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 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
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
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
Well, they're bad and badder than ever. Our (in)famous bad boys from 1995 are back and campier than ever. I sat there thinking they're just trying to say the name of the movie as many times as they could. Bad Boys for Life is an action movie that has the camp you'd expect to find from a 90's action movie. Complete with the constant "getting to old for this s**t" groans, James Bond style secret lab with apparently unlimited budgets and a bad guy twist that you see coming from a mile away.
I had someone ask if you need to see other Bad Boy movies to get what's going on here. Not at all. You don't need any backstory, because most of the movie is going back into their back story. Constantly looking back and not progressing anything. Where progress comes, it comes with groans. There's a death of a very familiar character and our villain is somehow forgiven for all of this because of the "big reveal" at the end. I had flashbacks of the "your mother's name is Martha too?" scene (and for those of you who saw Batman Vs. Superman know what I'm talking about).
There's moments of fun action and stunt work, but most of the movie is lost in the sparkling gloss that goes over the entire movie. The humor is hit or miss and that makes it feel just worn out and tired, kind of like our stars (Will Smith and Martin Lawrence). This movie does work as a 90's action popcorn flick, but that was a long time ago and unfortunately, we've moved on.
Rating: 2/5 Stars
What... was... that...?
That's probably what you'd be thinking when (or if) you see this movie. I decided to take the family to go see what appeared to be a fun family movie, and at very least, the kids will like to see the animals run around on the screen. Well that's not true either and they barely were able to stay in the same theater for this movie, but resorted to just jumping around on the chairs of a mostly empty theater. That about sums up the reaction to this movie.
With the cast present and the money spent on this movie, there was so much potential! But it crashed hard. I had heard about a questionable scene that is at the end of the movie, which if you want to know, there is a creature with a blockage, and Dr. Dolittle reaches right up and removes the blockage. I mean, Robert Downey Jr., Antonio Banderas, Michael Sheen and Jim Broadbent have decent on-screen presence, but still can't hold this movie up. Big name actors lend their voices to the animals, including Emma Thompson, Tom Holland, Ralph Fines and Selena Gomez, but they're lost completely in this. Emma Thompson's Poly is maybe the only one you can connect with and is the sole voice of reason.
Lots of questionable choices, but again I saw the potential of actually doing a proper steam-punk style Dr. Dolittle movie could be fantastic! Honestly, there really should be more in that genre, but this movie is a mess. Is it a kids movie? Is it an adult humor movie? I'm still not sure. It was a hard mess and even had times where my wife and I looked at each other like "what... was... that...?"
You'll be scratching your head during and after viewing of this movie, and more than likely it won't even matter to your kids. There's much better stuff out there.
Rating: 1/5 Stars
There has been lots of Oscar buzz around Sam Mendes' WWI epic 1917. But is that buzz justified? Short answer: Absolutely.
The performances, the camera work and the direction is outstanding. If you don't already know, the film is presented as one long take, to be as real-time and first person as possible. That means massive amounts of pre-planning, massive set pieces and massive amounts of extras. You do have small intimate moments but it does get big at times.
We follow two young soldiers who are given a special mission. Scattered throughout the film are a few A-List actors who give great performances, albeit brief ones. They play characters who have large ranks, and it seems like the more popular the actor, the higher the rank. Which I thought was an interesting take, because to the soldiers themselves, generals, colonels and other officers were sometimes celebrities themselves among their men. But their roles are brief as the camera is always moving, always following our heroes on their journey.
I wanted to love the hell out of this movie. I am a huge fan of Saving Private Ryan and as the film progressed, I started to feel that this movie IS Saving Private Ryan but set in a different war. Also, having the camera seemingly never cut became, to me at least, a distraction. The movie was not shot all in one take, rather several very long takes and then cleverly edited together. However, I began looking for those edits, hunting for those, rather than thinking about the story.
But on a technical level, I think Sam Mendes did an amazing accomplishment and feat in this movie that should be experienced on the big screen. It's moving, well performed and has some of the best production design you'll see in a WWI movie. I also want to commend the visual effects team who helped paint out some of the tools of the movie making process (wires, roads, crews, etc.). It really feels like you're there.
Mark my words: This will win a lot (if not then some of the top) of Oscar gold.
Rating: 4/5 Stars
PS: for a bonus, check out this behind-the-scenes video.
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.