Fifteenth years after the first Harry Potter movie, the talents of writer J. K. Rowling and director David Yates (who has directed the fifth movie and so forth) combine once again to bring us back to the secret world of witches and wizards. Surprisingly, “Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them” is based on a book. During the Potter craze, two spin off books were published as mock guides to monsters and the sport Quidditch. With that in mind, I felt the choice was perfectly made with “Fantastic Beasts.” The last thing I would need to see is a cliche sports movie with wizards and witches.
Joking aside, Eddie Redmayne (Theory of Everything) plays a wizard named Newt Scamander who believes that not all mythical creatures are dangerous and can be understood. While on a trip to New York in 1926, he has stowed away in a briefcase tons of creatures that he is studying as well as taking care of. The charm of Newt really comes from Redmayne’s performance. When he’s interacting with CGI monsters, it almost feels like he has a knowledge and sense about them. When it comes to people, the character tries to find a reasoning and middle ground. Despite the skepticism, he proves that most creatures can be easily reasoned if done right. There’s a sense of calmness to Redmaye’s performance and yet some mystery to his character.
Plopped into the mix is a normal human named Jacob who comes across the wizard’s zoo-like collection. He is perhaps the biggest surprise considering this character is played by Dan Fogler. After an up and down filmography, I’m impressed to say Dan’s performance is enjoyable while also the heart of the picture. What they do with his character is smart and clever. He is used as a means for the audience to connect with. When something strange comes his way, Jacob tries to accept it for what it is instead of running away. This is clear in some great moments when Newt is trying to capture some creatures on the loose and he tries to help. In a strange way, it feels like Dan is trying to channel Chaplin in certain scenes of chase while maintaining charm. I do hope he gets more roles like this.
Also in the mix are Katherine Waterston and Alison Sudol as two witch sisters that work in an underground ministry named Tina and Queenie. When these two come their way, I like how theses two have a ying and yang feel. Tina wants to do the way of justice and expose Newt while Queenie feels otherwise. And much like with Jacob, they start to realize that maybe there is more to these creatures than they thought. Both get some great comedic moments when Tina goes after Newt for his “illegal” collection and Queenie who feels more than just a typical flapper girl.
In a nutshell, “Fantastic Beasts” feels like two movies in one. In corner, you have this well-written whimsical movie which echos classics like “Bedknobs and Brooksticks” and has the smart yet engaging wonder of a “Doctor Who” episode. Easily, the best scenes are when characters interact with Newt’s creatures as each one gets established by not just design but even quirks. A good example is one escaped animal that looks like a hybrid between a platypus and a mole yet the mind of a robber. I didn’t find a single one boring and wanted to learn more about these odd things.
Unfortunately, you have this other half which tries to mesh and yet feels like it could be its own movie. Samantha Morton plays this leader of extremists who plan to expose wizards and witches. She runs an orphanage while simultaneously beating in propaganda about the existence of magic and going as far to even abuse one of the orphans for his beliefs. Somewhere in this other subplot is an invisible creature that goes around and makes destruction in King Kong fashion. This is not a bad idea, but it feels sidelined when you compared it to the other tone of the movie which tires to be amazing and light-hearted. We jump back and forth even the point we can tell which story we are in by the cinematography. Story A which is about the creatures on the loose appears more bright and colorful. While Story B about the witch hunters looks bleak, dark and Burton-lite in spots.
Aside from that flaw in story/pacing, “Fantastic Beasts” is guaranteed to the best flick of the holiday season so far. I loved the characters, the premise and even the climax which gets intense but knows how to have fun. According to Rowling, there seems to be 4 more films coming from this one and I’m fine with it. I want to see what else can be done in this universe, but even then I do question a few things left nearly hanging by the end. After over a decade of being on the big screen, this secret world of wizards and witches appears to never be short on supply of creativity and magic.
“Doctor Strange” is a movie that truly lives up to its title. This is a strange entry in the Marvel Universe, but a unique one. Of all the superheroes, he is the only one who can walk through different dimensions and bend reality. With a movie adaptation out, the possibilities seem endless for a character like this. Of course, the usual origins route has to be done in order to understand who this person is. Chances are if you can get through that, you will have a good time.
Benedict Cumberbatch plays Stephen Strange, a neurosurgeon with a high ego yet maintains a lot of ambition. This is proven after a car accident renders his hands useless as he tries to find a way to restore them. An incident like this proves just how far his character will go to save his reputation along with his usefulness. His knowledge of medical procedures show his understanding for the human mind physically but doesn’t have a mental grasp.
His journey leads him to a place in Napal where he learns a group of people might know how to cure his injured hands. As it turns out, this is really a coven of sorcerers who protect the world from evil. Sounds basic on paper, but when you get into the belief system and different spells, “Doctor Strange” starts to become more theoretical. Strange, himself, is more equip with knowing the world as he sees it; through scientific measures and practices. The journey into the place of sorcerers give off a belief vs. fact argument as Strange questions if his traditional methods are more powerful than magic.
However, a character named the Ancient One (Tilda Swinton) proves the importance of mystical belief over science. Or at least the two can be one in some way. She proves useful in showing her new accomplice how vast the universe is within secret and odd ways. I liked how the calmness of this character really defined her. True, this is the usual master with knowledgeable ways, but an interesting one. The moments that made her stood out was when she argues with Strange’s faith. My only nitpick is they try to put in this twist about how she might be deceiving her followers which felt a tad unnecessary.
I say that because the main conflict of the plot doesn’t seem to have much room for it. A group of rebels, led by Dannish actor Mads Mikkelsen, who plan to unleash a monster from a darker dimension in hopes to take over the world in some way. But even the good vs. evil aspect feels a tad underplayed when we are exploring this new realm and the possibilities of traveling between space and time. Once we get to the zealots and their grand plan, it almost feels like a footnote after scenes of Strange training and learning about the new world along with its powers.
These effect-heavy scenes were more interesting than the villains as it proves the biggest eye-candy of the movie. We get treated to Strange traveling briefly through different dimensions (almost an homage to the vortex of light in Kubrick’s 2001), jumping through self-made portals and exploring more the sorcerer culture. When it was exploring this bizarre world of magic and mind over matter, it got interesting. But when it picked up and got back to the villains, the plot turns into your basic “whose the real bad guy” scenario.
On the bright side, it makes for a good excuse for intense action scenes that even push the limits of “Inception” and “The Matrix.” “Doctor Strange” goes further by having the sets actually move like the twisted gears of a clock or a puzzling Rubix cube. Between the fist fights, whole buildings and roads twist and roll around and it only gets bigger once we draw down to the climax. Unfortunately, if you took away the amazing effects, all that would exist is clunky fight scenes. The added sets that constantly move at least add tension and a dream-like feeling.
“Doctor Strange” is once again another step in the right direction for Marvel. They already proven before that they can do more than just superhero movies. “Strange” shows Marvel can channel any genre into their heroes and fly with it. The only flaws I do have to nitpick, which keep me from saying this is their best, include some odd pacing and the handle of the material. In the first 20 minutes or so, the tragic backstory goes immediately into the training and the final third immediately launches itself into the typical good vs. evil battle. And I understand newcomers need to understand key terms in this odd world, but even they break the aspect of telling as opposed to showing. Characters keep mentioning about this massive creature which might destroy the world, but makes the mistake of talking instead of giving us an idea of this being’s power. When we do see this god-like creature, there’s not a sense of menace because we didn’t see this thing or action or understand its motive.
I must also tag on that despite the PG-13 rating, this is not a movie I would recommend for younger viewers. I would dare say this is one of Marvel’s darkest movies in violence and tone. From surgical procedures to a beheading seen in shadow, I’m honestly miffed at how this got away without getting an R rating. On the other hand, what we see is not too graphic to upset, but when you have talks of surgery on the spinal cord and scenes with out of body experiences, this might be something not for kids under 9 or 12. Parental guidance is strongly suggested for this entry.
Although, I can look past the flaws and say “Doctor Strange” was a fun ride. Full of imagination and creative fantasy, I once again find myself wondering what else Marvel has up its sleeve. After traveling through space in “Guardians of the Galaxy” and the world of the small in “Ant Man,” “Strange” goes beyond the realm and even delivers, what I hope, a possible new franchise. One I even predict will be bigger since “Iron Man” made its debut. If not, at least it was a good start to the holiday season.
After finally seen it, I have to admit how much I regret passing up “Kubo and the Two Strings” the minute it arrived to theaters. Laika Studios deserves better attention for how impressive their stop-motion animated features are. Even more unique is how they are made for the budget of a simple $60 million. A movie like this almost appears more than that. And yet, much was well spent with great characters, a powerful story and an overall movie-going experience that swept me away. In a sense, I’m tempted to put this on my list of all-time favorite movies. But perhaps, it will in due time once its greatness is more recognized (I’m looking at you Oscars.) I would go as far to say its a great anime (seeing its set in ancient Japan) considering the style and tone does feel like one.
The character of Kubo is highly identifiable. Not because he is a kid, but how imaginative and caring he can be. It’s about as realistic as a typical kid with innocence can get. In the first part of the movie, we get an idea of his surroundings and his limits. How protective he is others and how creative he can be. Gifted with a magic shamisen, Kubo uses this to bring origami to life and tell stories to the local village. A clever way to set up the remainder of the story as Kubo can draft heroic characters and monsters, but sadly stuck on an ending.
His life changes when two witches are after him and has to find three pieces of armor to save him and those around him. Accompanying his journey is a no-nonsense Monkey (Charlize Theron) and a cursed samurai warrior trapped as a humanoid beetle (Matthew McConaughey). And let me tell you, I loved these characters and greatly cared for them. I loved how the Monkey was motherly at times, but knew when to be a fighter and protector. I adored Beetle and how he could provide comic relief for his bad memory as well as his heroic attempts. When one of them was in danger (especially little Kubo), there was a sense of danger and risk that we might loose these heroes. And that’s what I found more intriguing compared to the other summer films this year; there was a sense of care for our characters.
Again, I feel tormented I didn’t see this one sooner to really appreciate its beauty. Watching this was like “Wolf Children,” a movie about growing up and learning its difficulties along the way. To know when to let go and find your place in the universe. That to me is really what this movie was in a nutshell, but more. The lesson at the end is to make your own story and live it. Telling legends are good, but don’t forget to live your tale to the fullest. And even when it ends, those who heard it will remember your story and how important it can be. Few movies this year are able to convey such a heavy message in a unique way.
Thus at the end, I found myself in tears. Tears at the beauty of the animation and the way it concludes. Sometimes, you don’t need a big epic fight to bookend your movie. And that’s something missing from most good vs. evil tales. Without spoiling HOW it ends, violence can defend, but it can’t serve a happy ending in this kind of world. And they way this “alternative” was offered was so powerful and emotional that I had a hard time holding back every tear.
The only thing I do have to nitpick is the use of CGI. To its credit, there are times when it blends perfectly into the environment and obviously animating water in a stop-motion flick is near to impossible. Sometimes the CGI effects can stick out while other times it can blend seamlessly into this colorful world. I even found myself marveling at certain sets and blades of grass wondering what was really there and what was digital. Not to mention there is a great amount of effort and creativity in things like a giant skeleton (which is a big puppet as shown during the end credits) and an array of monsters. Each one feels like they were taken from Japansese folklore in design and poetic movement.
“Kubo and the Two Strings” is a movie I can’t recommend enough. It’s up there with “Coraline” as my favorite film from Laika. There is action, humor and plenty of heart. Not a single frame feels wasted and everything feels perfectly paced. The dark moments feel earned, the quiet moments are put in the right spots and when it gets theoretical about topics like death and what lies beyond, it’s executed in a way that is subtle and executable. So much that even little kids won’t have a hard time with the some of the harsher elements because they will be assured their story will live on even at the end. But it breaks my heart to see not many have given this one the love and respect it deserves at the box-office. I beg of you, see this on the big screen. Because if you blink out on this one, you will miss out on a powerful experience.
There were many things I questioned when watching the 2016 update of “Pete’s Dragon.” I was well aware director David Lowery wanted this take to be far removed from the 1977 musical. Honestly, I don’t blame him. I have a huge soft spot for the original, but will admit it does have flaws. The 1977 version is bloated and too goofy in certain spots. But perhaps, there is where the entertaining aspect came from. As I tried to accept the new version, I found myself at least appreciating it tried, but found myself hard to be engaged with it. Seeing it did get heavy praise from critics, is there something they missed or is there something wrong with me?
The plot for this new version takes the spine of the original and adds more meat to it. Pete (Oakes Fegley) is now a feral child that lost his family and seeks refuge with the green dragon. I give credit due to Fegley’s acting. His performance is going for a wild child take and it does work. But there was something problematic about it to me. For a kid that is lost in the woods for six years and goes “Tarzan,” chances are his vocabulary will either be limited or his speech will be underdeveloped. Having taken up psychology in college, I read up on cases where kids would be treated and lived like animals to the point they act like primitive; most notable is Victor of Aveyron. For if a child like Pete can’t understand what a balloon is or even the purpose of a sandwich, then why have him speak at all?
The reason for his survival is under the wing of a giant dragon he names Elliot. Much like the original, Elliot is big, green and the ability to turn invisible. What’s different this time around is that he’s all CGI and covered in fur. I guess someone had Falkor from NeverEnding Story in mind when designing him, but it goes against the idea of Elliot’s original design. Not only did Don Bluth animate the 1977 version, but he was also modeled after a Chinese dragon in respect for how good they are. There’s a sense of innocence and mischievous personality that feels lost in the new take. Despite the good efforts of WETA Digital, this new Elliot doesn’t have much personality and takes on the feel of a big dog. Again, I know the intent was to make this akin to being cute, but this Elliot was anything but interesting as the story expects us to know his relationship with Pete and not see it develop. I think it would have been wiser to see their relationship much like how Tarzan grew with the apes in 1984’s “Greystoke” instead of just expecting us to accept it.
The new incarnation is also treated to an array of new elements that are either there to distinguish itself or try and improve things. Gone is the fishing town Passamaquoddy, and we get an unnamed town with a logging industry. Bryce Dallas Howard replaces the character of the lighthouse keeper with a forest ranger that takes Pete in and tries to understand his survival. Robert Redford is underused as a man who claims to have seen the same dragon in comparison to the overzealous town drunk Mickey Rooney played. A scheming medicine doctor is replaced with a hunter (Karl Urban) that seeks to capture the dragon. And the list goes on.
As I watched this new version, I kept wondering just how these different elements work or even pay off in this version. Some of it does have a sense of good set up like a subtle environmental message which disappears once it gets introduced. Even character motives are lost in the group showing perhaps this version should have been thought out more. Once Urban’s character captures the dragon, he claims to have big plans when he honestly just spitballs a few ideas and claims to own the dragon. There is no real motive outside of just existing for the sake of being a conflict here. I even hoped there would be more purpose to things added in like the logging company playing a part or even Redford’s character. But most of is minimally used or gets abandoned upon first sight.
In a nutshell, “Pete’s Dragon” tries to be more like the typical fantasy family film without a drop of edge, but falls into an unfortunate trap. Instead of giving characters with interesting motives and despite doing different things, it falls into the category of boy or family gets a unique creature and does something with it. I can’t tell you how many variations I have seen of this story line ranging from “Harry and the Hendersons” to “*batteries not included” to even “D.A.R.Y.L.” It’s hard to tell if director Lowery’s intentions were to pay homage to these kind of movies, but I can say what sets itself apart from those is a lack of darkness. “Pete’s Dragon” plays itself so safe, that you can very much predict what will happen before the end credits roll. And even then, the samples I just mentioned are FAR more creditable than this one.
This one is certainly harder to recommend simply because it feels more like an outline for a “Pete’s Dragon” reboot and less like an actual fleshed out story. I found myself nearly nodding off at times due to the slow pace and had a hard time trying to keep focus for what was meant to be a simple story. I guess kids might be ok with this movie. And yet after the theatrical experience I had, my thoughts are starting to question that. Midway through the movie, a family actually walked out of the theater as wrapped in their arms was a sleeping kid. Even near the trash cans, a little girl was more fascinated with the garbage instead of the “wonder” on the screen. And she was gone right before the end credits even began. I argue that little kids might be bored or even grow tiresome about midway after how slow and plodding things are. If I walked out on this movie, I wouldn’t have regretted it. But my honest regret about this new “Pete’s Dragon” was not walking out on it.
I had high hopes going into “The BFG.” It was created by one of my favorite directors, Steven Spielberg, and looked very promising. I remember reading the novel by Roald Dahl as a kid and thoroughly enjoying it. The idea of a giant roaming around while delivering dreams was a noble concept. As you can imagine, the hype was immerse with each trailer and TV spot that came my way. It looked good, had a unique cast and seemed to stick close to the source. And by the time I finally saw it, I found myself torn. For something that looks good and held such promise, how did I end up feeling so disappointed by the end?
Mark Rylance starts as the title character who snatches an orphan named Sophie (Ruby Barnhill) after she sees him. The two hit it off like a grandfather and grandchild relationship which is cute at first. The early parts follow the tone close to the book as Sophie learns of the BFG’s world and its dangers. When these two have a conversation, it lingers between exposition and character development heavy as we learn how similar are two leads are. They both live in dark environments and feel like the only bright spot to their lives.
Even the BFG (“Big Friendly Giant”) is interesting himself with a slang vocabulary and secret passion to deliver dreams to sleeping patrons. There’s a hidden tragedy to all seeing how alone he is, despite being surrounded by nine other giants who not as kind as he acts. There is a sense of sadness to the character who is stuck with a disgusting vegetarian diet of snozzcumbers and his house which is full of knick knacks and other trinkets. Even the girl they got to play Sophie is not too bad. Despite having her react with awe most of the time, there is a nice spunk to her attitude that meshes with the big and sublime giant friend.
Sadly, it all goes downhill when the changes to the source material kick in. The mean and cruel giants in Giant Country only come off as feeling threatening instead of frightening. At first, the idea of these big homeless creatures dressed in garbage like rags and rubber tires is a touch creative. But when we see them in action, there’s not much tension or menace. They all come off like big bullies instead of brutal beasts we dare not mess with. The leader Fleshlumpeater (Jemaine Clement) really tries to be villainous, but there’s not much to feel about his threats to the BFG.
And I completely blame that on how much the source material has been watered down. In Dahl’s tale, these giants were brutal and deadly creatures while looking deformed and gruesome. There were talks of how much they like the munching of bones and how each country they went to tasted so differently (“Swedes taste of sweet and sour.”) And that was something I always loved of Roald Dahl’s work. He knew how to balance the dark and light side of his stories without pushing any limits.
In Spielberg’s case, the lightness and fantasy elements are played up way too much. While the design of the dreams and nightmares are interesting, like floating fairy lights breezing about, we spend way too much time on these bright things that it undermines the darker elements. Or at least what is left of the dark stuff. We don’t see the giants on their crusade to eat people (or in some cases, barley gets a mention), there is no feeling of danger or peril at all and even the big climax only happens for a mere 90 seconds. Heck, there’s even a scene when the evil giants tear through the BFG’s home to find Sophie. All the camera does is focus on Sohpie running about while the giants rip up the place and smash stuff in the background. Even the score during this sequence feels more whimsical and less intimidating.
If I had to compare this version of “The BFG” it would be to the “Nutcracker Suite” segment from Disney’s “Fantasia” and Spielberg’s “Hook.” Both are light and look bright, yet there is a problem. In “Hook,” you felt there were risks going on and felt the danger of Neverland. In the world of “The BFG,” if you took out the scenes with the bad giants, you wouldn’t miss much. Without proper antagonists or even a will of darkness, you will just end up with a movie that has pretty lights and an overload of whimsy. I feel bad because I can tell there is effort behind this and there are points when it does adapt the source well enough. But alas, not enough justice was done to make this a pure classic. The right beats are there but nothing felt engaging or unique. I’m sure little kids will enjoy it, but older viewers might be bored very quick with its podding pace.
In a case of “watch this, not that,” I actually recommend the 1989 animated adaptation by Cosgrove Hall. A Roald Dahl adaptation that even Dahl himself applauded over after seeing it. The animation is good for its technical effects, the designs for the giants are memorable, the stuff it uses from the source is appropriately put to good use and even the synthesizer score is edgy and fun. I’m certain this will be reissued to DVD at some point and when it does, I say give this one a better look. Because at the end of the day, when an animated adaptation is more emotionally engaging than one done by Steven Speilberg, you know something is clearly wrong.
Every summer has that one movie which tries so hard to be the next big ticket. Yet it fails to deliver regardless of its good intentions. In short, I wouldn’t be surprised if “Warcraft” ends up with “Waterworld,” “Krull” and “Dune” for having great eye-candy yet short on story. There is great promise with a good director like Duncan Jones and the effects have certainly evolved to bring this RPG world to life. The creatures look amazing and the world itself is a visual marvel. The only ingredient missing here is substance and a reason to care for our main leads.
Two major problems really hamper with the overall enjoyment. The first being the story. In a grand fantasy epic, there should be room for all sorts of subplots and concepts which this movie injects. A group of orcs travel from their world by a dimension and enter a realm that is a Diet Coke version of Middle-Earth. Instead of settling in, the new neighbors decide to rampage and pillage as I guess war is part of the orc code.
Then again, battling kingdoms was part of the video game its based from, so I can’t be too negative on that. But what bothers me is the multitude of story lines and things that come from this. One minute, a king is trying to investigate these invaders, then we get an orc chief who is questioning the traditions of his tribe, then we get a hybrid orc who is trying to find a place to belong, a young sorcerer who comes across a conspiracy, an elder sorcerer who is trying to help out and so forth. The movie alone is just a mere 2 hours and already, it packs too much. I would be fine with the abundance of plot lines, but nothing seems to come together or pay off. Things do in the climatic battle, but it has a rushed delivery just so it can set itself up for a franchise it hopes to happen.
And that brings me to the second problem, this movie doesn’t have a way to portray its characters well. I can tell you, I barley remember a single motive from the human characters that made them interesting. There a lose motive going about which doesn’t seem to bring anything close at hand. The only element that is creating the story is the orc’s plan to merge the rest of their army from their doomed home world. And sadly, that’s about it. There is nothing compelling or even remotely interesting because we never dive into how the characters feel about what’s going on.
In “Lord of the Rings,” everything was banking on this one device to bring damage to the world. And while the hobbits took their journey, time was given to help you understand these heroes and how they are associated with each other. I feel at times “Warcraft” is holding itself back to avoid dragging the story out when there is little there. As one who never played the video game, I want to know more about the orc customs and the way the world works. But the execution feels like only fans of the game will get it while leaving newcomers confused. In fact, there’s all these dwarfs and elves running about in the world, so why don’t they do more than just stand there?
Regardless of its faults, there is some good to behold here. The motion capture effects on the orcs are outstanding to look at. I was worried it would look too “cartoony” but seeing them on the big screen really helps. You can see skin texture and the jagged details on the teeth. And for a CGI heavy movie, the sets and battle scenes are nice to watch. Truly its a case were the visuals certainly overpower the story here.
One or two characters do get a chance to shine. I liked how the orc chief Durotan (Toby Kebbell) is caught between honoring tradition or knowing when things are right and wrong. And Paula Patton as a human/orc hybrid named Garona is also interesting to watch as she tries to figure what side to be on. These two characters worked because you felt there was an arc going on. With the impending war at hand, these two start to question not just their ethics but also what place they belong in. These two really make the movie work for me.
As far as everything else goes, “Warcraft” seems to cram too much into itself. From learning the nature and world of the game to what kind of plot we are dealing with, this is the kind of movie where it enters this world and lets things loose. Perhaps I would have been a tad more kinder if the plot was more simple and our leads had more care and development. The only way I see this working is if the running time was longer and certain elements were given more explanation to new viewers. While I’m glad I saw this one, I’m still disappointed to see how far it falls short of being a great summer blockbuster. I only see myself recommending “Warcraft” if your a fan of the video games or one who likes fantasy movies that are more on eye-candy and less on story. There’s a lot of stuff I did enjoy and certainly this is not one of the worst. But sadly, its another video game adaptation that makes you want to play a character in the world than rather sit down and watch it.
When dealing with themes of the future, movies have a two-sided coin to present. One says make it bright and hopeful like Hill Valley in Back to the Future Part II while the other says make it darker and grimm like Blade Runner. To present an optimistic view of the future while showing conflict is an even heavier attempt has a movie has to balance between showing the upside to a higher lifestyle while presenting there are conflicts like the society of wealthy vs. poverty in Metropolis. To make these elements into a thought provoking blockbuster is not a bad idea but it depends on how the mixture of these elements get handled. Or else one will end up with such a clunky and off-tone picture as Tomorrowland. As I am sad to say, one of the biggest domestic box-office flops of this year seeing so much effort and talent were thrown in yet little pays off or comes as entertaining.
The premise deals with a hidden utopia on Earth, how it is hidden remains unclear, with a promise of peace and harmony but comes off looking like a giant spa resort of gizmos and gadgets taken from The Jetsons and many other future films. Perhaps I should be more precise and bring up the fact this is based on Disney’s Epcot and Tomorrowland theme park attractions. Which is no surprise seeing certain elements like Space Mountain do appear as Easter Eggs here and there. But as expansive as the giant city is, we don’t spend much time in it. The main focus is the story and characters surrounded by this massive place which I wouldn’t have much of a problem if these elements were at the very least interesting.
Britt Robertson plays a tech-savvy teen that always believes in optimism but it nearly contradicts with her character by means of vandalism to a NASA launch pad being dismantled so her father can remain an engineer. I guess her actions account for something seeing she gets a magic pin that shows her this amazing city but only as a holographic illusion. Even more questioning is the ability of the pin as once one touches it, they see this great world but stuck in the real one as they lumber around like some kind of virtual reality helmet strapped on. Even in one scene, we see her move to the city in a corn field but also falling down the stairs when doing so in real life. If this pin makes an illusion, wouldn’t it be safer to confine it to one room as opposed to having said person meander in real life? What if one touches it and walks around in day time traffic? So much for the future of that poor soul.
Either way, this pin creates such curiosity, that she seeks out the origin of it. All traces lead to a cranky inventor named Frank Walker (George Clooney) who wishes to be left alone then return to the fabled city he was banned from. Apparently, he somehow manages to keep track of the world’s lifespan as an impending doom is set against the Earth. He thinks the young teen has the ability to save it as in much stories where the young hero or heroine is chosen to save the day thanks to her kindness.
In a sense, the film tonally tries to be something along the lines of Charlie and the Chocolate Factory where the good kid gets picked due to their ingenuity and despite hardships has a kind heart but I didn’t really get a sense of care for out characters. The performances are fine but just something about the writing feels off in narrative and character wise. The narrative flow gets distracted by Clooney’s flashing back as the structure of the movie is held by first person narrative as we cut back to the character Frank telling viewers what we are watching. An element cleary unneeded as the film can unfold without it.
Outside of Britt’s character having an open mind and Clooney being the man who lost hope, there wasn’t much else I found that really showed a care or motive to hang on to. Maybe its the jumbled narrative or how little we see of the city, but most of the plot feels very spotty that when one character decides to go on a search or move to the next story beat, there isn’t much risk or purpose behind it. She find a pin, goes to see the source, finds out the villains, saved by a sidekick/henchman type character, comes across a grizzled guy, go to futuristic place, find something is wrong and try to fix it. The story is so basic and paper thin that it shouldn’t feel this complex when its being told. And with not much connection to these story beats and directions it takes, why should we care as viewers?
The bigger problem comes in the second half when our heroes make it to Tomorrowland to find it in shambles. Apparently, a last minute conflict comes in the form of Hugh Laurie who plays a pessimistic Governor of the place who knows the secret link between Tomorrowland and the real world as well as why things are crumbling as they are. With the fear of an apocalypse on the way in people’s minds, it feels this is the direction things are heading into. So right off the fly, the message is a no-brainier. Be happy, keep being positive, work toward a bright future and don’t be negative. My problem is how heavy handed this message is and obvious they hammer it through the majority of the movie to the point it becomes more of the focus and less on the story.
To compare, The Peanuts Movie has a similar theme but not as obvious. As Charlie Brown tires to show he can do great things and fails, the more the viewer wants to see him succeed. The message of hope is more well-preserved here because that is not the focus. The focus is the characters and the story so later on, we can look back and remark the trails the protagonist had to endure as we compare them to our lives. Even themes of optimism and pessimism are explored better in Inside Out as we see how one can’t live without positive and negative things. They have to co-exist and co-operate. Tomorrowland takes these elements and instead cooks them into a good vs. evil manner at the last minute that has been done to death.
Without giving too much away, Laurie’s character reveals how people’s positive and negative thinking are essential to the world of Tomorrowland in a reveal so preachy that it undermines the entire message of the movie. With images of doom and gloom plaguing the real world, it has the future seeking to go in that direction unless convinced otherwise seems to be the logical solution. Instead, the final 20 minutes opts for a big action climax instead of a much smarter route like maybe a talk or a way to convince Hugh’s character that convincing people to be positive is a means to make a brighter future. That doesn’t happen. We get a feast of explosions, destruction and a villain’s downfall that is so cliche it makes my blood boil to see what could have been a nice story about building to a better tomorrow turn into a cliche blockbuster romp.
The screenplay was written by Damon Lindelof who credits include Lost and 2012’s Prometheus while Brad Bird co-writes. With this knowledge, it feels like two different movies are mixed in as the ideology of Brad Bird is clashing with the “whizz,” “bang,” and “pow” of an edgy sci-fi movie. Instead of taking a break for character development or perhaps even heart felt moments which are standard of Brad’s work, we find ourselves watching and counting out the story beats as hero goes from point A to B with little interest knowing what will happen next. Times that could have been used for exploring character relationships are traded up for big action set pieces and CGI wonder as a monument turns into rocket ship and people get obliterated by lasers held by evil androids. There is something very tonally off here between the future talk and the action.
And for those who think I’m being “negative” over Brad Bird, I like the guy. I do. I recall The Iron Giant when the metal monster is told how souls can’t die. Or how about the “Krusty Gets Busted” episode from The Simpsons when Bart is trying to convincing himself his hero is not a crook under shades of blue and Krusty merchandise. And need we not forget Mr. Incredible’s dilemma of trying to be a secret superhero and a family man. If Tomorrowland had more charm much like these small scenes that carry so much weight, perhaps I wouldn’t be so harsh. The city might have an interesting design, but under the retro rubble is a clunky and uneven story that crumbles and pods without pay off or impact. If you want a movie about the optimism and pessimism of the future play against itself, I recommend watching the Back to the Future trilogy more seeing themes of controlling one’s future and the negative benefits of a positive change are far better explored. Even movies like Explorers and The NeverEnding Story had a better handle with certain aspects like building to the unknown or trying to maintain hope. Fraggle Rock’s themes of universal peace was better explored without the aspect of violence being involved to solve a problem. Unfortunately, Tomorrowland didn’t do much for me. Aside from the performances being ok, it just came off as dull, preachy and just really a waste of good talent. I feel bad for saying this but the future of this movie looks rather grim as it stands at #4 at my worst of 2015 list.
This is one of those movies I remember hearing about as a kid and always been curious to see how it plays out. It had a lot that interested me. An adventure on the sea, all sorts of strange and cool monsters as well as some neat looking visuals. Again, I never saw “Cabin Boy” but knew of its existence. And when the dawn of the Internet came into my reach and began expanding my knowledge of film history, I would learn that the cult following for this one was relatively small. In fact, this movie today is decreed as so bad that many disregard it as the worst or even straight bad. Which is a shame seeing there is clearly a lot of talent behind it. Chris Elliot not only stars but also writes the screenplay, Tim Burton (who couldn’t direct due to duties with Batman Returns) produces and there is clearly a lot of effort in trying to make this a grand eye-visual please. At least in where it tries to be grand on a small scale. So what is it about this movie that rubs people the wrong way?
Chris Elliot plays Nathaniel Mayweather, a self-centered snob with rich folks and crass dialogue that is sarcastically harsh but funny from time to time. And I know what your going to ask, it is one of those movies. The jerk goes on a journey of self-discovery and later learns to be a better person. The character arch isn’t that interesting but you have to give Chris Elliot credit. He really tries with the material even when the scenes he’s in are hit and miss. What works best of the character in my opinion in just how crass he is to not just the poor but even the higher-class too. It shows that he’s not the kind that is into his rich lifestyle but perceived as a grown up spoiled brat. Again most of the comedy works from his child-like antics but I can see this being done better with someone like Paul Reubens (Pee Wee Herman) or even Martin Short.
Anyway through a huge misunderstand with a direction sign, he boards a fishing boat on accident thinking at first its a theme boat. But as the captain and crew get annoyed of his snotty attitude, the salty sailors appoint him as a cabin boy and try to find a way to get rid of him. All the while, Nathaniel tries to make things work with the grumpy fishermen as he tries to find his way to Hawaii in order to meet with his father or something like that. I guess you can sort of see the big problem here. There is little to no plot to keep an interest from time to time. Most of the movie takes part on the boat and trying to find something funny with the characters. And to be honest, a comedy can work that way but viewers like to have a story to follow or at least something engaging. This is really the weakest problem as the snobby lad goes from serving fish stick kittens for dinner to swabbing the deck with nothing but soap and his tongue. Its a movie that really feeds on jokes and gags than really giving a compelling story.
Honestly when the comedy works, it does work. There’s a scene when Nathaniel is set adrift on a small raft and has these weird illusions which does take a weird but funny turn. Chris’s material shows his innocent comedy by trying to keep positive despite the harsh conditions from using cooking oil as sun screen to going bonkers. And that’s sort of this movie in a nutsell. Its one gag after another and you wait for the next to come by. Dare I say, its one of those kind of movies you watch with a friend just to see how they react. You either laugh along or pray there is a good joke.
Also for a movie that was given a low budget, I’m surprised to see how much effort they tried to put into the special effects. In an interview, director Adam Resnick mentioned how he had a hard time trying to make this movie as it was originally meant for Tim Burton to direct. And yeah, I can see where he is coming from. Trying to attempt one’s vision is not easy unless you have someone who understands what he or she had in mind. But I think it was a good attempt. Some of the designs in the monsters have a Burtonesque quality even if they feel simplistic. The visual look does have a Burtonesque quality even right down to those curtain backdrops. Again, “Cabin Boy” was made on a very low budget but you can tell they really tried to make something out of it. You still get some creative visuals like a ship in a stormy sea or a stop-motion ice monster. Even the make-up job on creatures like a half-man, half-shark being or a six armed goddess really shows what can be done with practical work. A testament to how well something real and in front of the camera can work compared to CGI.
Even the performances are not that bad either. Brian Doyle-Murry plays on the shipmates who knows his mythology and despite the movie he’s in you know he tries. There’s also some cameos by David Letterman and Andy Richter who get a funny line or two as well as some small running gags that are cute. I can’t say there is a bad performance or even one that was painful annoying. There were all around ok.
The only reason I can see why some viewers hated “Cabin Boy” on arrival was by how mismanaged the production was from the studio and what they didn’t know what to expect from its bizarre comedy. As a whole, the comedic tone is sort of a demented Popeye cartoon crossed with the surreal nature of Spongebob Squarepants. If this was done in better hands like Henry Selick, perhaps “Cabin Boy” would be molded into a better film. But from what I saw, I felt it was alright. I’m glad I finally got around to seeing it considering the continuing mixed reception that’s been building. It feels like a throwback to those fantasy movies of the 1930s with really cheap effects and silly stuff from time to time. But if that’s not your kind of fun, I understand. I just think its a silly comedy that really tried. Nothing too horrible or insulting to the eyes bad but far from perfect. Give it a rent and judge for yourself.
I think we can all agree that we grew up with Peter Pan in our childhood. The idea of a kid that never grew up, lives in a world far beyond the stars, has a group of friends at his aid and fights pirates surprisingly never got old. J. M. Barrie unleashed an amazing world of fairies and cut throat pirates while bringing in a group of interesting characters. But as far as film versions go, there’s always two I tend to look at; The animated Disney version from 1951 and Steven Spielberg’s “possible sequel” Hook. I watched these movies a lot as a kid admiring the child spirit of the animated version while Hook acted more like lost “fatherhood” than a search for childhood. With these two embedded in my mind, there was practically no other take I can think of that really stood out and said “this is Pan in his finest hour.” I’m also aware of the Fox animated series “Peter Pan and the Pirates” which sadly I never saw at the time. But I will say thanks to the Internet, I can mark it off as a good twist on the classic tale.
Now, jump to the holiday season of 2003 which I will always regard as the dark period of my theater going experiences. There was a great amount of family movies that came out at the time that rarely became a box-office hit. Sure there was Elf and the last Lord of the Rings movie, but with so much competition at stake, I felt everyone had no idea which was a safe choice to watch with their kids or just by themselves. Brother Bear and Looney Tunes: Back in Action failed to make a big splash at the box office while The Cat in the Hat and The Haunted Mansion were failures with critics and viewers for taking cherished nostalgia into pure crap. With many mainstream movies geared for the adult audience like Honey and Bad Santa, it was a tough act to find a film that was for the younger crowd while also good at the same time. The only two I can think of that were true hits were Elf and the remake Cheaper by the Dozen. With so many different films to choose from and compete against, it was a tough market to be in let alone for a movie about a boy who could fly and never get old. And for these reasons alone, that is why I think P. J. Hogan’s “Peter Pan” wasn’t a box office success.
Needless to say, I never saw this adaption in theaters but wanted to. It looked darker and felt like an edgier take. But once 2004 kicked in, those memories of seeing trailers and TV spots while getting hyped faded away. It wouldn’t be long til I finally saw it (or at least some) when I was in 8th grade. It was a basic situation where a movie would play while one would work to arts and crafts to pass the time. And unfortunately, that is how I best remember my “fond” memories. I knew the technology was finally updated to the point where CGI could be a lending hand but something about it kept me from seeing the special effects as unique. It was action-packed and went into grim territory when needed but I always kept thinking back to Harry Potter when it came to family films that had a balance between light and edge. The cast and its performances were good but there was not much I could remember that really stuck out to me. Well, after finally revisiting “Peter Pan” I can finally say that I don’t think its necessarily a bad movie but there was room for improvement that just didn’t meet my expectations.
The story about a kid that “never grew up” is there and the entire cast again is not bad. Jeremy Sumpter plays the Pan in grass clothing and all while promsing Wendy (Rachel Hurd-Wood) that a world lies beyond the stars where she can remain young forever and never get old. Seeing her parents are pressuring her into adulthood, she accepts while tagging her brothers John and Micheal who relish in the thought of adventure as much as they do. The kid acting is fine even among the Lost Boys who don’t feel dull or generic. Again, I can’t think of a bad performance as we started to get into that age where child acting really got up to speed and showed that a ten year old can really carry emotion.
Jason Isaacs is devious as Captain Hook while also stern and awkward as Mr. Darling. In keeping with stage play tradition, the actor who plays Hook also has the role of the father of the Darling family. But what feels missing is the same amount of menace that Mr. Darling had to make that connection between reality and fantasy. Instead, Mr. Darling is depicted as a bumbling klutz than the usual “nose to the grindstone” father that is usually seen. I guess this was done to lighten him up seeing Hook is fierce in comparison but I can see the idea of Darling being equally menacing as the infamous pirate. Even the Disney version knew when to limit that by showing he wasn’t a bad father but frustrated while trying to stick to his beliefs of what makes in his opinion a good family. Instead, the 2003 version has him trying to overcome social awkward tropes while also played as the comic foil.
When Jason Isaacs plays Hook, however, its the total opposite. He really chews out the scenery in being a memorable Hook. He sets his sights on revenge without stop, he is a cunning planner, lays his crew to waste when he’s frustrated or angry, and even proves to be a huge threat for our heroes. I should say this is hands down a good take on the character but something feels missing. With Has Conried, he was devious while still a campy yet funny version. And Dustin Hoffman delivered a more psychological variation that is played for laughs and dug into the character’s mindset. Its not that Isaacs is not doing a bad job as this is the Hook we all wanted, but there’s not much fun to his character. He’s used as a straight up villain which is not bad but I wish there was more humor to his take.
On top of that, there are some elements in this version that feel really uncomfortable. I don’t know if its the source or how the film is delivered but there is a lot of romantic tension that come off as feeling awkward. I guess it didn’t bother me too much as a teenager because I didn’t pick it up on first watch, but it feels like there’s a lot of “sexual tension” between Peter Pan and Wendy most of the time. The dialogue when they talk for the first time is executed in a manner that feels like something adults would say and there’s all these close ups of Peter getting excited that are really tight and enclosed that ruin the whim of the moment. Wendy should be amazed by the idea of a kid that can fly and remain his age. Not all these metaphors about martial parenting and teenage love. It almost comes off as creepy. And it doesn’t help either when later on Hook seduces her with piano and a lobster dinner that feels near pedophilia when he talks about having her join her crew of adult pirates, tell stories and there are these moments where Hook acts like a lady charmer in subtle expressions. It just feels weird and unsettling. Maybe I’m looking at this too much seeing it is a fantasy for the younger crowd but it just comes off as out of date in either the context its delivered in or just suffers from being seen in a new vision.
It also doesn’t help the special effects haven’t held up here. Don’t get me wrong. Some things like the sets and Ludivine Sagnier’s tiny appearance as Tinkerbell do work. But from time to time, you can tell when something is CGI and when something is being blue screened to the point you don’t feel like kids are flying in the air or that a crocodile is really chasing after Hook. Its surprisingly how another pirate movie (Pirates of the Caribbean) at the time used CGI and practical to a degree where they blend seamlessly where else here it just feels like a video game crafted for the PS2. A good example is when the Darling kids fly for the first time as they jump off a bed. Its clearly established its such a small room where else when they jump into the air, the ceiling above them looks huge out of the Sistine Chapel. With many inconsistencies and effects that range from cartoony to an obviously computer crafted crocodile, they took me out of the moment where I felt like I was watching a movie and not so much fully convinced Neverland.
So your probably thinking I really dislike this adaption? Well, its more half and half. As a kid, I would have enjoy seeing this version but at the time, Harry Potter was on the scene and really pushed the boundaries for young fantasy. I feel with Hogwarts on the big screen and enchanting audiences ages 8 to 52, there wasn’t much to offer here aside from trying to be this edgier take. There’s even elements that I felt could have been better expanded on like the Native Americans and mermaids we see for one scene or even how the logic of Neverland works. To be fair, it does start off clever as Pan’s emotions sort of control the island as his absence creates winter but yet his existence on Neverland creates spring. But then there are things like when he is sad it becomes winter again or when he’s happy it becomes bright and sunny. Whatever its trying to say in this metaphoric view, it just comes off as a nice idea but weird in execution.
Maybe if this “Pan” found a balance between light and dark while placing a bit more effort into its effects while being fun and light yet unique adaption, I wouldn’t feel so underwhelmed. In a way, I expected a lot more from this version but it felt like it was playing itself too safe in spots when it tried to be dark and lost in trying to be acceptable for mainstream audiences. The final result is not a bad movie but it feels near forgettable. My personal take is that after showing how much fantasy can do with Lord of the Rings or Harry Potter, it became a tough act to follow while opening a new door. Now you can make characters with depth while meshing them with amazing worlds that are digital but feel grand. “Peter Pan” feels more like a wannabe Harry Potter and less like an adaption that does its own thing. Once in a while you get a good moment and a nice visual but its bogged down by how the source is being presented or some strange directing choices that I tend to question or wish why it exists. I wouldn’t say its a movie I wouldn’t let kids watch as I can’t think of any bad morels or anything that I felt was awful. Its harmless enough on its own to watch. But with a new “Pan” on the horizon that is taking the origin route (much like “Maleficent” or “Oz, the Great and Powerful”), I am starting to wonder if there is hope for that second star to the right…
Christopher Nolan is a man that can transport people to interesting worlds wither it be inside out mind but space might not be one of them. “Interstellar” is a film that clearly has effort behind it and tries so hard to be a serious science fiction film but has so much that either rides against it or contradicts what its doing. For the most part, it does try to make the science elements of traveling through a worm hole appear plausible but at the same time falls into the pits of trying to be a mainstream blockbuster that everyone can accept and understand. And that’s the key phrase, “everyone can accept and understand.” I do admire the concept and some ideas but again the set ups and directions it goes in are not only unoriginal but also feel wasted.
Matthew McConaughey is an everyday farmer named Cooper who gets a series of signs in her daughter’s room that somehow manage him to get access to a NASA site and get involved in a secret mission. Apparently, the world is suffering from a crop blight meaning all vegetation will collapse thanks to a deadly organism. Well, it just so happens Cooper originally worked for NASA and is volunteered to travel into a wormhole to scout for any signs of life.
Sound complex already? Well, they also establish that time is different in space travel as a mere hour turns out to be seven Earth years. And it doesn’t help either when one trip to a planet equals 23 years as the world gets worse and it agricultural society starts to burn away. If that wasn’t enough, we have to deal with a lost crew that went into the wormhole before Cooper’s venture and this one astronaut played by Matt Damon has been waiting to escape back to Earth. And then, Cooper’s daughter getting all grown-up and loosing faith in her father’s return while trying to figure out a way to save the Earth. And while that goes on, I kept looking at the time wondering just how conclude or at least what could have been cut out to make it more effective.
The main problem I constantly had with “Interstellar” is just how clunky and slow the pacing is. For a movie that has so many ideas, it carries too much plot. The conflict between Copper and his daughter was fine enough but then you have to throw in the travel time and progress between the two. I’d be fine with it being a focus of the story that is if it wasn’t buried under so much stuff. I remember reading up that Earth in the movie was set in a future were crops were dependent on the planet’s survival. Without the proper set-up of what time frame, one can easily mistake this as being set in present times. Or at least the movie world of present times where fantasy and science are unlimited.
There is a story there but the movie feels more like it wants to be a visual wonder than a strong story. And in fact, I do like the effort in these strange new worlds and a lot of the special effects. Some concepts like a fifth dimension where one item is used for communication is clever while planets made of elements feel almost uninspired and generic. The crew finds themselves walking on planets of water, ice and at one point desert without any visual flare or spectacle. They treat these new worlds like mundane places rather than look at it with a powerful presence.
The performances do hold up considering the cast of great actors they obtained from Michael Caine to Anne Hathaway. I can’t think of anyone I was really disappointed with as they really try to make this world believable as possible. McConaughey’s character has some depth as a single father that is trying to hold on to hope through her daughter’s promise. Its the usual father and daughter stuff but it can be nice at times to watch. Despite the fact when Cooper’s daughter grows older, we start to question the dynamic between the two as she looses faith in the return of her dad and Cooper is stuck between saving humanity or trying to rekindle her daughter’s spirit.
Perhaps what made me feel so underwhelmed about “Interstellar” lies in the script itself. If there was another re-write, I’m positive elements like a robot with a sassy attitude and aspect of its time frame would have been smoothed out. For a movie that is trying to be a grand experience film like 2001 or Close Encounters of the Third Kind, it really sags. We doing even venture into the wormhole until the one hour mark and this movie is already a near 3 hours long. Perhaps if the focus was more on the voyage to the wormhole and less on doomed Earth, the overall experience would have been ok. But something like 2001 differs because the experience was on a thesis; the evolution of humanity and technology. Instead, “Interstellar” pods along with science talk that back fires by the end with one of the most strangest resolutions to saving the Earth I have ever seen in my life. Its a concept so bizarre that I almost laughed at how “topsy-curvy” it appeared.
Another thing I should address is that movie was shot in such a strange way that it must be addressed. Like most of Nolan’s films, it was shot with IMAX cameras giving deeper depth and quality. However, unlike most IMAX releases like Tron Legacy where select scenes are in this huge format, Interstellar jumps frequently from its normal 2:35:1 aspect ratio to its IMAX 1:90:1 ratio. This happens a lot throughout the whole movie as it can cut from an IMAX scene in space to a scene in the normal widescreen ratio. And its not just select sequences but even a single shot that lasts between 10 to 25 seconds and then it will cut automatically to its normal widescreen ratio. This choice really bugs me as it could have been put to better use like have the scenes in space be IMAX but the moments on Earth in a normal ratio. It worked for the Grand Budapest Hotel to present different decades but it doesn’t work when your trying to tell a coherent narrative or at least one that isn’t all over the star chart.