Video game buddies Wreck-It Ralph and Vanellope Von Schweetz venture into the big city of the internet in Walt Disney Animation Studios‘ new animated comedy adventure Ralph Breaks the Internet.
A sequel to Disney Animation’s 2012 animated feature Wreck-ItRalph, the film picks up six years after the original. Ralph (again voiced by John C. Reilly) and his BFF Vanellope (again voiced by Sarah Silverman), who are both still active players in their respective video games (Fix-It Felix, Jr. for Ralph and Sugar Rush for Vanellope), are in a pretty set routine in Litwak’s Arcade. Every night after the arcade closes, the two of them meet up for a root beer at Tapper’s and then go hang out in some of their other favorite games in the arcade (including a 1980s Tron video game!). While Ralph feels perfectly content with the way life is, Vanellope is wondering about if there might be something more to her existence than racing on the same tracks in her game every day.
When Ralph tries to help Vanellope feel better, he instead causes a major problem with the Sugar Rush game, leading to the breaking of the console’s steering wheel (he is Wreck-It Ralph, after all) and prompting Mr. Litwak to unplug the game. With all the citizens of Sugar Rush now homeless, the other characters of the arcade that we met in the first film, including Fix-It Felix, Jr. (again voiced by Jack McBrayer) and Sgt. Calhoun (again voiced by Jane Lynch), come to the aid of their fellow video game neighbors. Ralph and Vanellope then decide that they will try to get the required part to fix Sugar Rush and to restore things back to how they were in the arcade by traveling to the internet via the arcade’s newly installed internet connection.
Here’s the latest trailer that shows the film’s setup.
What follows is a classic small town kids traveling to the big city sort of story, just amped up a bit by turning many of the familiar websites we know and love (Google, eBay, Amazon, etc.) into places within the giant electric “city” of the internet. Ralph and Vanellope get in way over their heads, Ralph continues to, well, wreck stuff, and the two have a grand adventure of experiencing new things and figuring out what they want out of life.
New characters introduced in the film include the stylish tastemaker algorithm Yesss (voiced by Taraji P. Henson), tough-as-nails race car driver Shank (voiced by Gal Gadot), know-it-all Knowsmore (voiced by Alan Tudyk), and dark net gangster Double Dan (voiced by Alfred Molina). And in one of the funniest segments of the film, all of the Disney (and Pixar!) princesses are in the same scene at the same time and are voiced by all of the living actresses who voiced them in the original films: Ariel (Jodi Benson) from The Little Mermaid, Belle (Paige O’Hara) from Beauty and the Beast, Jasmine (Linda Larkin) from Aladdin, Pocahontas (Irene Bedard), Mulan (Ming-Na Wen), Tiana (Anika Noni Rose) from The Princess and the Frog, Rapunzel (Mandy Moore) from Tangled, Anna (Kristen Bell) and Elsa (Idina Menzel) from Frozen, and Moana (Auli’i Cravalho) along with the OG Disney princesses Snow White, Cinderella, and Princess Aurora from Sleeping Beauty. Oh, and Merida (Kelly Macdonald) from Pixar’s Brave is there, too. Also making cameo or brief appearances in the film are some popular real-life YouTubers and internet celebrities, including Colleen Ballinger (aka Miranda Sings), Dani Fernandez, GloZell Green, Tiffany Herrera (aka Cupquake), and Flula Borg.
Director Rich Moore is back for the sequel. This time he is joined by co-director Phil Johnston, who also co-wrote the screenplays for this film as well as the original Wreck-It Ralph. The film is loaded with their trademark and witty humor, which I love. I admire so much how they are able to make situations and things funny without being cynical and without just dumping in jokes for the jokes’ sake. Rather, the humor, while extremely topical, always helps to propel the story and character development and it never feels out of place.
This is not only a great sequel, but an endlessly clever and entertaining film. With its compelling story, interesting characters, amazing visuals, and witty interpretations of how the internet might work if it were an actual place, huge kudos are due to all of the artists at Disney for creating something so beautiful to look at and so fun to experience. Taking this journey to the big city with Ralph and Vanellope is a total joy from beginning to end (and make sure to stay through the end credits, too).
The story of the British rock band Queen and their front man Freddie Mercury gets the Hollywood treatment in the new bio pic Bohemian Rhapsody (20th Century Fox, 2018).
Named after one of Queen’s iconic songs, Bohemian Rhapsody is told mostly from the point of view of Freddie Mercury, expertly played by actor Rami Malek in the film. Born Farrokh Bulsara in 1946, Mercury and his family (who are of Parsi descent) moved from India to England when he was a teenager. The film picks up where Mercury meets soon-to-be Queen band members Brian May, Roger Taylor, and John Deacon for the first time in the London club scene.
The film then primarily focuses on Mercury’s relationships with the band, with the band’s management and record company, and with his girlfriend Mary Austin. Mercury’s well-known sex-drugs-and rock-and-roll and bi-sexual lifestyle is also clearly addressed, but kept within PG-13 boundaries.
Where the film really soars is with the scenes showing the creative process of the band as they make some of their best loved recordings, including “Bohemian Rhapsody” itself (pictured below).
Where the film really didn’t work for me was in its overly-melodramatic retelling of the events of Mercury’s life, with many of the facts and actual timeline of events being altered and moved for dramatic effect.
For example, the film has the band breaking up and then reuniting right before the 1985 Live Aid concert. In reality, the band never broke up. (Rolling Stone magazine has a great fact checking article about the film here.) To also add drama and gravitas to the Live Aid concert, the film portrays Mercury as receiving his AIDS diagnosis before Live Aid and then revealing the sad news to the band at a rehearsal before the show. This also didn’t happen (Mercury most likely received the diagnosis in 1986 or 1987, long after Live Aid; he died from AIDS-related complications in 1991).
I get it that some kind of artistic license has to be taken in order to condense things into feature film length and format, but the decisions made with the script turned the film into more of a standard bio pic that you might see on TV instead of something more artistic and special that’s worthy of Mercury’s talent, persona, and esteem.
Still, the film’s re-creation of the Live Aid concert which bookends the film is positively electric and is worth the price of admission alone. The filmmakers made a very smart decision by putting one of the band’s all-time great performances as the final thing you see in the film, viewing Mercury and the band at their artistic peak and giving Rami Malek and the rest of the actors and creative team a chance to bring to life again one of the great moments in rock history.
Clara has a big new (emphasis on new) adventure in Disney’s latest CGI extravaganza The Nutcracker and the Four Realms.
“Inspired by” the short story The Nutcracker and the Mouse King written by E.T.A. Hoffmann (1776-1822) and The Nutcracker ballet by ballet master and choreographer Marius Petipa (1818-1910), the film tells an original story written by screenwriter Ashleigh Powell (this is her first produced screenplay). Co-directors Lasse Hallström and Joe Johnston have taken Powell’s story and have given it a beautiful look, even if the actual contents of the story itself are a bit lacking.
The film, as in the ballet that we’re all so familiar with, is focused on a young girl named Clara, played by Mackenzie Foy (this is where the similarities with the traditional Nutcracker end). Clara lives in London with her father and her two siblings. Sadly, Clara’s mother has recently passed away and the family is experiencing their first Christmas without her. On Christmas Eve before the family departs for a big party, the father gives each of the children a sentimental gift from their mother. Clara receives a beautiful golden box, but it requires a key in order for it to be opened—a key which she currently does not possess.
At the party, which is at the expansive estate of Clara’s godfather Drosselmeyer, played by Morgan Freeman (I guess using the Drosselmeyer character is also a similarity to the source material), each of the children in attendance receives a gift, but the gifts are attached to the end of a series of individual strings which have been strung throughout the home. For Clara’s gift, her string leads her outside of her godfather’s home and into a magical, mysterious parallel world. She spots a key in a pine tree, but she is quickly thwarted in retrieving it and thus begins Clara’s journey into the “four realms” as stated in the film’s title.
While in the four realms, Clara joins forces with a soldier named Phillip, played by Jayden Fowora-Knight (who is about as close to a “nutcracker” that we get in the movie). She also meets the Sugar Plum Fairy, played by Keira Knightley, and Mother Ginger, played by Helen Mirren, who are both at war with each other. Clara and Phillip get caught in the middle of the ongoing battle and must navigate it while trying to stay on task to the find the key to unlock the golden box.
The film gets off to a promising and beautiful start, but what follows is a pretty simplistic (and rather boring, at least for this adult) story that never really gains much momentum. The production design is a real knockout, but without a compelling and interesting story, it all becomes an exercise into thinking about what might have been.
On the plus side, the original score by James Newton Howard along with components of The Nutcracker ballet by Pyotr Tchaikovsky are all lovely. The score was conducted by classical music superstar Gustavo Dudamel, who is currently the music director of the Los Angeles Philharmonic. Dudamel also makes a couple of brief cameos in a cool homage to Walt Disney’s original Fantasia. Here’s a tweet from Gustavo Dudamel himself about it.
While I love a good Disney family movie, The Nutcracker and the Four Realms ended up having more style than substance. Still, the little kids who attended the screening I was in enthusiastically clapped at the end of the film, which was a clear reminder that I’m probably not the target audience for this one.
La La Land director Damien Chazelle and actor Ryan Gosling have teamed up again for a completely different type of film–this time, it’s the very personal journey of astronaut Neil Armstrong and the U.S.A.’s first manned mission to the moon.
First Man (Universal Pictures, 2018) focuses on the decade leading up to the historic NASA Apollo 11 flight in 1969 where Neil Armstrong (played by Ryan Gosling) became the first man to walk on the moon. Told primarily through Armstrong’s point of view (the film is based on the authorized biography First Man: The Life of Neil A. Armstrong by James R. Hansen), the story shows first-hand the sacrifices, the dangers, the successes, and the extreme personal costs of being a part of the “space race” in the 1960s.
I’ve heard comments about how slow the film is, and it’s true. If you’re expecting an epic, fast paced, feel good film, this isn’t it. Instead, Damien Chazelle and team give us a methodical and cerebral experience in an attempt to personalize what it must have been like to live through this. Armstrong and his wife Janet (expertly played by Claire Foy) both sacrifice a lot as Neil and the NASA team pursue this incredibly lofty and challenging goal, and the film made me, well, feel it.
The film also makes you feel the physical turbulence of traveling through the earth’s atmosphere into outer space, so much so that it’s made some movie goers feel ill. So, be aware of that if you’ve got a tendency towards motion sickness. Personally, I only felt awe and exhilaration in experiencing what it might have been like being on one of the NASA Apollo spaceships.
Probably what I liked most about First Man is just that–it made me feel something. As a movie goer, I felt the high stakes of the mission, the physical challenges, the emotional battles, and, ultimately, an interpretation of what it feels like to truly walk on the moon.
The latest version of the romantic tragedy A Star Is Born (Warner Bros., 2018) opened in U.S. theaters a couple of weeks ago and I finally got a chance to see it.
Starring Bradley Cooper and Lady Gaga, this is the fourth Hollywood retelling of this classic story of love, sacrifice, and loss. Like the most recent version (the 1976 remake with Barbra Streisand and Kris Kristofferson), this 2018 version is set in the rock/pop music world. (Both the 1937 original and 1954 remake were set in the Hollywood film business.)
Here’s the official plot summary from Warner Bros. (just in case you’re not familiar with the story): “In this new take on the tragic love story, [Bradley Cooper] plays seasoned musician Jackson Maine, who discovers—and falls in love with—struggling artist Ally [Lady Gaga]. She has just about given up on her dream to make it big as a singer…until Jack coaxes her into the spotlight. But even as Ally’s career takes off, the personal side of their relationship is breaking down, as Jack fights an ongoing battle with his own internal demons.”
The MVP award goes to Bradley Cooper, who not only starred in the film, but directed it (it’s his first feature film) and co-wrote the screenplay. The film also marks the first starring role in a major motion picture for Lady Gaga. Both are very credible in their respective roles as lovers and musicians with opposite trajectories. The film also has a stellar supporting cast with Sam Elliott, who plays the older brother and manager of Bradley Cooper’s character, Andrew Dice Clay, who plays Lady Gaga’s father, and Dave Chapelle, who plays Cooper’s friend and former bandmate.
It’s a well-made, high quality film that people are loving and I’m good with that. I really have only two beefs with it. I’m just not a big Lady Gaga fan and the up-close and personal time with her on the big screen did little to change that. And, I don’t see why this story needed yet another retelling. Sure, the music is good and Bradley Cooper and team did a nice job in their adaptation and “modernization,” if you will, of the storyline. Still, the film ends the same way as the other ones did and we’re left with the same sad results.
Christopher Robin grows up but still has some important lessons to learn in the charming Christopher Robin (Disney; 2018).
Disney has reinvented its venerable Winnie the Pooh franchise once again, this time turning the stuffed animals from the A.A. Milne’s Hundred Acre Wood into 3D computer generated characters that (somehow) co-exist in the human world. The film answers a couple of interesting questions in the process—what happens to Winnie the Pooh, Piglet, Eeyore, et al, when Christopher Robin grows up, and what if Christopher Robin loses his way as an adult?
Set in England, Christopher Robin is now a hardworking war veteran employed by a luggage company in London. His job is demanding and stressful and it pulls him away from spending more time with his wife and daughter. Adhering to narrative rules that would be home in any Narnia book, Winnie the Pooh is able to find his way to London and quietly and gently begins to set things straight.
Ewan McGregor does a great job playing the war-torn and world-weary adult Christopher Robin. The lovely and talented (and underused in this film) Hayley Atwell plays his wife Evelyn, and Bronte Carmichael plays their daughter Madeline, who is the character suffering the most in the film with her dad lost in the business world and emotionally MIA at home. Voice actor Jim Cummings is back in the role as both Winnie the Pooh and Tigger. Brad Garrett expertly steps into the role of Eeyore. The rest of the cast is excellent, too.
This gentle, deliberate film never takes itself too seriously or delivers its message with a heavy hand or a zany punch. Instead, director Marc Forester uses a more old fashioned tone which some might view as slow, but I found it be refreshing and endearing. So much so, that this film will probably appeal more to adults than children. Basically, it just made me want to hug all of these photo-realistic CG stuffed animals and return to the innocence of childhood—a place full of clarity, goodness, and wonder.
Disney fans should also be happy with the new songs written by Richard Sherman, the surviving member of the great Sherman Brothers songwriting duo who wrote the classic songs for Disney’s original Winnie the Pooh shorts. Make sure to stay through the end credits.
Christopher Robin has been rated PG by the Motion Picture Association of America (MPAA) for “some action.”
My score: 4 out of 5 stars
As an added bonus, here’s the cute one-sheet poster from the U.S. release of the film.
Mission: Impossible – Fallout (Paramount; 2018) is a terrifically entertaining chapter in this spy series with all of the twists, turns, drops, and masks (!) that you could hope for.
Tom Cruise is back again for the sixth installment of the series (based on the popular TV series of the same name which ran from 1966 to 1973 on the CBS television network) as IMF (Impossible Missions Force) agent Ethan Hunt. Our hero has chosen to accept another dangerous mission fighting international terrorists and the big question, as with most espionage-themed films, is who are all of the players and where do their loyalties lie.
Of course, the story has lots of Tom Cruise running, climbing, jumping, flying, and other dangerous pastimes in pursuit of the bad guys. But a pleasant surprise to my eyes was that Cruise seemed to share the screen more with his fellow stars than in other films in the series. And the supporting cast are worthy of sharing film time with–Ving Rhames, Simon Pegg, Alec Baldwin, Rebecca Ferguson, and even Michelle Monaghan are back for more action, along with Henry Cavill, Angela Basset, and Vanessa Kirby joining the cast.
For me, the real star of the film is writer and director Christopher McQuarrie. Returning again to the director’s chair for this latest installment of the Mission: Impossible series (he also directed the series’ fifth and previous film, 2015’s Mission: Impossible – Rogue Nation), McQuarrie has such an excellent eye for stunning and compelling action scenes as well as for beautifully composed shots for drama and dialogue. I was particularly impressed with the location shots in Paris and London in this film and loved seeing these cities and landmarks beautifully filmed and wonderfully integrated into the storytelling.
Go see Mission: Impossible – Fallout and have a blast–literally and figuratively. (Also, I loved seeing this film in IMAX and would highly recommend seeing it in this super-sized format if at all possible.)
Size-shifting antics and side-splitting laughter abound in Marvel Studios’ new comedy action film Ant-Man and the Wasp.
A sequel to 2015’s fun and funny Ant-Man, this new film picks up after the super hero showdown in 2016’s Captain America: Civil War where we last saw Scott Lang/Ant-Man (again played by Paul Rudd). Lang, who is now on house arrest after his Civil War stint using the height-altering Ant-Man suit, reunites with Dr. Hank Pym (Michael Douglas) and his daughter Hope Van Dyne (Evangeline Lilly) after certain events lead them to believe that Pym’s wife and Hope’s mother Janet Van Dyne (Michelle Pfeiffer) is still alive somewhere in the sub-atomic “Quantum Realm” where she’s been missing for decades. Pym works on a new way to get into the Quantum Realm and, as teased at the end of the first Ant-Man film, creates an updated super suit for Hope (with wings!), making her The Wasp just like her mother was all those years ago.
It turns out that other people (shockingly) are also interested in the tech that Hank Pym, Hope, and Scott are working on. Pym’s former S.H.I.E.L.D. colleague Dr. Bill Foster (Laurence Fishburn) and a spooky personage known as “Ghost” (Hannah John-Kamen) have some mysterious and questionable motives. Also to the disadvantage of our heroes is an overzealous Federal agent (Randall Park) who is determined to bust Scott Lang at violating his house arrest.
The film is like candy–really fun to watch and easy to digest, even if it perhaps lacks much substance. The cast, most of which were in the original film, are back along for the ride and are all great, particularly scene stealers Michael Peña as Lang’s ex-con buddy Luis and Abby Ryder Fortson as Lang’s adorable daughter Cassie. The special effects are also silly fun as buildings, people, and different objects galore–everything from cars to buildings to a PEZ dispenser–change size to accommodate the needs of our heroes.
Peyton Reed is back in the director’s seat and he does another terrific job with this sequel. And even though we’d still all love to see Edgar Wright’s version of Ant-Man (Wright left the first film after creative differences with the Marvel Studios team), Reed delivers a film that is again so quick, clever, and wacky, that I think it holds up on its own (and Reed’s own) merits.
It goes without saying, but make sure to stay through the end credits, too.
Hopefully, you’ve all had the chance to see Pixar Animation Studios‘ latest animated wonderment Incredibles 2. And, hopefully, you’ve had a chance to see that it’s absolutely killing it at the U.S. box office, too. I had the chance to see both the original film, The Incredibles (2004) and its newly released sequel at a special IMAX and Pixar sponsored screening last week and it was movie-going bliss for this animation fan.
Writer and director Brad Bird and his talented team at Pixar created a total home run when The Incredibles hit theaters in the summer of 2004. Witty, thought-provoking, action-packed, and beautifully animated, the film about a family with superpowers delivered in a big way.
Now, 14 years later, the Parr family is back right literally where the first film left off with the family taking on the super villain the Underminer, who is attacking their city of Municiberg. After the fight with the Underminer doesn’t go exactly as planned and the superheroes (aka “supers”) have to go back into their undercover mode again, Bob Parr (aka Mr. Incredible, voiced again by Craig T. Nelson), his wife Helen Parr (aka Elastigirl/Mrs. Incredible, voiced again by Holly Hunter), and their superhero buddy Lucius Best (aka Frozone, and also voiced again by Samuel “F-ing” L. Jackson) meet up with billionaire businessman Winston Deavor (voiced by Bob Odenkirk) and his inventor sister Evelyn Deavor (voiced by Catherine Keener) who have an interesting proposal to bring the supers back into the limelight.
Family dynamics are front and center as Elastigirl/Mrs. Incredible goes back to work, leaving Mr. Incredible home to take care of the kids. Terrific humor and incredible action scenes abound as Elastigirl uncovers a dastardly plot while Mr. Incredible has to deal with his kids’ relationships, homework, and superpowers. Nothing is stupid here and no gender is better than the other–it’s really just a great story about a family figuring things out and working together.
While the sequel can’t capture the perfection of the first film (what can?), writer/director Brad Bird and team still deliver a wonderfully solid film with a compelling storyline, brilliant animation, and emotions and situations that ring, well, incredibly true. Watch The Incredibles again on Blu-ray or streaming and then go see Incredibles 2 in theaters and have a great time at the movies.
P.S. There’s a scene with absolutely knock-out animation that uses lighting effects that mimic a strobe light. This warning was prominently placed at multiple places throughout the multiplex where I saw Incredibles 2 again over the weekend. The animation in that sequence is stunning and it’s unfortunate if it’s causing problems for anyone.