Another month, another rounds of favs! From making big decisions to coming to terms with hard truths, these were my favorite films for May. What were some of your favorite films, television shows, web series, or podcasts from May? Let me know what you're looking forward to seeing or would recommend seeing in the month of June!
Sparkshorts: Pixar Artists' Projects
Purl; Smash and Grab; Kitbull (2019)
Great storytelling shouldn't be confined to long-winded dramas or live-action films -- if anything, it's a challenge to encapsulate an entirely satisfying story in fifteen minutes or less. Cue my excitement for Pixar's Sparkshorts: Artists' Projects initiative.
According to Pixar Animation Studios President Jim Morris, "The SparkShorts program is designed to discover new storytellers, explore new storytelling techniques, and experiment with new production workflows. These films are unlike anything we've ever done at Pixar, providing an opportunity to unlock the potential of individual artists and their inventive filmmaking approaches on a smaller scale than our normal fare."
Giving their artists' the ability and opportunity to create and produce independent shorts -- meaning that they're not attached to any upcoming film or affiliated with any other Pixar characters or artistic style -- is a great way to showcase their artists' talents and storytelling abilities. Too often, I feel as though animation, in general, is dismissed as a film technique only suitable for children's content. These shorts prove otherwise.
Purl, directed by Kristen Lester, follows an earnest ball of yarn named Purl has she gets a job at a fast-paced, high energy, male-centric start-up. Things start to unravel as she tries to fit in with this close-knit group. Purl must ask herself how far she is willing to go to get the acceptance she yearns for, and in the end, is it worth it?
Smash and Grab, directed by Brian Larsen, features two very frustrated and antiquated robots who, after years of toiling away inside the engine room of a towering locomotive, are willing to risk everything for their freedom and their friendship.
Kitbull, directed by Rosanna Sullivan, features a fiercely independent stray kitten and a pit bull. An unlikely bond forms between them, and they experience friendship for the first time.
Personally, I favored Purl and Kitbull a little more than Smash and Grab, but all three are great and definitely worth a watch, especially considering these shorts are available for free on YouTube. I'm looking forward to seeing the next three films produced by the initiative -- Float, Loop, and Wind -- which are expected to debut sometime later this year.
WHERE TO WATCH: Purl | Smash and Grab | Kitbull
Purl just wants to be accepted and do her job, but will she have to sacrifice to gain her coworker's respect?
Hot Mess In a Wedding Dress (2019)
Full disclosure: I do not like romcoms. I know audiences love them for the heart-warming fantasy aspect, but they're usually too cringey and formulaic for my liking. I can only roll my eyes so many times to lines like "You complete me" and "You had me at 'hello'" and "After all... I'm just a girl, standing in front of a boy, asking him to love her" before my eyeballs pop out of my head in protest.
Filmmaker Stefanie Davis' feature directorial debut, Hot Mess In a Wedding Dress is a refreshing take on an otherwise tired premise: a nervous bride gets cold feet before her wedding and hijinks ensue. Bella (Yvelisse Cedrez) is encouraged to "connect" with her wedding dress days before her ceremony while she writes her wedding vows, but Bella just doesn't feel like a typical bride. She hasn't had that "wow" moment that every bride seems to have before her big day, and she worries that she isn't the marrying type.
Bella's friends and ride-or-die bridesmaids Hannah (Lexi Balestrieri) and Corey (Chelsea Wolf) do their best to distract Bella from her wedding-day jitters at her bachelorette party, but in the process, Bella spills red wine all over her pristine white gown -- which was, of course, chosen by her overbearing mother. Bella is then faced with a crossroads: somehow salvage the dress so that no one knows that she screwed up or roll with the punches.
The smartest aspect of Hot Mess and where the film truly shines is how self-aware it is. Too often, weddings become spectacles of fussy tradition and obligation rather than a celebration of love. The bride always wears a white dress because it's traditional. Mendelssohn's "Wedding March" is played at the ceremony because it's traditional. Weddings are grand and solemn affairs because it's traditional. Hot Mess turns tradition on its head by answering the question: "Why are we gathered here today?" Because two people are in love and celebrating their commitment to one another in their own unique way.
I really appreciated Hot Mess' more honest approach to romcoms, and it is definitely worth a watch if you're usually a romcom cynic like me and want to support independent filmmakers. Hot Mess certainly has its sweet and romantic moments, but just be prepared for a ridiculously drunken/high bridal party seemingly obsessed with dick jokes.
WHERE TO WATCH: Amazon Prime Video | Vimeo
Yvelisse Cedrez stars as Bella, a trepidatious bride on the eve of her wedding day.
As a fan of Dexter Fletcher's other films -- especially Eddie the Eagle, which also starred Taron Egerton -- I had been anticipating this film for ages. How can you possibly detail the incredible life and career of Sir Elton John, one of the greatest entertainers of all time, through a single film? Through fantastical song and dance numbers, of course.
Narrated through the highly biased and filtered, rose-colored sunglasses of an Elton John in detox, Rocketman follows the story of little Reggie Dwight discovering his musical talents, a complicated upbringing thanks to his parents' tumultuous relationship, personal discovery as a young man, and a launch into super-stardom as an adult, complete with sex, drugs, and rock and roll. Rocketman does not shy away from the more sordid parts of Elton John's past, but rather highlights those moments as a way to explain his behavior at the time.
Fletcher does a great job building tension throughout the film towards Elton John's eventual check-in to rehab to finally get clean and sober and take control of his life. It is a triumphant and satisfying finish to a turbulent and addiction-fueled life. And, while Rocketman is marketed as an "epic musical fantasy," in a way, the film also humanizes Elton John's story; most know him for his music, larger-than-life persona, and outrageous showmanship, but may not be as familiar with his personal life -- just note that the film isn't entirely biographical or in chronological order. For example, don't get mad when Elton John plays "Crocodile Rock" in Los Angeles in 1970 when the song hadn't even been recorded until 1972.
It cannot be overstated that Egerton deserves all of the accolades he has received for this role, and I would not be surprised if he gets nominations for his performance come award season. Without giving anything away, after watching a particular scene between an adult Elton John and his father, I nearly cried in the theater. That doesn't happen to me very often. I also would not be surprised if Jamie Bell (Bernie Taupin) and Richard Madden (John Reid) receive nominations for their supporting roles. And if Julian Day does not win a single nomination for his stunning costumes, then the poor man will have been robbed; these recreated costumes from Elton John's performances through the 1970s are like characters themselves.
If you can, I highly recommend seeing Rocketman in theaters. This film is not your typical biopic, but I don't think a conventional film would have suited Elton John's incredible story. Every fantastical scene is a kaleidoscope of extravagant costumes, well-integrated musical numbers, and high-octane energy that truly benefits from the big screen experience.
Taron Egerton stars as Sir Elton John at the height of the musician's fame and addiction.