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As a cautionary tale on mental health, Joker's take on the clown prince of crime is great
In the dark and crime ridden streets of Gotham, Batman may be fighting for justice, but the Joker is waging his own war. The way he sees it, the Joker considers himself the hero of his story; a world that is naturally prone to violence and chaos and he's the only one who finds the joke of it. Also unlike Batman who dresses in black to use the darkness to his advantage, the Joker is bright and colorful to not only be seen, but to be the star of his crime show. This is what makes the dynamic of these two the ultimate hero versus villain setup.
Most people know Batman's story of his parents slain which makes him want to stop others from having the same tragic events, but what about the Joker? When you really think about it, the movies have not tackled the backstory of the clown prince of crime. Batman and The Dark Knight certainly gives you an idea of their psychopathic characters, but not their roots. The closest we got was The Killing Joke graphic novel, which is still a critically phrased story. With Joker, we now see if film can deliver a worthy background.
In the early eighties in Gotham, a lonely man Arthur Fleck (played by Joaquin Phoenix) is trying his hardest to "bring joy and laughter to the people of Gotham" by working as a clown for hire and aspires to be a stand up comedian. He also suffers a neurological condition that causes him to laugh at random moments. Though he's told to "put on a happy face" by his mother Penny (played by Frances Conroy), the city's high crime and decay from graffiti and rats only make things worse for him. In fact, he finds that due to budget cuts, he won't be able to get any more medication to treat his problems.
While dressed as a clown, he gets into an incident where three people that work for Thomas Wayne get killed, several people in Gotham see him as a symbol to go after the wealthy establishment. Since nobody knows it was Arthur, he carries on with his standup. A botched performance ends up on the TV show of Murray Franklin (played by Robert De Niro), who invites the latter to explain. As the city seems to be hitting a boiling point of anger, combined with more problems for Arthur, he starts to realize just what kind of clown he is.
Joker is inspired by a lot of Martin Scorsese movies like Taxi Driver and The King of Comedy. While I don't know if it reaches the same heights, I still enjoyed Joker a lot...or as much as you can get out of this kind of story. The first half of the movie really stands on it's own about a guy whose already broken and is getting worse by a world that doesn't seem to be listening. Despite some reports, I don't think were supposed to sympathize with this guy, even though we do see everything that happens to him, and can imagine why a guy like this would end up doing the things he does.
It works well thanks to Joaquin Phoenix who pulls off one of his great performances. A lot like De Niro in The King of Comedy, he starts off as a bit off, but not dangerous until he's pushed to his limit. But as I said, the movie does have him as the main character, but not one your supposed to side with. His evil deeds have merit within his mind and you understand why, especially after his scenes with his mother, other clowns, Thomas Wayne, and even De Niro.
The first half before he transforms is phenomenal. The second half is where things start to slip. It's not because it isn't good, but the tone does start to shift back into comic book territory. A lot of it comes when it makes it's connections to the Wayne family that the movie didn't need. It's easy to ignore a large chunk of that as the final movie was still satisfying. If I had any other problems, it would be that there are several spots where things could have ended upon. I won't spoil it, but get ready to think that the movie is going to end only to go on another ten minutes.
I'll give this eight clown noses out of ten. In terms of it's story, Joker does make for a good psychological look at the famous Batman villain.
It's harmless for children, but Abominable feels similar to other DreamWorks movies
Deep within the mountains of the Himalayas lies a mysterious creature called a yeti or an abominable snowman...wait a minute, didn't I talk about this before. When I put those together with the words "animated movie", your either going to bring up Smallfoot or Missing link, which had also talked about yetis. To be fair, a lot of similar ideas have been made into movies so it's not fair to discredit today's movie because of that. I can only assume that by the time Smallfoot was released, this was already halfway done, so they just had to go with what they had.
The big difference this time around are a couple of things. First, this is a collaboration between DreamWorks Animation and a Chinese company Pearl. Second, the story this time puts the focus on the humans rather then the monster. And finally, rather then making the yeti a walking, taking humanoid-type thing, this abominable snowman is more like a lovable dog that has magical powers. And honestly, because we always need family movies, families are probably not going to care about similar kinds of movies released, as kids can have something new. So let's see what Abominable has to offer.
In Shanghai, teenager Yi (played by Chloe Bennet) spends he days in Shanghai working odd jobs so that she can go travel and see more of China and perhaps the world. At the cost of her determination, she tends to avoid spending time with her mother and grandmother who are concerned that she's kept herself closed off since her father passed away. Though they think she's no longer interested in playing the violin, in secret she only plays alone. But a like a lot of stories involving monsters, she hears and finds a large animal on her roof, but sees not only is it not dangerous, but it's on the run from somebody.
She figures out that the monster is a child yeti that she calls Everest. That also because she sees that's him home and he needs help. They make it to a tanker, but also bring a long her friends Peng (played by Albert Tsai) and Jin (played by Tenzing Trainor). They make it to a jungle only to see the people looking for the yeti have caught up. These people are a wealthy explorer Burnish (played by Eddie Izzard) and zoologist Dr. Zara (played by Sarah Paulson). It's a race to see if they can get the yeti home while making some friends.
If you can tell, Abominable follows the formula to a lot of DreamWorks animated movies that deal with opposite outcasts on journeys. Shrek did it, Kung Fu Panda did it, and How to Train Your Dragon did it. Does this bring anything new to the formula? Not a lot. Because the formula is really repeated. The villains don't understand the heroes, the hero has a popular friend whose going to see things their way, and even the monster has a mystical power. It even lacks the emotion that it's trying to pull off.
Perhaps if this came out in the early 2000's, this would have been more original and unique. But for what it is, it seems kind of tired. It's a shame because the movie does have two good things going for it. First is the animation. DreamWorks has remained a competitor of Disney for a while for a reason; the style is really good. You not only feel and see the emotion through all the characters, but you get that feeling from the yeti who doesn't even talk.
The other thing it has going for it is the voice acting. It's nothing amazing, but every actor seems to be giving their all.
At best, this may appeal to kids who simply want to have a fun little adventure, but there isn't much for adults. Sure, there may be a funny joke occasionally and there's even a beautiful scene or two (I did love them playing the violin close to a large statue and flying on a giant dandelion), but it only makes you wish they had thought more outside the box. As is, its at least harmless and it's short.
I'll give this five yetis out of ten. This is far from a bad movie, but it's also not that unique. It feels like a movie that was thought up quickly and the storytellers did their job enough to make it work. As I said, kids will like it fine, though I think I'd rather show them Smallfoot or Missing Link. At least with those, I'm going on a different adventure then Abominable.
Downton Abbey (2019)
Downton Abbey is clearly for the fans of the show, even if it looks nice and elegant.
What can I say about the TV series Downton Abbey? While I can't say a lot about the plot and characters, as I haven't seen the show, it has made a big impact, even here in America where it ran for six seasons (or series as the British say) on PBS. I know it has to do with a wealthy aristocratic family and the lives of them and the servants. Judging by the house, of course it would need to be run like it's own business. Im sure a lot of people came for it's story, but I think the major draw was the sets, costumes, and the feeling that your watching something classier then your typical cop show or reality show.
Having only seen two episodes, I see Downton Abbey as a high budgeted soap opera. There's nothing wrong with that as soap operas do keep the focus of the plot on the family, thus the need to write compeling charecters in order to make it work. It just so happens that because of the 1920s timeframe, Downton Abby gets to also throw in a lot of historical context in relation to the wealthy family. So let's see what the Downton Abbey movie brings to the screen.
In 1927, the head of the family, Robert Crawley (played by Hugh Bonneville) has received a letter that King George and Queen Mary will be visiting and staying at Downton Abbey as a part of the royal tour. He informs the rest of the family including his wife Cora (played by Elizabeth McGovern), daughter Lady Mary Talbot (played by Michelle Dockery), her husband Tom Branson (played by Allen Leech) and his mother Violet (played by Maggie Smith) who all have different reactions. Some are excited and some are ready to confront other family regarding inheritance and just who is who.
Meanwhile, the staff, as lead by butler Thomas Barrow (played by Robert James-Collier), is thrilled that the royal family will be visiting the estate. However, the family feels that he won't be up to the responsibility, so they ask former butler Mr. Carson (played by Jim Carter) to temporary return to manage things. Though the staff feels ready, their dismayed to not only find out that the royal family will be brining their own staff, but those at Downton Abbey are told to stay out of the way. Will the staff be able to prove themselves?
For someone who hasn't seen the show, what did I think of Downton Abbey? The story itself seems fine. I admire a movie for having a simple goal; to simply see that a royal visit goes according to plan. Now the use of a large cast is another thing. With the countless family members, staff members, and now with Buckingham Palace, that is a lot to juggle. Some of the side stories are easy to grasp and others clearly have more background thanks to the long running show. So the question is whether this was better as a show. I'd say so, but it isn't without it's merits.
The set design and costumes are really impressive, even if they are leftovers from the show. I can understand how a large audience can get sucked into this world. Some of me wishes I could be a part of this world, even though I know I could never high class enough. All the actors feel like their in the right place, but again, that probably has to do with the fact they've already done this for seven seasons.
Unlike a lot of movies based on TV shows that are adaptations, this is a continuation of a larger story. Would have I have gotten into it had I'd seen it? Probably. There were some parts I had sympathy for, such as the staff not wanting someone else to do their jobs. But whenever it cut to the aristocratic family, I feel like I'm steeping into an argument that started a while ago. Because of that, inclined to believe that the movie was made for the fans and not newcomers. It's not a way for someone unfamiliar to be introduced. It's something to satisfy someone whose had plenty of Downton Abbey and wants more.
I'll give this six Downton Abbey houses out of ten. Overall, I'm not sure if this was for me, but I can see a lot of people enjoying it anyhow. I'd say watch some of the show first to know what your getting into. Heck, it might be better if you see the entire series. So check out the show first before you check into the movie.
Brittany Runs a Marathon (2019)
Brittany Runs a Marathon is a very funny, inspiring story about a toxic person making a positive change
Your going to hate me for asking you, but when was the last time you went to the gym or stepped on the scale? Some of your might say it was this morning where you got your daily run in. But a lot are probably going to squirm and either change the subject or admit it's been a while. No one wants to hear that they're unhealthy. I myself hate hearing that I need to lose a few pounds (okay, more like ten or twenty!), but I try my best to get to the gym at least 3 times a week for a little cardio.
What's also hard is trying to find the right way to lose weight. I'll also admit that despite going to the gym, it can be easy to feel out of place next to the bodybuilders or marathon runners. But this is why I like hearing stories about people that understand they need to help themselves and they actually go the distance to improve their lives. In today's movie, one woman who spends her nights drinking and making jokes at her work instead decides to lace up some shoes and start running. Let's see how it all goes in Brittany Runs a Marathon.
Young woman Brittany Forgler (played by Jillian Bell) is in a rut, who is single, isn't working in her favorite job industry and spends her nights with her roommate Gretchen (played by Alice Lee) partying. She also happens to be overweight, as she's not only aware, but makes a lot of jokes about that. Things take a turn when she goes to a new doctor in order to get new prescription pills (for drug use of course), only to be told her body fat and blood pressure is high, and also her liver is bad.
This seems to make enough of a mark that she visits a local gym, only to realize that she can't afford it. When she jokes that "people run in the streets for free", she simply tries running one block. The next day, she runs a little further. And then at the invite of her neighbor Catherine (played by Michaela Watkins), she joins a runners group that goes for two miles a day. As the running becomes easier for Brittany (along with weight loss), she decides, along with Catherine and another friend, to reach the goal of running the New York marathon. But during the journey, she starts to question who her friends are, especially after making friends with a house sitter Jern (Played by Utkarsh Ambudkar).
When I wrote my review for Trainwreck, I disliked it, despite the critical phrase, as not being that funny nor making Amy Schumer likable enough. That is not the case with Brittany Runs a Marathon as I found it very funny, very likable, and painted a genuine "nice" movie overall. A lot of it is on the lead actress, Jillian Bell who've I've seen on other movies like 22 Jump Street and Goosebumps, but this is her first staring role.
Jillian Bell actually reminds me of several women I've known; those that would always defend themselves with humor or those that seem to be aware of their toxic lifestyle and yet have a hard time escaping it. It's easy to see her troubles, but it's also easy to see what gets her out. Running is rarely easy, but this movie is a good reminder on how it can be enjoyable, especially if others are there to cheer you on. Even when she can be hurtful, it's easily forgivable as you understand what she's going through. Admit it; you've probably done it at least once just to make yourself fee better.
If the movie had a fault, it's in the third quarter when something happens that brings her down. I have no idea if it's a part of the real life story, but a lot of it feels like unnecessary filler just to give the main character more to complain about before she becomes pumped up again to go for her dream. While we do get some insight into her extended family, I kept thinking it could have been placed differently in the story and the low point could have used more creativity.
I'll give this seven running shoes out of ten. I have a hard time imagining someone not getting into Brittany Runs a Marathon and it's likable star. I really hope Jillian Bell gets more of a chance to shine in other projects (I know she has a character on Workaholics, but I haven't seen it). But for now, put on your running shoes and check it out.
Rambo: Last Blood (2019)
When the enemy draws first blood, Rambo: Last Blood gives us a short, but enjoyable run-and-gun movie with an older Stallone
In the past, I've talked about Stallone and his most iconic character, Rocky Balboa. But I haven't had a chance to talk about his second most popular character, John Rambo. To start with, there's a large difference in character. Rocky is an upbeat, optimistic boxer who only wants to help others, even putting them over himself. Rambo is the opposite monster. Rambo is an expert super solider whose trained in gruella warfare and survival. At that cost, his humanity is consistently lingering and has a hard time finding peace. Unlike Rocky who only fights in the boxing ring, Rambo is unafraid to knife anyone in his way or use a machine gun to blow an entire army.
Because of their violent nature, the Rambo series has always been polarizing. I only consider the first one, First Blood, to be a phenomenal story from beginning to end. Rambo: First Blood Part II and beyond have made him in the "one-man army" that's often the subject when parodying 1980's action heroes. The other movies are still entertaining if I want my fair share of explosions and even a little history lesson depending on the enemy he's fighting. Rambo is back for another battle in Rambo: Last Blood.
Things have been going well for John Rambo (played by Sylvester Stallone). After finally returning to America in the last movie, he has taken over his late father's horse ranch in Arizona, along with a friend Maria (played by Adriana Barraza) and her granddaughter Gabriela (played by Yvette Monreal). Ever since her mother had died and her father abandoning her, Rambo has stepped into the father role as he's found new purpose in raising her. Though she's about to go to college, she still wonders about her father.
Through a friend, she manages to locate him in a town in Mexico. When she asks to go, Rambo and her grandmother say no as her going by herself would be too dangerous. She still does and does pay her father a visit. Not only is she dismayed to find he still wants nothing to do with her, but when out clubbing with a friend, she is kidnapped and drugged by a Mexican cartel. When Rambo receives word, he immediately drives down to search for her. He discovers through journalist Carman (played by Paz Vega) that the cartel is run by the Martinez brothers. Will Rambo go into solider mode at age seventy-three? You better believe it.
Rambo: Last Blood is the kind of movie I expect to watch in the late summer; a short but entertaining run-and-gun action movie with a star that proves he still packs that punch. It's also the kind of film I'd expect such a character to be in. Is it as good as the older movies? Well... the movie has a lot of opportunities that could be explored with John Rambo but don't. It depends on what kind of movie you'd expect.
To begin with, Stallone may be getting up there in age, but he still has the energy from years before to pull off a lot of action stunts that people in their seventies wished they could do. But the movie does make itself aware he's a different Rambo; a Rambo in which he's settled down for a while and only wants peace. Of course he's still sharpening his knives and digging tunnels, but he now seems like the guy who will only pull the trigger when pushed far enough.
Story wise, Rambo: First Blood is both at an advantage and a disadvantage. I do like seeing Rambo take on a Mexican cartel (any reports of the story being racist or offensive to Mexicans is untrue) and rescuing someone whose become like a daughter. The problem is that a lot that happens in the first hour doesn't feel like a Rambo movie. Much of the dialogue makes him a tad generic and could have been filled in by a random character. It honestly doesn't make him in Rambo until the last twenty minutes, which I won't spoil, but it was a lot of fun. It's also hard to complain as the movie is also the shortest of the Rambo movies (it's only eighty minutes).
I'll give this six Rambo knives out of ten. Though it's not as good as the original, I would rank it higher then Rambo III (which I consider the goofiest). Whether this is for you depends on your opinion of the other Rambo movies. It was a short but enjoyable blast. You just have to wait through a more typical story to get to the good stuff.
Jennifer Lopez makes up for repetitive pacing in Hustlers, a cross between Showgirls, Boogie Nights and The Sting
One of the quotes from today's movie reflects that, "The entire world is a strip club with some throwing money and the others collecting the money". It's also the film's reflection of it's setting in the aftermath of the 2007 financial collapse that lead into the Great Recession. It's no secret that a lot of people were affected by it, whether it was average Joes losing their low wage jobs or entire companies going under. It was a time that people reflected just how much they can do and if those at top should receive some type of consequence.
Our protagonists certainly thought so and used it as their justification to do the things they felt were right. What makes crime stories fascinating is that we're always going to see a different philosophy on just who the real villain is. Is it the people committing the actions against the law or the people after them who are just as likely to face their own corruption? This is also why several movies about the Great Recession like Up in the Air, The Big Short and 99 Homes have looked explore different viewpoints within a rough era. Hustlers takes it's turn at the time and several women involved in a specific industry.
It opens in 2007 where newcomer stripper Destiny (played by Constance Wu) is taken under the wing of veteran stripper/popular attraction Ramona (played by Jennifer Lopez). Ramona teaches Destiny several pole dancing and erotic dancing, along with introducing her to fellow strippers and how to get the most out of the Wall Street types who frequent the club. Destiny not only starts to rank in a lot of money, but she uses her new fortunes to care for her grandmother and newborn daughter. Things come to a halt at the start of the recession.
Years of the recession cause fewer people coming to the club and puts Destiny out of work. It doesn't help that her background gives her little chance for other work. She eventually comes across Ramona again where they blame the recession on the same Wall Street guys. To retaliate and to generate an income, they agree to bring in other strippers including Annabelle (played by Lili Reinhart) and Mercedes (played by Keke Palmer) to take advantage of their beautiful nature to lure them into the clubs and take everything on their credit cards. All of this becomes chronicled by writer Elizabeth (played by Julia Stiles).
It may be easy to see Hustlers as something as exploitative as Showgirls. But to tell you the truth, I see it more like a cross of Boogie Nights and The Sting, and I ended up like the movie a more then I anticipated. I don't know if I can call it one of the best of 2019, but it has elements that are phenomenal. Speaking of which, I'll start by saying that Jennifer Lopez not only shines, but also gives what may be her best performance in a years. She paints a reflection of her eternal youth within a character whos the prime example of "looks can be deceiving".
Constance Wu fills in the role similar to Mark Wahlberg from Boogie Nights where she has two goals; to be the innocent whose filled in on the movie's information and to someone the audience can imagine themselves in. Hustlers uses this narrative to make their characters interestingly sympathetic, especially the lengths they go to accomplish their goals. Of course like a lot of crime stories, it all has to topple at some point and the movie has that...though it takes a lot of time to get there.
The first half of Hustlers was better then the second half. The con that's set up is a good one, but the pacing causes things to slow down too much. A lot of it is because much of the scenes repeat the con over and over. I know it's to show how much it works, but the movie also has a lot of slow motion edits which heighten moments at the strip club, but can come off as unnecessary during the con. If anything, the best moments from the second half are when the girls get together laugh about what happened and thus, seeing them connect.
I'll give this seven stripper poles out of ten. Hustlers is a movie that, regardless of how I felt, is probably going to do good business and have its eye on certain awards. It's too early to determine any guarantees, but I'll remember this; especially for Jennifer Lopez. I do recommend it in general and it'll make a good watch.
The Farewell (2019)
Awkwafina makes The Farewell an interesting character piece that explores families and Chinese tradition
It's an old saying, but it's true when people tell you that we don't really know what we had until we lost it. This is usually the case from people that have lost a relative. A grandparent, cousins we rarely talk to or even a parent we're estranged from. Perhaps we would tell ourselves "we'll do more things next year" or "their not going anywhere soon", only to get the news that they were hit by a bus or succumbed to an illness they never disclosed. The people that experience this feeling of being too late will often feel guiltier and thus grieve a lot longer.
Because I'm close with my family, I'm usually ready when one is about to leave life. But I've had friends that have felt like they could have done more. Their not bad people and haven't done anything wrong, but it does remind us that there's a lot of value in something we can see anytime. So when we get the world that one of them is dying, do we spend time trying to keep them alive or do we carry on like everything is normal. Chinese tradition within death is explored within the new comedy/drama, The Farewell.
An aspiring Chinese American writer Billi (played by Awkwafina) is struggling to get her work made as she's rejected from a Guggenheim Fellowship, but tries to keep her life going. She has a lot of support from her grandmother Nai Nai who she talks to consistently. While visiting her parents, her father gets the word that Nai Nai has been diagnosed with a terminal illness and has been given a few months to live. It's also revealed that the extended family won't tell Nai Nai about her own illness and are even planning a quick wedding in Changchun, China as an excuse for everyone to see her one last time.
Billi is encouraged to stay home as her parents feel she's too emotional to keep the secret, but ends up flying out there on her own. Though she's clearly wants to tell, the rest of the family puts up a happy wedding act. When she asks why, her father, mother, and extended family admit it's because of Chinese tradition and that most families will do it to enjoy the time left. This puts Billi in a position that not only questions her own peoples traditions, but figuring out just what just who she is now that she's back in China for the first time in years.
The Farewell may seem like a depressing subject matter...and it can be. But at it's core, it's a character piece and a really good one to boast. I had no idea that this was an actual Chinese tradition, but it makes for an interesting one to discuss; this idea of whether people should know when their going to die. I myself would be at a crossroads. I guess it would depend on the person, but for Awkwafina's case, I can understand her struggle. The movie makes it clear that her grandmother was one of her last ties to her original country and how much she meant to her.
Speaking of which, Awkwafina turns in a surprisingly great performance, considering she's known for comedy. Though she's written as a bit of a stand in character, especially for a western audience, she's still a fleshed out human as someone whose also going through depression. With the death of her closet family member close, this can't be good for her. The Farewell does well to explore all these territories while trying to fill in on the rest of the family.
In a story like The Farewell, with a large cast, it's likely that some people are going to get lost in the shuffle. Though the wedding does go through, I did realize that I didn't care for these characters because I barley knew them. It would have been nice if the movie had gone further into some of the other family members besides Billi and her parents. You'd think this would put some of the other, younger family members on the spot. I respect the script for trying to keep the dilemma focused on one person, it's usually the rest the family that's going to add a lot.
I'll give this seven Chinese wedding invitations out of ten. The Farewell is a really good character piece, but I still think other avenue could have made it even better. Though there's a hacking plot, my favorite example of this kind of story is the anime, Summer Wars, which has similar subject matters. Nevertheless, I still recommend it as it kept my interest throughout a story that normally would have boarded me.
The Peanut Butter Falcon (2019)
Without a beat, The Peanut Butter Falcon is a sweet, Mark Twain-like movie that'll put a smile on anyones face
Even within our darkest moments, we all have goals we strive for. A lot of people want more money, a better job and even love. But we also have simple goals, some of them being from being able to see the movies you want to see or being able to go fishing every weekend. We all want something to make ourselves feel better. This is why I really support those that are willing to put their distractions out of the way to take further steps to their goals, even if their little steps. If you want an hour to work on whatever it is you passionate about, then make that message clear to your loved ones when you want that bit of time.
For today's movie, not only does the main character have Down syndrome, but he also wants to be a wrestler. Some might see that as only a dream, but you have to consider what a lot of people with special needs, including those with Down syndrome are capable of. I hate the idea of dismissing ones dreams (unless their ridiculous, like me becoming heavyweight champion of the boxing world). So let's see one's dream come true in The Peanut Butter Falcon.
A young man with Down syndrome Zak (played by Zack Gottsagen) is living in a retirement home where he's cared for by Eleanor (played by Dakota Johnson) who tries her best to keep him happy. Zak hates the retirement home as he's the youngest person there, with the state unfortunately having nowhere else to put him and his family having abandoned him. His one escape is a wrestling tape featuring his favorite wrestler, the "Salt Water Redneck" (played by Thomas Haden Church). One night, with help from his roommate Carl (played by Bruce Dern), he gets out and proceeds to get to the wrestling school as advertised by the "Salt Water Redneck"
Zak eventually hides in a motorboat to sleep, only for it to be used by another young man Tyler (played by Shia LaBeouf). When discovered, Tyler reveals he's trying to get away from other crab fishermen he just got revenge on and also that the wrestling school Zak wants to go to is in his direction. Zac and Tyler make their way from North Carolina to Florida as along with the fishermen chasing after, Eleanor eventually find them and ends up tagging along.
If there's a movie that can put a smile on my face in it's sweetness value, then The Peanut Butter Falcon is that movie. Seeing these two guys team up together to take this journey along the Deep South Rivers and oceans makes it a modern day Mark Twain story (in fact, this might be a good companion movie with Mud). On top of a good story, the movie is shot beautifully and gives the south a needed warmth, despite the darker nature of some themes.
The story is simple; it's a road movie to reach ones life goal. While we've had plenty of these, what makes it just as great are the characters and the actors that play them. I defiantly have to give a shout out to Zack Gottsaden who is very likable from his first scene. I'm curious to the kind of direction he was given, but this also makes me understand what a great actor he is. Shia LaBeouf has been getting a lot better at separating himself from his dweeby Transformers persona to something a lot more mature. The Peanut Butter Falcon takes what Shia has always been good at; his determined look, and created a character that you can sympathize with, even if you don't always agree with him.
Once the movie draws to how close both main characters need each other in this circumstance, we the audience get drawn in to see their journey, no matter how it comes out. Along with reminding me of a Mark Twain story, it kind of reminded me of darker Disney movie...and I mean that in all the best ways. The movie dwells into emotional storytelling that guides smiles or tears, depending on what direction these guys head.
I'll give this nine wrestling masks out of ten. The more time I had to think, the more the movie stayed with me. It made me realize that stuff like The Peanut Butter Falcon are the things we need; something that really is both inspiring and sweet. I really hope this gets awards consideration once the season comes. I highly recommend this.
It Chapter Two (2019)
It Chapter 2 makes for a good second half, even if its too long
You know why something like the Boogey-Man and Dracula are scary for children and not so much for children? It's about perspective. When your younger, because you don't have that understanding of the world, something like monsters seems plausible and hiding in the dark. The older we get, the more we realize that there's nothing dangerous in the dark except for our imagination. By the time we hit our twenties, it seems that the monsters have disappeared in favor of real life fears like criminals, work, and even of ourselves. The Boogey-Man isn't going to have the same effect on a thirty-year old.
In a way, the monster of It, Pennywise the Clown, is a representation of the childhood Boogey-Man; it makes itself into whatever children find scary, it hides in the dark and it only follows children (but it is willing to eat adults). Plus, taking the form of a clown is the best way for it to lure children into it's trap. I think this is why a lot of adults do have genuine fears of clowns. As a follow-up to the It movie of 2017, It: Chapter 2 brings the Losers club back to Derry to face Pennywise again.
Instead of the late 1980s, the story moves forward to the present day where a gay man missing (no thanks to Pennywise) and the only Losers Club member Mike (played by Isaiah Mustafa) who remained in Derry, discovers that they didn't kill the clown. So he makes the call to the rest of the losers to come back and finish the job. This consists of writer Bill (Played by James McAvoy), fashion designer Beverly (played by Jessica Chastain), now skinny architect Ben (played by Jay Ryan), risk analyst Eddie (played by James Ransone) and standup comedian Richie (played by Bill Hader. The only holdout is Stanley (played by Andy Bean) who commits suicide after getting the phone call.
Everyone meets up in a restaurant where Mike reveals that as the town Liberian, he's done the research to figure out how to kill Pennywise. Part of it involves them collecting items from their past, thus splitting them up to explore Derry once more. As they each go to their old stomping grounds, each has an encounter with Pennywise (played by Bill Skarsgård). It's here their confronted with new fears, along with the possibility that Pennywise just may be too powerful.
The original It was a fantastic horror movie that I still highly recommend. Does It: Chapter 2 serve as a good companion piece? It does, though it's not as good as the original. A lot of the first movie was the fact that the main characters will children (all of them acted very well) and that we feared for them a lot more. It's not that I don't fear for them as adults, it's just not as interesting. I'll say it still works as all the actors playing the adult counterparts are really good. Of course the knockout is still Bill Skarsgård as Pennywise who remains just as scary.
As far as the story goes, it's also good. I've read the book It, and I was okay with it being split into two movies. It does allow the characters to explore their old hometown without it seeming like a rehash. They make it clear from the beginning that the losers forgot about Pennywise and their childhoods (likely a supernatural cause by the clown). It leads into a good encounter with the clown in his true form...that I wished would have been designed better. Without spoiling the look, though it's different, it's heavily reminiscent of the final creature from the miniseries. I think they could have gone further.
If the film has any major faults, it's with the running time. At nearly three hours, it definitely feels a lot longer then it needs to be. A lot of scenes will drag on really for no reason then to extend it. Along with that, the pacing can feel off (the first film had this problem too) when trying to combine the comedy and the humor. It's not bad, but it can also feel repetitive in spots where they encounter monsters they've seen before.
I'll give this seven Georgie boats out of ten. Despite its long running time, I was still satisfied with the end result and how this connects with the first movie. I'll be curious if they make a super edit of both movies together. It goes without saying that you need to watch the original before watching this. Otherwise, it's safe to float to the theaters.
Ready or Not (2019)
1, 2, 3, 4, 5, Ready or Not is a fun game of dark comedy and family secrets
We've all probably have gone to someone's game night party. I myself have a group that usually hosts one every couple of months, where we'll play "Cards Against Humanity" and "Exploding Kittens", but the point of it is to have fun while catching up with everyone's lives. It's that little bit of social interaction that makes life fun and fulfilling. Otherwise, then why would we play games? It's all a fun escape from whatever problems we have. While I don't play as much with my family, I have a good time with cards or puzzles or whatever they breakout.
In the spirit of today's movie, the name of the game is hide and seek. This is something that I haven't played since I was in middle school (okay, I did play this with my little cousins not long ago), but it's something that kids love to play as it's as simple as the name; just hide and hope not to be found. But when it comes to creativity, we now have a story that's made it into a thriller...and also a dark comedy. Ready or Not makes Hide and Seek not only a deadly game, but a necessity to live for one family.
Grace (played by Samara Weaving) is a young woman whose about to marry Alex Le Domas (played by Mark O'Brian), who happens to be a part of an incredibly wealthy family who've made their fortune in cards and board games...a gaming empire if that's what you call it. Alex has been estranged from the family for a while and Grace is hoping to find love within this eccentric, but not crazy family. Even the parents Tony (played by Henry Czerny) and Becky (played by Andie MacDowell) seem to be ready for a new member as it's been a while since someone's married into the family.
After the ceremony and party, the family invites Grace down into the parlor where they explain the wedding tradition; that they play a random game drawn from a card machine. She happens to draw "hide and seek" and she goes off to hide while the family gathers weapons. When one of the members accidently shoots a maid, Alex admits that he knew about the tradition and is going to help her survive the night. He also reveals the family believes if they make a ritual sacrifice, then they won't violate their ancestors pact with the devil.
As far as dark comedies go, Ready or Not is a great example of the genre. It manages to be both thrilling and got a lot of laughs. I don't think I can call this a satire, but it is self aware of it's ridiculousness of a plot and recognizes that a lot of super wealthy people have probably never fired a weapon, let lone kill someone. Is this a slam against rich people? I'd for those tied to old money, then yes. It does a great job making fun of those that want to remain wealthy, but are so stupid as people that their willing to go dark places to stay that way.
What I loves about the story is how much about the family we get know about; the parents, the siblings and their significant others, the children's children and even the staff. This is a movie that clearly had a lot of backstory developed for a loopy family, even though were probably only shown forty percent of it. The ironic thing is that we don't get much of a chance to know Grace, the main character. Don't get me wrong; she's still likable and I wanted to see her survive, but she's more of blank that we, the audience fills, as we sit and witness this night.
I also realized that what I like about the movie was that it's a rare story about idiots...privileged idiots at best. In fact, this would make a good companion movie to the underground thriller Murder Party. Both are about the same in entertainment value in which while I had fun, though I don't know if it's game changing. It's a short, but memorable chase...exactly like the hide and seek games you played as children.
I'll give this seven playing cards out of ten. Ready or Not is definitely not for the faint of heart. It's funny, but it still has its dark and very bloody moments (especially at the end in which I won't spoil). I still recommend it for the crowd that does want scare. But I also see it for people that love dark comedies. Take your turn and go see it.
Good Boys (2019)
A raunchy movie like Good Boys should have been even naughtier. This still feels too sanitized to be edgy
You know what we've haven't gotten in a while? A raunchy comedy. Raunchy comedies seemed to have token a leave of absence in the wake of very safe, sitcom like comedies. Don't get me wrong; some of them like Tag and Crazy Rich Asians can still get a lot of laughs. But what I want are the ones that are non-apologetic and are willing to show that people are capable of being bad, even when they don't want to. That doesn't make them unlikable (that takes a bad script for that to happen), but that shows that even with those faults, the characters are only stronger when they come out triumphant.
We seem to forget that raunchy comedies used to come out all the time. Movies like Animal House, Caddyshack, Dumb & Dumber, There's Something About Mary, Knocked Up, and Superbad were unafraid to show characters that not only were not afraid to have...gross features, but were also unafraid to make them more then willing to sleep with any women and call them unflattering names. We see a lot of adult stories in these situations, but it's understandable why kids are rarely given this treatment. Lets see some bad kids in the ironically titled Good Boys.
Best friends Max (played by Jacob Tremblay), Lucas (played by Keith L. Williams) and Thor (played by Brady Noon) are just starting sixth graders that are starting to notice girls and understand that the other kids see them as losers. Max gets an opportunity to attend a party where along with being able to hang out with the cool group, also has a chance to kiss his crush Brixlee. He also gets an invite for Lucas and Thor. They all agree that this is their chance to show that their just as adult as the cool kids.
Trouble arises when in an attempt to learn about kissing by spying on their neighbor Hannah. The drone they use is captured and in an attempt to get it back, they accidentally steal her ecstasy. The kids, being good natured, don't want to return her the drugs, so they try to figure a way to get it back or possibly buy a new one. Their journey causes them to skip school, run across a highway and even sneak into a frat house. As the boys try to get to their party, they start to understand they have different definitions of being "popular" and may be growing apart.
Good Boys is a movie I've always expected to happen; by taking middle school boys and putting them in a hard R rated comedy. It clearly wants to be as memorable as Goonies, The Sandlot and The Monster Squad. The problem is that not only is it only funny in parts, but the movie I expected was supposed to be a lot racier and crazy. That's not to say I wanted insane ideas that would have been too far, but I believe comedy is all about showcasing elements people don't understand about their environment. With middle school kids, that should have opened this up further.
What does work are the three kids and their relationship in general. I like how they constantly talk about girls and try to bring each other into their worlds. Childhood is about realizing that there isn't enough room to make everyone happy and responding to that. This movie understands that any boy is going to be upset when one wants to sing while another would rather be with his crush. In fact, I wonder if this movie might have been better if it were made as a drama.
When it is a comedy...what we get is another rehash of Superbad (Booksmart also did the same thing) where the goal is getting to a party. Is this the only thing people care about? There's a side plot of one of the boys staring in a musical and that a lone could have been a raunchy comedy. One of the others is going through his parents divorce and that could also be very funny. The jokes still feel too safe and polished to represent how boys really talk. As I said, there were laughs; just not a lot of them.
I'll give this five drones out of ten. There's an audience that will be satisfied with Good Boys. Who that is will be anyone's guess. It's too inappropriate for kids under 12 and I think adults will still find it too sanitized. It's ironically a lot like a lot of family comedies that have the same problem. If you saw the trailers and thought, "This looks hilarious!" you'll probably get a chuckle or two. But I expect my bad boys to be even naughtier.
Scary Stories to Tell in the Dark works when it tells it's short stories; the larger story is disjointed
If there's something that can define the childhood of those that grew up in the 80's or 90's, is that they were filled with a lot of dark and scary stories. We had animated movies like The Secret of NIMH and An American Tale, we had live action movies like The Witches and Return to Oz, and we even had books like the Goosebumps series. Though I don't have a reason why this era was the highpoint for dark children's stories, there is an idea that we forget just how much children can take. After all, they play violent video games and still make believe about zombies and monsters.
One such book I remember reading was "Scary Stories to Tell in the Dark". Unlike the Goosebumps books which were more like tamed episodes of The Twilight Zone, "Scary Stories" not only had more unnerving urban legends, but the illustrations were grotesque and seemed like something out of a nightmare. I myself found the images so scary I refused to read them before bedtime. Their black and white drawings of body parts and scarecrows have made the book controversial and have made it even more desirable for older children. So let see if the movie Scary Stories to Tell in the Dark can bring back an old nightmare.
Set within the 1960s, a group of teenagers are getting ready for a Halloween night of trick or treating; aspiring writer Stella (played by Zoe Colletti), Augie (played by Gabriel Rush) and Chuck (played by Austin Zajur). They pull a prank on a school bully and escape into a drive-in where they hide in the car of a loner teen Ramón (played by Michael Garza). They all go explore a local house that's rumored to be haunted. Stella finds a secret room where she discovers a book of "Scary Stories" written by Sarah Bellows, the previous tenet of the house.
When she gets home, she reads a scarecrow story called "Harold". She and Ramón discover that the not only has the same bully gone missing, but see a suspicious scarecrow that resembles the one she read about. They dismiss it as a coincidence until she then reads "The Big Toe" and realizes that Chuck's name is in it. Other stories like "The Red Spot", "The Pale Lady" and "Me Tie Dough-ty Walker" reveal their names as the kids race against the clock from these monsters coming to killing them.
It might seem easy to compare Scary Stories to Tell in the Dark to Goosebumps from 2015. There are some big differences. First, there's actual intention to scare as the monsters here are absolutely terrifying. I don't want to spoil much, but based on what I remember from my childhood, it feels like they took exactly what was drawn and given them a three dimensional design that I'm sure will induce new nightmares. Plus unlike Goosebumps, which tried to be more whimsical, Scary Stories is unnerving... and I mean that in a good way.
Does that mean that Scary Stories is flawless? I can't say that. Whenever it does retell the short stories, the movie is great and does give me that jitter that I felt when I was nine. When the movie tells it main story, it has some trouble. I'm not sure if there was script issues or if something was lost in editing, because there are a lot of moments where characters side plots and even personality quirks seem to come and go for no reason. There's a moment where a character worries about a red room again, even though I don't remember if he brought it up before.
I'm torn because the movie is great is parts, but has a lot of filler your not interested in while your waiting for the stories to start. It's a lot like an anthology movie, like Creepshow, but with a plot that tries to connect them, similar to Heavy Metal. Is it as disjointed as Heavy Metal? No. In fact, even it's larger story seems fascinating. I realty want to know how much was cut out as I have a feeling that much was trimmed in order to make it more family friendly.
I'll give this six books of Scary Stories out of ten. I can see this being a fun Halloween staple (why they put this out in August? Who knows) regardless and I can even admit to likely watching it again because of that. It'll certainly be satisfying for adults and older kids. As for younger kids, I'd say those over ten, but even they need to at least be mature. Give it a watch and see the beauty of the shorts against a larger weaker story.
I can't believe I'm recommending Dora and the Lost City of Gold...but it was funny and a had a committed actress as Dora
"Can you find the map behind either of the three bushes?" is one of several things little Dora would ask her viewers on her show Dora the Explorer. I was in middle school when Dora the Explorer made it's debut on Nickelodeon. I was already too old for it, but it was a monster hit for the under seven demographic it was aiming for. From the few episodes I saw, it did it's job well buy keeping kids interacting with the show. But unlike Blues Clues that had very mundane and general mysteries, Dora the Explorer at least tried to add a little more education with zoology and a main character that was Latina. I merely saw it as harmless while Nickelodeon saw it as money.
In the age where reboots and remakes are all the rage, it makes sense Hollywood would want to tap into the nostalgia of Dora before it was too late. When a movie was announced, I kept wondering how that would be done as movies based off a little kid aimed material rarely sells. Just as the people who've made movies off of Sesame Street and Thomas the Tank Engine. But Dora and the Lost City of Gold tries something different; it tries to be funny.
Young teenager Dora (played by Isabela Moner) may be grown up, but still loves exploring the South American jungle with her monkey Boots (played by Danny Trejo), singing songs to herself and keeping an upbeat sprit about her life. After a fall, her parents Cole (played by Michael Peña) and Elena (played by Eva Longoria) decide that she needs to be around kids her own age and send her to Los Angeles to go live with her cousin Diego (played by Jeff Wahlberg).
When going to Diego's high school, she finds her jungle skills and knowledge out of place in a culture of cliques and teenage angst. Nevertheless, she continues to be herself while trying to get back her friendship she used to have with Diego. The both of them are on a fieldtrip when they and two other students get kidnapped by treasure hunters who hope Dora can lead them to her parents who are searching for a lost city of gold. Their sent back to South America, but get away thanks to a fellow explorer Alejandro (played by Eugenio Derbez). Even with an adult, it's up to Dora to lead her friends into the jungle the find her parents and perhaps a lost city of gold.
I can't believe I'm saying this, but I actually liked Dora and the Lost City of Gold. Not only was it genuinely funny, but it kept my interest in a story that seems like a safer version of Goonies. Is it as good as the latter? No, in fact there are moments that are too dumb, but for the most part, this is a movie that knows what it is and wants to be: a silly adventure. There's nothing wrong with being silly.
This is a movie that's made for fans of Dora the Explorer, but it's also for those that made fun of it. It's aware of how annoying the cartoon was for the adults who had to listen to it when their toddlers watched it. A lot of it works thanks to Isabela Moner, who remains as committed as hell to not only making her work as a likable character, but one who can be a literal live-action cartoon.
While I had fun, I know that regular adult are not going to get into this at all if they don't have some nostalgia with the character. What does hurt it is while it tries to evolve Dora and her adventure, it still succumbs to cliché family movie parts like the annoying geek character and bathroom jokes. I understand it's a film that still has to appeal to children, but if movies like Inside Out and Up have shown anything, the story can still be great without having to go for lowbrow humor. A part of me also realizes that if I was around ten, I would have dug this movie and maybe even asked my parents to take me to it again.
I'll give this seven Doras out of ten. Again, even though I liked it and had fun with it's meta jokes, this is not meant for adults unless they have some nostalgia or even at least some interest. It weird to think that the CGI Lion King remake was bad while a live action Dora the Explorer was better then expected. I suppose it's earned the right to sing "We did it"
Hobbs & Shaw needed to trim it's overlong story to be the unapologetic over-the-top movie it wants to be
Glossy cinematography, beautiful cars and gorgeous woman? That can only mean we have another Fast and the Furious movie out...sort of. In fact, this is the first time Universal Pictures is trying with a spin off of the billion-dollar franchise. While the series isn't my favorite, there have been some movies I've enjoyed and will even admit has it's place within action history. It's one of the few that's gone on for nine movies, does try to make it bigger each time, and even did a turnarounds for the fifth movie (which happens to be my favorite) that reverse course for the series.
Rather then focusing on Vin Diesel or his other racer friends, the new spin off puts the focus on Dwayne Johnson and Jason Statham. Despite that both have different fighting styles, they have a lot of similarities. Their big action stars, have unique personas that the camera loves and can even deliver lines that are both funny and badass. They've also become big parts of The Fast and the Furious series, given how the last one teamed them up. It was a highlight and people clearly wanted more. They got their wish in Hobbs and Shaw.
A group of MI6 agents in London are transporting a virus only to be intercepted by a seemingly powerful Brixton Lore (played by Idris Elba). Though he takes most of them out, he fails to secure the virus as agent Hattie Shaw (played by Vanessa Kirby) inject the virus called "Snowflake" into herself and escapes. The CIA ends up calling upon both Luke Hobbs (played by Dwayne Johnson) and Deckard Shaw (played by Jason Statham) without telling each other about the other to retrieve Hattie. Luke manages to find her first with Deckard showing up later to confront his sister.
They take her in for questioning and try to get the virus out of her, but Brixton and his group attack CIA headquarters and capture her. Luke and Deckard continue to bicker and banter each other as they find out from a scientist that the Hattie either needs to have the virus extracted or she needs to be killed in order to prevent an outbreak. Not wanting to kill her sister, both guys locate Brixton's group in the Ukraine and fight their way out. They get Hattie as well, but the virus is still in her and their running out of time before Brixton finds them again.
In the further years that Fast and the Furious has gone, the movies have gotten more unapologetically over-the-top with it's action, stunts, and use of location. Hobbs & Shaw tries to embrace and have fun with it's settings and characters. Does it work? Almost. The good news is that Dwayne Johnson and Jason Statham still make for a fun pair as they continuously make fun of each other as they try to outdo each other. Their funny and get their chances to showcase their fighting styles. The best way to describe it is Dwayne Johnson is the Stallone and Jason Statham is the Bruce Lee.
The bad news is that even with it's two actors and impressive action scenes, it feels a lot slower then it should be. A lot of it is on the running time, which is well over two hours. The movie it wants to be is Commando, which is another over-the-top Schwarzenegger movie. But while that one was a fun rush, too much time is taken for exposition on the virus, the group Idris Elba is in, and extended families of Shaw and Hobbs that needed a serious trimming.
I'll give this five McLaren 720Ss out of ten. I don't have much else to say other then it does feel like a part of the Fast and the Furious series, but it would have been better if it didn't focus on it's story too much. The action has it's moments, but I don't know it that makes it enough to recommend as a theatrical movie. It'll do better as a streaming movie to watch on a Sunday afternoon when there's nothing else on. Perhaps the series should shift into higher gear to win back it's fans.
Tarantino's tribute to the golden era of Hollywood is a lot of fun in Once Upon a Time in Hollywood
In the age where digital streaming from Netflix and Amazon are filling entertainment voids, where are movies leading. Many people have argued that major studios are relying too much on established properties be either continued or remade. I can see where their coming from as these are not only likely to make money, but big money. It used to be that an original movie was made, and that over time, people would come back to so often that it would set a long term probability. If Netflix and Amazon has taught us anything is that their shows like Stranger Things and The Marvelous Mrs. Maisel can also obtain long term popularity. So why can't movies do something similar?
A lot of it has to do that major studios have fallen behind on what it means to be popular. It's good to see that some filmmakers have not succumbed to this mindset. In fact, Quentin Tarantino is very open about rejecting that way a lot of movies and TV shows are made. He's clearly a man who loves the craft and how movies used to made, whether he's doing tributes to martial arts, grindhouse, or exploitation movies. Movies like Once Upon a Time in Hollywood make me more grateful for Tarantino.
In 1969 in the fading light of the golden era of Hollywood, western star Rick Dalton (played by Leonardo DiCaprio) is lambasting that his career is already on the way out, as most of his roles are of Western TV shows like Bounty Law. His best friend and stunt double Cliff Booth (played by Brad Pitt) hangs with him and even has a second job as his driver. The two talk about the changing state of the industry, along with Dalton's alcoholism that seems to be harming his career.
Dalton lives next door to rising film director Roman Polanski and his wife Sharon Tate (played by Margot Robbie) who all represent the new blood incoming to the industry. Regardless, Dalton takes what he can get and gets casted as another villain to a pilot western called Lancer. Since he couldn't get stunt double work on that same show, Booth picks up a girl and he gives her a lift to Spahn Ranch owned by the blind and senile George Sphan (played by Bruce Dern), unaware it's also home to the Manson Family.
For spoiler reasons, I don't want to give the rest away. Though that would be hard too as Once Upon a Time in Hollywood doesn't really have a story. But that's typical of a Tarantino movie...and this also makes for another fun movie. It's clear that Tarantino holds their period of Hollywood close to his heart. This may be the first movie from him where the environment plays a character itself as the main cast will wonder around where the plot takes them, and yet none of it felt boring. Whether it was Sharon Tate's home, a western studio or the Sphan Ranch, it all has personality that plays a different effect on these characters. An aging star could feel out of place while a Manson family member has more control.
Speaking of which, both Leonardo DiCaprio and Brad Pitt make a great team thanks to their chemistry and good dialogue. Both actors have worked with Tarantino before, but never together. But both also have the kind of chemistry that's lacking in a lot of new talent in current Hollywood. It's hard to explain, but the best way is that you take your eyes off of either actor as they each have their turn at exploring a part of 1969 Los Angeles.
Whether or not this is Tarantino's best movie is debatable. It's not heavy on action (go watch Kill Bill or Inglorious Bastards for that), but it's dialogue and scenes are fun to watch and listen to. This is why Once Upon a Time in Hollywood belongs in the same category as Pulp Fiction; where it's more about where these characters are going and what their doing. They aren't as flashed out and original as Pulp Fiction, but I was still happy with these Hollywood-types taking stage. It's like seeing an old-fashioned gossip magazine from my parents closet come to life.
I'll give this nine western TV show advertisements out of ten. Be sure to get comfy as the movie is well over two and a half hours. As I said, it's never boring, and offers an environment that's so rich in detail, that'll it warrant rewatches just off of that. The fact it's also a fun movie is the cherry on the top. Go see it and have an old fashioned ball.
The Lion King (2019)
The new The Lion King is "Hakuna MaNADA". It's practically a shot-for-shot remake that's pointless other then for the visual effects
If you were to ask me what I listened to as a child, I would have been quick to say the soundtrack to The Lion King. It was one of the first CDs I owned and I used to annoy my parents when I asked constantly to play it again and again on car rides. By the fifth rendition of "Hakuna Matata" or "Be Prepared", my dad would be ready to throw it out. A lot like how kids today wouldn't stop singing, "Let it go" from Frozen, I was on a Disney high from The Lion King, being the right age at eight back in 1995.
If there's a lesson to learn from current Disney, it's that if there's nostalgia, there's money to be made. I've made it clear (with the exception of The Jungle Book) that I'm not a fan of the live action remakes, but because they're box office monsters, Disney will continue making them. It's a good plan to make a billion right away, but I'm sure it'll be bad strategy in the long run. Rather then creating new nostalgia, these movies are relying on borrowed nostalgia. But who knows, perhaps the remake of The Lion King can provide something new.
After the birth of a new lion cub Simba, the Pride Lands are overjoyed with the arrival of the future king. Current king Mufasa (played by James Earl Jones) scolds his brother Scar (played by Chiwetal Ejiofer) for not attending, but he could care less. Simba grows into a curious cub whose excited about the notion of being king, even if it means stiring up some trouble and almost getting killed by the hyenas like Shenzi (played by Florence Kasumba) and Kamari (played by Keegan-Michael Key). Though watched by Zazu (played by John Oliver), Simba can't be protected forever.
When a wildebeest stampede causes the death of Mufasa (of course with help by Scar), Simba thinks he's responsible and is encouraged to run away and never return. Simba eventually comes across meerkat Timon (played by Billy Eichner) and warthog Pumba (played by Seth Rogan) and learn about "Hakuna Matata", which means no worries. When he grows up, Simba (played by Donald Glover) lives a carefree life while Scar had taken the Pride Lands throne and desicrated the environment. Former friend of Simba, Nala (played by Beyoncé), sets out to find help and maybe find Simba to help dethrone Scar.
Director Jon Favreau does a good job recreating the original animated classic...too closely in fact. The Lion King is so close that I might say this is a shot-for-shot remake. This makes me wonder the purpose of this. The answer is simple; money. Disney already knows their fans will return because of nostalgia, and it seems that The Lion King takes the steps necessary to ensure their basically getting the same movie. It's the same songs, same locations, same character, and in some cases, most of the same lines. I couldn't believe how lazy the film came out.
Some might already throw out, "what about the updated animation?". I'll admit the photorealistic-like animation was impressive in The Jungle Book and it's the same here. It's amazing how the animals look real and how they move and behave. It can even look like a documentary. This also creates another problem in which it explains why the original animation was better. With the hand drawn style, the characters can express emotion more and the colors really leapt off the page and into my mind. The animals now react like real animals, which means little facial expression. Even the color here seems drab (which it has to be since it's supposed to be set in Africa).
The impressiveness of the visual effect wears off after an hour and you just waiting to relive the moments from the original; the "Circle of Life" song, the stampede, the "Hakuna Matata" song, and Simba seeing his father in spirit. I know that remakes need to follow the story, but you'd think The Lion King could have taken a chance to explore other sides, like Scar's reign as king or new animals point of view. The original isn't flawless, but it now looks like a masterpiece thanks to the soulless remake he now have to live with.
I'll give this four stars out of ten. I have a feeling that despite my complaints, this is going to earn another billion dollars t the company that's showing no end. If I had kids, I probably would have shown them the original instead. My only theory is that most kids have seen the hand drawn original and probably remember that over this one. For me, The Lion King is a "Hakuta Manada".
Stuber is a 3 star rated ride: a serviceable ride that has only some good jokes
I've spoken with several Uber drivers who've talked about the good times and bad times; the people going to work and the airport, but also the drunks and crazy people that try to eat their car seats. It's a compromise that cab drivers had been dealing with for decades, but is now more front and center with the downsides of being a driver. With misery means comedic potential. Given how new rideshare business are still, there's an empty gap that could be filled by someone who can tell a funny story. Let's see if Stuber can do this.
An Uber driver Stu (played by Kumail Nanjiani) seems to have things figured out for himself; a work schedule that allows him to do this and his sporting goods job, along with the future prospect into opening a gym with his friend Becca (played by Betty Gilpin). Somewhere in LA, grizzled LAPD cop Vic Manning (played by Dave Bautista) is searching for his former partner's killer. He manages to get a lead...on the same day he had just gotten laser eye sugary. So half blind and a short time on the road that gets his car in a ditch, he calls for an Uber.
Stu arrives with Vic demanding to go to Chinatown. After finding another officer dead, Vic asks for Stu to drive him around all day until the killer is found. Stu tries to decline, but Vic refuses to take no for an answer. As they drive around, Vic starts to understand how his gruff nature has pushed away a lot of people including his daughter while Stu see's that he's spinning his wheels, just waiting for something great to happen to him. The two fight and then agree to work with each other with Stu hoping he'll at least get a five star rating.
Does Stuber do for Uber like what Caddyshack did for golf? It's a mixed bag. Stuber certainly has a funny story to work with. I think that the story of an Uber driver forced to drive for someone can be funny (this is basically a comedic version of Collateral). The problem? I only found it funny in parts. It's a movie that knows it needs two strong actors to keep the tone in place. And this is part of the problem: I thought that one actor did better then the other.
This happens to be Dave Bautista. His performance as the no-nonsense cop reminds me of a Stallone or Schwarzenegger performance that would have been given years ago. He got a lot of laughs, especially given how half of his performance is the joke that he can't see. Think of him as a tougher Mr. Magoo. My problem steamed from Kumail Nanjiani. I could tell he was trying his hardest, but the script doesn't give him much other then a weakling personality. This should have been the highlight of the characters contrast, but I only laughed at him occasionally. I don't know if it was a poor script or a lack of direction, but he needed more work.
I'll give this six Uber stickers out of ten. It's a good thing the movie is short at ninety minutes. The movie barley has enough steam to get all the way there. I think this movie were be serviceable to most people, especially those looking for a non offensive comedy on a rainy day. This is the equivalent of an Uber ride with a driver whose interesting, but not always structured well. Take what you will and see if you have the same opinion.
Crawl makes for a quick, but fun Jaws-like thriller with alligators. Sometimes thats all you need
I was at a classic screening of Jaws where the theater was full and people cheered when the shark was blown up. For a movie that's over forty years old, it remains one of the greatest blockbusters despite having a simple premise. In fact, if we take in Moby Dick in as well, it seems that the man vs. beast storylines have been popular for a long time. I think it's because not only do we like to be reminded how fragile people can be, but how much we love seeing ourselves taking on typical animals and making them out to be monsters.
When you really think about it, there are a lot of animals that can kill us. We've seen killer sharks, bears, bees, wolves, birds, whales, dogs, cats, and even regular insects. In the case of today's movie, we've even seen killer alligators. Given I live in California, I rarely see those, and even then, it's usually at the zoo. That doesn't mean that I'm aware of their presence in in southeast, especially in Florida. I can see them as menacing, given how the look almost dinosaur-like. Let's see what producer Sam Rami can do with this in Crawl.
A college-aged swimmer Haley (played by Kaya Scodelario) gets an alert about a category 5 hurricane about the strike the Tampa area of Florida. She also gets a call from her sister that their dad hasn't been heard from and cannot into contact. Worried, Haley drives into the direction the storm is coming into to get her dad. Upon arriving at his apartment, it's empty except for his dog. She then goes to the old family home that's about to be sold. She arrives to find his car and phone, but still no sign of where he is.
She goes into the basement and finally finds him (played by Barry Pepper) injured with bite marks. It's not long when large alligators are discovered and are hungry. She loses her phone and tries to think of a way for her and her father to get out. On top of that, the hurricane arrives with lots of rain. With the floodwater creeping into the basement, they figure they have less then an hour before they drown. It's a battle against two forms of nature as Haley needs really push through, even though she takes a bite or two from the gators.
Though Sam Rami didn't direct Crawl, you can see his influence as not only is it an effectively scary concept, but this makes for a fun sit in a movie theater (along with the fact that it isn't too long at ninety minutes). I would put this in the same category as Jaws in terms of entertainment. Is it as smart as Jaws? No, but the purpose of Crawl is to simply give us a quick story of survival and it does it well. Much of comes that little explanation is given to the alligators hunger other then nature. No genetic modification or lab experiment gone wrong; just abnormally larger alligators.
It helps too that both Kaya Scodelario and Barry Pepper make for a likable father-daughter pair. You get the sense while there is some tension between the two, its put aside to focus on their survival. This is the kind of story that I'm sure a lot of filmmakers would have been tempted to go into more detail. Something like that would have been called for in a novel, but Crawl understands that simple is best in thrillers. That isn't to say that parts of their past isn't explored, but it manages to feel natural then forced exposition.
Shall we talk more about the gators? This is another instance where I would put the movie into the same category as Jaws. We see these animals more then we saw the shark in the latter, but thanks to some good special effects (a mix of practical and CGI), they come off as convincing and even scary. We tend to forget that nature itself can be terrifying. Alligators have gone after people before. Hurricanes can drown people. An extra explanation on why it's all going on would have been an insult.
I'll give this nine alligator signs out of ten. Crawl is exactly the kind of summer movie I want to see more of: original, quick, and fun. It's refreshing to see something like this which can come off as old fashioned, but welcoming. We need these kinds of thrillers against the superhero sequel remake-filled schedules. This makes for a fun bite.
Overlong, pretentious, and unoriginal, Midsommar is a dull and boring followup to Hereditary
Why is it that we have no problem of watching people on Instagram having the vacation of a lifetime by themselves, and yet get squeamish whenever we think doing the same solo trip. It because a lot of us share the same fear of being alone, especially in an environment that's alien. We've all had the situation in which we're at a party we don't want to be at and you latch on to a friend so that your not sitting alone in a corner. It's a part of the natural boundary we set up whenever the bubble we've chosen to live under becomes challenged.
Unsurprisingly, a lot of horror stories have tackled the idea of being alone. This could be a slasher killer coming after someone or a group of travelers coming to a castle not knowing a monster lives there. Don't tell me you would be in further agony knowing you were the only one facing this. Today's movie deals with a group of people coming across a cult, which isn't new, but can still be scary if done differently. So let's see if director Ari Aster (Hereditary) can bring something new to the table with Midsommar.
A young woman Dani (played by Florence Pugh), who already has depression and anxiety, is pushed further to the mental brink when her sister commits a murder-suicide on her parents. Her boyfriend Christian (played by Jack Reynor) has been under pressure from his friends to dump her, but he doesn't want to leave her while she's this vulnerable. It's no secret that he is uncomfortable with what's going on, and is unsure about a trip to Europe. To help her get away from her problems, he invites her to come along, much to the chagrin to the rest of the group. The Swedish student inviting them, Pelle (played by Vilhelm Blomgren), has no problem and they all fly over.
The group, Dani, Christian, Mark (played by Will Poulter) and Josh (played by William Jackson Harper) arrive in northern Sweeden to Pelle's commune home which consists of farmers and families who seem nice. Their all getting ready to celebrate a midsommar celebration that only happens every ninety years. From the start, things go bad with a drug trip, along with creepy rituals that the commune say is normal and a part of their traditions. As the ceremonies go further and further, can Dani keep her sanity long enough to make it through?
I was looking forward to Midsommar as I really liked Hereditary. But not only is it bad, it was really bad. This is a prime example of no matter how interesting the visuals and imagery is, everything goes back to story and character. It's overlong. It's pretentious. It's dull. It's a downer in a bad way. It's... ugh, let's go through the problems.
The story is nothing new. Cults are a good source for stories and study on group mentalities. The Wicker Man, Sound of my Voice, Mandy, and The Sacrament are examples on how secret societies can make an idea scary more then the people themselves. Midsommar taught me little about cult other then typical Pagan stuff that's been done already. As I said, much of the attention is put on the rituals and ceremonies, which are shown...so...slowly. This can be done to dip audiences in a pace to throw them off, but the group of people already seem so creepy that any human, especially a college student would have taken off in the other direction.
Even the history around their commune is dull enough that I felt like I was in school. This might have been forgivable if the characters were at least interesting, but their no more developed then your typical slasher story of the 1980s. At first, it seemed like they were going to play different parts within the rituals and each of their personalities were going to be challenged. But the movie not only pulls a "bait and switch", but goes down the path that you could predict before walking in. I'm not sure if the creator thought this would be seen as new, but it's an even bigger insult when it takes forever for anything to happen.
I'm gonna give this one Swedish tapestry out of five. If there's anything I'm scared of, it's the idea of having to sit through Midsommar again. I already saw Hereditary as a polarizing movie, but I can't imagine this appealing anyone other then people who like sick images, sad people put through sad things, and a pace slower then Heaven's Gate. Otherwise, this is going to be a definite skip.
Spider-Man: Far from Home (2019)
As an Epilogue for Endgame, Spider-Man: Far from Home makes for a fun vacation with Spider-Man
Avengers: Endgame was not only one of the most anticipated movies of all time, but it also closed the door to a story that had developed over eleven years starting with Iron Man. It was a movie that I really enjoyed and had figured that would have made a fine last movie for Marvel. Now that Disney runs Marvel, of course they wouldn't want to end things here. There's too much money to not continue and there are a lot of other stories Marvel could do. One of these heroes that can evolve, especially with his age, is the web slinger, Spider-Man.
Without spoiling what happened (though the trailers gave that away), it showed a couple of heroes leaving after Endgame, which now has to rely on the heroes they still have. Spider-Man still remains popular and can easily carry the future that Disney and the Marvel Cinematic Universe is going to throw. The key is making sure that this Spider-Man grows as he evolves from a teenager into a young man. The previous Spider-Man movies have had trouble making this transition, this this is a rare chance to get things right. Let's see where Peter Parker has gone in Spider-Man: Far from Home after Endgame.
In the time that's passed after the events of Thanos and the snap (which is called the "blip"), Peter Parker (played by Tom Holland) and his friends like Ned (played by Jacob Batalon) and M.J. (played by Zendaya) are dealing with the fact that everyone else has aged by five years while their still the same. At the same time, with Iron Man gone, Peter is now under pressure by the press that he's expected to be one new leaders of heroes. He declines calls from Nick Fury (played by Samuel L. Jackson) and just wants to enjoy a class trip to Europe for the summer.
While in Venice, the group is attacked by a giant water monster called an eternal that's fended off by a mysterious caped person that the press dubs "Mysterio". Peter is later taken by Nick Fury to meet the "Mysterio", Quentin Beck (played by Jake Gyllenhaal), who says to be anther hero from an alternate Earth. Peter tries again to decline help, but his group ends up in Prague where another eternal, this time a fire monster, attacks. It seems like that these things are popping up all over Europe and Peter will have no choice but to help.
As far as an epilogue to Endgame, Spider-Man: Far from Home not only serves the story well, but it also proves to be another fun Spider-Man story. The MCU has done great at portraying Peter Parker as a more inexperienced hero and thus, leading way for this growth. Tom Holland is still likable as Peter, who now has more pressure then he did in Homecoming. You not only cheer when he's kicking butt, but you also feel sorry for the fact that he can barley get a break. You want to see him enjoy his summer and interact with M.J., but understand that "with great powers come great responsibility".
Speaking of which, I've really grown to enjoying Zendaya as a different M.J. as she may be more cynical, but does make the chemistry between her and Tom Holland really cute. Plus is not like she's a damsel in distress: she does help in ways I can't spoil. Samuel L. Jackson does good as Nick Fury, but my favorite is Jake Gyllenhaal as Mysterio. For a character where illusions are his power, the movie not only makes it convincing on how people would fall for it, but even makes him threatening when needed.
Do they all manage well in this story? For the most part. As a comedy, it's a mixed bag. As a high school story, I liked it. As a travel story, it's mixed. Spider-Man: Far from Home is trying to do a lot with it's premise and does have a little trouble. I'd say the first half felt a little rushed in explaining the "blip" and how it affects the world. Things pick up when the villain is revealed and Spider-Man has to step up. Did I like it as much as Homecoming? I'd say about as much, which does put this up higher on my ranking, but not the masterpiece that was Spider-Man: Into the Spiderverse.
I'll give this nine Mysterios out of ten. Overall, this makes for another fun superhero story. This is probably something I'm saying too much, but it shows how having these heroes in a shared universe can take advantage of their situation. Take a cinematic vacation and witness what a spider can do.
Child's Play (2019)
This did...and the new Child's Play was fun and separates itself enough to make it it's own thing
It's been a strange weekend. This has to be the only time in which two toy-based movies have been released. One being the family friendly Toy Story 4 and the other being the horror comedy, Child's Play. The good news is that there's a crowd that's going to see one over the other. Where does Child's Play fall for me? Not too high. I've seen the original Child's Play and thought it was enjoyable, but no horror classic. Yes, I liked the story of a killer using voodoo to transfer his soul into a doll and goes on a killing spree. But again, it's about a killer doll. There's not a lot "great" you can do with it.
I'm also aware of its large fan base (given all the sequels it's made, it's doing something right) and how much they like Chucky and his personality. I think it steams back to the fantasy of toys coming to life. A lot of toys can seem cute when your younger, but appear creepy when you look at it with adult eyes. This where the horror spin comes in and tries to have fun with it. Child's Play is another remake that tries to retell the story in a new light.
Instead of voodoo magic and a serial killer, we have an A.I. robot. A computer company, Kaslan Industries, is about to launch it's new line of toys called the "Buddi" which learns according to it's owner. One owner is a young woman Karen (played by Aubrey Plaza) who works a minuscule retail job to try to give her son Andy (played by Gabriel Bateman) a normal life as possible. She gives one of the returned "Buddi" dolls to Andy for his birthday where they play around with what it can do and how it adapts based on his emotions.
The more Andy plays with him the "Buddi" doll he names Chucky (played by Mark Hamill), the more Chucky appears to have a violent tendency. Chucky even grows jealous when Andy starts to play with other kids his own age. Things start to appear from dead cats, dead neighbors, and even human faces. Andy is aware of what's going on, but has no clue how to show it (would anyone believe you if you screamed about a killer toy). But now that Chucky is connected to several other Kaslan Industries products (other toys, computers, self driving cars, etc...), things may prove more dangerous then ever.
While Child's Play was no classic, I too knew that a remake was going to be tough, given Chucky's cult status. The good news is that it's a rare remake that is both enjoyable and separates itself enough to make it it's own thing. Is it better then the original? That depends on what your looking for. First of all, making the toy an A.I. robot is both a pro and a con. The best thing about is that because of his connectivity to other systems, this allows for more creative kills and weapons to use on his victims.
The negative is that Chucky isn't as scary as before. While the movie does a good job letting the toy learn for itself and eventually develop into the personality of a killer, it's still a robot. One of the reasons Brad Dourif was terrifying and funny was because as a doll that had the soul of another person, that gave it a personality that was still human. Mark Hamill, though giving it his all with another chilling voice, is limited by the range as he's playing a robot. It's only scary as long as you know he can only kill. I find it scarier when it kills because he enjoys it for his reasons and not because the programing is screwed up.
What about the rest of the movie? I liked it. This knows right away that along with being a horror, this is a comedy. Any movie with Aubrey Plaza as a young mother would have to be a comedy. A lot of humor comes from her, her son and his new friends, and even with the commentary about technology becoming obsolete due to faster innovation and constant software updates.
I'll give this eight new Chucky dolls out of ten. Child's Play did the right thing by trying it's hardest to separate itself from the original. It'll never be anything great (it's about a killer doll), but I had a good time. Fans of the original will probably like this fine. Just watch out for the eyes... it can look creepy...
Toy Story 4 (2019)
Playtime is a bit messy. Toy story 4 has a jumbled script and side characters set aside, which makes this more of a "meh" story
I can say now tat one of my favorite memories of going to the movies was when my dad took my brother and I to see Toy Story back in 1995. It was the first all CGI movie ever, but that wasn't why I loved it. Unlike a traditional movie from Disney was old fashioned in a good way, Toy Story felt like a modern, fresh breath of air that gave us a unique perspective of the world. It did help that both Woody and Buzz Lightyear were such memorable and likable characters, that toys of them were requested in my letter to Santa.
Toy Story 2 built on Woody, Buzz and the theme of being a toy and their purpose. Toy Story 3 catapulted to deep, emotional levels as the toys had to figure out what to do now that their child had grown up. These three movies make up a rare perfect trilogy that gave us a harmonious saga and the world of movies seems better with this. So when a new movie was announced, I immediately got the feeling that this was more of a cynical cash grab then a needed continuation. But I'm open to seeing what can happen. Let's look at Toy Story 4.
Now that the toys have moved on with Bonnie, Woody (played by Tom Hanks) still tries to look out for her and her well being, despite not being a favorite toy of hers. She'll play with Buzz (played by Tim Allen), Jessie (played by Joan Cusack), Rex (played by Wallace Shawn), Hamm (played by John Ratzenberger), Slinky Dog (played by Blake Clark), but Woody is usually left out. But this doesn't stop him when he tries to introduce a new toy, a handmade spork figure named Forky (played by Tony Hale).
Forky has an existential crisis when he feel like he's trash rather then a toy, and keeps trying to throw himself away. He almost does when he throws himself out of an RV when the family goes on vacation. Woody goes to retrieve him while telling the others to hold on. Woody and Forky try to make it back, but make a detour into an antique shop. Here they encounter a broken Gabby-Gabby (played by Christina Hendricks). Along with her, they also encounter Duke Caboom (played by Keanu Reeves), Bunny and Ducky (played by Keegan-Michael Key & Peele) and even Bo Peep (played by Annie Potts). This throws Woody into his own existential crisis over what to do.
I shocks me to say that Toy Story 4 is only an okay film. It's certainly not a bad movie. It's a movie that still tells a Toy Story tale fine, but it's also a complicated one based on what it's trying to do. It obviously wanted to not only give Woody a new arc, but to bring back an old element. The hearts in the right place, but it needed another rewrite to make it happen. But let's go into better detail.
The problem with Toy Story 4 is that it's a movie with very little at stake. At first the goal is that Forky is cared for and to help him through his crisis. Not only is he not that funny of a character (there is a gag about him throwing himself away that goes on a little too long), but his arc is kind of abandoned midway through in order to focus on Woody. I'd might have been okay with that, but Forky rarely is ever contributes to the story or even as a character.
Not to mention that the other Toy Story movies kept giving the side characters a lot to do. Most of them including Rex, Mr. Potato Head, Hamm, and even Jessie are stuck on an RV, so we don't get to see them that often. Even Buzz, who does get plenty of screen time, seems too out of character by being unconfident about his decision making, even though he had no problem with this in the other movies. Though I got a couple of laughs from Keanu Reeves as Duke Caboom, Key & Peele voices feel too modern and out of place. I think it has to do with how their playing themselves and not characters.
I'll give this five Woody the cowboy dolls out of ten. I'll be curious to see how families and kids will respond to this. I'm sure it'll have plenty of fans, but not too many saying that Toy Story 4 is the favorite. Perhaps to Infinity and beyond isn't always the best way with making more movies. Perhaps Disney should have stopped with Toy Story 3.
Rocketman is a real "Rocket Man", as it soars for a fun musical and shows that will "Still Stand" for a while
When going to a concert, are we seeing the "singer" or the "show"? This may seem like an odd question, but it makes sense when considering what exactly were watching. We're not there to listen to some songs, but there to experience them as done by it's creator. Chances are their not just going to sing them, but also incorporate dancers, videos, lighting, costume, and perhaps more. A lot of singers/bands will do this to make their fans feel like their witnessing an experience. I've been to plenty myself that have included Lady Gaga, Bruno Mars and Metallica. One of the biggest proprietors of this happens to be pianist Elton John.
While I'm not a regular listener of his music, I will say that Elton John is a talented singer/rocker who's created some songs I like, including "Crocodile Rock", "Goodbye Yellow Brick Road", and "I'm Still Standing". I've always seen him as the modern day Liberace, who happens one of the few famous piano players and also loves to incorporate a lot the theatrical costumes into his shows. I recall learning about him when I first saw The Lion King in 1994, but knew very little about the singer himself. It all comes front and center in Rocketman.
At a rehab facility, a fully costumed Elton John (played by Taron Egerton) admits to being addicted to a lot of things and proceeds to tell his life story. Cut back to his childhood, he was raised as "Reginald Dwight" by his mother Shelia (played by Bryce Dallas Howard) and grandmother Ivy, as his father is largely absent and uninterested in his son. It's apparent right away that "Reginald" is a prodigy with a perfect musical year and becomes good enough to receive a scholarship to the Royal Academy of Music. He trains further and further while gaining an interest in rock artists like Elvis.
He joins a variety of bands until he tries to make it on his own. Inspired by on of the bands he plays for, he changes his name to Elton John and forms a partnership with songwriter Bernie Taupin (played by Jamie Bell). The two get along, but Elton realizes that he himself is gay. Regardless, his first show in Los Angeles makes him an immediate star. Elton eventually starts a romantic relationship with his new manager John Reid (played by Richard Madden), but starts his addiction to drugs, sex and alcohol.
I'll say that Rocketman is the movie that I had hoped Bohemian Rhapsody was going to be. It's informative, emotional, and most importantly, very entertaining. The biggest difference is that unlike Bohemian Rhapsody, which was a traditional biography, Rocketman is more of a fantasy-like musical, which incorporates his songs into his life story. The result feels like as if it's Elton John' story as told by him. I have no idea if this is close (this feels like it has to be) to what happened, but the filmmaker understood that it was more important to make a unique movie then anything.
A lot of that is on Taron Egerton who does a fantastic job playing Elton John. Along with understanding the pressure the real singer went through, he also translates the flamboyance into something that resonates two meanings: escape and expression. Another screenplay probably would have made him one note. Rocketman allows Taron to express the various sides to come out just to show how complicated Elton was. I'll bet a million dollars that he'll get an academy award nomination for his performance. Perhaps we'll have two years of actors playing musicians winning awards.
Is the movie grand? I though it was certainly very good. When the movie drifts into the drugs and alcohol territory, it does stray a little longer then needed. While I know Elton John did go through a lot of abuse, it's something I've seen a lot of rock star movies already do a lot. I might have been kinder had it focused on his sex addiction, which is rarely seen in movies. At best, Rocketman needed at least fifteen minutes trimmed so that the pacing feels a bit quicker. Regular movie goers probably wont see this as an issue and should have fun regardless.
I'll give this eight flamboyant glasses out of ten. Rocketman is a real "Rocket Man" as it soars and shows it's audience an experience they could never experience at any of his shows. It's a fun musical and it'll "Still Stand" for a long time.
The Secret Life of Pets 2 (2019)
The Secret Life of Pets 2 is a sloppy set of plots strung together, but it's inoffensive for kids
Having just seen The Secret Life of Pets 2, it made me realize just how many family movies (live action and animated) really like to focus on two things: animals and seeing things from other perspectives. I like making this connection back to Disney whose entertainment philosophy had started from humanizing animals. Mickey Mouse is a walking, talking mouse. Donald Duck is a walking, talking Duck. You know what I'm getting at. Animation gives life to these characters who are now just as much people as we are, even though we know their not real. Now what about the other perspective thing?
This also goes back to Disney, though lets use Pixar as an example. We've seen the world from toys, bugs, fish, robots, and even monsters eyes. The animator's hand has allowed to take these different things to show how the world works from their perspective. Because of this, many animation studios have done the same thing. In fact, when I saw the original The Secret Life of Pets, I accused it of having the same plot as Toy Story, but with not as interesting story. Can the sequel break out of that and provide something original?
Sometime after the first movie, Max (played by Patton Oswalt) and Duke (played by Eric Stonestreet) have settled as friends and continue to serve their master Katie (played by Ellie Kemper). But things change when she not only marries, but has a child named Liam. The dogs end up liking Liam and do their best as a dog can. In fact, Max almost sees Liam as a surrogate son and starts to aquire anxiety from all the things that could go wrong. This results in a vet visit that puts Max in a cone. Even with that, he still suffers anxiety, so the family takes a vacation out to the country to get away from the city.
At the same time, Gidget (played by Jenny Slate) is tasked with watching Max's "Busy Bee" toy while he's away. While doing so, she loses it in a cat lady's apartment. She gets help fro another cat Chloe to act more feline. Also at the same time, the white rabbit from the last movie Snowball (played by Kevin Hart) tries to be a superhero and gets his chance when a Shih Tzu Daisy (played by Tiffany Haddish) needs him. With all this going on in the city, Max may finally get an answer to his problems by a tough sheepdog Rooster (played by Harrison Ford).
As I said, I found the first The Secret Life of Pets unoriginal, but inoffensive. Families could watch it fine and kids would probably like it. The sequel is more of the same...even though I may have liked this a little more. It has nothing to do with its jokes and characters, but rather how things are set up. The first movie had a plot of just getting home. Here, it's more of a series of events that play out until everyone comes together towards the end.
In a way, I have to give them credit for trying to create something that's more of a cartoon animal slice of life. Does it all work? I don't know if I can say that. Stuff with Gidget and Snowball feel like material that was originally created for a short rather then a side plot for a movie. It's obvious as none of the other characters really communicate about their situations to each other. The only one that does connect a little is Max's problem.
It's not that all the actors are not trying. In fact, I'll go as far to say that even though Patton Oswalt doesn't add a lot to Max's character, I kind of like him better here then when Louis C.K. voiced him. I even think parents may be able to relate more, as I know plenty that worry about their child's well being without realizing they need to let the kids learn for themselves every now and then. Had the movie been more about the connection with Max, Duke, and the child, I may have gone as far to recommend it. Otherwise, it's something that while a lot of kids will want to watch, I just don't see much of a reason to take them to the theater to do so.
I'll give this five Shih Tzus out of ten. The Secret Life of Pets series is something that I doubt will hold much place in terms of grand animation or great comedy, but is more specifically children's entertainment. I'd give it a rental only if the kids really want to watch it. Otherwise, let the lying dog sleep.
Dark Phoenix (2019)
Along with repeating more of the same "Whose team are you one?" plot, Dark Phoenix is a dull, boring slog that makes for a terrible ending to the X-Men saga
When Disney purchased 20th Century Fox, a lot of people had questions about their properties, but most of them were about the X-Men. Where would the series go? Can it continue? Should it continue? Can it be incorporated into the Marvel Cinematic Universe? In a way, I think the officials at Fox are still trying to figure that out. I can't be easy to not only be told that you have new owners, but also that the series may not last longer regardless of the fans want. I would not want to be anyone working on those movies and I really have a lot of empathy for their situation.
Given that, the X-Men series has lasted over eighteen years, which is longer then the MCU. It's had it's ups and downs, but it was a series that proved that superheroes could not only be made into good movies, but could be a big money maker as well. Cut to 2019 and in an age where comics are more popular then ever, people still want to see story arcs that are ripe for a cinematic adaptation. One of them had already been given a shot in X-Men: The Last Stand, which was negatively received. It now has a second shot in the appropriately named Dark Phoenix.
Like in the previous X-Men movies, Charles Xavier (played by James McAvoy) runs his school for mutants where children are taught and not shunned by society while the teachers are acting heroes. After what happened in X-Men: Apocalypse, they've been more accepted and are even on call to the US president for anytime their needed. One such mission in 1992 sends a group of X-Men to space to help out an accident on the space shuttle Endeavor. Some of them include Raven/Mystique (played by Jennifer Lawrence), Beast (played by Nicholas Hoult), Nightcrawler (played by Kodi Smit-McPhee), Cyclops (played by Tye Sheridan) and Storm (Played by Alexandra Shipp).
While the mission to save the astronauts, one member ends up sucking in a lot of cosmic energy. This one is Jean Grey (played by Sophie Turner), a psychic mutant who is just as powerful, if not more then Charles Xavier with psychic powers. She survives, but her abilities have become even more unstable and dangerous. In anger, she leaves the school and manages to find Magneto (Played by Michael Fassbender) asking for help. At the same time, she's visited by a cosmic shapeshifter Vuk (played by Jessica Chastain) who encourages her negative actions. Can the X-Men help Jean Grey and prevent the "Dark Phoenix" monster from emerging?
You'd think that getting a second chance would be a benefit for Dark Phoenix and it's famous saga. The sad part is when I compare it to the original, I think I'd rather watch X-Men: The Last Stand. While that one is at least somewhat memorable, Dark Phoenix is a dull, boring slog that repeats more of the same mutant discrimination and "whose on what team" dilemma that a lot of these movies have done.
What a shame is that there is a large cast that is ready to go with their characters. With the exception of James McAvoy and Michael Fassbender, everyone either seems to be in a monotone or just an uncaring vibe. We know Jennifer Lawrence can be a great actress, but everything about her performance was just uncaring. And it's not just her. Jessica Chastain is also a phenomenal actress, but I can't recall a single line of dialogue. Every character has this, and the blame goes on writer/director Simon Kinberg.
It's clear that Simon Kinberg wanted to keep his story dark and serious to emphasize the dramatic danger. Compare to Avengers: Endgame where despite also having a dark story, you still get a sense of fun as the characters are allowed to crack an occasional joke and have a lot of human moments. The people in Dark Phoenix are rarely given that. It's just dull exposition with some dull action. It's even more obvious in the third act which has a large train battle. It could have regained my interest, but I had already lost attention in what happens to anyone. I cannot emphasize the importance of strong characters.
I'll give this two X-Men comics out of ten. What a bad, anticlimactic ending to the X-Men saga! I can say that this is the worst of the series (yes, even more then X-Men Origins: Wolverine). It's one thing to botch a fan favorite story, but another to make it more boring then paying taxes. It's time for the Mutant Academy to close and return these heroes to Marvel.