Synopsis: Six years after the events of “Wreck-It Ralph”, Ralph and Vanellope, now friends, discover a wi-fi router in their arcade, leading them into a new adventure.
Stars: John C. Reilly, Sarah Silverman, Jane Lynch, Jack McBrayer, Taraji P. Henson, Gal Gadot
Director: Phil Johnston, Rich Moore
Running Length: 112 minutes
TMMM Score: (6/10)
Review: I have to be honest and say that I wasn’t a ride or die fan of Wreck-It-Ralphwhen it first was released. It took me a while to find my way to the movie in theaters and though as a child of the ‘80s I appreciated the nostalgia its 8-bit arcade game lead character stirred within me it doesn’t sit high on my list of favorite Disney films. Though the sequel was hotly anticipated I didn’t even take the time to re-watch the original before taking in this colorful follow-up that I wound up having fun at. This one seemed to push the envelope more than its predecessor and was stuffed with enough rapid fire jokes to keep your head spinning. There are a plethora of Easter eggs to be found, especially for those that remember the early days of the World Wide Web and recall the way you would hold your breath when AOL would attempt to connect.
John C. Reilly (Holmes & Watson) and Sarah Silverman (A Millon Ways to Die in the West) are back to voice our two lead characters with Gal Gadot (Wonder Woman) joining the cast as an ally to Silverman’s character. I also got a huge kick out of two scenes featuring every Disney princess that has appeared on film, most voiced by the same women that originally brought them to life. Slyly commenting on their storybook lives in this #TimesUp brave new world we’re living in, they were the highlight of the film. While the animation is wonderfully eye-popping I don’t feel the movie sticks in your brain like the best of the Disney animated films do.
Synopsis: A humorous take on Sir Arthur Conan Doyle’s classic mysteries featuring Sherlock Holmes and Doctor Watson.
Stars: Will Ferrell, John C. Reilly, Ralph Fiennes, Rebecca Hall, Kelly Macdonald, Hugh Laurie, Pam Ferris, Lauren Lapkus, Rob Brydon
Director: Etan Cohen
Running Length: 90 minutes
TMMM Score: (2/10)
Review: It’s been a month since Thanksgiving but there’s a fresh turkey to be found at your local cinema. Sadly, there’s no wishbone to be had in this bird but if there had been, you’d likely use up your wish and go back in time to select another movie, any other movie, to see instead. Haven’t we had enough Sherlock Holmes and Dr. Watson yet? Sir Arthur Conan Doyle’s classic literary creations have already come to life in multiple well-made movies over the past eight decades and one highly regarded television series, not to mention we’ve already had one marginally liked comedic take with 1988’s Without a Clue. Yet the famed duo still provide fodder for further films and when they don’t have an ounce of brains in the planning you get a movie like Holmes & Watson.
A film sure to make Conan Doyle roll over in his grave, Holmes & Watson is a dum-dum comedy featuring Will Ferrell (The Campaign) and John C. Reilly (Carnage) hoping to recreate some of the magic they found in 2008 hit Step Brothers. While that movie was no brilliant fete of moviemaking, it looks like Lawrence of Arabia compared to this stinker. It seems like no one bothered to think through anything above and beyond the simple character constructs everyone already knows and then unfortunately let Ferrell and Reilly fill in the blanks. Left to their own devices, the duo entertain only themselves for a turgid 90 minutes. Adding in unnecessary modern references and a few Trump jokes for good measure not to mention an amazing amount of bad dubbing and numerous continuity errors and you have a movie that feels cobbled together from rejected remnants of better scripts.
Opening with the meeting and eventual friendship of a young Sherlock Holmes and John Watson when Holmes is dropped off and bullied at an elite boarding school, we jump forward to an established Holmes and Watson testifying at the trial of the recently captured Moriarty (Ralph Fiennes, The Grand Budapest Hotel, looking pained in every one of his brief appearances onscreen). When Moriarty goes free and a threat with his evil touch is then made on the Queen (Pam Ferris, The Raven), Holmes and Watson jump into action with the assistance of an American doctor (Rebecca Hall, The BFG) who catches Watson’s eye. Also providing assistance is Kelly Macdonald (Goodbye Christopher Robin) as the housekeeper at Baker Street, Rob Brydon (Early Man) as Inspector Lestrade, and Hugh Laurie (Tomorrowland) as Holmes’ older brother.
Admittedly, I saw Holmes & Watson at the tail end of a long holiday weekend and sort of half dozed off around the 40-minute mark but was told by my movie-going companion all I missed was an appearance by Steve Coogan (Philomena) as a one-armed tattoo artist operating at a wrestling studio (because…of course). My sleepiness is also likely the reason I saw the movie was written and directed by Etan Cohen and for a brief moment was filled with fear that the Oscar winning director of No Country For Old Men had played a part in this…only to realize that was Ethan Cohen. The man captaining this sinking ship was Etan (no ‘h’) Cohen and he gave us the gems Men in Black III and Get Hard…more in line with what’s on screen.
With a cast this stacked you almost feel sorry they are ending 2018 with such a scarlet letter on their IMDb page but if there’s one good thing to come out of Holmes & Watson is that hopefully studios will think twice before giving Ferrell such a long leash in future movies. He’s a large reason the movie fails so spectacularly, halfheartedly hamming it up for the camera like he’s sleepwalking through the second to last sketch on a March episode of Saturday Night Live. He’s merely collecting a paycheck and dragging down a lot of better actors with him. Looking over his movies, he hasn’t made a legitimately good one in almost a decade, box office numbers aside. It’s time for the actor to take a step back and have a good talk with himself about what kind of actor he wants to be because he’s consistently turning up in trash.
At this very moment audiences find themselves with a plethora of solid movie choices available to them and to even consider plunking down your money for Holmes & Watson over far better fare like Roma, Mary Poppins Returns, If Beale Street Could Talk, or Ben is Back would be a real waste. Worse, you’d be rewarding the filmmakers and stars for their bad choices.
Synopsis: A behind-the-scenes look at the life of author A.A. Milne and the creation of the Winnie the Pooh stories inspired by his son C.R. Milne.
Stars: Domhnall Gleeson, Margot Robbie, Kelly Macdonald, Will Tilston, Stephen Campbell Moore, Alex Lawther, Richard McCabe, Nico Mirallegro, Geraldine Somerville, Phoebe Waller-Bridge
Director: Simon Curtis
Running Length: 107 minutes
TMMM Score: (5/10)
Review: Lord, do I love Winnie the Pooh. A longtime fan of that honey-loving bear, I admit that I first came to the Hundred-Acre wood via the now-frightening live-action television series that first aired on the Disney Channel. Remember that one? The one with the puppets that rarely blinked and sometimes talked without moving their mouths? I watched a few minutes of an episode recently and was aghast at how scary it was to me as an adult, obviously I was much less critical (and less easily terrified) when I was six or seven. Anyway, I digress. What I mean to say is that it was only as I became an adult that I went back to the works of A.A. Milne and read the source material that served as a jumping off point for Disney animators and Imagineers.
So that’s all a preface to say that I had high hopes for Goodbye Christopher Robin, a look into the life of the famous author and his family and how he created the world of a hungry bear and his forest dwelling friends. While the early previews promised a heart-tugging drama (don’t worry, hearts are tugged are tears are shed) it didn’t hint that the film winds up to be pretty boring in its heavy first half before finally finding its footing nearly an hour into its runtime.
Coming back from the first World War, playwright Alan Alexander Milne (Domhnall Gleeson, About Time) struggles to adjust back to civilian life. His socialite wife Daphne (Margot Robbie, Suicide Squad) not so much longs for a child but thinks that it will do her marriage good. The arrival of Christopher Robin Milne (first played by Will Tilston, then by Alex Lawther) is a rough one, mostly because it’s hinted that Daphne wasn’t aware exactly where babies come from…literally. Quickly hiring a nanny nicknamed Nou (Kelly MacDonald, Brave), the parents resume their showbiz lifestyle, often leaving their son for weeks on end as they travel.
It’s only when Milne grows tired of “making people life” and after he moves his family to a beautiful estate in the English countryside that the father is forced to get to know his son. With his wife flying the coop back to London after becoming exasperated at his sluggish ways and Nou off to care for her ailing mother, Milne starts to explore the woods and that’s when the stories are born. First as a play-game and then put to paper and illustrated, the tales of Christopher Robin and his woodland friends become a sensation, blurring the lines between the real boy and the boy featured in his father’s books. This creates a growing resentment from Christopher Robin that permeates his entire childhood, a childhood that may have been stolen away by a limelight he didn’t ask for.
Director Simon Curtis (Woman in Gold) along with screenwriters Frank Cottrell Boyce and Simon Vaughan front load the movie with too much Milne moping. A.A. and Daphne are painted as such neglectful ninnies that your heart goes out to their son that can’t find a way into their social circle. Raised to be caring and compassionate by his adored nanny, his life is ultimately sheltered which makes the instant celebrity he achieves so difficult to deal with. Excellently played by young Tilston, the movie takes off when he’s center stage and the same goes for anytime MacDonald is onscreen (why people aren’t mentioning her for an Oscar nom is beyond me) as the sole voice of reason.
I’m not sure if it’s because Robbie is so painfully miscast that her character comes off so horribly but it’s got to factor into the equation. Robbie is a bit of a puzzle actress, she’s never great but seems to be given the benefit of the doubt in Hollywood more often than she should. She’s certainly terrible here, botching her accent and aging too gracefully as the years pass by. When Gleeson ditches his eternal scowl he becomes a tolerable presence but both A.A. and Daphne were so clueless to the pain they were causing their son that it’s a hard thing for an actor to overcome without some blowback.
Goodbye Christopher Robin’s middle section that explains how these fondly remembered characters were created is the best part while it’s poor opening and rushed closing provide an imbalance that the movie can’t recover from. Truth be told it has some emotional heft as it nears the conclusion, but it doesn’t feel totally earned and the tears are delivered via a fairly manipulative plot device that might put some audience members off. I for one was a little miffed at the game that was being played, I just wanted to know more about why the characters were playing it to begin with.
Synopsis: A bold, theatrical new vision of the epic story of love, adapted from Leo Tolstoy’s timeless novel. The story powerfully explores the capacity for love that surges through the human heart. As Anna questions her happiness and marriage, change comes to all around her.
Review: ‘Tis the season for grand costume dramas adapted from classic literature and the holiday is off to a good start with this adaptation of Leo Tolstoy’s Russian drama of alienation, deception, and doomed love. Though Anna Karenina has been seen on screens both big and small since film was invented, this 2012 version is ablaze with passion framed within a highly theatrical landscape that is both inviting and cold. Think Moulin Rouge! meets Merchant Ivory.
Now don’t roll your eyes…Moulin Rouge! has its rabid fans as well as those that wrote off Baz Luhrmann’s 2001 musical as MTV hyper cut filmmaking but it reintroduced some needed theatricality into film that had been lost for some time. I consider Anna Karenina a sister film to Moulin Rouge!…meaning that if Moulin is the excitable sibling that can’t sit still, Anna is the lovelorn romantic that dreams of something bigger and better.
Re-teaming for the third time after collaborating on Pride and Prejudice and Atonement, director Wright and star Knightley have brought in playwright Tom Stoppard to lend his distinct voice to the telling of this sad tale. Stoppard has cleared away some of the muck in Tolstoy’s hefty (but well respected) tome and let previously underplayed storylines come to the forefront with ease. Though the story is clearly centered on Anna and her affairs of the heart, under Stoppard’s pen we are treated to some beautiful moments from our secondary characters.
Wright has consistently given Knightley her best work (and led her to an Oscar nomination for Pride and Prejudice) and Anna Karenina is no exception. I’ve found Knightley to be a hit or miss type of actress – her screeching performance in 2011’s A Dangerous Method almost broke the camel’s back and her work in the little-seen Seeking a Friend for the End of the World didn’t do her any favors . Thankfully, she’s ended 2012 with a searing take on the Russian wife swept away into a sea of deceit spurred on by an unfaltering love. Though she knows it will lead to no good, she can’t pry her heart out of the trouble it’s getting into.
As the two men in her life, Law and Taylor-Johnson are interesting choices to stoke the fires of her heart. Law, with a balding pate and stuffy demeanor shows us his struggle more than he actually lets us see behind his cold exterior as Anna’s husband that tries to save her from ruin. Taylor-Johnson is the young buck who catches her eye and falls just as hard for her without remorse of consequences. It can be frustrating to see some of the choices our characters make…but our actors make these choices appear unavoidable.
Secondary love stories are usually introduced for comic effect in classic literature but Stoppard has given a nice sheen to Gleeson’s courting of Vikander’s pretty princess. Though she only has eyes for Taylor-Johnson’s character, a shift in her heart happens on screen that is a wonder to behold – and it’s not just because Taylor-Johnson goes after Knightley instead. Gleeson and Vikander share one of the best scenes of the year…a wordless exchange where they literally spell out their feelings for each other.
On its own, this Anna Karenina had all the elements to make a perfectly respectable motion picture but Wright takes it several steps further by setting the film in a theatrical environment that adds a magical touch. Largely set in and around the stage of an ornate theater, Wright lets the camera push through the scenery into a Narnia-like world that exists behind the curtain. Scenes are shifted in front of your eyes to new locations with striking detail. Production designer Sarah Greenwood should keep Oscar night free because her lavish sets and ornate design will earn her a nomination without question.
Even highly theatricalized, the film doesn’t seem gimmicky. It would have been so easy to take this too far and make the film much too strident in its artifice but it always seems to work like it should. Sometimes it feels like the concept has been forgotten but soon Wright sweeps you back into the backstage drama that plays out. Cinematographer Seamus McGarvey creates a hypnotic pulse that the film hums along to…a dance sequence is played out with breathless beauty that captivates you fully.
It’s a film that has been on my mind as the days go by but be aware that, like Shakespeare, there is a period of adjustment you must get through with Anna Karenina. When the film began I wasn’t sure this was going to be something I would enjoy as much as I dd. The first fifteen minutes or so just spills over the audience and it’s up to you to hunker down and get up to speed. For those that do, you’ll find a clever and visually stunning film experience that is good fodder for a wintery day at the movies.
Synopsis: Determined to make her own path in life, Princess Merida defies a custom that brings chaos to her kingdom. Granted one wish, Merida must rely on her bravery and her archery skills to undo a beastly curse.
Stars: Kelly Macdonald, Billy Connolly, Emma Thompson, Robbie Coltrane, Julie Walters
Director: Mark Andrews, Brenda Chapman, Steve Purcell
Running Length: 100 minutes
Random Crew Highlight: Laser Camera Operator ~ Erik Anderson
TMMM Score: (7.5/10)
Review: In their much celebrated history, PIXAR animation has taken audiences on spectacular journeys. Whether you were under the sea Finding Nemo, flying high with Up, racing along with Cars, seeking adventure in your Toy Story, or speeding through outer space with WALL*E the creative minds at the studio have always been found inspiration in the present or future. With Brave, PIXAR has stepped up to face their critics and produced their first period piece with their first female protagonist. As is typical with PIXAR, the resulting film is a layered, thoughtful, winning piece that explores parental relationships and a child’s need to discover true independence.
Gloriously set in the Scottish highlands in medieval times, the film has a prologue that introduces princess Merida (voiced by true Scot MacDonald who replaced, of all people, Reese Witherspoon) and her royal parents (Thompson and Connolly) as they celebrate Merida’s birthday. The appearance of ghostlike fairies and one mean bear set the stage for a passage of time which brings us to a teenage Merida who is all tomboy rougness. Favoring archery to needlepoint and outdoor adventures to drawing room discourse, Merida is a handful for her arch mother that believes a princess should act in certain ways. Like most teenagers, Merida has a rebellious side that is drawn out in full force when her parents organize a competition for Merdia’s hand in marriage.
The politics of this marriage were an interesting wrinkle to the film. Sure, animated film have featured betrothed brides before but in Brave the reasons behind the necessity of marriage to ensure unity among clans is spoken of on a level that is easy to discuss with children. It’s not that Merida doesn’t have time for boys; it’s just not even on her radar of interest yet.
The trailers have done a good job concealing the second and third acts of Brave so I won’t spoil it for you except to say that when Merida seeks a chance to change her fate (with a few nods to The Little Mermaid) she’s faced with confronting the consequences in a uniquely PIXAR/Disney way.
What PIXAR does so well is to create characters that feel like they could be flesh and blood were it not for their computer animated skeletons. From Merida’s exquisitely detailed curly red hair to the distinct differences between the clans coming to win her hand, life has once again been breathed into stock characters…giving us a feeling of reality in this animated world.
I appreciated that save for the aforementioned mean ‘ole bear there is no real “villain” in the film thwarting our heroine. The journey isn’t about conquering an outside force but accepting some shortcomings that exist within all of us. In defeating our inner demons, we learn and become better. There is also a strong focus on familial relationships…especially mother/daughter ones. Don’t let that fool you to thinking that men can’t learn a little something from this as well. Ultimately it’s about the support we find in our family and the solace that that support can bring.
Is Brave a home-run on par with the Toy Story trilogy, Up, or Wall*E? I don’t think so – although I did like it better than both Cars films and A Bugs Life. It has some pacing problems and is scarier than it probably should be considering its audience. I think it sits right in the middle favoring the good side more than anything. The animation is spectacular (the 3D is nicely immersive should you go that route), the music intoxicating, and it carries a story with it that is moving and timeless.
It’s tradition for PIXAR to release their full length features with a short and the Oscar nominated La Luna was featured before Brave. At a wondrous seven minutes, it’s less broad than some of their other shorts but maintains an aura of magic that is their trademark. Described as “A fable of a young boy who is coming of age in the most peculiar of circumstances as he discovers his family’s most unusual line of work”, La Luna has a lovely twist concerning generational traditions that is a wonderful complement to Brave’s mother/daughter angle.