Uganda with her single mother Nakku (Lupita Nyong'o) and the rest of her family. One day she follows her brother to a missionary program where Robert (David Oyelowo) is teaching underprivileged kids how to play chess. He quickly discovers that Phiona has a natural knack for the game and works hard at developing her and the other children in hopes of having them compete with more well-to-do kids from other parts of Africa. Nalwanga does a fine job in the lead role, but it's really David Oyelowo and Lupita Nyong'o who carry the film with their tug-of-war over what's best for Phiona. The film does a nice job giving us a balanced representation of Africa as a land like many others where both poverty and wealth exist and those mired in the former have to scratch and claw their way if they are to ever get out. Sure, it's all Disney fluff and cheese with nary a surprise to be found, but it's so effectively done we can't help but root for Phiona, get excited for each of her successes, and saddened by her setbacks.
Possible Dellies Considerations: Best Actor (David Oyelowo), Best Supporting Actress (Lupita Nyong'o)
Sausage PartyFrank (Seth Rogen) is one of the sausages in a pack at Shopwell's Supermarket. He wants nothing more than to be able live out the rest of his days with his girlfriend, a hot dog bun named Brenda (Kristen Wiig). Yup, you read that right. Anyhoo, the chances of Frank's dream coming true are at an all-time high as its Fourth of July weekend and there is a strong possibility they will both be picked up and taken to The Great Beyond. They, and almost all of the items at the supermarket believe The Great Beyond to be some sort of utopia where they live in everlasting happiness. What we, and a few of the items who have come back from there, know is that going to The Great Beyond just means some human shopper has purchased them and will do all sorts of heinous things to them. They are food, after all. As you can imagine, hijinks and shenanigans ensue. Really raunchy hijinks and shenanigans, by the way. And I thoroughly enjoyed it. The difference between this and The Angry Birds Movie is that there is no doubt in my mind Sausage Party is aimed at adults. An even bigger plus in this film's favor is that it is about a thousand times smarter than The Angry Birds Movie. It uses all sorts of stereotypes to exploit, explore, and make social commentary. It does the same with religion, even seeming to support an atheist, or at least anti-religious, viewpoint. It manages to do this while keeping us laughing through most of its run-time. Unfortunately, the way over the top climax of the film is some of the most uncomfortable viewing you can do, especially considering we didn't have to go down this road at all to achieve the same thing. Still, it's a movie I really liked despite expecting to hate every minute of it.
Possible Dellies Considerations: Best Voice-Over Performance (Michael Cera, Jonah Hill), Best Animated Feature