Movie reviews: 'Abominable' is action-adventure for kids with a light touch, great look
ABOMINABLE: 4 STARS
Mythical creatures pining for home is quickly becoming a sub-genre in animated kid's films. Earlier this year "Missing Link" gave us a homesick 8-foot-tall Sasquatch who longed for his homeland, the Himalayan mountains. "Abominable," a new film starring the voice of Marvel's Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. star Chloe Bennet, sees a Yeti and some newfound friends on a journey to Mount Everest, the highest place on Earth.
Bennet voices Shanghai teenager Yi, a student on summer holiday. Much to the consternation of her single mother and grandmother Yi is never home. What they don't know is that she's out doing odd jobs, dog walking, babysitting, working in the garbage pit of a restaurant, to make money to take the trip across China planned by her late father.
Meanwhile, a Yeti (Joseph Izzo) escapes from a research facility into the city. Finding a safe haven on the roof of Yi's apartment building, he sees a tourism billboard for Mount Everest and becomes wistful for home. Yi, seeking solace on the roof, soon discovers him. Her initial fear is replaced by concern when she finds he's not nearly as fierce as he looks. "I don't know where you came from," she says as a team of Yeti hunters search the city for him, "but you sure don't belong here." The two, along with Yi's cousins, the selfie-obsessed Jin (Tenzing Norgay Trainor) and playful Peng (Albert Tsai), begin a journey to the Yeti's homeland while staying one step ahead of megalomaniac exotic animal collector Burnish (Eddie Izzard) and his zoologist Dr. Zara (Sarah Paulson), who wants to chop the creature up in little pieces for experiments.
"Abominable" is not plot heavy. It's an action-adventure for kids that sees a plucky group of kids bond together to help someone (or something) in need. Simple messages on grief, loss and perseverance ("When things get tough you just keep going," Yi says helpfully.) provide an emotional subtext but it's the film's light touch and visuals that pack the biggest punch.
Director Jill Culton splashes the screen with colour, staging action scenes with giant blueberries and a wave of vivid yellow canola flowers. Even if it starts to feel drawn out as the Yeti uses his magical powers to escape a series of close scrapes with the villains, it's use of eye-catching animation — check out the koi fish clouds — is very entertaining. Culton learned her craft at Pixar and it shows. She is a clever and compelling visual stylist.
The Yeti, who they nickname Everest, doesn't speak, unless you count his king-sized burps, but manages to be endearing. He's an overgrown puppy with the kind of goofy face that is all but guaranteed to see boatloads of stuffed animals. The story may ride the line between cliché and the overly familiar but the well-defined characters, including the lovable creature and the sharp-tongued grandmother Nai Nai (Tsai Chin) — "You need to eat," she says. "You don't want to be so short like your mother." — provide enough of an emotional spine to make up for the story's shortcomings.
JUDY: 4 STARS
A powerhouse performer packed into a frail body and even frailer psyche Judy Garland left behind a legacy that is equal parts Hollywood history and cautionary tale. "Judy," a new film directed by Rupert Goold, examines the declining days of "The Wizard Of Oz" star as she arrives in London to perform a series of concerts.
The year is 1968. Stateside Garland (Renée Zellweger) is at a low ebb. She lives in hotels she can't afford, is fighting for custody of her children and playing in nightclubs for $150 a show, a fraction of her former superstar salary. She is an unemployable legend. "Unreliable and uninsurable," she says. "And that's what the ones who like me say."
When she's offered a five-week run at the ritzy Talk of The Town at the Palladium in London, England, she's reticent. She doesn't want to be separated from her kids for that long, but she's broke. She decides to leave her children so that she can make enough money to return and put a roof over their head.
In London she is treated like royalty, packing the club night after night but her insecurities eat at her. "What if I can't do it again," she says after her wildly successful opening night. Drink, pills, self-doubt, on-stage meltdowns and a quickie marriage make for an eventful but uneven series of shows. In the press parlance of the time she is often "exhausted and emotional."
Flashback to young Judy (Darci Shaw) on the MGM backlot set the stage for the tragedy that follows.
"Judy" veers into often sentimentality—the finale clumsily documents the moment when the singer finally got the kind of support she always needed from an audience—but doesn't shy away from darker aspects of Garland's life. Bringing the story to vivid life is Zellweger in a career best performance. She looks and sounds enough like Garland to be convincing, but this isn't just mimicry. The actress digs deep, finding the humour and humanity in a person often regarded as a tragic figure. "I am Judy Garland for an hour a night," she says. "I want what everybody else wants but I seem to have a harder time getting it." Zellweger makes us understand how and why Garland spent a lifetime trying to please people who repaid her by always asking for more.
"Judy" is at its strongest when Zellweger is onscreen. Off stage she captures Garland's complexity; on stage, in numbers like "I'll Go My Way by Myself" or "The Trolley Song" she is a musical tour de force. The flashbacks, while nicely done, feel like information we already know and don't add much to the overall movie. We learn just as much about Garland's psychological unrest from Zellweger nuanced performance as we do from the broadly written flashbacks. This is, after all, a character study, not a history lesson.
LINDA RONSTADT: THE SOUND OF MY VOICE: 4 STARS
Linda Ronstadt was one of the voices of the latter part of the twentieth century. The pure, gorgeous vocals that were once a staple at the top of the Billboard charts has been silenced by Parkinson's disease but a new documentary, "Linda Ronstadt: The Sound of My Voice," serves as a reminder of a pioneer who danced to the beat of a different drum.
The Arizona-born singer made headlines as much for her off-stage life as much as for her on-stage work, but the film wisely focusses on her legacy, the music that made her a superstar. The story begins at home with a family who played and sang all types of music from rock and roll, rhythm and blues, gospel, opera, country and mariachi. Later, those influences mixed and mingled in the folk-rock trio the Stone Poneys. Their biggest success, a cover of Mike Nesmith's "Different Drum," became Ronstadt's first and only hit with the band and she soon left to forge a solo career that would see her become the first female rock star and the first woman to have five platinum albums in a row. "Linda was the queen," says Bonnie Raitt. "She was like what Beyoncé is now."
At the peak of her fame she grew tired of selling out arenas and the constant grind of being on the road. Looking for new challenges she took to the Broadway, appearing in "Pirates of Penzance" on stage opposite Kevin Kline. "Gilbert and Sullivan? Can you imagine another rock star who has the guts to go out there and do that kind of musical comedy?" says Jackson Browne. "To her it was a mountain to climb."
From operetta she went on to explore the American songbook, interpreting the songs of Frank Sinatra and Ella Fitzgerald among others. "I didn't think it was a good idea, not because she couldn't do it," says Warner bros executive Joe Smith, "but because we had this run going with rock and roll and country rock records."
The portrait painted of Ronstadt is one of an artist more concerned with music than her career. She was once the highest paid women in music but left that behind in favour of following her passions, whether it's making a record of traditional Mexican songs (which became the largest selling Spanish-language record in history to that date), roots rock or singing with her pals Dolly Parton and Emmylou Harris.
The film closes on an emotional note with the revelation that Parkinson's disease has robbed her of her instrument. "I still sing in mind my but I can't do it physically," she says.
Oscar-winning filmmakers Rob Epstein and Jeffrey Friedman use archival footage, mixed with new interviews with many of the singer's friends and colleagues, to complete the picture. It's wonderful to hear the music, to be reminded of the width and breadth of Ronstadt's daring and talent, but the commentary tends toward the "She was the best singer I've ever heard," style rather than providing much insight into what makes the singer tick. At the end, however, it doesn't matter much, as the music, in all its variation and strength, tells the story in a way that suits Ronstadt best.