Aladdin (2019)

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I wanted to hate this movie so much.

Disney’s original animated movie from 1992 is, most likely, my favorite animated movie of those days of the Disney renaissance, and the main reason was because of the love I had for Robin Williams.  Robin Williams absolutely destroyed the role of the Genie, creating one of the most iconic and brilliant animated characters in movie history.  Just the thought of someone else trying to play the role of the Genie was not a positive thought for me.

Then, I did not hate the announcement that Will Smith was cast in the role, because I enjoy him enough, but the images we got from promotional materials of Smith in his blue makeup look so bad that it felt as if this were a train wreck waiting to happen.

Robin Williams is one of my favorite people in movies and TV history.  I went way back to Mork & Mindy with him (heck, even before when Mork was on Happy Days).  Williams made the Genie role special with his unbelievable brand of improvisation and chaotic energy.  The film was literally changed to fit in some of the stuff Robin was coming up with off the top of his head.  I remember where I was when the news of Robin Williams’ suicide broke and that was a punch in the gut for me.

So there was already lots of negative feelings working against the new live-action version of Aladdin for me.  As I said, I was ready to hate this.

I enjoyed myself quite a bit.

Let’s start with the blue elephant in the room: Will Smith as Genie.  I started out not liking what I saw right away.  I did not like this version of “Friend Like Me” and I was worried that was going to be what we got the remainder of the movie. However, it picked up dramatically after this and the version of “Prince Ali”, which had been panned on the internet after the scene was released early, I thought was great (I had not watched it early, so the film was the first time I saw the song).

As the film progressed, Will Smith’s Genie felt like it became more and more its own character to the point where I stopped thinking about this being Will Smith’s Genie and just started thinking about it as the Genie.  In fact, Will Smith was one of the best parts of the second half of the movie.

I also really enjoyed Naomi Scott and Mena Massoud as Princess Jasmine and Aladdin.  They had great chemistry with each other and they both fit the roles well.  And Naomi Scott could sing.  Her song “Speechless” was amazingly powerful and beautifully rendered.  Now, I am not sure it fit in the film where they placed it, but the song is gorgeous without a doubt.

In the trailers, I was not a fan of Marwan Kenzari as Jafar, because of the voice.  However, in the movie, Kenzari worked extremely well for me.  I thought this version of Jafar was very solid and was, actually, quite sinister.  Unfortunately, I did not think that the film’s version of Iago the parrot (voiced in the original by Gilbert Gottfried and here by Alan Tudyk) worked at all.  Iago is a major character int he animated movie and seems like an after thought here.  I am not even sure they ever actually call him Iago in the movie.

The first act of the movie felt very rushed as the film jumped right into the story, brushing past several defining character moments.  Perhaps the film believed that everyone knew the story already and could breeze past it, but it did take the movie some time to recover the momentum after this.  Once it did though, Aladdin was a good time.

The dance numbers here were all good to great.  Most of the songs were well done, once again with anything that was sung by Naomi Scott being standouts.  Magic Carpet was done flawlessly.  Some of the CGI was not great, including the blue Genie.  It always felt better when the Genie was not blue and just looked like Will Smith.

The live action film may have been a touch too long, as it clocked in at around 2 hours and 8 minutes.  It could have benefited from shaving maybe 10 minutes from the run time.

In the end, I was ready to hate this version of Aladdin, but I liked it.  There are things that I did not think worked as well as other parts, but none of it made me angry or disappointed.  I think Robin Williams would have appreciated the work of Will Smith.

3.75 stars 

John Wick Chapter 3: Parabellum

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The first John Wick was such a pleasant surprise.  Keanu Reeves’ career had slipped into a rut as the actor was starring in films that were not very good.  The arrival of John Wick brought him back to doing movies that were well received and entertaining.

John Wick Ch. 2 was good, but did not reach those heights.

John Wick Chapter 3: Parabellum falls somewhere between those two.

In Chapter 3, John Wick is on the run, trying to avoid all of the assassins in New York after he killed a member of the shadowy assassin guild named the High Table, John Wick was declared excommunicado and a huge bounty was placed on his head.

The bounty forced Wick to take drastic steps to attempt to get back into the good graces of the High Table.

Now, the story here is about as basic as you are going to get.  There are a bunch of assassins and hitmen chasing after John Wick and John has to kill them all in exceedingly dramatic and inconceivable ways in order to survive.  That’s about it.  Despite the film’s attempt at world building with its mysterious High Table or its rules and regulations that the assassins must follow, there really isn’t much more to the movie than that.

However, the action in this movie is so great you do not focus on the film’s narrative shortcomings.  Some of the action scenes are ridiculous, but they know they are and audience members can embrace that fact.  I found myself laughing several times at the results of the viciousness and I was shocked at what they showed me.  The action scenes are filmed with a ton of style and the violence level is way up there.  It is brutal and the choreography of these fights are astounding.  It makes for some serious thrills.

Unfortunately, there were some parts near the end that I found a bit boring, almost tedious.  There are only so many action sequences that I can see before I need something more, and Parabellum was approaching that limit.  Thankfully, most of the action is done so well and is so original that the stretches where I found the film dull were short and did not take away from the overall enjoyment of the movie.

Keanu Reeves plays John Wick perfectly.  There may not be a better character for Reeves to play.  He hits the action beautifully while delivering the humor well too.

Ian McShane returns as Winston, manager of the Continental, and brings his normal gravitas.  Halle Berry’s role was short but impactful.  She definitely had some back story that I would not have minded learning about as the film progressed and she made a nice companion for John Wick.  Two LOST alums were here with Lance Redding resuming his role of Charon, the concierge of the Continental, and Saïd Taghmaoui as the Elder of the High Table.  The character I enjoyed most outside of John Wick was the Bowery King (Laurence Fishburne) who returned from previous installments and had Fishburne chewing up scenery all around him.  Seeing Fishburne and Reeves together once again was a cool treat.

The Adjudicator (Asia Kate Dillon)  was an emissary of the High Table who arrived on the scene to dole out punishments for the last movie’s rule breakers.  She was not very engaging of a villain and seemed to exist merely as a plot point between Wick and Winston.  Zero (Mark Dacascos) made for a much more compelling villain, almost a John Wick opposite and the conflict between Wick and Zero was entertaining.

I would have liked more story than what I got, but the action made up for that with some amazing choreography and thrilling, violent imagery.  John Wick clearly is being set up to continue the franchise so hopefully they can find that nice balance between action and story.  Until then, let’s blow some heads off.

3.9 stars

 

Breakthrough

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I have never liked any of the Christian faith movies that have come out over the years. The main reason was that it always felt as if the characters’ faith was the only thing that mattered and that these characters were pushing their faith with a hammer.  No subtlety at all.  I have never wanted to downgrade anyone beliefs but many of these faith movies, as movies, are nearly unwatchable.

Today, for Mother’s Day, I took my mom to Breakthrough, a film that I had avoided since it was released in April for that very reason I mentioned before.  However, I figured mom would like it so I took her to it.

I will say that it was probably the best Christian faith movie I have seen because it allowed its characters to be real characters who just happen to have faith in God and not one-dimensional people spouting their personal beliefs.

This movie is based on the true story of John Smith (Marcel Ruiz), a young teen who fell through an icy Missouri lake in 2015 and spent 15 minutes under water before being pulled out by search and rescuer Tommy Shine (Mike Colter).

John was rushed to the hospital and was near death, but his mother Joyce (Chrissy Metz) was a powerhouse force of nature and insisted that her son would recover.  Even at a point where it appeared that the doctors and nurses had given up finding a pulse, Joyce refused to let go.

Here is the strength of the film.  During his hospital stay, characters were allowed to doubt, question and be angry.  Even Joyce was shown to be out of control.  Those people who expressed doubt were never demonized by the movie and, in fact, the film went out of its way to show that Joyce’s angry dismissals of these people’s thoughts were unlike her and were inappropriate.  That surprised me.

Even the film’s pastor, Jason (Topher Grace) was allowed to speak to John’s father (Josh Lucas) in a real way.  It is not just “pray and all will be okay, trust in God” etc etc.  Pastor Jason, in that conversation, told John’s father that he had doubts about John’s survival, but anything was possible.  This felt like a real conversation that would be held with real people.

And I especially loved the ending when, SPOILERS- I guess, John recovered, and there was some resentment directed toward him, wondering why he was saved while others were not.  That was even more interesting of an approach to me, and I would have liked for the movie to expand upon that more than it did.  Just the inclusion of those moments was a step in the right direction though.

Mike Colter’s character even expressed that he did not believe in God, and he was allowed to be a real person who showed confusion over the fact that he believed he heard someone direct him to where John was in the water.  This internal conflict was never officially resolved, just like it most likely would not be in real life.

Now, there are plenty of problems with the film as well.  I mean, some of the acting was average at best, the story became extremely melodramatic several times (don’t get me started on the giant sing-a-long pray session outside John’s hospital window) and there were times where the movie felt too movie-of-the-week-like.  Still, the main performances were strong and just the fact that these characters were written like real people of faith and not just propaganda for Christian faith is a definite positive.

Plus, my mom loved it.  So there is that.

3.1 stars

The Hustle (2019)

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You may not know this, but the new film The Hustle is a gender swap remake of Dirty Rotten Scoundrels.

Starring Rebel Wilson and Anne Hathaway, the movie tells the story of two female con artists who wind up in the same city and discovering that the city may not be big enough for the two of them.

There have been some scathing reviews for this movie.  I may not have found it great, but I did not hate it as much as many of the critics seem to.  Don’t misunderstand me though… this is not a good movie.  It is one of those meh films that have some okay moments but could have been better.

Anne Hathaway and Rebel Wilson are fine here, but neither really excels with their characters.  Hathaway is the rich and snooty con artist and Wilson is more of the down home girl who uses the same shtick on everybody.  While we get a few flashes of likability with Wilson’s character, there is little to cheer for in Hathaway.  In fact, there is almost zero character development for wither lady, with the little glimpses we get tossed aside at the end for a nonsensical finale.

The story bounces around with Hathaway first trying to get rid of Wilson from her city and then the two ladies going against each other in an attempt to can the wealthy tech guy Thomas (Alex Sharp).  It is during this time frame where Wilson pretends to be blind for a significant part of the film and is fairly offensive while doing it.

Once again, as with last week’s Long Shot, if a film is funny, some, if not most, of its flaws can be ignored.  Unfortunately, there is little humor here and what is funny turns out to be fairly cliched.  Both female leads are passable, but both have given considerably better performances in their careers.  The story is truly a mess and one wonders why we needed this remake of Dirty Rotten Scoundrels in the first place.  Sure it is not as bad as Rotten Tomatoes is suggesting, but it is not near fresh either.

2.6 stars

Tolkien

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The new biopic features the story of the young years of EYG Hall of Famer J.R.R. Tolkien and the lead up to his writing of The Hobbit and the Lord of the Rings trilogy.

This biopic deals with Tolkien as a youth and how he formed a group of friends at school who would become the basis for the Fellowship from his novels.

I enjoyed watching how these four students came together despite differing backgrounds and class over their shared love for the arts, even though some of them had to hide that love from parents.  The interactions with the foursome was great as you really see how strong a connection these four boys had leading to their lives as young men.

We also get shots of Tolkien during World War I, when many of the images of the horrific battles with dragons and monster and the evil of Sauron would come into view for the author.

There is a love story between Tolkien (played wonderfully by Nicholas Hoult) and Edith (Lily Collins).  The love story was not my favorite part of the movie as it felt more like a distraction from what the movie really was about and that was about how J.R.R. Tolkien wound up creating Middle Earth and all the wild language that goes with it.

In fact, the scenes with Hoult and his professor (Derek Jacobi) were some of the most compelling of the film and I would not have minded more of those.  The scenes in World War I were very moving as well as the Germans were clearly cast as the evil hordes of Mordor.  Some of the CGI here was really well done and beautiful to look at.

I was quite engaged by the film Tolkien and I enjoyed the story it was telling.  While I may not have loved the Edith parts, I thought Lily Collins was very good as Tolkien’s lady love.  The relationship between the four boys that lead to such an inspiration of artistic creativity and a friendship strong enough to survive almost anything is the best part of the movie.

3.7 stars

Poms

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Rah Rah

Poms had its moments, but there were some problems as well.

Martha (WHY DID YOU SAY THAT NAME..err sorry), played by Diane Keaton has cancer and is moving into a retirement community to die.  However, once there, she meets a crew of characters of old women who spark that desire for her to don that cheerleading outfit once more.

Yes, that is what I said.

The premise may be ridiculous, but the cast is great.  Diane Keaton brings way more to this plot than you would expect.  Jacki Weaver is the standout of the cast and steals every scene she is in.  Pam Grier shows off her sexy side in a severely under written character.  And, while Alice (played by Cheers’ Rhea Perlman) may have murdered her husband, the movie plays it as a joke so it’s okay.

Every cliche imaginable in this type of underdog movie is in play.  We have the mean, overbearing community leader (Celia Weston) who is out to get the cheerleaders, the young mean girl cheerleaders who bully everyone, the bumbling cop (Bruce McGill) who drives around in the golf cart, the initial attempt to perform only to fail, the break up only to reunite, the son who won’t let his mom join in… I mean, they are all here.

I will say that the ending surprised me and I respected the film for going there.  I had never thought that they would go where they did.

Another problem I had with the film was with Diane Keaton’s character.  When she first moved into the community, she wanted no part of anybody, including her neighbor Jacki Weaver.  She even called Cop Carl on her.  However, I blinked, and suddenly, Jacki and Diane are best buddies and sharing wine with each other.  There seemed to be no reason why suddenly they were BFFs.  It made the first part of the movie feel false.

Of course, the film depends on a ton of suspension of disbelief, which is fine.  That does not bother me, but I do wish there was some attempt to ground the film into some reality.  It goes to a crazy level and I have to go with it to follow.  Fortunately, these actresses are good enough to elevate the material.  As I said, especially Jacki Weaver, who I found very fun and original in Poms.

Poms is a perfectly decent movie, if you just want to laugh at some nice actresses trying to be funny.  The story is nothing new and most of the film is predictable.  Still, there is a feeling of friendship among the crew and you get that feeling as an audience member too.  So it has some redeeming qualities.  It is a middle of the road movie.

2.9 stars

 

Pokemon: Detective Pikachu

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Pi-ka, Pi-ka.

Okay, Detective Pikachu was fine.  Thing is… it was not made for me.

This is a movie whose target audience was the Pokemon fans who have grown up with the “Gotta catch’em all” attitude.  Those people who know the difference between Bulbasaur and Charmander.  I have a passing knowledge of Pokemon which is to say, I know Pikachu, Charizard and that duck one.  I know the Weird Al polka song, Polkamon.  Other than that…

That does not mean this is a bad movie.  In fact, I liked it fine.  I just believe that people who know the franchise more would have enjoyed it more.

In Detective Pikachu, Tim (Justice Smith) comes back to Ryme City when he hears that his deadbeat father had died.  He meets up with his father’s Pokemon, Pikachu (Ryan Reynolds) whom he could understand.  To the rest of the world, Pikachu could only say “Pi-ka, pi-ka” but Tim could hear everything he said.  The pair team up to try and discover the truth behind what happened to Tim’s father.

Of course, Pikachu has amnesia, which is one of the laziest contrived plot devices imaginable, and this one, when the truth does come out, makes even less sense.  The whole amnesia angle is a drag on the story.

The best part of the film is easily Ryan Reynolds.  He does a tremendous job of bringing Pikachu to life with his voice work.  He is funny and full of life and his connection with Tim was strong.

The story itself was decent too, as the whole thing had a noir feel to it.   There was a mystery to solve and, although they do not really let the audience play along, it was compelling enough.

Bill Nighy had an important role as one of the leading Pokemon supporters and a huge businessman.  It is always fun to see Ken Watanabe in a movie too.  Unfortunately, most of the movie’s other actors are, let’s say, average.

There is a funny scene with Pokemon Mr. Mime, which, unfortunately, had been spoiled by the trailers.  I think that could have been a laugh out loud moment in the movie if I had not already seen it a few months ago.

I was not much of a fan of the third act overall.  I can’t go into much detail about the parts I disliked without going into spoilers so I’ll just say that the third act had several things that I was not wild about.

Overall, the film was fine.  It was not as great as I had thought it might be, but I did not hate watching it.  Ryan Reynolds is all kinds of charming and is worth the price of admission alone.

3.2 stars

Extremely Wicked, Shockingly Evil and Vile

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There was some controversy about this film because of the portrayal of serial killer Ted Bundy, by Zac Efron, which was claimed to put the monster in too much of a positive light.  After watching the film on Netflix, I do to understand that criticism.

Yes, Zac Efron played Ted Bundy with a flare.  but that was very much the case for Bundy.  He was a charismatic man who used his good looks and his chemistry with young females to find his victims.  To be honest, that made this portrayal of Bundy all the more frightening because there are times in the film where you believe what he is saying.  His protests of innocence were lies, we know that, but the performance is so likable that you can understand why Bundy was able to do what he did.

And there is no doubt that the man was a manipulative monster.  You see that in the performance here, so, in my opinion, there should be no controversy here.

Zac Efron, however, deserves a ton of credit as this may be the best performance I have seen from him.  In fact, I questioned the ability for Efron to play Ted Bundy, but he does a magnificent job of it.  The relationship between Bundy and the woman he seemed to love, Liz (Lilly Collins) felt like the real deal despite Bundy’s use of it as a cover or a way to look normal.  Liz’s journey of her belief in Ted was a perfect example of the power Bundy had over women.  One wonders how Liz was able to survive all those years as Ted Bundy’s girlfriend.

The secondary cast is solid here with Jim Parsons, Haley Joel Osment, John Malkovich and Kaya Scodelario, but none of them have enough to really stand out.  This is Efron’s film and he is up to the task.

True crime fans will enjoy this biopic as we get to see a side to evil that we normally do not get to see.

3.8 stars

Long Shot

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There are going to going to be several films this weekend that are blown out of the water by the second week of the juggernaut known as Avengers: Endgame, which is part of the business.  However, there is one new film opening that deserves so much more than getting snapped out of existence.

Long Shot, a political comedy/rom-com, starring Seth Rogan and Charlize Theron is much better than I expected it to be and deserves to do better at the box office than it is, I’m afraid, it is going to do.  It is a touching, very funny fantasy that tells the romance between the Secretary of State and an out of luck journalist admist her campaign to become President of the United States.

i called it a fantasy because some of the things that happen in the story simply are so unrealistic when it comes to politics in this country that you have to suspend your disbelief multiple times.  However, the film is so charming and well written/ acted that those moments did not bother me.

i have never been a huge fan of Seth Rogan, as I have never enjoyed the drug comedy that he seems to excel within.  And, while there is some of that in Long Shot, it is kept at a minimum and are actually quite funny.  Being funny is the cure for most anything.

Both Seth Rogan and Charlize Theron are really strong in this film and they display a surprising amount of chemistry.  If you are talking about an onscreen couple, Rogan and Theron are not necessarily the first pairing you would come up with and yet it works well.  You believe that their relationship is coming from a place of realism, which is quite a feat considering all of the connotations that it might bring with it.

The film is definitely deserving of its R rating as it tends to lean toward more risqué comedy, including one important scene caught on video, that shocked me.  I was shocked that they were blessed to show the scene.  But again, while the comedy, at times, is certainly leaning toward the racy kind, it is always funny, and some jokes can be forgiven if they are funny.

However, there are many other comedic elements here than just the sex and drug parts.  The comedy includes real moments between two characters who feel real despite the unreal setting that they find themselves in.

There are thinly veiled some jokes at the expense of FOX News including a character who, again, clearly seems to be an amalgam of Ruppert Murdock and Roger Ailes.  And the President of the United States is played by Bob Odenkirk (from Better Call Saul) and there are comparisons to be made to President Trump, yet there are not as many jokes directed toward Trump as you might think.  There is even a scene where the ideology of Rogan make him look like the uncooperative one.  It almost is a cry for working across party lines.

Long Shot works on many levels and had me laughing consistently.  Jonathan Levine directed this film, which is right up there with another of my favorite Seth Rogan film (also directed by Levine) 50/50.  This film is great counter programming, and you should really try to squeeze a showing into your weekend schedule around your next viewings of Avengers: Endgame.  That is what I did.

4.3 stars

 

 

 

 

 

 

Avengers: Endgame

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Don’t worry.  I will not spoil anything that happens in the movie.

I will stick totally to my feelings on what I witnessed tonight.

For 21 previous movies, the Marvel Cinematic Universe had been building to this finale, much like a television series might.  Everything was heading toward Avengers: Endgame.

I cannot imagine any way they could have crafted a better conclusion.

It was joyous.

Some might claim that the first act is slow, but, to me, this is where much of the heavy lifting of the characters takes place and I find that stuff fascinating and fabulous.  The inclusion of character moments and development is what the MCU has been about since that time Tony Stark got tossed in the cave and those moments are every bit as important as the action beats.

The middle act is original and mind bending.  Such a tremendous use of the trope that I am not going to tell you about.

And the third act is, quite possibly, the greatest third act in any super hero movie ever made.  The last hour was filled to the brim with absolutely EVERYTHING I wanted from this movie.  I had tears streaming down my face from the shear joy I was experiencing.

Directors Anthony and Joe Russo delivered their fourth Marvel movie (Winter Soldier, Civil War, and Infinity War preceding this) in the most unbelievable fashion.  They have to take their place among the Mount Rushmore of MCU creators, up there with Kevin Feige.

There were so many brilliant performances in this movie, but I can’t tell you any specific ones because it might spoil something and you really should go into this with as little knowledge as you can.  The trailers were beautifully done.  They spoiled virtually nothing.  Heck, they were remarkably sparse with details.

There were only two things that I would have bet money on happening, and they both happened.  I won’t tell you what they were, but they fit beautifully with the story telling that has been going on for the past 10+ years.

No post credit scene, but there is some sounds at the very end that were familiar.

Some might complain about the 3 hour and 2 minute run time of the film, but I found it perfect.  It flew by and by the end, I so wanted more.

The film has so much packed in it, I think it demands a second viewing (if not multiple viewings) to see everything that is there.  I know I have my ticket for viewing number two tomorrow and I may see it a couple more times before the weekend is out.

There were several moments where I literally cried out in excitement.  A couple of times I pumped my fist.  It was amazing.

I was sick this morning, but I knew that I would not let that stop me from seeing this movie (which I saw in IMAX).  I babied myself through the morning and afternoon and felt okay when I took off for Davenport.  Sitting in my seat, there were moments when I did not feel great physically.  However, I persevered and, by the end, I was feeling better than I had all day.

Avengers: Endgame was mind-blowing.  I will probably have to write a spoiler post at some time about the film just to get it out, but for now, go see Avengers: Endgame.  It is truly an epic.

5 stars 

The Curse of La Llorona

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I was a bit surprised by this film as well.

One, I did not know that this was taking place in the Conjuring Universe of horror films that has been set up over the last few years with the Conjuring films, Annabelle and the Nun.

Two, I did not expect to like this movie much because I had heard a bunch of negative word of mouth surrounding it.

However, I liked The Curse of La Llorona more than I thought I would.

Yes, it is a predictable film and there is not much original that we saw here.  Yes, the plot is the basic haunted house plot that we get in most of this genre of films.  Yes, there are some stupid choices made during the third act that put a damper on what was happening (especially that back door bit).

I still found myself enjoying this movie.

I have always liked movies with kids in the action and I was very impressed with the young boy Roman Christou, making his feature film debut.  Christou, as Chris, was given a lot of heavy lifting to do with the story and he had a lot of emotions to play and I found him remarkably compelling.  I also thought Linda Cardellini was great as the mother Anna, who had to battle this horrible spirit to try and save her children.

The film started well and I liked the way Anna started off as a child endangerment social worker but I am not sure the film took that to the possibilities that it could have.

I was also not a huge fan of the character Rafael (Raymond Cruz).  They tried to use him to insert some humor into the story with some witty one-liners, but every line that was supposed to elicit laughter instead elicited groans and eye rolls.

Still, for whatever reason, much of what they did worked for me and the stuff that did not work, did not negatively reflect on my thoughts of the film.

It’s not a must see film, but if you do go, you should be fine.

3.25 stars 

Penguins

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I always know what the Disneynature films are going to be like, and I have liked most of the ones that I have seen.

Then I saw Penguins.

I don’t know exactly what made me hate this much as I did, but I wanted this film done with as soon as it started and the 70+ minutes of the film felt like two hours.

Now, I’ll get the positives out of the way quickly.  The shots of Antarctica and the environment around the penguins are unbelievably tremendous.  They are beautiful imagery from the opening shots through the entire film.  The other thing I loved was the whole leopard seal stuff where the penguin pretends to be dead and the seal stops trying to eat it.  That was fascinating to me.

But with every great shot or intriguing nature fact presented, we got this stupid personification of one of these penguins they named Steve and the voice over gave Steve the thoughts,  choices and emotions of humans.  I hated that.  Every time the voice over, done by Ed Helms, was given in Steve’s “point of view” made me want to throw my Avengers popcorn tin at the screen.  It was so cringeworthy for me that it ruined everything else.

Maybe it was just the day or the moment, but I hated this movie.  The score is higher than you might think but that is for the beautiful visuals.

2.4 stars

Little

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Big this ain’t.

Little is the newest body swap film that sees mean boss lady Jordan Sanders, played by Regina King, magically get turned into a 13-year old girl, played wonderfully by Marsai Martin.  Jordan tries to navigate her life as a 38 year old CEO as a 13 year old.  Her assistant April (Issa Rae), despite the cruel manner in which she is treated by Jordan, is standing by her side as the only person who knows the truth.

Gee, I wonder how this is going to play out?

Regina King is so over the top mean that I really did not care about her back story or the reason that she became this way as a child.  She was simply a cruel and wicked person.  I am not sure that there was enough shown to her over the movie to make me believe that she learned her lesson.

Easily the best part of the movie though was the performance of young Jordan, Marsai Martin.  Martin commanded the screen and she is an absolute star in the making.  I can’t wait for her to get a role that is actually worth her time for her to show us what she is capable of doing as a young actress.

Everything else was stupid, cliched and not funny.  It kind of reminded me of What Men Want, a film earlier this year that took the same premise of a previous film (What Women Want) and put a female protagonist in the lead role.  That would be fine if the film is well done, but that film did not reach the Mel Gibson movie and this film is nowhere near as magical as Big.

And it all falls down to the script because the cast seemed ready to make this work.

Personally, I have a major problem with the school scenes in this film.  As a middle school teacher, I wondered why the teachers seemed to be missing from this film.  Outside of Justin Hartley, who was used as someone to be googled at here in the metoo movement times, there were no teachers in any of the assembly scenes where all the trouble went down.  Either in the scene at the beginning where Jordan’s life took a turn to the end dance scene that we see in the trailers, there are no teachers around. That always pulls me out of the film because I know that those stereotypical bully girls did their nastiness right out in front of everyone and no teacher came to her.  Same thing with the lunch room scenes.  It was not realistic and, when your main part of the story is about the de-aging of a character, the rest of the film needs to be based in reality.  This wrecked these scenes for me.

There was little to love in Little and, outside of a confident performance from Martin, this film is very forgettable.

2.35 stars

Missing Link

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Stop-motion animation studio, Laika, has had some wonderful films.  Para-Norman, Kubo and the Two Strings, Coraline and Boxtrolls all were certain levels of successful.  The company’s fifth film is out this weekend with the charming Missing Link, a film featuring the discovery of a Sasquatch voiced by Zach Galifianakis.

Adventurer and myth and monster investigator Sir Lionel Frost (Hugh Jackman) follows a tip that leads him to a major discovery, the legendary Sasquatch is real and living in the Pacific Northwest.  Surprised by the beast’s ability to talk, Frost offers to help the Sasquatch (nicknamed Mr. Link, by Frost) find his way to the Himalayas to meet with his cousins, the Yetis.

Meanwhile, villainous Lord Piggot-Dunceby (Stephen Fry) wants to prevent Frost from proving the existence of the Sasquatch and, thus, proving him wrong.

While this is a nice film with solid voice acting, especially from Jackman and Galifianakis, the story is fairly simply, especially when compared to some of the other work in Laika’s library.  That does not demean this film at all, as Missing Link is an enjoyable movie.  It just is not quite as great as some of the others stop-motion classics from Laika.

The animation is, once again, beautiful.  The stop-motion mastery is on display and shows the specific details that goes lovingly into each frame.  The designs of the characters are top notch as well, especially the design of Mr. Link.

I was not a huge fan of the character of Adelina Fortnight (Zoe Saldana).  While Saldana does a solid job voicing the character, I did not find her inclusion to be one of significance and was there simply to provide a foil for Jackman or a female counterpoint.

The film is fast paced and has some very funny moments.  The film is solid and enjoyable, even if it is at the bottom of the Laika playlist.

3.8 stars

The Mustang

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A boy and his horse…

Or…

A felon and his Philly…

The Mustang is a film starring Matthias Schoenaerts as Roman Coleman, a prisoner in a jail in Nevada who is having troubles with other inmates and winds up participating in a rehabilitation therapy program involving the training of wild mustangs.  In this, Roman bonds with a particular difficult mustang after the program’s head trainer (Bruce Dern) picked him out.

The performances of this movie were fantastic.  Matthias Schoenaerts, Bruce Dern, Jason Mitchell (who played another prisoner in the training program) were standouts, bringing a great deal of emotion and depth to this story. The story could have devolved into the sappy and sweet nature of other type of animals and owners stories, but The Mustang avoids those cliches.

Many of the actors involved in this movie were actually real-life prisoners from the same type of program as shown in the movie and you would not know.  Unlike Clint Eastwood’s 15:17 to Paris, these non-professionals are managed by the actual actors and are kept to a minimum.  Because of that, they really help solidify the story.

There is a side arc with Roman’s daughter, played by Gideon Adlon, that is surprisingly effective considering the limited amount of screen time it received.

French actress Laure de Clermont-Tonnerre made her directorial debut in this movie and she does a tremendous job.  There is a real feel to this and it avoided the typical type of claptrap that these films usually take.  There is a typical redemption story at the heart of the film, but they do so much with it that you do not notice that that part of the story does tend to be predictable.

The Mustang is full of amazing acting and some wonderfully shot scenes, as well as some surprisingly violent and emotional moments.  You cheer for Roman even after you find out what horrible thing had landed him behind bars in the first place.  Bruce Dern remains as a national treasure.

3.75 stars