Movie Review ~ The Guardians of the Galaxy Holiday Special

The Facts:

Synopsis:  On a mission to make Christmas unforgettable for Quill, the Guardians head to Earth, searching for the perfect present.
Stars: Chris Pratt, Dave Bautista, Karen Gillan, Pom Klementieff, Vin Diesel, Bradley Cooper, Sean Gunn, Michael Rooker, Kevin Bacon
Director: James Gunn
Rated: NR
Running Length: 42 minutes
TMMM Score: (4/10)
Review:  In 1978, the now-infamous Star Wars Holiday Special aired for the first and only time on CBS, becoming an example of how pandering to fandom can be dangerous.  While that special has become the punchline for jokes over time, it’s so legitimately terrible that even a revaluation can’t change public opinion.  The joke has now extended so far into the meta-verse that a popular franchise (which draws from much of the same fanbase) is throwing caution to the wind and creating its own holiday special.  Released as the second Marvel Studios Special Presentation in the Marvel Cinematic Universe, The Guardians of the Galaxy Holiday Special is intended as an early gift to unwrap but might be a lump of coal for some.

Shot during the production of Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 3 (due out in May 2023) by writer/director James Gunn (The Suicide Squad), this 44-minute short film is a standalone adventure that mainly focuses on Drax (Dave Bautista, Riddick) and Mantis (Pom Klementieff, Oldboy) attempting to cheer up Peter Quill (Chris Pratt, Jurassic World: Dominion) during the holidays. (A classic set-up.)  Mantis thinks it’s due to the recent loss of a loved one and a secret she’s keeping from Peter, so she’s extra invested in making this season merry and bright while Drax is volun-told he’ll be helping her out.  Their big plan?  Bring back Peter’s favorite Earth-bound hero as a surprise for Christmas.  If only they knew where this Kevin Bacon fellow lived…

YMMV (Your Mileage May Vary) is a term growing in shorthand popularity, meaning that your experience with something may differ from others.  That applies perfectly to The Guardians of the Galaxy Holiday Special.  Watching it, I got the distinct impression the comedic bits of physical comedy and juvenile-level jokes were meant for a specific group instead of a broader base that could join in the appreciation of it.  A litmus test is the opening credits which play over a cracked song about Santa performed by the band the Old 97’s.  If you aren’t guffawing through the number, the next 40 minutes may be rough-going. The humor is stagnant and half-baked in an exhausting “we’ve seen Napoleon Dynamite, too” sort of way.

The first Marvel Studios Special Presentation, Werewolf by Night, had a more serious tone. While it was meant as a standalone story in the overall Marvel Universe, it felt like it invited the audiences into its orbit.  Conversely, The Guardians of the Galaxy Holiday Special doesn’t have to work to introduce new characters, so it’s a bit freewheeling and unfocused. Drax and Mantis dipping into a gay bar feels like a badly timed bit, made worse by the lame zingers lobbed while inside.  Gunn tightens things up when Bacon (They/Them) enters, playing himself.  Demonstrating again that he’s a good sport, he lets Gunn, and the oddball Guardians characters gently rib his persona and fame, likely because he gets the last laugh (and sings a closing number), and the whole thing is generally received in good fun.

Not destined to be the kind of Christmas perennial classic like a Rankin/Bass feature nor relegated to the “never-watch” wasteland like the misguided television special from which it drew inspiration, The Guardians of the Galaxy Holiday Special will get the laughs from the fans but isn’t likely to capture any new followers.  The filmmaking feels a bit like we got the B-Team of effects techs, and if you told me they had a quick turnaround time to get this done, I’d believe it based on how soft the completed film looks.  I wouldn’t put it on my naughty list; just more of an obligatory watch for most. I hope these Special Presentations will start feeling a little more ‘special’ in 2023.

Movie Review ~ Disenchanted

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The Facts:

Synopsis: Ten years after her happily ever after, Giselle questions her happiness, inadvertently turning the lives of those in the real world and Andalasia upside down in the process.
Stars: Amy Adams, Patrick Dempsey, Maya Rudolph, Yvette Nicole Brown, Jayma Mays, Gabriella Baldacchino, Idina Menzel, James Marsden
Director: Adam Shankman
Rated: PG
Running Length: 118 minutes
TMMM Score: (8/10)
Review:  I first saw Disney’s Enchanted when I was out on the road touring with a musical over the holiday season in 2007. Packed into a random theater in some East Coast state I don’t recall, a bunch of visiting actors roared along with the local audience at the charming studio comedy. Both a clever wink to hand-drawn animated films from two decades earlier and a frilly Broadway-esque musical bursting with cheer, it was one of the more “subversive” films for Disney and an opportunity for them to control some self-mockery. More than anything, it spotlighted a fresh-faced star that had received a surprising Oscar nomination (her first of six) a year earlier.

It’s almost hard to wrap your head around it now, but when casting Enchanted, Amy Adams (Hillbilly Elegy) was nearly passed over because the studio wanted an established star in the role. Original director Kevin Lima pushed for the triple threat performer, and she proved to be the perfect fit, very nearly snagging another early Academy Award nomination for her outside-of-the-box approach to playing Giselle, the animated almost-princess displaced to real-world New York by an evil queen. That film ended with Giselle finding her true love Robert (Patrick Dempsey, Bridget Jones’s Baby), and living happily ever after with him and his young daughter in the Big Apple.

With its massive take at the box office, a sequel was put on the books, but with Adams’s career skyrocketing and after many false starts, it has taken an eternity for a follow-up to come to pass. I’m not saying that Adams had some extra time on her hands, but the roles she had fallen into didn’t fully align with the talent everyone knew she had. The Oscar her loyal supporters craved for her remained elusive, but desperation seemed to cloud her choices. Thankfully, the pieces for Disenchanted finally came together, and it’s proven to be precisely the restart button Adams needed.

It’s been a decade since Giselle and Robert tied the knot. In addition to Robert’s daughter Morgan (Gabriella Baldacchino, Annie), the couple is enjoying new baby Sophia. Still, life in the harsh city is starting to take its toll on Giselle’s open-air spirit. A billboard for Monroeville, a new community not far from the city, beckons to her. It seems like a perfect solution for the peace Giselle craves while allowing Robert to commute to work. Understandably, the move isn’t ideal for everyone, and Morgan finds the adjustment to a new school challenging.

Giselle also clashes with a trio of PTA moms led by Malvina (Maya Rudolph, The Way Way Back). They don’t take as kindly to her sunny disposition, especially after she makes a series of missteps threatening Malvina’s authority. Using a wand gifted to Sophia by King Edward (James Marsden, The D Train) and Queen Nancy (Idina Menzel, Cinderella) of Andalasia, Giselle makes a simple wish she hopes will correct some of the deficiencies that instead puts her family and forest friends into grave danger. At the same time, the magic she conjures changes her into what every fairytale princess fears most…a wicked stepmother.

In Disney years, Disenchanted could feel like an ancient property to some. After all, many of the fans that pined for a sequel have moved on (and grown up) by now, but I’m guessing there are even more that will tune in when it premieres November 18 on Disney+ to watch Adams get back to what she does best. That would be singing, dancing, and charming the ever-lovin’ pants off viewers – and wow, does she get the job done. A veteran of the grinding work in dinner theater musicals, Adams knows how to sell a song (even the few clunkers present in the Alan Menken/Stephen Schwartz score) but makes the entirety of her job look effortless.

Apart from Adams, the supporting cast is ready and willing to play. Returning cast members Dempsey, Marsden, and Menzel, are all given swell moments to shine, with Menzel especially having more time in the spotlight. Now a far bigger name than she was in the previous film (thank you, Frozen and Frozen II), she lets her huge vocals rip into “Love Power,” a belty number that builds into just the kind of tune you’d expect to hear from the former-Broadway star. It’s no surprise that Rudolph sinks her teeth into the villainess role, and while her duet with Adams gets off to a shaky start, it works itself into a fine frenzy by its conclusion.

Director Adam Shankman (Rock of Ages) also serves as Disenchanted’s choreographer, allowing him to train his eye on every part of what we’re seeing where movement is concerned. That helps give Disenchanted a nice flow and considers spacing for the camera and the dancers. Shankman lets the film linger on the sweeter moments between Giselle and Morgan as they continue to define their bond as stepmother and stepdaughter. It leads to a finale that blends classic fantasy elements with a strong message that I found thoughtful and moving. 

Almost assuredly destined to please the tiny royalty in training roaming around your home and stir up your good memories from years back when the original was released, Disenchanted is a sequel worth hanging around for. I recall enjoying the first film but not being as bowled over by it as some. For this follow-up, whatever magic ingredient was missing for me was finally found, and it all fell into place. While it may not create the kind of awards buzz Adams is used to by this time, she’s so good in it that you could see a world where a performance like hers gets recognized for its joy to the viewer.

31 Days to Scare ~ Werewolf by Night

The Facts:

Synopsis: On a dark and somber night, a secret cabal of monster hunters emerge from the shadows and are thrust into a mysterious and deadly competition for a powerful relic that will bring them face to face with a dangerous monster.
Stars: Gael García Bernal, Laura Donnelly, Harriet Sansom Harris, Al Hamacher, Eugenie Bondurant, Kirk Thatcher, Leonardo Nam, Daniel J. Watts
Director: Michael Giacchino
Rated: NR
Running Length: 52 minutes
TMMM Score: (7/10)
Review:  I am behind on my Marvel TV. There, I said it. It feels good to say it, but it had to be said. There is simply not enough time and far too much Marvel to take on. First, you have the films, and then you have the television series in the Marvel Cinematic Universe that are coming out on the streaming service Disney+ on a revolving door schedule. Once one series ends, another one is hot on its trail. I love content, don’t get me wrong, but there is just so much to take in. I’m overwhelmed. Aren’t you overwhelmed?

I will, however, make time in my schedule for the newest trick Marvel has up its sleeve.   Maybe I’m just being me, but I think the studio may have made Werewolf by Night just for fans like myself who would rather gobble up one fun meal that hits all the taste groups at once. Timed perfectly for a Halloween release and directed by Oscar-winning composer Michael Giacchino (already represented in 2022 by 5 film scores, notably The Batman), this is the first of the new Marvel Studios Special Presentation series, which takes place within the established Marvel Cinematic Universe. Who can say if an Avenger or two will show up in these, but Werewolf by Night is firmly its own…beast.

Ulysses Bloodstone has died, and his fellow monster hunters have been summoned to Bloodstone Temple to mourn. As part of this ceremony, a new hunt will begin, and to the victor will go the powerful Bloodstone. First, they’ll have to find the monster released in the nearby maze with the artifact affixed to them. Take down the creature and claim your prize. Assembled are the best and most feared slayers, among them Jack Russell (Gael García Bernal, Old), as well as Elsa Bloodstone (Laura Donnelly, Tolkien), the prodigal daughter of Ulysses who has returned, much to the dismay of her evil Stepmother (Harriet Sansom Harris, Licorice Pizza). Yet there is another monster among them who is also interested in more than just Bloodstone, ready to rise before the night is out,

Filmed predominantly in black and white and shot to look like a production from one of those creaky movie studios like Hammer, you might imagine Werewolf by Night to have been directed by Frankenstein’s James Whale. It’s undoubtedly massive enough in scale (and performance) to be attributed to that legendary film director. Giacchino hints at the same type of promising career behind the camera as the one he already has had composing for it. The absence of color brings out the textures in the maze, made up of hedges and homes with plenty of places for man and monster to hide in wait.

It’s a strange beast, though, this Werewolf by Night. Being the first of its kind in the Marvel Special Presentation Field, it often struggles to find its tone. Does it want to be a warm nod to those Hammer/Universal Studios monster movies they made nearly 100 years ago, or is it going for a particular brand of retro-stalgia and wry humor that will send its fans into the galaxy? I couldn’t tell you if the short is packed with Easter Eggs from other Marvel characters or if it ties into different worlds, but as a stand-alone morsel, it’s a tasty bite but not always the delicious meal it could be with a little more thought behind it.

Without spoiling, I will say the ending is a nice bit of movie magic while bringing the film back fully back to its Marvel roots. In that sense, the spell cast by the filmmakers of Werewolf by Night until that point is broken, and I’m not sure how successful that makes it overall. Sansom Harris is having a ball gnashing at the scenery, and Bernal is a likable lead with several secrets up his sleeve. I’m not sold on Donnelly yet, though she has the pluck Marvel loves in its leading ladies.

A Halloween treat for fans, Marvel and Disney+ use Werewolf by Night as an opportunity to test the waters with something new, and it’s mostly good news. Anything that’s first is bound to find some stumbling blocks, but viewers will appreciate having something different to sink their teeth into this spooky season.

Movie Review ~ Pinocchio (2022)

The Facts:

Synopsis: With the help of a cricket as his conscience, a living puppet must prove himself worthy of becoming a real boy.
Stars: Tom Hanks, Benjamin Evan Ainsworth, Joseph Gordon-Levitt, Keegan-Michael Key, Lorraine Bracco, Cynthia Erivo, Luke Evans
Director: Robert Zemeckis
Rated: PG
Running Length: 104 minutes
TMMM Score: (5/10)
Review:  We all have our individual Disney origin stories. While I have fond memories of seeing The Jungle Book countless times during its numerous re-releases as I grew up and was a fervent devotee of The Sword in the Stone, the one Disney animated film I vividly remember watching more than any other was Pinocchio. The second animated feature Walt Disney Productions made after 1937’s Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs, the 1940 release of Pinocchio won two Oscars but surprisingly was a dud at the box office thanks to the Second World War limiting international distribution. Eventually, it became a worldwide hit when it was re-released later and during the Regan years it became a staple in my household.

Looking back, I’m wondering if it wasn’t pushed a bit on me because I was an only child, and there are many gentle lessons to be learned from the adaptation of Carlo Collodi’s 1883 novel. They’ve been Disney-fied, of course, but instructions on being “good” and “letting your conscience be your guide” were essential words for impressionable minds (especially a precocious one like mine) to hear on repeat. Seeing the consequences of disobeying your parents or putting your trust in the wrong people was enough to encourage me to stay on the straight and narrow and trust my instinct. In actuality, it’s pretty frightening in places, and dark like many of these early Disney films were. Still, it easily earns its place in the canon of Disney classics.

Over time, it seems filmmakers can’t get enough of Pinocchio. Multiple iterations of the tale have been told throughout media. Operas have been written, TV shows produced, too many movies to count (including Italian Roberto Benigni starring in TWO versions seventeen years apart), and now Disney’s live-action remake of its property. Brought to life by celebrated Oscar-winning director Robert Zemeckis, who revised the script with the help of Chris Weitz (A Better Life), this is a tweaked version of the perennial classic more than it is a complete overhaul. Some of this is good news for film fans, and some is not so great. Mostly, it’s just kind of head-scratching as to why this talented group has kept things so decidedly wooden when given a chance to bring this story to literal life.

The Walt Disney Studios logo has been accompanied by the Oscar-winning tune “When You Wish Upon a Star” for some time, so it’s no surprise the narrator of the story, Jiminy Cricket (Joseph Gordon-Levitt, Looper), makes an early entrance before the famous castle fades from view. He’s dropped in to introduce his reflection of the night he hopped into a small village and took respite in the shop/home of a widowed woodworker putting the finishing touches on his latest creation. Known for his intricate cuckoo clocks, Geppetto (Tom Hanks, Toy Story 4) has turned his attention to a marionette of a young boy he’s modeled after his late son. Before turning out the light, he notices the brightest star in the sky has appeared and makes a silent wish. 

Later that evening, a stream of blue light radiates out from the night sky and connects with the lifeless puppet, bringing it magically to life. Soon after, the Blue Fairy (Cynthia Erivo, Chaos Walking) appears and lets Pinocchio know he must prove himself to be unselfish, brave, and truthful if she can grant Geppetto’s full wish for him to become a real boy. Naming Jiminy as his conscience, the Blue Fairy vanishes, but not before singing a full-throated version of the film’s most famous song. Once Geppetto learns of the magic, he treats Pinocchio (Benjamin Evan Ainsworth, The Haunting of Bly Manor) as his son and prepares to send him to school.

Pinocchio’s adventures outside of the safety of home take up the rest of the film, passages that will slowly wiggle away from the original narrative. Pinocchio is still sidetracked by sly fox Honest John (Keegan-Michael Key, Tomorrowland) and dopey sidekick Gideon the Cat, but there are a few more wrinkles to their interaction. The little wooden boy still appears as a featured attraction at Stromboli’s puppet show. However, now there’s a young female apprentice with a leg malady who dreams of ballet stardom and naturally works the lithe ballerina puppet Pinocchio takes a shine to. 

The downward spiral begins with the arrival of Luke Evans as The Coachman. Transporting a gaggle of unruly children to Pleasure Island, The Coachman and lackey Lampwick (Lewin Lloyd, Judy) pick up Pinocchio and, when he wavers on going for the ride or not, sing a grotesque song newly written for the movie. One of several contributed by the film’s composer Alan Silvestri and musician Glen Ballard, it’s all about being a “real” boy and has cringe-y lines like “Real Boys Always Want More and Real Girls Always Like the Real Boys More.” Shivers. Evans (Midway) excels at playing these ghoulishly monstrous characters, so it’s hard to fault him entirely, but yeesh, the entire Pleasure Island sequence is a true hellscape of poor CGI and misguided decisions.

On misguided decisions, Zemeckis and Weitz make a rather significant change to how Pinocchio solves his various problems in the film and the resolution at the end. I didn’t mind the end because I think the message it conveys is worthwhile. Those other “outs” Pinocchio gets bothered me because of what they wind up omitting in the overall narrative. I won’t spoil it here, but it feels like a poor decision from an optics perspective. Adding more/new characters isn’t the solution (though I did get a chuckle out of Lorraine Bracco’s Brooklyn accented seagull), and sidelining one essential character didn’t feel right.

I know that Hanks and Zemeckis have a long history together, but in much the same way I felt that Hanks wasn’t right for the Elvis movie, I’m not sure if Geppetto was the role for him either. Admittedly, Hanks wears the part naturally and warmly. Yet, at the same time, I think there’s a safety net that Hollywood could remove from these live-action remakes to free up the studio heads to take more creative-minded swings. If you’re going to remake these movies and set them apart from the animated classic, don’t do it halfway. Casting Erivo was a thoughtful choice, but that’s about where it ends. Written like an extension of the Fairy Godmother Helena Bonham-Carter played in Kenneth Branagh’s 2015 remake of Disney’s Cinderella, I would have liked to see the Blue Fairy be more knowing, less showy. Someone must have all the answers in the movie, and it should be her.

The enjoyment of this take on Pinocchio comes in the details. Zemeckis (The Witches) has gone all out with the animation. Save for that aforementioned Pleasure Island sequence which will make even the gamiest gamer’s eyes cross, the more intimate scenes between Pinocchio and the people he meets along the way are often quite beautiful. For Disney fans, there’s a wealth of Easter Eggs to be found in Geppetto’s shop and Pleasure Island. Keep your eyes on the cuckoo clocks for several familiar characters; some flash by so quickly if you’re watching at home, you’ll be glad for the pause button. If this Pinocchio doesn’t float your boat, Netflix has Guillermo del Toro’s long-in-the-works vision of the piece coming before the end of the year as well.

Movie Review ~ Better Nate than Ever

The Facts:

Synopsis: 13-year-old Nate Foster has big Broadway dreams. There’s only one problem — he can’t even land a part in the school play. But when his parents leave town, Nate and his best friend Libby sneak off to the Big Apple for a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to prove everyone wrong.
Stars: Rueby Wood, Aria Brooks, Joshua Bassett, Michelle Federer, Norbert Leo Butz, Lisa Kudrow
Director: Tim Federle
Rated: PG
Running Length: 92 minutes
TMMM Score: (7/10)
Review: When I watch movies now, I tend to compare them to movies I saw when I was of a certain age.  With the nostalgia trend in full kick, audiences approaching their mid-forties are fond of finding their new The Goonies or Gremlins or Fast Times at Ridgemont High… to name a few.  Of course, nothing is going to be or beat those films because they were of their time and so perfect for that point in the history of when they were made.  Then there are the movies I see that I wish had been made when I was a kid.  Plenty of titles I see now would have been so great to see when I was younger and the Disney+ offering Better Nate Than Ever is an excellent example of that.

Yep, I’m one of those theater kids (maybe now I should call myself a former, or reformed, theater kid?) who had big Broadway dreams when I was in high school and probably for some time before that.  While I now know there were oodles of old MGM/Warner Bros. movies about guys and gals that fled to NYC with the lights of the Great White Way dancing through their brains, back then, I didn’t know from what was in the small section of the video store I frequented.  Had Better Nate Than Ever, with its plot of a teen that ditches school and heads to NYC for a Broadway audition, been available to me, I indeed would have found it, loved it, and probably been a stowaway on a Greyhound to NYC along with my best friend too.

Based on former Broadway dancer Tim Federle’s bestselling novel, Better Nate Than Ever is cute family entertainment that reaches the rafters with heart and ambition, even if it doesn’t always land its double turns.  Directed by Federle, who also adapts his novel, the movie centers around Nate Foster (newcomer Rueby Wood), a 13-year-old Pittsburgh teenager who lives for the stage even if he can’t get a lead role in the school play.  His best friend Libby (Aria Brooks, Harriet) is often by his side but doesn’t have quite the passion for acting; she just wants to be where Nate is, unlike Nate’s brother Anthony (Joshua Bassett) who it appears wants nothing to do with him.  When Nate’s parents go on an unplanned weekend trip and then leave their boys alone to care for themselves, Libby convinces Nate to quickly bus it to NYC to audition for a Broadway musical which they both think could be his big break.

Of course, hijinks ensue as the two teenagers run into several obstacles as they travel as unaccompanied minors across state lines and into The Big Apple, where the promise of stardom awaits Nate.  Never mind he hasn’t auditioned at this level before and is unprepared for the process, stage parents, competitive auditioners, or unexpected wardrobe malfunctions mid-audition.  Also, though Nate knows his Aunt Heidi (Lisa Kudrow, Like a Boss) has lived in NYC as an actress for some time, the bad blood between her and his mom convinces him not to ring her up just in case she mends fences and turns him in.  Who do you think is the first person he runs into before his audition?

The overall air of fantasy permeates the entire short run time of Better Nate Than Ever, down to a few well-staged but quite stage-bound musical numbers that don’t do much to add anything but padding.  If the entire movie was a musical, I could see these interludes adding something, but they are so sporadic as to feel like afterthoughts.  I’d almost have rather seen this done as a full-on musical to demonstrate Nate’s talents further.  As it is, Wood is a charming performer possessing a pleasant voice but operates on a somewhat limited range in that regard — you can feel their voice is almost ready to break/change. 

The film is saved by a commitment to telling a story for all the Nates who could be watching it, seeing their opportunity to shine and pursue their dreams, either locally or on a larger scale.  There’s a strong message that success doesn’t have to be big to be important or worthy and to celebrate every win.  That reinforcement is critical to share with everyone, especially developing minds, as they figure out what makes them happy and fills their cup.  I know I would have taken a lot away from this if a VHS copy of the movie found its way to my player back in the day.  For that, I give Better Nate Than Ever a solid standing ovation. 

Movie Review ~ Home Sweet Home Alone

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The Facts:

Synopsis: After being left at home by himself for the holidays, 10-year-old Max Mercer must work to defend his home from a married couple trying to steal back a valuable heirloom.

Stars: Ellie Kemper, Rob Delaney, Archie Yates, Aisling Bea, Kenan Thompson, Timothy Simons

Director: Dan Mazer

Rated: PG

Running Length: 90 minutes

TMMM Score: (1/10)

Review: “Holiday classics were meant to be broken.”  That’s the tagline being used on the marketing for Home Sweet Home Alone, the sixth (!) film in the series that began back in 1990 with the cheeky cheery blockbuster.  It’s a pretty bold statement for any movie to make, least of all one that is so far down the franchise ladder.  In my mind, I was thinking director Dan Mazer and writers Mikey Day and Streeter Seidell (both from Saturday Night Live) had worked up something clever that would rise above the rather tacky logline.  Instead, both they and the film are firmly on The MN Movie Man’s naughty list for 2021 because this isn’t just a lump of coal…it’s a pile of something else entirely.

Formalities out of the way first.  The story revolves not around young tyke Max (Jojo Rabbit scene-stealer Archie Yates) but financially strapped dunderhead married couple Pam and Jeff McKenzie (Ellie Kemper and Rob Delaney) who think the boy has made off with a doll that could get them out of their dire straits.  That Max has been mistakenly left behind by his immediate and extended family who have jetted off to Toyko for the holidays is barely the B story.  Halfway through the movie you realize Day and Seidell are far more interested in the perspective of the bad guys than the boy forced to defend his home from a suburban couple who don’t have the first clue about how to break into their own house, much less his.

The result is a painfully unfunny 90 minutes with no one to root for, nothing to care about, and a general awe of just how many wrong decisions could be made in a single film.  If the filmmakers won’t even go the distance with making the movie comically adept, what’s the point?  I kept asking myself (often out loud) who this movie was made for.  Kids won’t find any of the hijinks the least bit hilarious because the physical humor skews so violently painful and realistic, something that will surely astonish their adult parents who will already be aghast at the lack of timely jokes.  Dated references to OJ Simpson and Beverly Hills Cop feel like they came from a script written ten or more years ago and that’s just the tip of the out-of-left-field references iceberg that act more like cultural touchstones for the writer’s own memory book than anyone else’s. 

The small attempts made to connect this movie to what has come before offer glimpses at the right direction the filmmakers could have taken things.  Keep your eyes and ears open for references to the McAllisters and one family member that pops up, along with an admittedly clever (hence the 1 star) update to the video Kevin watches in the first film.  Why the writers and Mazer (The Exchange) didn’t go further with this is beyond me.  We definitely didn’t want to spend so much time with Kemper (Sex Tape) and Delaney (Bombshell) and their obnoxious family, including Tim Simons (Draft Day) showing up as a Cousin Eddie-ish knob that rankles Delaney at every turn. Who cares that this couple needs to sell their house because the husband can’t find a job as in the IT field? Would the original Home Alone have been such a hit if we followed Joe Pesci’s character home and hung out with his relatives? This is premiering on Disney+, a streaming service that took all of the major swear words and objectionable content out of Adventures in Babysitting, so perhaps I shouldn’t be surprised what they’ve done here.

Let’s also just acknowledge another major problem – the movie looks absolutely awful.  Within the first ten minutes there’s an editing error involving Kemper’s character showing up in two different scenes at once that’s so noticeable I rewound it just to make sure I didn’t fully dream it. How did this make it through a professional editor’s gaze?  There’s also a terrifically terrible scene where the duo is trying to climb over a large wall when we can clearly see a lower wall right next to them…and it’s not for comic effect.  Bad use of green screen which make the actors look like paper dolls and a general lack of kinetic energy in the finale keep the film as lugubrious as the script. Sanitized beyond all measure to leave no one truly “bad”, this is quite truly a pointless holiday cash-in on a beloved family chestnut.

With the first three Home Alone films available on Disney+ (as bad as the third movie is, it looks like The Grapes of Wrath in comparison to this), there’s just no reason to even consider watching Home Sweet Home Alone.  It will only break your heart in unbearable ways, especially when they corrupt the beautiful Oscar-nominated John Williams score and attempt to stir emotions when it doesn’t deserve our sentiment.

Streaming Review ~ Loki (Episodes 1 & 2)


The Facts:

Synopsis: After stealing the Tesseract during the events of Avengers: Endgame, an alternate version of Loki is brought to the mysterious Time Variance Authority who give Loki a choice: face being deleted from existence due to being a “time variant” or help fix the timeline and stop a greater threat.

Stars: Tom Hiddleston, Owen Wilson, Gugu Mbatha-Raw, Sophia Di Martino, Wunmi Mosaku, Richard E. Grant, Sasha Lane

Director: Kate Herron

Running Length: ~50 minutes

TMMM Score: (7.5/10)

Review:  Can you believe it’s been nearly two years since the last Marvel film was released in theaters?  It’s true, not since 2019’s Spider-Man: Far From Home have we seen one of our favorite superheroes on the big screen.  Fans of the Marvel Cinematic Universe may have missed out on their chance to see Black Widow in theaters this past year when it was delayed due to the pandemic, but in 2021 we’ll make up for lost time as that film is released along with a whopping three others, Shang-Chi and the Legend of the Ten Rings, Eternals, and Spider-Man: No Way Home. It hasn’t been too quiet in Marvel’s world, though. We’ve all had our fair share of consolation prizes in not one, but two well-received television series that have premiered on Disney+. 

The streaming service watched the quirky WandaVision become a bona fide hit with its tonal differences from the previous films.  It had its moments where it reared its more Marvel-y moments but by and large this felt like a self-contained bit of creative freedom that wouldn’t have been possible outside of Disney’s weekly platform release structure.  This was followed fairly quickly with The Falcon and The Winter Soldier mere weeks after WandaVision concluded its 9-episode run.  The Falcon and The Winter Soldier’s 6-episodes, by comparison, were much more like the traditional Marvel movie.  Not that that was an all-together bad thing.  Allowing supporting player Anthony Mackie (Anthony Mackie, Pain & Gain) to rise to leading man status was welcome and if Sebastian Stan (I, Tonya) didn’t do as much to forward his character as I would have liked, the duo proved to be a smart pairing.

Now comes Loki, the third Marvel series to debut on Disney+ and it appears to be the most ambitious one to date.  But wait, you may be asking, didn’t Loki, you know, perish in Avengers: Endgame?  Well, that’s where the storytellers in the big Marvel warehouse have worked some magic and come up with an interesting way to keep Loki alive, but as a “variant” of himself.  In fact, according to the Time Variance Authority (TVA), there could be multiple timelines that we follow if we aren’t careful and that’s why they are there, to help police the master timeline and ensure it is proceeding as intended. 

When he steals the Tesseract in Avengers: Endgame, Loki (Tom Hiddleston, Only Lovers Left Alive) upends the timeline and sets into motion a series of events that puts him in front of Ravonna Lexus Renslaye (Gugu Mbatha-Raw, A Wrinkle in Time) from the TVA who prefers that he be “reset”, i.e. zapped, for his infraction.  She’s persuaded by TVA agent Mobius M. Mobius (Owen Wilson, Bliss) to release Loki to his watch because he needs the trickster’s help in solving a mystery currently confounding the TVA.  Apparently, someone has been jumping through timelines and getting rid of any TVA security detail that comes looking for them.  Agreeing to help Mobius but planning his own escape by infiltrating the TVA from within, Loki becomes an unlikely ally to combat a most unexpected villain.

Above and beyond the production design for the series which has a retro vibe from the late 60’s/early 70’s mixed with a dash of steampunk (not the annoying kind), there’s a boldness to Loki that feels like another step forward for Marvel where their television endeavors are concerned.  Further, it’s totally different than WandaVision and The Falcon and The Winter Soldier, showing that Marvel is having fun experimenting with their style as well as their substance.  Director Kate Herron keeps the vibe fresh and fun, allowing Hiddleston free range to let his Loki grow in stature without making the villain too unlikable.  It’s also a great showing for Wilson, who takes the role just seriously enough to be convincing but not overtly dry.

Time-travel shows can be a tough sell because it’s easy to play fast and loose with the rules.  At times during the first two episodes there are some head-scratching moments where the action can be tough to track, but that is what the rewind button is for.  Still, I wouldn’t want to keep having to think too terribly hard over the remaining four episodes about how the timelines merge together but trust that it will all line up by the finale.  Loki proves that Marvel is running a solid three for three.  Still to come in 2021 is an animated series (What If…?) and two more live-action entries, Ms. Marvel and Hawkeye.  Based on the track record so far, the bar is set awfully high for what’s next.