Well with all the talk of the new “Joker” movie coming out next week, you’d almost think there’s no other films releasing this month.
Sadly, I won’t be able to weigh in on the controversy until next issue, though I do get the impression it’s much ado about nothing. But I’ll just have to wait and see.
In the meantime, there are a couple new movies not titled “Joker” that released this past weekend.
The first is a biopic about the twilight years of acclaimed Hollywood actress Judy Garland, and the other is the tale of a teenage girl who journeys across China to help a young yeti find his way home.
Let’s get to the reviews.
First up is “Judy.”
Thirty years after starring in “The Wizard of Oz,” beloved actress and singer Judy Garland (Renée Zellweger) arrives in London to perform sold-out shows at the Talk of the Town nightclub.
While there, she reminisces with friends and fans and begins a whirlwind romance with musician Mickey Deans (Finn Wittrock), all while struggling with the effects of a lifetime of depression, alcoholism and substance abuse.
I didn’t really know much about this film going into it. In fact, I’m sorry to say, beyond her performance in “The Wizard of Oz,” I was fairly ignorant of Judy Garland’s life and career as a whole.
I’m sure much of you are already aware, but despite the fame and fortune that comes from being one of Hollywood’s most beloved stars, Garland herself had a pretty rough life.
And though this movie does focus more on the final days of Judy’s career, as portrayed by Renée Zellweger, the film does touch a little on the abuse she endured as a young actress.
From MGM executives constantly hounding her about her weight and teasing for her appearance, to the studio supplying her with drugs, so called “pep pills,” to suppress her appetite and increase energy, plus sleeping pills to put her out at the end of the day.
Honestly, it’s little wonder Garland developed substance abuse issues.
Through all this, the studio was obsessed with maintaining this carefully cultivated image of Judy Garland as your typical everyday girl next door, even though she was largely forbidden even the simplest of pleasures of being a normal teenager.
It’s the scenes that focus on this period in Garland’s life that I found the most impactful, few that they are.
The most poignant of these scenes revolve around MGM co-founder Louis B. Mayer (Richard Cordery) lecturing a young Judy Garland (Darci Shaw), with him telling Judy she is his favorite, all while explaining to her that she could be easily replaced with a prettier girl if she doesn’t fall into line.
It’s just heartbreaking to see someone as young as Judy was being subjected to these kind of abuses, and it makes you wonder about the mistreatment young actors still face in modern times.
But, for better or worse, this movie’s main focus isn’t Judy Garland’s formative years.
Instead this film shows Judy near the end. A woman who, despite earning millions over her career, was so broke she couldn’t afford to take care of her two youngest children, leading to a messy custody battle with her ex-husband.
At this stage of her life, Garland is notoriously hard to work with and often flakes on gigs, to the point that she’s forced to travel outside the country for work.
But despite her deep personal flaws, Judy still comes across as likeable here.
It can often be challenging to portray someone as difficult as Garland was in a sympathetic light, but here they did just that, thanks in large part to Renée Zellweger.
There was something so incredibly raw about Zellweger’s performance in this movie. Especially in her singing. In some ways it reminded me of Anne Hathaway from 2012’s “Les Misérables.” There was just so much emotion there. So much pain barely hiding beneath the surface.
Sure, perhaps the narrative lagged a bit here or there, and the final scene might come across as a bit trite to some. As for me though, the ending had my eyes welling up to bursting with tears.
Overall, I liked this movie pretty well. Even as someone who’s mostly detached from Judy Garland’s legacy. I imagine fans of Judy would appreciate this story even more.
Perhaps not worth rushing out to theaters to track down, but definitely worth a watch when it releases on video.
“Judy” is rated PG-13.
The other movie this week is “Abominable.”
After discovering a Yeti on the roof of her apartment building, teenage Yi (Chloe Bennet) and her two friends Jin (Tenzing Norgay Trainor) and Peng (Albert Tsai) embark on an epic quest to reunite the magical creature with his family.
But to do so, they must stay one step ahead of a wealthy financier (Eddie Izzard) and a determined zoologist (Sarah Paulson) who want to capture the beast for their own gain.
It’s always funny to see how often movies in Hollywood come in pairs.
It happens all the time.
For whatever reason, two completely separate studios get remarkably similar ideas in their heads and decide to produce movies with surprisingly identical concepts.
Like with Disney’s “The Jungle Book,” released in 2016, and Warner Bros. “Mowgli: Legend of the Jungle” released a scant two years later. Interestingly Mowgli was originally scheduled to release in 2016, but was delayed due to the remarkable success of the Disney’s film.
But what’s even funnier is how often one of these twin movies happens to be a DreamWorks production.
In 1998 it was bugs, with DreamWorks’ “Antz,” and Pixar’s “A Bug’s Life.”
A few years later DreamWorks and Pixar did it again 2003-2004 with “Shark Tale” and “Finding Nemo. Then it was Disney’s turn with “The Wild,” releasing only a year after the 2005 DreamWorks hit “Madagascar.”
2006-2007 was the year of the rat, with DreamWorks and Aardman Animations releasing their rodent romp “Flushed Away,” followed up only a scant eight months later by Pixar’s own “Ratatouille.”
After that, in 2010, Illumination came into the picture, releasing the first film in their now mega franchise “Despicable Me,” completely overshadowing DreamWorks’ own supervillain film “Megamind.”
This time around, there’s not only two, but three, that’s right, yeti centric animated movies released in the span of a year.
First was Warner Bros. in 2018, with “Smallfoot.” A movie about an isolated Yeti society who believe their mountaintop in the Himalayas is the entirety of creation.
Then this spring, Laika released a stop motion animated film titled “Missing Link.” A story featuring a friendly Sasquatch who, with the help of an 1800s adventurer, journeys to the Himalayas to find his long lost cousins, the yeti.
Now here we are with “Abominable.” If you’re noticing a pattern here, you probably have a decent guess on where the home of this young yeti might be.
But despite this film’s ridiculously familiar concept, there’s still much to enjoy about “Abominable.” For starters, there’s the setting.
While “Smallfoot” might have featured an imaginative rendition of the Himalayas, and “Missing Link” journeyed everywhere from the Pacific northwest to the old west, the locations in neither films can even hold a candle to “Abominable.”
The backgrounds in this movie are absolutely stunning. From the minimalist nighttime cityscapes of Yi’s hometown, to the breathtaking mountain views, and fields filled with a sea of brilliant yellow flowers. Every new location was a feast for the eyes. It’s all ridiculously beautiful.
Sadly, the character animations here were slightly less sublime.
I wouldn’t say the people in this movie look bad, but compared to what we’ve seen from Disney, Pixar, and even other DreamWorks films like “How to Train Your Dragon: The Hidden World,” the character models do leave a bit to be desired.
They just kind of stick out like a sore thumb compared to the dazzling settings they exist in.
But, moving on, the other thing I love here is how magic manifests in this film. Yes, the yetis are magic for some reason. They never explain why, but it’s fine by me.
Yi’s yeti friend can use magic for fun things like calling down lightning, making fruit grow ridiculously large, or turning a field of flowers into a giant tidal wave.
All this, though the magical power of humming.
Anytime the yeti started humming, it instantly brought back to 2012 “The Hobbit,” and the dwarven song “The Misty Mountains Cold.” It’s such a deep, beautiful sound. And what’s even better is how the theme of magic in music later intertwines with Yi’s talent with the violin.
Honestly, anytime you can make music an integral part of a movie, even ones with magical yetis, I’m generally going to be a happy camper.
But while I loved the magic, and the film’s overall aesthetic, the rest of the movie just wasn’t quite up to par.
Don’t get me wrong. The characters here are okay. Yi’s fine, and I definitely appreciate the fact that her story arc doesn’t revolve around finding a man. It’s just that she didn’t quite feel fully fleshed out as a character.
As for Yi’s friends, I didn’t mind Jin, but I definitely didn’t care for Peng. I just found him grating.
But I suppose the film needed some kind of comedic sidekicks. Frankly, I would have been more than happy if Yi left the two of them at home.
And to top it all off, the film’s villains are cookie cutter at best and in the end are completely forgettable.
Beyond the characters, the overall narrative felt a little underdeveloped at times and the voice acting also seemed a bit stiff here and there.
Again, I’m not saying any of these elements are absolutely horrible by any stretch. It just seemed like the movie could have used a bit more refining, maybe a little spit and polish.
None of these complaints kept me from enjoying the movie as a whole, but it definitely prevented me from falling in love with the film.
Regardless, there really is a lot to like here. “Abominable” is a movie filled with crowd pleasing magical moments, yet is sadly not without its flaws, not to mention an incredibly familiar narrative.
Despite this, the film is an enjoyable experience on the whole. One that’s bound to leave you with a smile on your face.
“Abominable” is rated PG.