Connected

The Mitchells vs. the Machines is your typical family road trip that happens to include a robot apocalypse. Sony Animation is still very hit or miss, but The Mitchells vs. the Machines is a hit that deserves way more attention. It’s got Gravity Falls writer Mike Rianda as the director, The LEGO Movie directors Phil Lord & Christopher Miller as producers, an all-star comedic cast, and the unique animation of Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse. The latter was apparent the moment I saw the first trailer with the painfully generic title Connected.

The Mitchells vs. the Machines is a much better title that reflects the film’s creativity. I knew Into the Spider-Verse would inspire similar animated movies, but the comic book style only works for superhero movies. So the animation is more so inspired by internet memes, doodles, pop art, and even a little live action. It’s another heavily detailed work of art that should’ve been on the big screen. Unfortunately, the Pandemic led to its eventual release on Netflix…

The Mitchells vs. the Machines

The Mitchells drive away from the robot apocalypse

The Mitchells vs. the Machines is a perfect combination of original and familiar that feels like it was made especially for me. And not just cause it features songs from random YouTube videos of the 2000’s like “Nyan Cat” or “Numa Numa.” Like me and my family, the Mitchells are weird and quirky. Katie is a college bound teenager who loves niche movies, making funny videos, and wants to go to film school. Abbi Jacobson is similar to her Disenchantment character Princess Bean since both her and Katie are ambiguously queer.

I’m glad the movie doesn’t call attention to it, because the theme can be interpreted multiple ways. Katie and her dad begin to drift apart due to her unusual interests. Rick is her father who hates technology and loves nature. Danny McBride is funny, but he has a lot of range in the more emotional scenes. The movie is mostly about their relationship, but the rest of the family helps them open up. Linda is a supportive mother who encourages everyone with gold stars. I already know what to expect from Maya Rudolph. Linda is also jealous of her seemingly perfect neighbors voiced by real life married couple John Legend and Chrissy Teigen.

Aaron is an awkward kid with an obsessive love of dinosaurs. My only nitpick is Aaron’s distracting grown up voice provided by the director himself. Aside from the strong bound he has with his older sister, Aaron also develops a back and forth crush on their neighbors daughter who also loves dinosaurs. Monchi is the weird cross eyed dog who completes the Mitchell family. Unlike most animated movies, Monchi is voiced by the real life Doug the Pug. The road trip is supposed to strengthen the families relationship, but a robot uprising seems to come out of nowhere. Eric André voices your typical hip young tech company owner responsible for a device that everybody owns.

PAL is like Siri or Alexa if she turned on mankind. Olivia Colman has the right kind of trusting British voice for the AI. PAL Max robots are like giant smartphones with a sleek design and the ability to trap people in a force field. The Mitchells are humanity’s last hope as they avoid detection in their broken down station wagon while searching for a kill code. The action is a lot of fun, but the comedy is literally laugh out loud hilarious. Abrupt cutaway gags are hysterical and jokes about tech obsession are both funny and relatable.

There’s also a particularly humorous scene involving feral Furby’s. The funniest characters are a couple of malfunctioning PAL Max robots named Eric and Deborahbot 5000 who side with the Mitchells. Though the movie is longer than most animated movies, it’s all worth it to bring the Mitchells together in the end. The Mitchells vs. the Machines should’ve won Best Animated Feature, but the Academy Awards are still fixated on Disney. Luckily Sony managed to sweep most other major award shows. The Mitchells vs. the Machines is weird in the best possible way.

The Mitchells vs. the Machines 2

The Mitchells walk away from an explosion

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CODA is powerful beyond words. First premiering at Sundance, CODA was a true underdog that nobody expected to win Best Picture. I’m so glad it won, because CODA is honestly one of the most deserving Best Picture winners I’ve seen in a long time. Although I was adamant about never getting Apple TV+, it was worth the experience. Beating Netflix to become the first streaming service to win the Academy Award. Similar to The Departed, CODA is technically an American remake of a French-Belgium film called La Famille Bélier. CODA stands for child of deaf adults. Ruby is the only hearing child of her deaf family. Director Sian Heder worked extensively with the deaf community in order to get the story right. Winning a Best Adapted Screenplay Oscar for her effort.

Marlee Matlin was a major contributor who threatened to leave if deaf actors weren’t cast. Matlin plays Ruby’s commanding mother Jackie, Daniel Durant plays Ruby’s determined brother Leo, and Troy Kotsur plays Ruby’s embarrassing father Frank. Kotsur is so funny and passionate without saying a word. Winning Best Supporting Actor brought things full circle since Matlin was the first deaf actress to win an Oscar with Children of a Lesser God. The Rossi family may be deaf, but they’re sexually active proud business owners who stick together no matter what. Unlike La Famille Bélier, the Rossi’s are fishermen instead of farmers. The open waters are gorgeous even on a TV screen. Ruby is expected to be her families interpreter, but she just wants to live her own life. She discovers a passion for music that her parents will never fully understand.

CODA is a fairly simple coming-of-age story with the horny best friend, mean girls, a charming crush, and that one extra supportive teacher who pushes the main character. Emilia Jones elevates everything with her beautiful singing voice. She had to take vocal lessons and American sign language lessons just for the movie. Although they have trouble letting go, Ruby’s family comes to support her. Most of CODA is surprisingly hilarious, but I had to cry when Ruby sang for her father. Just as emotional is Ruby signing “Both Sides Now” for her family near the end. I actually think I prefer Emilia Jones’ cover over the original. CODA is a story I’ve heard before, but I love it all the more for telling it. 🤟

CODA

Ruby signs “I really love you” to her family

La Ama de Llaves

Roma is the first foreign language movie that genuinely could’ve won Best Picture. I was actually kind of shocked when it didn’t. Of course this was only one year before Parasite managed to win. The difference is Alfonso Cuarón already being an Academy Award winning director. After Gravity, Cuarón returned to his Mexican roots for the first time since Y tu mamá también. Roma is a deeply personal passion project that won him his second Oscar for Best Director and a win for Best Cinematography. Of course it won Best Foreign Language Film, but it did tie with Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon for most nominations.

Since Roma is also a Netflix film, it sparked discussions for whether or not a streaming movie should even be eligible. At least it was easier to see the movie before the Oscar ceremony. Although filmed in black & white, Roma is probably one of the most beautiful film’s I’ve ever seen. My mom described it like a moving photograph. It’s a simple slice of life story partially based on the director’s 1970’s childhood experiences. Including the time he saw Marooned in theaters (his inspiration for Gravity).

The primary focus is on Indigenous Mixtec maid Cleo who works for a middle-class Mexican family consisting of mother Sofia, father Antonio, grandmother Teresa, and four children. Most actors are unknowns in order for performances to feel more genuine. I didn’t fully understand newcomer Yalitza Aparicio’s Best Actress nomination, but she is raw and sincere. Marina de Tavira also deserved a Best Supporting Actress nomination as struggling mother Sofia. Cleo and the family enjoy their lives, but have to deal with many historical and familial hardships. Antonio leaves, Cleo gets pregnant by her lowlife boyfriend, and the Corpus Christi Massacre happens around them. Roma is either too mundane or too harsh for multiple viewings, but there’s no denying Alfonso Cuarón made his magnum opus.

Roma

Cleo is comforted on the beach

For the Glory of Merlin, Daylight is Mine to Command!

Trollhunters: Rise of the Titans is not the epic conclusion it should’ve been. DreamWorks Animation has made several TV spin-offs of their movies over the years, but Rise of the Titans is the only movie spun-off from a TV series. The Tales of Arcadia trilogy is the brainchild of Guillermo del Toro. His sympathetic monsters and gothic style are apparent even in a children’s show. Though intended to be live-action, computer animation was the only way to pull off a series full of trolls, aliens, and other magical creatures. Arcadia Oaks is the mecha for supernatural activity. Streaming on Netflix; Tales of Arcadia consists of the 3 season Trollhunters, 2 season 3Below, and 1 season Wizards. Each show is rich with complex lore, mature storytelling, terrific character development, awesome action, and a great sense of humor.

I was so hooked that I watched all 88 episodes in the span of 8 days. My brother and I watched them separately, but we were both ready to watch the big finale together. Rise of the Titans begins with a lengthy recap for anyone who didn’t watch the shows. Tales of Arcadia featured an all-star cast from the beginning, but the animation has noticeably gotten more ambitious. Elemental Titans rising from the Earth sparks a globetrotting adventure that starts epic enough with everyone working together to fight the evil Arcane Order on a runaway subway train. Characters from Trollhunters consist of chosen Trollhunter Jim Lake Jr, his magical girlfriend Claire, jokester best friend Toby, academic troll mentor Blinky, troll muscle AAARRRGGHH!!!, and reformed changelings Strickler and Nomura.

Characters from 3Below consist of Akiridion-5 alien Queen Aja, her brother Prince Krel, battle ready bodyguard Varvatos Vex, and helpful alien Stuart. Characters from Wizards consist of wizard apprentice Douxie and his black cat familiar Archie. Plus reformed bully Steve and his less nerdy Creepslayerz friend Eli. Although Rise of the Titans tries to imitate the Avengers, 1 hour & 46 minutes is just not enough time for a well deserved conclusion. Character arcs either feel rushed or disrespectful to everything they went through. Heroes die, but really it’s the ending that ruins everything. Through a series of complicated reasons, the Trollhunter travels back in time to undo the entire franchise and make the goofy sidekick the new chosen one. Trollhunters: Rise of the Titans needed more time.

Trollhunters Rise of the Titans

The residents of Arcadia unite

Just for One Day

We Can Be Heroes is the sequel to Sharkboy and Lavagirl I never knew I wanted. I was seriously taken off guard when it was announced. Although I grew up with the movie, I never thought Robert Rodriguez would return to it. Making a sequel after the kids grew up didn’t work for Spy Kids 4-D, but I enjoyed We Can Be Heroes a lot more than I thought I would. Though it technically isn’t a Sharkboy and Lavagirl sequel. Rodriguez clearly wanted to make his own kid friendly superhero universe and it only made sense to include them.

Taylor Dooley reprises her role, but Taylor Lautner doesn’t, despite his recent Twilight fame. So Lavagirl does all the talking while Sharkboy remains silent and wears a mask. Since he’s in everything now, Pedro Pascal plays the Heroics leader Marcus Moreno who can hold swords magnetically. There’s also Boyd Holbrook as the prototypical Miracle Guy, Christian Slater as the technological Tech-No, and many more colorful superheroes. When they’re all captured by aliens, their children step up to bring them back. Priyanka Chopra plays the head of Heroics who keeps all the kids in one place. Missy Moreno is Marcus’ ordinary daughter who proves herself as a leader.

Wheels is a super-smart kid in a wheelchair, Noodles stretches, Ojo has precognitive drawings, A Capella is a personal favorite with super singing, Slo-Mo moves in slow motion, Face Maker makes goofy faces, Rewind & Fast Forward affect time differently, and Wild Card has many powers that he can’t control. The adorable Guppy is the daughter of Sharkboy & Lavagirl with shark strength and water manipulation. It could have easily been cheesy and/or cringy, but I really like seeing original superheroes. The cartoonish CGI actually works and the childish action is actually pretty fun. We Can Be Heroes gave kids a chance to be super.

We Can Be Heroes

The Heroics

Preceded by: The Adventures of Sharkboy and Lavagirl in 3-D

Zoo-Wee Mama!

Diary of a Wimpy Kid (2021) is Disney once again shelling out anything they own the rights to. Live action Diary of a Wimpy Kid movies were all but over after Dog Days was released in 2012. I think The Long Haul meant well, but nobody wanted to see new actors only 5 years after the third movie. Since Jeff Kinney’s book series is just too popular, Fox wanted to keep it relevant no matter what. Even after Disney acquired the rights. Aside from the short film Class Clown, the only animated Diary of a Wimpy Kid project would’ve been Cabin Fever.

When that fell through, Disney chose to reboot the entire series with computer animated movies on Disney+. I don’t know what it is, but somehow Diary of a Wimpy Kid (2021) feels like the most contractually obligated movie they’ve made up to this point. Although the Disney brand is all over it, this “feature film” is only 58 minutes long. So much of the book is cut out that it almost feels abrupt when it ends. Events are streamlined to almost exclusively focus on Greg Heffley and Rowley Jefferson’s friendship.

So they only include the big wheel accident, Halloween, sleeping over at Fregley’s, Zoo-Wee-Mama! comics, and of course “the Cheese Touch.” Wrestling, Christmas, the school play, and just about everything else is cut. Even mom, dad, Manny, and Rodrick are barely in the movie. It doesn’t help that the cast is almost entirely unknown. Then there’s the animation. Despite having these perfectly good 2D illustrations, Kinney went with 3D animated characters, and it just doesn’t look right. Diary of a Wimpy Kid (2021) isn’t exactly the fresh start it could’ve been.

Diary of a Wimpy Kid 2021

Greg and Rowley makeup

Animated Reboot of: Diary of a Wimpy Kid (2010)

The Mouse House

Home Sweet Home Alone is more soulless cash grab than Christmas classic. Disney wasted no time after the Fox merger. Although the last 2 movies aired on ABC, Home Sweet Home Alone is a more official Disney movie. They clearly didn’t believe in the project since it was dumped on Disney+ and quickly devoured by critics and longtime fans. They even admit in the movie that remaking a classic is always a bad idea. Yet they continue to milk a concept that only worked the first time.

Now we follow the Nazi friend from Jojo Rabbit (Archie Yates) as an obnoxious British kid who ends up home alone… sort of. Max Mercer isn’t really the focus of the movie. We barely get to know his mom or relatives before they’re whisked away. Any emotion is entirely off-screen and reserved for the “Wet Bandits” of the movie. That’s right, Disney can’t resist making the criminals who break into the house sympathetic and misunderstood main characters.

They’re seriously a married couple with a family who fell on hard times. Rob Delaney’s Jeff and Ellie Kemper’s Pam are just trying to recover a priceless doll they think the kid stole. They’re brutalized by traps ranging from juvenile to sadistic until the whole thing ends up being a huge misunderstanding. Making the whole movie a colossal waste of time. Macaulay Culkin was smart to refuse a cameo, but Buzz actor Devin Ratray wasn’t so lucky. Home Sweet Home Alone is more painful than any trap in the franchise.

Home Sweet Home Alone

Max with his new present

Preceded by: Home Alone: The Holiday Heist

Three Holiday Romances

Let it Snow is another young adult and/or Christmas movie in Netflix’s already packed library. I haven’t seen any original movies from those genres that Netflix is most known for. My only draw was the ensemble cast of young stars that I’ve seen from a bunch of teen movies and shows. You have Miles Morales, Dora the Explorer, Sabrina the Teenage Witch, Ned from Spider-Man, Ben from Descendants, ghost girl from Goosebumps, and everyone else. Plus the story reminded me of Snow Day mixed with Love Actually. It’s basically an anthology that I can only talk about separately.

Julie & Stuart – This story is mostly my favorite. It pairs up Isabela Moner and Shameik Moore as Julie and Stuart respectively. Julie deals with getting accepted at Columbia while having a sick mother to care for. Stuart is a famous singer trying to escape his responsibilities. Their love story isn’t overly cliché. Although it is the usual opposites attract relationship. I just felt their chemistry made them a cute, if highly unlikely couple.

Tobin & Angie – This story is probably my second favorite. It pairs up Mitchell Hope and Kiernan Shipka as Tobin and Angie (aka Duke) respectively. Tobin has been in love with his tomboy best friend Duke forever, but she remains clueless. Things get complicated when an overly nice older jock threatens their potential love story and ex-con twins threaten them. Only second favorite since I’m a sucker for the best friends turned couple cliché. This story can just get really cringy at times with how Tobin comes across.

Dorrie, Addie, & Kerry – This story is my least favorite. Mostly because it barely gives you anytime to care about the featured romance. It’s more of a friendship story that pairs Odeya Rush and Liv Hewson as Addie and Dorrie respectively. They’re both obsessed with getting a pig as a present. Except Addie is kind of a bad friend who only cares about her clearly cheating boyfriend. A lot more time is spent on Addie getting life lessons from a far more interesting Joan Cusack as a tin foil snow plower. Kerry played by YouTuber Anna Akana is a cheerleader who Dorrie is in love with. No time is spent on the lesbian love story and it’s about as cliché as they come.

In conclusion, Let it Snow doesn’t really put you in the Christmas spirit. It’s more about snow and the Waffle Town that brings every character together. Thanks to a party thrown by Jacob Batalon’s character Keon. Apparently Let it Snow is based on a book written in part by John Green. After reading the book’s synopsis, I’d probably be a bit more annoyed with how little it matches up. No wonder the movie occasionally feels like Netflix checking off boxes for how to make a teen movie more PC. Let it Snow is harmless cheese, but not a budding Christmas tradition.

Let it Snow

Stuart walks with Julie

One Wacky Ride

Pee-wee’s Big Holiday returns to the basics of the franchise. Pee-wee Herman hasn’t been relevant since Pee-wee’s Playhouse ended in 1990. Paul Reubens continued to find work, but inappropriate 1991 & 2002 controversies kept the innocent character away even longer. In the meantime, Reubens planned a comeback with 2 distinctly different scripts. Can’t say I was expecting a new movie as late as 2016, but I wasn’t too grown up to enjoy it. Reubens partnered with Judd Apatow, Netflix, and a first time director who understood how Pee-wee could work in the modern age.

Starting with partial de-aging and makeup to make Reubens youthful again. Pee-wee’s Big Holiday is basically Pee-wee’s Big Adventure right down to the cross country road trip. Pee-wee once again enjoys his colorful playhouse and friendly town residents. This time his problem is needing to take a holiday. The plot is just as bizarre as before with actor Joe Manganiello being the one who pushes Pee-wee to leave. Some read it as gay subtext, but I don’t think of it that way.

Everything revolves around Pee-wee desperately trying to go to New York in order to attend Manganiello’s birthday party. If that wasn’t weird enough, the movie opens with Pee-wee saying goodbye to an alien. Like Big Adventure, Big Holiday is filled with colorful characters that Pee-wee encounters on the road. There’s a trio of sexy criminals, a chipper salesman at a snake farm, a farmer and his love starved daughters, giant hairdressers, a lady with a flying car, a crazy mountain man, and the Amish. Pee-wee is a little rusty, but he can still bring the laughs. Pee-wee’s Big Holiday is a welcomed return to childish things.

Pee-Wee's Big Holiday

Pee-wee on the open road

Preceded by: Big Top Pee-wee

Death Bed

Gerald’s Game is the successful result of a Stephen King novel once thought unfilmable. Although published in 1992, it took until 2017 for Netflix to figure out this intense story of survival. Director Mike Flanagan already made the similar horror movie Hush as something of a warm up. Both movies take place in one secluded location where a woman fights to overcome a desperate situation. Gerald’s Game has a particularly terrifying concept that only Stephen King could come up with.

Jessie is the wife of wealthy older man Gerald Burlingame. To rekindle their failing marriage, Gerald takes Jessie to an isolated lake house where he plans a kinky “game” that results in her being handcuffed to a bed. When he goes too far, Gerald suffers a fatal heart attack that leaves her with no way of escape. It was unfilmable since the entire movie now hinges on one performance. Fortunately Carla Gugino delivers what I think is the best performance of her career. Like all horrifying survival stories, the situation goes from bad to worse.

Since the door was left open, a hungry stray dog wanders in and ends up doing something disgusting. When dehydration sinks in, she has to find a way to get the water left on the shelf behind her. Bruce Greenwood is just as effective as Gerald when Jessie begins to hallucinate him taunting her. Triggering a disturbing memory with her father during a solar eclipse that she has to come to terms with. Even that isn’t the worst of it when another dark figure shows up. Much like 127 Hours, the circumstances of Jessie’s escape are extremely difficult to watch. Gerald’s Game is gut-wrenching horror that hits close to home.

Gerald's Game

Jessie cuffed to a bed