Wow, this week went by fast and I was surprised by how many films and movies seemingly came to me at the last minute. But being the film junkie that I am, I didn’t mind. And much like the Mandalorian, I roll with the punches.
This week I watched great films that I enjoyed all the way around. Thus, there are no duds in my reviews below. Though not everything was perfect, they were enjoyable and I am giving them favorable reviews. The genres are wide-ranging and included Netflix’s V-Wars, a vampire against the humans series with the fantastic Cree actor Michael Greyeyes as Jimmy Saint, Disney Plus’s Frozen 2, The Mandalorian and the latest film to hit theaters for the holiday season, Jumanji: The Next Level.
Make sure to look at my related coverage on some of the films below. Here we go.
A note about my #NativeNerd scoring system
Here is a bit of a side note before moving forward. I have decided to refine my scores a little bit for my own sense of critical thinking. For the past nearly one year, I have been rating movies and shows based on a total achievable score of 10 stars. 10 stars being the highest score a film can get and 1 star being the worst. I have felt that I was a bit limited with only one to ten stars, so I am going to employ the decimal system to a tenth of a point. So instead of 7 stars, I might give a 7.4 out of ten. Some movies aren’t an eight but deserve a little more than a seven.
So that’s that.
7.5 out of 10
My quick quote: “I sincerely appreciated the respect paid toward the Northuldra. The fictional Indigenous tribe based on Sámi culture. A fun and magical film, but way too many songs.”
Elsa the Snow Queen has an extraordinary gift -- the power to create ice and snow. But no matter how happy she is to be surrounded by the people of Arendelle, Elsa finds herself strangely unsettled. After hearing a mysterious voice call out to her, Elsa travels to the enchanted forests and dark seas beyond her kingdom -- an adventure that soon turns into a journey of self-discovery.
This movie received considerable rave reviews on Rotten Tomatoes above the 95% 'Fresh' rating, so I suspect I am in the lower end of the rating scores. That’s ok, not everyone feels the same about all movies. But let me be clear. This isn’t my genre of choice and for that reason, I can’t be too hard on this film. Sure Frozen 2 is precious, but I am far from a preschooler with Kool-Aid stained lips. My wife Delores might at times disagree whenever I attempt to assert I am a mature adult though. I say this with a note of silliness.
I had never even watched the first Frozen years ago. Not because I don’t like Disney films, but I just simply never got around to it, and the princess musical genre, as I said, isn’t really my forte’. But that in mind, I feel I have a bit of a responsibility to review the types of movies for the readers that might go see such a movie with their children and/or grandchildren.
So away I went to see Frozen 2. Right after a quick binge of Frozen. I rented it for about 4 bucks on Amazon Prime.
I watched Frozen on Amazon and grew to like the quirky characters. The reindeer, the snowman who continuously falls apart and smiles when he impales himself on an icicle, now that’s my type of humor. Even though the film’s musicality never seemed to end, I didn’t completely mind the songs that came up at every turn, and I mean every turn. A song for feeling lonely, a song for having to hide your powers, a song for eating mash potatoes without gravy. But there was a lot of magic and fun humor, so though the movie isn’t my style, but I can see why kids would love it.
Who wouldn’t want to be a royal prince or princess with magical snow and ice powers that is tasked with saving your entire kingdom? The appeal is warranted.
See Related: The Indigeneity of Frozen 2
When the time came to go see Frozen 2, (I received quite a few requests to review it on social media and via email,) I used my AMC app to get the next ticket available. A 2:00 pm showing in IMAX? Ok, I’m in. At the theater, I was one of two people. I guess the rush to see the movie only occurs on weekends, not at 2:00 pm on some idle Tuesday.
Within minutes, my ears were about blown out with a winter-themed song, and after one or two more, I grew a bit weary. I laughed at the thought of many other moms and dads or grandparents sitting with their young ones at the movie. I chuckled to myself, it was lighthearted and fun, and tolerable. But my lord, there was a song for everything. If a reindeer would have snorted out a booger, I wouldn’t have been surprised to hear a song about it with a symphony and choir as a backup.
For me, it took a while to get into the story with a song at every turn, but then, the magic happened.
I watched as the two main characters of Arendelle, Elsa and Anna, meet with the Northuldra people, a fictional Indigenous tribe in which Sámi people consulted with Disney in order to bring the characters to life, in a completely respectful and accurate fashion.
I watched with sincere appreciation as the Northuldra, dressed in beautiful garments representing Sámi culture, sang traditional songs, and placed a hand on each other’s shoulders in one of their songs. It was a subtle, yet purely beautiful moment. I really appreciated it so much, my heart ached to think of how much magic Disney could have done if they had historically covered cultural stories with the same respect.
As is Disney’s style, Frozen 2 was formulaic in its story trajectory, and to me, there really weren’t any surprises. And though I wonder if perhaps we might candy coat things a bit too much for children, for the most part, it was a cool film. The good guys were going to win over the bad guys, and I am ok with that.
But the real magic, more than Elsa’s ability to throw ice shards and snowballs from her fingertips, was in the respectful representation of Sámi people. I also loved the little fire lizard, giant rock people and of course the dopey snowman Olaf.
Though I am prone to roll my eyes a few times at the songs made for each passing moment, I really can understand why little ones would love these movies, and in the case of Frozen 2, I enjoy the fact that they will not learn to label a culture with a harmful stereotype.
Now if Disney will continue to do this…I’ll continue to give them my money for future film entertainment. It’s up to all of us to ensure we keep the big business story companies accountable for their choices. And this case, Elsa and Olaf get a seal of approval from this Native Nerd.
9.2 out of 10
My quick quote: “Blood means more than one thing in V-Wars, an excellently put together Netflix series with Ian Somerhalder as the inquisitive Dr. Swann and a standout Cree actor Michael Greyeyes”
A doctor is pitted against his best friend when an ancient disease turns people into vampires; from the comics by Jonathan Maberry and Alan Robinson.
Puddles of blood, torn out necks, the uncontrollable need to feast by vampires (known as Bloods) infected by ancient reawakened prions? What a perfect recipe for a successful series of stories.
Ever since I interviewed Cree actor Michael Greyeyes earlier this year, I have been chomping at the bit (or should I say neck) waiting for V-Wars to come to Netflix. I was hooked from the beginning. And in the midst of all my enjoyment of the trials of Dr. Luther Swann, along comes Michael Greyeyes, a tough-looking biker dude with long black locks talking smack about unfair government treat against Indians.
The beautiful thing about Michael’s appearance on the show is that the role of Jimmy Saint was not Native specific and Greyeyes made the part his own. He appears in eight episodes in season one.
The show is a blast and begins when an ancient strain of prions, a type of virus that infects human beings to become vampires, is reintroduced to the world at an alarming rate. As tensions increase, the government agencies get involved and Dr. Swann works tirelessly in an attempt to find solutions.
Admittedly this series is difficult to talk about, considering I don’t want to give away any spoilers. However, there is one moment that does take place a lot further on that I will explain without giving anything away.
Dr. Luther Swann is speaking with a leader of the Vampires, they are known as Bloods. They meet at a politician’s house. The leader says, (and I am paraphrasing a bit) “Wow, there sure probably have been a lot of treaties signed here,” to which Jimmy Saint responds, “Treaties don’t mean sh*t, believe me.”
I about rolled on the floor laughing right there. If anything, watch the series for that moment.
Great job on this series. I truly love V-Wars.
8.9 out of 10
My quick quote: “Scarlett Johansson and Adam Driver deliver a real and unflinching look into the theatrics of a struggling marriage. A tragedy, a comedy, and well-written portal into two souls reality ”
A stage director and his actor wife struggle through a grueling, coast-to-coast divorce that pushes them to their personal and creative extremes.
I wasn’t expecting this. But Marriage Story, starring Scarlett Johansson and Adam Driver doesn’t hold back from delivering a message some people probably never want to hear.
This film dives into two worlds several times. The life of Nicole, played by Johansson, and the life of Charlie, played by Driver; the world of theater versus the world of television, New York versus California and on and on. Within all the worlds, there is conflict, and the struggle to attain resolution.
But perhaps the resentments are held onto for too long, perhaps the real person inside of Nicole and Charlie is never allowed to flourish or perhaps as asserted by Nicole, she was never allowed to be who she truly wanted to be.
For all of Marriage Story’s subtleties, there was also a bold and obvious statement it was making. Marriage is not easy. Neither is divorce. The choices are up to you.
The beauty of this film is that it rarely makes you take sides. You do see the perspective of both Nicole and Charlie who made both good and bad choices. But as I write this I see that perhaps Charlie made more bad choices than Nicole.
There are more questions than answers, and the acting by Johansson and Driver is truly exceptional. Two of the most powerful moments were an extended monologue by Johansson when she sits to share her life’s experience and marital story with a lawyer, it truly was incredible, and a scene later in the movie when Driver addresses a group of friends and sings a song deeply suited to his experience. Both performances were some of my favorite film moments from this year.
It’s not a surprise this has already been nominated for a 2019 Golden Globe.
It’s clear that the director and writer Noah Baumbach has had both extensive film and theater experience as the two types of performances ping pong back and forth the same way arguments and difficult discussions seem to come back and forth in the film.
This film resonates in so many ways for anyone who has struggled to love and be loved but also strived not to lose themselves in a relationship riddled with manipulation and codependency. In the way that the film evolves, the viewer learns that in order to love ourselves, sometimes the best step might be to go a different way than their partner, sometimes temporarily, sometimes permanently.
And the bonds of love, no matter how stretched thin, will never completely fade.
It's a wonderful film.
Jumanji: The Next Level
8.2 out of 10
My quick quote: “Still fun, but what happened to the game being broken? Jumanji: The Next Level excels with a star-filled and diverse cast with a complexity of approaches to their characters. Dwayne Johnson’s ability to portray this was fantastic. ”
When Spencer goes back into the fantastical world of Jumanji, pals Martha, Fridge and Bethany re-enter the game to bring him home. But the game is now broken -- and fighting back. Everything the friends know about Jumanji is about to change, as they soon discover there's more obstacles and more danger to overcome.
Ok, first off let me say I really enjoyed this movie. Lots of fun surprises and a few twists I wasn’t expecting. Across the board, I always have a little bit of trouble accepting animal-based CGI because it always looks a little off. But because Jumanji is a video game, the mildly off animal graphics work perfectly because this is a video game come to life.
But since getting excited over the first trailer that came out on YouTube, I have been left with a bummer of sorts resting in my stomach.
I would have actually given more than an 8.2 out of 10 but what the heck happened to this movie? I will explain, the entire premise summarized in the movie trailer said the game 1) had a big glitch, and was doing all sorts of haywire things and 2) that someone would have to die in order to finish the game.
But then I saw the movie and none of these elements were in the finished version I saw on Thursday. This is not only a bit frustrating, but weird. What the heck happens in-between releasing a trailer and the final movie?
So as far as the movie goes, I thought I wasn’t going to find the portrayal of Danny Glover by Kevin Hart very funny… but Hart was funny once again. I was also extremely impressed by Dwayne Johnson acting like the video game character Dr. Smolder inhabited by Danny Devito. Johnson was mastering it, accent and all. Great job Rock, is there anything you can’t do?
So I got to watch a group of funny actors fighting once again to save Jumanji, with a different series of struggles in gameplay, all the while striving to find resolution in their complicated real-world lives. It is formulaic in nature but serves as a catharsis of sorts to come to terms with the difficulties of your won life.
I had fun, enjoyed the new strengths and weaknesses of the characters and sat back in my Dolby recliner to enjoy the next chapter in Jumanji. If you bring more will I watch it? I can answer yes, but please stop bait and switching me movie companies, it is starting to get frustrating, and I am wondering if I got to watch the right version of the movie.
It's a great film but it's annoying that I get didn't get to see what they first wanted to do.
The Mandalorian - Episode 6
7.9 out of 10
My quick quote: “Not as much Baby Yoda, but the Mandalorian seems to be growing into his armor finally. Bill Burr is a great bit of added chemistry to the world of Star Wars, even if he is a Butterfingers with the big-eared green kid. ”
A lone gunfighter makes his way through the outer reaches of the galaxy, far from the authority of the New Republic.
This review is a bit short because I’ve already reviewed the series up to episode 5 previously. But I had to jump in here and commend comedian Bill Burr on his triple gun-toting prowess aboard an Imperial prisoner cargo vessel. Burr also mishandled Baby Yoda and his less than graceful character moves got Burr trending on Twitter Friday ... as much for appearing on The Mandalorian as for dropping the little cooing cutie.
As far as the Mandalorian goes, I am happy to say it looks as if our clumsy bounty hunter might be growing up to fit into his armor. He still looks a bit as if he struggles to be the extremely-talented fighter he is supposed to be. I am just not seeing this. Most of his fighting scenes, he seems one lucky punch away from getting his butt kicked.
Go through and watch them again, and tell me if I'm wrong.
In the first episode a pair of clumsy giant lizards almost eat him and damage his armor. He later fights another big creature that Baby Yoda has to help him beat, he gets zapped and falls into the desert sands with his failed solo attack on the Jawas and another female bounty hunter nearly beats him. He almost gets taken out by droids several times and he just always seems to be struggling to win any fight he is in and in every fight is barely hanging onto the win by a thread.
I am not sure what the problem is, but I am just not seeing his expert-fighting prowess.
But this considered, I still love the series. I can't wait to see the next one, clunky oversized armor clumsiness and all. And yes, Baby Yoda, lots, lots more of Baby Yoda, please.
Side note: I am loving Disney+ except for one annoying thing, the space bar doesn’t pause the movie.
Viewers can see more Baby Yoda, and more Mandalorian, every Friday. I’ll be there Disney.
Follow the #NativeNerd, Vincent Schilling, associate editor for Indian Country Today and a proud movie reviewer.
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