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1 1/2 Stars

Jurassic World: Dominion (2022)

Had I been born approximately two or so years earlier, I would have fond memories of the original Jurassic Park in the theaters during its original release. Alas, I was six, so I had to wait until home video. After the promise of a series revival of sorts with 2015’s highly entertaining Jurassic World, the series was on its last little Dino legs when the highly disappointing Jurassic World: Fallen Kingdom was released in 2018. I hoped life may find a way to bring the series home to a somewhat satisfying conclusion. 

In the third and final installment of the Jurassic World trilogy (and possibly last in the Jurassic saga), Jurassic World: Dominion indeed brings the series home…to extinction.

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1 1/2 Stars Movies

Dear Evan Hansen (2021)

(Not long into Dear Evan Hansen, I realized the best audience I could write to would be myself as a High School Senior.)

Dear Mark A. Lester (circa 2005),

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1 1/2 Stars Movies

The Tomorrow War (2021)

Maybe I was just Mr. Grumpy pants when I was watching this film.

Perhaps I just was not giving The Tomorrow War a fair opportunity to try to be a semi fun time travel film. I do confess that I can overthink a lot at movies, but it did not take me a long time to realize this film should have stayed in the future. The very, very distant future.

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1 1/2 Stars Movies

Gemini Man (2019)

When Jesus said to build your house on the rock and not the sand (Matthew 7: 24-27), it is hard to argue that he would be talking about a movie, but this story ran through my mind frequently while watching Gemini Man. The film may have a big star, interesting premise, and high profile director, but the story it is set on is, well, sandy at best. This is the type of movie that seems to have missed its premiere in the public eye by a decade or so.

Fresh off his last mission, veteran hit man Henry Brogan (Will Smith) is looking forward to retirement. He soon finds out that he and his few close friends are sought after by the government (don’t ask why, for it is simple yet confusing at the same time), led by one of his old cohorts, Clay Verris (Clive Owen). Along for the ride is an upcoming agent (or whatever the proper title is), Danny Zakarweski (Mary Elizabeth Winstead).

If you have seen any of the previews for this film, it comes as no surprise that Henry faces off against a cloned version of himself (also played by Smith). This is a younger version (I believe the film said 25 years younger), who, we learn, has been brought up and raised by Verris. The movie does talk a lot about the issue of cloning (which I don’t remember being a hot topic since my freshman English Class of High School, which I lost the debate against cloning). The cloned version of Henry (called Junior) has all the skills and attributes of Henry, but would not have to experience the after affects such as PTSD and depression.

The action sequences are not much to marvel at (save for a cool motorcycle sequence). There are few (and I mean very few) glimpses of images that look affective, but they are muddled by choreography that ranges from the mediocre to the implausible. There are parts in the motorcycle chase (at the end of it) that seem to defy logic of any kind. What is more, none of that matters. We don’t get enough time with these characters to actually feel something about them when they are in these action set pieces.

Will Smith is undoubtedly one of the top five or so movie stars these days, but he dials down his talents here in both roles. Yes, we can tell the two characters he is playing apart through CGI, vocal work, and a shave, but there is so little to care about these characters that there is no point. This is also one of the first times I can every remember Will Smith having virtually zero chemistry with a female star. That is nothing against the actors. It is just clear the chemistry is not present at all.

Parents, there is one scene where Danny is forced to strip to her underwear that lasts only a minute or so. Nothing sexual. There is some swearing (one F bomb that I caught), and some intense action scenes. The PG-13 rating is just, so middle-schoolers and up would be okay.

The film does take a stance against the idea of cloning. It does not dive into the religious aspects of the idea of cloning (how we are, truly, made in God’s image). It is a topic (as is many of the branches of science) that is hotly disputed by Christians, and I will not try to start an argument about it here. What I will say is I would rather the movie be wrong over it’s stance of a topic and be presented in an effective way than have a film be correct about a stance of the topic and be boring.

Smith is indeed no stranger to having his share of what many consider bad movies. These include (but are not limited to) films like Bright (2017) Collateral Beauty (2016), After Earth (2013), Shark Tale (2004), and, of course, Wild Wild West (1999). Having a bad Will Smith movie is not something completely new to us. What does seem new (and completely shocking) is that this film was made by director Ang Lee. An Oscar winner for Best Director twice over, he has given us revered films like Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon (2000), Brokeback Mountain (2005), and The Life of Pi (2012).

When I say that Gemini Man is one of the director’s worst films, keep in mind that includes his movie Hulk from 2003.

Overall:

Rating: 1.5 out of 5.

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1 1/2 Stars Movies

The Lion King (2019)

I have a working theory that everyone has one film that was the staple of their childhood. Sure, a child would have seen many a film in their youth, but there is still one that stands above the rest. For my little siblings, these ranged from Space Jam (1996), Spider-Man (2002), Star Wars Episode III: Revenge of the Sith (2005), and Dolphin Tale (2011). Without a doubt, mine was 1994’s highest grosser, The Lion King. I have seen over a 1000 movies or so, and can safely say that I have seen The Lion King more times that any other (the only possible close second would be the 1980 comedy masterpiece Airplane!). I even knew the struggles of the SNES video game of the film (it took me years to finally beat “I just can’t wait to be king” without using the cheat on the options menu.) In short, my expectations for the live action remake of The Lion King were exceedingly high.

The plot is unchanged (if you have not seen the original, I don’t know what could be holding you back). The kingdom has a new future king born in Simba (JD McCrary), who lionizes (pun intended) his dad Mufasa (James Earl Jones, the only returning actor from the original), unaware of his scheming Uncle Scar (Chiwetel Ejiofor) planning to reclaim his right to the thrown. After tragedy strikes, Simba runs away, makes friends with Timon (Billy Eichner) and Pumba (Seth Rogen), and realizes he needs to return to take his place in “The Circle of Life”.

As stated before, my expectations were as high as ever. Sadly, they were (for the most part) not met. First the voice acting. It is true you cannot have anyone other than James Earl Jones (owner of one of the most notable voices in history) playing Mufasa, and he is basically as iconic as he was a quarter century ago (though age has made him sound more of a grandfather figure). However, you want to know who also has an iconic voice? The original animated Scar (arguably one of the top five or so best Disney villains), brought impeccably to life by Jeremy Irons (Ejiefor is undoubtedly a talented actor, but he can’t fit in the shoes that Irons left). The same could be said by the animated films’ vocals by Whoopi Goldberg (Shenzi), Cheech Marin (Bonzai), Rowan Atkinson (Zazu), Jonathan Taylor Thomas (Young Simba) and Matthew Broderick (Adult Simba).

The new film has (somewhat) notable performances, including the voice of Adult Simba played by the immensely talented Donald Glover and his love interest Nala (Beyonce Knowles-Carter). John Oliver also does his own unique take on Zazu. There is also some nicely done chemistry between Eichner and Rogen as the duo behind the immortal “Hakuna Matata” (Eichner manages to make the role his own, even after it was played uncannily in the animated film by the great Nathan Lane). Their take on how to create a “distraction” at the end of the film is just as funny and memorable as the one from the animated film.

One thing that I (or anyone) cannot argue about is the visuals. This is as close to a live action retelling of the pride lands as we can ever get, and all the credit goes to director Jon Favreau (who, along with the original Iron Man, also directed the 2016 live action version of The Jungle Book) and his team of technicians. The effects are nothing short of extraordinary (if you think you know what it is like to see a lion eat bugs, think again).

Proverbs 19:21 says that “Many are the plans in a person’s heart, but it is the LORD’s purpose that prevails”. After his father’s death (like I said, who did not see the original by now?), Simba runs away from his problems (to be fair, Scar manipulated him to). He tries to take it easy and have “no worries”, but his past does catch up with him. Then (with the help of the ever-wise Rafiki), he sees his true purpose: to take his place as king. It reminds me a bit of Jonah, running away from God, only to realize his fault later on before returning. Something we have all done at one point or another (minus the whole being swallowed by a whale).

Parents, there is nothing new added to the live action that was not in the original. If your kids have seen the original, they can see this film (though the darker moments are still there).

There is a lingering question for The Lion King remake: If the original was not broke, why try to fix it? Undoubtedly, the answer is to make money, but that does not make it any easier to digest. We have many (and I mean many) more remakes of Disney classics on the way (Mulan, The Lady and the Tramp, and The Little Mermaid, just to name a few). It reminds me of a speech from 1993’s Jurassic Park, given by Dr. Malcom (Jeff Goldblum). After viewing the park, he is telling those at the table (as well as the audience) of the dangers of this endeavor. He utters one statement that perfectly sums up my reaction to Disney remakes.

“The were so preoccupied with whether or not they could, that the didn’t stop to think if they should.”

Overall:

Rating: 1.5 out of 5.

Categories
1 1/2 Stars Movies

Dumbo (2019)

Even though it is one of the shortest of Disney’s animated films, the original Dumbo from 1941 is still an ideal choice as a beginner Disney film for children, when we all are still very close to our mothers. The same cannot be said for the remake of Dumbo, which, while I am sure is well-intended, is nothing short of a disappointing failure.

Directed by Tim Burton, we start off the film in Sarasota Florida (not sure why we need to know the exact location) in 1919. A year after many of the circus performers have died due to the influenza outbreak, we see Holt Farrier (Colin Farrell), returning from the war (after having lost his arm) to his children Milly (Nico Parker) and Joe (Finley Hobbins). He is not the best at knowing how to talk to his children like his wife was (she was one of the influenza victims). Despite being with only one arm, he is eager to be back as the circus horse rider, but finds out that his boss Max Medici (Danny Devito, who is pitch perfect) has sold the horses due to money issues. He assigns Holt to taking care of his newest investment, a female elephant named Jumbo, soon to be having a baby.

The first half of the film is basically the story from the original film, as Jumbo Jr. (soon to be called Dumbo) is separated from his mother after a mishap, then later discovers his ears are the perfect set of wings. The second half introduces us to V.A. Vandevere (Michael Keaton), the owner of a more futuristic theme park called Dreamland, along with his somewhat flame and muse Colette (Eva Green), who is set to fly atop Dumbo.

The second half is filled with the visuals we would expect in a Burton film. Yes, some are fun to look at (there is a segment dedicated to the Pink Elephants that I am happy to say was not one of the film’s many down points), but it was the parts of the story that seemed too much for the audience to handle (regardless of age). The second half also provides a cameo from a pop culture figure (whom I have always admired) that makes you want to just shout out “Wait,…WHAT?!”, and not in a good way.

The film does have plenty of nods to the original (though the controversial crows are not present), but (aside from the aforementioned Pink Elephants), very few succeed. The original Dumbo (if you think I have said that word too often, wait till you hear how many times they do in the film) had one of the more tender, heartbreaking moments in Disney history with the song “Baby Mine.” Here, the song seems like it was tacked on with very little thought or heart to it.

Parents, your kids would be fine seeing this, though I would highly encourage they see the far superior original first.

As always, this is a Disney film that has lessons for kids (as well as adults), most notably how our weakness can also be our strength (Psalm 18:28, 2 Corinthians 12:10). The issue (at least for me) is that this was already told nearly eight decades ago in the animated film. Dumbo is the first of three live action remakes to be released in 2019 (the others being Aladdin and The Lion King). While some of the past remakes were at least somewhat enjoyable, I have yet to see a single live action remake of a Disney animated classic that can even be close to comparing to the original. If that does happen, then I be done seen about everything.

Overall:

Rating: 1.5 out of 5.

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1 1/2 Stars

Me Before You (2016)

I have a hunch that whoever is reading this review is interested in one thing, and one thing only: Did I cry during Me before You?  I can confidently say I did not cry at all.

That is not to say I am not one to cry at certain movies (I did feel my eyes get wet during The Fault in our Stars, a far better film). The problem is that the characters in Me before You make decisions that seem unrealistic to their characteristics (mainly the character of Lou Clark).