November 20, 2018 Podcast

It’s our Thanksgiving 2018 podcast! Five new films are opening this week:

And the 1978 Superman is back in theaters for a special 40th anniversary engagement.

Happy Thanksgiving to you and yours!

November 15, 2018 Podcast

We’re back with episode two of the official Movies Past and Present podcast.

In this week’s episode, the movies discussed include:

NEW RELEASES–Fantastic Beasts: The Crimes of Grindewald (Warner Bros.), Widows (20th Century Fox), Instant Family (Paramount)

REVIEWS–Mid90s (A24), Can You Ever Forgive Me? (Fox Searchlight)

CLASSIC CINEMA CORNER–Castle in the Sky (Studio Ghibli, 1986)

Again, we’re working on making the podcast available on podcast services (Apple Podcasts, etc). In the meantime, thanks for listening!

Review: “Ralph Breaks the Internet”

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-It Ralph, 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).

Ralph Breaks the Internet is rated PG by the Motion Picture Association of America for “some action and rude humor.” It opens in theaters on November 21.

My score: 4.5 out of 5 stars

As an added bonus, here’s the poster for the exclusive Real D 3D screenings of the film.

And here’s the official one-sheet for the film.

All Images ©️ Disney

“Toy Story 4” Teaser Campaign

I’m loving these posters, teaser trailer, and “teaser trailer reaction” for Pixar Animation Studios’ upcoming sequel Toy Story 4. I have a feeling that more content is on the way, so I’ll keep updating this post with new posters and videos as needed.

Toy Story 4 opens in theaters June 21, 2019.

Woody (voice of Tom Hanks)
Buzz Lightyear (voice of Tim Allen)
Forky (voice of Tony Hale)
Bunny (voice of Jordan Peele) and Ducky (voice of Keegan-Michael Key)

All Images ©️ Disney/Pixar

We’re Podcasting!

I’ve just recorded the inaugural Movies Past and Present podcast! In the episode, I discuss the new movies opening this Friday, November 9, 2018 as well as movies recently reviewed on the blog (specifically, The Nutcracker and the Four Realms and Bohemian Rhapsody), and some classic movie info for the week.

I’m hoping to put it on some podcasting services, but in the meantime, here’s this week’s podcast. Thanks for listening!


Review: “Bohemian Rhapsody”

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).

All images ©️ 20th Century Fox

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.

Bohemian Rhapsody is rated PG-13 by the Motion Picture Association of America for “thematic elements, suggestive material, drug content and language.”

My score: 3 out of 5

And as an added bonus, here’s a clip of Queen performing “Radio Ga Ga” at the actual Live Aid concert at Wembley Stadium in London on July 13, 1985.

Review: “The Nutcracker and the Four Realms”

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.

The film also has two really stunning ballet segments—one during the film and one during the end credits—featuring the renowned ballerina Misty Copeland. Misty,  who is principal ballet dancer for the prestigious American Ballet Theatre, talks about her experience in the featurette below from the Walt Disney Studios YouTube channel.


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.

The Nutcracker and the Four Realms is rated PG by the Motion Picture Association of America for “some mild peril.”

My score: 2.5 out of 5 stars

As an added bonus, here are some cool posters for the film courtesy of Walt Disney Pictures and Poster Posse.

All images ©️ Disney

First Films Announced for 2019 TCM Classic Film Festival

One of the great classic movie events of the year is the Turner Classic Movies (TCM) Classic Film Festival in Hollywood, California. The festival is celebrating its 10th anniversary in 2019.

The 2019 festival dates were recently announced—April 11-14, 2019. And now, TCM has revealed the first nine films of the lineup with this graphic they posted to the TCM Facebook page.

©️ TCM

As is typically the case, the lineup looks diverse and interesting, with different genres and time periods represented. I’m particularly excited about seeing Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid and Sunrise on the big screen.

Festival passes go on sale 12:00 p.m. ET on November 15, 2018 on the TCM Classic Film Festival website at tcm.com/festival

Citi, a sponsor of the festival, is doing a pre-sale for festival passes, allowing Citi cardmembers to buy tickets with their Citi credit card starting at 10:00 a.m ET on November 13, 2018. The link for the Citi presale is citiprivatepass.com.

We can’t wait! Make sure to follow TCM on Facebook and Twitter for the latest TCM Classic Film Festival updates. And hope to see you in Hollywood next April!

All images ©️ TCM

“The Old Dark House” and the Simple Pleasures of a Classic Scary Movie

When a buddy asked if I wanted to see the classic, pre-code, James Whale directed haunted house pic The Old Dark House (Universal, 1932) on the big screen, I jumped at the chance. I’m not sure if I’ve ever seen any of the classic Universal horror films from the 1930s on the big screen, so this was a rare opportunity to see a James Whale pic the way it was intended to be seen.

The film stars Melvyn Douglas, Gloria Stuart, and Charles Laughton among others as hapless voyagers who take shelter in a large and scary looking house for the night after a relentless rain storm washes out the nearby roads. Boris Karloff (in some seriously creepy makeup) terrifyingly answers the door which sets off a 24-hour period of one bizarre event after the other (memo to me–never go up the staircase in one of these haunted houses…better yet, don’t go into the house at all).

The film was released the year after the wildly successful screen retelling of Frankenstein (1931), also directed by James Whale and starring Boris Karloff, and was initially a disappointment at the box office. According to an informative article on TCM.com, “After its mediocre theatrical run, The Old Dark House was put on the shelf at Universal and, until 1968 – unavailable for bookings. That year, Whale’s protégé, director Curtis Harrington, helped find the negative and convinced Kodak to return a print to its original brilliance. When the film was once again viewed in its original form, critics hailed it as a lost masterpiece. That might be overstating the case a little, but it still bears the mark of one of the studio era’s more insistently unique directors.”

One other interesting bit of trivia from the TCM.com article–“When director James Cameron watched a laserdisc release of The Old Dark House, he was so taken with Gloria Stuart’s amusing audio commentary, he wound up casting her in a little film he was planning called Titanic (1997).”

Mostly what was fun for me was seeing an incredibly cheesy yet creepy film in glorious black and white on the big screen. I typically stay away from most modern horror pics, but seeing this film provided an insight at the simple, basic pleasures of watching a scary movie in a theater—the collective jumps, screams, and dread; the wincing when bad things happen or are about to happen; and the cheers and relief when the evil threat has been defeated (or when you think it has been…). James Whale definitely knew how to direct a good horror pic, Boris Karloff definitely knew how to act in one, and The Old Dark House made for some simple, scary Halloween season fun at the movies.

(And I’m still holding out for a big screen double feature of Frankenstein and Bride of Frankenstein…someday.)

A big thanks and shoutout to the Cohen Media Group for the beautiful 4K restoration of the film and to the Salt Lake Film Society for their cool “Tower of Terror” Halloween programming at the Tower Theatre again this year.

And check out this cool poster art (I believe this is the U.S. theatrical release one-sheet, but I’m not 100% certain).

All images ©️ Universal Pictures/Cohen Media Group

Review: “First Man”

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.

First Man is rated PG-13 by the Motion Picture Association of America for “some thematic content involving peril, and brief strong language.”

My score: 5 out of 5 stars

As an added bonus, here’s an official trailer for the film.

All images ©️ Universal Pictures