Can You Say: Fun, Family Friendly, Movie?

Dora and the Lost City of Gold Poster

 

Childhood television shows hold a special place in our hearts, bringing us back to the days where adventure lied in every episode. Eager minds waited for the next episode to come, fooling ourselves that something different was going to happen to our hero and push them to the edge, only until we realized it was predictably the same ending.  So movies that come out to potentially extend a hand back into the past and relive those moments are very intriguing and we may just find ourselves flocking to the movies to figure out what they writers could have in store for our heroes.  Well, today that movie trend tries once more, this time in a pop culture icon who had mixed reception depending on the age you started with her.  Robbie K here with another review on the former cartoon now brought to life in the trend of live action movies.  Yes, I review:

 

Movie:

 

Dora the Explorer And The Lost City Of Gold (2019)

 

Director:

James Bobin

Writers:

Chris Gifford (based on the series created by), Matthew Robinson (screenplay by)  | 5 more credits »

Stars:

Isabela MonerEugenio DerbezMichael Peña

 

LIKES:

Short

Fast Paced

Good for Kids

Funny

Feels Like A Dora Episode

Nostalgic

Boots

 

DISLIKES:

Predictable

Simplistic

Lackluster Ending

Under Utilized Cast

Still Too Kiddy

Preachy

 

Summary:

For a movie that is based on a kid’s program, the Nickelodeon studies managed to keep the kid-friendly atmosphere alive and appropriate for the younger audience members. Utilizing the young adult morale issues for the generation to latch onto and have a rapport with. Those who aren’t looking for the preteen dilemmas and high school shenanigans though will enjoy the humor in this film.  The director and writers knew that the older population would be looking for something more enjoyable and the movie hits that mark by making fun of itself and trying to rationalize how Dora had the adventures she did.  It’s this self-punching humor that had me laughing up a storm and if you get the references remain into the movie at what next piece of humor you would get.  And for fans like me who had younger relatives obsessed with the explorer, you pick up a few references that bring back the nostalgia of the animated adventures and the ridiculousness at hand.  As for Boots, the little monkey is adorable and funny, bringing a dynamic set of jokes to the mix and relieving some of the other plot devices.

 

Yet the movie fails on the story aspect, working too hard to hit itself with the absurdity of the whole story.  The adventure is predictable with lots of obvious foreshadowing laid out in the first third of the act.  Trekking through the jungle lacks the bite Indiana jones and others had, again diluting to simplistic sequences that were perfect for the little kids it targets.  The end of the path holds a rather disappointing, lackluster finale that leaves much to be desired in terms of wow factor, though it manages to nail that morale heavy lessons we all want in a Nickelodeon themed movie.  Much of the disappointment for me was the underutilized cast, many of Dora’s friends, rivals, and even other characters like Swiper were overshadowed by the fabulous explorer and her can do attitude.  In doing so, the supposedly threatening group to antagonize the trip were one-dimensional throw away that served mainly to give slight suspense to the film.  Yet, there was still plenty of time for them film to put those preachy lessons right at the end, with music, forced dialogue, and everything else to the delight of families. 

 

  Dora’s real-life adventure is a cute dive to help bridge a lot of audience members.  I concur with the rest of the reviewers that it is better than you expect, primarily in the humor, pacing, and fun references that are all contained in the short 100 minutes run-time.  Sadly, the humor and kid friendly atmosphere left much to be desired in the form of story, acting, suspense, and overall finale for the adventure.  I applaud them for making this thing short and fun though, and would say that this is a decent family film if you are looking for one to close the summer on.  Yet, if you need a more quality film overall, look elsewhere, as there are several other films that will assist your viewing pleasures. 

 

My scores are:

 

Adventure/Family:  7.0

Movie Overall:  5.0

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Mulling Over the Mule

The Mule Poster

 

At one time a legendary Western star, the famous Clint Eastwood set his sights on directing and writing more realistic dramas that were meant to appeal to his dedicated fans.  The result have been some rather dark, gritty movies that star the legend himself.  So this weekend, the next film in his arsenal came out, looking to copy his formula and bring with it another dark tale that could potentially be just as formulaic as the next film.  Going in with low expectations, I was not too excited to hit this film.  What was the verdict?  As always Robbie K, is here to share his opinions as he reviews:

 

Film: The Mule (2018)

 

Director:

Clint Eastwood

Writers:

Sam Dolnick (inspired by the New York Times Magazine Article “The Sinaloa Cartel’s 90-Year Old Drug Mule” by), Nick Schenk

Stars:

Clint EastwoodBradley CooperTaissa Farmiga

 

 

LIKES:

 

The Acting:  It’s Clint Eastwood, so you know what you are getting with the man when it comes to his style.  Taking his usual gritty tone with gruff presentation, edgy words, and a blunt approach that lacks any filter Eastwood will still appeal to his tried and true ways. Yet, this film sees him adding a little more lightness to his role, bringing some comedy to the mix that feels natural and no longer forced.  In regards to the rest of the crew, they hit their usual stride in regards to this kind of character with Cooper having the single-minded focus of tracking down the bad guy in that smoldering manner he does, Michael Peña, being that quirky side kick that is again okay, but not quite displaying his full talents. As for the cartel members, nice displays of stereotypical roles, but not fully diving into the members given the theme of this film. This is definitely an Eastwood focused film, so he’ll do most of the lifting.

 

The Story/Character Development:  Stereotypical and predictable, but still a deep dive into character development, The Mule accomplishes what many films strive to do.  It takes the central character and begins to mold them into something new, no matter where they start. The realistic journey over the course of Earl’s journey shows him gradually seeing the light and adjusting life based on the new needs, sometimes hitting blocks, but never so much ignoring everything in the journey to start from square one.  It works quite well, especially in the small integration of other characters, helping to display the lesson of teaching others as they teach you, aka the passing of the torch to future generations.  This rich focus will appeal to the key demographic, and may also impress some others that have the open mid to give Eastwood’s drama a try.

 

The Pace:  As I said before, Eastwood’s dramas are a little too slow for my taste, especially given the dark tones they take.  Yet this film somehow managed to take a detour down the freeway it seems, because it moved quite well for me given the facets of the plot. Despite the look of the trailers, the team did a job of adding some joys of life to the mix, embedding some natural comedy to lighten the tones, and establish an adventure as Earl goes up and down the U.S.A. roads.  The integration of these components makes for a better adventure than I could have imagined, and helps bring more people into this particular tale.  The new momentum it brought was much more entertaining for me and definitely a plus.

 

The Realism:  My final like is the fact that the movie is still keeping in touch with the realistic side of things.  The Mule does have its share of soap opera dynamics, but it doesn’t plunge so far in that it steers away from the realistic component. As such, it’s a relatable tale that is appealing to follow and potentially learn from.

 

DISLIKES:

 

Secondary Characters Flat: It’s tough to balance all the plates of characters in a film like The Mule.  Nevertheless, there was some ground to still cover when it came to the secondary characters. Some of the cartel members that were important to the plot felt very flat, the richer stories and relationships deep down in their sulking forms.  Why they didn’t focus better on the relationships, boggles me when that dynamic would have been an enjoyment to watch.  In regards to the DEA story, it serves it’s purpose as well, helping to establish the chase component of the film that a drama like this needs.  Yet, this component still could have had some better integration as well, helping to actually feel like a mystery instead of these checkpoints serving to remind us there was another story going.  I didn’t so much enjoy this parallel plot approach, but then again it could have been worse.

 

More Suspense:  An Eastwood film is known for some edgy experiences to keep you on the edge of your seat, or perhaps make you sweat just a little. The Mule sadly didn’t hit that mark for me despite its best attempts.  Perhaps it is the lighter aspects that diluted the normal rough and gruff edge he is known for.  It could be how predictable the plot is, meaning fewer surprises for me when you see them coming.  Or maybe it was the fact that the secondary characters weren’t so integrated to give the thriller it wanted as mentioned above.  Whatever the reason, the lack of suspense still made the film a little duller than intended.

 

The Ending:  Does the finale make sense and fit into the plot? Yes.  However, while I appreciate the direction in regards to the character development and the tale wrapping up, it completely derailed the momentum the majority of the film established.  The last 20-25 minutes completely changed the course of the film, once again dulling my interest and mood as they turned the corner.  At this point, the wrap up was mercifully approached, but not before dragging everything through the mud and leaving me feeling extremely low.  Not my favorite conclusion, but I’ll acknowledge their direction from story telling aspect.

 

 

The VERDICT:

 

            The Mule is one of my top films of the Eastwood legacy of thrillers.  It has character and a realistic portrayal of someone looking for changing even in the late stage of life that will appeal to much of the target audience.  Acting wise it’s solid, presentation is straight and to the point, and the new atmosphere of adding light touches of comedy and happiness, make for the more entertaining of the bunch. Still a lack of suspense and use of the other characters takes away from the complete story and suspense that we wanted.  Overall a solid film though, and worth seeing in the theater if you are looking to take an Eastwood fan to the movies, but otherwise stay the course for home viewing for this one. 

 

My scores are:

 

Crime/Drama/Mystery: 7.5

Movie Overall: 6.0

Teaming Up For Comedic Zings, But Wasp Doesn’t Bring As Much Action Stings

Ant-Man and the Wasp Poster

 

Another weekend, another chance for Disney to take the box office with their franchises.  Tonight, the latest Marvel movie appears to try and steal the bucks from all other competitions as it tries to follow the biggest movie event of the year Infinity War.  Can the rogue hero Ant-Man make a film of wavering size… or is it just a placeholder until Avengers 4 comes to life next spring?  Robbie K here ready to write the review on:

 

Movie: Ant-Man and The Wasp (2018)

 

Director:

Peyton Reed

Writers:

Chris McKenna,  Erik Sommers

Stars:

Paul Rudd,  Evangeline Lilly,  Michael Peña

 

 

LIKES:

 

Fun/Family Friendly: If you remember the first movie, you know that these movies are fun and very friendly to just about everyone. Ant-Man and The Wasp continues the family friendly fun and keeping it appropriate for all ages.  The pace keeps things moving, bringing with it a constantly entertaining movie that will keep the audience’s attention with ease. Little kids will be impressed with all the excitement and constant moving, while the comic fans will relish the graphic novel qualities of the film. 

 

Character Development: Despite all the chaos in this film, Ant-Man 2 is all about evolving the characters to the next level.  Scott (Rudd) is all about trying to balance work, family, and saving the world, all while trying to push past the fears that dwell around him.  Hope (Lilly) and Hank (Michael Douglas) are on a quest themselves, but while doing this, strive to push past the boundary established form mistakes past.  It’s heartwarming, cute, and surprisingly deeper than expected, but doesn’t divert from the story to make the point, rather integrating this into all the tales.  It works well and develops a crew you want to follow this journey through.

 

Good Main Villain: Marvel baddies have all been extreme characters who go over the edge.  From CGI titans to hormonal, vengeful aspiring kings, the Wave 3 crew has lost much of the balance some of the earlier villains had.  Ghost (Hannah John-Kamen) is a character that backpedals into a balanced character, an antagonist who won’t annoy you to hating them for their grandiose flaws.  She’s got some backstory, is integrated well to other characters, and remains embedded in the story to develop alongside the rest of the cast.

 

Funny:  See my previous reviews, but Ant-Man 2 rocks in regards to being comedically entertaining.  The writing is the start of this ride, a blend of comedic styles that will appease just about everyone who loves to laugh whether it be from banter or a well-timed insult.  Director Peyton Reed kept things balanced with this work, and therefore didn’t overdo the comedy, or should I say overuse a comedic style. Yet the actors who bring the words to life get the final round of applause for making the most out of comedic gold.  Rudd’s sarcasm, but his relaxed atmosphere works fantastically.  Douglas style is all about dry sarcasm and stoic delivery to counter the energy of just about every character in the crew.  Yet… it’s Michael Peñawho really shines in this movie.  His energy, his confusion, his surprise and his yelling were all fantastic qualities to make him the king of the comedy in this movie. 

 

 

DISLIKES:

 

More Bite from Bad Guys: Ghost has got skills and a story, but she is lacking that bite that Marvel Villains are known to have.  I can’t say much without ruining too much, but this more balanced mercenary is in need of a little more hate/angst to drive her actions, in hopes of making for a more suspenseful tale. In regards to Sonny (Walton Goggins) well he was meant to be a little more deceptive and menacing, but his malice was diluted due to the comedic direction of the movie.

 

Too Much Comedy?: Disney’s last wave of movies is very heavily focused on making people laugh in some form or manner.  While it is always good to laugh, I feel this approach is limiting the potential of the movie to be as balanced and exciting as the first few waves.  Ant-Man 2 is fun and entertaining, but the comedy becomes the primary focus and sort of dilutes the other qualities of the film at times. In the case of this movie it is the suspense and action that take most of the hits.  Speaking of which…

 

The Action:  The First Ant-Man had all the props out to utilize the technology of the hero of varying sizes.  As they train to break in, we get exciting military like strategy, before a very fast and engaging fight between two suits.  This movie started out with a good fight led by Wasp, which showed off girl power to all proportions.  After that… not much else happened even at the end where the exciting climax was a little silly than amazing.  Yes, it is entertaining, but it didn’t have all the pizazz and edge like the first film, and did fall into repetitive maneuvers that were okay.  Again, still fun, but just didn’t reach the levels of the first for me.

 

 

The VERDICT:

 

            Overall, the sequel to Ant-Man works on many levels and does its job at the follow-up to the big, bad Infinity War.  It’s placeholder status has plenty of fun, laughs, and entertainment for the whole family and will certainly keep everyone chuckling by some means.  In addition, it has a thousand times better character development than expected, and gives all the players ample involvement in the story, despite all the laughing you will be doing.  Still, it’s not the most thrilling or exciting of the bunch primarily that the bad guys are not as malicious and the comedy floods much of the movie and washing away the other qualities.  However, it is absolutely worth the trip to the theater with your friends and family, to just enjoy the ride.  Of note: The Mid-Credits scene will tie the film to Infinity War and the end credit is another laugh. 

 

My scores are:

 

Action/Adventure/Sci-Fi: 8.0

Movie Overall: 7.5

A Little More Development Would Have Made This 12 Stronger

12 strong.jpg

            The World Trade Center attack, a day that will forever live on in the history of the American society.  From this event, our military launched a new war that targeted terrorism, and the escalating threats that hid in the shadows.  We’ve had plenty of tales about the heroes who acted on that day, uncovered the leads to locating the leaders of the attack, and potential occupations of territories of those who might continue their work.  This weekend, yet another campaign heavy feature comes to theaters entitled 12 strong, the declassified story of the Horsemen who fought back.  What lies in this political drama?  Robbie K here to answer that question in hopes of guiding your viewing pleasures.  Let’s’ move out!

 

LIKES:

 

The Pace:  Some military dramas get lost in all the political jargon and build up, but this movie manages to dive through that medium quickly to get to what you want to see. While the opening hour is on the slower side and dialogue heavy, it eventually takes off when the first battles begin to rock out.  From there, the rest of the movie is tense ride, moving at a consistent speed to bring suspense and intensity at what lies in the Middle Eastern range.

 

The Dialogue:  The story of the horsemen may be action heavy focused, but my buddy and I agreed that the dialogue was well done in this movie.  One component is between the soldiers, a realistic, almost natural, exchange of insults, jabs, and venting that represents the bond the soldiers have.  Well-timed jokes relieve some of the tension, and the comedic punch is subtle but perfect to get a good laugh out of you.  When the action starts up, you’ll get your feel of military jargon, as the soldiers call out strategic maneuvers and call in air strikes utilizing the coordinates.  While not the most creative writing here, it’s a component that helps pull you into the heat of the moment.  The strongest writing though, comes in the philosophical debates between Captain Mitch (Chris Hemsworth) and General Dostum  (Navid Negahban). A contest of wills takes place numerous time between the two leaders, and in it contains Hollywood inspired lines designed to open your minds to bravery, empathy, and what it means to fight.  These moments are the most moving, and in it a great study on the hell war truly is.

 

The Messages:  The dialogue does much of the lifting in this category, but 12 Strong also has enough visual representation on the culture of the battlefield that was the war on terror.  Perhaps there is some studio magic to gloss up things, the movie did a solid job portraying the Arabic cultures and approaches to war on all sides.  Honor and dignity are heavy in the population, and not all factions are as heated as the terrorism associated with it.  Seeing this duality not only supports the dramatic storytelling, but does a solid job at educating the audience that not everyone out there is an enemy.

 

Action: Okay now the part you really want to know about.  The action of 12 Strong delivers what the trailer promised.  Special effects heavy sequences erupt to life as Hemsworth and company unleash their disciplined fury onto the poor extras that are heavy in this film.  Exciting gunplay is the main theme of the mix, all sharing a similar foundation, but with some tweaks to help each battle stand out.  As many of my fellow reviewers agree, the movie’s final battle is the best of the bunch, packed with emotion, tension, and all out courage and glory that America loves to see as they ride their horses into the fray.  A powerful cinematic score will assist in bringing the whole shebang to life.  Not the strongest of all the movies I’ve seen, but dang strong in its own right.

 

 

DISLIKES:

 

Too Long:  For a movie that is action packed, you would think that the story could be told in under 2 hours.  Yet, this movie was a little too long at points for me.  It starts with the delayed opening, taking nearly an hour to get to the first battle the movie promised.  Sure, the information is presented in a concise manner, but how much of it was really needed is the question that remains.  In addition, the movie took some tangents to give you the whole journey, admirable in terms of capturing every detail, but not done well enough to be fully pertinent to the movie.  This story takes some unnecessary tangents that didn’t get the time it needed, acting as quick acknowledgements to the soldier’s lives and nothing more.

 

Hard To Differentiate Soldiers:  Another problem with this movie is how much the soldiers seem to blend together in this movie.  You’ve got Hemsworth who sticks out like a sore thumb, and a couple of other members that have a unique quality to them to help differentiate them.  Much of the cast though are just bearded big men who all have a vendetta to settle with the terrorists.  Sacrificing logical combat gear choices, like helmets and armor, they try to give some visual cues to help each member stand out, but their identities still aren’t really prominent for the audience to grab onto.  They relied on Hemsworth too much to do the lifting, letting his good looks do most of the eye grabbing.  In addition, none of the other soldiers had strong background development, with only the ones with family getting any glimpse of a life.  They try to give a few of them some screen time at parts of the movie by splitting the team, but most of the supporting antics fall to quick sequences that could have been left out.

 

Army Of One: Exciting as the battles are, 12 strong is more like 1-5 strong in the grand scheme of things.  Hemsworth is the soldier whose perspective you’ll get the most of, despite being the member who has had the least combat experience.  Where other movies do a nice job of integrating all members of the team in some way, but this film sort of glazed over the contributions of the others.  Don’t get me wrong, the other troops have some displays of their skills, but they just don’t have that unique component other military films do.  Even the main villain sometimes get lost to the sea of extras, with only some close ups of sneers to shine the spotlight on.  Again, the movie relies of Hemsworth to do most of the lifting, and it really could have achieved more had the others been more involved.

 

The VERDICT:

 

            When it comes to action films, 12 strong is the leader for the new year at the moment.  While the movie starts out slow, the second act gets things going, primarily thanks to the action sequences that are loaded in this movie. Still, the movie manages to get some good dialogue into the mix that, in tandem with the visual effects, does a nice job delivering the emotional messages about the culture of war.  However, the movie was a little too long, going down too many paths that, while entertaining, did not provide much to the story.  Such a shame, as the other members of the platoon could have used some development to not only add more to the battles, but also help the other cast stand out a little more.  Given all these things though, the movie is the pick of the weekend to go see in theaters, due to the special effects and storytelling at hand.

 

My Scores:

 

Action/Drama/History:  7.5

Movie Overall:  6.5

 

A Chip off the Mundane Block

Chips

 

Robbie K here, starting the evening reviews with yet another comedy to grace the silver screen.  Tonight’s film is a rehash of the golden era of television (the 70s) cop comedy Chips.  What does forty years of sitting in the dust mixed with the modern era of comedy bring to the table?  Well my friends that is where I come from, and as always, I’m happy to share my thoughts on the latest “masterpiece” to grace the silver screen.  So, let’s roll out shall we?

 

LIKES

  • Decent Story
  • Good Acting Chemistry
  • Some bike stunts

 

Summary:  Not going to lie, I didn’t have high hopes for this comedy.  Yet to my surprise, Chips actually stepped up to the plate in terms of plot.  It feels like an extended episode from the show, that was part action, part crime mystery, and a majority comedy.  It was simplistic yes, but it works to bring the entertainment value and energy that the sitcom brought long ago.  While the story was decent, the real shining value is the chemistry between the “dynamic duo” that really makes this movie.  Dax Shepard for once didn’t annoy me, as his character was balanced, surprisingly deep, and quite useful in the story, compared to some of his other roles.  Although still awkward and idiotic, his antics were toned down and complemented by his partner in crime played by Michael Pena.  Pena still shows his dynamic acting style, portraying both rough edged street smarts with sexual promiscuity.  The stubborn mule Pena plays is blind-sided by his weaknesses, and only Dax’s character can deter him from the trap that is his mind.  It was very entertaining (and impressive) to see the energy both brought to the mix, alongside decent character development, kept the movie going.  In addition, there were some decent stunts (primarily bike riding) that added zest to the comedy and maybe a little suspense.

 

DISLIKES

  • Lazy writing
  • Rushed Development
  • Not as Funny as hoped
  • Perverted at times

 

Summary:  Like many comedies, Chips suffers from some lazy writing at times.  I give Shephard props for capturing some antics of the classic show, but his modern style does not give props in terms of unique writing.  Let’s face it, most modern comedies are all about the cursing, and while it was slightly diluted, there was unnecessary use of the cursing that wasn’t funny to me.  In addition, there were plenty of moments that could have been comedic gold, but the direction took a different path that was rushed and lazy, leaving little wit, surprise, or delivery to maximize laughs.  And the perverted aspect, much like the cursing, got pretty old/disgusting quickly.  No offense to anyone’s bodies, but there were a couple of scenes where I couldn’t burn the image/concept out of my head, leaving me sicker to the stomach than laughing.  As for the Kristen Bell moments, they played a key character development, but her limited screen time was shallow stupidity than entertaining, but hey she did look good doing it. Outside of the comedy, the character development also could have been a little deeper and the suspense a little more if they wanted to expand upon the genre.  Yet, when the single objective is comedy, the story often will take a hit.

 

The Verdict

 

Chips has the nostalgic feel to it in terms of its plot overall, and a few cameos, but that is where it drops off.  I again applaud Shepard and Pena’s chemistry and how they expanded upon characters who were better known for their tight uniforms.  Unfortunately, the modern telling is much like the theme of the genre, simplistic stupid moments with a curse laden dialogue and perverted moments.  If this is your style, then this movie is the one for you this weekend.  For the rest of my readers though, this movie is worth waiting for Netflix before feasting your eyes on this piece.  While better than I thought, it would be, it still is no masterpiece.

 

My Scores:

 

Action/Comedy/Crime:  6.5

Movie Overall: 4.0