Movie Review: Lightyear (2022)


Title: Lightyear
Release Date: June 17, 2022
Director: Angus MacLane
Production Company: Walt Disney Pictures | Pixar Animation Studios
Summary/Review:

Lightyear is a spinoff that likely didn’t need to exist, but as a fan of Pixar animation and the Toy Story movies in particular, I feel duty-bound to watch it.  Personally, I’d rather see a movie about the lives of the puppets on the 1950s Sheriff Woody TV show.  At any rate, Lightyear offers nods to what we know about the toy Buzz Lightyear, but the action-movie character Buzz Lightyear (Chris Evans) has a story that’s largely unique.  In fact, the movie Buzz Lightyear’s story is so unique it’s hard to believe the premise that this was the movie that Andy watched in 1995.  This is a small thing though, because the movie with 2022 sensibilities is more interesting than if they tried to make it a retro-1995 type of media.

The story focuses on Lightyear serving as a Space Ranger on a exploration vehicle that due to his own error gets stranded on an inhospitable planet.  Lightyear serves as a test pilot for a new hyperdrive but due to time dilation when he returns from every one of his four minute flights, four years have passed for his companions on the planet.  Buzz sees his commander and close friend Alisha Hawthorne (Uzo Aduba) age, marry, have children and grandchildren, and ultimately die.  Upon returning from his final, successful test flight he finds the planet under attack by robots, and must team up with a ragtag crew including Alisha’s granddaughter Izze (Keke Palmer), the cowardly Mo (Taika Waititi), the elderly convict Darby (Dale Soules), and his delightful robotic cat companion Sox (Peter Sohn) to defeat the evil robots.

Lightyear is charming, funny, action-filled, and has a certain weirdness that justifies its existence as a movie.  On the other hand, it suffers in comparison to the Toy Story series.  It feels like a cash grab and yet it probably would’ve done better artistically and commercially as its own original story as opposed to being a spinoff to something else.  All that being said, this is a fine film and I’m sure many families and children will enjoy it.

Rating: ***

Movie Reviews: The Sea Beast (2022)


Title: The Sea Beast
Release Date: June 24, 2022
Director: Chris Williams
Production Company: Netflix Animation
Summary/Review:

“But you can be a hero and still be wrong.”

In a world where the oceans are filled with giant sea monsters, the heroes of the age are The Hunters.  Salty crews of sailors on ships like The Inevitable under Captain James Crow (Jared Harris) and his adopted son Jacob Holland (Karl Urban) hunt down and kill sea monsters for rewards from the King and Queen of Three Bridges.  An orphan Maisie Brumble (Zaris-Angel Hator) stow away on The Inevitable and soon ends up separated from the ship with Jacob.  They soon discover that the stories they’ve been told about the sea beasts may not be true and that there is alternative to endless war.

For a visually-compelling animated feature it’s disappointing that this movie’s primary viewing platform is Netflix, because I think it deserves the big screen experience.  Nevertheless, I think it’s an enjoyable family film with good voice work and great feel for seafaring adventure in the Age of Sail.  It touches upon a lot of topics such as political corruption, generational trauma, and reconciliation but in a way that is not too heavy-handed for younger viewers.

Rating: ***

Movie Review: Thor: Love & Thunder (2022)


 

TitleThor: Love & Thunder
Release Date: July 8, 2022
Director:Taika Waititi
Production Company: Marvel Studios
Summary/Review:

Thor (Chris Hemsworth) becomes the first Marvel superhero to have four solo features, with Waititi returning to direct after joining the series with the excellent Thor: Ragnorak.  Like its predecessor, Love & Thunder revels in good humor and a general all-around weirdness. While not as good as Ragnarok, it still proves just the kind of fun adventure with a lot of heart at its center that I need right now.

Thor has suffered several traumas and the loss of several loved ones (as depicted in previous Thor and Avengers’ movies) and has embraced an emotional distancing to cope. He only allows himself to be called on to help people who need him to fight for them. The threat in this movie comes from Gorr (Christian Bale), a man who was betrayed by his god and has taken up a sword called the Necromancer to become the God Butcher.  When Gorr adbucts all the children of New Asgard, it’s up to Thor and his surviving loved ones to save them.

Thor teams him up with s Valkyrie (Tessa Thompson), Korg (Waititi), and his former girlfriend Dr. Jane Foster (Natalie Portman), as well as a pair of screaming goats. And in a twist, Thor’s powerful hammer Mjolnir, once destroyed, has called to Jane and made her The Mighty Thor.  It’s all a bit complicated but fun in a a weird way.  Together they have some mighty adventures.  The fights are good, the jokes are better, but the camaraderie is the heart of this movie.

Rating: ***1/2

 

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TV Review: Obi-Wan Kenobi (2022)


Title Obi-Wan Kenobi
Release Date: 2022
Creator/Head Writer/Showrunner:  Deborah Chow
Episodes: 6
Production Company:  Lucasfilm
Summary/Review:

The Star Wars franchise has a way of defying my expectations for good or for ill.  There are some things I eagerly anticipated seeing that ended up being rather bad (The Phantom Menace, The Rise of Skywalker).  Then there are things that I originally questioned why they needed to be made that turned out to be among the best Star Wars works ever (Rogue One, The Mandalorian).

When I heard there would be a show about Obi-Wan Kenobi set between Revenge of the Sith and Star Wars, I didn’t really think that there was any good story to be told during that time.  Then the news that Hayden Christensen was cast to return as Anakin Skywalker/Darth Vader, I wondered what the point was since he’d be behind a mask and voiced by James Earl Jones.  Well, all of my questions were answered to my satisfaction and beyond in this series that really delves into some of the most compelling characters in the Star Wars universe.

For all the flaws of the prequels, it did have some talented actors with Ewan McGregor among this best.  This show allows McGregor to flourish as he portrays the Jedi master dealing with guilt and isolation as he’s separated himself from the Force while watching over they young Luke Skywalker (Grant Feely).  Christensen, who was criminally underserved by the poor scripts in the prequel, gets to show off his acting chops as well.  Newcomer Moses Ingram appears as Reva Sevander, a Force-sensitive Inquisitor working for the Empire to hunt down Jedi, also does a great job.

Of course, the best part of this series was a huge surprise and I’m going to hide it below the trailer in case you’ve read this far but don’t want to see spoilers.

Continue reading “TV Review: Obi-Wan Kenobi (2022)”

Movie Review: Doctor Strange in the Multiverse of Madness (2022)


Title: Doctor Strange in the Multiverse of Madness
Release Date: May 6, 2022
Director: Sam Raimi
Production Company: Marvel Studios
Summary/Review:

I wasn’t a big fan of Doctor Strange (2016), but Benedict Cumberbatch has done a good job with the character in various other MCU films including Spider-Man: No Way Home (2021).  So I did look forward to this film, especially since it also promised the return of Wanda Maximoff (Elizabeth Olsen) after the events of WandaVision.  The multiverse has been a recurring theme of Phase 4 especially in the tv series Loki and What If... and in No Way Home, and this movie leans into the “madness” of its title.

The basic plot involves a young woman named America Chavez (Xochitl Gomez) who has the power to jump between universes although she is not able to control it.  America arrives in the main MCU universe (Earth-616) pursued by a giant demon who is sent after her by someone seeking to take away America’s power, which would kill her.  Doctor Strange and Wong (Benedict Wong) agree to help and defend America leading into a heavily action-filled adventure. In another universe, they are aided by Stephen Strange’s ex Christine Palmer (Rachel McAdams). They also meet a crowd-pleasing team of alternate universe superheroes with actors Chiwetel Ejiofor, Patrick Stewart, Hayley Atwell, Lashana Lynch, and Anson Mount reprising their roles from other Marvel properties and John Krasinski making a first appearance as a well-known character.

Director Sam Raimi is best known for his camp horror movies like Evil Dead and brings a horror aesthetic to this film as well.  That means we see our protagonists chased by demons and a blood-soaked villain as well as scenes with a heavily-decayed zombie.  There are a lot of brutal deaths in this movie which make it feel more dangerous than other entries in the MCU and may not be suitable for young children or anyone who is squeamish.

There’s a lot that I can quibble with about this movie, although it’s a definite improvement over its predecessor.  I especially felt that the chemistry between Strange and Christine was never strong and it makes the “lost love” element of the plot a tough sell.  America feels more like a MacGuffin than a character for much of the film, although she does get a good moment in the denouement.  Despite the multiverse being a recurring theme in the MCU, this movie felt oddly self-contained as it had no connection with previous multiverse stories.  I also felt that Loki and the non-MCU movie Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse did a much better job with the possibilities of the multiverse for storytelling.  Ultimately, I enjoyed this movie as a it was pretty much nonstop action set pieces with a lot of visual flair.

SCROLL PAST THE TRAILER FOR MORE THOUGHTS WITH SPOILERS

Rating: ***

Continue reading “Movie Review: Doctor Strange in the Multiverse of Madness (2022)”

Movie Review: Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon (2000)


Title: Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon
Release Date: 7 July 2000
Director: Ang Lee
Production Company: Columbia Pictures Film Production Asia | Good Machine International | Edko Films | Zoom Hunt Productions | China Film Co-Production Corp. | Asian Union Film & Entertainment Ltd.
Summary/Review: I last watched Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon when it was released in US theaters 21 years ago and it turns out I remembered very little of the movie.  The one thing that stuck with me was the duel fought on the tops of a forest of bamboo which remains an awe-inspiring image in this rewatch.

The film centers on Jen Yu (Zhang Ziyi), the daughter of a governor who is promised in marriage but yearns for a life free to determine on her own terms.  She learns Wudang skills from a bandit named Jade Fox (Cheng Pei-pei) who is disguised as her governess and steals a famed sword named Green Destiny from the renowned swordsman Li Mu Bai (Chow Yun-fat).  Mu Bai and his friend Yu Shu Lien (Michelle Yeoh) investigate the theft of the sword and attempt to aid Jen who resists any interference.

The movie features several wuxia fight setpieces, and in addition to being amazing action sequences also are all rooted in relationships and plot points.  I’m impressed at how central women are in almost all the roles of this film especially since in just the last decade it’s been “controversial” for women to be centered in Hollywood action films.  I also was really touched by the unspoken romance between Mu Bai and Shu Lien which is paid off in the film’s denouement.  Chow and Yeoh are really terrific actors and express a lot of emotion with very little external display.

Rating: ****

Movie Review: Pee-wee’s Big Adventure (1985)


Title: Pee-wee’s Big Adventure
Release Date:August 9, 1985
Director: Tim Burton
Production Company: Aspen Film Society
Summary/Review:

“The mind plays tricks on you. You play tricks back! It’s like you’re unraveling a big cable-knit sweater that someone keeps knitting and knitting and knitting and knitting and knitting and knitting and knitting…”

Pee-wee Herman just kind of existed in the ether of the early 80s as this obnoxious man-child character.  Created by actor Paul Reubens, Pee-wee basically became his identity.  In fact, the credits for this movie say “Pee-wee Herman” as himself.  At any rate, those of us were around in the 80s were uncertain about a whole movie about this character.  But it got good reviews, and I remember going to see it with my family on our vacation to Martha’s Vineyard.

Turns out, it’s an absurdist masterpiece.  I don’t know how many times I watched this as a kid, but returning to it after several decades, I can tell it’s lost nothing.  The basic story is that Pee-wee’s bike is stolen and he goes on a cross-country journey to the Alamo to find it.  It ends up being one of the best bicycle-themed movies ever made, along with Bicycle Thieves and Breaking Away. It also shares a meta-commentary on Hollywood movies with The Muppet Movie.

But really, this is a movie for misfits and weirdos.  All the people Pee-wee meets along the way basically find happiness from their encounter no matter how much of an outcast they may be.  Plus there’s just a lot of random weirdness, and one moment that haunted my childhood nightmares (“Tell ’em, Large Marge sent ya!”).  Tim Burton, a former animator at Walt Disney, made his feature-length directorial debut here seemingly a perfect match for Pee-wee’s eccentricity. The score by Danny Elfman is best described as Clown College Fight Song music and also fits in perfectly.

“There are thousands and thousands of uses for corn, all of which I will tell you about right now.”

Rating: ****

Movie Review: Free Guy (2021)


Title: Free Guy
Release Date: August 13, 2021
Director: Shawn Levy
Production Company: Berlanti Productions | 21 Laps Entertainment | Maximum Effort | Lit Entertainment Group | TSG Entertainment
Summary/Review:

Guy (Ryan Reynolds) doesn’t know that he lives in a video game as a non-playing character (NPC), and seems content with living in a city where violent crime is routine.  The game, Free City, is a product from the company of melomaniac Antwan (Taika Waititi).  Game developer Millie (Jodie Comer) enters the game to seek out her source code that she believes Antwan stole from her, sometimes with the help of her former partner Keys (Joe Keery of Stranger Things fame). Meeting Millie prompts Guy to become more self-aware and evolve as an artificial life form, prompting a revolution among the NPCs.

I won’t go too much more into the plot as it’s one of those plots that gets too convoluted and doesn’t make much sense if you think of it too much.  The premise of this movie reminds me of The LEGO Movie and The Truman Show, but not so much that it doesn’t stand on its own. The real point of this movie is to see the charming Ryan Reynolds do action, comedy, and romance which he does well, and it features enough fun gags to make it worth the watch.   I was also interested in seeing Free Guy because I remember when it was being filmed in Boston.  Boston looks good as a video game setting and it was especially unnerving to see familiar Boston landscapes disintegrating in one scene.

Rating:***

Movie Review: The Adventures of Robin Hood


Title: The Adventures of Robin Hood
Release Date: May 14, 1938
Director: Michael Curtiz and William Keighley
Production Company: Warner Bros. Pictures
Summary/Review:

I have not read Robin Hood books and the only Robin Hood movies I’ve seen are the 1973 Disney animated film and Robin Hood: Men in Tights. And yet, I feel I’ve absorbed most of the Robin Hood mythology by osmosis, and thus The Adventures of Robin Hood feels to me like it’s the iconic Robin Hood story.  The films strengths include a technicolor brilliance that looks better than many color films made decades later.  It also has the captivating performance of Errol Flynn in the lead role.  Flynn feels very modern in his acting, like he could time travel to the future and replace George Clooney in a contemporary movie.

The cast overall is strong with Olivia de Havilland (Lady Marian Fitzwalter), Basil Rathbone (Guy of Gisbourne), Claude Rains (King John), Eugene Pallette (Friar Tuck), Alan Hale, Sr. (Little John), and Herbert Mundin (Herbert Mundin) among others.  There are great action sequences and Flynn gets to exchange zingers with Rathbone and Rains.  There’s also a lot of people throwing their heads back in explosive laughter and men dropping out of trees in ambush.  It’s a fun movie but it feels very slight in the connective tissue between the big set pieces.

Rating: ***1/2

Movie Review: The Princess Bride (1987)


Title: The Princess Bride
Release Date: September 25, 1987
Director: Rob Reiner
Production Company: Act III Communications | Buttercup Films | The Princess Bride Ltd.
Summary/Review:

I don’t remember The Princess Bride making any impression when it got its theatrical release in 1987, but in the ensuing years it was played endlessly on cable tv. When I was in college in 1991, it was a movie frequently rented and watched among my friend groups.  And that was how it became a beloved classic!

At the time I first watched The Princess Bride, fantasy action adventure movies were rather unusual, seemingly old fashioned.  And yet it was also modern with self-referential humor that also felt unusual for the time.  Years later I would read the original book by William Goldman, itself a classic that bridges the border between spoof and homage to fairy tale romance.  The movie proved to be a master class in adapting a great book by capturing the spirit of the book rather than the literal. This is fitting since the book was a parody of adaptation.

The success of the movie is due to its terrific cast.  Cary Elwes and Robin Wright, then hot young newcomers, lead the film as Westley and Buttercup and in my mind are forever associated with those roles.  Mandy Patinkin, André Roussimoff, and Wallace Shawn play the trio of villains Inigo, Fezzik, and Vizzini (the former two latter become heroes). The real villains are Prince Humperdinck (Chris Sarandon) and his sadistic henchman with six fingers, Count Rugen (Christopher Guest).  The supporting cast includes comic legend like Carol Kane, Billy Crystal, Mel Smith, and Peter Kane.  And then there’s a framing story with Peter Falk and Fred Savage as a grandfather and grandson reading the story.

 

Rating: ****