2001: A Space Odyssey Review

2001: A Space Odyssey movie posterSynopsis
After discovering a mysterious artifact buried beneath the Lunar surface, mankind sets off on a quest to find its origins with help from intelligent supercomputer HAL. 9000. (via IMDb)

Review
Let me preface this review by stating the science-fiction genre is one of my favorite film genres. They can tell a variety of stories that speak of optimism for the future, serve as warnings for humanity’s destiny, or provide simple popcorn entertainment with cool visuals and an exciting story. Now, with that said, do you want to hear my unpopular opinion? Here it is: I don’t particularly care for 2001: A Space Odyssey. Before you stop reading because of my blasphemous statement, let me say that I do see why others hold it in such a high regard; I do appreciate the influence and historical significance this film had on not just in the science-fiction genre in cinema but in the industry as a whole; I do understand the imagery and allegories presented in this film. I enjoyed director Stanley Kubrick’s use of classical music as opposed to a traditional score. I felt the cinematography is one of the best in the genre, with beautiful wide shots and vibrant colors throughout. Its comments on technology’s influence in humanity’s past, present, and future and its comments on humanity’s origins are presented in a thought provoking way that deserves the exploration and dissection it has received over the decades.

With all that said, I didn’t feel entertained for most of the film. The beautiful cinematography I mentioned contained a lot of shots of nothing or lasted way longer than necessary. 2001: A Space Odyssey could probably lose 40 minutes off its run time and it would still get its themes across but without feeling like it is dragging on. There is so much to enjoy in this film but with all the extra stuffing around it, it took me out of the experience. Maybe some like the expansiveness of it but for me they just don’t work.

I thought 2001: A Space Odyssey was OK 😐 I get that this is a very unpopular opinion but I can live with that. When I watch a film, I want to be entertained. This film has entertaining moments but they are interspersed with glacial pacing. The provocative and deep themes presented are worth thinking about but the presentation was not engaging for me. I’ve heard several people say that they got more out of Stanley Kubrick’s crown jewel during subsequent viewings. Maybe I’ll revisit this film again sometime down the line and see if my views change. Until then, I’ll maintain my sacrilegious position.

Trailer

Cast & Crew
Stanley Kubrick – Director / Writer
Arthur C. Clarke – Writer

Keir Dullea – Dr. Dave Bowman
Gary Lockwood – Dr. Frank Poole
Douglas Rain – HAL 9000 (voice)
William Sylvester – Dr. Heywood Floyd
Leonard Rossiter – Dr. Andrei Smyslov
Margare Tyzack – Elena
Robert Beatty – Dr. Ralph Halvorsen
Sean Sullivan – Dr. Bill Michaels

Career Opportunities Review

Career Opportunities movie posterSynopsis
Jim Dodge (Frank Whaley) has a hard time holding down a job and an even harder time holding back his wild imagination. As a last option, Jim is hired as the night janitor at the local Target. During his first night on the job, he discovers Josie McClellan (Jennifer Connelly), daughter of a local wealthy businessman, also inside the store. As the night goes on, they learn more and more about each other.

Review
I didn’t know anything about Career Opportunities besides the famous shot of Jennifer Connelly riding the penny horse. When I eventually learned what movie that scene was from, and learning it was from a film written by John Hughes no less, I quickly sought it out. That excitement had died down by the time the credits rolled. If I hadn’t known it was written by Hughes going into the film, I would not have believed it if I had learned that piece of information after watching it. Career Opportunities lacks the charm I have come to expect from his scripts. The set up is pretty standard fare for a Hughes’ coming-of-age film: a young man and a young woman who appear to be complete opposites of each other come together and form a bond. However, if this is a story you want to watch from Hughes, there are plenty of his other films that do it better. I will say that Frank Whaley as the fast talking Jim Dodge is a highlight of the movie and has the charisma needed to carry such an intimate movie. On the other hand, Jennifer Connelly, as beautiful as she is, is flat and not very expressive. Whaley and Connelly together are the driving force of Career Opportunities, so to have their chemistry be less than perfect becomes a liability to the film.

I thought Career Opportunities was OK 😐 There’s a standard expected from a film penned by a writer of John Hughes’ caliber. Unfortunately, this film does not fulfill those expectations. While Frank Whaley carries this movie the best that he can, the script and his co-stars don’t quite rise to his level. It’s no surprise that this film has barely been re-released on home video compared to Hughes’ more notable films. There are many movies in his filmography where any one aspect of this film is done better, so if you’re itching for a Hughes’ teen comedy, go watch one of those films instead.

Trailer

Cast & Crew
Bryan Gordon – Director
John Hughes – Writer
Thomas Newman – Composer

Frank Whaley – Jim Dodge
Jennifer Connelly – Jose McClellan
Dermot Mulroney – Nester Pyle
Kieran Mulroney – Gil Kinney
John M. Jackson – Bud Dodge
Jenny O’Hara – Dotty Dodge
Noble Willingham – Roger Roy McClellan
Barry Corbin – Officer Don
Andrew Winton – Boy #1
Andy Greenway – Boy #2
RonReaco Lee – Boy #3
William Forsythe – Custodian
John Candy – CD Marsh

Mulan (2020) Review

Mulan movie posterSynopsis
Mulan (Yifei Liu) disguises herself as a man to join the royal army when the Emperor (Jet Li) decrees that every family must send one man to enlist after China is attacked by BΓΆri Khan (Jason Scott Lee) and his army.

Review
The live-action Disney remake train just keeps on rolling. This time it’s Mulan’s turn, following in the footsteps of remakes of other Disney Renaissance films such as Beauty and the Beast, Aladdin, and The Lion King. The animated Mulan film is one of the favorites in my family, so we watched Mulan together. We’ve had mixed opinions about the recent live-action remakes but we went into this film hopeful that one of our favorites would be just as enjoyable as the original. But like Disney’s other attempts to translate beloved animated classics to live-action, Mulan fell short.

Before I get into what I didn’t like, I’ll talk about what I did like. Mulan looks beautiful. The color palette is very vivid and bright. The fight sequences were well choreographed, taking inspiration from classic Kung Fu movies with characters performing acrobatic feats. During the fight sequences, the action was mostly in-frame without much shaky cam, one of my personal pet peeves. So to summarize, everything looked nice.

However, a movie is not going to stand on visuals alone and unfortunately, that’s about all this film had going for it. From a characters perspective, there was little to no growth for any of the characters but particularly for Mulan (Yifei Liu). From the opening scene, she is shown to be someone with extraordinary ability and talent, possessing a large amount of β€œchi.” Since she started out with immense power, she didn’t have anywhere to grow. For example, in the animated original, Mulan learned to use her intelligence to overcome obstacles. There was none of that learning here. In the animated original, we could see Mulan wasn’t that strong, but through hard work we saw her grow into a formidable warrior. There was none of that growth here. When Mulan wanted to do something, she was just able to do it. This type of character who can do everything naturally has been a favorite of Disney’s lately but it is not the correct way portray characters who are supposed to be role models for younger audiences.

Another great part of the 1998 Mulan is the abundance of different and memorable characters. Characters like Yao, Po, and Ling each have their own personalities and different aspects that make them unforgettable. And I can’t say enough about Eddie Murphy’s Mushu, who single handedly carries the movie with his charm, charisma, and humor. The 2020 Mulan has none of these fun characters. In fact, it was very hard for me to tell Yao, Po, Ling, and Cricket (who is a human character now instead of an actual cricket) apart from each other. During their introductions it was easier because they quoted lines from their animated counterparts but after that, I couldn’t tell you who was who. Even Mulan’s love interest blends in with these characters and doesn’t stand out in any way. All the supporting characters simply felt the same.

A large part due to the fun characters mentioned above, the animated classic, despite its setting of war and some dark moments, is still a light and joyous film. This film, on the other hand, is the exact opposite, which I guess isn’t that surprising given it lacks any kind of entertaining characters and Yifei Liu gives a mostly wooden performance, making it difficult to tell any emotion she is feeling. This film takes itself way too seriously and completely misses what made its animated predecessor so endearing.

I thought Mulan was OK 😐 This film’s biggest fault is that it doesn’t understand what made the original work so well and become a beloved instant classic. It’s a pretty wrapping surrounding a humorless, lifeless husk inside that is stuck going through the motions. There’s no fun, there’s no drama, and there’s no reason to like or care for any of these characters. Years ago when Disney announced plans for live-action remakes of many of their films, I was cautiously optimistic. Now, after several films that haven’t lived up to the legacy of the originals and failed to bring anything new to their stories or characters, I think it’s safe to say I am no longer excited for many of the upcoming live-action remakes. Now I’m just scared.

Trailer

Cast & Crew
Niki Caro – Director
Rick Jaffa – Screenplay
Amanda Silver – Screenplay
Elizabeth Martin – Screenplay
Lauren Hynek – Screenplay
Harry Gregson-Williams – Composer

Yifei Liu – Mulan
Jason Scott Lee – BΓΆri Khan
Li Gong – Xianniang
Donnie Yen – Commander Tung
Yoson An – Honghui
Tzi Ma – Zhou
Rosalind Chao – Li
Pe=Pei Cheng – Matchmaker
Xana Tang – Xiu
Ron Yuan – Sergeant Qiang
Jun Yu – Cricket
Chen Tang – Yao
Doua Moua – Po
Jimmy Wong – Ling
Jet Li – Emperor
Nelson Lee – Chancellor

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 orΒ 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 β€œstupid 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 β€œreboot.”

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 β€œMerc 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