Frozen II (C). I must say that this sequel to the Disney juggernaut Frozen left me cold <rimshot>. Maybe it’s because the first film really wasn’t set up for a sequel, but this one felt tacked on and arbitrary. Despite the previous film’s happy ending and Arendell’s apparent prosperity under Queen Elsa’s benevolent rule, the Queen is restless and unhappy, imagining that she hears a siren song calling her north. It turns out the royal family has a complicated backstory—as a boy, the girls’ father, King Agnarr, accompanied a mission to an enchanted forest in the north, and for some unknown reason hostilities broke out between the Arendellians and the locals. Agnarr was the only Arendellian to escape before a wall of mist (reinforced with a magical force field) sealed the forest off from the world. Now Elsa, Anna, Kristoff, and Olaf (somewhat more amusing in this film) must somehow penetrate the mist (which they easily do by the simple expedient of having Elsa go first) and find out what’s going on inside. There’s a lot of running hither and yon, and lots of magical “explanations” that made no sense to me. Plenty of songs, most of which are OK.
Ralph Breaks the Internet (B). I remember enjoying Wreck-It Ralph and thinking it had a surprisingly sweet story about friendship at its core. In this sequel, video-game characters Ralph (voice of John C. Reilly, Talladega Nights) and Vanellope (voice of Sarah Silverman, School of Rock) leave the video arcade behind and enter the worldwide web on a quest to find a replacement part for Vanellope’s arcade game. The visualization of the internet is a highlight of the movie, as little avatars of the human users scuttle around from eBay to YouTube (or a lookalike) to everything else. Vanellope falls in love with a Grand Theft Auto-inspired neighborhood ruled by a tough gal called Shank (voice of Gal Gadot, Wonder Woman). In the most inspired part of the movie, she finds herself in Disney’s sector, which is populated by Star Wars characters, Marvel characters, and, of course, Disney princesses (many voiced by their original actresses). The movie starts to drag by the end (an hour and 52 minutes? really?), but it is still definitely worth a look.
Big Hero 6 (B). I finally saw this Disney film the other night, and I thought it was good. The Borg Queen took me to task for not giving it an A grade of some kind, but there’s no way it compares with Disney’s greatest films. (A few examples: The Lion King, Aladdin, Beauty and the Beast, Zootopia, and even Moana, which has risen considerably in my estimation since I reviewed it in these pages.) Also, I suspect Big Hero 6 would play better on the big screen; its futuristic setting was pretty but not immersive on the TV. Anyhoo, this is basically a superhero origin story. Teenaged Hiro is a genius at robots but really comes into his own only after his older brother dies in a mysterious fire and a shadowy villain starts stalking the streets of San Fransokyo. Hiro teams up with his brother’s nerdy science friends and with Baymax, a big balloony robot that Hiro’s brother had been working on when he died. With a few modifications, Baymax goes from cuddly nurse robot to high-flying action hero, and eventually it’s time for a showdown with the big bad. I was entertained. If you like superhero movies, Big Hero 6 is worth your time.
Little Women (2019) (A-). I haven’t seen any of the numerous prior dramatizations of Louisa May Alcott’s beloved novel, and I haven’t read the book itself in decades, so I was a fairly clean slate. I just remembered it was the story of four sisters (Meg, Jo, Beth, and Amy) living with their mother “Marmee” in the North while their father was off with the Union army in the Civil War. Director and adapter Greta Gerwig (Lady Bird) complicates the narrative by making the “present” some seven years later and having headstrong sister Jo (Saoirse Ronan, Atonement) remember the Civil War-era events in extensive flashbacks.
At first, I didn’t care for the movie very much, but it quickly grew on me. I think it was mainly the story—the little domestic squabbles, setbacks, and victories—that won me over. Aside from Ronan, who’s always good, and Meryl Streep (It’s Complicated…) in a small but fun part as the girls’ rich and crusty spinster aunt, I thought the acting was merely adequate. Emma Watson (This Is the End) didn’t have a lot to do as oldest sister Meg. Laura Dern (Star Wars Episode VIII) mostly just beams happily at her wonderful daughters. And I thought Amy, the youngest sister, was miscast. I vaguely remember her as a flighty, spoiled, kid-sister type in the novel, but Florence Pugh (Midsommar) is a sturdy, husky-voiced gal who seemed more mature than all three of her “older” sisters. I expect she’ll be a better fit for her part in the upcoming Marvel movie Black Widow.
The Muppet Movie (C). I’m continuing my romp through the classics with this recent offering from fathomevents.com. Although I enjoyed the muppets TV show in my youth, I never saw this, their first theatrical release, which came out in 1979. Turns out I didn’t miss all that much. It’s the story of how Kermit the Frog (voice of Jim Henson) decided to follow his dream of being an entertainer, left his swamp, and hit the road for Hollywood. It’s a road-trip movie, with Kermit picking up a band of oddballs (Fozzie Bear (voice of Frank Oz), Miss Piggy (Oz), Gonzo (Dave Goelz), etc.) along the way while simultaneously being pursued by a fast-food-frog-legs entrepreneur (Charles Durning, O Brother, Where Art Thou?) who wants Kermit to be his front man, er, frog. The jokes and sight gags really aren’t all that funny, but the frequent musical numbers tend to be better (especially Kermit’s wistful “The Rainbow Connection”). There are loads of celebrity cameos, including Edgar Bergin, Bob Hope, Milton Berle, Mel Brooks, Big Bird, and even Orson Welles, but only Steve Martin’s rude waiter is very funny. I’m glad I saw it, but I doubt I’ll ever watch it again. (I might look for “The Rainbow Connection” on iTunes, though.)
Funny Girl (B). I was back at the Magnolia Theater this past Tuesday night for The Big Movie — the 1968 musical that was Barbra Streisand’s first movie role. In fact, I think this is only the second Streisand movie I have ever seen, the first being What’s Up, Doc?, which I saw on network TV a couple of times when I was a kid. Anyhoo, Funny Girl is a biopic about real life entertainer Fanny Brice, who performed in Ziegfeld’s Follies in the early 20th century. Streisand turns in a rip-roaring performance as Brice and tied with Katharine Hepburn for the best-actress Oscar™. Omar Sharif (Dr. Zhivago) co-stars as the suave gambler who sweeps her off her feet. It was an entertaining movie, but not quite top tier in my book. It’s two and a half hours long, which is kind of long but not long enough to justify the 15-minute intermission we were forced to sit through! Anyway, I say it’s worth seeing if you like musicals.
Apollo 11 (A). Longtime readers of this blog know The Movie Snob doesn’t hand out the “A” very often. This new documentary was a solid “A.” It consists almost entirely of film footage and a few photographs from the first moon landing back in 1969. The first 20 minutes of the film’s efficient 93-minute run time lead up to lift-off. We briefly meet the astronauts and get lots of footage of the rocket, the control room, and the many, many ordinary folks who camped out to watch the historic event. Did you know there were a couple of pre-lift-off alarms about a leaky valve? Neither did I! But the countdown continues, and then we’re off and running. Even though we all know what happened, I was on the edge of my seat for every key moment of the mission–the rocket burns, the spaceship separations and dockings, and of course the landing of the moon lander itself. And there’s no contemporary voiceover; just a couple of snippets of Walter Cronkite’s reporting. It’s like a time capsule from 50 years ago. Check it out.
Pride, Prejudice and Mistletoe (C). Who doesn’t love a good Hallmark Channel Christmas movie, by which I really mean a bad Hallmark Channel Christmas movie? I didn’t see any new offerings starring Danica McKellar (Coming Home for Christmas) this year, but the Austenite title of this Lacey Chabert (Mean Girls) vehicle reeled me in. Unfortunately, this tale bore no resemblance to Pride and Prejudice that I could see. The diminutive but toothsome Chabert sparkles as Darcy Fitzwilliam, a successful investment broker in the Big Apple. She leaves NYC for the Christmas holiday to visit her family back in small-town Ohio, and she is thrown into preparations for a charity auction that her mom has taken over at the last minute. Darcy is sad because she recently broke up with another money manager named Carl, and, although the doofy-looking Carl hangs around the movie’s periphery, we know by his minimal screen time that Darcy will instead end up with her old high-school debate-club antagonist Luke, who now runs a restaurant in town and of course gets hired to cater the charity auction. Sometimes these movies feature a recognizable star or two in the smaller roles, but this one looked like a cast of nobodies to me. My sister laughed every time Darcy’s dad appeared on screen because of his lamentable lack of acting skills. True, he read his most heartfelt lines like he was reading a menu, but come on! It’s Christmas! I wonder if A Shoe Addict’s Christmas, which we’ll watch later today, will be any better….
Coco (C+). This new Pixar feature is getting a lot of critical acclaim, but I must say it left me fairly cold. The setting is interesting: Mexico on the Day of the Dead. A boy named Miguel comes from a long line of successful shoemakers, but he yearns to become a musician. Unfortunately, his great-great-grandpa was a musician who walked out on his wife and small daughter to pursue his dream, and the family has banned all music ever since. But Miguel persists in pursing his dream on the sly, and through a series of unlikely events he gets catapulted into the land of the dead. He then rushes from place to place, meeting various deceased ancestors and trying to get back to the real world before the sun rises again. The visuals are pretty cool, but I thought the songs were unmemorable and the plot was tiresome. I didn’t recognize any of the voice actors, but they included Gael García Bernal (Letters to Juliet) and Edward James Olmos (Blade Runner 2049).
Born in China (B-). I don’t think I have seen one of these “Disneynature” Earth Day releases in a while. This one focuses on several species indigenous to China. Cranes and a certain kind of antelope get brief coverage, but the movie focuses on the giant panda, the snow leopard, and some kind of snub-nosed monkey I had never heard of before. The photography is exceptionally good, as you would expect, but the narration (provided by John Krasinski, Leatherheads) is way too sentimentalized and occasionally downright goofy. There’s very little gore, but there is still a death that might trouble the little ones and the exceptionally tenderhearted. Personally, based on the previews, I’m hoping for more from Disneynature’s 2018 release Dolphins.
The LEGO® Batman Movie (C). I thought The LEGO Movie was kind of cute, but this sequel really didn’t do it for me. The animation was kind of cool, but as usual in modern action movies everything moved so fast during the action sequences that I couldn’t even keep up with what was happening, much less appreciate the artistry. The movie was crammed with references to all the previous incarnations of Batman, including the campy Adam West TV series, and I have to admit I did laugh out loud a few times at some of the off-the-wall references. And it was kind of fun when the Joker managed to unleash a vast array of bad guys from The Phantom Zone, including Godzilla, King Kong, The Wicked Witch of the West, Voldemort, and even Sauron himself. But the movie felt overly long, and the plot about Batman’s learning to work with others and to open himself up to a new family was pedestrian. There was plenty of star power behind the voicework, though: Will Arnett (Blades of Glory) as Batman, Michael Cera (This Is the End) as Robin, Rosario Dawson (Percy Jackson & the Olympians: The Lightning Thief) as Commissioner Gordon, Ralph Fiennes (Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows: Part I) as Alfred the Butler (rather than Voldemort, for some reason), Siri herself as the computer, and Zach Galifianakis (Birdman) as The Joker, just to name the main ones.
Moana (B). First we have a short–a cute little story that dramatizes the battle between an office drudge’s fearful brain on the one hand and his excitable heart and stomach on the other. It’s kind of like a radically shortened and simplified Inside Out. The main feature is set in a Polynesian South Seas-type milieu. Moana is the high-spirited daughter of an island chief, and she thrills to her grandmother’s ancient stories of Maui, a trickster demigod who stole a gemstone from an island goddess, only to lose it in a battle with a lava demon. Could the tales be true? Lo! The Ocean itself brings the gemstone to Moana, and she must go on a quest to find Maui (voice of Dwayne Johnson, San Andreas) and force him to return the gemstone to its rightful place, lest a looming wave of darkness overwhelm her people. I give Moana high marks for beautiful visuals, enjoyable musical numbers in the early going, and an appealing heroine. The adventure plot is a little pedestrian, so I wouldn’t put this movie in the same category as first-tier Disney like Aladdin, Beauty and the Beast, or Zootopia. Nevertheless, it’s a solid, family-friendly effort.
Zootopia (A-). The latest animated offering from Disney is a delight. In a world with no humans, all the other mammals have evolved a technological (and very human-seeming) civilization. Miraculously, predators and prey now live together in peace and harmony. But species-based stereotyping is still a problem, and when rabbit Judy Hopps decides that she wants to become the first rabbit police officer in the great city of Zootopia, she sends cultural shockwaves throughout the department. The visuals of the city and its many citizens are great, and Judy herself is completely adorable. Outstanding voicework by Ginnifer Goodwin (He’s Just Not That Into You) as Judy and by Jason Bateman (Couples Retreat) as a shifty fox on the make also contribute greatly to the success of the movie. Plenty of other celebrities also contribute vocals, including Idris Elba (Thor) and Shakira. Check it out!
The Peanuts Movie (B-). I have liked Charlie Brown ever since I was a kid. Not just the Charlie Brown Christmas TV special, which I have seen a million times, or the less-seen Halloween and Thanksgiving TV specials, but also many of the old collections of old Charlie Brown comic strips. But I was surprised to hear that they were making a movie about good ol’ Charlie Brown, and I was even more surprised to hear that it was generally getting good reviews and doing pretty good box office. I guess I just didn’t think the Peanuts gang would translate well onto the big screen. Well, I saw it today, and I really didn’t think it was any great shakes. Pleasant enough, for sure, and suitable for the whole family. But I have to think quite a few youngsters out there would find it a little bit boring. The main plot involves Charlie Brown’s crush on the little red-haired girl, who moves in across the street from him and of course ends up in his class at school. So for the next several months, he tries to impress her so that she will like him. How well does that go? Well, he is Charlie Brown after all. The main subplot is the saga of Snoopy versus the Red Baron. It’s all fine enough, and there are plenty of nods to the old TV specials and comic strips. They did a great job finding voice-over artists who sound just like the voices in the old TV specials. And there’s a nice moral of the story. But somehow, unlike Snoopy’s doghouse, it just didn’t take off for me. Good grief!
Inside Out (B+). Pixar has created another winner. First, there’s a cute short about a lonely volcano out in the middle of the ocean who just wants someone to lava. <Ba-dum, ching!> Then there’s the main event. It’s a simple story about a 12-year-old girl named Riley who is unhappy because her loving parents have moved the family from Minnesota to San Francisco. But it’s not so simple at all, because we spend most of the movie inside Riley’s head, where her personified emotions run the Riley show–Joy, Sadness, Fear, Anger, and Disgust work at headquarters and do most of the heavy lifting, but in the course of the movie we see that Riley’s psyche is a complex place, with discrete geographic areas for long-term memory, imagination, abstract thought, and her subconscious. The visuals are a treat, but then we have come to expect that from Pixar. Amy Poehler (Blades of Glory) is spot on as somewhat-manic Joy, and Phyllis Smith and Mindy Kaling from TV’s The Office voice Sadness and Disgust, respectively. The liberal-arts major in me wants to critique the film’s psychology–what is the significance of the fact that we have five emotions competing to run Riley’s operating system, with reason nowhere to be seen?–but mostly I was happy to go along for a fun and thought-provoking ride.
The Music Man (B). Greetings, loyal readers, and my apologies for the long delay since my last post. Alas, this new review does not involve a new movie. Last week I saw the movie of The Music Man for the first time, and I thought it was very nice. Shirley Jones (Oklahoma!) is just beautiful as Marian the librarian. Robert Preston (How the West Was Won) was previously unknown to me, but I thought he turned in a fine performance. As you probably already know, the story is about a con man whose scam is to blow into a small town, puff up excitement for a new boys’ marching band, sell everyone uniforms and musical instruments, and then skip town without teaching any of the kids to play a note. The Simpsons once did an homage to The Music Man in which the great Phil Hartman voiced a con artist whose racket was to sell monorail systems to towns that didn’t need them. But I digress. I liked The Music Man a lot, but it could have been improved; 2 1/2 hours is way too long, and a few of the songs are so corny that they would not be missed. Still, I enjoyed it.
Paddington (B-). This family-friendly movie about a marmalade-loving bear has gotten strong reviews, but I thought it was only slightly better than passable. Paddington is a talking bear who travels from darkest Peru to modern London in search of a new home. Strangely, Londoners are completely unfazed by the presence of a bear in their midst—or by the fact that he can talk. Alone and friendless, Paddington is taken in temporarily by a kindly family headed by Henry (Hugh Bonneville, TV’s Downton Abbey) and Mary Brown (Sally Hawkins, Never Let Me Go). A wicked taxidermist played by the beautiful and talented Nicole Kidman (Trespass) is hot on Paddington’s trail, although it is beyond bizarre that a talking bear would be more valuable stuffed than alive. I guess kids would like it, and this has to be Nicole’s highest grossing movie (about $76 million to date) in a very long time.
Sense and Sensibility. This is a new stage adaptation of Jane Austen’s beloved novel by Kate Hamill, and it was my first experience with a Dallas Theater Center production. It was excellent, so I urge you to see it before it closes next weekend. It is the story of loving sisters Elinor and Marianne Dashwood. They find themselves in reduced circumstances after their father dies unexpectedly, and since this is Austen, the plot naturally turns on whether they will find happy marriages despite their precarious position in society. Sensible Elinor loves shy, stammering Edward Ferris, while passionate Marianne falls head over heels for the dashing but perhaps not entirely trustworthy Willoughby. Fine performances all around. I was surprised that the actors were not miked, but I was sitting in the fifth row and could hear everything fine. I do wonder if the folks in the back could hear as well. It makes me want to go back and rewatch Emma Thompson’s 1995 film version, and maybe even the cheesy remake From Prada to Nada (2011).
Cinderella (B+). I managed to catch this latest live-action fairy tale before it disappeared from the theaters, and I’m glad I did. It was charming. But first I should mention that there’s a new Frozen animated short before the show. It was cute. Elsa (that’s the sister with the snow magic, right?) is trying to throw her red-headed sister the perfect birthday party–but she has a head cold that threatens to unleash all sorts of magical mayhem! Then there was the main feature. It felt very faithful to the animated original–so much so that summary is probably superfluous. Lily James (Wrath of the Titans) is a beautiful, kind, and humble Cinderella, and Cate Blanchett (Blue Jasmine) is fine as the nasty stepmother. Helena Bonham Carter (Dark Shadows) makes for an eccentric fairy godmother. Of course, it’s a fairy tale, so the characters are a little two-dimensional. But director Kenneth Branagh (Henry V) delivers lots of gorgeous visuals, and those plus James’s winning performance were enough to make the movie a winner in my book.
Oklahoma! (C). Well, this 1955 musical didn’t really do it for me, as you can tell by my grade. I’m not sure why I didn’t like it more, because the songs are undeniably catchy, and Shirley Jones (TV’s The Partridge Family) makes a very cute Laurie. The story is paper-thin, but that’s not really a valid objection to a movie musical. It isn’t Crime and Punishment, after all. I think what turned me off were the several extended dance interludes, which seemed to go on forever. The balletic dance that goes on in Laurie’s mind after she takes a whiff of the traveling salesman’s perfume was a particularly long and psychedelic sequence that went on interminably. Still, the songs really were top-notch. I was surprised to learn that Oklahoma! was directed by Fred Zinneman, who also directed From Here to Eternity, A Man for All Seasons, and High Noon.
Downton Abbey‘s upstairs (Cousin Rose—Lily James in the title role) and downstairs (Daisy the kitchen maid—Sophie McShera as step-sister Drisella) meet in Kenneth Branagh’s live-action and somewhat diverse Cinderella. This visually stunning, mostly traditional telling of the classic fairy tale is a crowd pleaser for young and young at heart. Development of Ella’s back story adds substance to this Disney princess and explains her super power—kindness. Cate Blanchett is the only choice for the wicked step-mother and she delivers beautifully. The King (Derek Jacobi) gives Prince “Kit” Charming (Richard Madden—Game of Thrones) the go-ahead on his deathbed to follow his heart rather than marry for advantage. Helena Bonham Carter is the quintessential Fairy Godmother—if only she had a little more screen time. The Oscar for costume design is in the bag for Sandy Powell. The computer animated transformation of pumpkin and mice to horse-drawn carriage is captivating. The lizards turned footmen are particularly clever. The highly anticipated Frozen short before the movie will delight the Anna–Elsa fans.
Forbidden Planet (B). I saw this 1956 cult classic many years ago, but I just got the chance to see it again as part of The Magnolia Theater’s classic movie series. I remembered it as being pretty good, and indeed it was. It’s a sci-fi flick about a spaceship sent from Earth to Altair IV, a remote planet where a group of earthlings were supposed to establish a colony some 20 years earlier. Alas, only one of the original colonists is still alive—a mad-scientist type named Dr. Morbius (Walter Pidgeon, Voyage to the Bottom of the Sea)—but he is kept company by his lovely daughter Altaira (Anne Francis, Funny Girl) and an amazing automaton named Robbie the Robot. What malignant force killed the rest of the colonists, and can the dashing Commander Adams (Leslie Nielsen, Airplane!) protect his crew from meeting the same fate? Although cheesy in some ways, it is fairly sophisticated in others. (It is loosely based on Shakespeare’s The Tempest.) Gene Roddenberry supposedly drew some inspiration for Star Trek from this movie, and the movie does play a lot like an extended episode of Trek. (That’s a good thing.) In fact, the fellow who played the ship’s doctor in Forbidden Planet (Warren Stevens, The Barefoot Contessa) eventually guest-starred on a 1968 episode of Star Trek. And Robbie the Robot went on to much greater fame on TV’s Lost in Space. Anyway, it’s well worth checking out if you ever get the chance.
The Hundred-Foot Journey (B). My mom is visiting me, and I had saved this movie up for her visit because it looked like one of the few squeaky-clean movies available these days. Happily, it was just as squeaky-clean as the trailers had led me to believe it would be. The Kadam family runs a restaurant in India until political violence destroys their business and causes the death of the family’s matriarch. Papa Kadam (Om Puri, Charlie Wilson’s War) moves his family to Europe, and they wind up in a little French town where they open an Indian restaurant right across the street from a fancy French restaurant run by the haughty Madame Mallory (Helen Mirren, The Queen). One of the Kadams, Hasan (Manish Dayal, The Sorcerer’s Apprentice), is a cook with great natural talent and deeply soulful eyes, and Madame Mallory’s cute sous-chef Marguerite (Charlotte Le Bon, Mood Indigo) encourages him out by giving him some French cookbooks. It’s a little sappy, and it loses some steam in the rushed third act, but I can’t deny I enjoyed it.
Island of Lemurs: Madagascar (B). I do enjoy a good IMAX nature documentary, and this was a pretty good one. Morgan Freeman (Evan Almighty) narrates this 40-minute overview of the lemurs of Madagascar. We also meet an American scientist Patricia Wright, who has devoted her life to studying the critters and, of course, trying to protect their habitat from human destruction. The lemurs are pretty interesting, especially the adorable little mouse lemur (but note the thick gloves worn by the lab tech handling the little guy. I bet he has sharp little teeth!) And the scenery of Madagascar is pretty gorgeous too, with lots of huge stone formations jutting up unexpectedly out of the forests. This one is good for all ages–there aren’t even any disturbing scenes of animals getting killed or eaten or anything.
The Movie Snob finally makes it back to the movies.
The Lego Movie (B-). This movie is getting high marks from the critics, but I just can’t go better than “pretty good.” It’s an animated film about a world made of Legos—a world of bland conformity ruled by the Big Brother-like President Business (voice of Will Ferrell, Talladega Nights: The Ballad of Ricky Bobby). But there is a prophecy that an ordinary Lego person will rise up and break Business’s stranglehold on Legoland, and it looks like The Chosen One may be an ordinary construction worker named Emmet (voice of Chris Pratt, her). His potential chosenness is discovered by a nonconformist chick named Wyldstyle (voice of Elizabeth Banks, Definitely, Maybe), who recruits him to join some sort of rebellion against Business and his main henchman, Bad Cop (voice of Liam Neeson, The Phantom Menace). The movie has plenty of pluses. The animation can be very striking, some of the humor is pretty good, and it is fun to pick out all the famous vocal talent at work, including Morgan Freeman (The Shawshank Redemption), Will Arnett (TV’s Arrested Development), Jonah Hill (This Is the End), Alison Brie (TV’s Community), and many more. On the down side, as in many regular action movies, many of the action scenes moved so fast in places that I just gave up trying to figure out what was going on. It started to feel a little long after a while, and I didn’t think the climactic ending was all that great. Still, I give the film makers credit for trying something reasonably fresh and original. Oh, and the theme song “Everything Is Awesome” really is kind of awesome.