Title: Ralph Breaks the Internet
Release Date: November 21, 2018
Director: Rich Moore | Phil Johnston
Production Company: Walt Disney Pictures
The sequel to Wreck-It Ralph picks up the story 6 years later with Ralph content living his days predictably with his friend Vanellope, while Vanellope yearns to break the routine. When the steering wheel breaks on the Sugar Rush machine and the arcade owner decides that its too expensive to replace because the company that made it is defunct. So Ralph and Vanellope head into the newly installed wifi router to purchase a replacement wheel on eBay. That is the first of many prominent product placements in the movie.
In order to pay for the new wheel, they take up jobs from spammers and Ralph becomes an online influencer by making lots of meme videos for likes. Vanellope also spends sometime at the Disney social media website, visiting with her fellow Disney Princesses, a hillarious bit of self-satire. The pair also enter a Grand Theft Auto-type game which terrifies Ralph but excites Vanellope with its unpredictable driving. Vanellope wishes to stay leading Ralph to be insecure and possessive, and ultimate manifest as a Ralph-virus that is the nightmare fodder for the film. Obviously, they work things out by the end, with some important messages about friendship.
A lot of the gags and satire of the internet are funny, but this movie is not going to make much sense outside of historical research in a few years. Even a year after release, a lot of the gags seem dated. The focus of the film isn’t very strong either as it seems mostly a plot to link together the various internet-related gags. It’s entertaining but I don’t think it stands up as well as its predecessor.
Title: Legally Blonde
Release Date: July 13, 2001
Director: Robert Luketic
Production Company: Type A Films | Marc Platt Productions | Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer
Some time ago, I saw online that Legally Blonde is a better movie than it appears and added it to my Netflix queue. Since I saw that it was leaving Netflix, I decided that it was time to watch it. And it was pretty much as bad as I thought it would be. The basic premise of this movie is that a prosperous, white woman has to overcome prejudice against her blonde hair to succeed at Harvard Law School. It’s really that cringeworthy. And worse, her reason for applying to Harvard is to prove her self worthy of her snobby ex-boyfriend, Warner (Matthew Davis).
There are two saving graces to this movie. One, is that Reese Witherspoon plays Elle Woods with a lot of charm and nuance. She could’ve easily been characterized as selfish, snarky, or snobby, but instead she is kind. Elle never says anything bad about anyone unless they were mean to her first, and she’s usually trying to help people and share her joie de vivre. Some of the best parts of this movie are when Elle is hanging out with Paulette (charmingly played by Jennifer Coolidge), a shy, older woman who works at a Cambridge nail salon. The other saving grace is that the movie sets up Vivian, a preppy woman from Connecticut engaged to Warner, as a rival, but in a nice twist they become best friends. I also enjoy watching the transitions from establishing shots outside the real Harvard campus to locations on a campus that’s obviously not Harvard.
For the most part, the jokes miss more than the hit, and the plots is absurd, with Elle becoming an intern on a murder defense case, and then actually being hired as council, being the most ridiculous.
Release Dates: 2019
Number of Episodes: 6
The second season of Fleabag is even better than the first. These tightly scripted and plotted episodes tell a story of human fraility and resilience that is full of laughs and heartbreaks. The series begins a year after the first series and Fleabag has been ostracized by her family in the interim due to her actions in the first series. But the show begins with the family reunited for Dad and Godmother’s engagement dinner. Claire is still with Martin, but commuting regularly to Finland for her new job there. A sixth guest at the table is the priest who will preside over the wedding. Christened on social media as “Hot Priest” and portrayd by the excellent Andrew Scott, he has a lot of similarity to Fleabag, including the tendency to say inappropriate things out loud and drinking too much, but the good qualities as well. The main focus of the series is the friendship and the illicit romance between that grows between Flebag and Hot Priest. But the show also delves further into Fleabag’s trauma over the deaths of her mother and her best friend, Boo, as well as her efforts to repair the relationship with her surviving family. It’s an excellent, bawdy comedy that somehow also delves right into the heart of humanity and relationships.
Release Dates: 2016
Number of Episodes: 6
Fleabag is a British comedy series created and starring Phoebe Waller-Bridge. In the show, Waller-Bridge portrays a 30-year-old woman in London who is sarcastic, has several strained relationships, and engages in lots of recreational sex. At first I thought this was going to be one of those “a person in their 20s sleeping around and having a wacky life, isn’t it so relatable” types of shows that I never find relatable. Thankfully, it is not like that at all.
Waller-Bridge’s character has sexual relationships with three different men over the course of the series, but they are negligible compared with her relationships with her family and friends which are the focus of the show. Her mother died three years earlier and her father (Bill Paterson) has been distant ever since, but does things like send her and her sister Claire (Sian Clifford) to feminist lectures and silent retreats. Things with her older sister are also not so good as Claire is much more serious and is married to her absolutely awful husband Martin (Brett Gelman). Her father is also romantically involved with their Godmother (Olivia Colman), far too soon after their mother’s death. Colman is an actor I always enjoy, but her portrayal of the absolute worst kind of pretentious, manipulative, and passive aggressive person is so good that I want to hate her. Finally, Waller-Bridge’s character feels grief and guilt over the recent death of her best friend and business partner Boo (Jenny Rainsford, who appears in flashbacks) who was hit by a car.
All the actors in this show are absolutely spectacular. Over the course of the series, their stories are woven into wacky adventures, and somewhere along the way, we the audience find ourselves caring deeply for these people even if they can be kind of awful. One of the features of the show is Phoebe Waller-Bridge frequently breaking the fourth wall to bring us into the situation with a wisecrack or look. This mannerism could be irritating in other hands but Waller-Bridge never fails to be funny, and she has the most expressive face. And after all the laughter, don’t be surprised if you find yourself crying at the end of the series because it’ll hit you in the feels.
By the way, it wasn’t until after I watched the entire series that I discovered that “Fleabag” is the name given to the main character! She’s never referred that way on screen, perhaps its meant to represent the way she thinks of herself at her most self-loathing.
Title:The Unicorn Store
Release Date: April 5, 2019
Director: Brie Larson
Production Company: The District
This movie directed by and starring Brie Larson is about a girl named Kit who grows up enjoying princesses, fairies, and rainbows and yearns to be an artists. But when the professor at her art school disapproves her Lisa Frank-style painting, Kit flunks out of college and is forced to move back in with her parents. Suffering from depression Kit decides that she has to become a responsible adult and takes a temp job. Some of the funniest scenes are basically Kit cosplaying at adulthood, and finding the people in the office is are also neither mature nor have it all together. (And 20+ years after being a temp myself, I had to laugh that temps are still expected to make lots of photocopies, and are complimented for being good at it).
Kit receives strange invitations which lead her to The Store where The Salesman offers to fulfill her dream of owning a unicorn. The Salesman is played by Samuel L. Jackson (who had such great chemistry with Larson in Captain Marvel) who plays against his tough guy persona, but still manages to drop in some profanities. In order to earn the unicorn, Kit must provide her a home, food, and a loving environment (meaning she has to work out her diffrences with her parents).
Kit takes on the first task by hiring Virgil (Mamoudou Athie) from a local hardware store to build a unicorn house. Virgil is also in a low-level job for which he feels he has not talent and is uncertain about his future, and it appears he takes on the seemingly absurd task out of curiousity more than anything else. But Kit and Virgil form a bond and their friendship begins to help them grow and change. Kit also gets the opportunity from her creepy boss to work on an ad campaign, which gives her a chance to use her artistic talents.
The unicorn plot could’ve gone in some predictable ways. Either The Saleman could’ve been a scam artist or Kit could’ve been delusional. But I’m glad that the story went another way entirely. The premise of the movie is basically having the Manic Pixie Dream Girl trope be the main character and then justifying her place as a real person. After all athletic boys are allowed to become jocks when their men even if they no longer play sports, and the itnerests of nerdy boys are well catered to for adult men, so why not make a space for women who still love unicorns and rainbows.
The cast in this film are great, especially Athie and Joan Cusack and Bradley Whitford as Kit’s parents. Nevertheless, I felt the humor was just a bit off and the movie was less satisfying than it had the potential to be.
Title: Christopher Robin
Release Date: August 3, 2018
Director: Marc Forster
Production Company: Walt Disney Studios Motion Pictures
Out of a love of Pooh and a curious nature, I decided to watch Disney’s
latest cash grab loving live-action tribute to the classic animated Winnie the Pooh films. Here is a story of a beloved character from a children’s story growing up and finding himself so entangled in the adult responsibilities of work that he is unable to form a relationship with his child. That is, until the beloved – seemingly imaginary – characters of his childhood enter his real life and help him rediscover joy in life and connect with his own child. Yes, this is the plot of the 1991 blockbuster Hook.
To be fair, while I hated Hook, and it rankles me that the creators of Christopher Robin couldn’t come up with a different and better plot, I find it a relatively more enjoyable film. While Hook was abrasive in its winking references, Christophe Robin is sweet and gentle, as it should be. And to be fair to Christopher Robin (Ewan McGregor), he’s working too hard not because he’s an egotistical workaholic but because his lazy, affluent boss (Mark Gattis, who seems to be typecast in these roles) will fire all the employees if Robin can’t find a way to balance the budget.
The movie’s tone is very melancholy, and even the color palette seems drained. The filmmakers even cast the great Hayley Atwell as Christopher’s wife and then hardly used her, which feels wasteful. Pooh and friends are the best part of the movie, and while this is “live-action,” they are animated with CGI. You wouldn’t know it though, as they look like they could be puppets right down to detail of their fuzzy fur (Owl & Rabbit, who are not based on toys, are depicted as anthropomorphic versions of a real owl and rabbit). McGregor plays the surreal scenes of interacting with toys and animals in the 100 Acres Wood well. And it’s cute that Pooh & Co. not only bring Robin closer his daughter Madeline (Bronte Carmichael), but they also solve his problem at work.
It’s just a shame that this slight, charming film couldn’t have been truer to the spirit of its source material. It could’ve been so much more.
Title: Russian Doll
Release Dates: 2019
Number of Episodes: 8
This clever tv show features the comedic talents of Natasha Lyonne as Nadia, a woman who dies repeatedly and keeps returning to relive her 36th birthday party. The time loop concept is similar to Groundhog’s Day, a similarity the show doesn’t try to hide. I also felt it shared some qualities with Donnie Darko, and Run, Lola, Run, especially in that the show feels like a video game character that dies and always returns to the same starting point. Not coincidentally, Nadia is a software designer for a game company who created a particularly difficult game.
The twist here – and this is a SPOILER if you haven’t watched the show – comes in the third episode cliffhanger where Nadia meets Alan (Charlie Barnett, who could easily be cast in an Alex Rodriguez biopic), a young man who is also repeatedly dying and coming back to life. While Nadia is struggling with her troubled childhood with her mentally ill mother (who died at the age of 36), Alan is challenged by being dumped by his long-time girlfriend on the night he planned to propose to her. The great thing about this show’s plot is not only to they have to come to terms with their problems in order to get on with their lives (literally here, but also metaphorically) but they also have to help one another to do so.
Russian Doll is by turns really dark, acerbically funny and very sweet.
Title: Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt
Release Dates: 2019
Season: 4, part 2
Number of Episodes: 6
The final six episodes of the Netflix series Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt are technically part of the 4th season, but tonaly are different from the six episodes released last summer. I was disappointed by the mediocrity of the first half of season 4, but the final 6 are something of a return to form. Perhaps it’s not as strong as the series was in its first three season, but they’ve avoided the unfunny mean-spiritedness that marred last summer’s episodes. A highlight of the season is an episode that parodies the movie Sliding Doors and shows all the characters’ alternate lives in a way that’s funny and actual develops the characters too. All in all, this is a satisfactory farewell to a great tv show that may have overstayed its welcome.
Title: Wreck-It Ralph
Release Date: November 2, 2012
Director: Rich Moore
Production Company: Walt Disney Pictures
Wreck-It Ralph does for video games what Toy Story did for toys, depicting the life of what arcade game characters do when no one is playing. Wreck-It Ralph (John C. Reilly) is a character modeled on Donkey Kong, except he’s a big human rather than a big gorilla, who smashes things up until the hero, Fix-It Felix, Jr. (Jack McBrayer), comes to save the day. Feeling slighted that he’s not invited to Felix’s party for the 30th anniversary of the game, Ralph leaves the game to seek a medal that shows he can be a hero too.
Ralph ends up in a hyper-violent first-person shooter game called Hero’s Duty, where he’s able to get a medal, but also picks up a dangerous Cy-Bug. Entering an escape pod, Ralph and the Cy-Bug are launched into another game, Sugar Rush, a go-kart race game set in a land of candy. There Ralph meets Vanellope (Sarah Silverman), a character who is an outsider in Sugar Rush due to glitches that make her teleport. At first adversarial, Ralph and Vanellope team up and become friends, working together so that they can each find acceptance in their games. Reilly and Silverman (and the animators) deserve a lot of credit for making the scenes between the two so heart-wrenching.
While not a particularly original story, Wreck-It Ralph has strong characters, brilliant visuals, and a lot of heart. There are also a lot of gags and cameos that should be a treat for long-time gamers. There’s also some nice touches in giving the characters from older games some 8-bit flourishes even in the CGI animation. There’s also a scene of body horror featuring King Candy (Alan Tudyk, channelling Ed Wynn as the Mad Hatter) that challenges Judge Doom falling into the vat of dip in Who Framed Roger Rabbit? for Disney-induced nightmare fodder, so be warned. Overall, Wreck-It Ralph is another quality family film from Disney.
Release Date: November 21, 2008
Director: Chris Williams and Byron Howard
Production Company: Walt Disney Pictures
Bolt is a unapreciated gem from the Walt Disney Animation Studios. The story is about Bolt, a German Shepherd (voiced by John Travolta), who stars in an action-adventure tv series as a bioengineered dog working with his teenaged owner, Penny (voiced by Miley Cyrus, and by the way, nice trick of getting teen idols of different eras working together). The conceit of the movie is that the entire production crew treat Bolt as if he is a dog with super powers in order to get the most natural performance from him. In this sense, it’s basically a doggy version of The Truman Show.
When Bolt escapes from his trailer in Hollywood and accidentally mailed to New York City he must find his way back home. Helping him in this The Incredible Journey type of story is a cynical but tender-hearted alley cat, Mittens (Susie Essman), and the energetic hamster, Rhino (Mark Walton), who recognizes and reveres Bolt as a superdog from watching the tv show. Along the journey, Mittens has to convince Bolt that he’s an ordinary dog – reminiscent of Woody convincing Buzz that he’s a toy – but with heartwarming scenes of Mittens teaching Bolt to enjoy regular dog things.
I’ve pointed out some similarities that Bolt shares with other movies, but even where Bolt feels familiar, it pieces these elements together in a fresh way. It’s also a very funny movie, I particularly like the recurring pigeon characters. In many ways it feels more like a Pixar film of that era (it came out not too long after Ratatouille), than a Disney Animation film of that same period, and perhaps would’ve been better received if it was released as a Pixar movie. Perhaps not surprisingly this is also the first movie developed after former Pixar chief John Lasseter had control over all of Disney’s animation studios. And it can’t be denied that Lasseter had good judgement in making movies, even if he is a lousy person who sexually violated his employees (good riddance!).
If you like funny and heartwarming family films, and you like heroic dogs, you can’t go wrong with Bolt.