Encanto (2021)

Encanto
Director: Jared Bush, Byron Howard, Charise Castro Smith
Writer: Charise Castro Smith, Jared Bush, Lin-Manuel Miranda (songs)
Cast: Stephanie Beatriz, María Cecilia Botero, John Leguizamo, Mauro Castillo, Jessica Darrow, Angie Cepeda, Carolina Gaitan, Diane Guerrero, Wilmer Valderrama, Rhenzy Feliz, Ravi Cabot-Conyers, Adassa, Maluma
Seen on: 3.1.2022

Plot:
Many years ago, Abuela (María Cecilia Botero) had to flee her home together with her husband and her three children. On their flight, her husband didn’t make it, but Abuela got a gift, a miracle that gave her and her family magic powers and a safe haven in a magical house. Now the Mardrigal family uses their gifts to keep the village going. Everybody in the family got a different gift. Everybody but Mirabel (Stephanie Beatriz) that is. Now it is Mirabel’s little cousin Antonio’s (Ravi Cabot-Conyers) turn, and there is a certain tension in the air. What if Antonio doesn’t get a gift either? But even after Antonio is successful, there is something wrong – and Mirabel is determined to fix everything.

Encanto is sweet, touching and fun. I thoroughly enjoyed it, its colorful world-building and characters.

The film poster showing a house wrapped in flowers and the Mardigal family in its courtyard, with Mirabel at the front.
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Frank & Zed (2020)

Frank & Zed
Director: Jesse Blanchard
Writer: Jesse Blanchard
Cast: Jerry Bell Jr., Aaron Booth, Randolph F. Christen,Chris Henry, Johnny Huang, Brian McKann, Jonathan McLain, Timothy Morse, Sam A. Mowry, Steve Overton, Daniel Rhovan, Jason Ropp, Mandy Stockholm
Part of: Secret Society Screening at the SLASH Film Festival
Seen on: 3.10.2021
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Plot:
Frank and Zed are the sole remaining inhabitants of a castle that is slowly falling apart, and strictly speaking, they aren’t even alive. But they do have their routines that ensure their continued existence. In a nearby village, rumors and myths about the castle abound and prove fertile ground for a magistrate to satisfy his power urges, leading the villagers, as well as Frank and Zed into the prophesied Orgy of Blood.

I have to admit that watching puppets in a gore film (what the director dubbed puppetcore) is a fun idea and the execution was very impressive. Narratively, though, the film is a little thin, leaving the impression that there is not much to it apart from the puppetcore idea.

The film poster showing Frank holding an axe and a decapitated head, and Zed holding his own decapitated head with the brain sticking out.
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Shine 3D (2011)

Shine
Director: Jesse Blanchard
Writer: Jesse Blanchard
Part of: Secret Society Screening at the SLASH Film Festival
Seen on: 3.10.2021
[Just a quick note: I saw the 2D version of this film.]

Plot:
A dark stage. A barber shop quartett. A cone of light. And outside that light, something is lurking.

Shine is the first “puppetcore” project by Blanchard: a gorey horror comedy made entirely with puppets. And I loved both the narrative concept and the idea behind puppetcore. The short is entirely charming and very funny, and was the perfect intro for seeing Blanchard’s first feature lenght puppetcore movie, Frank & Zed.

A puppet barber shop quartett performing. They are all holding hats in their hands, one of the hats has a bite taken out of it.

Raya and the Last Dragon (2021)

Raya and the Last Dragon
Director: Don Hall, Carlos López Estrada
Writer: Qui Nguyen, Adele Lim
Cast: Kelly Marie Tran, Awkwafina, Gemma Chan, Izaac Wang, Daniel Dae Kim, Benedict Wong, Sandra Oh, Lucille Soong, Alan Tudyk, Dichen Lachman, Sung Kang
Seen on: 2.6.2021

Plot:
There used to be one country called Kumandra. But after a terrible plague, the Druun, that turned everybody it touched to stone, and that could only be stopped with the dragons – who all turned to stone themselves – the country split into five realms: Fang, Tail, Talon, Heart and Spine. The last of the dragon powers in form of a stone is in Heart, guarded by King Benja (Daniel Dae Kim) and his daughter Raya (Kelly Marie Tran). Benja would like to bring the five realms together again, but his plans don’t come to fruition. Instead, the magic stone is broken and the Druun return. There is only one hope for Raya now: finding Sisu (Awkwafina), the last dragon who supposedly was just lost and not turned to stone.

Raya and the Last Dragon is a beautifully animated, emotionally touching film. It is pretty much what you hope for when you go to watch a Disney princess film – an absolutely satisfying experience.

The film poster showing Raya standing in the middle, with Sisu above her. The rest of the image is separated in five parts, four representing one of the film countries and the fifth showing Raya and Namaari charging each other.
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Persepolis (2007)

Persepolis
Director: Vincent Paronnaud, Marjane Satrapi
Writer: Vincent Paronnaud
Based on: Marjane Satrapi’s autobiographical comic
Cast: Chiara Mastroianni, Danielle Darrieux, Catherine Deneuve, Simon Abkarian, Gabrielle Lopes Benites, François Jerosme, Tilly Mandelbrot
Seen on: 24.5.2021

Plot:
Marji (Gabrielle Lopes Benites) is precocious and rather wild girl. She grows up with her parents (Catherine Deneuve, Simon Abkarian) and her grandmother (Danielle Darrieux) in Tehran. Her family is political – a fact that has gotten her uncle Anoush (François Jerosme) into prison already. With the Islamic Revolution, things become even more difficult for them. Finally her parents decide to send Marji – now a teenager and called Marjane (Chiara Mastroianni) – to Austria for her own safety. But being an Iranian girl in Austria isn’t much easier than being one in Iran.

Persepolis has been on my radar for a while now, and I’m not sure why I never watched it until now (probably a case of me wanting to read the comic this is based on first, but I never did). Anyhow, I watched it now and it really was very good.

The film poster showing Marjane, her chin in her hand. Behind her is a bubble that shows her family - mother, father, uncle and grandmother standing around a sofa on which she sits as a child.
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The Mitchells vs the Machines (2021)

The Mitchells vs the Machines
Director: Michael Rianda, Jeff Rowe
Writer: Michael Rianda, Jeff Rowe, Alex Hirsch
Cast: Abbi Jacobson, Danny McBride, Maya Rudolph, Michael Rianda, Eric André, Olivia Colman, Fred Armisen, Beck Bennett, Chrissy Teigen, John Legend, Charlyne Yi, Blake Griffin, Conan O’Brien
Seen on: 9.5.2021

Plot:
Katie Mitchell (Abbi Jacobson) can’t wait to finally go to film school where she has found nerdy people like her. She will miss her little brother Aaron (Michael Rianda) and her mother Linda (Maya Rudolph), though things are a little more complicated with her father Rick (Danny McBride). When Katie and Rick get into a fight on Katie’s last night, Rick changes their plans to make up for it. To Katie’s horror, he arranges everything to drive the entire family across the country to drop Katie off at college himself. The road trip is tense, and things get even worse when a newly developed robot line gets out of hand and starts to capture all humans. As unlikely as it may seem to all of them, it’s up to the Mitchells to stop the robot apocalypse.

The Mitchells vs the Machines is an extremely well done animated film that had me laughing out loud. The story may be a little predictable, but it has more than enough charm to make up for that.

The film poster showing the Mitchell family in their car, flying through the air, their pug sitting outside on the hood.
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Pachamama (2018)

Pachamama
Director: Juan Antin
Writer: Juan Antin, Patricia Valeix, Olivier de Bannes, Nathalie Hertzberg
Cast: Andrea Santamaria, India Coenen, Saïd Amadis, Marie-Christine Darah, Vincent Ropion, Jean-Marc Pannetier [I saw the film in English, these are the French voice actors]
Seen on: 23.3.2021

Content Note: (critical treatment of) colonialism

Plot:
Tepulpai (Andrea Santamaria) wants to become a shaman like Shaman (Saïd Amadis). When its time to prove that he is willing to sacrifice his most treasured possession to Pachamama and thus prove that he is becoming an adult, he can’t do it – unlike Naira (India Coenen) who is ready to sacrifice her small llama Lamita. When a tax collector shows up in their village and takes not only more than the village can afford, but also their Huaca, a sacred idol, Tepulpai hopes he can prove himself after all – by bringing back the Huaca.

Pachamama is a really beautiful film with a political core, but the story and the voice acting didn’t quite work for me.

The film poster showing Tepulpai and Naira flying on a big Condor bird. Lamita is watching them from the ground.
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The Iron Giant (1999)

The Iron Giant
Director: Brad Bird
Writer: Tim McCanlies, Brad Bird, Brent Forrester
Based on: Ted Hughes‘ novel The Iron Man
Cast: Eli Marienthal, Jennifer Aniston, Harry Connick Jr., Vin Diesel, James Gammon, Cloris Leachman, Christopher McDonald, John Mahoney, M. Emmet Walsh
Seen on: 27.1.2021

Plot:
Hogarth (Eli Marienthal) is a bright, curious child, prone to adopting critters and with a love of everything SciFi. His single mother Annie (Jennifer Aniston) has her hands full with him and with work. One night, Hogarth sees something weird in the forest next to his house and goes to investigate. What he finds is a giant metal robot from outer space in some distress, and Hogarth can’t just walk away – he helps. But a robot of its size is bound to draw attention – and not every attention is good.

I missed The Iron Giant when it came out and it had been on my watchlist ever since (that hasn’t kept me from using the ever useful “ART” gif). I finally made it, and I’m glad I did. It’s a really sweet, fun film with very nice animation.

The film poster showing the Iron Giant, a huge robot, standing in a forest, cradling Hogarth in his hands.
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Toy Story 4 (2019)

Toy Story 4
Director: Josh Cooley
Writer: Andrew Stanton, Stephany Folsom
Sequel to: Toy Story, Toy Story 2, Toy Story 3
Cast: Tom Hanks, Tim Allen, Annie Potts, Tony Hale, Keegan-Michael Key, Madeleine McGraw, Christina Hendricks, Jordan Peele, Keanu Reeves, Ally Maki, Jay Hernandez, Lori Alan, Joan Cusack, Bonnie Hunt, Kristen Schaal, Emily Davis, Wallace Shawn, John Ratzenberger, Blake Clark, June Squibb, Mel Brooks, Carol Burnett, Betty White, Carl Reiner, Bill Hader, Patricia Arquette, Timothy Dalton, Flea
Seen on: 28.8.2019

Plot:
Woody (Tom Hanks), Buzz (Tim Allen) and Andy’s other old toys have found a good home with Bonnie (Madeleine McGraw). When Bonnie starts kindergarten, she crafts a new toy from some trash, Forky (Tony Hale) who promptly comes to life and joins the entire family. But Forky is not ready to be a toy – he believes himself to be trash. Woody has his hands full just to make sure that Forky doesn’t throw himself away. And if that wasn’t enough to deal with, Woody actually catches up with Bo Peep (Annie Potts) on the family trip. She was sold years ago – and has a very different outlook on the world now than Woody.

Toy Story 4 was really great. It was definitely worth the wait (almost ten years have passed since Toy Story 4 after all) to get this emotional and funny film.

The film poster showing Woody tipping his hat. In the background we can see a fair.
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The Secret Life of Pets 2 (2019)

The Secret Life of Pets 2
Director: Chris Renaud, Jonathan del Val
Writer: Brian Lynch
Sequel to: The Secret Life of Pets
Cast: Patton Oswalt, Kevin Hart, Harrison Ford, Eric Stonestreet, Jenny Slate, Tiffany Haddish, Lake Bell, Dana Carvey, Bobby Moynihan, Hannibal Buress, Chris Renaud, Ellie Kemper
Seen on: 4.7.2019

Content Note: ableism

Plot:
Max (Patton Oswalt) and Duke (Eric Stonestreet) have finally found a good way to live with each other, when their family grows once more: this time, it’s a baby. Max falls in love with the child – and then starts to worry about everything they ever do and all the things that could go wrong. Growing ever more anxious, Max really doesn’t know what do anymore. When the entire family goes to a farm, Max meets the farm dog Rooster (Harrison Ford) who tries to help him with his anxiety.

I have rarely seen a sequel that tried so little as The Secret Life of Pets 2. The first one already wasn’t the best film ever, but this one is a definite step down.

The film poster showing a group of dogs sitting on a water tower on a city rooftop, howling at the moon.
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