The Woman King
REVIEW COMING SOON!
While at this point in time, I might consider 'Maverick' to be my favourite of 2022, I have to admit that 'Bullet Train' gives it some very stiff competition. I may have to do them both back to back by the end of the year just to establish which one I thought was better. Truth be told, on this side of the comparison, 'Bullet Train' was much more an, as I so often put it, "Up My Alley" type of film, made with plenty of style, and substance, and meant for a good time as opposed to something to be taken too seriously.
The comparison I have given this is if Guy Ritchie directed a 'Deadpool' movie, as so much of the style of the film is very Guy Ritchie, and could easily be compared to his films 'Lock, Stock' and 'Snatch'. The 'Deadpool' comparison comes more from its director, David Leitch, who also did 'Deadpool 2', and therefore a LOT of the dialogue is reminiscent of it. Hell, Brad Pitt, himself here is almost a Deadpool-like character with his comedic delivery. Having said all of that, this has also been accused of being a Guy Ritchie ripoff, and it's kind of easy to see why... but the thing is, that style is what I loved so much about it, so it's very hard to be upset about it, personally. In fact, I'd love to see the two collaborate one day.
Former assassin, codename "Ladybug" (Pitt), is assigned to a Kyoto-bound bullet train in order to retrieve a briefcase. Also aboard the train are a variety of characters who add all of the charm to the film; A grieving father named Yuichi Kimura (Andrew Koji), who seeks revenge after his son was pushed off a roof; a young lady calling herself the "Prince" (Joey King); two assassin brothers codenamed "Lemon" and "Tangerine" (Brian Tyree Henry and Aaron Taylor-Johnson, respectively) who are the briefcase keepers, so to speak; a mystery man type known as The Elder (Hiroyuki Sanada) another assassin called the "Wolf" (Bad Bunny) and several others that will probably make this paragraph too damn long.
It ends up being one of those "everyone is connected to the situation" type of stories, mainly centring on the death of Kimura's son, and the whole briefcase situation. Otherwise, the film is loaded with hilarious moments, great action, and a cast of characters and cameos who keep popping up all throughout that goes further than anyone I've already mentioned - too many of them are pleasant surprises I don't want to spoil. Above anything else, though, is the fact that this is probably the most fun I've had in the theater this year with a movie. It's almost like it's a tide-over for 'Deadpool 3', as you get all of that proper comedic delivery all of us 'Deadpool' fans are craving so much here.
Once again, it should be said that I do have a particular bias towards movies that are this stylistic and fun. That's all I wanted to experience with this, and I got all of that and then some. For me, it was such a good time, and it makes me want to explore more of David Leitch's material - as well as writer Zak Olkewicz, to whom I must also give credit. He doesn't have much under his belt aside from 'Fear Street Part Two' (which, incidentally, was probably my favourite of the three), but I hope he keeps going. He's got some potential! Anyway, if you want to just have a lot of fun with a movie this year, I feel like I can recommend this one pretty highly.
Minions: The Rise of Gru
By now, I think it's probably safe to say that the Minions are typically seen as one of two things - adorable, innocent and fun or irritating, invasive and simply there for the cash-in. I tend to lean a little more towards the first opinion, although with the full realization that indeed, these little yellow fellows are money makers and that's generally the reason these films exist anymore. At no point was it more painfully obvious than the last 'Minions' movie of 2015.
Thankfully, this one managed to come along and actually make us care about Gru (Steve Carell) again for the first time since probably 'Despicable Me 2'. While the Minions do play their titular part as expected, the story is much more about, well, the rise of Gru. It's actually a pretty good example of a trailer that delivers all the Minion madness we've come to expect from these films (whether we like it or not), but the final product ends up much better than we thought it was going to be. And while it serves as yet another origin story, I kind of like how it works out, fitting right in-between 'Minions' and the first 'Despicable Me' - arguably the lowest and highest points of the series, respectively.
Here, we go back to 1976 when Gru, at just 11 years old, aspires to one day become a supervillain. His first step to success was to hire the Minions to assist him in his work. From there, Gru eventually receives an invitation to audition for the five remaining supervillain members of The Vicious 6. Now, let's just take a moment to take in the voice-casting here. The Vicious 6 consists of Belle Bottom (Taraji P. Henson) - a disco-themed villain who has replaced their former leader, Wild Knuckles (Alan Arkin); Jean-Clawed (Jean-Claude Van Damme) - a Frenchman with a big lobster claw for a right arm; Svengeance (Dolph Lundgren) - a Swedish roller skating champion; Stronghold (Danny Trejo) - the obvious brute of the group; and Nunchuck (Lucy Lawless) - an old nun master of the nunchaku.
Needless to say, due to Gru's young age, he's essentially taken as a joke rather than any sort of contender for the 6th member of the band. However, in the same room lies the famous Zodiac Stone. During its heist was when Wild Knuckles was actually betrayed by the rest of the group and presumed dead afterwards. In an attempt to prove himself worthy to join the group, with the help of Minions Kevin, Stuart and Bob (all Pierre Coffin), Gru manages to steal the Zodiac Stone giving it to Otto - a chubby Minion with an actual personality. But when Otto foolishly trades the Zodiac Stone for a pet rock, a chain of events begins to unravel to truly test Gru's talents, including working alone after angrily firing the Minions, and martial arts training from Master Chow (Michelle Yeoh).
Personally speaking, I find myself somewhat stuck with the whole Minion thing. I have always loved the first 'Despicable Me' movie as a solid, feel-good story. From there, while mildly enjoying each film after that for the silly fun they were, nothing has ever felt the same as that first movie - not even 'DM2', which is actually often referred to as the "best one" as well. But with that said, I think I might put this one in a second-place position. I kind of like the origin story of Gru here, the Minions, though heavily featured, do take a bit of a back seat to everything else, the voice-casting for the Vicious 6 is actually kind of amazing, and strangely enough, it actually makes for a decent story.
So, as far as Minions go, I tend to say that I have a "soft spot" for them. It's like this - if I were in a room full of Minions, I'd likely get annoyed and try to leave. But then I'd look back and see all their puppy dog eyes, feel really bad about getting annoyed and decide to go party with them. I absolutely get how they can irritate people, especially with the idea that they're so profitable, but I do still get a kick out of them. Somehow, they can still manage to tickle my funny bone. And here, it helps a great deal that the focus isn't on them so much as it's on the origin story of Gru. Hopefully, if they crank out any more of these, they can stick to this formula. The Minions will always work best as side characters, even if the movie they're in is named after them.
The Bob's Burgers Movie
When it comes to animated adaptations of adult cartoon shows, we have a good amount of winners. 'The Simpsons Movie' pulled it off somehow after 18 seasons, and even the crappy animation of 'South Park' outdid itself with their movie back in '99. I have to admit that while I love me some 'Bob's Burgers', the film actually left me kind of disappointed. That's not to say I didn't have fun with it, but it quite honestly felt like there needed to be more to it.
I think, first and foremost, one should probably be a bit of a fan before wandering into this. At the very least, take the time to get to know these characters a little, or I think some of the comedy that comes through with character charms can get lost on someone. Imagine seeing the 'Simpsons Movie' without knowing Homer first - it'd still be funny, but it's much funnier knowing the kind of clod that Homer is already. I feel like the same is true here of the Belcher Family; Bob (H. Jon Benjamin), Linda (John Roberts), Tina (Dan Mintz), Gene (Eugene Mirman) and Louise (Kristen Schaal)
The film kicks off at the beginning of Summer when Bob and Linda find themselves in financial trouble. They are rejected on a business loan, given a week to make payment, and to make matters much worse, an underground water main breaks right in front of the Bob's Burgers restaurant (which Bob and Linda own and live above, for those of you who are new here). It turns out, however, that the hole in front of the restaurant is actually the scene of a crime, which gives Bob and Linda a sort of hopelessness in their whole situation. So the main Bob and Linda story is about them trying to save their restaurant and not be kicked out of their house, home and business.
Now, for as much as we love Bob and Linda, the kids are almost an even bigger part of the show. The thing is, none of their stories are necessarily interesting or very different from what the show has to offer. Tina's nervous about asking Jimmy Jr. to be her "summertime boyfriend" and has to overcome that, Gene is experimenting with a new musical instrument he created, and Louise (whose story is probably most intriguing) tries to show up a school bully to prove she's not a "baby" because of her bunny ears that she has such an attachment to. Louise, Bob and Linda are very much the carriers of this movie.
With that said, I will give the film credit that for once we see these kids in their respective situations begin to doubt themselves. What if Tina's crush on "J-Ju" is all it will ever be with no positive results? What if Gene's new instrument is just an annoyance? What if the bully is actually right about Louise's attachment to her bunny ears? It gets somewhat interesting, but I have to say that at the end of the day, it really just feels like a long episode of the show. This could have been a made-for-TV special presentation, and I feel it lacks the quantity that 'Simpsons' and 'South Park' did with their movies.
One thing for sure is that if you're looking for your favourite side characters here, don't get your hopes up too high. There are plenty of very brief, minor appearances, and Linda's annoyingly hilarious sister Gale isn't in it at all (which, admittedly, some might be happy about). Keep in mind that this is very much a movie focused on the family as opposed to anything going on, on the side. Perhaps the biggest star here, however, is the bumped-up quality of animation. Things are cleaner and smoother, and we see the characters move in ways we haven't seen before (like in 'South Park' when we first saw them moving in three dimensions).
I think if you plan on checking this out in theaters right now (as I write this, it's still about as fresh as Bob's Burger of the Day) do it soon because it's completely failing to follow 'Top Gun' and its massive box office success, AND 'Jurassic World' is coming. That said, please note that this is not at all a must-see in theaters, and is probably just as worth it to wait until you can rent it or it comes onto a streaming service. I enjoyed it but compared to movies like 'South Park' and 'Simpsons' adapting things into what feels like a movie as opposed to their regular show, it falls pretty short in comparison. BUT, it does have a Rotten Tomato average of 88.5%, so maybe I'm not the one to be listening to, and there was something I just didn't quite get. So, if curiosity hits you as a fan of the show, go nuts! I hope you like it more than I did (not that I hated it or anything).
I love a movie like this because, in recommending it, the target audience is easy to figure out; fans of the featured actor. While my personal favourite is still probably 'My Name is Bruce' (featuring Bruce Campbell as himself), I have to say that this is a very close second. This one is for any one of us who has thrived on Nicolas Cage's extreme over-acting abilities over the years. It may not quite be Cage at his "Cage-iest", but it definitely satisfies the Cage-craving one will be looking for.
Nicolas Cage (as himself) is living a close-to-has-been life in Hollywood, being passed over for several roles, and constantly arguing with his alter-ego "Nicky" (who is the version of Cage we really wanna see). Nicky is essentially the younger side of him that gave him success, and torments him about being washed up. If that's not enough, his family life is also suffering due to years of emotional neglect, being constantly away from his now ex-wife Olivia (Sharon Horgan) and, more importantly, daughter Addy (Lily Mo Sheen). This all leads to Cage planning on retirement, once and for all, in order to get his life together.
Cage's agent, Richard Fink (Neil Patrick Harris) offers him a deal of $1 million to head to Majorca in the Balearic Islands near Spain to be the guest of honour a billionaire Javi Gutierrez's (Pedro Pascal) birthday. The two eventually bond, especially over a shared love of movies, but soon Cage learns that he may be in over his head when CIA agents Vivian (Tiffany Haddish) and Martin (Ike Barinholtz) enter the scene, claiming that Javi is a wanted arms dealer, and responsible for the kidnapping of an anti-crime politician's daughter, Maria (Katrin Vankova).
Reluctantly, Cage decides to help the CIA despite his newfound friendship. In the meantime, however, he can't help but take Javi's ideas for a collaborative movie script into consideration. So it ends up being a bit of a rock-and-a-hard-place situation for Mr. Cage. As one would expect, it delivers just fine on Nick Cage being the Nick Cage we've come to love, and it's really cool to see him able to make fun of himself in various aspects of his life - like the idea of him being a film buff trying to share obscure movies like 'The Cabinet of Dr. Caligari' with his teenage daughter. It's a fantastic feat of cinematic production for its time, but it's very clear that not everyone is gonna appreciate something like it these days.
There's really not much more to say about it. I'd break it down simply to recommending it to fans of Nicolas Cage, because that's the clear target audience. The film takes place in a "real-life" scenario, but it doesn't shy away from the over-the-top comedic action that we've come to love Nick Cage for these days. Again, there's plenty of his eccentricity to satisfy the sweet-tooth, and as a loose fan (I don't necessarily like him in everything I've seen him in, but love his extreme acting) I can honestly say that I had a lot of fun with it. I might further highly recommend seeing it with people who will appreciate the "Caginess" of it all.
The Lost City
This one seems to have floated a little under the radar, as the titles surrounding its release date have seemingly had more pull. 'Everything Everywhere All at Once' was released the same week, and it's difficult to stand out when the following weeks would release 'Morbius' and 'Sonic 2'. But I digress. I'm actually kind of happy to say that I found this to be a bit of a hidden gem. Nowhere near perfect, but really quite fun, nonetheless.
A reclusive romance novelist named Loretta Sage (Sandra Bullock) writes her stories based on adventure, and they feature a recurring character named Dash McMahon whose basis is cover model Alan Caprison (Channing Tatum). During a book tour, we see the relationship between the two as people seem far more interested in the sexy model than the struggling author. Though off to a rough start, Sage is soon met by Abigail Fairfax (Daniel Radcliffe), who, despite not enjoying her books, realizes that Loretta has done real, historical research in her writing.
As a result, Fairfax believes that he's stumbled on a lost city in the Atlantic in which a priceless relic called the "Crown of Fire" might be. But when Loretta disagrees to help Fairfax find this crown, she ends up kidnapped and hauled off to the island. When Alan witnesses this, he enlists the help of a former Navy SEAL named Jack Trainer (Brad Pitt). Without spoiling too much, things don't go all too well on this rescue mission, and soon the inexperienced Alan and Loretta find themselves on the run in the jungles of some unknown island.
A fun side to the movie includes Loretta's publisher, Beth Hatten (Da'Vine Joy Randolph), who goes on her own rescue mission, all the while having a back-and-forth with Oscar (Oscar Nuñez); a sort of random comic relief character who takes her to the island. It's a good chunk that doesn't really need to be there, but it's sort of parallel to Matthew McConaughey popping up to deliver a TIVO in 'Tropic Thunder'. It's there for a good, solid chuckle, and it's effective, but it's not really necessary. I admit to always being a fan of stuff like that, provided they have fun with it, which they did.
But when all said and done, the final question is whether or not the film is worth it. After all, there's quite honestly plenty here that we've seen done before, the ending is highly predictable, and not much comes as a surprise while you're watching it. The fun factor, however, is what drives this film. Bullock and Tatum actually play quite well off each other, but Tatum still delivers that humour the dudes can love just as much as the women, and he's thankfully not there to just be eye candy (as the film otherwise seems to suggest in its plot).
On top of that, there's really no performance here that was disappointing. Radcliffe owned his role as a sort of loser of a villain when we know him so well as Harry Potter; Bullock gives a good range in her performance; Pitt seems to really be accepting of his late roles of a "lesser" character (like Vanisher in 'Deadpool 2' for about 2 seconds), and they all provide the aforementioned "fun factor" to the film. It's another case of an old idea with a freshly visualized execution. It's not something one must-see in theaters, but I do still recommend checking it out whenever you get the chance.
This is a movie that very much delves into family, as we open with a story along with a musical number, giving us a nice dose of magical family history. Years ago, a young woman named Alma Madrigal and her husband, Pedro, are forced to flee their home with their three newborn children, Julieta, Pepa and Bruno. Sadly, Pedro falls in combat, but Alma manages to escape the fight with the three kids.
Fortunately, Alma happens upon a magical candle which provides her with a sentient house, known as the "Casita" (which makes total sense when you look at translations) for them to live in. Eventually, a whole village grows around the Casita, and the now grown up Madrigal family helps the village to grow and thrive. The Casita further grants the family special abilities to help these villagers. However, Bruno, having gained the gift of precognition, causes a lot of controversy and is ostracized by the family.
The main story here focuses on the youngest daughter of Julieta (Angie Cepeda), Mirabel (Stephanie Beatriz), who we discover is a bit of a black sheep in that she gains no special abilities. She does, however, have a big heart, and considers her family to be all the blessing she really needs. One night, when the film provides an awesome example of the ability-gaining process, Mirabel finds a crack in the Casita. Fearing the worst, she tries to warn the family, but goes unheard, so naturally, she takes the mystery into her own hands, and the adventure goes from there.
Along the way, we meet a variety of interesting family members and their abilities; namely, her sisters. There's her sister, Luisa (Jessica Darrow), with superhuman strength; cousin, Isabela (Diane Guerrero), who can make flowers grow; other cousin, Dolores (Adassa), with superhuman hearing and several more. All of the voice acting is solid here, and the songs are no exception. This is quite honestly one of few Disney animated films where I actually liked every song on its soundtrack. They all have this specific Colombian rhythm to them you can't help but find catchy.
On top of all that, I have to appreciate the originality of the film's overall concept, while still using that "uncanny abilities" concept. I also like the fact that they don't see these as superpowers as though they're superheroes. They just kind of help with things around their village without ever having to face some big evil villain who wants *insert greedy desire here*. This is actually a great example of how to expand on the, shall we say, "superhero" concept while keeping things rather quite original in other ways. It also feels as authentically Colombian as 'Coco' feels authentically Mexican.
There's even more to appreciate here as the film does things like have the heroine be the one who isn't superhuman in any way. It provides a good sense of "girl power" we should be seeing more of, but without cramming it down our throats. It's all topped off with a positive message about the importance of family, but does so in a way that I think whole families can relate to rather than just the kids watching. I have to admit, Disney animation has been reaching Pixar quality levels over the past several years, and this one is definitely no exception. I honestly loved it.
It has been said several times before, but 1984's 'Ghostbusters' is what I consider to be my favourite film of all time. So there's going to be quite a lot for me to get through and express with this review. First, I will go through on a critical standpoint, as I can see a lot of reason that the critics aren't as keen as the fans. Then, I will go through as a fan, and eventually draw my conclusion. There's a lot to unpack here, so let's just start with our basic plot.
The film opens 30-someodd years after the events of 'Ghostbusters II'. I don't want to say too much about how the film opens, as to me, it was one of the more intriguing parts of the movie. But we do eventually meet Egon Spengler's estranged family; daughter, Callie (Carrie Coon), and grandkids, Phoebe (Mckenna Grace) and Trevor (Finn Wolfhard). While Trevor is a bit more what one would consider a "normal" teenager, Phoebe largely takes after her grandfather - not only in the ways of science, but she has his dry sense of humour and general attitude as well.
They find out that Egon is no longer with us (just like in real life, may he rest in peace), and further find out that the only inheritance he left them was a creepy old farm house in the middle of a quaint little town called Summerville - home to the Shandor mining operations. One may remember the mention of Ivo Shandor in the '84 movie - an architect, and head of the cult of Gozer. Well, again, not to spoil anything, but there's definitely a reason that this old farmhouse is located where it is.
Phoebe ends up taking a summer science course, "taught" by seismologist, Gary Grooberson (Paul Rudd), whose method of teaching is basically to throw on a horror movie for the kids who don't wanna be there. Phoebe also meets "Podcast" (Logan Kim), who quickly becomes her lab partner, and kudos to the movie for not forming a romantic relationship here! Podcast is sort of the Venkman-like comedy relief here, and does a pretty good job of it. I can't deny getting a few genuine chuckles from the kid. Although Phoebe gave me the biggest laugh with a certain joke she tells about a hamster and a cigarette (you might already know it. It's terrible but hilarious.)
In the meantime, Trevor meets a waitress named Lucky (Celeste O'Connor), and gets a job at her diner in an attempt to get to know her better. The two kids slowly reveal their discoveries around the house, giving us great shivers of nostalgia. While Phoebe finds a PKE meter and, eventually, a proton pack, Trevor finds Ecto-1. Eventually, it all comes together, and the kids find themselves in the midst of Gozer's potential big comeback. Can they keep Gozer at bay? But more importantly, where are the guys!?
Now, critically, I can tell you right off the bat some of the problems with this film. Whether you agree to them being "problems" is totally up to you, but just to recognize where critics are coming from, I'm gonna play devil's advocate here. For starters, it's extremely nostalgic, and loaded with easter eggs for us hardcore fans. Some are subtle, like a Nestle Crunch bar found in Egon's flight suit pocket, referencing the moment Venkman gives it to him in the beginning of the '84 film. Others, almost cringeworthy. The way the line "who ya gonna call?" is brought into play here is honestly kind of ridiculous, and borders on a bad Dad joke. One might even say this is the 'Force Awakens' of 'Ghostbusters' movies.
Now, with all that said, as a die hard fan, none of this was actually that big of a problem for me. I had to consider certain things, especially with the famous line. It's really not like the first two movies didn't have moments like that. What about in '2' when they do the "Do, Ray, Egon" gag? And the first one? You can't honestly tell me the Stay Puft Marshmallow Man isn't corny as all hell. That's kind of what makes it all work though. So there's a part of me that might feel incomplete without a nice chunk of cheese. And as far as the nostalgia goes, I feel like that's absolutely necessary here - at least to a certain extent.
'Ghostbusters' fans have been waiting for this "Ghostbusters 3" for a very long time, and it's already technically happened twice, but also technically hasn't. At one point, the video game was actually considered your 'GB3', complete with the proper voices, and taking place earlier on. One might also say the same for the '16 film, but I'd never consider that a sequel of any sort, simply due to the fact that the original cast returns to play cameos, and other characters. This is about as "true" as a 'GB3' has ever really been (although I honestly think the game was more what we were looking for).
This wait has been so long that I can't really deny that there was a part of this that felt "too little, too late". But with that said, I certainly enjoyed the film quite a lot. Being that the '84 film IS my favourite, it's not about to be dethroned by any further GB material because of what it means to me. 'Ghostbusters' was lightning in a bottle that cannot be recaptured quite as well, so I already knew I wasn't going to be as blown away as I may have hoped. But I will say that this does provide an almost perfect love letter to those original movies - namely the first. There's no reason for a 'Ghostbusters' fan NOT to enjoy it, in my opinion. But just know that it won't be as special as that original movie.
The Hitman's Wife's Bodyguard
'The Hitman's Bodyguard' was a movie that I found to be quite a bit of fun, and though not necessarily a great flick, it gave me laughs, and delivered more or less what I expected. I saw it based on the idea of Ryan Reynolds and Sam Jackson playing off each other, which is honestly still something that sounds kind of amazing. The overall result was more of a randomized giggle-fest than something that made me constantly laugh out loud. Its sequel, here, isn't really something I feel different about. They are a fun couple of movies, good for a laugh, but nothing about them is as knee-slappingly hilarious as one might feel it could be.
To recap the previous film, bodyguard Michael Bryce (Reynolds) is hired by an old flame to escort and protect a pro-assassin named Darius Kincaid (Jackson) so he can testify against a tyrant named Dukhovich (Gary Oldman), guilty of a share of unspeakable crimes. Kincaid and Bryce find themselves ducking and dodging Dukhovich's constant attacks, however, and the result ends up being a pretty witty sort of buddy cop film, without it really being a buddy cop film. It was a film not without its charm, something I'd watch again, but not something I'd rush to watch again. This is a touch different, but it's very much an excuse to get these characters back on screen again for those who want to see more of Reynolds being Reynolds and Jackson being Jackson (which, by the way, I am guilty of anyway, so no worries there).
As this one picks up, we meet up with Bryce, who is trying to retire from the bodyguarding game after the events of the last film. He speaks to his therapist who suggests a vacation, which, of course, he goes on. However, while on his vacation, he is interrupted by Sonia Kincaid (Salma Hayek) who finds him there, under the impression her husband, Darius, is in a lot of trouble, needing his help. After the rescue, and instead of that being the plot, the trio are caught by Interpol agent Bobby O'Neill (Frank Grillo), needing their help to find a terrorist named Aristotle Papadopoulos (Antonio Banderas), who is plotting against the European Union, wanting to bring down the European power grid and infrastructure. Mission follows, humour ensues, and it's not quite as good as the first.
Although I have a sort of bias towards both Reynolds and Jackson (I just love the guys as people, let alone a lot of the roles they play), much like the first film, I left this thinking it probably could have been better, but I'm also not turning my nose up at it. I got my fair share of giggles, it was more or less what I expected, and I don't really have any genuine complaints about it. The only thing that got a little bit under my skin was Selma Hayak's dialogue. They seem to go out of their way to make her the loud, vicious, no-shit-taking Mexican American stereotype. A lot of her humour has to do with how loud she is and how she pronounces things, and I know she can do much better. Reynolds and Jackson are pretty much what one would expect, but they don't manage to go as all out as they could have.
I would say I like the first one better, but to be honest, I could find myself bored one night and giving these a nice back-to-back viewing. It's the kind of movie I'm not excited to see again, but it would make for a mildly fun double feature. Something to watch if you're sick at home, or just plain bored with nothing to do. These are a couple of movies that I have a tough time recommending to just anyone, but I would probably argue that it's perfectly watchable for Reynolds and/or Jackson fans. I think a lot of critics frown on these titles, but I choose to go somewhat against the grain on this one. I didn't love it, and it wasn't without its fair share of problems, but I have to admit that I still enjoyed it for what it was.
Here we have one of the 2020 titles that has been pushed back time and time again that I've pretty much been chomping at the bit for since first seeing a trailer back in late 2019. This seemed to have a concept that was right up my alley, featured Ryan Reynolds in the lead (because who doesn't love the guy?), and looked like it offered some pretty awesome visual effects, along with a gaming easter egg or two. Little did I know, however, that the trailer only scratched the surface on what this movie was all about. Most of what's awesome about this movie isn't actually seen in its trailers.
What we know before going into the movie is that it features a Non-Playable Character (or NPC) named Guy (Reynolds) existing in an open-world, online game called 'Free City'. He works as a bank teller with his best friend, a security guard named Buddy (Lil Rel Howery), blissfully unaware that his life exists within a video game as he goes through the same bank heist routine day in, day out, to the point where it's just part of his day. He begins to deviate from his programming, however, when he runs into user "Molotov Girl" who he claims is the "girl of his dreams". This leads to him eventually stealing a user's sunglasses (users have sunglasses, NPCs do not) and developing a mind of his own, with the ability to see the gamer's display.
Meanwhile, in the real world, we learn that 'Free City' is a famous game whose code was actually stolen from a game called 'Life Itself', created by our two real-world leads, Walter "Keys" McKey (Joe Keery) and Millie Rusk (Jodie Comer). Keys finds himself actually working for Soonami, the company that stole his work and defends things with the impression their creation is still famous, even though it went another route. Millie, however, isn't so forgiving as she spends time playing 'Free City' in search of hints of proof that their code was stolen by Soonami's head developer, the eccentric Antwan (Taika Waititi). She spends her time in the game as "Molotov Girl", and soon enough, without spoling too much, we learn what the connection is between the now self-aware Guy (who takes the time to level up his character and become super famous as "Blue Shirt Guy"), and the pair of 'Life Itself' developers.
This was a fine example of a movie that not only gave me what I wanted to see, but offered more, and the more it offered, the more things about the movie made sense. I went into this thinking it was going to be some fun, mindless, Ryan Reynolds action with some solid comedy. However, when the film is all over, you do manage to see things on a somewhat deeper level than you probably thought you were going to experience. In its own way, the film is actually kind of beautiful, and does a good job of exploring how a self-aware NPC may think, work, etc. I enjoy the fact that when he starts levelling up, he does it very quickly, as it's very likely that his familiarity with the inner workings of the game far exceed the average users.
If I was to mish-mash this together, comparing it to other movies, it's almost like taking 'Ready Player One', 'Scott Pigrim' and throwing them in a blender with 'Eternal Sunshine' and something like 'Inception'. There's a very dream-like quality to things here, but it does a good job at giving us the balance between what's going on in the real world vs what's going on in the game. In some ways, the main character of the film isn't even Guy so much as its Keys and everything he has to put up with in the real world, with Millie acting as the "messenger" in and out of the game. I loved the way everything came together; not necessarily predictable, and when it's all said and done, I was happy about the way things went.
This has a great fun factor to it, and all sorts of easter eggs to keep an eye out for. I'm a sucker for a film where you have to pay attention to the plot but there's so much going on in the background that one might very well miss. It's not like 'Ready Player One' where it's literally everywhere, but it's generally subtly done, and you'll catch a few neat things like the less obvious Mega Man's Mega Buster, or the more obvious Portal Gun (which isn't exactly the same, but we all know what it's supposed to be). It does happen one time where Disney force feeds us some Avengers/Star Wars material, but even that makes for a pretty solid visual gag, so the complaint is there but very minimal. All in all, this is absolutely one of my favourite movies of 2021, and I can't wait to see it again to try to pick up on some more subtle easter eggs!
The Suicide Squad
Not to be confused with the 2016 David Ayer film 'Suicide Squad', this one has 'Guardians of the Galaxy' director James Gunn behind the wheel. As a fan of those 'Guardians' movies, when I heard about Gunn taking the helm of this project, I got pretty excited and it has been on my "must-see" list since the news first emerged. Although there was controversy surrounding his name, considering what I knew he could do with an ensemble cast and his directorial style, he was just perfect for the job.
The film opens, hitting the ground running as intelligence officer, Amanda Waller (Viola Davis) deploys two "Suicide Squad" teams (or Task Force X teams) to the South American island of Corto Maltese after its government is brought down by anti-American radicals. Team One is led by Colonel Rick Flag (Joel Kinnaman), and further consists of Savant (Michael Rooker), Captain Boomerang (Jai Courtney), Blackguard (Pete Davidson), T.D.K. (Nathan Fillion), Javelin (Flula Borg), Mongal (Mayling Ng), Weasel (Sean Gunn), and of course the great Harley Quinn (Margot Robbie). We learn the basics really quick for those who may not have bothered with the first film, and it's simple - in exchange for completing the tasks set by Waller, these criminals get ten years off their prison sentence.
Meanwhile, the second team, who has the same deal, approaches the island. Led by Bloodsport (Idriz Elba), this team further consists of Peacemaker (John Cena), King Shark (Sylvester Stallone/Steve Agee), Polka-Dot Man (David Dastmalchian) and Ratcatcher 2 (Daniela Melchior). The team's collective purpose for this mission is to locate a man known as the Thinker (Peter Capaldi), a metahuman who heads a top secret experiment potentially endangering all of humanity known as "Project Starfish". The teams are to bring down the Nazi-era laboratory Jötunheim, which holds said project. The main focus here is on the second team, as plot-wise, Bloodsport is in this to protect his daughter from jailtime. He's the lead here while Harley plays everyone's favourite DC anti-hero.
I am very happy to report that James Gunn's directorial style was what I wanted to see and more. Not only does he totally succeed in delivering a lot of that humour we know him for with the 'Guardians' films, but he makes damn sure he delivers us a good R-rated superhero (or anti-hero) movie complete with violence, language, and even a bit of nudity. One could probably consider this DC's answer to the 'Deadpool' movies. There are plenty of laughs, and a lot of the laughs have to do with how over the top things can get. I honestly had a smile on my face through this whole thing, as it somewhat represents a release of all that pent of rage we've all been feeling under the shadow of Covid 19. One could consider this a pretty great outlet for the times.
With an ensemble cast like this, one probably gets to wondering how all these names are handled. This certainly sounds like it has the potential to be another 'X-3' with too many characters in so little time. I have to say that Gunn handles things very well. I had to appreciate that he managed to make Harley more of a background character, but she still manages to steal the show here just doing what she does. There is a moment that might make Harley fans wince and cringe a bit, but don't worry, she doesn't exactly disappoint. Harley fans should get just as much a kick out of her here as they did with the last two films featuring her.
One big question people have is "Is this a sequel?" Well, it's like this. Producer Peter Safran has described this as a total reboot, despite the fact that several cast members return as their respective characters. It's further confusing to try to figure out where 'Birds of Prey' lands in all of this too. Personally speaking, I think it's all open to interpretation. DC seems to have developed a bit of a talent over the past while in that they are making movies that could stand on their own instead of necessarliy being part of the DC Universe we see from 'Justice League'. Unlike the 'Avengers' films, there's not a whole lot of important connective material. So this very well could be a sequel, but really, it's meant to stand on its own. I think it plays more on the potential the original film had with same cast members. Again, look at 'Deadpool'. Ryan Reynolds was always perfect for the role, but 'Wolverine' really screwed it up.
As far as 2021 movies go, as well as DC titles, this is easily one of my favourites. I didn't come out of this quite as mind-blown as I expected, but I really enjoyed it. Gunn did a great job here, providing some new faces, tackling a huge cast, making things stylistic, and absolutely not holding back on the R-rated violence we fans not only want but somewhat expect from a movie like this. It's another comic book title that deserves an R-rating in order to do it justice. I also have to admire that he just plain went for it. I mean, Project Starfish is really crazy and even kind of stupid when you think about it, but somehow he made it work really well here. What more can I say? I am impressed, and would love to see Gunn take on more of these (if there are going to be any more).
Here we have the next Disney flick based on one of their rides. Perhaps one may remember 'The Haunted Mansion' with Eddie Murphy, or this other little title, 'Pirates of the Caribbean' - so this isn't exactly a first. The real question is, is it more 'Mansion' (which was very mediocre), or more 'Pirates' (which became its own successful franchise)? The short answer - as one might expect, it's somewhere in the middle, but it does lean much more towards 'Pirates' in style and execution.
The film opens with a little background, telling about how in the 16th century, a group of Spanish conquistadors go to South America to search for a tree whose petals can cure just about anything; known as the now mythological "Tears of the Moon". Things go down, and long story short, these conquistadors end up cursed by the jungle (a whole story that's unveiled later in the movie). We fast-forward to London, 1916, where Dr. Lily Houghton (Emily Blunt) and her brother, MacGregor (Jack Whitehall), present Lily's research on the Tears of the Moon, and suggest its aid in the British war effort, using its pedals to heal their wounded. They further request access to an arrowhead, believed to be the key to finding this tree. The pair are brushed aside, but Lily acquires it anyway, and the adventure begins.
Eventually, the pair come across Frank Wolff (Dwayne Johnson), who poses as harbourmaster, Nilo (Paul Giamatti) when he realizes Lily has an arrowhead he apparently knows something about. He promises her and her brother a jungle tour that will potentially lead to the Tears of the Moon. However, on their tail, like any good 'Indiana Jones' movie, is a German Prince named Joachim (Jesse Plemons). He is also after the arrowhead and wants the Tears for his own selfish reasons. As the chase goes on, they encounter all the jungle can throw at them, but are they prepared to face some of the more dangerous things lurking in the jungle? Liker perhaps a few cursed conquistadors who can use jungle elements as, pretty much super powers?
This is a movie that seems to borrow a lot from pre-existing material, and makes me think of it as a cross between 'Indiana Jones' and 'Pirates of the Caribbean'. But I might suggest I had more fun with those titles. There are a few moments to this that don't make a lot of sense, and it was a fun adventure, but it was no 'Curse of the Black Pearl' (still the best 'Pirates' movie, in my opinion) where I had a great time with it. This was entertaining, and not a bad one for a family night out to the theater. I really think that if I was younger, I would have had much more fun with this than I actually did. But I will say that the film isn't without a few things to praise.
Although some of the CG is kind of weak, I have to admit that I rather enjoyed what they did with the cursed conquistadors. That part is very reminiscent of 'Dead Man's Chest', and the curse involved with that. The CG might not pop, but the concept of these half-man, half-whatever characters was always something I thought was cool. I also don't normally like Jesse Plemons in anything he does, but his performance here as a bit of a bumbler was actually kind of great. He's still the big bad guy here, and at moments to be taken seriously, but on the whole, it seems to be an almost unintentionally humorous portion of the movie.
My final thoughts on this are pretty simple. I think if you've got a family with children who are chomping at the bit to get back into theaters, this is a perfectly fine, fun adventure movie that's good for everyone. There may be some scary bits for the little ones, but that's about where I compare it to the 'Pirates' movies. If your kid can survive a 'Pirates' movie, they can survive this. While it may not be something I had a blast with, it's something I'd recommend as a "first time back" (namely for us Canadians who have been stuck a little longer) for a family outing. For just the average movie-goer though, it's all dependent on taste. There are better adventure flicks out there, but I have to admit that its been a while since I've seen a decent jungle flick, and this really wasn't bad at all.
Space Jam: A New Legacy
The year was 1996, I was in grade 9, and some friends and I arranged to check out the original 'Space Jam'. For whatever reason, be it the Tune Squad or my appreciation for basketball at the time, I dug it. I was a bit of an odd one out on it, but being 14 at the time, there was still that sliver of childhood hanging on and I tend to classify 'Space Jam' nowadays as a sort of time capsule for myself. While it's not nearly as good as I remember it, it's still a guilty pleasure. Naturally, I had to check out 'A New Legacy' and compare notes.
I have since faded away from basketball to the point that I can't really name anyone on any teams. I was never really a sports guy, but for a short time in my youth, basketball was an exception and 'Space Jam' managed to be that last little bit of fandom I had for the sport. Now that we have LeBron James in the Michael Jordan role, it's a bit harder for me to really care. Nothing against the man, I'm just so out of touch I know him by name only. However, since he was animated for so much of the time he spends with the Tunes, it does make for a better performance than Jordan gave. Animating him was actually a clever idea for this time around.
The film opens similarly to the original, portraying a young LeBron going after his dreams, and the credits open over a montage of his career, leading up to his life as a parent athlete. He wants his sons, Darius (Ceyair J Wright) and Dom (Cedric Joe) to follow in his footsteps, but Dom would rather do some programming, and dreams of developing video games. The family is invited to Warner Bros. studio to discuss a potential film deal, and the idea is presented by a secretly self-aware A.I. named Al G. Rhythm (Don Cheadle). The A.I. impresses Dom, and he expresses an interest in a future with Warner Bros. But LeBron puts his foot down on him keeping up with basketball, as he's got such talent.
This argument eventually leads to the basement where Al G Rhythm zaps LeBron and Dom into the Warner Bros. super computer. As Rhythm kidnaps Dom in a very 'Hook'-like way (he tries to take Dom under his wing and turn him on his father), LeBron is sent into Looney Tunes world, where only Bugs (Jeff Bergman) exists. Before he's cast to Looney Tunes world, however, LeBron is ordered by Rhythm to assemble a Warner Bros.-based basketball team. I guess Rhythm's motive is more attention, so he wants to create an event to broadcast to the world. Anyway, long story short, Bugs and LeBron assemble the Looney Tunes team, including Lola (Zendaya) by visiting different Warner Bros. properties. This is where the marketing really takes off, and things become a giant ad for HBO Max.
I will admit, however, that sometimes the properties Bugs and LeBron visit stand out. For me, particularly, I really liked the style of the DC Comic world they find Lola in, stylized like a moving comic. Finding Granny and Speedy in Matrix world, however, was a touch cringe worthy, as the bullet time gag is insanely dated at this point. There's also a few things here you just wouldn't expect to find in a movie aimed mainly at kids, like 'Game of Thrones' references and Rick and Morty showing up out of nowhere - and they have dialogue! I loved the cameo, but it didn't feel like it made a whole lot of sense. However, it's not like the first film was without such things, like a 'Pulp Fiction' reference. So for myself, that's all forgivable. We should also figure that a good chunk of this is aimed at us in our 30s who liked the original when it came out.
As the movie goes on, it goes full 'Ready Player One' by bringing in an audience of Warner Bros. characters - everyone from Batman to Pennywise. It's fun to go around the background of this basketball game and see who you can find, but many stick out more than others. The Tune humour is pretty much what we expect, and I did enjoy the stylistic choices they used during the game, making it a replica of Dom's game he's been developing. I think ultimately this felt a bit deeper (and I use that term loosely) than the original, focusing on the family aspect and giving LeBron real motivation to win. For Jordan it was really just him helping the Tunes not get enslaved while the family aspect was really pushed to the side, and there to be cutesy.
I can't really deny that I had a fun time with it, but it's having fun on a pretty mild level. Despite its style, there wasn't a whole lot that truly stood out here (other than maybe giving Lola more of a personality), and I'd probably rate the original and this at the same level, but for different reasons. I might consider 'New Legacy' just a touch better, if only because being inside a supercomputer full of Warner Bros. characters makes more sense than.... they just live somewhere under the Earth. I think as long as you realize what it is you're in for, this could be just like the first one - a guilty pleasure, complete with extremely cringe-worthy Porky Pig rap scene for no reason. So it's pretty dumb altogether, but you could still have fun with it in the right frame of mind - just like the original.
If you know your Disney, Cruella De Vil can often be remembered as one of the most deplorable villains in the Disney animated library. I mean, her motivation was as simple as fashion, and she was willing to kill a bunch of adorable puppies just to make a coat. Unlike a lot of what Disney does with its live-action stuff nowadays, this is not a copy-paste job of '101 Dalmatians'. This is an origin story in which we see how Cruella De Vil became Cruella De Vil - the high class, vicious but fashionable snob who has no regard for puppy life.
As we open, we see Cruella's childhood. Her real name is Estella Miller (Tipper Seifert-Cleveland), and she lives with her mother, Catherine (Emily Beecham). Catherine gives Estella the nickname of "Cruella" due to her having a bit of a nasty streak. This nasty streak eventually gets her pulled from school with plans to move to London. On their way, they stop at a high class party, hosted by the awful Baroness von Hellman (Emma Thompson). They aren't allowed in, but Estella sneaks off for a peek at things. It is here that she sees all sorts of glamour and high fashion, and it immediately becomes a bit of an obsession. She, however, is found, chased out of the party by a few Dalmatians (thus giving her a bit of an instant hatred for them). While on the run, she evades the dogs, but the dogs end up knocking Catherine off a cliff to her death. So this is basically why Cruella is so heartless towards Dalmatians later in her life.
Now orphaned, Estella wanders, eventually meeting Jasper (Ziggy Gardner) and Horace (Joseph MacDonald), and the three begin their friendship as a handful of street urchins in London. They make their way by stealing, stealing and more stealing. Ten years of this life lead to Jasper (Joel Fry) and Horace (Paul Walter Hauser) stealing Estella (Emma Stone) a very special gift; a job as a cleaner at Liberty Department Store; owned by the Baroness, it is the highest in quality fashion. The job ends up sucking, and Estella's knack for fashion one day leads her to drunkenly fix a window display one night. The Baroness sees it, and instead of punishing her for it, she offers her a job as her assistant. It's here that Estella notices her dead mother's valuable necklace around the Baroness' neck, and from here, it pretty much becomes a heist movie while Estella transforms into Cruella through the process.
Although this is a movie that has a lot to do with high society, fashion and the like (all of which I have next to no interest in at all), I have to admit that when it comes to live action Disney material, it's definitely a breath of fresh air. I really like that, for once, we have something very different. This is an original story that gives you some hints for '101 Dalmatians', but it's not just a remake. It's got the odd Easter egg here and there, and Emma Stone, I think, was the right way to go with casting. She is meant to be a more innocent character for a good chunk of this, and Emma has always been great at being likable - but she's also great at having fun with her roles. You can tell in this that she's having a blast with the transformation process, and when she gets to be full Cruella, she's really quite good. She even gets the cackle down.
All that said, it is true that I tend to love Emma Stone in whatever she's doing - not only is she gorgeous, but she's very flexible as an actress. She can sing, she can speak with an English accent (although sometimes her American comes through - she's no Robert Downy Jr.), she can laugh just as easily as cry, she's great. This is one role where we get a little bit of everything from her, and I'd probably take her rivalry with Emma Thompson as the highlight of the movie. Just two people trying to out-style each other. While Cruella's a bit more in your face and out to make a statement, the Baroness is this high class snob with little to no regard for human life, everyone's beneath her, and she feels she can't be outdone. What I love here is that Cruella actually intrigues the Baroness rather than just having her freak out and retaliate. It's a bit of a slow-burn rivalry they have. But I love it when the big baddie of the movie has respect for the... well, in this case, anti-hero.
This is another one of those titles I can definitely throw some respect to. My bias for Emma Stone aside, it's otherwise well-acted, has a surprising amount of heart, and it's just neat to see a Disney take on a heist movie. Really, Cruella is the perfect character to do something like that with. I do have a few beefs with the movie though, so don't think it's all praise coming from my end. For one, the CG is pretty awful when it does show up - namely one particular ending scene. Another is that some of the easter eggs are a bit heavy handed. At one point Cruella mentions Dalmations making a wonderful coat, but as a joke, and that was a bit of an eye-roller that felt crowbarred in. I also can't tell yet if my hatred of the Baroness is good or bad. She has to outdo Cruella, so the result is someone very, very easy to hate, especially if you despise snobbery as much as I do.
As decent as the movie was, and for as much praise as I give it over criticism, the one thing you should take away from this is the fact that the subject matter is something I couldn't care less about. While the heist aspect is cool, this largely has to do with fashion, high society and exclusivity. Speaking as someone who has very easily been turned away from various clubs because I wasn't wearing something as simple as dress shoes (meanwhile seeing a ton of running shoes waiting in line) I have a real beef with things like that. That's a lot of what this movie is, and the Baroness is just one of those characters I'd love to run down with a car. So this is one I have a lot of respect for as to what it is, but it's not something I intend on coming back to any time soon. Most definitely, others who are into fashion and the like will get much more out of it than I did. But it's still a nice change from the regular live-action Disney remakes!
Tom and Jerry
Hey, remember last week how I talked about HBO Max and Warner Brothers being jerks about holding their multi-released material in America? Well, apparently I'm going to be able to access a few of these titles after all - not as conveniently, but it's still a step in the right direction. Let's just hope that I can get some of those more high profile titles, as 'Tom and Jerry' here wasn't exactly a movie I was excited to see. But hey, it's been a little while since I did a "Now Playing" review on a family title. So, is 'Tom and Jerry' worth checking out?
The film opens with an unnecessary hip hop number involving a few unknown pigeons, we are introduced to Tom and Jerry who are here to do what they do throughout the whole movie. In a weird way, I actually credit the film for keeping Tom and Jerry as they should be - totally silent, and playing off each other, performing that classic cartoon violence they're known for. The actual plot of the film mostly revolves around one, Kayla Forester (Chloë Grace Moretz); a young woman looking for her place in Manhattan. After doing several odd jobs and constantly looking for work, she tries the Royal Gate Hotel, and in desperation, robs another applicant of her impressive resume in order to get the job. Yeah, security is super tight in this hotel.
In order to prove herself worthy of the fancy hotel job, Kayla is tasked with helping an event planner named Terence Mendoza (Michael Peña) plan a high profile wedding for well-known celebrity couple, Preeta (Pallavi Sharda) and Ben (Colin Jost). The whole time, Terence is somewhat suspicious of Kayla's qualifications. But Kayla decides to further prove herself by helping get rid of a pesky mouse we know as Jerry, who has recently taken up residence in the hotel. Long story short, she eventually gets Tom to try to help her. What follows is pretty much a bunch of Tom and Jerry shenanigans risking the upcoming wedding being ruined. In the meantime, Kayla hopes her true, inexperienced identity won't be unveiled. All in all, things get significantly predictable, and the film is mediocre at best.
This is a weird one for me. As a film, it's bad. It's hard to wrap my head around how this world works, exactly. It seems that real-life human beings live in a world where all of the animals are animated, and there's absolutely no explanation as to why things look like this. Furthermore, we have no idea who the hell this movie is for. There's a bit of nostalgia here, if only in the way Tom and Jerry act, but when I say that, it's only a slight pinch. Most of the humor here is definitely directed at kids, but the soundtrack is all R&B and hip-hop, a lot of it from the old school, and it feels very obvious that this is a studio cash-grab on parallel with something like... well, and of the 'Chipmunk' movies.
What makes the film even worse is that it's scripted by Kevin Costello who also worked on 'Brigsby Bear', which is actually a movie that I highly recommend. The director here is Tim Story, who is pretty hit-or-miss, but I can tell you in all honesty that this is a miss. When I mention the nostalgic factor here, again, it's only very slight, and there isn't enough of it to really fuel the film. It further sucks that at no point is the movie REALLY about them. It's all about Kayla, and then suddenly it's about the potential bride and groom. For a movie with the title 'Tom and Jerry', it has very little to do without them, other than just showing us what they do. This is just another example of a movie that slaps a familiar title on it for a quick cash grab, and tries too hard to be "cool" for the kids these days. 'Scoob' was much better, and I only thought that was okay.
There are few things in the media that can get away with stupidity due to the stupidity being part of its charm. One of the leaders in this has to be, without a doubt, 'SpongeBob Squarepants', which has delivered the goods through silly fun and using its stupidity in a sort of clever way. Speaking for myself, I only watch 'SpongeBob' if I need a good laugh, but don't need to think about what I'm laughing at. It sort of follows the Nickelodeon tradition of things like 'Ren & Stimpy' or 'Rocko's Modern Life', but makes it all innocent enough for kids.
However, for as much fun as SpongeBob provides, it's not an example of a cartoon I'd try to convince people to like. There is a somewhat annoying aspect to SpongeBob and Patrick, which is part of the humor, but if someone ever said "I can't stand that sponge", I'd get it. One could say SpongeBob is an acquired taste, and you'll never like it if you have an inability to throw your brain out the window. That said, I tend to lean towards the appreciative side of things. I enjoy 'SpongeBob' for a good laugh, but it's not something I appreciate quite as much as some other animated series out there. My list of viewed material is pretty much a few odd episodes of the series, and the first film from 2004. Alas, I did not catch 2015's 'Sponge Out of Water'. So with that, let's keep in mind I'm not reviewing this as a biased fan boy, but one who can see both sides of the coin.
So much of the show revolves around a little villain named Plankton (Mr. Lawrence) who is constantly after the secret recipe of Krusty Krab burgers. The Krusty Krab is run by the greedy, but good-natured Mr. Krabs (Clancy Brown) while SpongeBob (Tom Kenney) whips up food in the kitchen, and the miserable Squidward (Rodger Bumpass) handles the register. To no one's surprise, the film opens with Plankton formulating a new plan to steal the recipe, but his robotic assistant, Karen (Jill Talley) informs him that he's been so focused on getting Mr. Krabs out of the way, he hasn't realized that SpongeBob has been the one constantly thwarting his plans (much of the time by accident).
Plankton then devises a plan to get rid of SpongeBob by kidnapping his pet snail, Gary, and giving him to Poseidon (Matt Berry), who uses snail slime as a moisturizer, and is constantly running out because he squeezes them dry. This will send SpongeBob on a mission to find his missing snail, along with his best friend, Patrick (Bill Fagerbakke). That way, he can't possibly interfere with the stealing of the formula. However, without SpongeBob around, everyone involved eventually discovers how much they miss, and somewhat need SpongeBob in the picture. Meanwhile, the laughs are definitely delivered through a series of events involving celebrity cameos, not the least of which is Keanu Reeves as a tumbleweed, calling himself the Sage and guiding SpongeBob and Patrick on their journey. The other cameos popping up, however, I feel like one needs to see for themselves. It's a lot like telling someone Bill Murray was in 'Zombieland' at the time.
Although 'SpongeBob' was never something I truly followed, I always did appreciate it for what it was. This movie is no exception. I can't really look at this in any other light that the simple fact that it's 'SpongeBob', and you can't expect to get Oscar-worthy material from something so silly. That's not to put it down or anything, that just isn't what 'SpongeBob' is, and there are many beloved movies that fall under such a category, like 'Dumb and Dumber' or 'Galaxy Quest' - great for what they are, and they don't need awards to prove they're any good. If you like 'SpongeBob' then you'll probably like this movie, if you don't, then you probably won't. It's as simple as that. Personally speaking, I'm not going to pretend I had a blast with it, but it made me laugh, tugged on the heartstrings ever-so slightly, and I got exactly what I expected to get. So although it's pretty average, you'll hear no real complaints from yours truly.
On a side note, one might be wondering why this is "late" as a "Now Playing" review. Well, Covid has made things very uncertain with various theatrical releases, and dates are all over the place. Hell, IMDb still has its official release date for this as March 4, 2021, and here we are on February 10. Seeing as I just don't get what's happening with a lot of these titles and how they're dealing with the whole Covid situation anymore, all I'll say is don't be surprised f you see a title like this in "Now Playing" for the next while. Anyway, just to top off the review, despite its supposed March 4th release date, one can currently find it on Prime as a simple $5 rental. If you're a fan, I say go for it. If nothing else, it's a lot of fun.
The Croods: A New Age
Funnily enough, I couldn't find much that stuck out to me this week as far as new Christmas movies go. However, since my last review in November was a Christmas movie, and new major releases are becoming easier to access, I really wanted to tackle the sequel to 'The Croods' - a fun, animated family adventure about cavepeople, their reluctancy to venture out into the world, and their eventual discoveries when they are forced to do so. I don't have a full review on the first one, but as luck would have it, this starts out with a brief recap, and it's easy enough to understand what's going on.
Following the events of the first film, the Crood family is still looking for a place to settle, following the sun into "tomorrow" (a whole symbolism thing about the future having a light at the end of the tunnel). The Croods are headed by Grug (Nicolas Cage), his partner, Ugga (Catherine Keener), and Gran (Cloris Leachman); Ugga's mother. The partners have three children; the animalistic baby Sandy (Kailey Crawford), the dimwitted son, Thunk (Clark Duke) and the adventurous Eep (Emma Stone) who has developed a relationship with a random caveman she meets from the first film, Guy (Ryan Reynolds). We get a bit more of Guy's backstory in the very beginning of this film as well - it's short, sweet, to the point, and tells us all we need to know about the character.
On their travels, the Croods run into a family, familiar to Guy, the Bettermans. Headed by Phil (Peter Dinklage) and Hope (Leslie Mann) One could easily compare the Bettermans to the Flintstones - basically, they've become creative and live in an advanced treehouse. The Bettermans also have a daughter named Dawn (Kelly Marie Tran) who they see as Guy's fit mate. Now, with a scenario like this, it seems very predictable that it would unfold into the general jealousy scenario involving Guy between a battling Eep and Dawn. I am so pleased to announce that the typical does not unfold here in any way. In fact, there's a whole lesson to be learned at the end that isn't the same old with this situation. Eep and Dawn become friends based on the idea neither of them quite knew other teenage girls existed.
The real fight lies in the parental units thinking they know what's best for their kids, along with Guy finding new ways to enjoy himself, away from Crood traditions. This obviously effects Eep, as she loves her family and doesn't see anything wrong with the way things are. So I guess one could say there's some subtext in here about how advancing technologies take away from what one might consider "the good old days", but I wouldn't say it gets preachy about it either. Things are a lot of fun the whole way through, and reach an adventurous conclusion once we find out why Phil is so adamant about his bananas. There's a whole thing where his one rule is that no one is allowed to eat the bananas. You find out why, but it's such a farce on people's "forbidden furniture" and the like - you know, when you go to a house with a comfy-looking couch but are told no one's allowed to sit on it.
I actually had to watch these back-to-back, because I had pretty much forgotten how the first film went, and didn't want to go in half-blind. Again, it does give us a brief recap, so one can get through this without needing to see the first one. But with that said, I might still recommend giving these a back-to-back watch for a couple of great, fun animated films. The entire cast is great with their voice work, the animation is beautiful, and there's quite a few laugh out loud moments. Perhaps best of all, they keep setting you up for the typical yet delivering the very untypical - especially with the girlfriend situation here. Either of these films are breaths of fresh air, and great for the whole family. I'd highly recommend both for a good family night in! Just bear one important thing in mind - the animals in this don't really make a lot of sense, so you might try watching it as a fantasy movie all the same.
The Christmas Chronicles 2
A couple of Christmases ago, Netflix treated families to the first 'Christmas Chronicles'. I for one enjoyed it pretty thoroughly as a great new Christmas movie for the whole family. It even rekindled some Christmas spirit for me that year with a lot of the imagination that went into it, bringing back that childlike sense of wonder I once had as a kid. Very few Christmas movies have pulled this off in recent years, so there's definitely a special place in my heart for it. But, with a title that contains the word "Chronicles", it's only a matter of time before we see sequels (and I don't believe it means to end here, either)
For the story on the original, refer to my review. This one picks up a couple of years later, where the lead kids from the first one, Kate (Darby Camp) and Teddy (Judah Lewis) are on a Cancún Christmas vacation with their Mother, Claire (Kimberly Williams-Paisley) and her new partner, Bob (Tyrese Gibson). While Teddy is enjoying himself, making the most of it, Kate is distraught at the idea that Bob is trying to replace her father, who has passed on. She makes a wish to Santa (Kurt Russell) to basically help out with her situation, because she fears her Dad is just gonna get forgotten before long. It's the typical teenage angst set-up involving "Mom's new guy". Overhearing her solo conversation to Santa, however, is the elf-turned-human Belsnickel (Julian Dennison)
Belsnickel is an elf who has broken all of the rules that come with being an elf. If all of those rules are broken, the elf becomes human, and his fate is all because Santa became too busy with the children of the world, and didn't have time for him. While an upset Kate attempts to run away back to Boston, she is picked up by Belsnickel who uses her "true believer" magic to transport through a worm hole to the North Pole. Here, he'd set out for revenge on Santa by trying to ruin Christmas for kids all over the world. So, Kate goes on another Christmas adventure alongside Santa in an effort to stop Christmas from falling apart. This time, however, her tag-along is Bob's young son, Jack (Jahzir Bruno) who, through Mrs. Claus (Goldie Hawn) has to learn to overcome his own anxieties and such.
First, I'll just get to the personal criticisms of it all. For starters, Jack doesn't make for an altogether interesting character to me. It's got nothing to do with Bruno's performance; he's a child actor, and he's still very new on the scene. It's just that they don't do a hell of a lot with everything he apparently has. He does have to overcome is fears, and probably manages to cater to the young crowd all right, but there's almost too much of a leap to innocence with his character when Kate's counterbalance in the first one was her brother, who was a freaking car thief. That brings me to my next nitpick, in that while the first film was really good for the whole family, striking every emotion, this one seems clearly more directed at kids. You don't get a whole lot of depth with either Kate or Jack here, and the outcome of everything is super predictable from the get-go.
Things are not all lost here though. I have to admit that there was a lot about it I thought was cleverly done. It was interesting to me that Santa's Village (or Mrs. Claus' Village, just to refer to a certain running gag in here) got its power from the Bethlehem Christmas Star, which is an interesting way to combine the Christian aspects of Christmas with the fun, Santa side of things. On top of that, the elves are always a lot of fun to watch, but they are especially fun when a magic dust turns them all basically into vicious little Gremlins. Imagine one of those cute elves from the first one wielding a chainsaw and running amok. Truth be told, thought he overall plot and some character are kind of weak, the Christmas fun is still there. And I really, really enjoy Kurt Russell's Santa Claus - he's got a certain charm to him, he's super friendly, he's convincingly warm, and just fits so well.
So, all in all, this one really has nothing on the first one. I remember the first one really relighting that magical Christmas candle in my heart, leaving me with a warm, happy feeling, and empathy for the kids; especially Teddy, who wasn't even really a part of this one. This one didn't quite leave me feeling the same way. I had fun with it, and certain aspects were actually very interesting. But things seem to be aging backwards a little bit, aiming this one more at younger kids and keeping the first one aimed at whole families. It's worth checking out for a giggle or two, but I wouldn't say you're missing out on this particular sequel if you skip it this year either - the original CAN still stand on its own.
Thus far, the big "Christmas Movie of the Year" seems to point at this one. Here we have a Christmas movie that offers up the challenges and struggles of celebrating the holiday, not just with family as usual, but as a member of the LGBTQ community... who hasn't come out to her (in this case) family yet. The timing on this one couldn't be much better, either, because just yesterday was when Ellen Page became Elliot Page. To this, I offer my sincerest congratulations, and we can consider this review a special celebration of sorts, because dammit, I enjoyed it!
We are introduced to out leads, Abby Holland (Kristen Stewart) and Harper Caldwell (Mackenzie Davis); a lesbian couple. Abby's parents passed away during the Christmas season, so she has a pretty strong dislike for it. Harper, not wanting to give up on her, invites her to her family's Christmas to celebrate the holidays. This is a golden opportunity for Abby to see the bright side of Christmas, as it will provide the opportunity to meet her family, and she intends to propose to her on Christmas morning. However, on their way there Harper admits to not having come out to her parents yet, mainly due to her father running for mayor of a small conservative town. Abby then reluctantly agrees to pose as her straight roommate instead.
Abby soon meets the Caldwells, who include Harper's parents, Ted (Victor Garber) and Tipper (Mary Steenburgen), and sisters; the nerdy but perky Jane (Mary Holland), and the competitively snooty Sloane (Allison Brie). The family welcomes her, for the most part, but Abby soon becomes uncomfortable with certain scenarios involving Sloane, Harper's ex-boyfriend, Connor (Jake McDorman), and Harper's first female partner, Riley Johnson (Aubrey Plaza). She soon starts questioning her relationship, and confiding in her best friend, John (Dan Levy), who is probably my favorite character in this. He's a bit of a klutz with taking care of Abby's fish while she's gone, but soon he gives this monologue that just hits you right in the feels.
If i were to blend a couple of movies together on this one, I'd probably say it's 'Almost Christmas' meets 'The Birdcage'. It's one of those somewhat subtle movies with just the right dash of humor to add to the heart of it all. It's not what I'd call a laugh out loud Christmas comedy, but it's got a decent sense of humor. The really strong point about this one though, is actually the drama. You really feel for Abby in this one, and that might be the first time I've ever admitted to caring for a character Kristen Stewart plays. See, it's not so much that I don't like her; I just haven't really been into any roles I've seen her in. But here, cards on the table, she does a great job!
This probably isn't going to turn into any sort of annual watch for me, but I wouldn't terribly mind seeing it again once in a while. It's on par with 'Almost Christmas' for me in that it's sort of this "under the radar" Christmas movie (at least for now). I'd say it's worth checking out though, if only to get some idea what some people may have to face during the holiday season. I won't say whether it ends happy or sad, but I will say that the last half hour or so is probably the strongest point to this movie. Without spoiling anything, it does make one think. Whether it's the Christmas movie of the year, I'd probably say so far, yes; but we've got a couple more weeks to go.
The first Christmas movie I have sat down to watch this year is a bit of a doozy. By the end, I really didn't know what to think. I didn't love it, I didn't hate it, it was a bit awkward in some points, but at the same time, I wish I got to see it on the big screen. I have never in my life been this torn on a Christmas movie, and I think it all just boils down to how bizarrely fitting it is for it to be released in 2020. You look at this and you start to wonder "my God, is this the feeling Christmas is gonna give me this year?"
Here's the plot; a somewhat crotchety Chris Cringle (Mel Gibson) runs his shop on a farm, close by North Peak, Alaska. He's happily married to Mrs. Claus, or Ruth (Marianne Jean-Baptiste), as she's named here. There's a bit of an "elephant in the room" when it comes to those particular casting choices, but all it does is further my confusion as to how I feel about Mel Gibson, so I'm just gonna focus on the film itself. Getting back to Ruth, she's the typical Mrs. Claus figure; baking cookies, knitting, sweet attitude. She reminds one of the typically sweet grandmother. Anyway, the couple find themselves on the financial decline because of naughty children and... how that makes sense when bad kids get coal, I don't know, but we just go with it.
The US government has an interest share with Chris' business, and sends a Captain Jacobs (Robert Bockstael) to propose a contract for producing jet fighter components for the military. Realizing they really need it, the couple go through with things and this is what becomes of Santa's workshop - a place to construct components for the military; I mean, how depressing is that? Luckily, for the movie's sake, the elves kind of just take it in stride instead of having the film pull the "feel sorry for them" routine. The elves are there to work for whatever Santa needs, and that's always been the kind of loyal elf I enjoyed - loyal, and out to deliver the goods to millions of happy children.
Children in the year this takes place, however, are seen to have become pretty terrible. This includes spoiled rich brat, Billy Wenan (Chance Hurstfield) who loses a "Best of Show" diorama contest, and essentially threatens the winner with the darkest of things. This, along with a probable many other things, earns him a lump of coal on Christmas morning. He then swears revenge by putting a hit out on Santa, using his personal hitman, Jonathan Miller (Walton Goggins). The film's central plot revolves around this portion of the story, and it's one of those situations that's meant to be comedic, but it's almost just too dark.
All in all, it's one of those brilliant concepts that was somewhat poorly executed. Taking the plot of this, it could have been a hilarious action/comedy if given to the right person. But this comes from brothers Ian and Eshom Nelms who are clearly very much on the Indie movie scene. Instead of taking the concept of a wronged kid taking revenge on Santa and having a lot of fun with it, the film almost takes itself too seriously, and it just seems to make this kind of role inescapable for Mel Gibson. Even as Santa Claus, Mel's gotta be a scruffy-lookin', gritty badass. But as far as the best Badass version of Santa that exists, as far as I'm concerned, that honor goes to 'Rise of the Guardians'.
If you want a cheery Christmas this year, and want to leave all the drama of this year behind you, I might just recommend avoiding this one. There's nothing really cheery, funny, or pleasantly dramatic in this one, and no real Christmassy takeaway at the end. so much as a strict message towards kids who aren't even allowed to watch the movie in the first place, as it's rated R. By the time you're done watching, you are just confused on what to think, and you kinda wanna turn to different dark Christmas movies. For example, 'Bad Santa' is still hilarious, and Even 'Krampus' is a lot of fun for a horror movie. I'll give this movie its core concept, and the originality behind it, but I wish it was put in someone else's directorial hands. Either way, it does have me curious about what else these Nelms brothers have done.