Coco

Coco is a 2017 computer-animated family comedy-drama film co-directed and co-written by Lee Unkrich and Adrian Molina. The film stars Anthony Gonzalez, Gael Garcia Bernal, Benjamin Bratt, Alanna Ubach, Renée Victor, Ana Ofelia Murguía, and Edward James Olmos.

Coco is based upon the Mexican holiday Día de Muertos, or Day of the Dead, a tradition in which people’s deceased relatives are remembered and honored in the form of a shrine and a collection of offerings called an ofrenda, decorated with pictures of the deceased family members. It is said that these pictures permit the deceased to cross over from the spiritual world to the material world for a time to reconnect with their living relatives. As such, the ofrenda also contains gifts for these benevolent familial spirits.

Coco is set in the fictional Mexican village of Santa Cecilia. Coco follows the story of Miguel Rivera, a 12-year-old aspiring musician. Therein lies the problem. The Rivera Family is vehemently anti-music; back in the 1930s, Rivera patriarch Mama Imelda got her heart broken after her husband, a musician, left the family to travel the world, never to be seen again. Imelda banished all music from her life, learning how to make shoes as a way to support her daughter, Coco, Miguel’s great grandmother. Coco’s daughter Elena Rivera continues to enforce her grandmother’s ban on music, with most of the family following suit, save for Miguel.

Miguel idolizes Ernesto de la Cruz, the most famous singer in all of Mexico, known for his wildly successful songs and films in the 1930s and 40s, before being crushed in a tragic bell accident. He dreams of being just like him. He plans to play in the town plaza during a Day of the Dead festival, but Abuelita Elena discovers this, and angrily destroys his guitar. A defiant Miguel steals the guitar of Ernesto de la Cruz, which unwittingly transports him to the Land of the Dead, where he meets the spirits of the deceased Rivera Family. He discovers that he is now cursed, and thus cannot return to the Land of the Living without it being lifted. He, with the help of his family and some new friends, must navigate the Spirit World and figure out a way back to his family.

Coco is a hard movie to review. It is hard to find any legitimate criticism of any kind. It doesn’t transcend the genre, mind you. It does not reinvent the wheel, but it does everything perfectly. It follows convention while avoiding cliches. Indeed, it does follow typical plot points and has “twists” older members of the audience will see coming a mile away, but this does not lessen the impact of the movie in the slightest.

The cast of Coco is excellent, and surprisingly comprised of largely unknown actors of legitimately Mexican descent. They are all brilliant, especially Anthony Gonzales, who voices Miguel. He’s 12; the deck is largely stacked against child actors, let alone child voice actors. The fact he was able to pull this off perfectly is very, very impressive. I like everyone in this film, but honestly the foreign names are hard, so just take my word for it, they are all very good.

The animation is also on par with normal Pixar, so it is excellent, as well. They make it look easy. Even the musical numbers are great, and I normally despise musical numbers. I think part of the reason I loved them is because, seeing as how the movie is about music, they actually work in the context of the film, so they weren’t random or jarring at all. They flow very well.

Everything in this movie, in fact, works well. On top of being a genuinely brilliant film in it’s own right, it also manages to insightfully portray Mexican people and culture, namely it’s largest, most well-known, and longstanding traditions, which probably has something to do, once again, with the multicultural casting and behind-the-scenes staffing of this film.

I will warn you, though, the one thing that prevented me from giving it a perfect 5 on Letterbox’d was the short shown before the movie. The short was Olaf’s Frozen Adventure. Long story short, it was almost a half-hour long and I could not stand it. It colored my judgement of Coco, but ultimately I still gave it a 4.5 out of 5.

I don’t really know what else to say other than the fact that Coco is extremely good and deserves its praise. The casting, writing, singing, animation… everything just gels so well to the point where the last ten minutes literally moved my best friend, a grown, 21-year-old Computer Science major, to tears. That is not a dig at my friend. Rather, Coco is sincerely just good enough to do that. It is deserving of all of it’s praise and is almost certainly the best animated American film of the year; don’t be surprised if it wins a ton of awards. I recommend it to anyone and everyone.

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Logan Lucky

Logan Lucky is a 2017 American heist comedy film directed by Steven Soderbergh and written by an unknown screenwriter named Rebecca Blunt. The film features an ensemble cast consisting of Channing Tatum, Adam Driver, Riley Keough, Daniel Craig, Seth MacFarlane, Katie Holmes, Hilary Swank, Katherine Waterston and Sebastian Stan.

Logan Lucky follows the three Logan siblings in Charlotte, North Carolina: Jimmy, Clyde, and Mellie. The Logans are known for having a history of bad luck; Jimmy was an all-star high school football player who was prevented from going to the NFL because of an injury and Clyde lost his hand in the Iraq War. After being laid off from his construction job, Jimmy concocts a plan to rob the Charlotte Motor Speedway.

Steven Soderbergh got his start creating indie films like Sex, Lies, and Videotape in 1989, but the acclaimed filmmaker is best known for directing The Ocean’s Trilogy from 2001 to 2007. Soderbergh, with a long and successful career, went on a much publicized hiatus from feature filmmaking in 2013 following the acclaimed Behind The Candelabra, saying that obstacles and studio meddling make it difficult for filmmakers to stay true to their artistic vision.

It is fitting, then, that Soderbergh’s return to the scene would be an independently produced, distributed, directed, and possibly written (many have posited that Rebecca Blunt is a pseudonym for Soderbergh himself) film that can be aptly described as “Redneck Ocean’s Eleven.”

Logan Lucky is a triumphant comeback for a talented director. With a style and sense of humor very similar to its spiritual predecessor, this hilarious film also benefits from wonderful performances from all involved, specifically Adam Driver and Daniel Craig. It is remarkable to see that the Englishman known almost exclusively for playing the classy superspy can also effectively portray a redneck white trash explosives expert with the same ease. All the cast does an excellent job, but these two, I feel, are the standouts.

It goes without saying that the writing of this film is very much on point. Logan Lucky was described while doing my research as “2017’s Kiss, Kiss, Bang, Bang.” I can tell you right now this a very accurate descriptor and a factor that works to it’s advantage. It also features exceptional cinematography from Peter Andrews and suitable music by composer David Holmes.

Logan Lucky is a smartly-written, well-performed, exceptionally-shot, hilarious callback to a talented director’s magnum opus with a unique twist that humanizes and empathizes with redneck culture rather than making fun of them. It is certainly worth a watch… or a few.

Thor: Ragnarok

Thor: Ragnarok is a 2017 superhero action-adventure comedy film directed by Taika Waititi and written by Eric Pearson, Craig Kyle, and Christopher Yost. Based upon the eponymous Marvel Comics character,  it is the third standalone film to feature the character following 2011’s Thor and 2013’s Thor: The Dark World. It is also the seventeenth film in the Marvel Cinematic Universe, directly following Spider-Man: Homecoming (which I neglected to review but found very good overall) and Guardians of the Galaxy, Vol. 2. This film stars Chris Hemsworth, Tom Hiddleston, Cate Blanchett, Tessa Thompson, Jeff Goldblum, Mark Ruffalo, Idris Elba, Anthony Hopkins, and Karl Urban.

Following the events of The Dark World, Loki has faked his death and claimed the throne of Asgard under the guise of his father, Odin. After his trickery is discovered by Thor, having returned to Asgard after spending some time searching for the Infinity Stones, the two discover Odin has retreated to Norway. He warns them of the coming of his eldest child, Hela, The Goddess of Death, who wishes to take the throne by any means necessary. The two estranged brothers end up on an alien planet run by the eccentric Grand Master. It is discovered that Hulk is also on this planet after crash landing the Quinjet two years ago following the events of Age of Ultron. Together, all three must escape the planet and battle Hela for the fate of Asgard.

The main problem, of which there are many, with the first two Thor films is the insistence that, barring a few solid jokes throughout the first two films, we take all of this as seriously as Winter Soldier or Civil War, and the problem with that is… you can’t. Thor, The God Of Thunder, Son Of Odin and Prince Of Asgard, travels between the Nine Realms of the Universe via a magical bridge named after everyone’s least-favorite Mario Kart map. There is no way to take all of this in straight. Thankfully, someone (maybe everyone) at Marvel Studios realized that and hired the director of the hilarious What We Do In The Shadows to help create what I found to be one of the funniest entries into the MCU so far; it is probably my #4 or #5 favorite Marvel Studios film and is definitely the best of all the Thor films.

Make no mistake, in terms of long-lasting emotional impact, there really isn’t any. That is not a detriment. I think it was very much by design. Waititi wisely decides to leave the emotion to another MCU film or something like its brilliant 20th Century Fox cousin LoganRagnarok chooses, in spite of its apocalyptic title and my serious-sounding plot synopsis, to be an unapologetically fun and hilarious romp that had the small theater audience (3:00 showing) laughing hysterically, and that includes myself. A good 60% of this movie is a joke followed by a punchline, and it was so much fun.

Chris Hemsworth and Tom Hiddleston give their best performances in the MCU yet. I feel as though it is the first movie in the entire series to effectively showcase how much onscreen chemistry the two actors have. It is quite clear the two are having a whole lot of fun in this film, something that wasn’t all that noticeable in the previous films. Jeff Goldblum is hilarious as the comical villain The Grand Master and Karl Urban, who I have always found to be woefully underrated, is great as Skurge. Mark Ruffalo, as usual, is great as Bruce Banner and is able to, as all of the actors are, flex his comedic bones as well as his dramatic bones for a brief, yet important time. The entire cast does an excellent job. The action and CGI are also impressive and excellent.

Thor: Ragnarok is not without its flaws, however. It is plagued by the MCU Curse of a forgettable villain in the form of Cate Blanchett’s Hela. Also, for a movie that has been built up for two years named after the Norse version of the apocalypse, I would have honestly hoped for a movie with bigger stakes, although that would have certainly been a much harder, and ultimately unnecessary, task for a director like Waititi to handle. Ragnarok was not what I think anyone was expecting, but it was certainly a great experience.

Thor: Ragnarok is one of the funniest Marvel films yet. It isn’t very serious in any way, but that certainly does not make it forgettable. With a hilarious script, a very talented director who, based upon this work, will probably become a much more established auter in the near future, an impeccable cast, and excellent special effects, Thor: Ragnarok (currently sitting at 93% on RT) is a fun ride that puts the Thor franchise back on track in an excellent way. It is a superhero movie that, due to it being a well-made and funny film on almost every level, will appeal to even the most anti-superhero viewer. It is a hilarious film and may be the funniest film to come out this year. I highly recommend it.