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2 1/2 Stars

Uncharted (2022)

The undisputed magic of the Uncharted video game series was that it was the closest thing one could do to feel like they were Indiana Jones (outside of the original Tomb Raider games or being Harrison Ford).

The individual plots of the games were not entirely as memorable to me as the gameplay. Like the Indy films, the physics behind the action was ludicrous, yet still seemed plausible at the same time. I can’t speak for many video games in the present day (I watch too many movies to have time to play them), but some games like Uncharted seem so well suited to the video game world that they are cinematic on their own terms, and don’t require a film adaptation.

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2 1/2 Stars Movies

Eternals (2021)

I was as shocked as the next person when it was announced that Eternals had a low score on Rotten Tomatoes (as of this writing, the critic score is 49%.) This still did not deter me, as I had a good amount of hope knowing that Chloe Zhao was at the helm (more on her later).

When it was over, I left the theater knowing I was on the fence for this film as much as I have been for any film in some time.

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2 1/2 Stars Movies

Venom: Let there be Carnage (2021)

Despite my qualms I had with the first Venom film, I did have some high hopes with the upcoming sequel when I saw the first film’s post-credit scene.

 While I have stated I am not an expert in comic book lore, I feel I know enough to know that Woody Harrelson would be the perfect actor to play the villainous Cletus Kasady/Carnage. Even with him added on to this universe, the result is still a basic run of the mill action packed CGI fest. It is a shame, since there are a decent amount of moments in Venom: Let there be Carnage that had me smiling almost like a symbiote invested entity would.

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2 1/2 Stars Movies

Malignant (2021)

It seems that director James Wan is indeed who one should go to if you want to make a horror movie.

Admittedly, this is a director that, although talented, is not one I am familiar with. I have only seen three of his previous films (two of which, Mortal Kombat and The Conjuring: The Devil Made Me do it, came out earlier this year), but am able to recognize his influence on 21st century horror films, thanks to movies like Saw (2004), Insidious (2010), and Insidious: Chapter 2 (2013).

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2 1/2 Stars Movies

Onward (2020)

Coming up this November will be the quarter century mark of the release of Toy Story (1995), which was the birth of Disney/Pixar (though Pixar had done some of the animated shorts beforehand). Having seen all but two of their full length films (2015’s The Good Dinosaur and 2017’s Cars 3 got past my radar), the quality of the films of Disney/Pixar have nearly always been able to exceed all expectations, despite how high they may have been. With very few “duds” to their credit (most of the non-Toy Story sequels and Brave), the combined duo shows no sign of stopping, even if they make films of lesser quality. Which, sadly, brings us to Onward.

The brief history of magical creatures states that magic has been nearly lost and almost forgotten. While magic once thrived, scientific discovery had replaced it. Still, there are a few who still believe it exists, mainly the over eager Barley Lightfoot (Chris Pratt). After the death of his magic loving dad (because this is Disney, so the one parent rule is almost always in effect), he tries his darndest to be somewhat of an influence to his younger teenage brother Ian (Tom Holland).

As the film begins on his 16th birthday, the somewhat introverted Ian tries to stay somewhat distant from his much more extroverted older brother. That is, until his mom Laurel (Julia Louis-Dreyfus, in her second Disney/Pixar film since A Bug’s Life) reveals a present to be given to both her sons when they turned sixteen. It is a staff, which will be able to bring there dad back (with the help of a rare phoenix stone their dad gave them as well) for one day. Unfortunately, trouble with the spell brews (pun intended?), and only the legs of their dad appear. They must then set forth on a quest to find another phoenix stone if they wish to see their whole dad before the 24 hour spell is over. Along the way in his (somewhat) trusty van Gwinivere, Barley passes on his knowledge of magic to his brother (who we discover is the one with magical abilities).

Compared to other films in the Pixar canon, there seems to be fewer supporting characters that stick out. The ones that do include a manticore (Octavia Spencer), Laurel’s new boyfriend cop, Colt Bronco (Mel Rodriguez), and some hard headed (and often funny) motorcycle pixies. And yes, we still get the Disney/Pixar treasured voice of John Ratzenberger, but it was so brief I admit I missed it.

There is also one (very minor) character, Officer Spector (Lena Waithe), who is officially the first openly gay character in a Disney/Pixar film. Sadly, this is more politicized than memorable. If you are going to include a homosexual character (in general, not just in animation), make it needed in the story itself. If Spector had not mentioned she was gay (though she does not use those exact words), I doubt it would make any difference to the outcome of the film.

The idea of being able to spend time with a dead loved one is indeed moving, but the way they established it seems just…awkward. I can understand the filmmakers wanting to add a twist of some kind, but just the legs? Yes, they find a way to communicate (somewhat) with them, but it just seems not as original or daring an idea that would expect from the studio.

Speaking of originality, when Disney/Pixar is at the top of their game, they give us worlds of endless possibilities. They have created countless universes with toys, bugs, monsters, cars, superheroes (even before the MCU), robots, emotions (!), and rats in the kitchen. Very few studios can say they have done something like that (save for Studio Ghibli).

That said, the universe of the creatures of Onward seems like it is from the minor leagues. Through out the film, I seriously had to remind myself I was watching a Disney/Pixar film, and not something from a lesser quality studio (I won’t name examples, but even the heads of other studios have to admit they have to almost always compete with Disney/Pixar).

Parents, the film is okay for kids provided you plan to have a conversation about the lesbian character, but I do admit I think the humor for the adults will be harder to find than it was in other Disney/Pixar films.

The deeper issues with being able to talk to a deceased family member did hit me at times (having lost my own dad a little less than a decade ago), but not as much as it could have. Consider the other great touching moments in the history of Disney/Pixar: Andy saying goodbye to his toys, WALL-E not recognizing EVE, Boo realizing (at the time) she won’t see Sully again, Miguel singing to Coco, the goodbye at the end of Toy Story 4, and, of course, the first ten minutes of Up. I would argue these (as well as moments which would produce “happy tears”) are groundbreaking moments for a child’s life as a movie goer (and some adults as well).

Disney/Pixar will, I am confident, still produce classics in the years to come (they have another film this year called Soul, which does look promising), but they need to remember to go Onward before going upward.

Overall:

Rating: 2.5 out of 5.

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2 1/2 Stars Movies

Frozen 2 (2019)

Even those of us who are not parents did not have to make much effort to see how much of a cultural impact the original Frozen film made back in 2013. It came out just in time before the beginning of the live action remake wave that Disney is now on, gave a lot of kids (especially girls) life lessons to learn, and songs that were stuck in their heads (as well as their parents’) for so long afterward I feel we may have forgotten how good it was to begin with. The only true negative about the film was that it made Disney produce Olaf’s Frozen Adventure, which would have been fine had it not been played before 2017’s Coco as a “short” (it was 20 minutes long), resulting in a theater experience I still am recovering from.

Still, we now come to Frozen 2, which (thankfully) does not reference anything to Olaf’s Frozen Adventure. As children, Elsa and Anna are told by their parents (who we know died in the first film) that the people of Arendelle were once sent to the forest to make a form of peace with the dwellers of the forest, where the spirits of earth, wind, water, and fire would dwell (kind of like that film The Last Airbender, without the awfulness). In the present, Elsa (Idina Menzel) begins hearing voices, leading her to the forest where an immense fog has made the way completely impassable. She is joined, of course, by her little sister Anna (Kristen Bell) and Anna’s boyfriend Kristoff (Jonathan Groff), Kristoff’s loyal reindeer Sven, and Olaf (Josh Gad), destined to go down as one of the best supporting comic relief characters in Disney’s long history.

As is the case with nearly all animated sequels (Disney or otherwise), the returning characters are accompanied with some fresh new faces, including Sterling K. Brown ( from This is Us) as a long-time loyal guard to Arendel. Other voice talents include Alfred Molina, Evan Rachel Wood, and Jason Ritter. My favorite new addition was that of a speechless and small (yet powerful) small toad that is befriended by Elsa.

The story is (mostly) solid, and kids can walk away learning about how we all play a part in the grand scheme of things, as well as helping out your friends/family. One thing I regret to say adults will not like is that the songs of this film are not as up to par as those from the original. That is not to say they are totally bad, but I for one did not find myself humming hardly any tunes from this film (unlike the first film, which made “Let it Go” one of the most overplayed songs in the history mankind.)

An example of this would be the song “Into the Unknown”, which is being marketed as the sequel’s “Let it Go”, sung by Menzel’s character Elsa. I recall the first feelings I had when I sat in the theater during the first film and got chills (so to speak) when “Let it Go” was performed. Vibes were sent through me that truly reminded me of Menzel’s true iconic song, “Defying Gravity” (from the musical Wicked). I did not get this sense here and would argue it is not even the best song of the film (I was more into Elsa singing “Show yourself” and Kristoff singing “Lost in the Woods”.) Matters are made even worse when the credits role, and “Into the Unknown” is sung by Panic at the Disco.

Even the solo song by Olaf is rather disappointing. In the first film, we truly believed that his character was certain to be having a future life “In Summer”. Here, he sings about how all things will make sense “When I am Older”. All well and good, but the song seems like the makers just said “Quick, we need a song for Olaf!”, and did not stop to realize it is not part of the story at all.

Parents, this is easily one movie you will probably end up taking your kids to, since I am certain many have been begging there parents for ages about it. There are some dark moments, but nothing most kids can’t handle.

Will kids enjoy Frozen 2? More than likely (at least those under the age of 7 or so). The little girl sitting behind me (around five or six years old) surely did, when she said at one point “I want that dress!”. Parents are another story (though Olaf does give all ages plenty to laugh about). The first film enthralled us with stunning animation, catchy songs, and intriguing new characters. No one would have predicted before the first film came out that it would become the entity it is today, which was mainly due to engaging the imaginations of all ages of the audience (something that Disney is arguably the best at doing in any form of entertainment).

For Frozen 2, the movie does try to go into newer territory, but it did not take as many original risks as the first film. It would have been a better film if it truly did venture into the unknown.

Overall:

Rating: 2.5 out of 5.

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2 1/2 Stars Movies

It Chapter Two (2019)

I have often stated that, for one reason or another, I have yet to read a single Stephen King book, meaning I am not always sure if the films are entirely faithful to the material (thought it is wildly known that Stanley Kubrick’s The Shining was not, resulting in King vocally hating the film). It is true that most (if not all) film adapations will differ from the original source, so I feel compelled to judge the film as a whole rather than just how well the film was accurate or not. Whether or not IT Chapter Two is in the loyal category or not, the end result is still rather disappointing, especially since the first IT film two years ago was one of the better horror films of recent memory (I even went to declare it as the best film of 2017).

The film (directed by Andy Muschietti, who also directed the first film) opens twenty seven years after the events of the first film (2016, so modern day in some form), we see the return of the terrifying Pennywise (once again, played radiantly by Bill Skarsgard). We see that only one member of the Loser’s Club, Mike (Isaiah Mustafa) has decided to stay in the town of Derry, Maine (in flashbacks, he is played by Chosen Jacobs). He begins to call the remaining members back.

As expected, a lot has changed in twenty seven years, which is shown through a good number of flashbacks (where all the child actors from the original return). When last seen, young Bill (Jaeden Martell) was the leader and getting over his stuttering problem (let alone the death of his little brother Georgie). Now as an adult, Bill (James McAvoy) is a writer who seems to have problems coming up with good endings. Young Ben (Jeremy Ray Taylor) was last overweight yet still kind hearted. Now, the adult Ben (Jay Ryan) has clearly been working out, yet his heart is the same as ever (and still turned toward the one person who signed his yearbook twenty seven years ago). Ever the comic relief, young Richie (Finn Wolfhard) has grown up to be a comedian (played by Bill Hader). There is still the hypochondriac Eddie (James Ransone, who looks the most like his younger self when played by Jack Dylan Grazer), Stanley (Wyatt Oleff as a child, and Andy Bean as an adult), and, finally, Beverly (Sophia Lillis as a child and Jessica Chastain as an adult).

One of the shocking parts to me (which I believe was in the book) was that it takes the characters a good amount of time to remember the events of the past (with the exception of Mike, who, due to staying in Derry, has remembered everything). I guess it would make sense that, due to the oddities of Derry (“I’m kind of used to it by now”, Bill says), memories may have faded in time (all of us have faded memories as well). However, some seem to take a long time for the characters to remember (it does not seem to cross Bill’s mind for sometime that he once had a little brother).

It is said that, in order to defeat IT, each member must retrieve a piece of their past, which must be done by themselves. This results in the flashbacks to the parts of that summer when the kids were not on speaking terms (after Eddie broke his arm and Bill punched Richie in the face). While the first film showed how we have to face our fears, the second film dives deeper, as it shows we sometimes do all we can to bury our fears and insecurities in the past. Facing our past mistakes can be scary in itself (think of Moses).

While I know there are parts of the story that needed to be told, the film still runs too long. There are some moments that are well done, but don’t really drive the story at all. One main scene I can think of is with a little girl who discovers Pennywise under the bleachers of a local baseball game. The scene is well done and affective, but what does it add to the story? We already knew that Pennywise was taking bloodcurdling to the next level.

Another one of the flaws of the film was the return of a certain character from the first one. While I won’t give it away (and the new actor looked like this character would in the future so well I was borderline flabbergasted), I will say how this character manages to escape predicaments and interact with the other characters is too bizarre to take into account.

As was the case with the first film, the cast is practically pitch perfect. Everyone fits their roles like a glove (I read that, when the child stars were asked who they would like to play their roles as adults, both Finn Wolfhard and Sophia Lillis picked the performers who would eventually play them). We also get two nice cameos that I for one was not expecting at all.

Parents, it should not take much thought to know that this is not a film for children. The movie deserves its R rating, though if your kids did see the first film, they would probably be okay here.

One thing the sequel has more of is CGI, which tends to dampen the scares down a bit (though there are still a good amount of “jump scares” to go around). While the CGI is not bad in a sense, the very idea of seeing Pennywise in his true form takes away some of the imaginative properties we had going into the theater. There is a point in the film where Mike talks about how, sometimes, we tend to keep the memories we like and not the bad ones. That being said, I plan to remember the greatness of the first film and not a lot from the second film.

Overall:

Rating: 2.5 out of 5.

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2 1/2 Stars

Fantastic Beasts: The Crimes of Grindlewald (2018)

One of the best things about the original Harry Potter films was that all were such good entertainments on their own merits that I still have a problem of picking my favorite (though the 5th and 8th are strong contenders). One thing is for certain: none of the prequels are in the conversation.

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2 1/2 Stars

Ant-Man (2015)

Back in 5th grade, I was told to do a poem based off of an animal that I was like. My pre-teen, short stature self decided on an ant, who was small, but a hard worker. I thought of this poem while entering Ant-Man, hoping for a sleeper of a film to be entertaining and possibly more.

Sadly, it was not the case.