Spirit: Untamed - Film Review
Universal Studios and Dreamworks Animation released their new feature, Spirit: Untamed this past weekend. It offered a great option for those with smaller children to return to the movies and not see one of the three horror films that are out. Even Disney's Cruella dabbles in the dark side of things and this is the perfect alternative.
Unfortunately, that doesn't mean this movie is very good. I will, however, admit that my five and three year olds loved the movie, but this was also their first time back in a theater in a long time, so the experience of going maybe a factor. So I'll give two scores, one for kids and one for adults.
Now the wild horse named "Spirit" has been around for a while and has its own franchise since the first movie came out in 2002. The animators actually used a real horse to model for the character, and the real "Spirit" now resides in the Return to Freedom horse sanctuary located here on the Central Coast. You can read all about his journey to the Santa Ynez Valley here. But this story goes away from that.
This movie is about a young girl whose mother dies tragically riding horses in a show. In his grief, the father sends the young girl off to live with her grandfather and aunt for the next ten years only to have them come back when the girl becomes a liability for the grandfather's gubernatorial campaign and then she is sent back out to her father in the frontier. Yep, that's the opening of the movie. Then the typical tropes begin to set in and things are predictable to the letter. The film is nicely animated and has some nice shots to look at, but it couldn't help the writing... even for a kids movie.
For my score, I'll give this a 2/5 stars and was very "ho-hum" for me. My kids really liked it and would probably give it a 3.5/5 stars for them. As a parent, it is not all bad to be back in a theater and in the air conditioning during the summer. Just don't pay more than matinee prices for it. Or just wait... it's bound to be streaming soon.
Cruella - Film Review
Let me start out by saying: This ain't the Cruella you know.
That is something I loved about this: It's fresh! Yes, Disney has a knack for reinventing movies and intellectual properties of their own, but this was worth it. Opening in theaters and on Disney+ at the same time this weekend, I want to also say you should see this on the big screen.
The movie is larger than life and tiptoes on the fantasy realm that Disney lives in. Like, I believe this version of London is the same one that Peter Pan and Mary Poppins visits, albeit a much darker side. Emma Stone does a great job of showing us that she borders on genius and madness and early references calling her "Disney's Joker" does not go unwarranted, especially after watching this film. It's actually fairly similar to Joker, but of course in the Disney universe. Let's also be honest, Cruella, is not a character for kids to look up to. The PG-13 rating is warranted for sure and the film is dark in subject matter and esthetically as well. I might even call this the most Tim Burton-esque movie he never made.
The other standout in all of this is Emma Thompson's character, Baroness. I could watch a movie all around her character all day long. Needless to say, the two Emma's chemistry was electric and they sparked off of each other perfectly. The fun part of this movie is it's rewatchability. There's a lot of scenes where you get quick glimpses of the the hundreds, if not thousands, of costumes used. I never thought I'd want to go back and watch a film again to simply admire it's art direction, but it's that good. Again, the reveals of some of Cruella's outfits are needed on a proper silver screen, not Disney+'s at home experience. There of course is a connection to 101 Dalmatians, but it surprisingly doesn't come until the "mid credit" scene, so STAY!
So if you're worried if you think your kids might not "get it," go see it without the kids and you're going to have a good time regardless. Then if you decide to watch it again with them, you'll be happy to do that too. She is so bonkers, you'll love going on the journey with her, and even be rooting for the baddie! I want another movie! I'm just so worried about those puppies...
Well, it's Memorial Day Weekend in 2021 and the movies are back!
A Quiet Place Part II opens in theaters and before the movie is run, writer, director and star, John Krasinski, appears to greet guests and welcome them back to the theaters and welcome them. In a recent interview he said that A Quiet Place Part II had it's premiere last year, two day before the lockdowns, and now "it's not about our movie. Sure, we hope you come and see our movie, but at this point in time it's about movies in general."
If you saw the 2018 original A Quiet Place movie, then you know that this movie is something that I don't want to spoil. So I won't give away anything that you haven't already seen in the trailers. The original was a very much a novel horror film and the sequel builds on it successfully. In fact, like a true "Part II" it takes place immediately after the first one ends. Well, right after they have a "flashback" sequence of what they call "Day One." We get more insight into relationships the family had with the townspeople before the monsters arrive, and gives us crucial context to relationships that come later.
The movie, much like its successor, has it's main success in it's horror and tension in it's superb sound editing. There is no difference in terms of looks of sets, or the world the characters inhabit (other than the kids are obviously two years older). The storyline is something that goes off of the major plot development at the end of the original film and with great affect. It's something that at the end of the first one we are thinking, "Oh, I can't wait to see them kick these monster's asses now." But as we see in this movie, it's not that easy.
There are plenty of scares and moments that will make you gasp. There's a lot more dialogue in this movie than there is in the first one, so we're losing the novelty of a film where there's almost no dialogue, but again, it is a seamless bridge from one movie to another. You could play these movies back to back, take away the credits, and you would have a hard time spotting the split.
Wrapping up this spoiler free review, I have to say that there were two performances that are of big note. Young performer, Millicent Simmonds, is amazing in being able to perform with just a look. You can get such a feeling from her subtleties in her performance that makes it so genius, and is ultimately what makes you believe the terror happening around her. The other standout is Cillian Murphy, who is no stranger to apocalyptic monster movies, a la 28 Days Later. But here he is transformed into someone who you are both afraid of and sympathetic for, he's real. So if you're picturing him from any Christopher Nolan film or the Peaky Blinders series, you won't recognize him here. I will say I feel that Emily Blunt maybe did this role to appease her real life husband, Krasinski, as she is actually only in about half of the movie and has no major developments throughout the movie. The ending is also a bit sudden and is reminiscent of the first film's ending by not giving us the traditional happy ending. And dare I say it? I'll dare. I can't wait to see "Part III."
This movie is honestly, one of the best ones to go back to theaters to see, and see it with people! There is a honest tension that is palpable in the audience and it's that experience that you really should have. After watching movies at home for a year, I can safely say, it's not the same. It's not. Go to the movies, and check out CinemaSafe, which helps show how theaters are being responsible with re-openings. You won't be disappointed.
So I'm not going to lie...
I've got the movie theater blues, bad! I've been wanting to get back into a theater and watch movies, just like we used to back in the good ol' days, pre COVID-19. But alas, the world is a different place and I don't get to do that yet. Hopefully soon there will be a way we can all get together again and watch movies in theaters and laugh and cry all together. It's really a cathartic experience, which is also why I truly believe movie theaters will live on. But for now, I get to watch new releases from the comfort of my home.
Bill and Ted was one of my favorites growing up as a kid in the 80's. Just enough zany antics to keep any young boy giggling away. The pop culture references of the 80's was all throughout it. It was just a fun ride and got to do something fun that school kids could connect with, which is putting on a history report with the real people to do it for you. The sequel was another fun adventure but dealt with heaven and hell, and even aliens. It was fun.
So when Bill and Ted: Face the Music became available, I had a good feeling this would rekindle my old love of the series and help me get through my movie theater blues. After watching, I declared this movie to be "most non-triumphant."
The movie is pure fan service, from beginning to end. That can only get you so far. There was so much more Bill and Ted traveling in time to go talk to themselves, which got old really fast. Their kids are just female versions of themselves and nothing to do with the princess babes they rescued in the first movie, other than they are females. The "historic" musical figures they collect to put the band together was just kind of "meh." I wanted more Genghis Kahn savaging a mall wearing football pads, or Napoleon going down waterslides.
Instead we're treated with "hey you made music in the past, come with us for a jam session." This is what Bill and Ted's daughters do while they are off trying to steal the universe saving song from themselves. To not spoil anything of note, they all end up dead and on Death's doorstep, literally. But then they get into an argument about how Death was breaking up the band and argued about the falling out. It's a shame that all the returning characters from the old movies didn't really get a chance to shine. Bill and Ted also seem to have no character arc at all in the past 20 years since we have seen them. Ted maybe a little more so, but maybe that's because Keanu Reaves is a much seasoned actor, who can thank the original movie for giving him his stardom, so he put in a little more effort here... just a little.
I was expecting zany, stupid and off-the-wall things to happen. That's just what this is. But I was left disappointed that it all seemed so rushed. The pacing is rushed, including the finale which almost cuts to credits with a murderous slash in the middle of the song. The production looks like it was rushed with far too many green-screen shots than I bet any of the past movies combined. It also looks like it was cheaply made. But then again, that was true to the style of the first two movies, but I feel they could have tried a little harder. There's a part where they go to ancient China and you can easily see camouflage netting just through the trees and fog. They obviously shot somewhere like the gardens of the Huntington Library in Los Angeles and needed to block out all the modern buildings and used that. Again, it seemed rushed and cheap. And don't get me started on the "murder robot" that was trying to be a Terminator.
To be fair, I still giggled at some parts. I smiled and laughed when there were inside moments that built on the past movies. But to me, it was too few and far between. If the movie happens to come on your streaming service, and you liked the past movies, give it a watch. Don't pay for it specifically. I was left wanting more... and I'm not sure what else I really could have asked Bill and Ted for, which was totally bogus.
So it looks like we have all been spending some quality time inside for our own good lately. Lots of people are now caught up on films and television shows they’ve been wanting to see, but what do you do when you have finished your list? Why not revisit some classic films with ties to right here on the Central Coast?
So we, here at the Central Coast Film Society, have put together a Top 10 list of things to watch while sheltering at home. And every one of them has a strong Central Coast connection. Here’s what you might want to dust off and enjoy.
10) Little Giants - Arroyo Grande
In the small village of Arroyo Grande came the feel good film with Rick Moranis and Ed O’Neil. They play brothers living in Urbania, Ohio. Only, it’s actually Arroyo Grande. Watch as the misfit team lead by Moranis train to go up against the big team. A perfect small town, home-grown family comedy.
9) Spartacus - San Simeon
At 190 minutes long, Spartacus is the type of movie to watch to make an event out of it, or when you’re stuck at home all day. Which makes pausing for bathroom breaks a little easier. This classic movie, with Kirk Douglas, Laurence Olivier and directed by Stanley Kubrick, will have you transported back to the glory days of Rome by stopping at Hearst Castle as a backdrop.
8) The Spirit of St. Louis - Santa Maria
Billy Wilder’s production staring James Stewart was filmed all over the world following the story of Charles Lindbergh and his monumental flight from New York to Paris. However, in this movie, they were flying out of Allan Hancock Air Field (now site of Allan Hancock College) in Santa Maria. The film was released in 1957 and only a couple years later the airport closed as the US-101 was rerouted to it’s current location.
7) Pete’s Dragon - Point Buchon
This classic Disney film was set in Passamaquoddy, Maine but was filmed on this coast! The lighthouse seen in the film was built near Montana De Oro State Park, on Point Buchon, with special permission by the Coast Guard. You can still hike to that location, but you won’t find a lighthouse anymore. It was quickly dismantled after production to not confuse passing ships.
6) Of Mice And Men - Santa Ynez Valley
Directed and staring Gary Sinise, this film was filmed extensively in the Santa Ynez Valley. This classic John Steinbeck novel is a heavy drama was praised by critics but didn’t do that well in the box office. The 1939 version of the story was filmed a little further north in San Luis Obispo and the Hearst Ranch.
5) Outbreak - Santa Ynez Valley
What is a pandemic without watching a movie like this? With it’s huge ensemble cast, most of the movie takes place in Northern California. But watch carefully when Dustin Hoffman and Cuba Gooding Jr. are in a helicopter trying to divert an Air Force plane (that flew out from Vandenberg AFB). You can see they’re flying over the Santa Ynez Mountain Range.
4) The Rocketeer - Santa Maria
Walt Disney got their toes wet in comic book superhero films with The Rocketeer in 1991. Much of the film’s non-Los Angeles locations were shot at the Santa Maria Airport and surrounding areas. The film was well received, but plans for sequels were scrapped after the movie only performed “modestly” at the box office. Director Joe Johnston would go on to make another comic book film: Captain America: The First Avenger.
3) Batman: The Movie - Santa Barbara
Bam! Pow! Batman’s first big screen appearance showed the caped crusader running along Stern’s Wharf in Santa Barbara looking for the villain’s secret lair. While most everyone enjoys all the various and recent versions of Gotham City, it might be time to go revisit what started all the fun with this campy and fun movie.
2) Scarface - Santa Barbara
Al Pacino’s Tony Montana is a story that Walter White could only dream of. In the carnage infused climax at Tony’s Miami mansion, you may recognize that it’s actually in Santa Barbara. The scene also seems to have inspired part of the Harold Ramis comedy, Bedazzled with Brendan Fraser that had an action-packed drug lord compound scene that was also filmed in Santa Barbara.
1) HBO’s John Adams - Santa Maria
Yes, this isn’t a movie, but this Golden Globe winning series is a masterpiece from HBO and perfect to binge at home as we head into Memorial Day and Independence Day on an election year. Earlier this year was the 250th anniversary of the Boston Massacre, which is depicted in the opening parts of this series. It follows Paul Giamatti as John Adams in a remarkable telling of the man’s life. What you may not know is a good portion of the visual effects were done in Santa Maria by CafeFX, also known for doing effects in movies like Pan’s Labyrinth or The Mist.
BUT WAIT... there's one more.
Mystery Science Theater 3000: The Touch of Satan - Santa Ynez Valley
Alright, this one is so special it needs it’s own category. Ever see movies that are so bad they’re funny? Well, that’s what Mystery Science Theater 3000 does all the time. You can binge bad movies until the cows come home, but if you want something with a local backdrop then watch this beauty. Filmed in 1971 Santa Ynez Valley, this horror film is worthy of the bad jokes that two robots and a trapped spaceman fire at it.
So if you've been inside for a really long time and feeling a little stir crazy, this may help fix your brain. You can actually watch Season 10, Episode 8 of the show online for free right now. Take a look below!
Onward - Film Review
I have to just come right out and say that I love that Disney has made a fantasy film for young adults! To make magical and mythical creatures cool again was just a joy to see. But of course we all know that Pixar like to take our hearts, tear it into tiny little shreds, and then rebuild it lovingly and send us out with a nice hug.
The story is about two brothers whom the elder one barely knew his dad and the youngest wasn't even born when he died. Via some magic handed down to them, they were given a chance to bring their dad back for one day. Of course, the spell doesn't work out so well and they are only able to bring back his lower half. So the brothers set out on a quest to find another magical source so they can get a chance to see their dad one last time.
Reading that synopsis probably gives you the idea that this movie probably isn't for little kids, and I don't think it is! This is a far more mature story than I think younger kids would have a harder time to wrap their heads around it. Sure there are moments of pure slapstick comedy like any great animated film would have, but the story team at Pixar took the broken heart of a broken family and was able to put those feelings into the audience. Pixar has mastered the sorcery of making audiences feel exactly what they want you to, and that just proves their writing and storytelling skills are almost always firing on all cylinders. If you grew up with a broken family, you can't help but be touched in someway by this film. Be prepared!
Of course all the magic that Disney could conjure up still didn't arrive without some flaws. For me, some Pixar films made my jaw hit the floor with it's near photo-realistic rendering. I'm thinking of more recent films like Cars 3 or Finding Dory. But this one, although beautiful shots were throughout, felt a little stale. Maybe it was the extra characters all looked too similar and not so different. Maybe the animation seemed to be more "cartoonish" than watching how cars drive and fish swim. But then in the other hand, this is a fantasy film! You can't expect any realism to it. However, the charm is this is about taking Lord of the Rings and putting it in a contemporary setting, and doing it with charm and heart. I will also point out, when the brother voiced by Chris Pratt, talks about his last time he saw his father was near identical of his Guardians of the Galaxy character's moment with his mother. Ironically, his brother is voiced by Tom Holland, who is probably the best incarnation of Spider-Man, and shared screen-time with Pratt in the last two Avengers movies. With this said, I really want to see a live-action movie with these two in it!
Go see Onward and be prepared to have your heart touched as magic runs from opening frame to the last. Also, get there early to see Disney's attempt of making The Simpsons short cartoon the prelude to the feature (which I'm not sure how I feel about, to be honest). It's going to be great for the older kids, which is probably why The Simpsons made it's appearance here. And if you love fantasy films, Dungeons & Dragons or anything with magic, you'll love going Onward.
Rating: 4/5 Stars
Well... I didn't see that coming.
Going into this movie, I wasn't looking for much more than a relaunch of the movie originally intended for Universal's Dark Universe. This was Universal's response to Disney/Marvel and Warner Brother's own comic book universes, where all the stand alone characters in their intellectual properties would collide. The film was originally slated to include Johnny Depp as the titular character, but it was scrubbed and turned into this film after The Mummy, starring Tom Cruise, failed to launch the franchise after the one movie. A movie with Javier Bardem as Frankenstein's monster was also canceled. Personally, I didn't think The Mummy was all that bad and I was excited to see Universal embrace the property they have: their monsters. So admittedly, I was not excited to see the scraps of this movie after the Dark Universe collapsed into a cinematic black hole, but I'm glad I saw it!
This movie is not without it's many faults, and in someways does feel like Frankenstein's monster lurching around the screen, but take it for what it is. It's a suspenseful and psychological thriller that has it's origins in a classic monster movie. Lots of shots of empty hallways, doorways and other empty space that by the end of the movie you're convinced there's an invisible man standing there, waiting for the right moment to mess with your head. Leigh Whannell, of the Saw films, does a fantastic job of building suspense, even though it's incredibly predictable.
Elisabeth Moss does a fantastic job of having one foot in reality and still battling the mental games her ex is playing with her while he can't be seen. If you've seen her in The Handmaid's Tale, it's very similar acting, or maybe even characters. But she does sell the situation and the movie would not be able to have any legs if it wasn't for her performance. Overall, this movie does have it's moments jump-scares and brooding music, but it also has it's moments of "we all saw that coming."
There was a not so subtle cameo (more like mention) of the Central Coast, and I didn't see it coming either. Elisabeth Moss' character is an alumni of Cal Poly Architecture School, and is evident by the sweatshirt she wears, degrees on the wall and mentioned during a job interview. Seeing the movie on the Central Coast is bound to have someone shout out, "Hey, Cal Poly!" like it's a hidden cameo, but it's something that you really can't miss.
This movie is a fun that I wish was still in the Universal monster universe roster, but still happy with the results.
Rating: 3/5 Stars
Here's a trailer for the 2017's Dark Universe by Universal:
The Call of the Wild - Film Review
The Call of the Wild is a tremendously famous novel by Jack London and many versions have been done with this. So now, Twentieth Century Studios (formerly Fox and now owned by Disney), sets out in telling this tale using CGI animals.
Watching this movie I felt like this movie was made specifically for substitute teachers to play during their classroom coverages. It touches, and glosses, over lots of the history behind the novel and it is obviously made with a younger audience in mind. Which is fine, only the material is very hard to adapt for a younger audience. I don't think Jack London had that in mind. It's fascinating to see how the film was marketed, showing Harrison Ford with the dog named "Buck." Ford does a good job with the screen time he has, but he's maybe in the film for about a third of the total run time. He plays an individual with a troubled past and running to the ends of the world to find peace. I wish we had that movie instead.
This story follows "Buck" for the entire movie. From spoiled house dog, to (spoilers) becoming leader of a wolf pack. But along with all the gorgeous nature shots, the experience to me felt a little cheated by all the CGI. It was all very artificial, which still may work with younger audiences, but felt like it was almost a lazy conversation on set of "we'll fix that in post." Also, when the animals are more animated and show more emotion than your on camera actors, that's a bit of a problem if you want to have a more serious film. Also there's some great actors in this film who have a "blink and you missed it" role, which just makes them feel wasted to me.
So take it for what it is: a very mature story told through a cartoon dog's eyes. Then you'll have a decent time.
Rating: 2.5/5 Stars
Birds of Prey - Review
As a followup to Warner Brother's attempted expansion of their DC Universe, Birds of Prey follows up directly after the events from 2016's Suicide Squad. Which almost is as insane as Arkham's inmates, if you look at the Rotten Tomatoes score of Suicide Squad sitting at a 27% fresh critic rating and a 59% audience rating. But I suppose if you see the film made over $700 million at the box office Suicide Squad brought in, I suppose you can see a sequel coming. And actually, Birds of Prey is more of a spin-off than a real sequel and to put it bluntly... it's a mess.
It is without a doubt that Harley Quinn is one of the most popular villains of the DC Universe, and if you've ever been to any Con (convention), you will see hoards of Harley Quinn cosplays. So banking on the love of the character is exactly what Warner Brothers is doing here. They do finally seem to be taking a cue from Marvel, in that they can't be so damn serious all the time and they need to diversify their portfolio. I look to Wonder Woman 1984 as a hopeful sign this is continuing, but this movie can't seem to take anything seriously. Grant it, the movie is really called Birds of Prey (And the Fantabulous Emancipation of One Harley Quinn) and so the entire movie is made with her as the narrator. This does work to benefit the movie and has some nice comedic timing to it, but most of everything else is lost.
Each of the characters in the movie feel as well rounded as a square peg. To his credit, Ewan McGregor does stand out in a predominantly female cast as the super villain, Black Mask. I always enjoy watching actors we don't normally see as bag guys really get down and dirty. And in Birds of Prey's hard R rating, you see plenty of that. Not that it's a bad thing, but many times I was just thinking, "this was inspired by Deadpool." Similar to The Gentlemen, there are no real good guys here, except for the one cop who gets fired, probably because of the obscene shirt she is forced to wear.
There are times when I found myself enjoying bits and pieces of the movie, just because I was going on this ride. Which most of the times was literally dumb luck, or as I see it, just lazy writing. These Birds of Prey seem to just have laid a rotten egg.
Rating: 2/5 Stars
The Gentlemen - Review
As I begin to write this, I think of the title for The Gentlemen, and then I think about who are they talking about? The whole cast of characters are bad and we are brought in to root for our anti-hero. They're all murderers and gangsters and that become very apparent in the opening scene. And the pace never lets up to the very end.
That is to say there is a lot of time jumping and some "fantasy sequences" as Hugh Grant's colorful character, Fletcher, is attempting to blackmail our main anti-hero, Matthew McConaughey's Mickey Pearson, as he has discovered the entire underground weed growing empire. Each of the characters, and actors, are unique and different. Collin Farrell's character, known simply as Coach, is a highlight, along with Hugh Grant.
The film is filled with plot turns and twists enough to keep you guessing and leaves you with a very satisfying conclusion. This is for sure a dark comedy gangster film that modernizes the genre while still maintaining one foot in nostalgic cinematic premises. I am a fan of writer, director and producer Guy Ritchie's Sherlock Holmes films with Robert Downey Jr. and Jude Law, but this is a movie I feel that he was able to spread his wings and just be himself. He has his unique style of camera work as well as humor all throughout this film.
If you're looking for a fun, dark and graphic comedy, this is a movie for you! But it can be a bit much sometimes, and even is borderline gratuitous. Some members of the audience in our theater couldn't stomach the constant blood lust and very graphic language and I saw two separate groups leave and not come back. But for me, it was a very fun ride!
Rating: 3/5 Stars