“The Nutcracker and the Four Realms” Review

Far from the grace of a ballet, The Nutcracker and the Four Realms is a gigantic smear of fantasy that puts in the minimal effort of adventure and inspiration. It’s sadly yet another property taken by Disney that comes with the best of intentions but the sloppiest of executions. A mere plugging in of all the predictable elements churns out a snoozer of a matinee, far too timid to be a Christmas classic or the exciting epic it aims to be.
Continue reading ““The Nutcracker and the Four Realms” Review”

“Christopher Robin” Review

There’s an enduring spirit to the characters of the Hundred Acre Wood that has made Disney’s many iterations of Winnie the Pooh enjoyable if not as clever. While the stuffed creatures of the classic books may have been slung in everything from direct-to-video specials and TV puppets, Pooh still has an adorable wisdom to his silly nature of misunderstandings and curiosity. This point is best proven in Christopher Robin, a film that tries to place Pooh and company in a CGI/live-action hybrid. The antics of the honey-craving bear and his iconic cohorts hold up far better than a beat-you-over-the-head story about growing up.
Continue reading ““Christopher Robin” Review”

“The Incredibles 2” Review

The screening of Incredibles 2 began with an apologetic thank you from the cast. Yes, it has taken 14 years for Pixar to construct a sequel for their fan-favorite of a film that perfectly blended the family dynamic with superhero theatrics. But as Samuel L. Jackson assures us, it will be worth the wait. He’s not just tooting the Disney horn, nor is the cantankerous writer/director Brad Bird, who returns to the franchise with fresh ideas to flex those old animated filmmaking muscles. And it is every bit as brilliant, exciting, and dazzling as its predecessor.
Continue reading ““The Incredibles 2” Review”

“A Wrinkle in Time” Review

A Wrinkle in Time encourages for children to succeed with the same embarrassment of parents getting too into your school sporting event. It is a film where multiple times the preteen girl protagonist must be reminded that she is special and can change the world. How she can do this is never made clear, making the inspiration in the picture about as effective as a “Hang in there” cat poster. Well, if that poster had fantastical worlds and magic.
Continue reading ““A Wrinkle in Time” Review”

“Peter Rabbit” Review

I know the story of Peter Rabbit, the blue-jacket wearing rabbit that didn’t listen to his mother and was almost killed by Mr. McGregor for entering his garden. Ah, but this isn’t that same Beatrix Potter tale. Some executive or producer thought that classic book was too old and lame to be hip with today’s kids. Today’s Peter Rabbit needs to be a character that is rude, crude, and condescendingly snarky with his slapstick battles against McGregor set to the tune of today’s top radio music. Also, he kills people.
Continue reading ““Peter Rabbit” Review”

“The Greatest Showman” Review

Songwriters Benj Pasek and Justin Paul have been hailed for their amazing lyrical work on last year’s musical hit La La Land, a film with a stunningly invigorating soundtrack of jazz and orchestral wonder. They’re touted on the poster of The Greatest Showman as being hired to breathe that same amount of energy and toe-tapping to the tale of showman P.T. Barnum. Much like Barnum, they do a stellar job at hoodwinking audiences into attending this spectacle for the promise of an entertaining musical. And while director Michael Gracey certainly delivers music and sequences of grand design, there’s an aroma of a machine to its assembly as opposed to the heartfelt biopic of amazing feats this production was going for.
Continue reading ““The Greatest Showman” Review”

“Cars 3” Review

The further this Cars franchise goes, the more creepy and bizarre questions arise, going unanswered. What happens when the cars of this world die? Are they buried in concrete, scrapped in a junkyard or harvested for parts at a hospital? Are there hospitals in this world of cars? Yes, these are all very stupid questions to be asking about a rather silly and simple story about sentient racing cars, but I expect more from Pixar. They’re a studio that usually puts a lot of effort into building their worlds so that I don’t find myself asking how fish talk and why a rat controls a human.
Continue reading ““Cars 3” Review”

“Diary of a Wimpy Kid: The Long Haul” Review

This is the black hole of cliche comedy that every road trip movie swirls around but rarely dares to enter. Diary of a Wimpy Kid: The Long Haul doesn’t just kamikaze into this abyss of laziness; it does so with almost suicidal tendencies. There is no desire here to be original or clever, relying more on the gross humor and slapstick gags that should have been retired decades ago. I can only fathom the filmmakers figured that today’s kids would be too young to have seen the old pee-in-the-bottle gag from Dumb and Dumber and too simple to not find anything foul about poop, vomit, and urine.
Continue reading ““Diary of a Wimpy Kid: The Long Haul” Review”

“A Dog’s Purpose” Review

I would like to preference this review by stating that I’ve seen dozens of these cute dog movies wherein a dog is cast as the hero that saves Christmas, foils a crime or brings a family together. I’ve seen dogs do everything: karate, become ghosts, go into space, play basketball, play soccer and too many stunts to count. I write this to let you know that I’m coming from years of experience before you decry my slightly negative review of the cute doggie movie.

I will give the movie credit in that it does aim for a higher goal than most dog-centric movie, seeking a more philosophical angle. The story is told entirely from the point of view of the dog Toby and, surprisingly, his thoughts are not all about food and fetch. One of his very first thoughts, voiced by Josh Gad, seems to be about contemplating his purpose in life. That’s quite the question for a puppy to pose. I thought all dogs pondered about was where the food was and which smell is where. Could this dog really be more of a philosopher than another brainless pup? Don’t worry, kids; Toby’s not above knocking over dinner tables, eating hot dogs off the ground and farting loudly in the car.

Despite a stumbling start to life, Toby falls for his child owner Ethan instantly, forming the basis for the classic tale of a boy and his dog. Based in a 1950s rural community, it’s that familiar flavor of midwest mundanity where racial concerns and space race are mere background elements to the more immediate issues of Ethan making the football team and Toby causing a mess of a dinner with the boss. I will give the dinner scene some credit for its unfunny aftermath. The scene itself is portrayed with the expected amount of slapstick and silly music, but follows with the father becoming a bitter alcoholic about not being able to work closer to home. It isn’t long before dad goes bad and starts beating his wife, leaving Ethan to defend himself while Toby barks at the wife beater. But was it Toby who drove him to this point? Something to ponder for the obligatory noble segment where the dog pulls Ethan out of a burning building.

Just when I think the film has settled into its Homeward Bound style of soft drama, the plot reaches the moment early where Toby must pass on from this world. Surrounded by his family, including a college-bound Ethan, he passes away into the next life, which happens to be the life of another dog. Now reincarnated into a different dog, and a different movie, Toby becomes a German Shepherd police dog that works with a bitter cop. Shot on the job, Toby then becomes a Corgi and then helps a woman go from a binge-eating college student to wife/mother. One death later, Toby is a St. Bernard-Australian Shepherd mix and abandoned by abusive owners.

And by now I’ve lost all interest in whether or not Toby will ever find his master Ethan. Sure, Ethan’s time on Earth is limited where as Toby receives apparently unlimited tries to reincarnate, but what will happen if Ethan dies before Toby serves his purpose? Will he continue to reincarnate and find someone else to bring joy towards? Or will he go to hell or purgatory or something? What is at stake here?

Why am I asking such questions? I shouldn’t be. This is mostly a soapy dog movie for the easily-weepy to push out some tears at dogs dying and giggle when they topple over tables. I could buy that just fine as meaningless fluff, but this whole element of a dog trying to find his purpose in life is too meaty of a plot for this picture to handle.

In the rather low expectations of the dog movie subgenre, A Dog’s Purpose tries to add in a Terrance Malik angle to its rather simple story of a dog that warms hearts. There’s no philosophical treat at the end of this furry journey, as Toby’s hypothesis for life is nothing all that special. I couldn’t help but think of Monty Python’s The Meaning of Life’s ultimate answer to the big question: Be nice to people, avoid eating fat, read a good book every now and then, get some walking in, and try and live together in peace and harmony with people of all creeds and nations. That answer was intended to be humorous for being so obvious and underwhelming, but Toby delivers this statement as if it is an emotionally-moving revelation. And I’m sure it would be, if I were a dog. Too bad I’m not as amazed by the simplicity of catching a ball, the easy sadness of spending a night in the shed or the fun of knocking over dinner tables. Maybe then I wouldn’t question why a dog needs to question existence itself, in between farting loudly and wrecking dad’s dinner party.

“Saving Christmas” Review

2014 saw its fair share of Christspoiltation pictures from the likes of the fallacy-filled God’s Not Dead and the mushy shlock of Heaven is for Real. But Kirk Cameron’s Saving Christmas blows them all out of the water. Here is a religious film director that instead of firing his rifle towards the war of Christmas decides to turn the barrel down and shoot his own foot. Whereas these pictures usually tend to force in the idea that God is great to the ignorant atheists, Kirk Cameron attempts to strengthen the Christmas spirit for the Christians who despise it. One might figure he’s treading on safe ground considering he’s preaching to the choir, but his rationalizing for the religious context of modern Christmas is considerably laughable.

Cameron lays his cards out on the table with a fireside introduction. His house festooned in far too much Christmas decorations, he bursts at the seams for his love of his Christmas. In particular, he seems to adore hot chocolate to an absurd degree. And then he reaches the moment where he mentions that some people just don’t like Christmas. Who are these blasphemers? Could it be the liberal media or the aggressive atheists that seek to silence the celebration? No, it is the sheep within the flock that are taken aim at in this picture – the Christians that find themselves annoyed with Christmas and merely need a few illogical nudges to get in the mood.

Kirk Cameron’s sister is throwing a big Christmas party at her massive house for her family. The whole gang seems to be having fun except for Cameron’s stubborn brother-in-law Christian White (what a name). He becomes so uneasy with the Christmas atmosphere that he retreats to his car. Eager to bring joy to all, Kirk follows Christian into the car to ask what’s wrong. Christian airs his frustrations with the Christmas decorations being so counter to that of Christian values. For the next hour, Cameron proceeds to convince Christian that celebrating Christmas is more religious via absurd correlations and symbolism. We sometimes cut back inside to the party, but not too long as there is a black character speaking with a fast cliche tongue and a conspiracy theorist babbling on about the war on Christmas.

While the majority of the movie takes place inside a car, there are visual bits to represent Cameron’s ramblings in relating Christmas to Christian history. Sometimes they’re assembled with class, as with the story of the original Santa Clause. Other times it appears cheap when the production swaps the Garden of Eden for a Christmas tree lot. Cameron’s narration at one point states that he’s going for more of a Lord of the Rings vibe in portraying Santa. I’m not sure what he was intending with the Christmas tree lot other than an inconsistent production.

As if the movie wasn’t already struggling to stretch its limited premise, the ending is padded out with an extended dance sequence and too many mid-credit bloopers. This format makes the 79 minute run time feel longer than it should be, most likely leading many viewers to making the wrap-it-up motion with their hands towards the end. Did Cameron really think Christians all across the nation would get a massive kick out of his family’s dance moves? Why not just show family home videos at that point? It’s just as relatable.

At a time when Christian movies seem to have a large appeal, Saving Christmas appears strangely niche. It only had a two-week limited engagement in movie theaters in 2014. That’s rather strange given how many Christian movies stuck around in the box office for a long time during that year. When the movie was savaged by critics – and I do mean EVERY critic – Cameron called on his legion of fans to offset online ratings by giving the movie a positive review. The plea was not met well and the ratings dropped further among users. Either there is some big Christmas hate going around or maybe, just maybe, Cameron made a bad movie.

Kirk Cameron then dubbed all those that delivered negative reviews as views of “haters and atheists” conspiring on the internet. I don’t exactly consider myself either, but I do find it funny how he slapped together a poorly executed Christmas defense movie with his friends and expected everyone in America to love it. Maybe I am a hater if I just don’t find any intelligence in comparing stacks of Christmas presents to the houses of Jerusalem. I don’t even want to know what he equates hot chocolate to in the Bible.