Vacation Review

Vacation (2015) movie posterSynopsis
In effort to reconnect with his wife and kids, Rusty Griswold (Ed Helms) takes his family on a cross-country trip to Walley World like his family did thirty years ago.

Review
One of Hollywood’s go-to moves lately has been revisiting franchises that have been dormant for 20 or 30 years and making sequels or remakes or reboots. Often, these attempts are not received well. Movies like Dumb and Dumber To or Total Recall fail to capture that certain something that made the original films so popular and beloved in the first place, attempting to cash in on nostalgia rather than make a film that is worth its legacy. Vacation, more of a sequel than reboot, falls into this category. And like all the others, it’s a pale comparison to the films that came before it.

I will admit that this film did make me laugh. In the same way the 1983 Vacation was a good fit for Chevy Chase’s style of humor, this Vacation highlights Ed Helms’ comedic talents. The types of jokes and gags it has are a bit juvenile at times and what I call “stupid funny” but honestly, it makes me laugh. If you’ve seen Helms’ films like Cedar Rapids or The Hangover then you’ll have a sense of what to expect from him. The dynamic between the two Griswold kids, James (Skyler Gisondo) and Kevin (Steele Stebbins), was unexpected and created for some humorous moments. Chris Hemsworth continues to prove that he can do comedy as well as he does action. His timing and delivery are spot-on. If the Vacation franchise somehow manages to continue, he should be the Cousin Eddie of the “reboot.”

In movies like this one, there is an extra emphasize on homages that try to cash in on the nostalgia of the franchise. Sometimes the filmmakers go overboard with the callbacks that feels like they are pandering to the audience. Luckily, Vacation doesn’t fall into that trap; it has just the right amount of references to the previous films, particularly the original Vacation, that it doesn’t feel heavy-handed or too much.

I think the what I was most disappointed about was the portrayal of Rusty. I know it’s around thirty years after the original Vacation but this Rusty seems like more of a push-over than what was portrayed in the other films. As much as I like Helms, his personality doesn’t match the Rusty we’ve seen in the four previous films. Maybe it’s just me but that’s how I felt. I think it was less of how Helms portrayed Rusty and more of how the part was written.

Another problem with making a film simply to cash in on nostalgia is that often it lacks the charisma or charm of the first one and Vacation unfortunately does not buck that trend. The characters lack the appeal of Clark and Ellen, and the Griswold kids even less so. The actors also don’t have the same chemistry as the original cast. It’s not like this brand of comedy cannot be full of heart, plenty of other movies have proven that it can happen, but this film is more focused on trying to capture the magic of its inspiration that it forgets what made it memorable in the first place.

I thought Vacation was OK 😐 It’s simply another attempt to ride the nostalgia wave popular in Hollywood right now and it falls way short of capturing the magic of the original Vacation. Maybe this film might have fared better if it wasn’t attached to a franchise like the Vacation franchise. But then again, if it tried that, I imagine it probably would have been compared to the original Vacation and then still would have been looked at in a less than positive light. Moral of the story is let’s stop trying to remake or reboot beloved and popular franchises simply because it can be done. If you want to watch a great film like Vacation, simply watch Vacation.

Trailer

Cast & Crew
John Francis Daley – Director / Writer
Jonathan Goldstein – Director / Writer
Mark Mothersbaugh – Composer

Ed Helms – Rusty Griswold
Christina Applegate – Debbie Griswold
Skyler Gisondo – James Griswold
Steele Stebbins – Kevin Griswold
Leslie Mann – Audrey Crandall
Chris Hemsworth – Stone Crandall
Chevy Chase – Clark Griswold
Beverly D’Angelo – Ellen Griswold
Catherine Missal – Adena
Charlie Day – Chad
Ron Livingston – Ethan
Norman Reedus – Trucker

Artemis Fowl Review

Yesterday I announced the seventh annual Christmas in July Blogathon! If you are interested in participating or want to know more, check out this announcement post.


Artemis Fowl movie posterSynopsis
When his father is kidnapped for his knowledge of a powerful fairy artifact, Artemis Fowl (Ferdia Shaw) must use clues left in his father’s journal to find the artifact and rescue his father, Artemis Fowl, Sr. (Colin Farrell), from a mysterious figure.

Review
I’m aware that Artemis Fowl is adapted from a young adults novel series. I’m also aware of the troubled production history this film had from when its movie rights were sold until it was finally released. Then with the pandemic, this moved from a summer blockbuster slot to a Disney+ release. Between those issues and Disney’s difficulty adapting other popular young adult novels, such as A Wrinkle in Time, it shouldn’t come as much of a surprise that this film is ultimately a let down.

For starters, the story is extremely shallow. There is a MacGuffin that both the heroes and the villains are trying to find because reasons. It’s never explained clearly what it’s for or why it’s so powerful, just that it is because magic. The main villain, who is played by the uncredited Hong Chau, is never really seen or given much motivation or backstory. The team of heroes band together because it’s needed for the plot to move forward. Oh, and there’s a disgraced fairy officer that is given his job back because the bad guy wants him to become a mole and no one seems to question it. So yeah, there’s a lot going on.

It is said it is better to show and not tell in cinema. Apparently, the writer of Artemis Fowl never heard that saying before because this film is littered with exposition. Between narration, news reports, and characters relaying back story, a good number of classic exposition tropes can be found in this film. We are constantly told how smart Artemis is, we are constantly told Artemis has a strained relationship with his father, we are constantly told how good of a thief Mulch Diggums is, but very little of any of that is actually shown.

Because we are always told things rather than shown them, this movie moves both too quickly and too slowly at the same time. The story and characters are constantly rushing from scene to scene and things happen for no rhyme or reason other than because the story needs them to. The break-neck speed of the story never really lets the audience get a good handle of what’s going on because by the time you think about think you know what’s happening in the scene, it’s on to the next one. This film moves too quickly for its own good. Yet with all the exposition, scenes themselves drag on. It’s truly a weird dynamic.

The actions scenes were really the only part of the movie that kept my attention. However, they were marred by middling visuals. Some of the set pieces were exciting, like a troll rampaging through Fowl manor, and actually kept the film from becoming a snooze fest to me. But as flashy as these scenes were, things looked a bit too cartoonish, which in the end took me out of the experience just enough to not get the full enjoyment.

I thought Artemis Fowl was OK 😐 I can’t convince myself to say this is a bad film but it’s close. Even with a non-existent story, mediocre visuals, and pacing issues abound, I must admit that I had at least a little bit of fun. Not enough to revisit it again but enough to call it mediocre at best. Too bad though, given the popularity of the novels. Once again we’ll have to settle for a book-to-film adaptation that doesn’t live up to its source material. Not even Disney, it seems, can solve that mystery.

Trailer

Cast & Crew
Kenneth Branagh – Director
Conor McPherson – Screenplay
Patrick Doyle – Composer

Ferdia Shaw – Artemis Fowl
Lara McDonnell – Holly Short
Josh Gad – Mulch Diggums
Nonso Anozie – Domovoi Butler
Tamara Smart – Juliet Butler
Colin Farrell – Artemis Fowl, Sr.
Judi Dench – Commander Root
Nikesh Patel – Chief Tech Officer Foaly
Joshua McGuire – Briar Cudgeon
Hong Chau – Opal Koboi

X-Men Origins: Wolverine Review

X-Men Origins: Wolverine movie posterSynopsis
Logan (Hugh Jackman) was born a mutant with bone claws, enhanced senses, and an incredible healing factor. When the love of his life is taken from him, he sets out on a quest for revenge.

Review
After the X-Men trilogy concluded, there was no doubt that Hugh Jackman’s was the fan favorite character. With X-Men: The Last Stand providing a definitive end to the team’s story, the next place to go is in the past. Throughout the X-Men trilogy, we’ve seen who Wolverine is under his adamantium skeleton, and even glimpsed into his past (particularly in X2: X-Men United) but it is finally time to see how he came to be the character we were introduced to in X-Men.

As I’ve said in just about every review of previous X-Men movies, Jackman absolutely nails the character of Wolverine. He has come to embody the character perfectly. At this point, it is difficult to see anyone besides Jackman as the titular mutant. In the fourth time in the role, he has the character completely figured out. Jackman’s Wolverine is caring, ferocious, and everywhere in between. But you know all that already; I’m just repeating myself at this point.

Sabretooth gets his second chance on screen, this time portrayed by Liev Shreiber. In the comics, Sabretooth is one of Wolverine’s most consistent foes, so it felt natural that he would be prominent in a film like this. However, his origins and connection to Wolverine was altered in a way that made their relationship more interesting than simple adversaries, which would be more akin to their comic book relationship. Schreiber was more than up to the task of matching Jackman’s presence. Every time they were on screen together, there was a weight to their conversations and actions that not many actors besides Schreiber would have been able to pull off opposite of Jackman.

Another perfectly cast part is Ryan Reynolds as Wad Wilson. Wade Wilson, aka Deadpool, is known as the “Merc with a mouth” in the comics and Reynolds captures that aspect of the character precisely. The only downside is this greatness is very brief. X-Men Origins: Wolverine‘s treatment of Deadpool is one of the most shameful things about this film. His depiction in last act of the film is a disgrace against the character. It’s utterly terrible and deserves all the ridicule is has received.

A few casting choices is about all the good I have to say about this movie. I think what disappoints me most about this film is that despite all the action throughout and chemistry between Jackman and Schreiber, it’s not that exciting. There were cool moments for sure but outside of a handful, nothing really sticks out, even after having seen this movie several times by this point. Wolverine can be hyperaggressive and violent when on solo adventures and the same can be said for the characters who are involved in the Weapon Plus program. These characters are a black-ops hit squad and I feel the PG-13 rating wasn’t able to accurately bring this facet of the characters to the screen. A movie about mercenaries shouldn’t be timid to show violence.

I thought X-Men Origins: Wolverine was OK 😐 Despite exceptional performances from Hugh Jackman, Liev Schreiber, and Ryan Reynolds, the script really held this movie back from reaching its full potential. It was lackluster, uninteresting, and didn’t truly let Wolverine do what he does best.

Trailer

Cast & Crew
Gavin Hood – Director
David Benioff – Screenplay
Skip Woods – Screenplay
Harry Gregson-Williams – Composer

Hugh Jackman – Logan / Wolverine
Liev Schreiber – Victor Creed
Danny Huston – Stryker
Will.i.am – John Wraith
Kevin Durand – Fred Dukes
Dominic Monaghan – Chris Bradley
Daniel Henney – Agent Zero
Ryan Reynolds – Wade Wilson
Lynn Collins – Kayla Silverfox
Taylor Kitsch – Remy LeBeau
Tim Pocock – Scott Summers

X-Men: The Last Stand Review

X-Men: The Last Stand movie posterSynopsis
When a “cure” for the mutant gene is developed, the mutant population must decide their fate. Meanwhile, Jean Grey (Famke Janssen) is becoming more powerful and Magneto (Ian McKellen) hopes to use her powers in the fight against the humans and their cure. Professor Xavier (Patrick Stewart) and his X-Men must stop Magneto’s Brotherhood of Mutants before they create an all out war between the humans and the mutants.

Review
It was bound to happen. After the success of the first two X-Men movies, the studio couldn’t help themselves and stepped in and meddled in the story and development of X-Men: The Last Stand. It’s certainly not the first time it has happened in Hollywood and it was far from the last, even in the X-Men franchise. It’s hard to say how X-Men: The Last Stand would have turned out without Fox’s interference but it couldn’t have been worse than what was created in the end.

As with many sequels, this film tries to do too much. Writers Simon Kinberg and Zak Penn set out to tell the story of “The Dark Phoenix Saga”, written by Chris Claremont and one of the most beloved storylines in X-Men comics history. Anyone familiar with the source material will tell you how emotional and grandiose that story is. This movie doesn’t even begin to capture the impactfulness of the comic. This particular story for some reason becomes the B-plot of the film. How can such an iconic story be regulated to the background? That’s just criminal.

One of the strengths of using the X-Men, and more largely, mutants, is it offers many opportunities to tell philosophical stories while still being exciting. X2: X-Men United did this beautifully. The mutant cure plot, based on Joss Whedon’s “Gifted” storyline, was a perfect chance to do the same thing with different themes. However, this is not fully explored because this movie had to balance so many other aspects. Plus it introduces a ton of new characters, not unexpected given the X-Men universe’s large roster of characters. Combine this with the Gifted and Dark Phoenix Saga plots, and you just have a mess. There is just so much going on that it becomes extremely clustered and nothing gets the attention or development it deserves.

This paragraph contains spoilers. Besides introducing a plethora of the characters, it also kills off several main characters. First up is Cyclops (James Marsden). Given Marsden’s availability due to his casting in Superman Returns (the film Bryan Singer declined directing this film to direct instead), he was killed off early and, more tragically, off screen. A fan favorite character such as that does not deserve the kind of end this movie gave him. Besides Cyclops, Professor X (Patrick Stewart) also bit the dust (literally). I am still upset about Professor X being killed off. However, the reason for his death actually serves a good story purpose and has an emotional impact, so I’m not bothered by it as much.

Many blockbusters try to maximize their run time and don’t fully grasp when it becomes too much. As a result, they end up becoming too long. X-Men: The Last Stand doesn’t have that problem; it actually has a relatively moderate run time. However, this is one of the few cases where I wish the film would have been longer. As I said before, it tried to cram two stories worthy of their own films and include many new characters, and yet, among all that, ended up focusing largely on the action. If this film wanted to incorporate as much as it did, it needed more time to flesh everything out more. I appreciate the writers and directors not wanted this movie to overstay its welcome but that conservative attitude ended up hurting the film more than helping it.

I thought X-Men: The Last Stand was OK 😐 Like many sequels, it attempts to fill its runtime as much as possible. As a result, it halfheartedly tells two stories rather than tell one great story. In what would become a trend in many successful superhero franchises, studio interference created a rushed and sub-par movie that failed to keep the momentum set by its predecessors.

Trivia
Budgeted at $210 million, this was, at the time, the most expensive movie ever made. (Via IMDb)

Trailer

Cast & Crew
Brett Ratner – Director
Simon Kinberg – Writer
Zak Penn – Writer
John Powell – Composer

Hugh Jackman – Logan / Wolverine
Patrick Steward – Charles Xavier / Professor X
Halle Barry – Ororo Munroe / Storm
Famke Janssen – Jean Grey / Phoenix
Anna Paquin – Marie / Rogue
Shawn Ashmore – Bobby Drake / Iceman
Ellen Page – Kitty Pryde / Shadowcat
Daniel Cudmore – Peter Rasputin / Colossus
Kelsey Grammer – Dr. Henry ‘Hank’ McCoy / Beast
James Marsden – Scott Summers / Cyclops
Ben Foster – Warren Worthington III / Angel
Ian McKellen – Erik Lehnsherr / Magneto
Rebecca Romijn – Raven Darkholme / Mystique
Aaron Stanford – John Allerdyce / Pyro
Vinnie Jones – Cain Marko / Juggernaugt
Dania Ramirez – Callisto
Eric Dane – Multiple Man
Michael Murphy – Warren Worthington II
Josef Sommer – The President
Bill Duke – Trask
Shohreh Aghdashloo – Dr. Kavita Rao
Cameron Bright – Jimmy / Leech

Spider-Man 3 Review

Spider-Man 3 movie posterSynopsis
The life of Peter Parker (Tobey Maguire) is going great and Spider-Man is loved by the citizens of New York City. When an alien substance bonds with Peter making him more aggressive, his personal relationships begin to strain, meanwhile new information is revealed about his uncle’s killer.

Review
With both Spider-Man and Spider-Man 2 being critically acclaimed and financially successful, a third film was all but inevitable. This time, however, Sony intervened and forced Raimi to include the popular Spider-Man villain Venom into the story. This began a spiral of Raimi’s heart not being with the movie like it was before, as well as create a convoluted and excessive story that the series has avoided until this point. Spider-Man 3, despite all the greatness of Raimi’s previous Spider-Man films, failed to live up to the expectations of the series.

Sam Raimi’s Spider-Man films have done a fantastic job of showing how being Spider-Man affects Peter’s daily life, as well as exploring Peter’s relationships with Mary Jane (Kirsten Dunst), Aunt May (Rosemary Harris), and Harry Osborn (James Franco). Harry being the son of Norman Osborn, aka the Green Goblin and villain of Raimi’s first Spider-Man film, blames Spider-Man for the death of his father. After Harry finds out his best friend is also his worst enemy at the end of the previous film, it puts an obvious strain on their relationship, particularly when Harry takes his father’s villainous mantle as the New Goblin. This creates yet another layer in Harry and Peter’s relationship that we have seen develop over the last two films.

Also tying into Spider-Man’s history is Flint Marko (Thomas Haden Church), aka Sandman. Marko was present during Uncle Ben’s murder, the defining moment of Peter becoming Spider-Man. Again, this personal relationship is used to explore Peter’s character even more, giving him new emotional depth and growing on what has been seen from him in the series so far. Despite all the issues with this film, it did not fail to continue to grow and examine Peter’s character.

The first of many mistakes this film makes is casting Topher Grace as Eddie Brock. Eddie Brock is supposed to be a physically intimidating character, someone you don’t want to get into a fight with, even before he bonds with the symbiote. No offense to Topher Grace but I didn’t feel that; He didn’t have the build for the Eddie. Also, the way he was written did not fit the personality of the comic book version of the character. Not only was Eddie Brock / Venom miscast, but his character development was rushed as well. For a series that thus far had developed its characters and had deep and emotional back stories, it really dropped the ball on creating a truly terrifying version of one of Spider-Man’s best villains.

So far I’ve talked about three villains: New Goblin, Sandman, and Venom. Attempting to fit a trio of antagonists into a film like this only hurts all three. Harry spends most of the time in a with memory loss, only appearing as the New Goblin at the beginning and end of the film. Sandman gets an interesting story arc as a father who only wants to provide for his family, as well as ties into Peter’s history with Uncle Ben. He gets a few good moments before he disappears for a while before showing up for the final scenes. With the symbiote attached to Peter for the first two acts, Venom doesn’t appear until the final third of the film, stifling any significant development. There are just too many villains to successfully develop all of them.

While the first two films did a good job of using practical effects as much as possible, this movie fell into the same trap that many action films began falling into during this time period: it used CGI too heavily and was too reliant on it. Given the skill-set of the villains, it’s not surprising. I’m sure the CGI was good at the time, but it hasn’t aged well, especially scenes that required fully rendered people. Throughout the movie, Spider-Man has fight while falling through the air once with each villain. Not only does this feel repetitive but it showcases all the worst parts of the CGI of the film.

I thought Spider-Man 3 was OK 😐 Mark this as another case where studio intervention creates a sub-par film. With Raimi’s guidance, Sony’s Spider-Man series was on an upward trajectory. While it is doubtful Spider-Man 3 could have been a better film than Spider-Man 2, we will never know since its true potential was stifled.

Trailer

Cast & Crew
Sam Raimi – Director / Writer
Ivan Raimi – Writer
Alvin Sargen – Writer
Christopher Young – Composer

Tobey Maguire – Spider-Man / Peter Parker
Kirsten Dunst – Mary Jane Watson
James Franco – New Goblin / Harry Osborn
Thomas Haden Church – Sandman / Flint Marko
Topher Grace – Venom / Eddie Brock
Rosemary Harris – May Parker
JK Simmons – J Jonah Hameson
Bryce Dallas Howard – Gwen Stacy
James Cromwell – Captain Stacy
Dylan Baker – Dr. Curt Connors
Bill Nunn – Joseph ‘Robbie’ Robertson
Bruce Campbell – Maitre D’
Ted Raimi – Hoffman
Elizabeth Banks – Betty Brant
Elya Baskin – Mr. Ditkovitch
Megeina Tovah – Ursula

X-Men: Dark Phoenix Review

X-Men: Dark Phoenix movie posterSynopsis
While the X-Men are on a rescue mission, Jean Grey (Sophie Turner) comes into contact with an alien force, causing her powers to grow stronger and more uncontrollable. The rest of the X-Men must find a way to stop Jean without killing her.

Review
We’ve reached the end of an era. With Disney’s acquisition of 20th Century Fox, X-Men: Dark Phoenix is the final entry of an era that started in 1999 with X-Men, one of the early films to kick off the current age of superhero film. How does Dark Phoenix bring the saga to a close? Unfortunately not as spectacular as the saga began, which is a shame because there are glimmers of what could have been a good movie.

Apparently, this second attempt at bringing Chris Claremont’s coveted Dark Phoenix Saga was supposed to be two movies. But with Disney’s acquiring of Fox’s movie division, it was condensed into one film. These edits can be felt throughout the film. It sets up the conflict nice and steadily. As the movie progresses, it slowly feels more and more rushed. By the end, the film gets to a climax it wasn’t prepared for. This creates an awkward pacing at times that, while not entirely jarring, is noticeable.

Many of the cast from the previous First Class era returns. James McAvoy returns as Professor Xavier. One thing I liked they did with his character this time was, despite his noble intentions and ideals, Xavier has made some questionable decisions to obtain them. This has been explored more recently in the comics and it was great to see some of that make it onto the big screen. McAvoy is enjoyable as always in the part.

Michael Fassbender returns as Magneto but with much less of a role than the previous films. This time around, he doesn’t feel as menacing and I’m not sure if that’s because writer/director Simon Kinberg wanted Phoenix to feel the most threatening or if because he’s had three films to be the strongest villain. Whatever the reason, his character clearly takes a hit in this film.

Jennifer Lawrence and Nicholas Holt are the last few to round out those who have been around since X-Men: First Class. In making way for the new class of X-Men, these two don’t get much time. You can tell that by this point in the series, they aren’t into their roles as they were in the earlier films. They don’t have the same charisma as before.

As for the new class, Sophie Turner, Tye Sheridan, Alexandra Shipp, and Kodi Smit-McPhee, they all do fine but that’s it, just fine. I don’t think it is their fault. The script and direction wasn’t there to support them. Jessica Chastain, the newest member of the cast, can usually elevate a role beyond what is written. Unfortunately, she encounters the same problem as the younger cast members and doesn’t have the room to elevate such a one-dimensional villain.

Honestly, the one I feel most sorry for in this mess is writer and first-time director Simon Kinberg. He was one of the writers for X-Men: The Last Stand, the last film to attempt to adapt the Dark Phoenix storyline. From reading about the behind the scenes drama, he knew the mistakes of The Last Stand and had a plan to do the story right. However, when he was forced to combine his two Dark Phoenix movies into one, much of that went out the door. Now he is known as the writer who messed up adapting the Dark Phoenix Saga twice, which seems unfair given what happened.

I thought X-Men: Dark Phoenix was OK 😐 Most of the issues with this movie can be boiled down to the script. The pacing was off, the characters were flat, and the veteran actors of the franchise weren’t as dynamic or lively as the previous films. This was a much closer adaptation of the popular story line, and at times it showed hints of what could have been great moments, but it lacks the weight and heart that made the influential comic so popular.

Trailer

Cast & Crew
Simon Kinberg – Director / Writer
Hans Zimmer – Composer

Sophie Turner – Jean Grey / Phoenix
Tye Sheridan – Scott Summers / Cyclops
Alexandra Shipp – Ororo Munroe / Storm
Kodi Smit-McPhee – Kurt wagner / Nightcrawler
Nicholas Hoult – Hank McCoy / Beast
Jennifer Lawrence – Raven / Mystique
Evan Peters – Peter Maximoff / Quicksilver
James McAvoy – Professor Charles Xavier
Michael Fassbender – Erik Lehnsherr / Magneto
Jessica Chastain – Vuk
Ato Essandoh – Jones
Scott Shepart – John Grey
Hannah Anderson – Elaine Grey
Summer Fontana – Young Jean Grey


Last week I announced the Christmas in July 2019 Blogathon. To find out more, check out the post here.