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.

[31 Days of Horror: The Final Chapter] Day 25 – The Ring (2002)

Director: Gore Verbinski

Cast: Naomi Watts, Martin Henderson, Brian Cox

Screenplay: Ehren Kruger

115 mins. Rated PG-13 for thematic elements, disturbing images, language and some drug references.

 

I don’t know if you remember (I sure didn’t), but fifteen years back, The Ring was one of the first big films to explore viral marketing. In fact, the first “trailer” for The Ring was just the cursed tape from the movie with no credits or title card. Viewers had to look online for insight or wait with anticipation for a month to find out what the hell was going on.

Seattle journalist Rachel (Naomi Watts, King Kong, TV’s Gypsy) is tasked with uncovering the truth involving her niece’s death. When her investigation brings her to an old shack and a strange videotape with disturbing images, she receives a phone call telling her she is going to die in seven days. Now, in a race against the clock, Rachel and ex-boyfriend Noah (Martin Henderson, Everest, TV’s Grey’s Anatomy) must find the origin of the tape and learn how to keep themselves alive as time slowly runs out.

The Ring is the first in a long string of Western remakes of Asian horror films, and it is arguably the best one. This writer has found that it isn’t really a classic of the genre, but director Gore Verbinski (Pirates of the Caribbean: The Curse of the Black Pearl, A Cure for Wellness) weaving an expertly crafted experience and Ehren Kruger (Transformers: Dark of the Moon, Ghost in the Shell) turning in a well-written albeit severely bloated screenplay, The Ring holds well.

I think, in addition to the gorgeously-striking visuals on the screen, Verbinski is blessed with a force of nature in lead actress Naomi Watts, who elevates this genre film with a nuanced, layered performance as Rachel. Rachel is flawed, instinctive, smart, and cunning.

My biggest frustration with the film is the ending. I think The Ring ends on a confusing and unexplained note. It doesn’t really tell you what’s going on, and if forces a lot of inference. There was a bookend of scenes with actor Chris Cooper that sounds like it would have helped here, but test audiences didn’t respond well to it, but I think that was a mistake.

The Ring is fine genre horror and very creepy when taking its PG-13 rating into consideration. It’s an entertaining but somewhat crowded narrative and its characters are interesting and engaging. Overall, it’s a staple for many even if I found its ending to be heavily flawed.

 

3.5/5

-Kyle A. Goethe

 

 

For my review of F. Javier Gutierrez’s Rings, click here.

 

For more Almighty Goatman,

Transformers: Age of Extinction (2014)

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Director: Michael Bay

Cast: Mark Wahlberg, Stanley Tucci, Kelsey Grammer, Nicola Peltz, Jack Reynor, Titus Welliver, Bingbing Li, T.J. Miller

Screenplay: Ehren Kruger

165 mins. Rated PG-13 for intense sequences of sci-fi violence and action, language and brief innuendo.

 

It has been seven years since Transformers came out. I can’t believe I’m sitting here writing a review of the fourth film in this series, Transformers: Age of Extinction. This film is a bit of a departure in that it takes place five years after The Battle of Chicago, as it is referred to (which took place in Dark of the Moon) and features an entirely new cast of characters. Literally, nobody returns to this franchise for the fourth film except some of the voice actors for the Transformers.

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This installment introduces us to Cade Yeager (Mark Wahlberg, Boogie Nights, Ted 2), a novice inventor, and his daughter Tessa (Nicola Peltz, TV’s Bates Motel, The Last Airbender). Cade is a picker who scavenges for parts to use in his various inventions. He and his assistant Lucas (T.J. Miller, Cloverfield, Big Hero 6) come across a truck in an old abandoned theater and take it home to discover it is Optimus Prime in hiding. A government official named Harold Attinger (Kelsey Grammer, TV’s Cheers, The Expendables 3) has hired a human hitman (Titus Welliver, The Town, Promised Land) and a bounty hunter Decepticon named Lockdown to hunt down and destroy the remaining Transformers. Meanwhile, a big-time business named Joshua Joyce (Stanley Tucci, The Hunger Games, Muppets Most Wanted) is developing new technology incorporating Autobot tech and using it to build his own Transformers.

The plot is at least a new direction for this series. I was getting tired of the limited character development of Shia LaBeouf. This film isn’t great, but it certainly epitomizes the Michael Bay promise: likable trash. I had a lot of fun watching this movie. It just felt newer, and it had a lot more in terms of acting prowess (from Wahlberg, Tucci, Grammer, and Miller). The plot runs on for damn near forever, but I’ve come to expect that from this series and I didn’t feel as restless as I had from the last few movies.

I also absolutely love the design of the new Transformers in this installment. Hound (voiced by John Goodman) is a new Autobot who plays off like an old army colonel. He is an absolutely fantastic and angry beast who actually transforms to have a cigar in his mouth, too. Drift (voiced by Ken Watanabe) is a samurai who has blades that come from his transformation into an Apache helicopter. The faces are so well-defined that this is the first Transformers movie where I know all the Transformers based on looks. These are different characters.

And then there’s Lockdown. This is a complex character who is joining the US government to take on the Autobots and also has plans of his own.

I enjoyed this movie more so than I thought, and perhaps that comes from hearing all these bad reviews coming out of this movie’s initial release. I guess I had my hopes down.

One major flaw came from Galvatron, who is one of the new lead villains, a man-made Decepticon who feels so underdeveloped that it becomes really tough to fear him.

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All in all, this was more fun than expected. Make sure you have a comfortable chair, because you will be here awhile, and non-Transformers fans need not apply.

 

3/5

-Kyle A. Goethe

 

What did you think of Michael Bay’s Transformers: Age of Extinction? Did it transform into a masterpiece or did you “Roll Out” of the theater? Let me know!

 

For my review of Transformers, click here.

For my review of Transformers: Revenge of the Fallen, click here.

For my review of Transformers: Dark of the Moon, click here.

Transformers: Dark of the Moon (2011)

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Director: Michael Bay

Cast: Shia LaBeouf, Josh Duhamel, John Turturro, Tyrese Gibson, Rosie Huntington-Whiteley, Patrick Dempsey, Kevin Dunn, Julie White, Ken Jeong, John Malkovitch, Frances McDormand

Screenplay: Ehren Kruger

154 mins. Rated PG-13 for intense prolonged sequences of sci-fi action violence, mayhem and destruction, and for language, some sexuality and innuendo.

  • Academy Award Nominee: Best Achievement in Sound Mixing
  • Academy Award Nominee: Best Achievement in Sound Editing
  • Academy Award Nominee: Best Achievement in Visual Effects

 

C’mon, people. Robots are fighting. Things are blowing up. Of course it is a Michael Bay (Armageddon, Pain & Gain) movie!

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Sam Witwicky (Shia LaBeouf, Lawless, Fury) is now finished with college and trying to make a life for himself. His only claim to fame is saving the world twice, which he isn’t allowed to mention (even though I’m pretty sure that he is called out in the previous film by name over the television airwaves, so I imagine he wouldn’t have to hide it). He has a new girlfriend, Carly (Rosie Huntington-Whiteley, Mad Max: Fury Road) and a new home, but no job until he meets Bruce Brazos (John Malkovitch, TV’s Crossbones, Dangerous Liaisons) who grants him one. Meanwhile, the Autobots and NEST are coming under heavy fire from Charlotte Mearing (Frances McDormand, Fargo, Promised Land) who believes that NEST should be restructured or disassembled. The Autobots have been busy trying to uncover the mystery of an Autobot ship that crashed on the moon and caused the space race.

Screenwriter Ehren Kruger (The Ring, Blood & Chocolate) seems to have learned from the mistakes made in the previous installment. The basic plot structure of this film has reeled it back to where it becomes very simplistic. In fact, the finale of the film is the entire last half. Now, I will admit that there are definite pacing issues. So much of the minutia of the first hour feels unimportant until the major event about halfway through, involving an invasion of Chicago. Once that happens, there are a lot of Chicago set pieces. A lot. I mean it. The film could’ve chopped a few scenes off. Two and a half hours long is reaching for a Transformers movie until they learn about how plot and character development  work.

The actors and actresses seem better in this film when compared to the previous installment. Patrick Dempsey (TV’s Grey’s Anatomy, Valentine’s Day) is one notable exception as Dylan, Carly’s boss who helps Sam get his job but has some secrets of his own. He is absolutely awful, and I like him normally. Rosie Huntington-Whiteley actually succeeds at performing worse than Megan Fox did. I don’t know how, but she did.

We get a lot of awesome battles, specifically a few involving Shockwave, a massive beast of a Decepticon who can take down skyscrapers with ease. The visual effects continue to impress in this series.

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Transformers: Dark of the Moon doesn’t get nearly as much right as the original film, but is more of an achievement than Revenge of the Fallen was. It gets a lot more on track, but it still comes down to likable trash. Worth a see, but still mostly for major fans.

 

3/5

-Kyle A. Goethe

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