[IndyPendence Day] Indiana Jones and the Raiders of the Lost Ark (1981)

Director: Steven Spielberg

Cast: Harrison Ford, Karen Allen, Paul Freeman, Ronald Lacey, John Rhys-Davies, Denholm Elliot

Screenplay: Lawrence Kasdan

115 mins. Rated PG.

  • Academy Award Winner: Best Art Direction – Set Decoration
  • Academy Award Winner: Best Sound
  • Academy Award Winner: Best Film Editing
  • Academy Award Winner: Best Effects, Visual Effects
  • Academy Award Winner: Special Achievement Award
  • Academy Award Nominee: Best Picture
  • Academy Award Nominee: Best Director
  • Academy Award Nominee: Best Cinematography
  • Academy Award Nominee: Best Music, Original Score

IMDb Top 250: #48 (as of 6/25/2019)

 

What else would I watch on IndyPendence Day, right?

Indiana Jones (Harrison Ford, Witness, The Secret Life of Pets 2) is a professor and archaeologist known for acquiring various historical items of merit. Now he’s been tasked by the American government to find the missing Ark of the Covenant, a chest that contains the remains of the Ten Commandments, and an item he has a history with. He doesn’t know its location, but his former love Marion Ravenwood (Karen Allen, Starman, Year by the Sea) may know something. He has to work quickly, though, because a group of Nazis, led by rival archaeologist Belloq (Paul Freeman, Hot Fuzz, TV’s Absentia), are already on the search for Marion and the Ark, as Hitler believes the Ark to have mystical powers that may grant the Nazis an edge on their quest for global domination.

I actually got into Indiana Jones in my late teens because of Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull. When I heard there was going to be a new movie, I knew I had to see the other three first, because I’m a little insane that way. While Raiders of the Lost Ark is not my favorite of the four films, it’s a damn good introductory adventure to our heroic archaeologist and it set the blueprint for how to create an effective adventure under the crafting of director Steven Spielberg (Schindler’s List, Ready Player One), George Lucas, and screenwriter Lawrence Kasdan (The Big Chill, Solo: A Star Wars Story).

Harrison Ford is perfectly cast as Jones. It’s laughable now to even think of someone else like Tom Selleck, Nick Nolte, or even Steve Martin donning the fedora, even though they were all part of the lengthy list of potentials for the lead. He is excellent here, playing an otherworldly parallel to Han Solo, another crotchety character who thinks he knows everything. His chemistry with both love interest Karen Allen and also close friend Sallah, played by John Rhys-Davies (The Lord of the Rings: The Return of the King, Aquaman), are both exemplary.

What’s so great about introducing this film at this time is that so much of its iconography and recognizable pop culture occurs in the opening sequence. My wife had only seen Temple of Doom and Crystal Skull (the latter of which probably a decade ago), and after Indy takes on the fertility idol, she turned and asked what happens in the movie, assuming that the boulder and everything leading up to it was the plot of the movie. I hadn’t really thought about it, but it’s true.

Spielberg’s style, borrowed from pulp adventure novels, B-movies, and serials from his youth, elevated the material with a fun sense of style that integrated nicely without getting bogged down in silliness. He also wasn’t afraid to hit the violence hard. In fact, when I was younger, I remember a teacher showing us the violence in one of the sequences of the film. I cannot remember the reason for it, but we were supposed to count the number of violent acts that occur in the fight sequence, and it was a lot. To be honest, that’s one of the great things about the film. The hunt for the Ark is not an easy one for Indy or Marion, and it is their knowledge and skill that keep them going. Plus, Spielberg, Lucas, and Kasdan actually showcase their lead character’s intellect by having him skirt a few nastier situations in the film by using his brain power over his bullwhip and fist.

Indiana Jones and the Raiders of the Lost Ark is a nearly-perfect film which has aged extremely well (except for the age of Marion during her romantic entanglement with the archaeologist). It’s action, violence, and smarts make for a B-movie with an A-movie cast and crew. This is excellent adventure boiled down to its core.

 

4.5/5

-Kyle A. Goethe

 

 

For my review of Steven Spielberg’s Close Encounters of the Third Kind, click here.

For my review of Steven Spielberg’s Jurassic Park, click here.

For my review of Steven Spielberg’s War of the Worlds, click here.

For my review of Steven Spielberg’s The Post, click here.

Rocketman (2019)

Director: Dexter Fletcher

Cast: Taron Egerton, Jamie Bell, Richard Madden, Bryce Dallas Howard

Screenplay: Lee Hall

121 mins. Rated R for language throughout, some drug use and sexual content.

 

It’s about damn time we got an Elton John biopic, and boy was this one worth the wait.

Elton John (Taron Egerton, Kingsman: The Secret Service, Sing), in classic biopic form, needs to go to rehab, and while he’s there, he recounts all the moves in his life that led him to this place, from his friendship with songwriter Bernie Taupin (Jamie Bell, Billy Elliot, The Adventures of Tintin) to his explosive working relationship with music manager John Reid (Richard Madden, Ibiza, TV’s Game of Thrones). In his recollection, Elton begins to see that the biggest obstacle in his happiness might just be the reflection in the mirror.

Rocketman might just be the best musical biopic I’ve seen in a long time, and perhaps the best one, though I’m speaking as someone who thoroughly enjoyed it and just saw it. Director Dexter Fletcher (Eddie the Eagle, Sunshine on Leith) has seemingly craft a film that is equal parts musical extravagance and true life biopic storytelling. The events are somewhat incorrectly placed on a timeline, but it is done in the service of the character and the story, and I didn’t mind. What Fletcher does so well in this film and in previous work is that he has such a flair for making his style its own character without sacrificing the story and characters. His style has the similar effect as what Quentin Tarantino does with his musical choices. He uses them to aid his characters. If he has a flaw in the film (and it’s really only a nit-pick), it’s that he goes full classic biopic by having the main character recount his entire life in rehab, a move that almost feels cliché now, but I brushed past it.

Taron Egerton is on fire here. It’s his best performance of a small but impressive career. He owns the screen in every scene, aided by John’s impressive wardrobe (someone start talking Best Costume Design here), but it is his performance, a richly-layered look at Elton John on the inside and outside, that is the biggest takeaway from the film. He blends into Fletcher’s visual storytelling so well, and the chemistry between him and the supporting players is astounding. Then there’s the singing (Egerton does his own in the film), which, although not sounding exactly like Elton John, aids the character he is playing and has a real feeling to it that doesn’t feel like he’s just trying to match someone else. I’d rather have it this way.

The supporting cast does a great job when not overshadowed by the grandiose nature of Elton John. I really like Jamie Bell and it is great to see him get some impressive moments to shine in conversations with Egerton. Richard Madden needs to be in more movies after work in Game of Thrones and Bodyguard, and he plays John Reid in such a menacing and cruel way that works well without seeming completely mustache-twiddlingly villainous. Bryce Dallas Howard (Jurassic World, A Dog’s Way Home) appears in the film in a physical transformation as Elton’s mother Sheila, and it’s some of her best work as well. Dexter Fletcher has a knack for collaborating and getting the absolute best from his actors, and it’s on full display here.

Rocketman has become my favorite film so far this year. It’s an impressive feat that showcases why filmmakers like Dexter Fletcher need to be getting more work, and it is a great standout performance from Egerton. See this one as soon as you can. This is one film we’ll be talking about for some time.

 

5/5

-Kyle A. Goethe

Godzilla: King of the Monsters (2019)

Director: Michael Dougherty

Cast: Kyle Chandler, Vera Farmiga, Millie Bobby Brown, Bradley Whitford, Sally Hawkins, Charles Dance, Thomas Middleditch, Aisha Hinds, O’Shea Jackson Jr., David Straithairn, Ken Watanabe, Ziyi Zhang

Screenplay: Michael Dougherty, Zach Shields

132 mins. Rated PG-13 for sequences of monster action violence and destruction, and for some language.

 

The MonsterVerse is one of the more successful cinematic universe to rise out of the shadow of Marvel, probably the fourth best one after the MCU, the DCEU, and The Conjuring Universe. It’s also the one that feels more easily connected, but it also feels like if has nowhere to go after next year’s Godzilla vs. King Kong. That is, until King of the Monsters blew open the floodgates for franchise expansion.

It’s been five years since Godzilla faced off against the MUTOs, and the world has been trying to recover, until a group of eco-terrorists under the command of Alan Jonah (Charles Dance, Gosford Park, Johnny English Strikes Again) kidnap Dr. Emma Russell (Vera Farmiga, Up in the Air, Annabelle Comes Home) and her daughter Madison (Millie Bobby Brown, TV’s Stranger Things) with the intention of using them to help wake up the numerous Titans slumbering all around the world. Now, Emma’s ex-husband Mark (Kyle Chandler, Argo, First Man) has been tasked by MONARCH to help track them down, but he wants nothing to do with Titans after the death of his son during the attacks of 2014. He is forced to come to terms with his hatred for Godzilla as the Titans keep waking up, from the fiery Rodan to the great alien beast King Ghidorah, in order to stop them and save the human race from possible extinction at the hands of the kaiju.

Godzilla 2014 had a problem with the handling of the title creature. Godzilla movies actually do not feature a lot of the great kaiju, but when he is used, it is wonderful. The way Godzilla was hidden for a bulk of the film didn’t work all that well for me, so I’m glad to report that King of the Monsters puts those kaiju on display from the opening scene to the epic finale. In fact, while I liked the previous Godzilla film, it seems like all the problems of the last film are somewhat corrected or at least bettered by King of the Monsters.

The human characters are nothing really special in the sequel, but compared to the human story of the first film, I prefer this rag-tag group of monster hunters trying to track the kaiju awakenings around the work. From Chandler’s Mark to returning favorites Dr. Vivienne Graham (Sally Hawkins, The Shape of Water, Paddington 2) and Dr. Ishiro Serizawa (Ken Watanabe, The Last Samurai, Pokemon: Detective Pikachu). I at least generally liked this group of humans, and I wanted to see them succeed, with one exception.

The way Emma’s character is written is downright terrible. It would be nearly impossible for her character arc to work well given the arc she is given, and Farmiga does what she can in the role, but the character just flat-out doesn’t work, and it takes a lot out of the film given that she’s one of our human leads.

Thankfully, though, this Godzilla movie is about the kaiju, and that’s what really matters. Looking back at the mission statement of this site, to look at what a film is trying to accomplish, King of the Monsters is about the kaiju, and for that, the films works quite well. Godzilla has a fully realized arc, and he is most definitely the king and star of the film. Where director Michael Dougherty (Trick ‘r Treat, Krampus) shines here is that he gives great attention and love to the lore of the Godzilla expanded franchise. He picks his versions of each of the kaiju quite well, especially where he takes on Mothra. Mothra can be a trickier kaiju to stay grounded with because of all the mythos of the character, but Doughtery showcases his love of this world with his incredible attention to detail.

Dougherty’s favorite kaiju is Rodan, and he takes the opportunity to include the famed creature in his film. The only problem is that Rodan has such a rich history and stands as a kaiju I really love, and I don’t think it has any purpose in this film. For a character with such an interesting background, Rodan could be a film’s main antagonist, but in this film, it stands as just another lackey of Ghidorah, and I didn’t like the way it was put in the film. It could’ve been replaced with just about any other kaiju and the film would feel the exact same.

The director and his co-screenwriter Zach Shields had to expand upon this world, and in that way, the world feels extremely well expanded for future films. There are so many kaiju in the film, and they are merely cameos or introductions to monsters we may see in future films, but the groundwork has been laid quite well. I can see a lot of possibilities for the future of this cinematic universe, using both established characters or the new ones created in this film. It even nicely lays the groundwork for the next film in the franchise without forcing it by introducing the idea that MONARCH has been following Kong’s life since Skull Island. This is a problem tackled in this film that many fledgling cinematic universes can’t get past. BvS and Iron Man 2 tried to shoehorn a cinematic universe together with references and connections abound, and it could have buried their universe. The Mummy tried to do all that in the first film and killed its franchise. What needs to be done is to make a fun and entertaining experience first, and give blink-and-you’ll-miss-it details next while using your credits to set up the future. That’s why I never understood the aversion to post-credits scenes after the success of the MCU. It’s like a teaser for what comes next without ending every film on a cliffhanger. King of the Monsters is one of the most successful universe-building installments ever.

Dougherty has fun with the film because he understands the tone of his stories, and that’s what has made him such a fun storyteller to watch, from his work on Trick ‘r Treat to Krampus, he’s just a blast of a filmmaker. He finally used the Blue Oyster Cult song Godzilla, and he used it well!

Godzilla: King of the Monsters is a better film than its predecessor, and while it doesn’t perfect the art of kaiju films with its occasionally flawed characters and reliance on spectacle over story, it’s a damn fun movie, one that kept me looking on with childhood glee and praising its visual sense and creative creature design. This is a fun movie, done.

 

3.5/5

-Kyle A. Goethe

 

 

For my review of Jordan Vogt-Roberts’s Kong: Skull Island, click here.

For my review of Gareth Edwards’s Godzilla, click here.

Dumbo (2019)

Director: Tim Burton

Cast: Colin Farrell, Michael Keaton, Danny DeVito, Eva Green, Alan Arkin, Nico Parker, Finley Hobbins

Screenplay: Ehren Kruger

112 mins. Rated PG for peril/action, some thematic elements and brief mild language.

 

Tim Burton (Sweeney Todd: The Demon Barber of Fleet Street, Beetlejuice) seemed like an odd choice for Dumbo, right?

When Holt Farrier (Colin Farrell, The Lobster, Widows) returns from the war, his job at the circus is gone, and circus owner Max Medici (Danny DeVito, Matilda, Twins) assigns him to the elephants, where he meets baby Dumbo, an adolescent elephant ridiculed by many for his unusually-sized ears. When Holt’s children, Milly (Nico Parker) and Joe (Finley Hobbins), discover that Dumbo is able to fly with the aid of his ears, they set forth to save the failing circus, attracting the attention of the sinister salesman V.A. Vandevere (Michael Keaton, Birdman, American Assassin).

I want to start by saying I love it when Disney actually takes a property and updates it for a live-action release. As much as I enjoyed Beauty and the Beast, I would rather have a different take on the film, like what Cinderella and Aladdin did. This is done again here, but it doesn’t work as well. Dumbo 2019 is a different film than its predecessor, and I respect that, but the results are hit-or-miss. It all boils down to the screenplay by Ehren Kruger (The Ring, Ghost in the Shell), which doesn’t really revive as much magic from the source material as one would like. It feels very straight-forward and, in that process, loses some of the magic and soul that a film like Dumbo should have. Events just kind of happen, and with a more muted Burton directing the film, it feels hollow at times.

Now there is magic, particularly to the central relationship between Farrell, Parker, and Hobbins, who are trying to reconnect after war and tragedy have decimated their family. I also really enjoyed DeVito’s Max Medici. At this point in his career, DeVito knows how to play to the circus performance character, and he really collaborates with Burton quite well.

Michael Keaton’s zany performance as Vandevere starts out strong but really never goes anywhere. He is quirky because he’s in a Tim Burton movie and not for any particularly villainous reason. He’s unlikable, and maybe because he’s a villain, that’s a good thing, but it didn’t really work entirely for me.

Now, the scenes involving Dumbo are crafted very nicely by Burton. His visual take on the CG elephant works really well, and it makes for some truly captivating moments. It’s here where the film shines, and in that way, it is quite similar to films like Godzilla and Transformers in that the CG stuff works better than most of the human characters, but not to that extent, I suppose.

Dumbo is a mish-mash of elements, some that work really well and some that don’t. It’s uneven in this way, with a screenplay that doesn’t reach the heights a flying elephant should be able to rocket it, a director who feels somewhat asleep at the wheel or possibly incorrectly hired, but a group of performers and a cute-as-a-button flying elephant make for an enjoyable experience. It’s a scathing critique of Disney culture made by Disney that doesn’t always know who it should be appealing to; kids will like the Dumbo stuff but the rest of the plot mostly services adults. Still, I enjoyed myself and find the film to be a rather fair addition to Disney’s live-action shelf.

 

2.5/5

-Kyle A. Goethe

 

 

For my review of Tim Burton’s Beetlejuice, click here.

For my review of Tim Burton’s Batman, click here.

For my review of Tim Burton’s Sleepy Hollow, click here.

For my review of Tim Burton’s Corpse Bride, click here.

For my review of Tim Burton’s Dark Shadows, click here.

Alita: Battle Angel (2019)

Director: Robert Rodriguez

Cast: Rosa Salazar, Christoph Waltz, Jennifer Connelly, Mahershala Ali, Ed Skrein, Jackie Earle Haley, Keean Johnson

Screenplay: James Cameron, Laeta Kalogridis

122 mins. Rated PG-13 for sequences of sci-fi violence and action, and for some language.

 

It would be incredibly hard to market a film like Alita: Battle Angel. Like Speed Racer a decade ago, the film is like a living anime, not something easily sellable in two minutes. There was immediate discussion about the main character’s appearance, as she had two large, cartoonish eyes. Many wondered if it was possible to view her as a relatable character when she looked so toony. I was concerned about that as well. Thank goodness that is not the case.

In Iron City, scientist Dr. Dyson Ido (Christoph Waltz, Django Unchained, Downsizing) finds a destroyed cyborg with a working brain. He fixes it up, brings it back to life without any memory of her past, and gives her a name. Now, this cyborg, Alita (Rosa Salazar, Bird Box, Maze Runner: The Death Cure), is actively trying to learn more about her world, and she befriends Hugo (Keean Johnson, Heritage Falls, TV’s Spooksville), a young man who dreams of rising out of Iron City into the floating sky city above them, Zalem. In her travels, Alita finds that her past is one of great importance, and she embarks on a journey of self-discovery, all the while being hunted by other nefarious cyborgs.

For starters, let’s talk about Alita. Rosa Salazar owns this role and this film. For a cyborg, her performance is incredibly human. She is a playful child in some ways as she rediscovers the world, and the emotions that exist within it. As far as the CG facial work, it’s hardly noticeable. It lends to a unique character, and it works quite well. After the first few moments, I found myself not even realizing that I was seeing CG and I just became lost in the character.

The supporting cast is mostly filled with talented work, but some performers, like Mahershala Ali (The Curious Case of Benjamin Button, TV’s True Detective) as Vector, the criminal entrepreneur, and Jennifer Connelly (A Beautiful Mind, Only the Brave) as Dr. Chiren, Ido’s ex-wife, are given little to nothing to really do in the movie. Ali and Connelly do fine work with what their given, but it just isn’t enough to create the memorable characters both are capable of, and especially considering Ali’s most recent success with Moonlight and Green Book, it feels wasted.

Then there’s Hugo. I didn’t like Hugo as a character. I didn’t like the way he was written and I didn’t like the way he was portrayed. I didn’t like his lack of chemistry with Alita. It’s frustrating when he’s on film because I get what is being attempted, but it just never really hits.

Where director Robert Rodriguez (El Mariachi, Machete Kills) truly wins here is his knack for understanding and showcasing spectacle, something Alita: Battle Angel explodes with. Both Rodriguez and screenwriter James Cameron understand the spectacle of a true cinematic experience, and that’s what is accomplished with Alita. I just had so much fun in this true theater-going adventure, and it looks better than just about anything out there right now. It’s the kind of thing I’m looking forward to in the Avatar sequels, the sense of wild and incredible visual candy, and that’s what I got here.

Alita: Battle Angel stumbles with a few characters, but it’s also unlike anything I’ve seen on screen before. Director Robert Rodriguez swings for the fences, and it mostly works really well. This is the kind of film that begs for a sequel to further explore the world, the mythology, and the characters, and it may not get that, which is a true shame because Alita: Battle Angel did a lot of heavy lifting here, and it left me wanting more in the best possible way. Seek this one out on the biggest screen you can.

 

4/5

-Kyle A. Goethe

 

 

For my review of Robert Rodriguez’s The Faculty, click here.

For my review of Robert Rodriguez, Frank Miller, and Quentin Tarantino’s Sin City, click here.

For my review of Robert Rodriguez and Frank Miller’s Sin City: A Dame to Kill For, click here.

Pokemon: Detective Pikachu (2019)

Director: Rob Letterman

Cast: Ryan Reynolds, Justice Smith, Kathryn Newton, Suki Waterhouse, Omar Chaparro, Chris Geere, Ken Watanabe, Bill Nighy

Screenplay: Dan Hernandez, Benji Samit, Rob Letterman, Nicole Perlman

104 mins. Rated PG for action/peril, some rude and suggestive humor, and thematic elements.

 

After decades of waiting, a live-action Pokemon movie exists, and it follows Ash Ketchum from Pallet Town as he…wait? It doesn’t? Then who’s it about? Detective Pikachu? Seriously? Okay, let’s start this one again.

Tim Goodman (Justice Smith, Paper Towns, Jurassic World: Fallen Kingdom) works in the high-stakes world of insurance, and he has no interest in being a Pokemon trainer, but when Tim learns of his father’s death, he goes to Ryme City to settle things. When Tim arrives at his father’s apartment, he comes across a Pikachu (Ryan Reynolds, Deadpool, The Croods) sporting detective wear and claiming to belong to Harry, Tim’s father. The crazy thing is that he and the Pikachu completely understand each other as if they’re speaking the same language. Pikachu wants to solve the case of Harry’s possible murder, but he has amnesia and doesn’t remember anything. The two unlikely heroes join forces to find the culprits, and their search brings them to a conspiracy neither one ever expected.

I was really disappointed to hear that the first live-action Pokemon movie would be a Detective Pikachu movie, mostly because there was so much material to be mined in the Pokemon Universe, and choosing to focus on a game that was largely unreleased in North America until recently seemed like a really odd choice. Then, I heard Ryan Reynolds was voicing Pikachu and I got really concerned. It seemed to me like this whole franchise was coming together in a really bad way. Then, the poster looked okay. Then, the trailer looked silly, but it also looked like fun, so I became increasingly excited about the prospect of a Detective Pikachu movie, but there was still that lingering confusion as to the narrative purpose of a Detective Pikachu movie. It was only after seeing the film that I got it. There is a very important narrative purpose to this movie, and while I still would have like to see a straight-forward Pokemon adventure, Detective Pikachu is a great introductory course for Pokemon fans, and it has the potential to bring in a lot of new fans.

For the most part, Ryan Reynold’s voice work is pretty solid for him and the writing gives him a lot to play with. His chemistry as a CG-character actually melded pretty well with Justice Smith’s Tim. Their central relationship is the reason for watching the movie, as many of the secondary characters serve a purpose to that central relationship but little else.

Director Rob Letterman (Monsters vs. Aliens, Goosebumps) injected a lot of little references and visually appealing fan moments into the movie. I had some concern about the use of legendary characters like Mewtwo in this movie, and how they would be incorporated in an interesting way, and overall, it was mostly done with care. Again, the whole Mewtwo has a purpose in the film and a narrative reason to appear, albeit a thin one. What’s great is that, even with Mewtwo, his lore from the animated films and games appears to be intact and built into the character’s past. That’s one of reasons that I couldn’t look away from the screen during the movie. I have been a Pokemon fan since it hit stateside, and I was glued to the screen for every little CG critter to show up.

The biggest flaw of the film is that it caters to one demographic age range, which was a silly choice. This is a kid’s movie, and before you say DUH! I want to say that Pokemon, as a franchise is now multi-generational, much like the Toy Story movies. Kids who grew up with Pokemon when it started are not adults with their very own children, and if Detective Pikachu aimed their narrative at both kids and adults, it would have been more successful. I had a lot of fun watching, but the plotting was a little simplistic and I put it together rather easily. The final turn of the film surprised me a bit, and it was a good little hook to the narrative, but the overarching plotline was rather simplistic. Too much so.

Pokemon: Detective Pikachu now holds the distinction of being the best video game movie ever, at least from a critical viewpoint, and I truly enjoyed it. It’s the kind of movie that Pokemon fans will like and non-Pokemon fans can at least understand. It’s plot is a little too rudimentary, but the central comradery between Pikachu and Tim is strong enough to carry, and it has plenty of cute little monsters to keep the spectacle alive.

 

3.5/5

-Kyle A. Goethe

 

 

For my theory involving Detective Pikachu’s connection to Home Alone, click here.

[Early Review] Child’s Play (2019)

Director: Lars Klevberg

Cast: Aubrey Plaza, Gabriel Bateman, Brian Tyree Henry, Mark Hamill

Screenplay: Tyler Burton Smith

90 mins. Rated R for bloody horror violence, and language throughout.

 

The new Child’s Play film has had one of the best marketing campaigns of the year, skewering the fact that the film has the same release date as another living toy movie, Toy Story 4. This remake of the horror classic proves, though, that a great marketing campaign never guarantees a great movie.

The recent move for the Barclay family has been tough on Andy (Gabriel Bateman, Lights Out, Benji), so his mother Karen (Aubrey Plaza, Safety Not Guaranteed, TV’s Legion) decides to give him his birthday gift early. Andy is surprised to find that his mother has given him a Buddi doll, a toy from the Kaslan Corporation which connects to all of his other Kaslan products through the cloud, similar to a toy version of an Amazon Echo. There’s a problem, though, for this Buddi doll, named Chucky (Mark Hamill, Star Wars: A New Hope, Con Man) has something wrong with its safety protocols, and Andy soon finds that his new Buddi has no problem committing violent acts and murder in the name of protecting Andy, his Best Buddi to the end.

I actually went into Child’s Play with good feelings, wanting it to succeed, and generally excited. I think the idea to take the story in a completely different direction was a good idea, especially because  I think the movie’s existence is a big dick move to the original series. For those of you that may not know, the original Child’s Play series is actually still running strong. The last two films, Curse of Chucky and Cult of Chucky (which came out 2 years ago), have scored generally good reviews, so much so that a limited series is in the works for television to continue the story of the Brad Dourif-voiced Chucky further. MGM doesn’t own the rights to anything but the first film, and so I think remaking it is a dick move. All that being said, though, I went into it with good vibes which were quickly dashed as the movie began.

First of all, I want to call attention to the elements that actually work in Child’s Play. I think the update to the character of Mike Norris (Brian Tyree Henry, Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse, TV’s Atlanta) works for the most part, and I like Henry’s interpretation of the character for a bulk of the film. I also really liked the voice work of Mark Hamill as Chucky. The biggest problem with these two generally solid performances is that Henry and Hamill are in the wrong movie. If Mike Norris’s character arc were actually interesting, it would lead to a more solid and conflicted character as the film progresses. Hamill’s Chucky is one that is more contemplative and less an A.I. toy learning that killing is okay. In another reality, if Brad Dourif had passed on the role, Hamill’s voice would have fit better in a Charles Lee Ray killer-in-the-body-of-a-doll movie way better than this version of things.

I also like some of the updates and changes made to the mythology. I think that’s when a remake actually stands a chance. I like the idea of an A.I. toy going off the rails as an interesting new wrinkle, but then why did screenwriter Tyler Burton Smith and director Lars Klevberg (Polaroid, The Wall) go so far into reminding people that it’s a remake. Don’t call the kid Andy. Don’t call the detective Mike. Don’t call the doll Chucky. And don’t design a doll that looks like a shittier version of the Good Guy doll.

If I may point out as well that the design of Chucky is awful. How is it that the Good Guy doll was the 1980s looked more realistic than this new version in 2019? His lips and cheeks move really awkwardly, his expressions don’t create menace and instead just make him look really dumb. There’s nothing outside of Hamill’s voice work that creates anything but a junky piece of plastic.

What bothered me so much in the film was not the changes to the lore, it was the fact that the filmmakers got so lazy in telling the story. They shouldn’t have the guys was the marketing team make this movie, it may have turned out more fun. The movie is just riddled with confusingly dumb plot points. Events in the film seemingly don’t matter to the film. Chucky is loved in a cabinet at one point in the film, only to break out through the glass door. There’s likely glass everywhere, but Andy’s mother doesn’t ask about it and nothing about it is ever mentioned again. Andy, upon discovering one of Chucky’s victims, doesn’t go to the police or his mother. He implicates his brand new friends by inviting them over to take a look at Chucky’s handiwork, not knowing for certain if they’ll go to the police, and they proceed to cover up the evidence by launching things down a garbage shoot. No fourteen-year-old would be dumb enough to make themselves an accomplice to murder and then get rid of the evidence down a garbage shoot where it can easily be found.

The way the film tries to maneuver us through set pieces is dull and boring too. There’s a sequence meant to evoke fear and horror when one character is suspended over a sawblade that is spinning that couldn’t have been more set up if the director walked on screen and announced ten minutes earlier exactly where he was guiding things. I audibly groaned in the theater.

There are logic errors and continuity problems abound in Child’s Play. As I stated earlier, for a film to work so hard on a marketing campaign to scrounge it with the finished product is disappoint and sad. This movie is an absolute trainwreck and I’d rather this new attempt at a franchise just be returned to the story it was bought from; there’s clearly a defect in Child’s Play.

 

1.5/5

-Kyle A. Goethe

Aladdin (2019)

Director: Guy Ritchie

Cast: Will Smith, Mena Massoud, Naomi Scott, Marwan Kanzari, Navid Negahban, Nasim Pedrad, Billy Magnusson

Screenplay: John August, Guy Ritchie

128 mins. Rated PG for some action/peril.

 

I don’t think anyone needs a live-action version of our favorite Disney characters, but they’re just going to do it anyway, it might as well be good.

In this live-action retelling of the 90s Disney classic, Aladdin (Mena Massoud, Ordinary Days, Let’s Rap) is a street rat living in Agrabah who is rather effective at stealing and pick-pocketing as a means of survival. When he comes across Princess Jasmine (Naomi Scott, Power Rangers, The 33), masquerading as a royal handmaiden, on the streets of the city and in trouble in the marketplace, he helps her, and in the process becomes quite smitten. There’s a problem, though, because she can only marry a prince, and Aladdin is far from that life. Aladdin soon finds himself befriending a Genie (Will Smith, Bad Boys II, TV’s The Fresh Prince of Bel-Air) who can make his dreams come true and make him someone worthy of marrying the princess, but he must ensure that all these outer changes don’t change the person he is on the inside.

We all know the story of Aladdin, right? Well, there’s nothing major that’s structurally changed in this version, but what is changed is rather cool to see. The most drastic change is how the Genie is portrayed, and it’s done so in a manner which shows love to the late great Robin Williams without caricaturing him. Will Smith brings something wholly unique to his portrayal, which works very well in this interpretation. Much like Williams referencing his own work and getting meta, there’s a 90s Fresh Prince vibe to a lot of the humor that Smith brings to his version of the Genie. The toughest thing is to separate the two incarnations, and that’s where Smith is the most successful. I wasn’t comparing these Genies at all while watching because I was so invested in his interpretation. It’s a good thing that Smith did not take the role of Holt Farrier in the new Dumbo film, a role filled by the more-fitting Colin Farrell, because the Genie suits him so well.

Mena Massoud is not a household name, but he was a perfect choice for Aladdin, one of the reasons being because he isn’t a household name yet. He had that Aladdin charm and comedy, but he was able to play to the character’s emotional arc quite well. It’s funny, because I was wondering how some of these live-action interpretations could get over the idea of falling in love with someone you just met a day earlier, but Massoud’s emotions are on his face the whole time, and his chemistry with Naomi Scott is solid.

There’s a few new layers in the film for the character of Jasmine. It’s a more feminist look at the beloved character, and in the past few years, as Disney has been refocusing their princesses away from the idea that they need a prince or love or a man to make them happy, it works quite well. I’m not sure of its historical accuracy, but there’s a talking magic genie, so there you have it. I really like the new character arc for Jasmine, but I wasn’t a big fan of the new song, Speechless. The song itself is fine, but it doesn’t sound like the rest of the music in the film, and it’s obvious that it was written by other artists. It’s a good song, but it doesn’t mesh with the film, and it doesn’t really fit.

Director Guy Ritchie (Sherlock Holmes, King Arthur: Legend of the Sword) seemed on the surface like an odd choice for Aladdin, but I read something he had said about Aladdin being the character he identified with most at a younger age. Ritchie is known for his fringe heroes, the ones who do not so great things but do them for the right reasons. The pick-pocketing street hustler character of Aladdin does fit him rather well, and this film is a good melding of his style with the Disney-branded wide appeal. There are times we see the Guy Ritchie slow-motion shot and the times we do work really well. The movie feels very collaborative in the best of ways.

Ritchie’s style fits with this new version of Jafar, played in the film by Marwan Kanzari (What Happened to Monday, The Angel). Dubbed Hot Jafar, Kanzari’s version of Jafar works right into Ritchie’s vision. He’s less a menacing, beard-twiddling evil and more of simpler, tighter version of a character, boiled down to his essence, a con man. He’s manipulating the system in order to become the Sultan. His menace lies both on the surface and under layers of cunning. His staff is a tool but he is nearly as good as changing people’s minds as the staff.

Navid Negahban (12 Strong, American Assassin) plays the Sultan, and this is another change that works better for the medium of live-action. The bumbling almost comic-relief Sultan of the animated film works very well for that version, but Negahban is a Sultan concerned with changing the laws of his land, and he is conflicted by his love for his daughter and his duty to tradition. A problem with eliminating his silliness is that it was given to another character in the film, Prince Anders (Billy Magnusson, Into the Woods, Velvet Buzzsaw), a worthless added fool that does little to add anything of substance to the narrative. Negahban’s character works, Magnusson’s flat-out does not.

Aladdin feels at times, especially early in the film, that it’s going too fast. There’s a jumbling to the early parts of the story that makes everything feel so rushed, but once the Genie is introduced, the film slows down significantly, and that’s where the story really opens up and breathes.

Aladdin is imperfect, but it is fun. It’s an enjoyably nostalgic ride through the Disney classic that isn’t overly-beholden to it. That’s when it works. Disney has ridden this line of how much they want their live-action retellings to carbon copy the animated film and how much they want to strike a new path. Aladdin isn’t always as successful as, say, a Cinderella or The Jungle Book, but it cannot be faulted for its lovely color-palette and visually striking storytelling or its fast-paced and fun action set pieces. I had a lot of fun with the flawed Aladdin. I think you will too.

 

3.5/5

-Kyle A. Goethe

How to Train Your Dragon: The Hidden World (2019)

Director: Dean DeBlois

Cast: Jay Baruchel, America Ferrerra, F. Murray Abraham, Cate Blanchett, Craig Ferguson

Screenplay: Dean DeBlois

104 mins. Rated PG for adventure action and some mild rude humor.

 

2019 has been full of some amazing franchise cappers. It’s also had some stinker franchise enders. So how does this third and supposedly final installment in the How to Train Your Dragon franchise end up?

It’s been about a year since we last caught up with Hiccup (Jay Baruchel, Goon, TV’s Man Seeking Woman). In that time, he and the other dragon-riders have spent their time freeing captured dragons and growing Berk into a haven for both dragons and humans alike. They’ve been quite successful, and Berk is overpopulated with the winged beasts. Hiccup believes that he can solve this problem by finding The Hidden World, a legendary dragon utopia his father Stoick had told him about. Meanwhile, Toothless discovers a white dragon similar in appearance, called a Light Fury by Astrid (America Ferrera, The Sisterhood of the Traveling Pants, TV’s Superstore). Toothless is clearly smitten, and Hiccup is unaware that the Light Fury may be a trap set by the dangerous dragon hunter Grimmel (F. Murray Abraham, The Grand Budapest Hotel, TV’s Homeland), who has his eyes set on Toothless.

The Hidden World is the lengthiest of the How to Train Your Dragon films, but it doesn’t feel that way. This movie cruises by, not taking time to reintroduce the audience to the characters, and just letting the story get moving. It has to move quick because the film feels a little stuffed with plot. There’s a lot more going on as Writer/Director Dean DeBlois (Lilo & Stitch) tries to wrap up his trilogy nicely, and it mostly works. I really enjoyed Toothless’s plotline involving the Light Fury. Toothless has never been the focus of these movies like Hiccup, so it was nice to really focus on the needs of the dragon here. The Hiccup and Grimmel part of the story is where it feels a little too familiar. Again, we have another dragon hunter with an eye for Night Furies.

The story, this time around, does feel more epic in scale, and I didn’t laugh nearly as much as the other films. The Hidden World is more serious and action-laden than the others too. There’s a very noticeable and welcome tonal shift as the story packs on weight. I very much enjoyed where it went and how it ended. I also love that DeBlois and DreamWorks seemingly aimed at ending this series, and I appreciate that as a fan and viewer. Sure, there’s plenty of possible plot threads here to lay work for a fourth film, but it felt like the aim was to end it, and that’s a really special thing not all franchises get to do.

With that ending, the film and its audiences are awarded for hanging in there throughout the franchise. I teared up more than once as the film headed for its inevitable conclusion. This is a story so wrought with emotion, a boy-and-his-dog tale with strength and innovation, and this franchise capper sticks the landing quite well.

The voice work is always well done here, with specific credit to franchise newcomer F. Murray Abraham, who always kicks villainy up a notch. Bam! From a technical and visual sense, everything looks gorgeous in the film. I had previously watched the first two films a few nights before hitting up this final chapter, and I have to say, it’s astonishing how the animation has steadily improved on an already impressive-looking first film.

How to Train Your Dragon: The Hidden World is a pretty solid franchise capper, and it closes out a story that has beloved by many fans in a way that will elevate it to one of the best animated film trilogies of all time. If you are a fan of the first two films, you will find a lot to love in this finale. The Hidden World comes with a solid recommendation from this writer.

 

3.5/5

-Kyle A. Goethe

 

 

For my review of Dean DeBlois and Chris Sanders’s How to Train Your Dragon, click here.

For my review of Dean DeBlois’s How to Train Your Dragon 2, click here.

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