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.
As if specifying the year shouldn't be enough, I actually feel like I should probably specify which 2019 'Dreamland' movie this is. Believe it or not, another film of the same title was released in the same year, but with a very different story. To put it simply, this is the Margot Robbie one, recently released on VOD, directed by Miles Joris-Peyrafitte of upcoming 'Tank Girl' fame (or infame, the movie isn't made yet).
Here we have a depression-era 'Bonnie & Clyde' wannabe with a story you've basically seen about a million times. This is that story where the renegade character hides out in a barn while someone tends to (in this case) her, all the while hiding her from family and authorities. In this case, a fugitive bank robber named Allison Welles (Robbie) finds herself crossing paths with the son of a bounty hunter named Eugene Evans (Finn Cole). Eugene dreams of a fantasy life of being rebellious, going against authority, and reads action comics to escape. For the time being, about as rebellious as he gets is going so far as to steal these comics. The family being in dire straits makes him "have to" steel them, but he is soon caught.
Meanwhile, on the run from the law, Allison finds an abandoned barn that belongs to the Evans family, but unused due to the drought. Here, Eugene finds her and eventually finds himself torn between two decisions; does he turn her in and get a piece of the bounty, saving his family? Or does he side with her and live the renegade life he's always fantasized about? Truth be told, the decision they go with here is something I have to give credit to. I won't spoil what happens, but I will say that when it's all said and done, there's something very real and believable about the story here. I enjoyed the path it took, but I will admit that not everyone is going to agree on it.
One thing about this I find interesting is that it's narrated by the grown-up voice (Lola Kirke) of Eugene's little sister, Phoebe (Darby Camp). It tells her account of what happened between her brother and Allison, so it ends up being a love story from another person's perspective which I don't think is all that common. You'd think that such a setup predictably spoils the fates of our heroes, but you just might be thinking wrong. I didn't entirely love this movie, but I had to give it up to the way it all ended. Let's just say it's pretty open, but it's also not the kind of ending that's gonna blow your mind.
The performances here are pretty solid, but it's Robbie who really shines through. I suppose that shouldn't come as much of a surprise, but it's cool to see how far she's come. If it weren't for her performance in this, I daresay the movie would have been pretty boring. For a 'Bonnie & Clyde' wannabe, there's not a whole hell of a lot going on. There's just mid-level suspense when it comes to whether or not they're going to get caught. But you end up liking Robbie's character, and even empathizing with her a little despite what she's been through. The end of the film, once again, brings it all to light.
I'm gonna be a bit generous with this one, perhaps, but there was enough to hold my attention based on Robbie's performance, certain visual sequences and once again, just how real the story felt. For a work of fiction, it's more believable than some movies based on true stories - so I really have to give it credit for that. Finn Cole was nothing to sneeze at either, but he is a bit jittery and often not altogether likeable. But that's also part of what makes things make sense in the end, so I can't be too mad at that. It's a redundant storyline, but the execution is good enough that I got something from it more than I have in a while now with recent releases.
Just for a heads up on this one, I'm not gonna go into a whole hell of a lot of detail about things. I went with it due to the combination of a solid cast, having something a little lighter than usual, and if I'm honest, a lack of options. I do try to keep these as a "straight-to-VOD" thing as opposed to an "It existed before, but now it's on VOD" thing. Otherwise, I pretty much understood the kind of movie I was getting into and I find these fictional musical success stories very hit or miss.
The story centers on Maggie Sherwoode (Dakota Johnson), personal assistant to fictional soul sensation, Grace Davis (Tracee Ellis Ross). After doing some of her own edits to Grace's work, she plays a clip much to the dismay of Grace's actual manager, Jack Robinson (Ice Cube). Jack has words with Maggie, and among them, suggestions that if she wanted to be a producer to go find her own "damn clients". So she ends up trying just that, behind Grace's back, when she finds a local who enjoys performing at grocery stores, David Cliff (Kelvin Harrison Jr.)
David enjoys doing his local thing due to its overall simplicity and fun, but Maggie ends up being so confident in his voice that she thinks he can go places. Together, they work on trying to launch David's singing career. In the meantime, Grace deals with the struggles of what it means to be a black woman over 40 trying to keep it fresh in the music industry - while she knows what she wants, Jack likes to tell her how it is, and what she needs to do. As a result, she takes quite a bit out on poor Maggie, prompting her to pursue what she's doing behind Grace's back.
It's a neat story, and it's interesting enough to keep my attention. The various celebrity appearances padding this film are always an interesting, unexpected pop-up. Among a few are Bull Pullman, Eddie Izzard and Jonathan Freeman (perhaps best known as the voice of Jafar in 'Aladdin'). For the most part, though, it's just another up-and-comer success story, somewhat reminiscent of 'Coyote Ugly'. Although, it is a nice change to see the story about who would otherwise be a background character as opposed to a focus on the big singer.
All in all, the performances are good here, and I confess that I kinda like Dakota Johnson who is otherwise known for a series of movies I just can't bother watching. It's kinda like learning that Robert Pattinson a great actor and not just a sparkly vampire. It's always pleasing to know about someone's range. Speaking of, one of the best parts of this movie is Ice Cube. It's kinda like the Captain from '21 Jump Street' discovered he wasn't in a comedy.
I'm gonna go ahead and recommend waiting for this one to become a little more accessible. It's a decent story, and it has a unique spin, but I'd consider it more of a date movie for a nice night in than something to enjoy on your own. That is, unless this ind of thing is up your alley, in which case, go nuts! For me, it's just one of those interesting and passable stories. Nothing really blew me away, but by no means was it bad.
At this point in the game, it would be reasonably understandable that Seth Rogen fans are becoming fewer and further between. Many see the guy as pretty one-note nowadays, being the raunchy, random stoner. I'm still a fan, myself, but I can see where people are coming from nonetheless. Well guys, this movie might be just for you.
Director Jonathan Levine returns, offering his delightful blend of heart-felt drama and adult comedy. You may also be familiar with '50/50' and 'The Night Before', which also feature Seth Rogen. He also did 'The Wackness' and 'Warm Bodies', all of which were received pretty well due to this blend. There's something very outlandish but very heartfelt and human to his direction. I'm a fan, personally.
Anyway, onto the plot. U.S. Secretary of State, Charlotte Field (Charlize Theron) learns that President Chambers (Bob Odenkirk) won't be running for a second term. She soon convinces him to endorse her as a potential presidential candidate. A big deal, being in the running as first female president as well.
Meanwhile, journalist Fred Flarsky (Seth Rogen) is working for a newspaper that has been bought by Parker Wembly (Andy Serkis), a media mogul with differing ethics to Fred's. Because of this, Fred quits immediately, but soon finds himself depressed and constantly on the search for a new job.
In an attempt to cheer Fred up, his best friend, Lance (O'Shea Jackson Jr.), takes him to a charity fundraising event. Charlotte is also there, and there's a moment of them recognizing each other due to her being his babysitter when he was 13 and she was 16 (weird, but okay). Long story short, she hires him to be her speech writer, due to liking his sense of humor. From there, it plays out as your average slightly raunchier romantic comedy.
This is still very much Seth Rogen being Seth Rogen, but here we see much more of a charming and human side of him than that typecast stoner I mentioned before... although that's here too, it's just not as in your face. This plays his character a lot closer to something like his role in '50/50'. But if I'm honest, Seth wasn't even the funniest part of the film. He was definitely the comedic relief, but Charlize Theron had some pretty out-there moments that certainly warranted a good laugh. I guess they were just less expected, whereas with Seth, you know he's there to be the funny guy.
I've also gotta give it up to June Diane Raphael who plays Maggie Millikin, Charlotte's manager. More than anything, she's here to play the contrast to Seth Rogen's humor. Seth's the kinda goofy guy off the street whereas Maggie's the straight-laced character who has her back-and-forths with him. It's all pretty funny, and it doesn't turn into the annoying bickering acts you might see in movies like 'Temple of Doom' or 'National Treasure 2'.
If you happen to be a couple who are fans of Seth Rogen and/or Chrlize Theron, I'd highly recommend checking this one out as a date movie. If you aren't fans, just keep in mind that this is the lighter side of things - still a bit raunchy, but in the most charming way possible (if that makes any sense). I enjoyed it, and would say that it's Seth Rogen's answer to Adam Sandler's '50 First Dates' or 'The Wedding Singer'. Not perfect by any means, but good laughs and lots of charm make it something to appreciate.
To kick things off with this review, I have to mention that I am reviewing this from the viewpoint of a non-reader of the original material. All I know about 'Alita' is this movie. So as far as what the film cuts out, what the film changes, how well the story is adapted as a whole, I have no idea. That said, on with the review.
The setting is a post-apocalyptic wasteland of a city, set after the events of a devastating war known as "The Fall", in 2563. Dr. Dyson Ido (Christoph Waltz) finds the head of a deactivated cyborg girl in a junkyard, and brings her home to bring her back to life. He names her Alita, after his recently deceased daughter.
Meanwhile, Alita (Rosa Salazar) befriends a young man named Hugo (Keean Johnson) who introduces her to the sport of Motorball, and has dreams of moving to the sky city of Zalem. While Alita becomes rather smitten with him, she also struggles to remember her past, and who she was before Ido found her.
Meanwhile still, a group of cyborgs lead by a big guy named Grewishka (Jackie Earle Haley) is out to assassinate Ido, while Alita discovers that she can not only fight, but kick some serious ass. Slowly but surely, her past is unveiled, and, without spoiling anything, it all leads to a cliffhanger ending that suggests a sequel probably is well on its way.
In trying to be the new action/adventure series, setting up for a sequel can be a common mistake. It's important to remember that your new series might not take off as well as you imagine it will. It failed 'Percy Jackson', it failed 'Divergent', it can fail anything if it's just not interesting enough, or strays too far away from what the book was. Again, I'm not entirely sure how well-adapted this is, but certain things about it lead me to hope it hangs in there.
This is one of those titles that bears a modest 60% rating on Rotten Tomatoes for the critics, but its general audience seems to love it with a 94%, which leads me to believe that a lot of the readers of the source material are on-board for this to be successful. And hell, I'm on board too, but as a non-reader, I have my own reasons why.
To keep it basic, I liked the world that was created here, there was a lot of imagination put into the creation of the characters, and despite the love story aspect of this, I didn't feel like a love story was being crammed down my throat. It's far more about Alita's journey, and Alita herself is just plain bad ass. And if you know me well enough, you know that I enjoy a strong female lead. But let's talk about the elephant in the room and, for whatever reason, the thing people seem to be avoiding - Alita's anime eyes. Now strap in, 'cause I'm about to get a little deep.
Her eyes do not bother me in the slightest. In fact, I quite like them. The way I see it, she's an android, so really why the hell not? It can't really fall under a racial thing, in my opinion, because she's the only one who has them. And honestly, I get the feeling she was given big eyes for a reason, and it's not JUST to look like a manga character.
A lesson I learned in illustration is that the eyes are the window to a person's soul. Alita's eyes kinda say a lot about her character, depending on her expression. Curiosity, love, appreciation, anger, rage, sadness. It's all kinda magnified in a way with her, making the viewer perhaps empathize with her a bit more. But hell, maybe it's just me. Personally though, I found her eyes to really add to her character as opposed to being the distraction that seems to be on everyone else's minds.
Speaking for myself, so far, this is my front-runner film for "favourite" of 2019. With that said, a lot can change between now and 10 months from now, so we'll see what the rest of the year has in store. But with how unique this film is, I get the feeling it's gonna remain a stand-out for yours truly.