2020 Reviews 2020s

The Willoughbys (2020)

The Willoughbys is a soulless animation hiding behind bright colors and a cotton candy aesthetic. While watching, I was reminded of watching Storks, but The Willoughbys lacks any strong comedic moments. It tries hard to evoke the warmness found in a Pixar film, but by forcing it the film becomes an empty shell.

Tonally, The Willoughbys is all over the place. I don’t think it ever fully works. The plot is dark and the film never showcases its self-awareness. The Willoughby children try to get their parents killed, but the mere act of it is presented in such an oddly playful way. The film might have felt less jarring if it embraced its dark themes and gave us something like Coraline.

Trying to do a lot, but never successfully compiling all of its intentions together, The Willoughbys is a disappointing animation from Netflix. The film may have pretty visuals, but it lacks a heart.


2010-19 Reviews 2019 Reviews

The Burial of Kojo (2019)

When I look back on this film now – I watched it a few weeks ago – I fail to remember anything good about it. All I can think of is negatives. My main issue with The Burial of Kojo is it feels like it doesn’t know what it wants to be. Narratively and creatively it feels disjointed. It seems to want to be a straightforward narrative film, but have its surrealist cake and eat it too. You have moments with pretty images – Esi holding a clear umbrella while fireworks rain down on her – but these images are just that: pretty images. They offer very little to the story and atmosphere. The shots are in the movie because they look cool and it seems like that’s it.

If director Blitz Bazawule wanted to make a 100% surrealist film, having images like this would be totally fine, but when you are trying to have a traditional narrative film these shots feel disruptive. Bazawule might have been able to help these shots feel less unruly if the film flowed better. If I had to guess, the blame for its lack of flow should probably be given to the screenplay more than its editing, although the editing should still take some responsibility. The story, cinematography, and editing were hardly ever in sync.

The Burial of Kojo switches back between high quality shots with good lenses to others that look like the filmmakers used a GoPro. It is clear The Burial of Kojo was a micro-budget film and there’s nothing wrong with that, but I’m personally taken out of a movie when there appears to be changes in resolution. I still remember seeing Transformers: Age of Extinction in IMAX and the continual aspect ratio changes. Granted, frequent aspect ratio changes are far more jarring and unpleasant than resolution changes, but the impact they have on me are the same. I’m even bothered when resolution changes occur when stock footage is used for overhead views of cities.

These GoPro shots are not used as transitions or establishing shots. I may be misremembering, but I feeI like I remember some scenes using two different cameras. It was as if their main camera ran out of batteries and they used the GoPro to finish shooting the coverage of the scene. It’s possible this may have just been an aesthetic choice, but it’s not one that I believe adds great value to the story or movie as a whole.

I’ve seen comparisons between The Burial of Kojo and Beasts of the Southern Wild and at first I didn’t agree with the comparison, but now I see it. The Burial of Kojo could be considered a film that wants to be Beasts and borrows a lot from it, but never fully understood what made Beasts so successful.


2010-19 Reviews 2019 Reviews

Let It Snow (2019)

Delightful. This is the best way to describe Let it Snow. Based on current movie culture this may sound like a criticism or condescending, but here I mean it in the best way possible. These days it feels like if a film delivers glee or a form of shameless elation it’s too lowbrow and not to be taken seriously. I would argue in this day in age, when we’re not getting too many movies that uplift you and make you think that maybe the world isn’t so bad after all. Right now, we NEED more movies like this. We need movies that inspire people and give them hope.

OK, time to get off my soapbox now.

The reason why I even wanted to preface my thoughts on Let it Snow with those declarations is after watching this movie, I could already imagine the criticisms that would be thrown at this movie. Twee is the word that came to mind. Is Let it Snow realistic? Of course not. Do I care? No.

Let It Snow is way too fun and its characters too charming for me to care about its unlikeness to real life. When you have a movie that focuses on several relationships the struggle is always finding the balance between making all of them equally interesting. Let It Snow succeeds on that front.

The standout story thread for me settles on Stuart (Shameik Moore) and Julie (Isabela Merced), but all of them are worthwhile stories and none of them instill a groan when the movie switches. Despite the film’s unlikely scenarios (e.g. running into an enormous pop star in your small town or holding a party at a stand-in Waffle House) many of the actors bring an honesty to their performances that you may not normally see in a teen film. You could write it off as their natural charisma and talent, but they feel authentic even when the dialogue doesn’t do them the best of favors.

Liv Hewson, who plays Dorrie, shines in this movie. Her character feels like she stepped off the set of a John Hughes movie and walked into this one. Let it Snow certainly takes from John Hughes, but Hewson is the only actor that would fit right in among Anthony Michael Hall or Molly Ringwald.

When I look for Christmas movies I love ones that have a pleasant atmosphere and a story that puts you in a great mood. Let It Snow is a movie I could see playing every Christmastime on television if it wasn’t a Netflix original. It’s hopeful and I can see myself coming back to this as an annual Christmas movie.

There’s a very good chance it will put a smile on your face.