Archive for the Adventure Category

The Croods: A New Age

Posted in Adventure, Animation, Comedy, Family with tags on November 23, 2020 by Mark Hobin

Rating: 3.5 out of 5.

I wasn’t especially fond of The Croods back in 2013 when I saw it. I railed against its modern attitude and the antagonistic relationship between father and daughter. I still gave it a passable review because it was mostly pleasant. Now I haven’t re-watched it since, so I’m not sure if I’ve changed or if The Croods: A New Age is indeed a better movie. Don’t get me wrong, this is not deep. It basically coasts on physical comedy. Nonetheless, it’s such a sunny upbeat delight that it was enough to charm me into believing this is an improvement.

It helps that the story is more elaborate than merely “daughter butts heads with an overprotective father.” Everyone in the Crood household is back including Guy (Ryan Reynolds) — the boyfriend of Eep (Emma Stone) — who now lives with the clan. This time the so-called “threat” is a seemingly innocent family who has advanced beyond the Croods in intelligence and evolution. They’re the Bettermans. Psst…..their name is allegorical. Get it? Actors Peter Dinklage and Leslie Mann really bring their A-game in voicing these fussy characters. There’s something acutely absurd in the contrast. Grug (Nicolas Cage) and Ugga (Catherine Keener) Crood are so thoroughly unrefined while Phil and Hope Betterman are upscale types that act like they’re ready to lead a yoga class. They welcome the Croods into their beautiful home and Grug brings the havoc. Grug can’t seem to understand the concept of a wall.

This is a very funny movie. There are plenty of laughs to be mined simply in that dichotomy. Then the narrative develops a little further. The adventure revolves around the Betterman’s daughter Dawn (Kelly Marie Tran) who is comparatively down to earth for a Betterman. She admires Eep and they forge a fast friendship. The fact that they aren’t depicted as rivals is a refreshing surprise. Also, the Bettermans already know Guy. That previous connection makes relationships a bit complicated. The New Age is still a slapstick affair at heart but the zaniness is intelligently introduced and then focused. There’s a glee here that recalls the work of animation legend Tex Avery for Warner Bros and MGM. For example, when Dawn’s hand is stung by a bee it swells to such a puffy cartoonish size it looks like an inflatable balloon. It’s not a profound film. I’ll probably forget the details in a week or two. However, I frequently laughed while watching this, and in 2020 that counts for a lot.

11-20-20

On the Rocks

Posted in Adventure, Comedy, Drama with tags on November 10, 2020 by Mark Hobin

Rating: 2.5 out of 5.

Has anyone noticed this? As the sheer drama of the everyday news gets more fantastical and bizarre, the storylines in movies seem more and more rooted in reality. On the Rocks reflects that trend to the point that it is merely a chronicle that details someone with a suspicious feeling. Hollywood has long relied on science fiction and fantasy for its big-budget tent-poles. The New Mutants and Tenet are recent examples. I get that Hollywood hasn’t released much over the past nine months but where are the low-cost science fiction and fantasy flicks? Vivarium, Sputnik, and Possessor immediately come to mind, but those are the exception in an industry where it used to be the rule. Ah, but I digress. On the Rocks came out in October to AppleTV. Written and directed by Sofia Coppola, it stars Bill Murray and Rashida Jones. Coppola famously worked with Murray in Lost in Translation back in 2003, so devotees of that film may appreciate this as a reunion of sorts.

A simple deliberation on humanity can be refreshing. The story concerns Laura (Rashida Jones), a wife who suspects that her husband Dean (Marlon Wayans) is cheating. Bill Murray portrays her father Felix who wants to trail the husband detective style with his daughter by his side and determine beyond any doubt whether Dean is in fact disloyal. Laura is a sweet and likable novelist who is struggling to finish her latest book. Felix is a successful art dealer and a bit of a lothario. Perhaps Laura’s husband is somewhat like her dad? The script gets a lot of humor from the exasperated reactions from his daughter. Murray and Jones have lovely chemistry together. They do indeed make a nice team. The New York locations add a cosmopolitan feel to the narrative and Philippe Le Sourd’s cinematography beautifully exploits that.

This is a slight account built around an extremely thin storyline. Not a lot happens. It essentially coasts on the considerable charm of its stars. I’m not saying it’s bad. However, the wistful but conventional tone wasn’t enough to captivate this particular viewer. It’s never a good sign when a 96-minute movie is so inconsequential that you have to watch it in two parts. I watched a full hour before checking out and returning the next day to finish it up. On the Rocks has gotten positive reviews. It’s unquestionably well-acted. Both Murray and Jones imbue their characters with genuine pathos, but the subject is surprisingly mundane for a Sofia Coppola screenplay. She directed the less old-fashioned Somewhere back in 2010. I suppose if you’re a fan of that film and its leisurely pace then I’d recommend this one to you as well.

11-05-20

Over the Moon

Posted in Adventure, Animation, Comedy with tags on November 5, 2020 by Mark Hobin

Rating: 2.5 out of 5.

Over the Moon is an early frontrunner for Best Animated Feature at the 2021 Oscars. The hype doesn’t help. Unrealistic hope can affect your enjoyment and this set mine unnecessarily high. Netflix has made it a habit of buying up animated movies and releasing them as originals. Recent titles include The Little Prince, I Lost My Body, Klaus, The Willoughbys, Fearless, A Whisker Away, Animal Crackers, and Pets United. They run the gamut in quality, so I usually temper my expectations.

The production has a pedigree too. It’s co-directed by Glen Keane, the legendary Disney luminary who worked on The Little Mermaid, Beauty and the Beast, Aladdin, and many others. He won the Best Animated Short Film Oscar for the fawning Dear Basketball co-written and narrated by Kobe Bryant. This release is actually put out by Shanghai-based Pearl Studio who brought us Abominable in 2019. Given the talent involved and the positive buzz, I expected a lot more.

The story sounds culturally adventurous and otherworldly. The tale is adapted from a fable about the Chinese goddess of the Moon. It concerns a 14-year-old girl in China named Fei Fei (Cathy Ang). She believes in the Moon goddess Chang’e (Phillipa Soo) because of stories her mother (Ruthie Ann Miles) told her. Unfortunately her mom is terminally ill. After Ma Ma passes on, Fei Fei yearns to travel to the heavens in a rocket ship and prove to everyone that Chang’e is not a myth and that she does truly exist.

Over the Moon is a mixed bag. On the plus side, this is a beautifully animated saga full of colorful designs and expressive creatures. The impressive spectacle is the production’s greatest asset. Fei Fei does indeed fly to the moon. There she meets a wacky world of alien critters. Yet their personalities would be more at home on an American sitcom. It heavily relies on successful works of the past too. There’s goofy sidekick Gobi (Ken Jeong) with the temperament of Olaf the snowman from Frozen. Meanwhile, the Moon goddess is revealed to be less of an ethereal being and more of a spoiled pop princess. Can you feel my disappointment?

The account begins as sensitive handling of death and remarriage, then presents an unrelated adventure that tidily resolves complicated emotional issues at the end. It’s not hard to see the DNA of other films. The aforementioned Frozen, but also Up, Alice in Wonderland, Mulan, the Pixar short Bao. Chinese culture has been superficially inserted as atmosphere to infuse a very bland and generic screenplay. I sound like a broken record because I made the same “Americanized” critique of Abominable. It’s worth noting the voice cast is Asian American. Representation in storytelling and casting is more important than ever. However, Mulan supported Asian actors (Ming-Na Wen, Lea Salonga, BD Wong, Pat Morita, James Hong, George Takei) way back in 1998 and still managed to promote unique and interesting characters as well. Mulan highlighted some very catchy songs to boot. I appreciate the effort it took to make this a musical. There is a smattering of tunes but nothing is memorable. This is a passable time-filler for adults and a 100-minute babysitter for young kids.

10-16-20

Enola Holmes

Posted in Adventure, Crime, Drama on September 26, 2020 by Mark Hobin

Rating: 3.5 out of 5.

Enola spelled backward is “alone.” Eudoria (Helena Bonham Carter) raised her daughter (Millie Bobby Brown) to be an independent, freethinking woman. Enola Holmes is also pretty good at defending herself in a fight. Just as the mind of every Disney heroine of the past 30 years has been implanted with a progressive identity, this 19th-century English woman likewise promotes the feminist ideology of our current era. Mother Eudoria is an activist in the women’s suffrage movement. That would explain Eudoria’s decision to raise her daughter in this manner. However why Eudoria doesn’t reveal her passion for this political cause to Enola is a mystery.

Ok so granted, Enola has a personality that seems a bit anachronistic. She may push boundaries and resist social norms but she remains witty, graceful, and even demure when called upon to be. A remarkable creature that can be all things to all people. Enola is the teen sister of the much older Sherlock Holmes (Henry Cavill) and his stern brother Mycroft (Sam Claflin). They both left home years ago and so it is now just Enola and her mother. On her fourteenth birthday, Eudoria disappears and it’s up to Enola to figure out what happened.

This enjoyable chronicle is based on The Enola Holmes Mysteries. The series of young adult books by author Nancy Springer has been adapted by screenwriter Jack Thorne. The Case of the Missing Marquess is the first novel published in 2006 and the basis for this film. The search for Enola’s absent mother occupies her pursuit at first. Then she meets the young Viscount Tewkesbury (Louis Partridge) who is pursued by a bowler hat-wearing assassin (Burn Gorman). They eventually part ways but the fear that his life is in danger continues to vex her. She may outwardly dismiss him as a “useless boy” but her obsession with Tewkesbury betrays reality. She’s deeply smitten by the man…..and he needs her help. What is the male equivalent of a damsel in distress anyway?

The production is an amiable romp filled with various escapades. However, it’s slightly undone by excessive length. There’s a focus change halfway through this meandering story that is bizarre. Instead of continuing to search for Mom, she abruptly decides to track down Tewkesbury in order to save him first. The narrative is episodic and the ending promises more exploits in the future. It’s clear that this is positioned as the introduction to a much larger film franchise. Normally I eye-roll at such blatant commercialism but this is one of the rare times — in recent memory anyway — where I greeted the idea with enthusiasm. I was broadly entertained by what I saw.

The mystery captivated me. Enola Holmes manages to combine Victorian-era costumes and style with a very modern revisionist sensibility toward adventure. This may be the world that Arthur Conan Doyle wrote about but Nancy Springer’s fan fiction interpretation is a new and entertaining creation. Enola is a detective like her brother. Actress Millie Bobby Brown adds so much to this tale. She rises above the character’s conventionally unconventional personality and becomes a charming and delightful presence.

09-23-20

Mulan

Posted in Action, Adventure, Drama on September 8, 2020 by Mark Hobin

I tolerated Mulan. Disney’s latest live-action reimagining of one of their animated films is based on the 1998 release. The new version is not bad, so there’s no need to beat up a movie that has already experienced a problematic route to the public. Mulan‘s Hollywood premiere was held on March 9, 2020. The theatrical release was delayed multiple times before finally being released 6 months later on September 4. Mulan is currently available to people who subscribe to Disney+ but only if you pay an additional premium fee of $29.99. Disney is nothing if not a business.

The story of a heroine who disguises herself so she can fight alongside the men is the sort of girl-power anthem that should inspire and uplift. Yet her journey is strangely lacking in emotion here. I did not feel the empathy that her fable should have inspired. I try to judge these live-action adaptations separately from their sources but that can be difficult. That these are indeed remakes is simply a fact that cannot be ignored. I mostly enjoy them to varying degrees. Dumbo was a colossal misfire in 2019 but I was entertained by their versions of Cinderella, The Jungle Book, Beauty and the Beast, and Aladdin.

Of course, the main focus is the same, but this version changes a lot from its inspiration. The narrative is missing that spark which is odd because the cartoon is overflowing in that department. There is no humor. The mood is gravely serious. The fact that this is not a musical is noticeably felt. Big mistake. The atmosphere could use some levity or uplift. The score seems to almost acknowledge this when notes from the tune “Reflection” pop up in the score. Fans of the classic will recognize the interpolation but it’s quite subtle. Characters are removed. The wisecracking dragon sidekick Mushu didn’t make the cut. That makes perfect sense given the somber spirit, but Li Shang — the stern captain of the Imperial Army and Mulan’s mentor — is excised as well. His purpose is replaced by two individuals: Commander Tung (Donnie Yen ) and Chen Honghui (Yoson An).

A star-studded cast attempts to make up for what has been erased starting with actress Liu Yifei as the star. Although lesser known in the West, she is a recognizable celebrity in China. The rest of the ensemble includes Donnie Yen (Commander Tung), Jason Scott Lee (the main Rouran warrior), Jet Li (The Emperor), Tzi Ma (Mulan’s father), Rosalind Chao (Mulan’s mother), and most notably Gong Li. Her Xian Lang is a new addition, a shape-shifting witch with a surprisingly affecting backstory. I enjoyed her charismatic portrayal a lot. This deviation from the official account caused me to rethink that I might have appreciated a fresh epic and not something trying to recreate the animated feature. These remakes are big business though. My preference might not have been as monetarily successful but it would’ve been more satisfying.

Mulan looks fantastic, but lacks emotional weight. I’ve been a fan of New Zealand director Niki Caro ever since she helmed Whale Rider in 2002. That uplifting tale of a girl succeeding where only males had before is thematically similar to this one. Whale Rider had me weeping uncontrollably. You’d think Caro would be a perfect fit for extracting the depth required to make this tale affecting, but I could barely muster up a shrug after this was over. I can’t deny this glorious spectacle won’t satisfy a cinematic need. The saga is presented with technical skill and beautiful images. The production is unquestionably a gorgeous manifestation of the original. So there’s that. If you’re looking for something that feels like an epic, this will satisfy that thirst. Yet I felt nothing. It’s requiring more personality. It dutifully recreates the basic storyline but without the heart and humor. The characters are dreary. Mulan feels more like a meticulously recreated piece of product from the Disney factory and not a stirring legend based on centuries-old folklore.

09-04-20

Bill & Ted Face the Music

Posted in Adventure, Comedy, Music, Science Fiction with tags on August 30, 2020 by Mark Hobin

bill_and_ted_face_the_music_ver3STARS2.5So the last time we saw Bill & Ted, it was 29 years ago.  A lot has changed since the duo’s Excellent Adventure (1989) and Bogus Journey (1991).  I mean, let’s be real.  It’s been nearly three decades.  Neither installment was what I’d call great cinema but they both coast on the affable charm of the leads.  “Be excellent to each other!” and “Party on dudes!” they proclaimed.  I really wanted to like this sequel because (1) of nostalgia for the first film and (2) there are flashes of inspiration that kept me hoping it would get better.  Unfortunately, the production is a chaotic, loud special effects-laden fantasy that never quite gelled for me.

So the boys (well men — Bill & Ted are in their 50s now) are tasked with writing a song that will unite the world and save humanity.  If they don’t, then reality will collapse.  Being the slackers that they are, they decide to reutilize their old miraculous phone booth to time travel into the future where the tune already exists, steal it and bring it back to their current era.  But there’s so much more going on.  They are married and their wives (Erinn Hayes and Jayma Mays) are also time traveling to find an existence where each woman is happily married to their respective husband.  Bill & Ted are also pursued by a neurotic robot (Anthony Carrigan) that has been sent by The Great Leader (Holland Taylor) to kill the duo in order to restore balance to the universe. Whew!

Now on to the most righteous part.  Bill & Ted are aided by their daughters, Thea and Billie, who want to help their fathers write the song.  Samara Weaving and Brigette Lundy-Paine embody the offspring with charisma and appeal.  Their personalities reflect their fathers’ demeanor but with more wisdom.  They have an encyclopedic knowledge of music and they put it to good use as they recruit a supergroup of the greatest musicians from throughout history.  Mozart (Daniel Dorr), Louis Armstrong (Jeremiah Craft), and Jimi Hendrix (DazMann Still) are among the choices.  This is the story thread that harkens back to the sweet simplicity of the first movie.  The portion concerning the two girls is actually the most compelling.

The bloated saga is tedious though. Bill & Ted keep running into depressing or silly future versions of themselves.  In one they’re muscle-bound inmates in prison, in another timeline, hippies, in still another, old men.   None of these different iterations are very funny or clever.  Of course, most people tuning in won’t care.  They want to see “Bill” played by Alex Winter and “Ted” portrayed by Keanu Reeves.  The dudes are back and that’s very important because nostalgia is everything in this episode.  I think it’s safe to say if you haven’t seen the other two chapters or didn’t enjoy them,  then Face the Music is definitely not made with you in mind.   This is for the fans and it relies on jokes and asides that reward people who are.

8-28-20

The Old Guard

Posted in Action, Adventure, Fantasy, Thriller with tags on July 20, 2020 by Mark Hobin

old_guardSTARS3The Old Guard isn’t winning any Oscars but that doesn’t mean it isn’t enjoyable.  I am a movie critic, not a film “snob”.  Of course, that word means different things to different people.  For some, a snob will actually scorn blatant Oscar bait so I probably shouldn’t get too bogged down in labels.  I only contest that I have a love for many types of flicks even when I critique a release for its obvious flaws.  Critics rightfully want to champion works that promote character development but movies that simply indulge on a purely visceral level are often negated.

There was an era (the 1980s) that genre films of this type routinely succeeded and the perspective changed.  An action-packed screenplay could also support interesting characters that kept us on the edge of our seats. First Blood (1982), The Terminator (1984), Die Hard (1988) and Point Break (1991) are just a few examples of what I’m talking about.  The passage of time has only cemented these thrilling classics in the pantheon.  It’s easy to defend these endeavors as cinematic touchstones now but it wasn’t in the age they came out.  The Old Guard seeks to delight that same audience.  This production doesn’t come anywhere close to achieving the heights of those aforementioned titles but there is a glimmer here of what made them great.

The chronicle concerns an impressive team of soldiers for hire that goes on a revenge mission.  The difference is that these mercenaries are immortal.  Charlize Theron plays Andy also known as Andromache of Scythia.  She’s a centuries-old leader of a band of warriors and she’s perfectly cast.  Theron exhibited a desire for such projects when she did Æon Flux 15 years ago but it’s really only been in the last 5 years that she has presented herself as a serious action star.  Mad Max: Fury Road, Atomic Blonde, The Fate of the Furious, and now this.  Theron’s unflinching portrayal is one of the high points.

I crave a story.  These roles are difficult because they’re largely defined by fight choreography and not the depth of nuance in the acting department.  In fact, the ability to show little to no emotion is usually desired.  That’s exactly what Andy is — a killing machine with a consistently grave demeanor.  She barely comes across as human. Showing more character development is a woman named Nile Freeman played by KiKi Layne (If Beale Street Could Talk) who was a former US Marine who discovers she is an immortal as well.  Her journey as a new addition to the team is emotionally compelling.  The appealing cast also includes actors Matthias Schoenaerts and Chiwetel Ejiofor.  Their presence, as well as others, ensures the audience is treated to a captivating ensemble of personalities.

The Old Guard is actually adapted from a graphic novel so if you suffer from what I call “comic-book movie fatigue” this may not be your cup of tea.   It can be a bit formulaic but the fight sequences are indeed dynamic.  Director Gina Prince-Bythewood has only helmed three films since her directorial debut Love & Basketball in 2000.  The Secret Life of Bees (2008), and Beyond the Lights (2014) followed.  Each work is satisfying.  The Old Guard is a big hit on Netflix so perhaps this will be the moment that finally catapults a career that spans two decades.  It has a fantastical superhero element to it.  Given the silliness of the premise, I would’ve appreciated a little more humor though.  Why so serious?  Nevertheless, if you’re looking to be entertained for 125 minutes, this should fit the bill.

07-13-20

Da 5 Bloods

Posted in Adventure, Drama, War with tags on June 25, 2020 by Mark Hobin

da_five_bloodsSTARS3.5Oh boy, I’ve seen a lot of movies.  But you needed’t be a film studies major.   As Da 5 Bloods unfolded it sparked the fond memories of two classics.      This narrative is clearly inspired by an amalgamation of Saving Private Ryan and The Treasure of the Sierra Madre.  Ah, but with Spike Lee, the filmmaker certainly puts his own spin on it.   This has an added component that when filtered through the context of our current reality.  Da 5 Bloods is a blistering critique of U.S. exploitation of African-Americans in war and in general.  It is presented as nothing less than a major statement for our time.   Spike Lee still has his finger on the pulse of modern America.  As a piece of entertainment, it’s adequate but as a reflection of the current zeitgeist, it’s one of the most noteworthy releases of the year.

Spike Lee’s work is a  blending of pop culture references.   Even he acknowledges his debt to The Treasure of the Sierra Madre.  When Paul (Delroy Lindo) demands to see the credentials of a Vietnam official  waving a gun named Quan (Nguyen Ngoc Lam), the man replies, “We don’t need no stinking official badges.”   That’s an obvious reference.   There are more: The Bridge on the River Kwai, Apocalypse Now, Platoon, and Three Kings are others.   Lee is a student of film.  Meanwhile, the soundtrack utilizes songs from Marvin Gaye’s What’s Going On, a concept album released in 1971 that is just as much of a political statement then as it is now.

Spike gets even more serious with an intro that he usually saves for the climax utilizing historical footage of Muhammad Ali and Malcolm X then blissfully confronting the viewer with every recognizable Vietnam- era photograph in a deluge of snapshots.  A little background history: the montage includes the suicide protest of Buddhist monks Thích Quảng Đức & Ho Dinh Van, also Phan Thi Kim Phuc running from a napalm attack and the Execution of Nguyễn Văn Lém.  I recount their names out of respect which is significantly more due than that the movie affords these individuals in this rapid-fire array.  These are iconic portraits so powerful that they singlehandedly changed the public perception of an entire war.  The superficial appropriation of these images is problematic in this context.  My review largely disregards this brief sequence but I think its inclusion bears a mention.

“Male bonding” is a cliched phrase but here it is the enjoyable highlight of the picture.   The story was developed by Lee and his regular collaborator Kevin Willmott from an original script by Danny Bilson and Paul De Meo.   It concerns 4 black war veterans returning to Vietnam.   Officially they’re there to locate and recover the remains of their fallen squad leader “Stormin’ Norman” (Boseman).  Why the nickname of Gulf War general Norman Schwarzkopf is invoked as a comparison to this individual is a mystery.   Anyway, the band is also trying to uncover a stache of buried gold bullion once thought to be lost.   What ultimately endears an adventure to an audience is the people involved.   The best thing about this narrative is the camaraderie between the four principals they each have a distinct personality and the way their personalities mesh is the enjoyment of the picture.  The four actors are Clarke Peters, Norm Lews, Isiah Whitlock, Jr., and Delroy Lindo.

Delroy Lindo is the standout as Paul.  The actor plays a Vietnam veteran whose conservative politics are driven by a mentality of betrayal.  Lindo surprisingly dons a MAGA hat revealing himself to be a Donald Trump supporter.   But as we get to know Paul, the layers behind his stance become apparent.  His performance is restrained yet intimate.  Director Lee has worked with Delroy Lindo on three productions before Malcolm X (1992), Crooklyn (1994), and Clockers (1995).  They collaborate here on a character that makes perfect sense in his motivations and desires.  What’s not surprising is that his achievement is garnering Oscar talk.

Da 5 Bloods is a mid-level work for Spike Lee.  It’s good but not great.  Comparatively, BlacKkKlansman from just 2 years ago was better.   To its credit, the plot is inherently simple at its essence.   Yet there’s an overabundance of labored machinations in this 2-hour 34-minute feature.   Thankfully the story hits its stride in due time within the 2nd half.   I prefer the simplicity of a straight-ahead narrative.   As such, I am not a fan of flashback sequences.  They are a cinematic affectation that should be used sparingly.    However, this saga has an almost obsequious reliance on them.  Each one further highlighted because it’s shot on 16mm film.   Regardless,  the timing couldn’t be more prescient.  The Black Lives Matter movement currently blankets every single aspect of American life.   Furthermore thanks to COVID-19, Hollywood studios have essentially placed a  moratorium on new releases.  Meanwhile, Da 5 Bloods has been rightfully elevated as a major cultural event because critics have deemed it to be a “work of art”.   That makes this one of the most significant releases of 2020 to be sure.

Addendum:  Da Five Bloods debuted on Netflix on June 12.  After briefly occupying the #1 position, it promptly dropped out of the Top 10. The current #1 movie?  An animated picture from ToonBox Entertainment called The Nut Job that made under $65 million in 2014.

06-13-10

Artemis Fowl

Posted in Action, Adventure, Family, Fantasy with tags on June 17, 2020 by Mark Hobin

artemis_fowlSTARS1I couldn’t decipher it.  For the uninitiated (that would include me) Artemis Fowl is an impenetrable hodgepodge.  This is an adventure so confusing that it practically dares you to understand it.  I have a college degree mind you and I couldn’t make heads or tails of the random assemblage of stuff thrown up on the screen.  Lovers of the 8 young adult fantasy novels written by Irish author Eoin Colfer have sadly waited nearly two decades.  This adaptation has languished in development hell after the first book was published in 2001.  Artemis Fowl is a fanciful tale that aimlessly fluctuates between both human and fairy type characters.  The latter encompasses elves, dwarves, goblins, gnomes, pixies, sprites, gremlins, and demons.  I didn’t realize what I was getting into.  Unfortunately, the narrative never makes any concessions to try and draw the viewer into this complex world.  However, I will do better by trying to make sense of what I saw, dear reader.

Let me see if I can piece together some semblance of a story.  Let’s begin with the complete snooze that is the central protagonist.  Artemis is a name most famously attributed to the goddess of the hunt in Greek mythology.  Here however it refers to a highly intelligent 12-year-old boy, a child prodigy and we’re told a so-called criminal mastermind.  Criminal?!  He’s more of a dispassionate philanthropist.  As embodied by teen actor Ferdia Shaw, he is a cold, unemotional individual that elicits zero enthusiasm.  Shaw lacks the charisma to be the focus of a production.  The screenwriters seem to indirectly acknowledge this because he’s frequently relegated to the background while a couple of side characters become the center of attention.  Elf Holly Short (Lara McDonnell) and Mulch Diggums (Josh Gad) — a large dwarf that resembles Hagrid from Harry Potter — are comparatively more interesting.  Probably not a good foundation to kick off a cinematic franchise.  Judi Dench also shows up as an elven military commander who at one point tells someone to “Get the four-leaf clover out of here!”   That’s an amusing line.  Unfortunately nothing else she says afterward ever is.

The Fowl clan is kind of a family along the lines of the Corleones in The Godfather.  They are a close-knit group of people.  So when Dad (Colin Farrell) goes missing, Artemis — with the help of his bodyguard Domovoi Butler (Nonso Anozie) — must recover an acorn-shaped artifact called the Aculos.  That’s about all I can tell you.  The narrative doesn’t offer a plot but rather a vomit of action sequences and special effects.  It haphazardly jumps from one event to another with little explanation as to why anyone is doing what they are doing.  I sat there dumbfounded for 95 minutes bewildered by the utter cacophony of noise and spectacle that unfolded before my eyes.  It’s as baffling as anything ever committed to celluloid and that includes the opening monologue to David Lynch’s Dune.

I hated this movie.  Artemis Fowl is among the worst films of 2020.  Given our current reality, that’s really saying something.  There are explicit reasons why this property was greenlighted.  It’s called “MONEY”.  The search for the next literary work that can mimic Harry Potter’s success continues.  It superficially involves fairies, dwarves, trolls, and other  Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them.   Oops sorry!  That was yet another unsuccessful attempt to duplicate Harry Potter’s magic.  Given the chilly response, Artemis Fowl hasn’t placated even the most devoted supporters.  This release is an insult to every human being that enjoys cinema so if you aren’t deeply familiar with the text, this will be an even more frustrating experience.  How did Disney (a studio that usually knows what people want) allow this mess to get a release?  A lot of the blame should be placed on the screenplay by Conor McPherson and Hamish McColl but director Kenneth Branagh is culpable too.   His ability to helm a coherent feature is seriously in question.   The Irish director has given us many other examples over the course of three decades: Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein (1994), Love’s Labour’s Lost (2000), As You Like It (2006), Sleuth (2007), and Jack Ryan: Shadow Recruit (2014) weren’t good movies either but he’s surprisingly topped himself in 2020.  It pains me to say it, but this is unquestionably Branagh’s worst film.

06-12-20

Trolls World Tour

Posted in Adventure, Animation, Comedy, Family with tags on April 11, 2020 by Mark Hobin

trolls_two_ver23STARS3Ok, I’ll admit I saw Trolls in 2016 — at the theater no less — but I wasn’t a huge fan.  Oh don’t get me wrong, it was a lively diversion but it evaporated from memory soon after I saw it.  The prospect of watching a sequel didn’t excite me.  In the original plan Trolls World Tour would have opened against the 25th James Bond film.  No Time to Die was going to be one of the biggest releases of the year.  That’s what I was looking forward to.  Then “stay at home” orders were issued and cinemas across the U.S. were closed indefinitely.  New movie prospects suddenly changed.  Given that theaters are unlikely to reopen anytime soon, Universal Studios course-corrected immediately.  Trolls World Tour is the first major studio offering to bow out of its scheduled theatrical release and go directly to VOD since the Coronavirus outbreak.  That alone makes it noteworthy.

Trolls World Tour is essentially a 94-minute long music video but there is a loose thread of a story nonetheless.  Poppy (Anna Kendrick) has recently been anointed, Queen.  She’s a cutesy hot pink creature with an even darker pink whale spout of hair.  She desperately wants to be a good ruler.  Her intentions are good but her inability to listen to other people will lead to trouble.  One of those is her father King Peppy (Walt Dohrn). He informs the kingdom that other similar societies do in fact exist.  Trolls have always loved music.  However, disagreements in the distant past led to different factions going their separate ways.  They are the “Pop” troll clan. The rest of the tribes each took a magical harp string representing different genres: Pop, Rock, Country, Classical, Techno and Funk.

Each land is host to a slew of new characters in what is substantially a marketing tool for new dolls and toys.  There are far too many celebrities involved to list them all, but Kelly Clarkson, Sam Rockwell, Ozzy Osbourne, Anderson Paak, George Clinton and Mary J. Blige all make appearances.  I had some fun being able to identify their voices.  The proper plot begins when Queen Barb (Rachel Bloom) of the Rock Trolls invites everyone to a big event.  She sports a red mohawk and sings a medley of rock classics: “Rock You Like A Hurricane”, “Crazy Train”, and “Barracuda”.  King Peppy warns to “stay away” but newly-crowned Poppy wants to befriend the other groups in the spirit of peace and harmony.  Joining her is Branch (Justin Timberlake), her closest friend.  He secretly holds romantic feelings for Poppy.

Trolls World Tour is not so much a story as it is a glitter bomb of color and music.  It is a non-stop unending deluge of one melody after another.  In what I can only describe as an assault, its accompanying razzle-dazzle visuals are extremely aggressive.  The spectacle is an unquestionable delight of intensity, but it’s almost akin to eating Pixy Stix laced with Pop Rocks paired with a shot of Mountain Dew.  It gives new meaning to the phrase eye candy.  Young kids will unquestionably be enchanted so I’m not exactly knocking it.  This might be perfect for children craving new entertainment.  There are a few original ditties including “The Other Side”, but it’s the medleys/mash-ups of older tunes that I remember most.  The graphical displays that supplement the songs can be quite beautiful at times, but it’s a lot to process.  I’m just warning adults who prefer a less hyper experience because I’m one of those people as well.  Then again, criticizing a product like this is kind of silly.  It simply wasn’t made for me.

04-10-20