Tuesday, August 30, 2016

The Jungle Book (2016)

Director by Jon Favreau. Written by Justin Marks (screenplay), Rudyard Kipling (book). Starring Neel Sethi (Mowgli) , Bill Murray (Baloo), Ben Kingsley (Bagheera).

Bottom line: The Jungle Book was a whole lot better than I expected, though, it’s a little scary for kids I imagine.

When Mowgli (Sethi) was just a baby, he was found all alone in the jungle by a sympathetic panther named Bagheera (Kingsley) who took the orphan to be raised by a pack of wolves. Fast-forward a dozen years and Mowgli is growing up. He’s at an awkward age where he realizes, despite his best efforts; he’s not really a wolf. Shere Khan (Elba), the villainous tiger, points out that although Mowgli is just a Man-Cub but will grow up to be a Man. Man is a threat, thus, Shere Khan vows to kill the boy. For his safety, Bagheera and the wolfpack, decide that Mowgli must return to the Man Village to be with his own kind.

The graphics are really quite good. The voice acting is solid all around. Mowgli, and I am not a fan of child actors, does a perfectly good job.

One of the things that most stuck out to me was how they handled the giant ape, King Louie (Walken). The character is relatively the same; he’s an ape that wants the power of man’s red flower (fire). In the original, he’s an orangutan voiced by the incredible and bombastic Louie Prima. In this iteration, Christopher Walken does a fine job of voicing the character but it has a distinctly darker feel. The juxtaposition of the fun song (sung slower) with the realistic animation makes it downright scary.

I grew up watching Disney’s The Jungle Book from the 60’s so when I saw the trailer for this, I cringed. I expected it to just be a whole bunch of fancy graphics and cheap references to the original. Fortunately, The Jungle Book wasn’t nearly as bad as I feared. In fact, it was solidly alright. How’s that for a ringing endorsement? My wife and I watched this on a long flight from Belgium. We were tired and a captive audience so maybe that helped our experience.

Would I recommend The Jungle Book? There are certainly worse movies to see and it’s good enough if you’re in the mood for some pretty graphics. I still prefer the original because I am such a fan of the music and animation but this iteration of the story was a nice addition to our airplane journey.

Wednesday, August 24, 2016

Masters of the Universe

Directed by Gary Goddard. Written by David Odell. Starring Dolph Lundgren (He-Man), Frank Langella (Skeletor), Meg Foster (Evil-Lyn), Courtney Cox (Julie).

Bottom line: If I was a 12 year old boy in the 80’s I would love this...but I’m not.

So Dolph Lundgren (aka Ivan Drago) is the most powerful man in the universe, He-Man. Skeletor (Langella) is up to his old tricks again; he’s trying to take over Castle Grayskull and the magical power held there to become the master of the universe. In their efforts to thwart his advances He-Man and company learn of his secret weapon; a pair of interdimensional keys. To evade capture at the hands of Skeletor and his second in command Evil-Lyn (Foster) - it’s like Evilyn but she’s eeeevil - He-Man and company make an interdimensional jump. Guess who comes into possession of the super device? Yup, two unlikely heroes: high school seniors Kevin (McNeill) and Julie (who is played by a super young Courtney Cox).

If you are a fan of He-Man, you’ve probably already seen this, but if you haven’t I’d bet it would be a hoot. It’s fan-service galore. It’s one of those movies that assumes you know the characters and places. It translates to a movie that finds it satisfactory to throw named characters on the screen and call it a day.

There are some amusing parts about the movie though. If your quota of the ‘80’s isn’t full, this’ll fill it. Take the interdimensional key. It’s used by pressing a sequence of keys (which emit a different tone)...it’s like a synthesizer! Good thing Kevin is the keyboard player in his high school band.

If the aforementioned notes didn’t suggest, everything about this movie screams Saturday morning cartoon cheesy. Now, the cheesiness, of course, isn’t an inherently bad thing; that can be fun every once in a while, especially when it can be found on YouTube. That said, there are almost certainly better things to watch. I’d think I’d recommend this if you want to see good old Dolph action and/or you’re familiar with He-Man. Or you could always just watch Rocky IV.

Thanks for reading! Do you have a favorite Saturday morning cartoon movie? Let me know in the comments below!

Sunday, August 21, 2016


Directed by Paul Feig. Written by Katie Dippold, Paul Feig. Starring Melissa McCarthy (Abby Yates), Kristen Wiig (Erin Gilbert), Kate McKinnon (Jillian Holtzmann).

Bottom line: Ghostbusters was better than I expected from the trailers, not to suggest that it was particularly good, but it was better than I expected.

When a team of paranormal researchers are outed from their university, they go into business capturing ghosts. Through their activities, they come across a nefarious plot that threatens the world.

I expected Ghostbusters to be terrible. I think just about everybody did. For some (me included), the trailer suggested lame jokes and nostalgic references. Consider the official trailer (which, incidentally, is one of the most disliked YouTube videos of all time). It lacks a sense of fun and pacing. It begins with this slow piano cover of the “Who You Gonna Call” song and then switches over to like a pseudo-dupstep sound. The music is broken up by extended exposition or jokes and it really throws off the rhythm. Compare that to the “GHOSTBUSTERS FanCUT Teaser Trailer HD (RECUT)” by Bevan Bell. Bell’s trailer was exciting, fast paced, and sprinkled with jokes. Ghostbusters is such a pop-cultural image that we know enough already; we don’t need an introduction to the characters or the driving plot. The differences between the two trailers makes me wonder about movies trailers. I mean, I wonder if there are certain requirements for the official trailers. The official one is over two and a half minutes while the fan-cut is under a minute. I wonder if they had to contractually include certain characters in the trailer too.

In any case, the jarring pacing of the trailer is something that plagues this remake. There are a number of jokes that are funny but instead of making a joke and moving on to the next one, the camera lingers in silence, as if the awkward silence will provoke more laughter. It doesn’t. It just kills the moment. I feel like someone ought to make a fan-cut of the film, removing all of the pauses to see how it improves.

All of the characters are pleasant. They’re all pretty likable and they seem to work well together. Chris Hemsworth is the stupid but attractive secretary for the Ghostbusters. It’s a running gag in the movie of having the protagonists ogle him, though Wiig’s delivery seems forced. For a movie like this the draw is the chemistry between the cast, not the plot, so it’s pretty minimal. They gotta save New York and the world. Boom. Done. It’s sufficient to facilitate jokes. There is some character development in the sense that Wiig’s character learns to accept and be proud of her experiences with the paranormal.

Ghostbusters jumps aboard the nostalgia train. I feel like a broken record but Ghostbusters is making me say it again: a reference just for the sake of the reference is bad, lame, and will probably be unsuccessful. Just having an original cast member pop on camera isn’t going to make me enjoy the movie. In much the same way that having pretty graphics can’t fuel a movie, neither can nostalgia.

Overall, I wouldn’t recommend Ghostbusters. The jokes that are funny don’t quite deliver because the pacing is off and the references to the original feel cheap. Instead, if you are looking for a spooky comedy, why not try something like Shaun of the Dead, Beetlejuice, Young Frankenstein, or Scary Movie? That’s a pretty good survey of different “spooky comedies” (that was my Google search to find the above options) depending on your taste in comedy. Without thinking about it too much, I might recommend them in that order too.

Monday, August 15, 2016

Sexism, Outrage and Suicide Squad

The Internet has been ablaze with outrage regarding Suicide Squad. Whether or not it was “good” isn’t what I’m writing about in the post. Before I even write a review of it, I wanted to write about how there seems to be an oddly passionate outcry with respect to the sexist representation of Harley Quinn.

If you Google “Suicide Squad Sexism,” the first article that comes up is from the dailydot.com entitled 'Suicide Squad's Harley Quinn is the result of 'sexism by committee' written by Gavia Baker-Whitelaw. Its sentiments are mirrored by several other articles. Now, allow me to be clear. I’m not saying that Suicide Squad was a particularly progressive film. I’m not saying it’s a feminist film. I’m not even saying that it wasn’t a sexist movie. But I am confused by how outraged people are over this movie in particular.

Is the outcry a result of disappointment? When you heard “You Don’t Own Me” introducing Quinn, did you expect to get Rey (from Star Wars The Force Awakens)?

Don’t get me wrong; I applaud the fact that people are calling out a movie for objectifying women. 

But, for the people who are particularly outraged, have you ever seen a movie?

Have you ever seen a superhero movie?
Have you ever seen Harley Quinn?

Part of me wants to point out the fact that Harley Quinn isn’t someone we want to be. I mean if for no other reason than because she’s in an abusive relationship and, oh yeah, she’s a murderous criminal.

Why is this depiction so much worse than somebody like Black Widow? Black Widow, after all, is supposed to be something of a role model.

The thing that bothers me about Suicide Squad is that it does a garbage job of “being progressive”. In the article above, the author notes the scene of Harley dressing, the movie calls out the guys gawking at her. It’s as if the movie gets a free pass because we can laugh at the leering men...all while we gaze at her. Harley may have the power to punish male characters but she can’t punish the audience. There are things the movie could’ve done to implicate the audience too (and that would be so good if it did) but it didn’t.

Sunday, August 14, 2016

One Warm Line: The Legacy of Stan Rogers

Written and directed by Alan Collins, and Robert Lang. Starring Stan Rogers, Garnet Rogers, and Ariel Rogers.

Bottom line: One Warm Line: The Legacy of Stan Rogers is a well-done Forty-five minute documentary about a really interesting, talented, and influential folk musician.

I don’t know about you but I like me a good, light documentary from time to time. There are lots of great documentaries like Blackfish or Capturing the Friedmans but those are heavy, man. I’d recommend them but if I’m tired after a long day of work, I kinda just want to watch something pleasant while I’m eating dinner. Wait till after dinner, that’s when then we can get into the heavy stuff.

One Warm Line: The Legacy of Stan Rogers is about the Canadian folk musician Stan Rogers. He sang of country life as a farmer and a fisherman. He rose to fame through his connection to his audience and his tireless desire to perform. I’ll leave it at that lest I spoil the documentary.

From my experience with reviewing documentaries, it’s less about what information is presented but how. One Warm Line jumps between interviews with friends of Rogers, images of the musician, and clips of him in concert. There was a good balance between the musical and non-musical sections so if you aren’t the biggest fan of his style, the film overall isn’t overwhelming.

Until I saw this documentary, the only experience I had with Stan Rogers was from searching on YouTube for “pirate shanties.” One of the videos I found was an excerpt from this documentary. I made time to see the whole film and I’m glad I did. Not only will I recommend One Warm Line but I’ll recommend Stan Rogers too.

Thanks for reading this short review of a good and short documentary. Are you a fan of Stan Rogers? Have you seen any good, light documentaries recently?

Thursday, August 11, 2016

Die Krone von Arkus

Written and directed by Franziska Pohlmann. Starring Lukas Jantzen (Jono), Anna-Lena Sender (Saraja), and Tom Barcal (Gurungur).

Bottom line: For a German family movie with no English audio or subtitles, I had a solidly ok time watching Die Krone von Arkus.

Before we get to the review of Die Krone von Arkus, allow me to give some context. My wife and I are flying from Krakow to Chicago by way of Munich and Toronto: the Munich to Toronto portion was about 7 hours on Lufthansa. Several movies were watched on the long flights but, while my wife napped, I watched the film currently in question, Die Krone von Arkus.
Die Krone von Arkus is a very German family fantasy movie. It’s so German it didn’t have English subtitles or audio. It’s so German, I couldn’t stream it on Amazon, heck, I couldn’t order it on Amazon! I had to reside in Germany to rent it. I couldn’t even find a torrent to pirate the thing.
Oh, and I suppose I should mention that I don’t speak German….
Other than that though, let me tell you what I thought so far...because, well, as it was on a flight, I didn’t actually finish the film but I saw almost all of it.
So in this little German town, there is a witch who is looking for a magical diamond ring. She rules over the town with an iron fist. She kidnaps children who live in the town to try and find the ring. I suspect, because, children and their purity are the secret to getting the ring. We cut over to our hero, the leader of a group of ragamuffin kids. He’s kinda like the Artful Dodger from Oliver Twist. He meets a pretty lady ragamuffin who teaches him that he doesn’t have to steal. Long story short, they have to try and save their friends and the town from the evil witch.
If you’ve read my other reviews, you might know that I’m not a fan of musicals. More often than not, the songs long overstay their welcome. Maybe it’s because Die Krone von Arkus is a fantasy movie and a kids movie but even though there are a bunch of songs, they are all very short. I actually felt like I would’ve liked to hear more of them. Conveniently, even though I couldn’t find the movie, the soundtrack is on YouTube.
So, because I couldn’t really understand what they were saying, and I probably missed cultural queues, I can’t speak too too much to the dialog. That said, it sounds pretty cool.
The art direction is pretty solid too. Die Krone von Arkus feels like a big budget movie. Would I recommend this movie? Sure, but especially if you are flying Lufthansa. In the future, if I do wind up watching the rest of this with subtitles, I’ll return to this and do a follow up; let’s hope it doesn’t turn out to be awful writing with a cliché story.
This movie kinda reminds me of the first time I saw Jacques Tati’s masterpiece, Playtime. I was a freshman in college. A small group of us made a pilgrimage to an obscure movie rental place to pick out some zany foreign films. I chose Playtime because it looked cool. We hike back to our dorms and pop in the movies. We sit through about an hour of Playtime before the group vetoed my pick. It was a French art movie so I didn’t really get it on a number of levels but there was something alluring about it. I couldn’t quite tell what it was but I knew there was something.

So years later, I crossed paths with Playtime again and I gave it another go and, the rest is history. Now, I don’t know if Die Krone von Arkus will be as life changing but, this is to say, I’d recommend giving it a shot even if you don’t speak German. Maybe by breaking from the dialog, it will cause you to look at it (and film in general) in a new way.

Monday, August 8, 2016

Independence Day: Resurgence

Directed by Roland Emmerich . Written by Nicolas Wright, James A. Woods, Dean Devlin, Roland Emmerich, and James Vanderbilt. Starring Liam Hemsworth (Jake Morrison), Jeff Goldblum (David Levinson), Bill Pullman (President Whitmore).

Bottom line: Computer graphics and failed attempts to exploit nostalgia. Please avoid Independence Day: Resurgence.

Independence Day: Resurgence opens to a voice over of the President’s monologue from the first film. It’s one thing to make a nod to a predecessor but it’s quite another when a movie immediately breaks into a reference just for reference’s sake.

Now, the idea is that America defeated the aliens in 1996. Using the unifying threat of the aliens and the technology they left behind, the world is all futuristic. But wait! The aliens are back. Now America has to defeat them again.

I’m sure you’ve seen movies which are bad but not fun-bad. Fun-bad movies are cheesy and, well, fun to laugh at and with. Think about Sharknado. It’s a shark-filled tornado. It’s absurd and fun to talk about the absurdity. One of the reasons why Independence Day: Resurgence isn’t fun is that the plot has so many holes, it doesn’t lend itself to any sort of conversation. The big spaceship, for example, is so big “it has it’s own gravity” which means all ships and buildings and people all fall towards the spaceship. The buildings and things all stay up there, until it gets to LA at which point everything falls back down.

Wait, what?

It would’ve been so easy to say it was an alien gravity weapon (to explain why the effect only happens once) but noooo, they said it’s so massive it has it’s own gravity. It’s such a simple thing. Couldn’t one person just say, “Excuse me, could we just maybe tweak this a little?” Independence Day: Resurgence is filled to the brim with similar inconsistencies. Even Goldblum can’t salvage it, and I like Goldblum.

The only one interesting point of this film, is how internationally minded it is. Transformers and other computer graphic blockbusters destroyed the box offices in China. They did so well that there was a bunch of product placement for Chinese products in Transformers 4. In the case of Independence Day: Resurgence, one of the heroes is a representative from China and she speaks Chinese occasionally. Instead of Skype, to do video chatting, people use Tencent QQ (which is a Chinese chat program), and he drinks “moon milk” which is half covered with Chinese characters. I’m so used to being the target audience, it’s a neat, new experience to not be.

If you want graphics go play a video-game. If you want Independence Day, go watch the original. But, please, avoid this movie. If we all abstain maybe this train of bad-nostalgia fueled films will stop.

Monday, August 1, 2016


Directed by Byron Howard, Rich Moore, and Jared Bush. Written by Byron Howard, Rich Moore,  Jared Bush, Jim Reardon, Josie Trinidad, Phil Johnston, Dan Fogelman, and Jennifer Lee. Starring Ginnifer Goodwin (Judy Hopps), Jason Bateman (Nick Wilde), Idris Elba (Chief Bogo).

Bottom line: Zootopia was cute, fun, and nice; I wasn’t expecting much and was pleasantly surprised.

As the introduction explains, in ages past, the animal kingdom was divided into two groups, predators and prey, who constantly lived at odds. Fortunately, overtime they evolved to form a society where animals can live in harmony. A utopia...or a Zootopia. Pun aside, Zootopia is the name of the giant city in which all the animals live. In this city, so explains our protagonist bunny (Goodwin), anyone can be anything their heart desires. In the case of our heroine bunny, she dreams to become the first bunny cop (larger animals like Bulls and Elephants tend to be cops). Will she be able to follow her dream despite the adversity that will surely follow?

My expectations were low for Zootopia. It looked colorful but I didn’t think it had much else going for it. I was, however, mistaken. Zootopia is a really pleasant movie overall. The animation isn’t merely colorful, it’s fun and dynamic. The city itself is divided into different climate-based zones: you have the jungle, tundra, desert, and regular old concrete jungle section of the city. Even though you only see brief portions of Zootopia, it feels like a fleshed out world. It’s fun.

I’d recommend Zootopia for anybody. It was a pleasant family friendly movie. It is somewhat predictable here and there but, what do you want, it’s a kids movie.

Have you seen Zootopia? Have you seen any family movies in the recent past that have pleasantly surprised you? Thanks for reading!