Nearly four years ago I started this little experiment of writing reviews for The Purcell Register.

Back then I had very little writing experience. Just an odd obsession with visiting the movie theater every weekend and watching absolutely everything that was currently playing.

Over the past few years I’d like to think I’ve learned quite a bit. Not just with movies and filmmaking, but also in how to express my thoughts in general.

It’s been fun, and overall I’m glad I decided to take that first leap into the film critic world back in 2017.

That said, I think it’s time I took a break from writing, at least for a while.

With the current state of the world, and the movie industry specifically, it’s been difficult not to feel mentally exhausted. And I know I’ve been very fortunate, so I can’t even imagine what other people have been going through.

Many times this year I’ve just felt like I’m just going through the motions of reviewing, and not saying anything of substance. If that isn’t an obvious sign of burnout, I don’t know what is.

Thank you to everyone who has taken the time to read my reviews over the years. Your kind words, encouragement, and even your harshly worded critiques have meant a lot to me.

I think it’ll be nice to watch new movies for the first time in a long time without worrying about taking notes or forming a coherent opinion about them.

Speaking of, I still have a couple more movies to talk about before I go. And lucky for me, they’re two of the biggest films of the year. “Soul” and “Wonder Woman 1984.”

So without any further ado, let’s get to the reviews.

***

Soul

First up is “Soul.”

Joe (Jamie Foxx) is a middle-school band teacher whose life hasn’t quite gone the way he expected. His true passion is jazz, and he’s good. But when he travels to another realm to help someone (Tina Fey) find their passion, he soon discovers what it means to have soul.

I think it’s fairly safe to say that if you’re a fan of animated movies, you know the kind of quality expected from films created by Pixar.

Over the past 25 years the studio has set the standard for animated films.

Even while their parent company, Walt Disney, was struggling in the mid-2000s, Pixar never skipped a beat, producing movie after movie that not only kept children entertained for a couple hours, but touched the hearts of millions and leaving many of us adults ugly crying in the middle of a crowded theater.

Of course since the 2000s, Pixar has had a few notable missteps. A new Pixar film becoming an automatic masterpiece isn’t as guaranteed as it once seemed a decade ago.

Even so, time and time again Pixar has proved they’re a studio worthy of paying attention to, because when they produce high quality work, they knock it out of the park like no one else in the business. Especially when they happen to be written and/or directed by Pete Docter.

Which I suppose brings me to this film.

I’d like to think of “Soul” as a spiritual successor to Docter’s last Pixar movie, “Inside Out.”

Where “Inside Out” personifies aspects of people’s personalities, like Joy, Anger, and Sadness, “Soul” seeks to represent concepts which are even more abstract and even existential, like death, the human soul, and even the meaning of life itself.

Not exactly light subject matter, though Pixar has never been ones to stray away from tough topics. Heck, this isn’t even their first movie set in the afterlife.

But unlike “Coco,” the world of “Soul” is far more abstract than the colorful Día de los Muertos themed Land of the Dead.

Souls here are little more than blue blobs in the vague shape of humans, and the entities who run the “Great Beyond” are basically just outlines which can take just about any shape they wish.

Thanks to an unfortunate accident, our main character, Joe (Jamie Foxx), finds himself in this odd realm. But, deciding it isn’t his time to go, he escapes to the “Great Before.” The place where unborn souls are prepared for life on Earth.

Eventually, he finds himself paired up with one of those unborn souls, voiced by Tina Fey, who doesn’t want to go to Earth. Yet, despite their disdain for human existence, Fey’s character is  persuaded to help Joe find his way back to his body.

What follows is nothing less than an exploration into what makes life worth living and the simple pleasures of being human.

And since Joe is a talented pianist, much of this experience is enhanced through the realm of music. Specifically jazz.

So naturally, you’d probably expect a pretty standout soundtrack with such musically focused film. And luckily, you’d be spot on.

While Jamie Foxx and Tina Fey may be the lead actors in this film, the real star of the show here is the sound.

There’s such a wonderful energy to the music in this movie. Both in the Jon Batiste written jazz segments, and in the new age songs composed by Trent Reznor and Atticus Ross.

It’s a soundtrack that stands out far more than your typical film, at least when it comes to non-musicals.

In a different movie, I could almost see the sound mixing here coming across as a bit obnoxious. But music truly is the soul of this film. It’d be more strange if the score wasn’t this prominent.

I’d go as far to say it’s the best Pixar soundtrack ever. In no other film of theirs has the music so perfectly fit the emotion of each and every scene. It really is beautiful.

Speaking of beautiful, the quality of animation here is just as great as we’ve all come to expect from Pixar.

No one, not Illumination, not Dreamworks, not even Walt Disney’s own animation studio, makes better looking animated movies.

Even when Pixar makes bad movies, as was the case with 2015’s “The Good Dinosaur,” their films are still always a visual feast for the eyes.

And not only does this movie look and sound incredible. It also has a wonderful story, with a great message. One that will probably stick with parents far longer than it will their children.

In fact, if I had one concern, it’d be that some younger children may have trouble grasping a story this heavily focused on existence and what it means to be alive.

I’m sure most kids will still be entertained by the colorful characters and cute comedy, but unlike most animated films, I’d say “Soul” is more for adults than it is for children.

Bottomline though, this is easily one of the best movies of 2020. It’s definitely worth the $7 for a month of Disney+.

If this somehow doesn’t win Best Animated Feature at the Oscars, I’ll be flabbergasted. Heck, I could see it making a run for Best Picture depending on the competition that’s yet to be released.

Even after 25 years of incredible feature films, Pixar is still outdoing themselves and showing the world no one does animation better than them.

“Soul” is rated PG and is available to stream on Disney+.

***

Wonder Woman 1984

The other movie this week is “Wonder Woman 1984.”

Diana Prince (Gal Gadot) lives quietly among mortals in the vibrant, sleek 1980s, an era of excess driven by the pursuit of having it all. Though she’s come into her full powers, she maintains a low profile by curating ancient artifacts, and only performing heroic acts incognito. 

But soon, Diana will have to muster all of her strength, wisdom and courage as she finds herself squaring off against Maxwell Lord (Pedro Pascal) and the Cheetah (Kristen Wiig), a villainess who possesses superhuman strength and agility.

Ah, DC. My poor old beleaguered comic book franchise holding friend.

What are we going to do with you?

I swear, for a minute there it seemed like you’re finally getting it together after ditching Zack Snyder, the filmmaker responsible for cinematic missteps such as “Man of Steel” and outright disasters like “Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice.”

Things started to look up after the first “Wonder Woman” film, and 2019 saw the release of “Shazam!,” one of my favorite movies of that year.

Sure, “Aquaman” wasn’t the best, and “Birds of Prey” from earlier this year could have been better, but overall I was pretty optimistic about the future of DC.

And with the next film on the horizon being helmed by Patty Jenkins, the same woman behind “Wonder Woman” from 2017, it seemed reasonable to be hopeful about the future of this cinematic universe.

Honestly, I probably should have taken the news of a four hour Zack Snyder director’s cut of “Justice League” as a bad omen.

Because I guess some people think it’s runtime limitations, not poor editing, bad storytelling, or abysmal characters, that’s keeping Snyder from making good movies. But I digress.

“Wonder Woman 1984” isn’t quite what I’d call a terrible film, but it certainly does seem like yet another misstep for DC.

It’s just kind of a mess that gets more and more incoherent as the movie goes on.

I suppose it starts out interesting enough.

Inadvertently, our characters end up running across a magic stone which grants whoever holds it a single wish.

Without realizing the stone’s power, Diana wishes back her romantic interest from the previous film, Steve Trevor (Chris Pine), who died heroically back in World War I.

Steve’s soul or personality or whatever ends up inhabiting some other random guy’s body, which is kind of weird, and opens up a huge morality can of worms that this film completely avoids.

Kristen Wiig’s character also makes a wish. In her case it’s to be just like Diana, though she’s unaware of the woman’s secret Amazonian origin.

From there, we’re introduced to Maxwell Lord. An 80s businessman who is more focused on creating the appearance of successfulness, while in reality is nearly on the verge of bankruptcy.

Whether intentional or not, Lord’s character bears a striking similarity to our current president, Donald Trump.

Beyond the failed businesses and the focus on image above everything, Lord even mentions the power of positive thinking, which has been well documented as one of Trump’s core philosophies.

Plus, of course, Pedro Pascal is also sporting a terrible haircut, just like the president.

Naturally, Lord wants to get his hands on the magical wishing stone, and once he does, his wish is what shapes nearly the entirety of the film’s plot from that point on.

I’ll admit, I was intrigued by the direction the story seemed to be taking. Sadly, what started off as fairly small, ends up spiraling into an out of control, unfocused mess with apocalyptic consequences.

If I had a wish that an imaginary rock could grant, it’d be to tell those behind superhero movies that not every film involving a comic book character has to have stakes so high that the end of the world is on the line.

Especially when these larger-than-life ramifications seem to be at the expense of writing good characters.

Gal Gadot and Chris Pine just don’t seem to have the same spark that they did in the last film. Plus, all the fun side characters which filled the 2017 film with funny moments are nowhere to be found.

And if that wasn’t bad enough, the action scenes here are also a huge step down from the last movie as well. Everything just feels floaty and unrealistic. Not to mention, it lacks the sheer spectacle of the previous film.

Instead of awe inspiring, everything just feels cheesy.

Don’t get me wrong, I don’t mind a little cheese in my superhero movies. It worked quite well in “Shazam!” for instance. I just don’t think the action scenes here matched the tone set by the storytelling, nor the expectations of the previous film.

I don’t know.

This is far from the worst movie DC has produced. Though granted, that is an incredibly low bar.

I wish I liked this movie more. As a kid, DC superheroes were always my favorite. It’s heartbreaking seeing so many live action films with these characters fail time and time again.

I guess all I can do is hope that the next film from DC, James Gunn’s reimagining of “The Suicide Squad,” is better.

“Wonder Woman 1984” is rated PG-13 and is available to stream on HBO Max.

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