The Lion King (2019)

Image result for lion king 2019 poster

Nants ingonyama bagithi Baba                                                                                                            Sithi uhm ingonyama

Nants ingonyama bagithi baba                                                                                                        Sithi uhhmm ingonyama                                                                                                                    Ingonyama

Siyo Nqoba                                                                                                                            Ingonyama                                                                                                                                Ingonyama nengw’ enamabala

The Circle of Life

On the day we arrived on the planet…. Disney was making money, and there is no doubt in the world that the remake of the classic Disney animated movie The Lion King will make all the moneys.

But is that the only reason that they created this “live action” version of the film, or is there something deeper here?

Let’s address the elephant in the room (not literally).  It is hard to call this a live action adaptation when there is nothing that is alive in the actual movie.  This should be defined as “photo realistic” animation.  And, no matter what we call it, the animation is a masterpiece.

Literally, it looks like we have real animals moving around a real landscape in Africa, somehow moving their mouths.  The CGI of the film is nothing short of brilliant and a work of absolute art.  No matter what anyone tells you about the movie, the visuals are some of the greatest work ever to be seen on the big screen.

Now, the rest.

The story itself is nearly a shot-for-shot remake of the animated film.  You know the story… young lion cub Simba leaves his home after his father, the king, Mustafa is killed by his brother Scar.  Scar makes it look as if it was Simba who was at fault so he could assume the throne.  Simba chased off by the hyenas, finds friends out in the world of Timon and Pumbaa (a meerkat and warthog, respectfully) and lives his life until destiny finds him.

Yes, it is basically Hamlet.  It is an all-time classic story.

So why did it feel dull here?

As I said, the movie was basically a shot-for-shot remake of the animated movie, which was amazing, so why is the “live action” version not the same?  Why does it feel as if they sucked out all the emotion and the magic from the film?  Did they actually turn The Lion King into a Disneynature film?

I think part of the problem was the photo realistic nature of the animation did not lend itself to any expression from the faces of the lions.  The mouths were moving, including saying many lines form the original script that never fails to elicit deep emotion, but there was just no expression in the eyes or the faces of these characters and that hurt the feels.  Even the big emotional moment with the stampede did not make me feel much and that scene normally destroys me.

The magic was just not there, which made me find the film to be hollow, albeit a beautifully created hollow film.

The Lion King (2019) did not add enough new to it to justify its existence for anything other than a cash grab.  Sure, all movies want to make money and there is nothing wrong with that, but when you have an IP like Lion King, you bring a level of expectations to the project beyond just the pocketbooks.  Jon Favreau, who did the much better live-action remake of Jungle Book, directed the film that really needed a new vision or something that gave it a purpose beside stunning visuals.

It is hard not to compare this film to the 1994 animated version, because it is so close to it in so many ways. That might be unfair, because that first movie is, arguably, one of the greatest animated movies ever made.  If I had to share one of these movies with someone who had never seen this before, I would pick the 1994 animated film every time.

It is actually sad to me that there are many people who will have this version of The Lion King as their introduction to the film.  While 2019 Lion King is a visual masterpiece, the rest is a letdown.

2.6 stars

Point Blank

Image result for point blank poster

Looking over at Netflix this evening and I came across a film called Point Blank starring the Falcon and Crossbones.  That is, of course, Anthony Mackie and Frank Grillo, and it was a somewhat short film so I thought I would give it a chance.

So, Frank Grillo’s character, Abe, was being set up to take the fall for the assassination of the District Attorney and he winds up in the hospital when his brother Mateo (Christian Cooke) hits him with the car on their attempted escape from the scene of the crime.  Mateo kidnaps the nurse-on-duty, Paul’s (Anthony Mackie) pregnant wife Taryn (Teyonah Parris) to ensure the help of Paul to break Abe from custody.

Paul agrees to do whatever it takes to get his wife back; however, the story takes an unexpected turn when it looks as if the status quo is not what he expects.

I like both Anthony Mackie and Frank Grillo so I had hopes for this film.  The problem was this… the movie wants you to relate to and cheer for Abe and Mateo as the career criminals because they had hearts of gold and that they stumbled into the conspiracy of the film.  Yet, I could not find myself rooting for either one of these characters because Mateo kidnapped a pregnant woman and held her at gunpoint.  Both of them kept the woman in their custody despite the potential danger that they might have exposed the unborn child to.  I had a hard time getting past that.  Maybe the other people who were framing Abe for the D.A.’s murder were worse, but that does not make it better for me.  The only people in the film who you could root for was Paul and Taryn.  And truthfully, I was a little uncertain about Paul.

The third act of the movie stretched credibility beyond reasonable levels as Abe and Paul launch their attack to get their revenge and retrieve the now-in-labor Taryn, respectfully.

The tone was all over the place.  It would be moving along with a seriousness of the situation and then, suddenly, something funny, almost slapstick-like would happen, feeling completely out of place.

Anthony Mackie was fine here, as was Frank Grillo, but the story really betrayed them.

2.2 stars

Crawl

Crawl Movie Poster

After seeing the new movie Crawl, I know one thing for damn sure.  I ain’t never going to Florida.  They’ve got hurricanes, floods, and giant killer alligators everywhere.

Count me out.  I have now learned that I am really damn scared of giant alligators trying to eat people.  Who knew.

This is a simple movie that is done so well.  It is tense and frightening.  It is a white-knuckle ride as soon as the alligators show up until the last minute of the movie.

As a hurricane is preparing to strike Florida, Haley (Kaya Scodelario), a top-line collegiate swimmer, hears from her sister that their father Dave (Barry Pepper) would not answer the phone.  Haley heads out to his house to try and find him.  She winds up trapped in the crawlspace of the house with him, flood waters rising threatening them with drowning, and several vicious alligators swimming around.

I was actually jumping in my seat throughout the movie.  Every time the alligator lunged at Haley or her father, I felt the stress and nerves.  This was the way jump scares were meant to be done.  You build up the tension and earn the release.  You don’t fake them, set them up and not pay them off.  This film does the jump scares so well, I wish other films would follow this blueprint.

The visual effects are tremendous in Crawl too.  The alligators look beautiful and every tooth is scary.  This had to be a rough job to work as the house continued to fill with water.

Yes, this is a simple story, but the movie does a great job of being what it is.  It is a thriller/horror film and it brings the fear and the suspense.  The performances from father/daughter, Scodelario and Pepper, are powerful, especially in the world of peril.  They display so many emotions and they shared a very strong and emotional scene dealing with their relationship that helped frame their characters better.

So long to Florida…

4.5 stars

Stuber

Image result for stuber

I loved Kumail Nanjiani’s last major film, The Big Sick, which was basically the story of how he and his wife got together.  This one is not as much of a true story, or at least I hope it is not.

Kumail Nanjiani plays a mild mannered man named Stu, who uses a rental electric car to drive for Uber in hopes of making some extra money.  When he picks up Vic (Dave Bautista), a desperate police officer whose vision is blurry from eye surgery that day but who is anxious to investigate a lead he received about the man who killed his partner, little does Stu know that he is going to be dragged into a night of violence and danger.

Kumail Nanjiani and Dave Bautista make a really good comedic team, as they have a very strong chemistry with one another.  They play off each other impressively throughout the film and both actors are so likable that you can overlook some of the ridiculous situations that the film drops them in.

While many of the moments are ridiculous, they are usually pretty funny and I have said it many times before.  Funny can make things better.  You can overlook flaws if you are laughing at them.  Stuber has some very solid jokes and situations that are funny.

Not only are they funny, there are actually a bunch of buddy cop film tropes that are flipped upside down, almost in an attempt to subvert them.  As soon as something looked like you knew where it was going, the film turned it around.  I appreciated the way the film tried to keep things original.  It was not always successful, but the attempt was welcomed.

One of the problems was Kumail Nanjiani got a little annoying at times.  His characterization of Stu was somewhat over-the-top, leading to a lot of yelling.  I have had problems with other actors whose performances wind up being just yelling (Kevin Hart, Will Farrell, Melissa McCarthy etc) and bringing the volume down some would help make it more subtle.

Dave Bautista has improved every time he is on screen and this is a big step for him as he is a co-lead of the movie.  Bautista has thrived lately in the supporting cast, but this is a good turn for the big man.  He shows that he has some decent comedic timing as well.

The supporting cast was strong too.  Natalie Morlaes played Vic’s daughter Nicole, whose big art opening was the same night as the chaos that was happening.  Vic is not shown in much of a positive light and you can see how his partner’s death devastated him.  Betty Gilpin is Becca, Stu’s friend and secret love.  Jimmy Tatro (from American Vandal) was Richie, Stu’s boss at the store he worked at and who tormented Stu constantly.

Iko Uwais (from The Raid series) is the villain Tedjo, but there is little to the character and is there simply to fight with Bautista.  Unfortunately, there is too much shaky cam going on here for the fight scenes to be worthwhile.

To be fair, Vic breaks so many laws and police officer conduct that I can’t believe that he is allowed back on the job after the night, but that is best not mentioned or thought about.

I had a good time watching Stuber mainly because of Bautista and Nanjiani.  It is not a film with a plot that can hold up to a ton of scrutiny, so just sit back and enjoy the humor.  Otherwise, the plot may just ruin the film for you.

3.5 stars

Midsommer

Image result for midsommar poster

Uuuuuuuuuuuugggggggggg

The new A24 film Midsommer is a horror movie that disturbed the heck out of me.  Honestly, I feel that I need a shower after seeing it.

Not saying that it was bad.  I am having so much trouble processing how I feel about it.  This is from the director Ari Aster, who also directed last year’s Heredity.

Dani (Florence Pugh) and Christian (Jack Reynor) are a couple who are having problems with their relationship.  After a terrible tragedy in Dani’s life, they go with a bunch of friends on a midsummer festival in a remote Swedish village.  It does not take long to discover that there are some horrific traditions beneath the surface at the village that you would not expect.

The setting of the mysterious village is amazing.  It is beautifully shot and the bright light around the area sets a fascinating contrast with the darkness happening among the people of the village.  The people feel very much like a cult and some of the traditions and rituals are skin-crawling.

The acting is fine, but I do have to say that I found Florence Pugh’s crying to be way over the top.  There were two instances of it and I found both to be very unlikely that anyone cries like that.  Still, the rest of the time, she is great and it is through her eyes that we see some of the worst things that happen.

One of the worst parts of it is inside your own mind.  There are plenty of pictures drawn on walls in this village, like hieroglyphics or such and they are disgusting and creepy.  Then, you see places in the film where things are happening that may be echoing the pictures on the wall, but the film does not confirm it.   It is like, wait…what?  and the film just keeps on going.  It takes the horror inside the mind of the viewer.

I thought the film dragged a bit.  It was a long film and I think it helped introduce the village, but there were too many spots that felt unimportant.

I am still processing what I feel about Midsommer because of some of the visceral images that we get in the film.  The movie tells the story of the eventual break up of our main characters and it takes it into a path that you simply do not expect.  It is a beautifully shot film but it is a challenging and difficult watch.

I liked the movie, but I do not know if I am going to continue to like it as I process more.

3.2 stars 

Spider-Man: Far From Home

Image result for spiderman far from home poster

The Marvel Cinematic Universe Phase 3 has ended with the 23rd film in the franchise, Spider-Man: Far From Home, which not only has to be a sequel to Spider-Man: Homecoming, but it has to follow Avengers: Endgame and show what the world of the MCU was like moving forward.

I am happy to say that it was a tremendous success in both ways.

I loved this movie and I was laughing and thoroughly engrossed from the beginning, right through two MASSIVE post credit scenes.

Writing a review for this is going to be pretty challenging because I do not was to reveal any spoilers and the film is filled with them.  Do the best you can to go into the film as fresh as you can be.  Of course, you need to have seen Avengers: Endgame because this takes events directly from that movie.

Peter Parker (Tom Holland) fresh off the events of Endgame, is back as Spider-Man.  However, Peter and his classmates are taking a school science trip to Europe and Peter wants to go on vacation from his web head alter ego.  Ignoring a phone call from Nick Fury (Samuel L. Jackson), Peter wants to tell MJ (Zendaya) that he likes her and he is planning how he is going to do that.

Fury arrives in Europe to recruit Peter to help them fight these monsters from another multiverse called the Elementals.  Fury wants Spider-Man to join forces with a hero from that other multiverse, Quentin Beck (Jake Gyllenhaal), who gets dubbed Mysterio by the media.

That’s about all I can give you without spoiling it.  This info was in the trailers but there is so much more here.

Tom Holland is the best Peter Parker/Spider-Man we have ever had.  He is so charismatic and funny that you connect with him easily.  You understand the internal struggle Peter is having between wanting to have a normal life and tell the girl he likes that he likes her and the responsibility of being Spider-Man, a hero seemingly handpicked by Tony Stark to be the next big hero.

Jake Gyllenhaal as Quentin Beck is perfect.  I absolutely love the characterization of Mysterio in this movie.  I don’t want to go into any details for those who may not know much about Mysterio so that you may remain in the dark.  Gyllenhaal brings such a gravitas to the role and you believe the relationship that develops between Peter and Quentin.

Zendaya’s MJ really takes a gigantic leap forward from the background/comedic character that she was in Homecoming.  MJ is someone who could now be a leading woman in this franchise.  She is so beautiful in every shot she is involved in and I loved the reasoning for her to develop.  She and Tom Holland have undeniable chemistry and the early awkwardness makes you believe this is a high school romance.

The rest of the cast is great too.  The running gag of the romance between Ned  (Jacob Batalon) and Betty (Angourie Rice) was cute and felt real.  We get some more subtle development for Flash Thompson (Tony Revolori).  Happy Hogan (Jon Favreau) and May (Marisa Tomei) have a relationship that makes Peter feel a bit uneasy.  The cast in fantastic.

The visuals are brilliant, especially in the action scenes.  The visuals at the end literally had me sitting in the theater with my mouth agape.  It was a Spider-man scene that I so loved and made me realize how important that aspect of the character was to me.  The originality of the film’s action was truly a gutsy attempt.

Director Jon Watts deserves a ton of credit for his second Spider-Man movie.  I have seen many people comparing this to Homecoming.  To me, while I love Homecoming and I think that Michael Keaton’s Vulture is brilliant, Far From Home exceeds Homecoming in many different manners.

Post credit scenes… there are two… and they are mind blowing, including a couple of shocking cameos.  No spoilers here, but they were both epic and changed the way the MCU will be moving forward.

The only criticism I have is a spoiler so I cannot reveal it here.  Let’s just say it is something that happens in the third act and is a fairly disappointing trend.

Spider-Man is going to be a huge factor in the Phase four of the MCU, and this film does a lot to show that is the case.  The acting is spot on, the action is special and well designed, the CGI is exceptional, and the story does well in capturing the ideas of Spider-Man and Mysterio.  Stay through the credits.

Spider-Man: Far From Home is so much fun and filled with drama, humor and excitement.  This is the second coming of age story featuring Spider-Man and his ensemble and it is the best one yet.

5 stars

(Yes, I may not be as unbiased as I should be, but it is a great movie)

 

Yesterday

Related image

Yesterday…all my troubles seemed so far away.  Now it looks as though they’re here to stay.  Oh I believe …in Yesterday.

Prophetic words for Jack Malik (Himesh Patel), the main character in director Danny Boyle’s newest film about a world where everyone, except for Jack, has forgotten who the Beatles were and had never heard any of their music.

As a Beatles fan, the idea is just horrible.  Just the idea that the world would not be able to listen to “Hey Jude”, “While My Guitar Gently Weeps” or “Yellow Submarine” is a thought that would bother me to no end.  That is, of course, what Jack is faced with.  What would you do?

After a freak worldwide blackout, Jack is hit by a bus and ends up in the hospital.  When he awakes, he is missing his two front teeth and the rest of the world has lost the memory of George, Paul, John and Ringo.  Not a fair swap.

Jack, who is a failing musician, suddenly realizes that he has access to some of the greatest songs ever written and nobody would be the wiser so he begins recreating the songbook of the Beatles.

I’m torn by this movie.  Most importantly, I love the music of the Beatles and it was great listening to these songs throughout the film.  Himesh Patel does a great job performing these songs.  Many times I hate it when I hear people doing the Beatles because…well, just because.  I did not mind Patel’s versions of these songs.  Obviously, that would have been a death knell for the movie had I not liked the songs.

However, there are just so many plot holes or things left open that, in retrospect, tear apart this reality.  Other musicians are referenced, but how about all those musicians who had been inspired by the Beatles?  When they were not there, what happened to them?  This was just one thing that popped into my head while watching the movie.

There was another major question that comes along late in the third act that would constitute a spoiler so I will not mention it, but let’s just say that, after Jack visited this specific person, I really wondered what was going on.

Lily James played teacher and part time manager for Jack, Ellie and she was charming and lovely.  They had a great deal of chemistry with one another, but the way their relationship worked through felt very odd and not natural.  I did not like the development of that story arc.  On the whole, I enjoyed both Patel and James’ performances, but I would have preferred a different resolution to the story.

One performance that I was not overly fond of, unfortunately, was Kate McKinnon who played Debra, an agent who is looking to cash in with Jack’s musical skills.  The best description I have heard of this performance was from Collider Live host Kristian Harloff who stated that she was “in such a different film.”  That was exactly the way to say it because she was so over-the-top that she pulled me out of the film every time.

There were some very funny jokes in the film though.  There was a running joke about other items/people who the world had forgotten besides just the Beatles and that worked every time.  Ed Sheeran has a cameo throughout the movie that really work as well.  He has a great self-deprecating way about himself in the film and he embraces the jokes well.

Yesterday had several positives going for it, and it has its share of problems.  When I wasn’t thinking too hard about it, I enjoyed the movie, but when I was thinking back, more holes and problems came up.  I think the positives out weigh the negatives and, as I was walking out of the movie, I felt satisfied.  That is certainly the long and winding road to a recommendation.

3.6 stars 

 

 

 

Annabelle Comes Home

Image result for annabelle comes home movie poster

The Conjuring Universe has another entry.  Quietly, the Conjuring Universe has had two Conjuring movies, two previous Annabelle movies, the Nun, The Curse of La Llorona and now, the third in the Annabelle series, Annabelle Comes Home.  The quality of the films have varied over this time frame, but since they have low budgets, they make a lot of money at the box office.

As for Annabelle, the first film was just terrible and the second one was really good.  With Annabelle Comes Home, the film is way better than the first one, but not quite up to the quality of the second one.

Ed (Patrick Wilson) and Lorraine Warren (Vera Farmiga) bring the doll Annabelle back to their house and place her into their room of evil things to protect the world from the demon within it.

Time passes and the Warrens are on a case, so they need their daughter Judy (McKenna Grace) to have a babysitter.  They use a babysitter named Mary Ellen (Madison Iseman).  Mary Ellen’s friend Daniela (Katie Sarife) invites herself over to the Warren house for her own reasons.  Daniela finds her way into the room of evil things and, without understanding what she was doing, accidentally frees Annabelle.  Chaos ensues.

Ed and Lorraine are not in the film much.  It really is about the three girls, Judy, Mary Ellen and Daniela, and their own problems.  These three girls do a solid job in the film.  I enjoyed their performances.  They felt like good pieces of a horror movie.

There were a bunch of jump scares here, maybe too many.  They certainly use the horror tropes fully.  It is basically a haunted house movie turning on the people inside the house.  There are some pretty decent ghosts/creatures here besides Annabelle and I wonder if the Ferryman or the Hellhound or the Bride are going to be  future installments in the Conjuring Universe.  That thought is going through my mind as I am watching this movie.

The other thought that is going through my head is how much this movie was like Ghostbusters, in particular, the scene in Ghostbusters where Walter Peck has the containment unit shut down and all kinds of ghosts explode from it.  I had that in my head the whole time I watched Daniela going through the evil room of things.

I did like the message that the film was going for with Daniela and her arc in the movie.  She was dealing with the loss of her father and her own feeling of the situation and there were some emotional moments dealing with the story.  I think I liked this more than I liked the sub plots of the other girls in the house, which is important because Daniela also does most of the stupid things while there.  I understand the pain behind it though and that helps me from just believing that she is the stereotypical dumb horror movie character.

There was some odd comedic beats in the film as well, especially with the boy Bob (Michael Cimino), whose got balls.  Bob lived across the street from the Warrens and had a crush on Mary Ellen and wound up in the strangest situations as the movie went along.  He did not necessarily feel as if he were in the same movie as the girls were in.  The tones seemed to be different depending on which characters were being featured.

I liked this for the most part.  It is not the greatest film ever, but it was an entertaining time.  I liked the characters and I liked the creatures.  There could have been more of Annabelle, to be honest.

3.7 stars

Anna (2019)

Image result for anna 2019 movie poster

Luc Besson has had several successful films over the years:  Leon: The Professional, The Fifth Element, and Valerian.  He has also had several films, including The Fifth Element that features a kick ass female character.  These films include Lucy, La Femme Nikita and now Anna.

Sasha Luss plays the titular character, a Russian woman forced into the KGB to escape from the horrors of her life, who has but one wish…to be free.  However, the KGB and the CIA wind up in a game of international espionage with Anna caught in the middle.

I have to say that for a good chunk of the movie, I was bored.  The action never stands out, Anna is beautiful but hardly a deep or original character and the film didn’t really have much so say.  Something about weaponizing beauty I suppose.

Then, multiple times, the story employed a tactic of flashbacks showing what were important pieces of the narrative that was left out of the first viewing to explain something unexpected that had just happened.  Only a few of these flashbacks showed us anything special and then they even became heavy-handed, which made what we saw moving forward more predictable, not less predictable.

Helen Mirren is here and I usually love her, but her appearance in this movie was, at best, meh.  It felt as if I had seen this performance from her before, and not as good.  Luke Evans was here too, and his character was conflicted in all the wrong ways.  I never bought any connection between Anna and Evans’ Alex.  Of the supporting characters, I liked Cillian Murphy’s Lenny Miller from the CIA the best.  He felt like the realest character on the screen and I understood his motivation the most.

Sasha Luss was very good as Anna.  I believed that she was a cold-hearted Russian assassin and she does a decent job proving it.  She does not emote a lot of charm, however, and her emotional moments were not the film’s strong ones.  I did enjoy her beating the crap out of one obnoxious fashion photographer, which felt like a too close to home example for this film.

Several plots threads were left unfinished.  Anna gets involved in a gay relationship with fellow model Maud (Lera Abova) and we never have any wrap up of that storyline.  This entire part of the plot could have been edited out and would have helped with the length of the movie.  Speaking of the length of the movie, it was too long.  Almost two hours was just longer than this should have gone.

This was not a great film and we have seen most of it done better in other places.  Helen Mirren feels wasted and I did not buy much of the story.  The flashbacks actually make the story even more predictable, which is not a good thing.

2.4 stars 

Child’s Play (2019)

Image result for childs play movie poster 2019

Be careful what you say to Alexa because you never know when your Amazon virtual assistant may take it the wrong way.

I just watched the original Child’s Play a few months ago in preparation for the release of the new rebooted version from director Lars Klevburg.  I enjoyed the original Child’s Play, but I did not feel the need to watch all of the other sequels that followed it.

The new version of Child’s Play was fine.  I liked it.  Some of the changes that they made did not wind up bothering me because I did not have the deep connection to the series as other may have had.  I can understand, however, why some people might be unhappy with the film.

Karen (Aubrey Plaza) picks up one of the Buddi dolls for her son, Andy (Gabriel Bateman) to help ease the transition from moving into a new place.  Andy has trouble making friends and she believes that the doll would help his spirits.  Little did she know that the doll was defective (sort of) and was sentient.  Naming himself Chucky (Mark Hamill), the doll bonds quickly with Andy a little too closely.

Chucky is an iconic figure in horror movies, and some people are not happy with the new look of the doll.  Another aspect that many people disapprove of is the fact that this Chucky is no longer possessed by the serial killer, and is instead technology turning on the human race.  Sure we have seen that all the time, but neither of these differences cause an issue for me.

The movie knew what it wanted to be.  There was a definite cheesy part of the film, and that makes sense, since this is a killer doll.  There should not be a full out dramatic version of Chucky.  However, there were some times when the cheese factor may have gone a bit too far and felt out of place, especially when dealing with the other kids in Andy’s neighborhood.

I do like the motivation of this Chucky.  Whereas the original film’s character was being motivated by this killer spirit to become human again, the new Chucky is motivated by the relationship with Andy.  He wanted to protect Andy and to be the whole world to Andy.  Chucky did not want to share his “best friend forever” with anyone else and that feeling of loneliness and drive for connection is something that  everyone can relate with.

Mark Hamill is one of our generations greatest voice actors and his new turn as Chucky is as great as you would expect it to be.  Hamill’s voice portrayal helps to create the creepiness of the character in the new movie.

I also really loved the work of Gabriel Bateman as Andy.  The young kid had a lot of this movie placed on his shoulders and he came through like a champion.  You can see the conflict within Andy as these horrible things begin to happen and how he does not know what to do.  His fear and pain feels real and well done.

The aspect of the doll being an AI works very well when Chucky is able to interface with other technological items and use them against his victims.  This helps with one of the film’s main themes of how technology can control our lives and puts into a danger of becoming too enthralled.  The film also has some things to say about consumers and their attempt to grab the newest thing, even if it is bad for them.  The third act brings back memories of Jingle All the Way.

The film is very bloody and has some seriously gory scenes.  It certainly earned its R rating.  I found that there were less times in this movie where I would be thinking, “This is just a doll, destroy it” to the people Chucky was attacking.  I had those thoughts many times in the original so that says that the kill scenes were reasonably well done to me.

I enjoyed the relationship between Andy and his mom.  It felt like a real relationship.  I enjoyed the scenes involving Detective Mike Norris (Brian Tyree Henry), especially his interactions with Andy and Mike’s own mother Doreen (Carlease Burke).

There were several relationships that either did not work or were weaker than these ones.  I already mentioned the other kids in the neighborhood and all of them are simply one-note characters there for background.  The only exception I would make is Beatrice Kitsos who played Falyn.  This character was intriguing but they never really dive into what makes her special.  She is visually appealing.  Then, Karen’s boyfriend, Shane (David Lewis) was a terrible character with little redeeming qualities at all.  He was there to be the conflict with Andy and not much else.

The film was quick and short (90 minutes) and it moved by quickly.  I was reasonably entertained by Child’s Play and I was not offended by the changes from the original.  It is not the best horror movie of the year and I do not think it is trying to be.  I think it is trying to be a fun and tense film with a heavy dose of creepiness.  While it is far from perfect, the new Child’s Play succeeds in what it is trying to be.

3.5 stars

Toy Story 4

Image result for toy story 4 movie poster

I was very worried about Toy Story 4 because I did not see the purpose of the movie.  Toy Story 3 is one of my favorite movies of all time and it felt like the perfect way to tie up the Toy Story franchise.  Plus, I was unimpressed with the promotional material for Toy Story 4.  Nothing jumped out at me as being a worthwhile addition to what could be argued as one of the best trilogies in movie history.

However, the word of mouth has been positive so I was hopeful once again.

I never should have doubted Toy Story.  Toy Story 4 was fantastic.

The young girl Bonnie (Madeleine McGraw) who was given the group of Andy’s toys is on the way to Kindergarten. Woody (Tom Hanks) sneaks into her backpack to help her through the day despite the fact that he has been regulated to the closet during playtime for much of the previous week.  Woody pulled some shenanigans and helped Bonnie through the day.  Bonnie made her own toy at school out of an old spork that she named Forky (Tony Hale), and Woody made it his mission to make sure that Forky was there for Bonnie.

However, Forky considered himself trash and kept trying to throw himself away.

Toy Story 4 was one of the funnier entries in the franchise.  There was several very great new characters.  Keegan-Michael Key and Jordan Peele reunited as Ducky and Bunny.  Christina Hendricks voices the new villain Gabby Gabby.  And the wonderful Keanu Reeves appears as Duke Caboom, Canadian stunt motorcyclist in the vein of Evel Knievel.

Duke Caboom is one of my favorite parts of the new film.  Keanu is the perfect voice for the role of Duke Caboom.

Annie Potts returned to the series as Bo Peep, the lost toy.  Bo Peep and Woody are a cool pairing and have some chemistry, for an animated pairing.  It was nice to see Bo Peep back as the kick ass female toy.

The story moves quickly and, everything works so well.  The new characters all fit right into the rest of the cast.  Buzz Lightyear (Tim Allen) is here again and, although not as used as Woody, is still an important supporting character.

One of my doubts was that Toy Story 3 wrapped up the franchise in a perfect bow.  After seeing Toy Story 4, I am readjusting my thoughts.  Toy Story 3 is the perfect wrap up of the Andy story.  Toy Story 4 does the perfect job of wrapping up the story of Woody and the toys.  This is definitely Woody’s movie and it was worth it.

The animation, surprise surprise, was amazing.  Pixar’s animation only seems to get better each time.

This was a tremendously fun movie that I had a great time with.  If I were rating it, I would still put Toy Story 3 first, then the original.  Four would be the third place and Toy Story 2 was my least favorite.  They are all amazing though.

Anyone worried that Toy Story 4 would not live up to the trilogy, don’t.  It’s awesome.

4.25 stars

 

 

Late Night

Image result for late night movie poster

This one has been on the radar for awhile now, but the timing just never worked out.  Finally had a chance to see Late Night and I am glad that it was able to work out.

Mindy Kaling, who plays Molly, wrote this film that tells the story of an all-time great late night talk show host, Katherine Newbury (Emma Thompson), who has fallen on tough times in the way of ratings and creativity.  Newbury discovers that there is a plan in place to replace her as the host of her show, and she decides to push ahead and try to convince her boss (Amy Ryan) and the public that she deserves another chance.

Molly is hired to become the sole female writer on her staff around the same time as a diversity hire.  She learns quickly that the all-male, all-white writing staff may not be as welcoming as she believes.  Plus, Katherine has chosen this time to become more hands on in her approach to the show, showing up to the writer’s room, full of vim and vigor, and, despite the fact that she does not know the writer’s names (she calls them by a number), she puts everyone on the spot and on guard immediately.

Molly, unaware of the office protocol, rubs everyone the wrong way immediately, but her skill with comedy and her new ideas shine through and get her noticed by Katherine.

Emma Thompson is wonderful here, as always.  She is as charming and likable as this fully unlikable character could be.  She brings an instant credibility to the role that allows you to believe that she is a legend in the late night business.  You excuse the bad behavior because of the charismatic lead actress.

There is also a fantastic relationship between Emma Thompson and her on-screen husband, the great John Lithgow.  Lithgow plays Walter, Katherine’s husband who is suffering from Parkinson’s Disease.  This piece of the story brings such a richness to the story that, while it may not inspire much toward the plot, it tells us more about the character Katherine and allows us to love her even more.  Lithgow is tremendous in his limited screen time.

The relationship between Katharine and Molly was fine, but did feel a tad forced at times.  Still, by the end of the film, you accept the connection between these two women.

There are plenty of themes running through the film, from ageism to sexism to the lack of diversity in the entertainment business.  The #metoo movement even gets a moment inside the movie.  Each one is handled well, if not covered fully.

The film belongs to Emma Thompson though and she is a powerhouse here.  There are some top notch supporting performances along the way, not only with John Lithgow, but also with Denis O’Hare, Max Casella, and Reid Scott.  The writer’s room was filled with intriguing characters from number one to number 8.

If you like the late night TV shows like Stephen Colbert or Jimmy Kimmel, you will find something to like in Late Night.  If you are a fan of Emma Thompson, this is a smorgasbord of her acting skills.

3.9 stars 

 

The Dead Don’t Die

The Dead Don't Die Movie Poster

This was very much a different type of zombie movie, one that I was not expecting.  Certainly, with Bill Murray as the lead, I knew that we were in store for a humorous take on the genre, but I had no idea what I was about to see.

Writer/director Jim Jarmusch is known for his slow take on some of his films and that style is in full display here.  The story slowly moves through the movie as characters talk about life and, at times, barely even recognize what is happening around them.

The small town of Centerville finds itself with strange events happening.  The daylight is staying longer, the moon has a strange glow and the dead are rising from the grave.  All of this because the earth has shifted slightly off its axis because of polar fracking.

Police Chief Cliff Robertson (Bill Murray) and Officer Ronnie Peterson (Adam Driver) respond to the terrible happenings in the town.  Murray and Driver are as deadpan as you can get, as Driver constantly says that “this won’t end well.”

Meanwhile, we are introduced to a bunch of characters from around Centerville, some of who are important and others whose story arc does not seem to go anywhere.  The cast is tremendous as, along with Murray and Driver, you have Tom Waits, Chloe Sevigny, Danny Glover, Steve Buscemi, Tilda Swinton, Rosie Perez, Selena Gomez and Carole Kane.

Of course, some of these actors play characters without any connection to the story at all.  Tilda Swinton is amazing here, but her arc is bizarre.  It was very funny, and at least she did interact with the main actors.  There are a group of young actors playing kids in a children’s detention center who literally have nothing to do with the plot.

Some times that is funny and works and other times it feels kind of lazy, as if they are just filling up screen time with scenes.  There is a definite irreverence on display inside  the film and that fits into the tone.

I loved the work between Murray and Driver.  The had a wonderful connection in the movie.  Their responses to one another was perfect and fit beautifully with the tone that Jarmusch was going for.  Both Murray and Driver were veterans of Jarmusch movies and that experience pays off royally here.

I got a feeling watching The Dead Don’t Die that reminded me clearly of Twin Peaks.  It was a show that was filled with eccentric, bordering on weird characters, who found themselves in strange and unexplained situations.  The Dead Don’t Die would be an episode of Twin Peaks, but with zombies.  There was even a zombie who loved coffee.  Of course, as a huge Peak Freak, I would love that and I enjoyed this movie a great deal.

Sure, some of the characters are unnecessary, but they help create a flavor of the town of Centerville.  The message of the movie is pretty heavy handed and could have been more subtle, but that does not dominate the movie and does not ruin the enjoyment I had.

3.75 stars

 

Shaft (2019)

Related image

As I prepared for this movie, a movie that I had enjoyed the trailers for, I watched the original Shaft from 1971 with Richard Roundtree and the 2001 Shaft with Samuel L. Jackson.  Both movies were escapist fun and featured one bad mutha…shut your mouth!

So when I heard the really bad reviews the 2019 version of Shaft was receiving from critics, I was disappointed, but I remained cautiously optimistic.  I mean, I have disagreed with critics before, though, 35% on Rotten Tomatoes does not usually mean this is going to be a winner.

Still, I hoped for the best, and, in the end,…

I liked it.

Samuel L. Jackson returned as John Shaft, and we meet the woman, Maya (Regina King), who tamed, if only temporarily, the sex machine with all the chicks.  Unfortunately, a hit gone wrong led to Maya to take Shaft’s baby son away from him and keep the boy isolated from his father for his own safety.

J.J. aka John Shaft Jr. (Jesse T. Usher) had grown up never knowing his father and resenting how Shaft deserted him.  J.J. became an FBI data analyst and wound up on the outskirts of a case that led to the murder of his lifelong friend Karim (Avan Jogia).  Not sure where to turn, J.J. turned to his father in his search for his friend’s murderer.

Now, the story of this movie is dumb.  There is no way around it.  The plot is needlessly convoluted and feels too much like a bad 1980s movie.  There are two main reasons why this movie works despite the failure of the story.

One, is Samuel L. Jackson.  He is clearly having all kinds of fun playing the role of John Shaft once again.  He is funny, foul-mouthed and full of inappropriateness, which all adds up to be simply a hoot.  Jackson’s Shaft is politically incorrect and loving every minute of it.

The second reason is the relationship that the movie builds between Shaft and J.J.  The film focuses on the differences between the two generations of Shaft men (eventually, bringing in a third with Richard Roundtree’s John Shaft, who turned out to not be Uncle John as the 2001 movie indicated).  J.J. is a metro-sexual, computer savvy, gun-hater, opposites to his father in many ways.  However, the film also shows that J.J. and Shaft have some unexpected connections as well.  I loved the chemistry between Jackson and Usher and their relationship made the film for me.

Yes, the villains are one note and the violence is everywhere, but that is the same as the other versions of Shaft.   I thought Regina King was a bit overtly dramatic for her role, but she did show the type of fire that might have kept John Shaft interested for all these years.

Shaft (2019) is not a great movie, but I had a good time watching it.  Samuel L. Jackson is great as the title character and his relationship with J.J. carries the film past its weaknesses.  You may need to approach this film with the right mindset, but there are parts of the new Shaft worth admission.

3 stars

Men In Black International

Image result for mib internationalposter

The fourth film in the Men In Black franchise looks to reboot the films with new characters and stories.  Well… there are new characters.

Chris Hemsworth and Tessa Thompson, who worked together as Thor and Valkyrie in Thor: Ragnarok and Avengers: Endgame, don their own black suits and ties to join up with the galaxy defenders.

This is another film this year that is a bit of a mixed bag for me.  Men In Black International is a perfectly okay movie that does not elevate itself above the pack of movies looking for your summer entertainment dollar.  Yet, it is not the most objectionable time at the theater and if you do choose to see it, it won’t be the worst two hours you spend at the movies.  Faint praise, I know.

Molly (Tessa Thompson), after an encounter as a child with the MiB, spent years trying to track down the mysterious organization, finally succeeding.  Her moxie impressed the head of MiB (Emma Thompson) who sends her to the London branch of MiB on a trial basis.  Molly becomes Agent M and meets up with legendary Agent H (Chris Hemsworth) who, along with London branch leader Agent High T (Liam Neeson), saved the world a few years ago from an alien species known as the Hive with nothing more than their wits and a series 7 deatomizer. Agent M arrives and is thrown into a case with Agent H and things happen.

Unfortunately, that plot of the movie is fairly simple and predictable.  So predictable.  I was amazingly  disappointed with how the film played out because I saw the truth coming a mile away and so should most everyone who has ever watched a movie before. They hinted at some potentially interesting ideas early in the movie in connection to Agent H, but they dropped them for the standard fare very quickly.

The film is saved by the wonderful performances and easy chemistry of Hemsworth and Thompson, who are easily the best part of Men In Black International.  Without the charm of these two actors, this movie could be a total mess, but they salvage many scenes just with their work together.

The movie depends on some wild coincidences to make it through the story and many of these coincidence (though spoilers, so I won’t go into specifics) are eye-rollingly bad.

The usually awesome Rebecca Ferguson (from the Mission Impossible series) was here too, but her character is so over-the-top silly that we have zero interest in her.  This is a huge disappointment for the film.

In the end, this is an okay movie, if you have a couple of hours to shove popcorn into your face and shut off your brain.  Men In Black International really does not give you anything new to think about or to watch, but it does provide you two movie stars at the height of their game.  There could have been more here, but, unfortunately, there is not.

2.85 stars