Month: July 2022

Movie Review – The Sea Beast

Category : Movie Review

Director: Chris Williams

Starring: Zaris-Angel Hator, Karl Urban, Jared Harris

Year: 2022

A Netflix original film, The Sea Beast is computer animation at its poorest and story at its most borrowed, yet somehow still a good-enough adventure for the whole family, a movie that doesn’t wow because it simply wasn’t created with a high enough ceiling.  It’s a streamable good time, and holds pieces that are rather good, at least until you recall where you’ve seen them before.  But, hey, my kids thought it was a cool story, there are some morals here that bare repeating, and everyone goes (or stays?) home happy.

Once upon a time, sea monsters weren’t happy wrecking sailing voyages, they came right up on shore, wreaking havoc and snatching screaming damsels right out of their bedroom windows.  That time of terror is over, thanks to the Hunters, who prowl the seas searching for these creatures, offering their heads & horns to nobility for a worthy prize.  A young orphan named Maisie wishes to join such a crew, and she falls in with the best of the best, Captain Crow and his right hand pair, Sarah & Jacob.  Off they go to kill monsters, but it will soon be revealed that the true evil was back on dry land all along.

The animation is …poor.  It’s that blocky computer stuff that looks so cheap, like the Pixie Hollow films, and that’s a lot like how this one feels, an offshoot Disney adventure that doesn’t stand a chance of comparing to its contemporaries.  Also, it’s a fairly obvious knockoff of How To Train Your Dragon, like really similar, with a Kristoff-from-Frozen hero feel that’s hard to shake as well.  These elements don’t help make Sea Beast great, but they do set a floor for it to be good, and that’s all it can really muster.  The story is interesting, the moral is clear, the voice work is rather nice, and it’s fun for the whole family; just don’t ask for more.

My rating: ★ ★ ★ ☆ ☆


Movie Review – TMNT (1990)

Category : Movie Review

Director: Steve Barron

Starring: Judith Hoag, Elias Koteas, Sam Rockwell

Year: 1990

A blast from the totally tubular past, Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles was all the rage when I was a kid, from this film to the TV show to the video games to the toys; Turtles were everywhere.  It was the biggest thing since G.I. Joe, and we were hooked, we were all in.  This film is an example of the kind of humor and slapstick combat we enjoyed at the time, and showing it to my son was a great, great pleasure.  That doesn’t mean this movie is any good, obviously, but nostalgia is a very powerful thing, and can be very fun to hold on to.

Deep in the sewers under New York City dwell four very odd brothers, along with a father figure who is not so normal himself.  They are the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles, four little guys who grew into muscular roundhouse machines, thanks to a canister of ooze that affected their growth and the growth of a wise rat who took charge of them, trained them, and loved them all.  Donnie, Leo, Raph, Mikey; they are the young heroes that the city needs, especially when an evil blast from the past creates a crime ring that threatens to destroy the city.

The boys, Splinter, April, Casey; wow these guys were cool.  They were a mismatched band of knuckleheads who you just couldn’t help but love, and that’s the joy of this film; you love it despite its problems, at least if you watch it for the first time when you are between the ages of 8-12.  Weird stunts, weirder humor, the weirdest setup ever; how was this franchise even popular?  But it was, and I loved it, and I’m happy to re-watch it with that joy in mind.  Now, it’s crap, don’t get me wrong, complete crap, but so entertaining, and that’s just the way this wacky world works.

My rating: ★ ★ ★ ☆ ☆


Movie Review – The Parent Trap (1961)

Category : Movie Review

Director: David Swift

Starring: Hayley Mills, Brian Keith, Maureen O’Hara

Year: 1961

About as classic a family film as you can find, The Parent Trap is a standard by which all other teen high jinx movies should be compared, and probably found wanting.  The amount of times my sister and I watched this golden oldie when we were young, over the summer when we were bored, on any rainy day when we needed a pick-me-up, can’t be counted; I bet we’d have worn through our VHS if VHSes weren’t built like tanks.  This is cinema as its purest and finest, combining comedy with compassion, and resulting in something almost magical.

At a summer camp for girls, two guests, Susan and Sharon, meet and instantly dislike each other.  It’s not that they’re exact opposites, which doesn’t help; one from Cali, one from Boston, one tomboyish, one proper, one wild, one contained.  No, it’s a similarity that makes them angry at each other for no reason at all; they look exactly alike.  They soon discover that they are sisters, split soon after birth by divorcing parents, and it immediately becomes a mission to get their parents back together, whatever the cost.  But first, they’ll have to switch places, and that’s when the fun begins.

What a lovely, wonderful, elegantly made comedy, that also hits you right in the feels and always breezes by with a timeless air that few films have ever been able to achieve.  There is so much happening in so little time: the camp, a mystery, the switch, the switch back, an evil fiancee, a wedding to ruin, a trip; it’s a miracle they fit so much in.  But every piece is fun and fancy free, with a classic love story brought out by the tumult, with audiences along for the ride every step of the way.  The casting is perfect, down to the smallest character, the comedic timing is superb, and the music is lovely; there’s just nothing not to adore about Parent Trap, it’s simply too good to deny.

My rating: ★ ★ ★ ★ ★


Movie Review – Spider-Man: No Way Home

Category : Movie Review

Director: Jon Watts

Starring: Tom Holland, Zendaya, Benedict Cumberbatch

Year: 2021

The Spider-Man films have been some of the most consistent, independent, and universally contented entries into the Marvel Cinematic Universe.  The first two were fun, funny, a little outside the events of the rest of the heroes, just entertaining, and that’s what we want from our friendly neighborhood Spider-Man, so good on Marvel for giving that to us, and for doing it well.  Tom Holland reprises the role one more time in No Way Home, the end to his trilogy, but not the end to Spidey’s adventures.  This was the cross-over event of the year, a story for all to enjoy, and it was an absolutely solid success.

Peter Parker, after stopping a madman posing as a superhero, has been revealed as Spider-Man, and now the whole nation weighs in on whether he’s a criminal vigilante or the savior we all need.  Either way, Peter’s life is pretty much ruined, so he takes a stroll down to see his wizard friend, Doctor Strange, to ask for help making the world forget that Parker is Spidey.  Well, it doesn’t go as planned, and the result is a multi-dimensional catastrophe which draws in villains from an infinite number or worlds where their sole goal is killing Spider-Man.  Whoops.

Like the other two, the third installment in this series is very cool, very lively, quite humorous, full of heart, and just, generally, works.  They’ve done a great job keeping these slightly separate, slightly younger, more for the fans, and free of distraction, and I applaud them for that.  This time around, there was even the added element of nostalgia, as villains (and more) that we have seen before popped in to pay us a visit.  That works extremely well, and was the best part of the film, helping improve what started out a little shaky, hurried, and overly chatty.  Aunt May & Happy were distracting in the beginning, but once the action really got under way the movie soared, and what we were given was something pretty special.  Still, take away the surprise appearances and you aren’t left with too much maybe, but it doesn’t really matter; the movie as a whole was grand.

My rating: ★ ★ ★ ★ ☆


Movie Review – Gold (2022)

Category : Movie Review

Director: Anthony Hayes

Starring: Zac Efron

Year: 2022

I would like to say that Zac Efron is not just a pretty face (and abs), that he’s a very talented actor and that he’s shown us that many times over, but I’m not sure that’s true.  He’s tried to move past that persona, but looking through his filmography, the times that he’s really attempted something big haven’t been the successes we as fans wanted them to be.  Gold is by far his most challenging and introspective performance to date, and for trying he deserves credit, but it looks like the sheer volume of talent needed to put his past behind him might simply not be there.

A drifter in a broken world, a young man goes searching for a place called the Compound, where there is a promise of work, food, stability, maybe even a chance to start over.  Hitching a slow ride through the barren desert with a local man, he wonders if he’s doing the right thing, if this life has any more hope left in it at all.  When the truck overheats, the pair of men stumble upon a gigantic hunk of half-buried gold, so big that they’ll have to find a town with real equipment to get it out.  Our hero stays behind to guard it, but the wasteland will soon turn him into a villain, and will show him that good luck runs out quick.

I shouldn’t be too hard on Efron; he’s a good actor, just not a great one.  His attempts to rise above his good looks and his High School Musical days are commendable, I just don’t think he’s got quite what it takes to move on.  He reminds me of Shia LeBeouf, but a little more grounded and a little less talented.  Anyway, Gold might have been his chance, but it definitely wasn’t his coming out.  It’s a fine movie, it looks & feels interesting, but all the weight in the world is on Efron to deliver something magical, and he just doesn’t do it.  It’s moody, it’s grim, it’s got depth, I was invested in the metaphors of the tale, it just comes down to “does this actor take me the rest of the way” and the answer is, unfortunately, no.

My rating: ★ ★ ★ ☆ ☆


Movie Review – Sing 2

Category : Movie Review

Director: Garth Jennings

Starring: Matthew McConaughey, Reese Witherspoon, Taron Egerton

Year: 2021

If Sing 1 was fun & flippant, Sing 2 decided to follow the exact same formula, giving us another hefty dose of family frolic and catchy pop tunes that we can all enjoy, if not fall in love with.  Five years later, Sing 2 is basically just a repeat of the same earworm track, another dose of sugar to get us through another day.  Fine, thanks, but also, we probably would have been happy with something a little different the next time around, not the same film covered with exclusive permission from, well, yourself.

After some success, Buster Moon and his gang of pop artists have a hit show going; Alice in Wonderland with a new & catchy beat.  They are silly and cutesy, but that’s not where Moon wants to take them; he knows that they are destined for more.  So they hit the road to debut a new show, but that idea is stale, so they make up a new on off the cuff, and promise not only greatness but a great star in the leading role as well, which they in no way can deliver.  But they’ll have to fudge the numbers for a while, because a paying audience is coming to see this new, edgy, hit musical, and all their careers are riding on its success.

Again, this is just Sing 1 redone; no one believes in them, they all reach within themselves, they craft a show, no one wants to see it, so they put it on anyway because they’re scrappy and gutsy and we love ’em.  Fun, easy, family-oriented, pop-heavy; we’ve seen it before and although it doesn’t hurt to see it again, I don’t think I would watch a third time.  The voices seemed phoned in, the music was mostly well-selected, I laughed once or twice; this franchise doesn’t have a lot of heavy hits, it’s just nice, and I guess I’m OK with that.

My rating: ★ ★ ★ ☆ ☆


Movie Review – Thoroughbreds

Category : Movie Review

Director: Cory Finley

Starring: Olivia Cooke, Anya Taylor-Joy

Year: 2017

I thought I was filling in a blind spot when I went back to watch Thoroughbreds, a blind spot that was potentially a phenomenal film, based on what I’d heard; I didn’t want to miss that.  But what I had missed instead was an awfully amateur, badly bloated film school project, one that I personally would not have given an A.  Thoroughbreds is only supposed boundary pushes, not real ones, and that can be felt in every thread of the weaving.  It’s a first attempt, not a final draft, and that’s a big disappointment.

The details are sketchy, but Amanda and Lily were once friends, they aren’t any more, and Amanda has recently been through hell; her father died, she killed her own horse, she’s been away from school, and she’s in pretty big trouble.  Lily’s life isn’t perfect either; her wealthy new dad hates her, her mother is a trophy wife pushover, and she’s in trouble at her boarding school.  The two reconnect and try to reforge a friendship, with one odd goal at the center of their conversations; killing Lily’s evil stepfather and getting away with the crime.

Cooke & Taylor-Joy are both accomplished actresses, and they work well together here, as far as talent goes, but the film itself gives them hardly anything to work with.  Amanda supposedly has no emotions, Lily is keeping hers hidden, that’s a weird way to get to know the two main characters, and, I don’t know, if Anton Yelchin hadn’t come along for a bit I might have given up trying to understand the emotional roller coaster this movie became.  It was also hard to follow, either because its info was pieced together or because it was deadly dull or both.  Not a film to hang your hat on, Thoroughbreds is Finley’s first, so maybe it gets better from here, but this film is very far from the solid cinema it’s touted to be.

My rating: ★ ★ ☆ ☆ ☆


Movie Review – Crimson Tide

Category : Movie Review

Director: Tony Scott

Starring: Denzel Washington, Gene Hackman, Viggo Mortensen

Year: 1995

One of the best action movies ever crafted, definitely the best submarine flick ever produced, Crimson Tide is war drama like we’ve rarely ever seen it before, helmed by a cast that we for sure have never seen the like of since.  Heck, 1995 was a stellar year for film (Braveheart, Babe, Apollo 13, Sense and Sensibility, Toy Story, Pocahontas, Dead Man Walking, Leaving Las Vegas, The Usual Suspects, Mighty Aphrodite, Nixon, Se7en, 12 Monkeys, Casino, Rob Roy, Mr Holland’s Opus), with this action/adventure slammed right in the middle, holding its weight among the big boys.  Even all these years later, the acting and the intensity of this film are unmatched, and we are lucky to be able to continue to watch it.

With war brewing between Russia and the rebels who want its military, with Allied forces watching closely, and with the world holding its collective breath, an American nuclear submarine is launched to ready itself for the possibility of a third World War.  On board the Alabama, two men hold vast amounts of power, and extremely deadly weapons, in the palms of their hands.  Ramsey, the captain, is a hothead who is ready to fire nuclear weapons, while Hunter, the first officer, is more reserved and wants to know all the angles.  When a jumbled message leaves doubt as to their next move, the two men vie for power over the boat in what could be a fight for the survival of the planet.

Perhaps the only bad thing you can say about Crimson Tide is that it’s a bit repetitive, a little overzealous when it comes to the super important messages and the super dangerous enemy subs and the super machismo angst going on at any given second.  You could point to those things, and maybe they are a tad energetic, but the rest of the film is damn near perfect, which is exactly why we love it.  This film has everything; high anxiety, war pressure, underwater drama, alpha dog attitudes, military might, and excitement around every corner.  It also has one hell of a cast: Washington, Hackman, Mortensen, James Gandolfini, Steve Zahn, Ricky Scchroder, Ryan Phillippe, Gus from Basic Instinct, Fabrizio from Titanic, Calogero from Bronx Tale.  It really is magic, led by two incredible displays of talent from Denzel & Gene, two masters of their craft going head to head.  Also, there’s nothing lost watching it 27 years later, which is an impressive feat, and cements Crimson Tide as the legend we knew it would be.

My rating:  ★ ★ ★ ★ ☆


Movie Review – Abominable (2006)

Category : Movie Review

Director: Ryan Schifrin

Starring: Matt McCoy, Haley Joel, Christien Tinsley

Year: 2006

I don’t really believe in ‘closet favorites’, because why would you keep them in the closet if they were your favorites, you don’t need to be ashamed of enjoying a b-movie or a ridiculous romp; like what you like.  But if I were to name a few films that I know are bad but have fun with anyway, Abominable would be high on that list; as ridiculous a horror film as you are likely to find but with a hidden gem quality that I’ve never been able to deny.  Now, that doesn’t mean that much of it doesn’t suck, it just means that enough shines through that there’s a bit of magic I can’t explain, and a pull that keeps me coming back.

Preston Rogers and his wife were involved in a terrible climbing accident near their cabin in the woods, leaving Preston paralyzed and her dead.  In an effort to get past the accident, Preston is returned to the cabin under medical supervision, and against his wishes as well.  He tries to settle in and move on, but then he witnesses something that he can’t explain; a creature in the forest.  No on believes him, he’s unstable, after all, but he knows what he saw, and soon the monster starts taking young women from a friend group staying next door, which gets the blood flowing and the adventure started.

First, as far as horror goes, this is pretty great, with a weird monster, a creepy setup, dark woods, panicked people, and some blood for fun; just the way we like it.  The creature creeps me out, and the added element of no one believing Preston, like no one believing Shatner/Lithgow about the thing on the plane’s wing, makes the movie feel real.  That nod to a classic Twilight Zone episode, plus the very obvious Rear Window set up, gives some credibility to Abominable, especially when other aspects falter.  The girls in the cabin next door are laughable, the actual quality of the filmmaking is amateur, but there are some veterans in the cast that help things out (Paul Gleason, Lance Hendriksen), and things could have been way worse, in a film that is ultimately a gory good time.

My rating: ★ ★ ★ ☆ ☆


Movie Review – Pirates of the Caribbean: Dead Men Tell No Tales

Category : Movie Review

Director: Joachim Rønning

Starring: Brenton Thwaites, Kaya Scodelario, Johnny Depp

Geoffrey Rush, Javier Bardem, David Wenham, Orlando Bloom

Year: 2017

And we’re finally coming to the end, as the 5th and now not final installment graces our screens, with more dread than hope and more problems than potential.  I rated the first a 9/10, the second a 7/10, the third a 5/10, the fourth a 3/10, and the fifth, I was almost sure would follow the trend and end up a 1.  Luckily, I was pleasantly surprised by just enough of this cash-grab that the roller coaster went in the other direction, with this latest piece of the puzzle actually helping audiences love the series a little more, and ending things (for now) on a high note.

With Barbossa holding all the cards and ruling the high seas, Jack Sparrow is left with a mismatched crew, part of a ship, and not many hopes to hang his famous hat on.  That is, until he meets the young and unlikely duo of Henry Turner, who is trying to un-curse is father Will, and Carina Smyth, who knows how to find Poseidon’s trident, which gives its possessor power over the sea.  They’re off on another adventure, but following close behind is the British navy, as always, and an angry ghost/monster, per usual as well.  Can they all find their heart’s desires?  Only chance will tell.

Instead of sinking lower, Dead Men Tell No Tales helps the series to float again with its return to the style of the original; young man, young woman, falling in love, Sparrow the cad, Barbossa the captain, evil beings prowling, naval ships lurking, the whole rigamarole.  The story is bad and the wit is gone, that’s for sure, the magic really didn’t stick around for long, not after numero uno, but enough went right to help audiences stay engaged; Will is back, curses are broken, we learn Sparrow’s back story (which really saved the day), and the high seas adventure is fun again.  Still full of holes but at least somewhat fun, we can now hold just a little bit of hope that #6 won’t completely suck.

My rating: ★ ★ ★ ☆ ☆