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Toy Story 4 (2019)

rating: ⭐⭐⭐☆☆

This is a spoiler free review

Synopsis: Set after the events of Toy Story 3, Toy Story 4 (dir. by Josh Cooley and written by Andrew Stanton and Stephany Folsom) picks up with Bonnie (Madeleine McGraw) going off to kindergarden. After creating a new friend at school named Forky (Tony Hale), he inexplicably becomes the most important toy in Bonnie’s life. When the gang goes on a road trip with Bonnie and her family, it’s up to Woody (Tom Hanks) to keep Forky safe. However, when Forky gets kidnapped by a doll named Gaby Gaby (Christina Hendricks) in the antique store of a carnival, it’s up to Woody and Buzz (Tim Allen) to get him back. Along the way, Woody reunites with Bo Peep (Annie Potts), who, in the time since she was separated from Woody, has developed a far different view on what it means to be a toy.

When I first sat down to write this review, I was conflicted. I wasn’t sure whether to let my love of the franchise as a whole dictate this review, or my critical perspective of this one movie, regardless of the previous three. I don’t think I’m the only one on the internet who wasn’t thrilled about the prospect of a fourth Toy Story. The third ended the franchise so perfectly, why continue it? Can they really justify a need to continue this story? The short answer is no.

I was debating what to rate this film, and the reason I gave it three rather than two in a half stars is because I do recommend it. While I would have preferred the franchise ended with the third movie, I was never bored. The story had a nice flow to it, the characters (both new and old) are all very likable, the animation is spectacular, and there are plenty of laugh out loud moments.

So let’s start with the characters. I’m sure from the promotional material (and merchandise- at least if you went to Disney World these past few weeks), you can tell there are a lot of new characters. I think for the most part, I enjoyed these character. Keanu Reeves as Canadian daredevil Duke Caboom is a notable highlight and has a lot of fun moments. Gaby Gaby serves as the film’s antagonist, and actually subverted my expectations a bit by being a lot more sympathetic than a lot of the other Toy Story villains, while also serving as an intimidating threat, no thanks to her minions who are all Ventriloquist dummies. The two characters I liked the least were Bunny (Jordan Peele) and Ducky (Keegan-Michael Key). While I think that both actors are great comedic voice talents, the characters didn’t serve much purpose outside of being “comedic relief,” and that wouldn’t be a huge problem if I actually found them to be funny. However, most of the jokes (except for this running gag) weren’t that funny, and they didn’t justify their purpose through the plot, so they didn’t really have a reason to be there. The final new character who I’m sure you’ve seen advertised is Forky (Tony Hale). I thought that the character was very cute, had some good lines, and I like the bond that he and Woody formed. While he was essentially the center of the main plot, which got me worried that Forky would take up most of the film, most of the story is luckily still told from Woody and Buzz’s perspective.

Woody and Forky bond while stranded on the side of the road during a road-trip in Toy Story 4.

Bo Peep makes her return, and I thought her character and her relationship with Woody was handled really well. It was interesting to see how her perspective on being a toy has changed since she left. While there were plenty of new characters, it was a shame that a lot of the old characters were sidelined and didn’t really have much to do. While, yes, the voice actor who played Mr. Potato-head died and they had to rely on archived recordings, it really was a shame because, especially in the last film, it really felt like a conclusion. Not just because of the grand stakes of the film, but with how all the characters contributed to the main story. The character whom I also think was wasted in this story was Buzz. He had this running gag throughout the movie which I didn’t think was all that funny, nor did it contribute to any character growth. So if I had any main issues with the film, it’s the fact that the story really didn’t know what to do with any of the characters that weren’t Woody, Bo Peep, or any of the new toys, which- as a conclusion to this franchise- I think is a real shame.

As I mentioned before, the animation really is excellent, however, there aren’t a lot of actual set pieces. We mostly stay in the carnival, and while that does provide for a lot of fun scenarios, it makes the movie feel a lot less in scale than say, the toys almost burning alive in a landfill. I don’t know how they could have topped the stakes of the last film, so I guess it was a good idea to have the stakes feel intentionally more intimate. As a finale, I would have liked to have a few more set pieces, but I think for this story it worked out okay. The final thing I was to briefly touch upon is the ending. Whether you’ve seen the film or not, I’m sure you’ve heard mixed things about the way the film ended. While I think the ending works for the message this particular was going for, I think that as a conclusion to the series, it rather undermines the rest of the franchise. It’s more bittersweet than the previous film, but for me at least, it feels rather inconclusive to what the other films aimed for in their endings, though it definitely works here and feels like a good conclusion to the themes of this film.

Woody ad Bo Peep reunite after having lived two totally different lives. They both reminisce about the time they’ve spent together as well discover how being a toy, for them, means different things.

So does this film really ever justify it’s existence? Not really. That being said, there are a decent amount of heartfelt moments, action, laughs, and good characters to justify it as a decent flick. While it doesn’t meet the emotional climax of the third film, I didn’t think it ever could. So if your looking for another chance to see Woody and the gang go on little adventure, I think you’ll be satisfied.

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I Just Read: Beloved

⭐⭐⭐⭐ 1/2 stars

Note: This is a spoiler-free review

Beloved, by Toni Morrison, is a fantastical, historical fictional novel that was published in 1987. Beloved tells the story of former African-American slave Sethe. Set after the American Civil War, Sethe managed to escape from the clutches of Sweet Home, a beautiful yet horrifying plantation settlement in Kentucky. Yet, even after 18 years of freedom in Ohio, even after spending each moment of freedom with her 18-year-old daughter, Denver, Sethe cannot seem to escape the horrors of her past. From being reunited with another former slave from Sweet Home, Paul D, to being haunted (in more ways than one) by the ghosts of her past when someone she thought long dead, walks right back into Sethe and Denver’s lives.

As usual, it seems, this was another book that I read for American Literature, as apart of our Southern Gothic unit; however, it’s one that I almost instantly feel in love with. From the rich language, to the fully realized characters, to the vivid settings, to the dark and haunting images and themes the book tackles, all of it makes for a beautiful and immersive reading experience.

This was one book that I was actually glad to have read in a literature class because we could talk about the plot and I could clear up certain story beats that I missed. While the language is very, very rich and poetic, Morrison’s writing style does take some getting used to. She could have these long, poetic, vivid sentences, but buried deep within one of those sentences is a very important plot point that I (more often will not) will miss. So while I appreciate how the language sucks you in, it’s also very complicated to read. It defiantly took at least 50 pages into before I started getting used to the language. It’s definitely one, if your like me, to read with others to discuss plot points, the timeline of certain events, and what certain passages imply.

Another feature of Morrison’s writing is how she jumps around in time. One part of a chapter will be Sethe and Denver talking in the present, and then merely a paragraph later, we will jump to Sethe in the past, escaping from Sweet Home. Again, this is a feature that confused me in the first 50 pages, and while it can get tricky to keep track of where we are, I did get used to it. In fact, that’s one of the books greatest strengths. The way that Morrison reveals information about the characters and their past kept me engaged through the whole story. Rather than revealing an entire character’s backstory in one chapter, little by little she would reveal more and more about the characters (mostly Paul D, Sethe, and Baby Suggs) and their past. The information was never forced either, as the jumping around in time kept me completely immersed in the narrative, as the three characters I mentioned earlier have very dense backstories. It was much more engaging for me to have each character reveal their past little by little rather than just being told how they ended up where they are in an entire chapter.

Paul D (Danny Glover) protects Sethe (Oprah Winfrey) in the 1998 film adaptation of Beloved (dir. by Jonathan Demme.)

I also think that Morrison approached the characterizations very interestingly. When I discussed the book with my classmates, I found that early on in the story, we had very different opinions on the characters. None of the main characters, even until the very end, seem entirely good or entirely evil. Despite some of these characters being victims of slavery, terrible abuses, and great tragedies, we aren’t always sure how to feel about them. We want to feel sympathetic towards them, but at the same time they themselves have done some dark things in the past. Sethe,and Paul D, to be more specific, both have lost people they were close to and endured unimaginable trauma to escape slavery, have also done or said terrible things. Even Denver, who appears quite stubborn and resistant to change at first, does have a good reason to hold onto the past. This create characters- and an experience- that appears all too human.

The final thing I wish to talk about is the fantastical aspect of the story. Without giving too much away, this book does create a fine line between ghosts and other fantastical happenings, and 19th century America. All of this does, however, come together beautifully to create a very dynamic reading experience all revolving around the past and how- in more ways than one- it could come back to haunt you. The final story, as a result, is both tragic (as Morrison does not shy away from the horrors of slavery) while also providing a ray of hope that, while the past is inescapable, there is a way to move forward.

If I didn’t make it clear already- I loved Beloved. While it is a tricky read, I think the rich language, tragic and all too human characters, immersive historical setting, time period, and delicate blending of the fantasy and the reality, makes for a very memorable reading experience. If you think you could handle some of the darker and more violent themes and images, and don’t mind books with denser language, this is one I would definitely check out.

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Shazam! (2019)

⭐⭐⭐☆☆

This is a spoiler free review

Shazam! (dir. by David F. Sandberg and written by Henry Gayden) tells the story of young Billy Batson (Asher Angel) who, after getting adopted into a large foster home, is transported to an alternate realm where he’s given great power and strength whenever he utters the word Shazam! Billy Batson, with the help of his new foster brother Freddy Freeman (Jack Dylan Grazer), adapts to and discovers the extent of his new powers. When a new threat (Mark Strong) rises with the intent to taken down Shazam, Billy must learn to embrace his new powers, and his new family, in order to earn the title of “superhero.”

I can imagine that with a certain other superhero movie that has been released to theaters more recently, many people might not be too interested in hearing my thoughts on a much smaller scale superhero film that came out over a month ago. Because I love superhero movies, though, and I want to still get my thoughts out about this film, I plan on reviewing this film and Avengers: Endgame this week. This way I will also not be too behind on my reviews.

As I mentioned before, this movie is much smaller in scale than most other superhero films, but I actually think that’s quite refreshing. The focus is mostly on Billy, him getting used to his new powers, and the foster family. Quite honestly, all three of those things encompass some of the best moments of the film, as well as Zachary Levi as the adult version of Billy that he turns into. I really bought him as Billy and thought that he captured both the comedic potential of a “child being trapped in a man’s body,” the characterization of Billy himself, and what a boy his age would say and do in his situation.

(from left) Shazam! (Zachary Levi) and Frederick “Freddy ” Freeman (Jack Dylan Grazer) look on at some incoming trouble in a convenience store.

With that being said, I thought a lot of the writing and direction was really spot on, especially when it came to the stuff involving Billy and him coming to terms with his new powers. Not only do I think that Asher Angel did a great job creating a sympathetic and believable character, but I also kept think to myself, “yeah, that’s exactly what a kid would do if they were given the ability to turn into a super-powered adult.” Some of the best parts of the movie are Billy and Freddy learning what his new powers are and putting them to the test, in addition to Billy trying to get away with adult things in his new “adult” form. Both aspects to the film were very hilarious and fun to watch.

Billy’s backstory, as well as the foster family, kept the entire film feeling grounded and real- which is something that I think is rarely done with the newer DC films. I really sympathized with Billy Batson and his backstory. Like I mentioned before, the themes related to family really helped ground this film and give a real humanity to everything happening. I really liked the members of the foster family. Some of them, particularly the foster kids played by Grace Fulton and Jovan Armand, were presented with character arcs that didn’t really go anywhere, and as a result get sidelined. However, I thought that Jack Dylan Grazer as Freddy was great in his performance, his chemistry with Billy, and with his characterization. I also loved the two foster parents. Although they didn’t get a ton of screen time, I really sympathized with them and what they were doing for both Billy and the others. I just really loved the entire dynamic between Billy and the foster home. There was a certain wholesomeness to it all that I really haven’t seen in most superhero movies.

While I do think that the film’s antagonist, Dr. Thaddeus Sivana, was a little weak, Mark Strong did a good job with his performance, and the villain (+the creatures that are sort of controlling the villain) was a legitimate threat and legitimately intimidating. There’s this great scene about halfway through the movie where these monsters (which do have legitimate unique designs if not a bit bland color schemes) are in a boardroom with a bunch of people. I won’t give much more away, but I certainly did not see that scene getting as intense as it did. Besides that, the villain wasn’t particularly complex, and I never really got a sense of what his grand scheme was. On the other hand, I do think that Dr. Sivana’s main motivation does make sense. It’s based on something that happened to him when he was a child, which I think does connect him more to Billy, who is also a child and is going through a similar struggle that Sivana went through but never learned to let go.

Shazam! is engaged in his first fight against a supervillian, Dr. Thaddeus Sivana (Mark Strong).

The visual effects I thought were overall, pretty well done. There were a couple of creatures in the film which I thought every now and then looked a little fake, but only briefly, and the cool designs were enough to overcompensate for some of the weaker effects. With that being said, there are a few complaints I have about this movie. For one thing, I didn’t think that there was a lot of action in the movie, and even the action that was in the movie wasn’t very memorable. I thought that the third act also went on a little too long.

All in all, I really enjoyed Shazam! Even with the few critiques I listed above weren’t complete deal breakers, especially considering that the best scenes are Billy simply getting used to his new powers, and him interacting with Freddy and the rest of the foster family. It’s a really sweet, funny, and all around fun film that never forgets what the heart of the film is. While it’s not Into The Spider-verse levels of heartfelt and memorable, and while I’m not dying to revisit it like I was when I first saw Infinity War, it’s still an enjoyable film that deserves a watch.

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Captain Marvel (2019)

⭐⭐ 1/2 out of 5 stars

This is a SPOILER FREE review

For a brief synopsis, Captain Marvel (directed by Anna Boden and Ryan Fleck and written by Anna Boden, Ryan Fleck, and Geneva Robertson-Dworet) follows the story of Vers (Brie Larson), a Kree warrior who has no memory of her past. While on a mission to intercept the Skrulls a race of alien shape-shifters that the Kree are at war with, Vers is both separated from her team and unlocks some memories that may hold the key to her past. After crash landing on Earth, she teams up with low level S.H.I.E.L.D agent Nick Fury (Samuel L. Jackson) and Air Force pilot Maria Rambeau (Lashana Lynch) to discover who she is and put a stop to the war once and for all.

Before I give my thoughts on this movie, I should say that I really didn’t have high expectations going in (and no not for the reason that you may think). Honestly, the trailers just looked really boring. Captain Marvel herself just looked like a very uninteresting character and the story seemed very cliche. A “powerful being” with a “mysterious past” learns that “something in her past” may prove that she’s “more powerful than she ever realized.” Going in, I of course did not want this movie to fail, the promotional material just wasn’t giving me much hope that this would be an interesting story.

I am a little saddened to report that the movie was better than the trailers, but it was still just… okay. While it wasn’t necessarily bad, it was not that memorable either.

I will say that this story is told a little differently than other Marvel films. That’s more of a neutral statement than anything else. Instead of starting out as a normal person, Carol Danvers starts out as a powerful Kree warrior in space. Once she lands on earth, she must both hunt down the enemy and discover who she really is. This, I think, leads into one of the main problems with the story. The characters are constantly going from point A to B, from one set piece to another, that we never really a chance to get to know any of the characters. We never really get a moment, say, as fun or as character building as the Thor’s Hammer Lifting scene in Avengers: Age of Ultron. It wasn’t really helped by the fact that the trailers pretty much showed who she was before getting her powers, so there weren’t that many surprises with that plot point.

From left: Maria Rambeau (Lashana Lynch) and Carol Danvers (Brie Larson) prepare for an air force mission.

Another problem, unfortunately, lies with Captain Marvel herself. Watching the trailers, she really didn’t seem that interesting or that she had a lot of energy. And while I do think they brought a little more energy and charisma than I was expected, she was overall just a very boring and confused character. Part of that I think lies in the performance. Okay, as a performer myself, I HATE to critique acting, especially since I don’t know what the direction was like or what the actor was going for. And I have no doubt that Brie Larson is a very good actress; however, I just don’t think she was right for this role. That really sucks for me to say because Marvel usually does phenomenal with casting. I also don’t think that it’s entirely her fault. I feel as though the directors, writers, and Larson had no idea how to make this character interesting. She alternates constantly between being stoic and stone faced to more sarcastic and laid back. They don’t even really play up the whole fish out of water scenario with her being on Earth either. It’s mostly just scene or two because they need to move on to the next plot point. Another huge problem is that characters keep commenting on what they want you to believe is a major character flaw, that she needs to keep her emotions under control, but that character flaw is never demonstrated nor does it really ever effect her negatively because it always seem like she has her emotions under control (to the point where she can sometimes have very little emotion). That’s not to say, she does give an occasional funny line or emote some charisma, but it’s overall a very muddled and rather boring character.

Now lets talk about the supporting cast, a stand out being Samuel L. Jackson. At first, I was rather confused about what he was doing, until I realized that this is a younger more naive and energetic Nick Fury, and he does a great job playing this younger version of himself who’s very energetic and charismatic. He even gets a couple of laughs (although there was this whole thing how he is obsessed with cats which I think was supposed to be funny but came off as kind of strange). I even think that Captain Marvel is at her best when she interacts with him. I should also say that the de-aging effects on him is phenomenal! It’s so seamless that you don’t even notice that it’s an effect. The other new characters are not much more interesting. However, I will say that I thought Lashana Lynch as Carol Danver’s best friend did very well and had a few very good, standout acting and character moments. Jude Law’s character Yon-Rogg I thought was very boring. I don’t think it’s an acting problem, the character is just written very flat, and what they decide to do with that character is very underwhelming.

Now let’s get into some positives. I will say that there is a bate and switch between characters in the film that leads to another subplot. While others may find this forgettable, I actually thought it worked really well and added some much needed emotional stakes to the story. I also thought the cat, Goose, was pretty cute and had a couple of stand out moments (also because I’m a cat lover so it’s very refreshing to have a cute, fun little cat character when it’s so often a dog). And there were maybe one or two really entertaining action scenes. One where’s shes escaping from the enemy ship while still in bondage, and the other is the train chase (it’s the part in the trailer where she punches the old lady). It was also a little refreshing to see a film take place in the 90s as opposed to the 80s, which has been the trend for some time now (even though I’m a sucker for the 80s aesthetic, music, and nostalgia). The effects were well done. The only really bad CGI is when she’s flying in space and the cat in a couple of scenes

From left: Talos (Ben Mendelsohn) and his fellow Skrulls wash up on shore looking for Captain Marvel.

Although I praised the escape and train scenes, most of the action was very underdeveloped. There were a couple action scenes where you couldn’t even make out what was going on because it was so dark. Even in the scenes where lighting wasn’t an issue, you couldn’t even make out some of the action because they used so much shaky cam. Even the climax (which lasted maybe five minutes) was underwhelming. I should also say that I didn’t really find the movie all that funny. Look, I don’t expect nor want every single Marvel movie to be like Thor: Ragnarok, where it’s just joke after joke. And if you’re just going to this movie not for the Marvel lore but just for a dumb, fun and funny action film, then you will very disappointed. They did have plenty of jokes and quips to be found in this film, but most of them, for me, just didn’t land. I chuckled a couple of times, but there was no real genuine laugh out loud moments.

The final thing I have to say is, and I won’t spoil it, but they change up the Marvel Logo at the beginning, which was amazing and super heartfelt. There was a cameo from a certain person that was amazing and made me smile. Also, stay for the mid-credit scene (as if you need to be told to do so), but you could honestly skip the after credit scene.

All in all it’s a very average, underwhelming, even boring film at times. That’s not to say there weren’t some genuinely fun moments or good lines, it’s just muddled into a pretty mundane final product. I know I’m not alone in feeling this way, but I also know there are people who really enjoyed it, so I would still say check it out and see for yourself.

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First Time Viewing: Pan’s Labyrinth (2006)

Rating: ⭐⭐⭐⭐ 1/2 out of 5 stars

This is a new type of post I will be introducing to my blog. In addition to reviewing new releases, I will be also be going back to movies that have come out in the year’s prior that I have never seen. Most of the time they will be well regarded/critically acclaimed films (such as this one) but I may also take the time to review “so bad it’s goo:d type films or just movies I’ve personally been very interested in seeing. With that in mind, let’s get on with the review.

Pan’s Labyrinth is a Spanish language film directed and written by Guillermo del Toro and released in the United States on December 29, 2006. Pan’s Labyrinth takes place in 1944 Spain, where an 11-year old girl named Ofelia and her recently remarried mother are relocated to a remote forest. There, Spanish soldiers, led by a ruthless Captain who also happens to be Ofelia’s mother’s new husband, seek to eradicate the rebels. When Ofelia discovers an ancient Labyrinth inhabited by several fantastical beings, she soon finds herself on a quest to escape further into this fantastical world, all while taking care of her mother and evading the Captain’s wrath.

I was just made aware that this film was in Spanish not too long before viewing it, and I had never seen a full-length foreign feature before, so I wasn’t sure how that would affect my viewing experience. Much to my surprise, I had no problem both following the story and enjoying the nice visuals. Part of that, I think, has to do with the fact that this movie is more visually than dialgoue is driven, or at least, it’s not very dialogue heavy. It’s not like, say, a Marvel film, where there’s a lot of dialogue and exposition needed to keep track of the story. The story, in fact, is very simple, yet it carries so much dramatic and emotional weight. This isn’t just a film about a girl meeting a bunch of cool creatures, but a story about one girl’s desire to escape into the fairy tales she loves so dearly and away from her harsh reality. The narrative constantly shifts from Ofelia’s (Ivana Baquero) perspective and her connection to both the war and fantasy, to Mercedes (Maribel Verdú), one of the Captain’s servants, and her connection to this young girl and the war.

What I thought was very well done is this constant shift in perspective. The fantasy stuff is kept surprisingly dark and grounded, in addition to being very imaginative and mystical. This was all made possible through the connection of the girl. At first, I didn’t really like her acting that much, as I feel she didn’t react to all of this fantasy stuff as a girl would. That is until I realized it’s because all of these creatures and magic is very much real to her. This idea that the fantasy is as real to Ofelia as our own world, intertwines the two worlds in a way that’s both clever and heartbreaking.

In short, while the story is fairly simple, it makes the movie feel almost like it actually is a fairy tale, but with a darker, more adult twist, while still having the magic and simple, yet identifiable characters. Captain Vidal (Sergi López) I thought was a fairly strong antgonist. While he was not very complex, the intent to make him more of a monster than the actual monsters Ofelia encounters certainly works to the film’s advantage. I also thought that the connection between Ofelia and her mother (Ariadna Gill) gave the film a huge emotional core as they had a very strong bond. My personal favorite performance was from Mercedes. I thought she was a great character and provided a great alternate perspective to give some humanity to the human world and further connect the two competing realms.

The Pale Man (played by Doug Jones)

With all that being said, I think it would be a mistake to not talk about the creatures in this film. While the CGI effects do not hold up super well, they are far and few and do not take away from the overall quality of the film. Whoever designed and brought to life some of these creatures and designs deserves an Oscar (hehe and they did get one) because these are some of the greatest practical creature designs that I’ve seen. I think what really amazes me is the fact that the Faun and the Paleman (both played physically by Doug Jones, whom also played the sea creature in another Del Torro film: The Shape of Water) is actually there. They aren’t CGI creations or anything. This passion and effort (coupled with the brilliant designs that don’t even look like a human is inside of them) for these monsters really come through in how amazing they look. The Pale Man sequence in this film is one of my personal favorite scenes, as I found it so gripping and terrifying. The monsters are also complimented by great production design. Though not very colorful, all of the sets are so detailed, massive and strange that they manage to be almost as memorable as the creatures.

This film, though not a horror film, does have some very intense sequences. I mentioned the pale man scene, but there are so many intense, satisfying, and intensely satisfying moments, that I couldn’t imagine skipping most of this movie. The scenes in the real world still manage to be just as exciting and interesting as the fantasy stuff, which I think could have easily been some of the most boring parts of the movie. All of this leads up to an ending that will leave you awestruck. I myself sat there for a few moments (holding back tears) wondering how I should feel.

Guillermo Del Torro without a doubt had so much passion and love for this project, and it shows in nearly every frame. It’s so hard to often create a narrative like this, but Del Torro’s writing and direction, coupled with a brilliant makeup and production design, great cinematography, fitting performances, and a beautiful and chilling score, all contribute to an amazing film which is, dare I say, a masterpiece that I will certainly revisit again.

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💕I Just Read: The Great Gatsby

Rating: ⭐⭐⭐ 1/2 (out of 5) stars

In honor of Valentine’s Day (which I know was yesterday), I thought it would only seem fitting to celebrate one of the most romantic days of the year, with one of literature’s most famous love triangles in one of the world’s most famous novels: The Great Gatsby.

Published in 1925 by F. Scott Fitzgerald (1896-1940), The Great Gatsby tells the story of Jay Gatsby through the eyes of a young bond salesman and war veteran, Nick Carraway, who has just moved to the West Egg of Long Island. There, Nick reunites with his wealthy cousin, Daisy, and her husband, Tom Buchanan, who live on the East Egg side of the city, reserved for those born into wealth. Nick soon discovers how Tom and Daisy carry some secrets of their own, while also becoming more and more curious about his reclusive neighbor, Jay Gatsby. It is not too long until Nick actually befriends his affluent neighbor, who is as lavish and extravagant as he is mysterious and secretive. Gatsby, despite throwing many extravagant parties, is the subject of much gossip and rumors, inspiring Nick to spend more and more time with this man and learning from others as much as he can. From this, Nick, and the audience, soon discover Gatsby’s greater goals and intentions, through his connection with Nick as well as the Buchanans, Jordan Baker, and many more characters.

(Warning there will be very, very mild spoilers from here on): First of all, I should mention that I read this book for my English class, and not just for pleasure. Having said that, I did really enjoy this book and learning about the author and time period from which this book takes place. That is why I still would like to share my general thoughts on the story, writing style, characters, etc.

First, I would like to talk about the plot/story. The book is relatively short, being only a little over 200 pages. Yet, I didn’t feel that there any pacing issues, and this might be because it was a relatively simple story. While Nick is the narrator, it is Gatsby, Daisy, and Tom who drive most of the action, so we only see and learn about these character’s and their motivations as Nick learns it. As previously mentioned, there really isn’t much plot to the story up until that last third. It mostly follows Gatsby in his quest to reunite with his former lover while he and other characters struggle to keep up their images while also keeping their secrets and relationships in balance. For me, the story really was the least interesting part, compared to the characters, themes, and rich, descriptive language, up until the last third where everything really took a left, dramatic turn.

Leonardo Dicaprio starred as the infamous Jay Gatsby in the 2013 film adaptation directed by Baz Luhrmann.

Going into the characters, I think that the structure of the novel made most of the characters far more intriguing than, if say, the story was told from Gatsby’s point of view. Nick, despite being the narrator, is relatively uninteresting. This never possed a problem for me though both because Nick being used as a catalyst for the audience makes Gatsby himself far more intriguing. Since we could only learn things about Gatsby through Nick’s eyes, it was often difficult for me to tell if I could trust him or not, and what his true motivations and desires were. While I had a good grasp on him by the end of the story, I still wanted to know more about Gatsby’s past, his thoughts, and his life. While this may seem like a negative statement, I think the fact that I got so much and still wanted to know more is very telling about what a great character Fitzgerald created.

Anyways, while Nick is not the most interesting characters, Fitzgerald does make it clear early on that Nick is the type of person who mostly listens and observes, which is why he learns so much. Much of his purpose also lies in his relationship to Gatsby since Nick acts as this middle ground to help Gatsby reunite with his former lover. This was probably my least favorite part of the story. The love triangle wasn’t done bad or anything like that, in fact, I like how either way the relationships weren’t so cut and dry and seemed far more complex than just a “who does she love?” solution. I just found that part of the story to be less interesting than, say, the last third. I won’t give it way, but the story takes two really sharp turns, one that carries a lot of dramatic tension through the ending, which I could honestly say was really unexpected and tragic.

F. Scott Fitzgerald’s (pictured above) most famous literary works include The Great Gatsby, as well as Tender is the Night (1934), This Side of Paradise (1920), and The Beuatiful and Damned (1922).

Let’s talk about the supporting cast now. Similar to Gatsby, much of the supporting cast is presented as one thing, but whose motivations and goals also become unclear and raise questions. At first, I didn’t really like Tom that much. He just seemed like a total caricature (think Billy Zane’s character from Titanic) to me that I could not stand him. As the story progressed though, there seemed to be this underlying humanization that made his actions did not seem as one note. I especially liked the scenes between him and Gatsby and the interesting ideas that constantly shined through in their rivalry. I often think people overlook Jordan Baker, who I really like. From a historical perspective, she seems like a complete 180 from what was expected of women back then. She enjoys her lavish lifestyles, but also likes to play sports and doesn’t rely on a man to carry her through life. Wolfsheim (despite being a major stereotype of the time) is still a fun and crooked character that I’m still not so sure how to feel about. One character I really didn’t like was Daisy. She just seemed unintentionally boring and I didn’t really draw a connection to her. Some of the choices she made were either confusing or downright frustrated me.

The best part of The Great Gatsby for me was the writing. Even the simple act of two characters saying goodbye was so descriptive and atmospheric that I felt I was being put right into this world. The language, at times, was so poetic and descriptive that you could find so many hidden meanings and symbols behind the simplest of things. Why is the light green? Why mention the clock? Why choose to describe the “valley of ashes” this way? Fitzgerald was so clever in knowing what to describe and how to describe it to put me right into this lavish world with these extravagant homes and people. He also knew what to omit so as to keep me asking questions and to let my own mind fill in the gaps. Even the simplest gestures that characters took carried so much weight and purpose behind them. Nothing about the characters or setting was just told bluntly to you. The majority of impressions I got about people was from the way they were simply described. I just loved how detailed and atmospheric the writing was.

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Mary Poppins Returns (2018)

Rating: ⭐⭐ ½  

Yes, I understand how late this review is, and I completely apologize! I’ve been awfully busy this month, between school, starting a new job, rehearsing and then performing in a musical at a local theatre, and then such. By this point, everyone’s pretty much moved past the sequel to the beloved Disney classic, but I still wanted to get my thoughts out. So on with the review.

While Walt Disney Picture’s Mary Poppins Returns may not be “Practically Perfect in Every Way,” the film, directed by Rob Marshall, does deliver enough good songs, characters, performances, set pieces, and moments that I could say that I’m definitely glad I at least saw it.

The sequel to 1964’s Mary Poppins is set 25 years after the events of the original film, again in London, as we find an adult Michael (played by Ben Whishaw) and Jane Banks (Emily Mortimer), who lives with him, struggling to make ends meet. Ever since his wife died, Michael’s desire to support his three children and keep his childhood home has to lead him to repress his inner child and sense of wonder. After failing to repay a loan he took out to cover the expenses of the home, he is threatened by William Weatherall Wilkins (Colin Firth) and his accomplices that they will repossess the house by the end of Friday if he does not repay the loan. While Michael’s children (Pixie Davies, Nathanael Saleh, and Joel Dawson) are out for a walk in the park, a great wind blows their kite up into the sky, where a certain nanny gets caught in its path. Upon landing, Mary Poppins (Emily Blunt) agrees to watch and take care of the children while Jane and Michael race to prove ownership over the shares. Along the way, Mary Poppins introduces the Banks family to a colorful cast of characters, exotic new locations, and a new found belief in wonder, faith, and childhood imagination.

So before I get on with what I think of this film, I think I should mention how I feel about the original. While I don’t deny that it’s a classic and one of Walt Disney’s best projects, I also haven’t seen the whole thing in a long time. So while I certainly do respect the film and find it undeniably charming with a great cast, great music, great moments, and a great story, I can’t say that I’m a die-hard fan of the original. With that being said, I think that because I’m not as devoted to the original film as, say, Beauty and the Beast, my thoughts on this movie are a little more forgiving and lenient. I can definitely see fans not liking this movie, as opinions on the film are relatively split; however, I do think this movie is a little more forgiving because it presents itself as a sequel (that really doesn’t honestly need to exist) rather than a straight remake of a beloved classic.

Emily Blunt stars as the titular nanny alongside a (new) cast of familiar faces.

Taking out the nostalgic value of this film, there is a lot in it that’s to be admired. For one thing, I thought the cast was phenomenal especially with our two leads. Emily Blunt as Mary Poppins is very captivating as Mary Poppins and a great casting choice. I don’t feel like anyone today could recapture Julie Andrew’s Academy Award-winning performance; however, I think Emily Blunt was a very effective replacement. She definitely understood what made the character so special and I could tell that she was trying to be Mary Poppins and not Julie Andrews playing Mary Poppins. She was charming, witty, stern, demanding, and of course, had the vocal chops to breathe life into all of the new songs. I thought Lin Manuel Miranda as Jack, a lamplighter, was also a performance highlight. He brought a lot of charm to the role and you could tell he was having a lot of fun singing and dancing. I thought that Emily Mortimer and Ben Whishaw were also really good as the matured Jane and Michael Banks. Mortimer really captured that youthful innocence and excitement that Jane still held on to, while Whishaw did a great job showing how Micheal has tried to distance himself from youth and imagination as well as how he is trying to deal with his loss.

I also really liked the songs and song sequences. My personal favorite is “Cover is Not the Book.” It has a very snappy rhythm and a catchy tune with some cool visual stuff around the characters who are submerged in the 2D world of this movie. Speaking of: THIS MOVIE HAS A 2D SEQUENCE! That alone tickled my nostalgia bone as I realized how long it’s been since I’ve seen some good old fashioned 2D animation. I also really like “Trip a Little Light Fantastic,” even though I felt the dance did go on quite long, it was quite enjoyable and you weren’t sitting there wishing it would just end. “The Place Where The Lost Things Go” is also a really sweet ballad with a nice message. The final thing I would like to comment on is the technical aspects. I really liked the costumes and thought the alterations they made with Mary Poppin’s wardrobe fit perfectly with character and still made her stand out as Marry Poppins. The costumes in the 2D world were also very vibrant and colorful, as well as the ones they wear at the end. The set and production design, though it doesn’t do much new or different from the original, still looks good.

Lin Manuel Miranda co-stars as Jack, the kindhearted lamplighter who helps Mary Poppins watch over the Banks children.

And that leads me to one of my main problems with the film. While the songs are good and do fit into the world of Mary Poppins, you can’t help but draw parallels to songs done in similar circumstances in the original film. For example, while “Trip a Little Light Fantastic” is a catchy song with some good choreography, it’s clearly trying to be the “Step in Time” sequence of the film. While “Turning Turtle” is a nice tongue twister of a song featuring one of Mary’s peculiar family members (played by Meryl Streep) who experiences some odd living conditions, one can’t help see the resemblance to “Love to Laugh,” which features one of Mary’s odd family members living under some odd conditions. Pretty much every song/song sequence is like this. While I do appreciate how well done the majority of songs and dance sequences are, it does really take me out of the movie a lot of the time, thinking of those classic songs and dances.

Same could be said for the characters. I mentioned the odd family member, Jack in this film is also pretty much Bert, just if he was a lamplighter, and even Jane and Michael go through a similar arc as their parents. Jane is a women’s activists, and Michael needs to learn to reconnect to his inner child (although I should mention there is the added conflict of Michael having lost his wife). I should say the actual children in this movie are a little different from the Banks children in the last one. While in the original, they were more spoiled brats at the start of the film, here they’re all very mature and don’t want to enjoy being children while they still can. I should also mention that there’s a villain in this film (played by Colin Firth) and while he is pretty one dimensional and has no real (at least that I caught on) motivation for doing what he did, it did provide some new conflict (and a very delightful cameo, who I think you all already know).

Overall, I didn’t think this film was that bad. In fact, I think it leaps over the majority of Disney Live-Action Reboots (yes I know it’s technically a sequel, but considering the era of Disney films we live in now, I think we could kind of categorize this film in a similar vein). I think it’s just ok. I am glad that I saw it even if I won’t be rushing to see it again anytime soon. I’m not ashamed to admit, however, that I’ve already listed to a couple of the songs again.