Month: June 2019

Movie Review – Toy Story 4

Category : Movie Review

Director: Josh Colley

Starring: Tom Hanks, Tony Hale, Annie Potts

Year: 2019

Toy Story calls a wrap after its fourth installment, although who can tell when there’s money involved; we could see an entire series of The Adventures of Rex if there was reasonable assurance that it would turn a profit, and quality be damned.  But that’s one thing to respect about this franchise; it has never seemed to be about the publicity, focusing rather on producing top-notch animation and compelling stories, with toys that we’ve come to love.  It’s sad to think that we’ll have to say goodbye, some of us grew up on these films, but nothing gold can stay, after all, and that’s something every one has to learn.  Including these iconic characters who we learn right alongside, as they go on what could be their last journey, and perhaps their most important yet.

Woody, Buzz, and the gang belong to Bonnie now, and that’s great, since Andy grew up and moved on, and since Bonnie needs them now in a way that every toy yearns to be needed.  She’s about to start Kindergarten, but before she does her family will take a little road trip, bringing along all her favorite playthings, of course.  Including her newest creation, a craft christened Forky, who knows he’s Trash, won’t be convinced he’s now a Toy, and who Woody has to babysit/guard from throwing himself in the garbage.  Forky doesn’t understand that Bonnie needs him, while Woody is starting to learn that he’s not as important as he used to be, and that there might be another life out there somewhere beyond the horizon.  An adventure on the road trip, including the previously donated Bo Peep, shows our cowpoke hero just what it means to be needed, wanted, and on your own.

Although I really enjoyed Toy Story when it came out in 1995, I was 12 years old and perhaps ready to move on from Disney to other, more adult mediums.  Pixar was a nice transition though, because it changed the art form, got rid of the musicals & princesses, and made animation cool, so budding teenagers could still watch without feeling kiddish.  Still, I was never a Toy Story fiend, although I do love Bug’s Life and WALL-E, so perhaps by then I was ready to thoroughly enjoy cartoons again.  But perhaps because I wasn’t a super fan, I wasn’t able to dive completely into Toy Story 2 or Toy Story 3, when others were going crazy.  They just didn’t wow me as sequels as much as they seemed to win over everyone else, but I think Toy Story 4 might be the closest it’s come yet to the magic of the original, pulling even me a little nearer to shedding a tear for these beloved characters.

First, the animation is stellar, and I don’t mind that they rounded the edges or that Andy looks a little different than he did all that time ago.  After all, it’s been 24 years, we’re allowed to improve technology, I don’t need the same pixels, we can accept a little change, people.  And the sets were great, moving out of the playroom, getting around the world a bit, seeing some new sites.  Pretty smart on the filmmakers’ part to give us something fresh, and the story was passable enough to get us out there.  Some of the new roles were cool (Duke Caboom) and some were questionable (Ducky & Bunny), but overall it was nice to see new faces.  Buzz was only in the background, which was fine, as was most of the original team, but, again, I didn’t mind, I think we wanted something a little different.  The message was solid as well, speaking to those of us who have grown up with this franchise, telling us that it’s OK to move on from childhood and find our own places/tastes/passions.  So I enjoyed Numero Cuatro, maybe even a little more than I thought I would, and I think it was a fitting way to bid farewell.

My rating: ☆ ☆ ☆ ☆



Book Review – The Hunger

Category : Book Review

Author: Alma Katsu

Year: 2018

Historical fiction is a fun genre, so when I saw a recommendation in the genre at my local library that looked interesting I thought I’d give it a try.  The author has only written three other novels, a trilogy, so reading her latest is taking a big chance, but as a history buff I was willing to take a shot.  She turned the Donner Party into horror fiction and that’s pretty cool, but unfortunately her writing talent wasn’t up to par with her idea.  Filled with letters and dates and true life events, the book was still unable to rise above its fabricated pieces and conversations, creating a muddle of mismanaged ideas that are in no way worth your time.

Setting out later than most wagon trains, the Donners and many other families joined together to take the long road West toward California and a new life.  Starting out at the traditional spot of Independence, Missouri, bad luck seemed to dog them all the way, included squabbles and deaths and jealousies and affairs.  A dark presence hovered over the whole affair, and it only got worse as the party decided to take an alternate route across the mountains at the spine of the country, instead of the typical longer way.  Trapped in the upper passes and starting to get hungry, and with legends all around telling of hungry spirits preying upon the weak of heart, order started to collapse, and the rest is history.

This is a stellar idea, taking a real event that we know so little about and fleshing out the details with fiction, especially horror, which works perfectly in this situation.  Is it evil or just mankind, is it nature or an otherwordly force, these are the questions that haunt the wagon train and the reader alike, which I give two thumbs up.  But the rest was crap, I hate to inform you.  The idea might have been strong, but the execution was absolutely terrible, with no sense of what audiences want to experience, or how good stories are told.  The dialogue was stilted, the characters too many, there was no cohesion, plotlines went everywhere, and although we kept returning to real history, which was fine, it felt like two separate tracks heading for a merger at which we’d just crash and burn.

My rating: ☆



Movie Review – Ghost Ship

Category : Movie Review

Director: Steve Beck

Starring: Julianna Margulies, Gabriel Byrne, Isaiah Washington

Year: 2002

I saw that I should watch Ghost Ship if only for the first ridiculous five minutes, and that’s about as long as my willing attention lasted.  It was a struggle to make it through to the end, since it was the worst movie that has ever been made, and I rue the day I heard its title.  No joke; I don’t think I’ve ever seen anything worse, at least not a film that real humans with real intentions produced in an effort for real audiences to watch (which obviously excluded The Room).  If I were part of this cast I would move to an island where no on had heard of cinema, because you’re never living this one down, the most embarrassing attempt at actual filmmaking in history, something that will never not be a complete disaster no matter how much time passes.

A ragtag salvage team who troll the ocean for wreckage they can turn into cash get a tip on a mysterious ship that no one has yet claimed, so off they go on another adventure to risk their lives for treasure and glory.  But the ship they find isn’t an ordinary wreck, it’s a lost ocean liner that’s been missing for 40 years under strange circumstances, and everyone on the boat seems to have died.  Their spirits haven’t gone far though, and the team is about to find out that these ghosts aren’t very friendly.  Our heroes begin to die one by one as the mystery unravels and the plot thickens; will any of them make it off the decks of this haunted junk alive?!

Steve Beck has directed two movies, Thir13en Ghosts and Ghost Ship, so obviously he can’t be trusted.  Other than doing some visual effects for some flicks in ’89 & ’90 that’s it, that’s all he’s given us, and he’s not done anything since, which I think is a godsend.  Seriously, what a horrendous movie and an embarrassing attempt at, well, anything, and we should all boo anyone involved whenever we see them on the streets.  Margulies, Byrne, Washington, Ron Eldard, Karl Urban, Emily Browning; Jesus Horatio Christ, if there was ever a more cringe-worthy cast I’ve not seen it.  And yes the first five minutes are insane, but not worth watching, because then you might feel compelled to watch the rest, and that’s something you really shouldn’t be doing.

My rating: ☆



Movie Review – The Wife

Category : Movie Review

Director: Bjorn Runge

Starring: Glenn Close, Jonathan Pryce

Year: 2018

The only awards buzz The Wife received was for Glenn Close for Best Actress, and we all know that’s only because voters thinks she deserves a win after all her years of service and minimal recognition.  She’s been nominated for an Oscar seven times but has never won, and I think that about epitomizes her career; close but no cigar.  She’s a passable actress, a serviceable veteran, but not special enough to jump to that next level, and I think The Wife might have been one of her last chances.  She’s 72, if she hasn’t done it yet, she’s not gonna do it now, and this latest attempt just wasn’t unique enough to earn her any praise, let alone that illusive thing she’s been striving for.

When Joe Castleman wins the Nobel Prize for Literature, his wife Joan is swept up in the fanfare of his award, as the couple travels to Sweden to accept the honor.  Their son comes along, a writer as well, as is Joan, though neither ever reached the level that Joe was able to attain, and both harbor deep resentments.  But there’s even more to their anger than that, as a family secret begins to emerge after a nosy biographer pries into affairs that aren’t his.  But once open, Pandora’s box won’t hold its prisoners, and the truth will eventually get out.  After all these years of marriage, the union of Joe & Joan Castleman might end at what should be its happiness and highest point.

We’ve seen this before, minus this particular twist, and we’ve seen it done better.  Watch 45 Years if you like this style of dramatic, revelatory fiction, it’s so much better, from the acting to the directing, from the story to the execution.  This plot is a little cheesy, though interesting, so it takes stellar performances to take it all the way to the finish line, and that’s what this movie was missing.  Close isn’t what it needed, Pryce did his best, but the side actors failed to help, and the director didn’t have enough strength to steer what started to founder early into a friendly port.  The flashback scenes were pretty awful, but the modern scenes were solid, and I was interested to see how it would turn out, the acting simply wasn’t up to par with what I can see somewhere else and have watched before.

My rating: ☆ ☆ ☆


Book Review – Revival

Category : Book Review

Author: Stephen King

Year: 2014

Revival might be the weakest King book I have ever read, and I’ve read my fair share.  I love his style, his immersion, his references, and basically all his stories; he has an unmatched gift that can’t ever be explained.  But Revival is weak sauce, throwaway fiction, without a real point or a strong hook, and it left me feeling like he wrote it in his spare time, not with any real focus.  In fact, this book was written in between King’s Bill Hodges Trilogy (Mr. Mercedes, Finders Keepers, End of Watch), so maybe he quite literally did give birth to this story while he was busy doing other, more important things.  Because it feels like an afterthought, or perhaps a side note, a tale that could have made for an interesting short, but was never made for an independent novel, as it was doomed from the start.

Jamie Morton can’t escape the madness of his childhood minister, Charles Jacobs; the fates of both men have been intertwined for some dark purpose.  As a boy, Jamie looked up to Charles, they were friends even, and the minister shared his love of God with the curious child, as well as his passion for science and electricity, which were his obsessive hobbies.  But when Charles lost his wife and son in an accident, he left his religion behind, and Jamie grew up while growing further & further away from his own faith.  But the two were linked, and as Jamie fell into drug addiction, Charles advanced his experiments with the healing power of electricity, tapping into some other-worldly force to treat the sick, but with an ulterior motive that definitely wasn’t Godly.  Jamie would become an Igor to Charles’ Dr. Frankenstein, the pair playing with fire, all the while knowing that, beyond the veil between life and death, there might be a sleeping evil that won’t react well to being disturbed.

This novel is so convoluted with religion, addiction, trauma, and pseudoscience that it’s hard to wrap your brain around all the themes at once, while also trying to dive into a horror story that’s mostly neither scary nor interesting.  It’s a curious idea, but fleshed out far beyond its breaking point, like The Shining taken down the wrong road and given too many different threads to handle.  And I even felt that King was off his game, ending chapters with phrases like, “But I had no idea everyone around me was about to die”, as if he didn’t have any other tools at his disposal than cheap, college-level fiction tactics.  The entire book read as if it was written by someone on a lower talent tier than King’s usually-sharp standards, and that’s a major disappointment.  I’ve read almost everything he has ever offered, and Revival might be the most phoned in, the least thought through, and the only one without a reason to invest.

My rating: ☆ ☆



Movie Review – Napoleon Dynamite

Category : Movie Review

Director: Jared Hess

Starring: Jon Heder, Aaron Ruell, Efren Ramirez

Year: 2004

I will always love Napoleon Dynamite for its utter originality, and for its blatant disregard for anything approaching normal.  It’s the most bizarre comedy you’re ever likely to see, a coming-of-age tale about the world’s biggest weirdo, who has a family to match, set amid a timeless background that makes audiences feel nostalgic for the 70s, 80s, and 90s all at once.  At a time when movie quotes were my passion, Napoleon provided some of the best in history, awkward phrases that still make me laugh today, and there aren’t many weeks that go by without a prime opportunity to look exasperated and say, in an attempt at his one-of-a-kind voice, “Lucky!”  Consider yourself just that if you grew up with this film, because you got to experience pillar characters and content, if from a random, unlikely source.

Napoleon lives with his free-spirited Grandma and his unemployed, 30-something brother Kip, in a small town in Idaho.  The entire family is bizarre, including the washed-up and often creepy Uncle Rico, but Napoleon might be the strangest of all, or at least the least comfortable in his own skin.  He dresses strangely, draws fantasy creatures, constantly lies about his adventures outside school, and can’t find anyone he fits in with, simply floating grumpily through his own existence with his head in the clouds.  But he’s about to meet two equally unique people who will become his friends and change his life; Deb and Pedro.  Deb sells glamour, though she’s not very outgoing herself, and Pedro has a quiet confidence, though mostly he’s just quiet.  Together, the trio can take on anything, including running a campaign for Pedro for School President and maneuvering lame high school dances.  Perhaps Napoleon can get by with a little help from his friends, because if anyone could use a helping hand growing up, it’s him.

Our hero and title character is great, with his breathless indignation and constant low opinion of humanity.  And obviously he runs the show, the movie is named after him, he’s the driving force for all the comedy.  But it’s the side cast that makes this film magical; without them it would simply be funny, not monumental.  Kip will kill you with his dry, nerdy, embarrassing demeanor, and how they arc his role is so wonderfully weird.  Then there’s Uncle Rico (or Lazio from Real Genius, if you remember that one), and he’s so uncomfortable to watch that you go full circle and start rooting for him to win at something for once in his life.  Tina Majorino from Corrina, Corrina, Diedrich Bader from Office Space, Hillary Duff’s sister for some random reason; the acting doesn’t have to be amazing, because the character’s are already written that way.  Jared Hess would continue to be a oddball director for a few years, but could never top his debut film; Napoleon Dynamite is the kind of icon that can’t ever be matched.

My rating: ☆ ☆ ☆ ☆ ☆



Movie Review – Sky High

Category : Movie Review

Director: Mike Mitchell

Starring: Michael Angarano, Kurt Russell, Mary Elizabeth Winstead

Year: 2005

It’s approaching 15 years ago that my nephew was obsessed with Sky High and watched it over & over again.  I’d go over to my sister’s to play cards, she’d pop in the film, he’d enter another world, and the adults would relax; good times, noodle salad.  And I even remember laughing at times at the lines I was hearing in the background; “Sidekick!” when a kid messed up, “Bus Driver.” so no one forgot one character’s job title.  But it wasn’t until now that I sat down and watched from start to finish, this time with my son, who was ready with laughter at every prat fall and silly joke.  For that matter, so was I, and I enjoyed this Mid-Grade movie perhaps a little more than I thought I might.

Will Stronghold is the son of the two most famous superheroes in the world: Jetstream & The Commander.  To him they’re just mom & dad, but to average folk they are the pair who protect the innocent, who keep supervillains from taking control.  But when it’s his turn to begin training at Sky High to become the next savior of the planet, Will finds that his powers haven’t emerged yet, and that’s a sure ticket to being a lowly sidekick; not what he’d been imagining all these years.  His abilities may or may not come later in life, there’s no telling, but for now he will have to learn that being a part of a team can be just as rewarding as being a leader.  And when a villain attempts to take over the school, it’s the misfits who will have to step up and take control.

The humor of Sky High is inexplicably smart, or at least clever, and maybe that’s not so surprising, coming from the director of Trolls and Lego Movie 2.  Well, those movies aren’t exactly brilliant, they’re good though, and so is Sky High, a nice balance between kid comedy and passable quality.  It’s a little like Spy Kids, but SO much better, more like Harry Potter, but not as strong.  Somewhere in the middle, there’s a place where it’s OK to laugh at dumb jokes and then nod at a witty comment; a place for fun, really.  And this cast worked wonderfully, without them there’s a chance the same writing and direction doesn’t work: Angarano, Russell (who cracked me up), Winstead in an early role, Kelly Preston, Kevin Heffernan from Super Troopers, Lynda Carter, Bruce Campbell, Steven Strait from 10,000 BC, Cloris Leachman, Dave Foley, Kevin McDonald from Kids in the Hall.  Quite the team, and what’s more is they worked, which was maybe unexpected.  Sky High is like that; it’s a better movie than you might think.

My rating: ☆ ☆ ☆



Movie Review – Stan & Ollie

Category : Movie Review

Director: Jon S. Baird

Starring: Steve Coogan, John C. Reilly

Year: 2018

A more perfect tribute to past celebrity might not exist on the planet; Stan & Ollie may have just topped the list.  There are biopics that have won prestigious awards, but I’m not sure any of them have harnessed the heart of this film, have paid homage to what once was and will never be again.  This is an embodiment more than a reenactment, and another aspect sets it apart from other, higher-praised, biographic dramas; these actors weren’t in front of a camera to make themselves seen, they were there to bring something magical back into our hearts.  Stan & Ollie is a selfless movie, a pure wonder of entertainment and sweet exuberance, with no one stepping forward to hog the spotlight, no one actor looking to take home a prize.  This is real life brought to life, artist honoring artist, and wow can you feel it.

As their careers began to sputter to an end, Laurel & Hardy found themselves unwanted and unwatched, two has-beens with their best years behind them.  Not too long ago, they were the top comedy duo in the world, making movies and making people laugh, at the top of their game.  But show business is rough, they eventually went their separate ways, and life barreled on.  Years later, they team up one more time with the hope of producing some buzz, which will maybe lead to a new movie, stranger things have happened.  So they set out on a tour of the United Kingdom, which goes better than they ever could have hoped.  Audiences are cheering once again for Stan Laurel & Oliver Hardy, with their simple, physical, and hilarious routines.  But Ollie’s health won’t hold up forever, and eventually the old hats will have to be hung up; it’s not a matter of if but of when.

What a kind tribute, a nod to the old greats, without once puffing up into something modern and Hollywood, or a self-congratulating phony.  There were only real moments here, historical moments, attempts to allow audiences to skip back in time to see something that was special for a brief period, something that will never come again.  I applaud the whole team for creating something this sweet and well-intentioned, all the more because it worked, so special credit to the stars, Steve & John.  I’ve recently talked about John C. Reilly (The Sisters Brothers, Ralph Breaks the Internet), his mastery, his talent, how important he has been for the last few decades, his raw and unmatched ability.  But Steve Coogan (The Trip, Alan Partridge) isn’t far behind, with a wit and zing that’s unparalleled, and never gets old.  Put the two of them together to play the funniest men in history and you’ve got a film that can’t fail, and which didn’t, not once, not for one minute.  They were wonderful as Laurel & Hardy, excellent as professionals doing their job, but always with a sense that they wanted to be here; imitation is the highest form of flattery, after all.

My rating: ☆ ☆ ☆ ☆



Movie Review – I Am Mother

Category : Movie Review

Director: Grant Sputore

Starring: Clara Rugaard, Rose Byrne, Hilary Swank

Year: 2019

For a debut feature for a writer/director and a Netflix original sci-fi flick, I Am Mother is a stunning success.  I’ll even go one step further; it approaches Ex Machina in quality and craft, if not quite reaching that spectacular height.  But it doesn’t miss by much, maybe a key actor or two, where Ex Machina had three future legends working together at the very top of their game.  I Am Mother doesn’t have that exact talent level supporting its story, but the plot mostly speaks for itself, as do the awesome situations and predicaments its characters find themselves in.  Had the cast been more impacting, this film could have been one of the very best of the year, sci-fi or otherwise, streaming or not.  As it is, it doesn’t come up too short.

After a global catastrophic event, mankind has been effectively eliminated from the planet, and an underground bunker’s technology automatically kicks into action.  A robot called Mother is activated and begins bringing to life human embryos from a vast storage container holding the key to the repopulation of Earth.  A girl is born, called Daughter, and she grows up knowing nothing but life in the bunker, with a robot as her only companion.  But one day a noise outside brings the truth about the world crashing down; she’s not alone, there are survivors outside, and Mother might not be the wonderful maternal nurturer that she appears to be.

This story went exactly how I was hoping, and that doesn’t always happen.  When I was thinking “man I hope we find out more about the world outside” we did.  When I was thinking “wow I don’t want it to end this way” it didn’t.  And while movies don’t have to bend to my whims, I felt like Sputore had put himself in the shoes of the audience, had perhaps avoided a common pitfall when writing and creating this tale, which is making the film for himself alone, not considering that art doesn’t become anything other than static until it’s viewed by someone else.  He made something special with I Am Mother, and I’ll be thinking about this dystopic thriller the rest of the year.  I do wish the acting had been a little more powerful; Rugaard is a newcomer, Byrne was just a voice, Swank isn’t my favorite.  But they definitely didn’t detract, and I was on the edge of my seat from the opening scene to the last, fed enough detail to stay interested but also allowed to piece together the background at my own pace.  Netflix won with this bet, and I hope to see more from Sputore, because I think he has plenty to say.

My rating: ☆ ☆ ☆ ☆


Movie Review – The Perfection

Category : Movie Review

Director: Richard Shepard

Starring: Allison Williams, Logan Browning, Steven Weber

Year: 2019

The Perfection is like if Get Out was crap.  The same lead actress, the same creepy white guy character, the envy of gifts, the imminent and bizarre blood; cou*copy*gh.  Richard Shepard, whose only “claim to fame” is Dom Hemingway, is more a TV and made-for-TV director, not a feature guy who can produce original content, so he simply stole a near-masterpiece of modern horror and added in a cello to make unsuspecting audiences think they were watching something completely new.  News flash, Richie; we’re not that dumb.  I don’t have much faith in humanity, but I’m sure there will be enough people who recognize what you did that I won’t feel completely alone.  But I’ve also seen gushing reviews come out, which only proves to me that some audiences/critics will love anything that’s remotely sensationalized, regardless of the messy rest.

A stunning cello virtuoso, Charlotte had to quit the instrument and leave a prestigious school when her mother became ill, putting her own dreams on hold.  Another girl, Elizabeth, took her top place, and would become a world-renowned player, while Charlotte watched from the sidelines.  Now that her mother has died, she is free to return to the world she once loved, though not as the young student rising to super-stardom; that path is now blocked.  But Elizabeth, Lizzie, seems lovely, and the pair of young ladies instantly connect upon meeting each other in Shanghai.  But it’s not all coming up daisies, there’s something more sinister in the air, starting with a strange sickness Lizzie contracts, and involving a small tattoo that both women share, connecting their mysterious pasts as well as their violent futures.

Lesbians are en vogue right now, and I can’t imagine how insulting that must be, while activists clamor for equal representation, to have your sexuality used as a tool to attract audiences.  It’s obvious when a story is done to reflect gay couples in real life and when it’s done to grab attention to a low-quality product, and I strongly feel that The Perfection is the latter.  This film isn’t edgy, isn’t groundbreaking, isn’t representational, it’s a gimmick, and that’s not cool.  It’s a recycling of a plot we recently watched, with the same actress we watched, from a slightly different point of view, with some of the same themes, about music instead of photography, with rape as a story arc done in bad taste; and we’re expected to applaud?  Bad on Netflix for picking up this project, and not simply for social reasons, maybe I’m just being too sensitive, but also because, well, it just sucks.  Allison Williams is talented, but literally no one else in the cast was, and the gore was stupid at best, insulting if you look into it too closely.  The plot was dumb, I hated the direction, the acting was no good, and I felt like I needed a shower after watching, which I’m guessing might have been part of the intention, a purposeful ick factor, but for that the filmmakers have only earned a “screw you”.

My rating: ☆