Ralph Breaks the Internet (2018)

Director: Phil Johnston, Rich Moore

Cast: John C. Reilly, Sarah Silverman, Gal Gadot, Taraji P. Henson, Jack McBrayer, Jane Lynch, Alan Tudyk, Alfred Molina, Ed O’Neill

Screenplay: Phil Johnston, Pamela Ribon

112 mins. Rated PG for some action and rude humor.

 

I was not the biggest fan of Wreck-It Ralph. I had a number of different reasons for my opinion, but I will also say that, at the time, I was carrying a bias about Disney films. After all, Disney is a machine, and like any machine, it has to function similarly at all times. I found the first film to be overly reliant upon video game and arcade nostalgia that bogged it down. I was also much more interested in Ralph’s (John C. Reilly, Chicago, Holmes & Watson) journey and felt it was less interesting when he got involved with Vanellope (Sarah Silverman, Battle of the Sexes, TV’s The Sarah Silverman Program). Wreck-It Ralph was a hit, though (everyone I knew loved it), and while it took six years for a sequel, I was still excited for the wild ride that is Ralph Breaks the Internet.

Ralph and Vanellope are celebrating six awesome years as best friends, and while Ralph is fine with the way his days go, Vanellope wants more. She is tired of the predictability of her game, so Ralph sets out to help her. When his plan fails spectacularly, causing Sugar Rush to break down, it seems like as though Ralph may have inadvertently doomed Vanellope. Fortunately, they find that the replacement part for Sugar Rush is available on the internet, and the two set out to bring it back. Through their adventure, Ralph is forced to face his greatest fear: change.

There’s good and bad to the direction of this Wreck-It Ralph follow-up. It’s similar at times to the story of the first film with video game nostalgia traded out for social media addiction. That being said, the way the social media and internet references work in the film is to force Ralph and Vanellope to examine their lives and change, for good or bad. I think the sequel is more successful in creating real relationships amongst these arcade characters. There’s also a tendency to fall back on Disney properties in the film, a decision opposite to Spielberg’s choice in Ready Player One to seemingly eliminate as many references as possible to his films. Again, though, the Disney Princess scene is absolutely worth the price of admission. As I said, good and bad to these creative choices.

Ralph is a more interesting character this time out. His internal conflict with himself and Vanellope’s choices are so strong and real and accessible. It’s really powerful character direction, something for its viewers to register with as they grow older. I also like how Vanellope is struggling in the sequel, knowing she has a good life but wanting more than that. It makes her more than a cutesy sidekick.

Ralph Breaks the Internet is a good outing from Disney, though not their best. I think it’s a better film than Wreck-It Ralph, and I think the conflict in the film resonates rather nicely. The film falls back on Disney wanting to sell toys, but there’s some good in there too made by strong characters and a strong story arc. It just gets muddled sometimes.

 

3.5/5

-Kyle A. Goethe

 

 

For my review of Rich Moore, Byron Howard, and Jared Bush’s Zootopia, click here.

 

For more Almighty Goatman,

Kong: Skull Island (2017)

Director: Jordan Vog-Roberts

Cast: Tom Hiddleston, Samuel L. Jackson, Brie Larson, John Goodman, Jing Tian, Toby Kebbell, John Ortiz, Corey Hawkins, Jason Mitchell, Shea Whigham, Thomas Mann, Terry Notary, John C. Reilly

Screenplay: Dan Gilroy, Max Borenstein, Derek Connolly

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

 

Creating a MonsterVerse (I believe that’s the working title) is nothing new. As far back as the third entry in the Japanese Godzilla franchise showed the big kaiju taking on King Kong. But in the world of cinematic universe, at least this one is taking a little time.

Set in the 1970s, Kong: Skull Island sees a group of scientists and soldiers , led by former British Special Air Service Captain James Conrad (Tom Hiddleston, The Avengers, The Night Manager) and Lieutenant Colonel Preston Packard (Samuel L. Jackson, Pulp Fiction, The Incredibles), make their way to the mythic island in search of adventure. In the process, they learn that the island already has an owner, the mighty Kong, who does not want visitors. Other inhabitants of the island include giant monsters dubbed Skullcrawlers as well as missing-in-action Lieutenant Hank Marlow (John C. Reilly, Talladega Nights: The Ballad of Ricky Bobby, Wreck-It Ralph). Now, cut off from the rest of the world and possible stranded on Skull Island, the team must find a way to escape before they are ripped to shreds by the many creatures residing on the island.

The plot of Kong: Skull Island is a rather simple one, and it may be the film’s cardinal sin. The simplicity of the put-a-bunch-of-people-on-an-island-and-pick-them-off-one-at-a-time idea feels unoriginal in a film that takes a familiar monster in King Kong and tries to break new ground with it. I can applaud the filmmakers for trying to do something original melding a bunch of the most famous King Kong works into one (seriously, there are parts of all three major King Kong films here as well as belting out references to Apocalypse Now and setting up more of the MonsterVerse). It’s safe to say that there are a lot of moving parts to Kong: Skull Island.

The film is entertaining though. The action sequences are beautifully shot and a lot of fun to watch. Kong is the star of the film and every scene that features him showcases the great motion capture work from Terry Notary (Warcraft) and Toby Kebbell (Dawn of the Planet of the Apes, A Monster Calls). Kong works, and therefore the film works.

I hope that as the MonsterVerse continues to build, the filmmakers working within it try to marry great human characters with the intense action sequences the franchise is likely to be known for. Between the two MonsterVerse films we have, I find Kong: Skull Island to be a much more entertaining film, and I hope the upward trajectory of this franchise continues all the way to the long-awaited mash-up, Godzilla vs. King Kong. Kong: Skull Island is a fine action film that is great at what it needs to be great at…action. Now, if they could only make the humans more interesting, the film would feel much fuller.

 

3.5/5

-Kyle A. Goethe

 

 

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

For my review of Jordan Vogt-Roberts’s Nick Offerman: American Ham, click here.

 

 

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Popstar: Never Stop Never Stopping (2016)

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Director: Akiva Schaffer, Jorma Taccone

Cast: Andy Samberg, Jorma Taccone, Akiva Schaffer, Sarah Silverman, Tim Meadows, James Buckley

Screenplay: Andy Samberg, Akiva Schaffer, Jorma Taccone

87 mins. Rated R for some graphic nudity, language throughout, sexual content and drug use.

 

Today, I wanted to look at a flop from earlier this year: Popstar: Never Stop Never Stopping, from the creative team known as The Lonely Island and producer Judd Apatow.

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In this mockumentary, we are introduced to Conner Friel (Andy Samberg, TV’s Brooklyn Nine-Nine, Hotel Transylvania), former member of The Style Boyz. He had formed the band with childhood best friends Owen (Jorma Taccone) and Lawrence (Akiva Schaffer), but after a big solo record, Conner decides its time to quit the band and go forward with his solo career. The faux doc recounts Conner’s life in music mostly during this time through accounts by his publicist Paula (Sarah Silverman, TV’s Bob’s Burgers, Wreck-It Ralph), his manager Harry (Tim Meadows, TV’s Son of Zorn, Mean Girls), and other musicians that have known Conner.

Popstar: Never Stop Never Stopping is likable enough, but it never really soars. Sure, the movie has plenty of hilarious moments, but it never gets the footing to maintain enjoyment. I personally loved the cameo from Justin Timberlake as Tyrus Quash, Conner’s perfonal chef, and Will Arnett’s playing as the head of a faux TMZ called CMZ is absolutely amazing. I had to watch the CMZ segments multiple times. But these moments are too few and far between to really maintain my interest. Knowing the talented minds behind The Lonely Island, this should’ve been flat-out more fun than it ended up being.

It’s always nice to see musicians poking a bit of fun at themselves, and the many, many, MANY cameos definitely were refreshing. I found many of them to be quite amusing, but never really laugh-out-loud funny. Samberg’s portrayal of Conner tends to be a bit too unlikable to really root for. You almost want him to fail just for the catharsis that Rock Bottom offers, but even then, he just doesn’t get it, and before long, you just want more cameos and less Conner.

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Maybe I’m being too tough on Popstar, but maybe we deserve better. I’m shocked that the film failed to reach a target audience (as it only made back about half of its $20 Million budget), because it isn’t altogether bad. It is funny to be sure, but in a world of underperforming comedies, I just think it could’ve and should’ve been better.

 

2.5/5

-Kyle A. Goethe

[Early Review] Blair Witch (2016)

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Director: Adam Wingard
Cast: James Allen McCune, Callie Hernandez, Brandon Scott, Corbin Reid, Wes Robinson, Valorie Curry
Screenplay: Simon Barrett
89 mins. Rated R for language, terror and some disturbing images.
Blair Witch is a collection of footage found back in 2014 filmed by Lisa Arlington (Callie Hernandez, Machete Kills) and her friends James (James Allen McCune, Anna Nicole, Snitch), Ashley (Corbin Reid) and Peter (Brandon Scott, Wreck-It Ralph, Walk of Shame). James believes that his sister Heather, who went missing more than a decade prior, is still alive and lost in the Black Hills Woods in Maryland. As Lisa chronicles the experience for a student film, the four find themselves lost in the woods as they are pursued by a unnerving presence known as the Blair Witch.
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So I got lucky enough to see this film recently and I have to say, a lot of my colleagues from San Diego Comic Con that got to see a cut of this film right after it was announced to be a sequel to The Blair Witch Project really loved the film, and I enjoyed it, way more than the original, but I found the film to still be lacking.
I was happy that the screenplay really entrentched itself in the mythology of the Blair Witch. It answered a lot of questions without straight feeding answers. It also created a lot of confusion over exactly what the Witch is and what its capable of.
The performances are okay. I wasn’t sold on the main actors portrayals. It felt like the actors were reading off cue cards. The cinematography, a character all its own, far too often finds itself all over the place. While that may provide more realism, it doesn’t really make for an interesting movie.
Thank God that Blair Witch has much more frequent action than the original film, and I was blown away by some of the scares in the film (it still has too many jump scares that don’t work). The constantly creepy tone and editing build pretty nicely toward a shocking conclusion (that also left me frustrated upon exiting the theater).
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Overall, I enjoyed watching Blair Witch, but I want to tell you that it isn’t the “game-changer” that some reviewers have led you to believe it is. It was fun, enjoyable, shocking, and exciting, but while it adds a lot to the franchise, it doesn’t take the series anywhere new.
3/5
-Kyle A. Goethe
For my review of Adam Wingard’s You’re Next, click here.
For my review of the anthology film The ABCs of Death, click here.

Insidious: Chapter 3 (2015)

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Director: Leigh Whannell

Cast: Dermot Mulroney, Stefanie Scott, Angus Sampson, Leigh Whannell, Hayley Kiyoko, Lin Shaye

Screenplay: Leigh Whannell

97 mins. Rated PG-13 for violence, frightening images, some language and thematic elements.

 

Horror sequels are often looked at as a lesser film than the original. Horror prequels have it even worse. So how does Insidious: Chapter 3 (a sequel that is actually a prequel) stack up?

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Set two years before the haunting of the Lambert Family, Insidious: Chapter 3 follows Sean Brenner (Dermot Mulroney, TV’s Shameless, My Best Friend’s Wedding) and his daughter Quinn (Stefanie Scott, Wreck-It Ralph, No Strings Attached). Quinn has been trying to contact her deceased mother, but something else has reached back. She needs the help of gifted but retired paranormal investigator Elise Rainier (Lin Shaye, There’s Something About Mary, Ouija).

Being a prequel limits this installment to certain franchise pitfalls. Many prequels make the mistake of referencing future events in a tongue-in-cheek way. This is one area where, for the most part, the film doesn’t disappoint. There are two scenes at the end that make this mistake, but the earlier sequences of the film that make reference to the Lamberts and the haunting. It is a smart decision to tell an original story within the series as opposed to tell a story that leads directly the opening of the first installment.

New director Whannell, known for writing the first three installments of the Saw franchise, Dead Silence, and all three Insidious films, takes over for directing partner James Wan who makes a cameo known but was busy on Furious 7 at the time. He does a somewhat mediocre job handling the many hats of a filmmaker, but there is some serious potential here. The film’s scary sequences are hit-and-miss, but Whannell shows that he can learn from mistakes, so I have faith in his abilities.

The big winner here is Lin Shaye, who has an exploding career so far into her career. She carries this film so well that it is easy to overlook many of the failures, and it is fun to see her initial interactions with Tucker (Angus Sampson, TV’s Fargo, Mad Max: Fury Road) and Specs (played by Whannell).

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Insidious: Chapter 3 is the third best film in this franchise. It stumbles at times but shows definite talent for its cast and crew. I can see the forward trajectory of this series making its mark. Fans of the series should enjoy themselves; everyone else need not apply.

 

3/5

-Kyle A. Goethe

 

So what did you think of Insidious: Chapter 3? Did it take you Further or did you sleep well after? Let me know!

 

November 2014 Preview

We’ve been to this part before. I have not seen any of the films we are going to discuss today. I merely feel as though you should be aware of what will be coming to theaters this month. I am pretty good at assessing possible wins and likely failures in the film business. So here we go. Hold onto something.

 

 

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Interstellar

I love Christopher Nolan. Apart from Insomnia, I have found each of his works to be utterly powerful pieces of film. His genres usually stick to the darkness and the fantastic, and perhaps just as much in his new film Interstellar. It is about a team of explorers who go through a wormhole looking for a suitable planet to replace Earth. Now, the basic idea here sees simplistic, but it offers up a lot of avenues to move the plot along. The sci-fi community has been freaking out about this movie and I have to agree with them. I’m already hearing some early Oscar buzz for this one.

 

 

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Big Hero 6

Big Hero 6 might not sound like a big property (to be honest, I hadn’t heard of it until I saw it on Disney’s upcoming slate and decided to look into it. It is actually based on a Marvel property recently acquired by Disney’s banner in their major merger. It will not be part of the Marvel Cinematic Universe but instead will be an animated adventure from the creators of Wreck-It Ralph and Frozen. I know the plot involves a future city known as San Fransokyo and a young robotic wiz named Hiro and his robot friend Baymax (this year’s Olaf) fighting crime with a group of inexperienced heroes. It sounds like a lot of fun, a more family friendly version of The Avengers with undertones of Disney animation tropes that made Frozen so much fun last year.

 

 

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Jessabelle

Jessie is a woman who just lost her husband in a car accident and now she has gone home to Lousiana, where a spirit waits who wants her dead. I like Kevin Greutert, the film’s director. I liked what he did with Saw VI and as an editor on previous horror films. That being said, he hasn’t had a whole lot of wing-spreading and I fear that he hasn’t proven himself. This film looks good in trailers and poster work, but I’m feeling a vibe akin to The Grudge a little too much here and that doesn’t bode well.

 

 

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Beyond the Lights

Movies like Beyond the Lights, about a woman who has become a singing sensation falling for a cop who wants a spot in political office and can help her get her voice back, all sound the same, and oftentimes, they are. I will say little more on this except that your girlfriend may drag you to this, and if she does, go. Don’t expect this movie to be good, though. Dream of better films in the next theater and maybe sneak away to one of them when you “go for more popcorn.”

 

 

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Dumb and Dumber To

Man, I really want to like this movie. I loved the original Dumb and Dumber as I’m sure you do. I happen to think that 1994 was the greatest year in motion picture history, and I think Jim Carrey and Jeff Daniels have tremendous chemistry together. The first trailer didn’t give me much hope except that I’m hoping the best parts are not in it. That would be refreshing. Here’s my advice: See the movie because it is going to be a big release. Do not expect it to be better than Dumb and Dumber. Do not expect it to be as good as Dumb and Dumber even. Just be happy it won’t be the shit-storm Dumb and Dumberer was. See, there is a silver lining.

 

 

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The Hunger Games: Mockingjay – Part 1

So, we are at the third Hunger Games movie. I really liked the first installment and I absolutely adored the second film. Returning director Francis Lawrence doesn’t always pick the right properties (Jonah Hex) but when he does, he can do some magical work. He did it with Catching Fire and I think that trend will continue in Mockingjay, where Katniss Everdeen brings her war with President Snow to the forefront after destroying his Games forever. I liked the third book (a lot of fans did not) so I expect that is where the dividing line will be drawn here.

 

 

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Horrible Bosses 2

Comedy sequels are not easy. Far too often we get a Hangover Part II when we deserve an Anchorman II. What I like about Horrible Bosses 2 is that, from the information I have gleaned, it appears that this film will respect the storyline of the first but depart in a whole different way with new interesting characters played by great new actors. I won’t be seeing this film in theaters because I don’t trust comedies there, but I think it will be some solid fun.

 

 

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Penguins of Madagascar

Nope. Nope. No. Not gonna happen. The Madagascar movies were getting stale right around the time the first one came out. Now we get a spin-off already ruined by truly disappointing cartoon series that has tread this territory before and not lightly. Skip it. Worth a rent, sometimes these spin-off can work magic, but not often.

 

 

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Paddington

It is interesting when a film like Paddington gets behind-the-scenes  troubles, like original voice Colin Firth dropping out unexpectedly just months before the film’s release. A bear from Peru gets taken in by the Brown family from London and discovers that life isn’t what he thought it would be. Simple enough, it looks cute and I suspect a winner, but I’m not guaranteeing anything.

 

So there it is. Here’s a tally:

 

Best Bets: Interstellar, Big Hero 6, The Hunger Games: Mockingjay – Part 1

Likely Misses: Beyond the Lights, Penguins of Madagascar

On the Bubble: Jessabelle, Dumb and Dumber To, Horrible Bosses 2, Paddington

 

As before, these are but tools. Use them at your own will. Let me know your thoughts as well, and what November 2014 film are you most looking forward to?

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