Little Women - Review
Little Women is not something that is new to the screen. There has been many different adaptations and each has their own take. But this adaptation hits the right chords and makes this a delightful film to see, especially around the holiday season.
The cast is an amazing ensemble cast, and there are some standout performances for sure. Saoirse Ronan as Jo and Florence Pugh as Amy really hit it. Emma Watson is actually lost in those performances as one of the daughters, but you cannot also discredit the performances by Laura Dern and Chris Cooper. The story has a wide range of emotions, from pure joy to absolute heartbreak. The performances match those ranges as well and is a pure delight to watch.
There was one questionable casting choice for me, which was Bob Odenkirk as the father. It wasn't that he did a bad job, but that I was constantly seeing him as Sal Goodman from breaking bad, more so than seeing Emma Watson as Hermione Granger. Meryl Streep also makes her presence known, but she is able to dive so deep into the character you forget all her countless other performances.
But the movie hits the right notes and is still a little bit of a happy presentation of historical life which is what is needed in a holiday movie. Highly enjoyable and great performances!
Rating: 3.5/5 Stars
Hopefully you've read the headline for this review. This is our SPOILER filled review, which means, if you haven't seen it, you may want to go check it out before reading this. I also try to make sure any SPOILER reviews come out a week after the film has been released to make sure you have plenty of time to check out the movie. You can also check out my SPOILER FREE review if you'd like.
Okay, if you're ready, scroll on down!
What a piece of fun!
I want to start out by saying: This film is by no means anywhere near perfect. In some places, far from it. But, is it fun, mind-numbing escapism entertainment? You bet your space boots!! It's a fun conclusion to a saga running almost 40 years. And I personally believe it's not near over yet. The film does play heavy on nostalgia because, well, it has too! These stories are classic in terms of classic character archetypes, and follow classic themes of good versus evil, redemption, and family. It's what the other films have followed, and some say (for better or worse) that The Last Jedi was breaking that mold set forth by it's predecessors. But The Rise Of Skywalker brings us back (for better or worse) to what we are used to. We will get into it all a little later.
Like I said, as just going for a thrill in a theater, this movie hits the right nots, but there are still things that did not sit well with me. Some are the "fan-boy eye roll" moments, others are "filmmaker eye roll" moments. Most of my gripes with this film can be simply answered by saying, "This is Star Wars, do you really need more of an explanation?"
But let's get into the gripes first.
The Kiss That Made a Theater Groan
You know what I'm talking about, and I'm not talking about the first on-screen same-sex kiss in a Star Wars movie. I'm talking about that "Reylo" kiss. My theater did not gasp, it groaned. I saw the film a second time a few days later, and the reaction was the same. One person behind me audibly said during Rey and Ben's "buildup" moments before, "If they kiss, that's it, I'm out of here." And when they did, I was gone. I was out of the moment. I was just left thinking, "Why?" Did they really have to go there? I preferred the kiss between Rose and Finn from The Last Jedi, which has about the same amount of weight in this movie. Seriously, they kind of just ignore that ever happens. Rose is just left to be on her own. As someone said, "They Jar-Jared her." But the Rey and Ben Solo kiss should not have happened. Period.
The Knights of Who?
I think the Knights of Ren got the real shaft here. Almost like Captain Phasma did in the other movies. There was such a build up of these mysterious knights, and let's put it this way; if they were magically edited out of the movie, would it really make a difference? Nope. They showed up, were "hunting" our heroes and never really had a run-in with them, and then they were all killed in the end by Ben Solo. Which I don't mind, and I don't mind the force-teleportation of things to save him, it's a fun new way to use the force. (By the way, teleportation IS cannon in Star Wars. Just remember Luke telling C3-PO he'd like to be "teleported off this rock" in A New Hope.) But they are just killed off and not explained at all. I'm not even sure they knew how to use the force. Worthless.
There are lots of other characters that seemed to be throwaways. Dominic Monaghan, most known as a Merry in Lord of the Rings, played someone who again, if was magically edited out of the movie, would make zero change to the story. Some may say characters like this make the film seem bloated. But this also leads to my next gripe...
To Cut or Not To Cut...?
This movie is not well edited. Now, I understand that the overlords at Disney are probably ordering the filmmakers to make sure have the film fit within certain guidelines, but it's too confining. The result makes it feel rushed. We want to see longer reaction shots, especially on characters we know we'll never see again on the silver screen. I want to know how the hell Rey found a "skimmer" to go out to the Death Star wreckage. I want to know more about Rey's training and abilities she's learning from Leia. I also wanted to experience the opening crawl, not read about a mysterious broadcast. That would be scary as hell and would have been amazing to see our hero's reactions. I want to know what the hell happened to "broom boy" from The Last Jedi. I also want to know what the hell is Lando doing with Jannah? Oh yeah, and how the hell did Lando convince so many to join the fight in so little time? I mean I know he's a smooth talk and all... but come on! I also want to know what made General Hux really turn somewhat decent. It was all so sudden. But after seeing the Rise of Resistance attraction, I began to have my suspicion then about Hux. Also, anyone curious about Kylo's helmet at Galaxy's Edge and the timeline of the story? Anyways, the point is I could begin to smell the Disney behind all these choices because of...
Merchandising! Merchandising! Where the Real Money From the Movie is Made.
Synergy is real at Disney. And in an attempt to try to make a duplicate Marvel Cinematic Universe, they do it with multiple platform universe. This is where video games, comics, novels, short stories, cartoons, television shows and theme park attractions are all known as "cannon" and a part of the larger Star Wars Universe. I'll admit, I'm a huge fan of Galaxy's Edge at the Disney Parks, and the amount of backstory and detail you can get into is massive. But it's sad to see the movie suffer because disney is pushing their other platforms.
Already it's discussed how you can help put some pieces of the missing puzzles from the movie in the Visual Dictionary of the movie. Things like this will continue to come out for a while. You will have to read a novel, walk through Batuu or subscribe to Disney+ to find answers to some of these things. It's a bit nickel-and-diming if you ask me, and unfair to general movie goers. Remember when bonus material was created from the stories in the movies? Because now it seems the stories in the movies are dictated by the preplanned merchandise. Kind of sad.
But Hey, It's Star Wars
This is science fantasy after all. You have to suspend your disbelief a little bit more when watching this rather than watching, say, Star Trek.
We don't know what the force can do. We don't know what Rey has learned. We just accept it and have fun, as it is intended to be. If you're willing to "let go" and "accept" things as they're presented to you, this is going to be fun. It's fun because you get to see people die and come back, and then die again if you're Ben Solo. We get to see old friends, and closure on things like Chewie finally getting a medal from the Battle of Yavin (yet there's debate as to whom the medal really belongs to).
There are new characters that work. Zorii Bliss was fun, but needed more screen time. Babu Frik wins the best new-commer award, and General Pryde should have been Hux all along. In this film it was great to see our heroes all together for most of the adventure. It was also great to see Lando and the Emperor. I don't mind the Emperor either. I like that he was mangeled and sick. I'm sure we will figure out how he survies a high fall (like Luke and Darth Maul) and then has time to make a baby, but again, just go with it! It's fun and it's a joy! It also really doesn't deserved the 55% critic rating on RottenTomatoes.
You will have a good time. 4/5 Stars.
Well, today is the day that the galaxy has some closure. The end of the Skywalker Saga is here, and movie-goers are beyond excited (maybe even scared?) about going to see this last installment. I got a chance to see the movie, after reading a lot of critics responses to it as well. And while I'll keep this review a SPOILER FREE review and will be perfectly safe for you to read, I also want to start out by saying, "Don't read reviews for this movie!!"
Seriously, I can (and will) get into things that I loved, things that irked me, but even speaking in generalities about those things may prejudice you (towards the light or dark side). So in all honesty and respect to you as the reader, I'll tell you right now to stop reading this and go see the movie. Don't talk to your friends about it, just go. I can't even tell you how many random texts from friends I got that were, "Did you see it?" "Well...?" "Okay, what did you think?" It was like a code, a nudge-nudge, wink-wink sort of lingo while putting our toe in the water of being able to freely talk about the movie. Once you respond with "I saw the movie" then be prepared for endless conversation about the most famous film franchise in cinema history. It may be a better experience for you to just have that moment with your friends after seeing the movie.
That being said, if you're still reading, I'm going to go into my initial reactions and feels about this movie and won't talk about anything you don't already see in the trailer. So I'll say this to sum it up: "Whoa."
There's a LOT in Star Wars Episode IX: The Rise of Skywalker. And that is a blessing (and in some small ways, the curse) of this movie. There was so much we needed closure on and to have answers to, even to things we never knew we needed closure on, including things that stem back to the original 1977 film. This film was one of the best blockbuster, tent-pole, escapism film to come out since Avengers: Endgame (only just a few months ago). That's of course some cynicism, but honestly, Disney has made 2019 THE year to make some massive movie franchise finales.
The film succeeds on building the universe of Star Wars. We go to new planets, meet new characters and discover numerous new force powers. New weapons, new ships, new stormtroopers, new costumes, new looks, new villains, new heroes and a new legends that are just teased to us.
That's also where things fall apart a little, and it's not to any fault of the filmmakers. I think the biggest flaw is that this film is stretched way too thin. It's a part of the Disney "machine" that is cranking out comic books, novels, video games, a new (amazing) themed land in two parks and of course the new "TV" shows coming to Disney+. All this new content is "cannon" and exists in the Star Wars Universe. With this amount of content all connecting to this movie in some way or another (and they do in small, less than Marvel's attempt), there's a ton of small details that are to be filled in later in those smaller, more intimate settings. I think Disney executives are thinking this is a way to sell more "byproduct" of the films, but it really makes the film a bit clunky and you miss some plot details. There's a few moments of like "where did that come from?" or "how did that happen?" I felt like the editor had some Disney brass with a gun to their head making them stick to the bladder-tested time of 2 hours and 20 minutes, and the editor just cried as they had to chop up the beautiful shots and scenes that maybe had a lasting moment, or a little more explanation. Maybe there is a director's cut coming?? This movie could really use the Peter Jackson Lord of the Rings: Return of the King Extended Edition treatment.
But that was me going into this movie knowing I'd soon be writing this (and a future spoiler) review. Then the 10-year-old inside of me was kicking me in the shin saying, "It's a Star Wars movie, dude!" And he was right.
Lots of things you have to let go of what you have learned, because we may forget, Star Wars is NOT science-fiction, it is science-fantasy. This means, as an audience, we must be more willing to suspend our disbelief and just go with it. Maybe it's a sign of the times, but it seems more and more people can't do that. Star Wars makes you do that, it makes you be a kid again because you're willing to accept things and just go with it. It's a fun, rollicking adventure through space that adheres to the poetry patterns of George Lucas. In a way, you're not surprised about how things end up, but for a moment, you're not sure how it's going to happen.
There was ONE thing that took me out of the movie and the story. Just one. Most people who have seen this movie probably already know what I'm talking about because it's not a small thing. It's a big moment with some of our characters we've gotten to know over these three films (and books, and theme parks, etc.), but it felt so unnecessary and out of place that the suspension of disbelief is so far out, it snaps you in the face like a rubber band at that moment. *Sigh*
But again, it's a Star Wars movie, dude! And a good one at that. Kids will love it, big kids will love it, and parents will have fun too! It's just a pure fun and a joy of a movie to go to. This movie is the reason why we love to go to the movies. Well done! I'll be posting my spoiler review soon, after another viewing or two of the film. I want to see it again! The re-watchability of this movie is great! Go see it... then go see it again.
And may the force be with you.
Jumanji: The Next Level - Review
Well, they're playing that game again! The original 1995 Jumanji movie with Robin Williams was a hit in it's own right. That's why, after Williams' death, the thought of another Jumanji movie was questionable. Also, not as a reboot, but a sequel to the 1995 movie. But 2017's Jumanji: Welcome to the Jungle turned out to be a surprise hit. It was in many ways a reboot, but still a true sequel as well building off it's predecessor. That's exactly what Jumanji: The Next Level does as well.
This movie more of a true sequel to the 2017 film, but it does have some ties into the 1995 movie and you might even miss it. But the point is, this franchise has become a fun and fanciful adventure with outlandish characters and where overacting and campiness is welcomed with open arms. It helps when a movie doesn't take itself too seriously and doesn't mind poking fun at itself. It engages in winks, nods and elbow jabs and we giggle along with them.
This film doesn't bring anything really new to the 2017 film, but is just as much fun. It does bring a new spin to the characters in the game by including Danny DeVito and Danny Glover. The Danny's both get some good screen time before going into the game and becoming the avatars we've come to know and love. Everyone has their moment to shine and it's fun to see more backstory given to the actual people in the game.
If you want just a fun time at the movies, this is a good one for you!
Rating: 3/5 Stars
Frozen II - Review (Spoilers)
Walt Disney Studios has just broke a Hollywood record by crossing $10 Billion at the Global Box Office. When you look at the massive hits that they have had with Avenger's Endgame, The Lion King and Toy Story 4, it's no wonder why. Also, just take this moment to think about they could be adding even more to that total with Star Wars: The Rise of Skywalker opening next week. But the film that put the studio over the record breaking limit was the sequel to the extremely popular animated film, Frozen. Please keep in mind there will be some spoilers ahead!
First off, Frozen II has some seriously gorgeous imagery, fun song numbers and overall an enjoyable story. In some instances, you may find yourself more mesmerized by the technical achievements, like how the fabric of the clothes are so photo-real. When looking at elements, like fire and water, those are some of the hardest things to create in a computer, but the animators do a fantastic job here. So the film shines in its technicality, it may be a little lacking during in the story telling details. Let me explain.
This film starts out like it's predecessor, in a flashback, looking at Anna and Elsa as little kids. It's an important choice because this movie focuses on who they are and what their family is like. So come to find out, their grandfather was a not so nice king that decided to build a huge dam in an enchanted forrest where magic reigns, even though I don't quite understand why, but it becomes the thing that must be destroyed to restore peace to the realms. There was a one-line explanation about it, so if you have squirmy youngsters sitting next to you and you need to tell them to not throw popcorn at strangers, you might miss critical blink-and-you-missed-it explications to things. Like, "How do you like your new permafrost, Olaf?" was a line to explain why he doesn't need a little snow cloud to follow him around anymore and never melts.
The film is short on explanations, long on over explaining "there is a mystery afoot" and still hits the right amount of music to action ratio. The musical numbers are great and fun, and yes, "Into the Unknown" is a great song, even enough to rival "Let It Go." But I enjoyed the fact that Kristoff actually had a real song to sign, however funny it was, I was not really into the sudden jump into a boy-band music video rendition.
The film does dip deep into flashbacks and dream-like sequences which ups the magical and mystery element to it. I mean, they are in an enchanted forrest, so magic is a plenty! There was a great reference to even Elsa scoffing at her past breakout song number, which was hilarious for all of us parents. There was also a nice little nod to the author responsible for these movies. There's another quick line about a "new Danish author" which if anyone has ever been to Solvang, California, could tell you this was talking about Hans Christian Andersen.
Long story, short: If you liked the original Frozen, you'll like Frozen II too. If you're a parent, just be aware that Disney realized they can sell a lot more dresses by giving the characters more costume changes, even if they really don't make any sense at all to the story. But hey, it's just a cartoon, right? If you want the "adult" version of this movie, just watch The Fifth Element, because it's basically the same story.
Rating: 3/5 Stars
The Little Mermaid is a classic story that turned 182 years old this year. Written by Hans Christian Andersen in 1837, this story has been told and retold in many ways, with the most famous done in 1989 by the Walt Disney Company. Disney produced an adaptation that put Ariel in the front and center in its massive corporate branding machine, and she’s been there ever since. Disney made the original, and much darker material, into something that resonated with today’s audiences.
Today, there are multiple adaptations and retelling of that 1989 animated film, including a live-action re-make in the works, a live broadcast on ABC, theme park attractions, and even theatrical productions. This includes one playing in Santa Maria at Hancock College’s Marian Theater through Dec. 22.
PCPA goes all out in their production, and the spectacle is awe-inspiring. The play itself is based on the 1989 film, so it includes many familiar things, but also expands on the original material with new scenes and songs. Something that makes the show stand out from other PCPA productions is that this one has collaborated with New York City’s 2 Ring Circus to bring breathtaking aerial feats to life on stage. This helps make the action to look as if you’re under the sea, swimming with all the sea creatures, or on a ship watching sailors climb the tall mast. The cast is massive, which includes the 2 Ring Circus performers, and all your favorite PCPA resident artists in roles that seem custom made for them. Erik Stein is King Triton, George Walker nearly steals the show as Scuttle, and Guest Artist Katie Emerson does a great job of bringing the titular character to life. Most of all, however, Kitty Balay simply is Ursula, and they really couldn’t have anyone better for that role.
These actors are fantastic, but perhaps the real stars of the show are the costume and design teams. The costumes are bright, vibrant and just what you would expect in a production like this. I can only imagine how much fun working on the costume for Ursula was.
PCPA has another well-deserved feather in their cap for this holiday season production. It is a real crowd pleaser and one that the whole family will enjoy. Our 4-year-old daughter was enthralled throughout a recent matinee.
These shows will undoubtedly sell out. Everyone will want to see this.
Tickets are $38-$50 and performances are only at the Marian Theater in Santa Maria. Call the box office at 805-922-8313 or visit www.pcpa.org for more information.