Patrick (2018)


All dressed up and nowhere to go.

(2018) Family (Screen Media) Beattie Edmondson, Ed Skrein, Tom Bennett, Emelia Jones, Emily Atack, Cherie Lunghi, Peter Davison, Jennifer Saunders, Gemma Jones, Bernard Cribbins, Adrian Scarborough, Meera Syal, Milanka Brooks, Scott Chambers, Rupert Holliday-Evans, McKell David, Roy Hudd, Maria Barr, Rosie Ede, Olivia Buckland, Elena Valdameri. Directed by Mandie Fletcher

 

In the interest of full disclosure, I’m a well-known dog nut. Not merely a dog lover, but a dog nut, one who talks incessantly about my four-legged family members, who dotes on their every whim, and who would rather spend an evening cuddling with them rather than just about everything else. It does occasionally drive Da Queen batty.

Therefore, take the following review with a grain of salt as I will state outright that my objectivity goes right out the window when it comes to dog movies. In this one, Patrick is an adorable pug who is spoiled rotten by his wealthy, elderly owner. When she collapses while taking him for a walk and dies, his despair is palpable. But oddly, Patrick is bequeathed not to the exceptional, successful granddaughter nor to the equally wealthy son but to Sarah (Edmondson), the ne’er-do-well, disorganized hot mess of a granddaughter who can never arrive anywhere on time, not even granny’s funeral.

For Sarah, the “inheritance” couldn’t come at a worse time. She is stuck in an apartment after her latest in a long line of beaus has dumped her, leaving her in a neighborhood where she knows nobody in a flat that has a strict no pets policy which wasn’t an issue initially because Sarah hates dogs and she’s not terribly good with people either. She’s just starting a new job as a high school English teacher and she’s eager to make a good impression so that she’ll be kept on for next term. Patrick, used to having the run of the palace gets separation anxiety early and often and seems bound and determined to alert the landlord to his presence, destroy all of Sarah’s things and leave poop bombs for Sarah to step in or piddle puddles to slip on.

Naturally, she falls in love with the adorable little dog. It doesn’t hurt that through Patrick, she is introduced to Ben (Bennett), a stable and kindly man who loves dogs nearly as much as I and Oliver (Skrein), a handsome hunk of a veterinarian. He also helps her get through to her unruly class and preaches the joys of healthy living and exercising. Well, not so much preaches but allows her new mate Becky (Atack) to do the preaching; he just provides the opportunity, giving Sarah the excuse to go walkies in some lovely riverside parks throughout England.

There really isn’t a dramatic conflict here; the change from dog hater to devoted dog owner is a fairly seamless one and the film’s climax has to do with a fun run which she is physically unprepared for and whether or not she can complete it. Honestly, that’s it…so those film buffs among my readership might be excused if they want to give this one a pass. I do understand; as plots go this one is pretty much standard dog movie fare albeit one with lovely English settings.

Edmondson, best-known for Bridget Jones’ Baby over here, is an appealing lead who knows how to take a good prat fall. Some of her facial expressions are a bit over-the-top; subtlety might have benefited her performance more here but when you’re making a movie aimed at a certain demographic sometimes grand gestures and over-the-top facial mugging can be called for. I’ve never understood why. She is well-supported by a fairly impressive list of British thespians, including Cherie Lunghi (Excalibur), Jennifer Saunders (Absolutely Fabulous), Skrein (Deadpool), Peter Davison (Dr. Who), Gemma Jones (Bridget Jones’ Diary) and Bernard Cribbins (The Railway Children).

Patrick the pug will absolutely melt your heart, especially when you see him in his dapper tux during the funeral sequence at the beginning of the film. Sure, he’s a handful and spoiled absolutely out of his gourd but any pug lover (I’m looking at you, Char and Adam) will tell you that they are among the most loyal and loving creatures in the canine firmament. This is something of a niche film; dog lovers (and dog nuts) are going to be beguiled by the pug while others may find its charm wasted on them. As a romantic comedy it is a bit of a non-starter while kids who are looking for something a bit more frenetic may be bored. In any case I don’t think this is especially a kids movie even though it is being marketed somewhat that way; there are no children in the movie other than a niece and nephew who make brief appearances here and there whenever Sarah is with family. Still, those who like to dress up their fur babies and have placards proclaiming “A House is Not a Home Without a Dog” in their homes will be absolutely enchanted.

REASONS TO SEE: Edmondson is an appealing lead.
REASONS TO AVOID: A very rote family film.
FAMILY VALUES: There is plenty of dog poo humor and a bit of mild profanity.
TRIVIAL PURSUIT: Edmondson is Saunders’s daughter in real life.
BEYOND THE THEATERS: Amazon, Fandango Now, iTunes, Vudu
CRITICAL MASS: As of 2/18/19: Rotten Tomatoes: 32% positive reviews: Metacritic: 28/100.
COMPARISON SHOPPING: Beethoven
FINAL RATING: 6/10
NEXT:
ROMA

Dolphin Kick


I don’t know what that kid said but that dolphin wants to kick his butt.

(2019) Family (Epic) Tyler Jade Nixon, Axle McCoy, Travis McCoy, Alexis Louder, DeVaughn Gow, Tim Ogletree, LaVaughan Hamilton, Maya Simmons, Quddus Newton, Tomli Culver, Jordan Pedreira, Erin Reign, Matthew Scott Miller, Barry Askham, Ana-Alicia Carroll, Dwayne Shockley, Frank Salas Jr., Myron Roberts, Carson Doll, Ryan Gonzalez. Directed by Philip Marlatt

 

I suppose that it could be said that of all the creatures on this green earth, the dolphin is probably the most intelligent. Certainly they have the ability to communicate and to learn. They have complex social structures within their pods. It also could be said that if it weren’t for family movies and Sea World they might just be more intelligent than humans.

Clint (T. McCoy) is grieving. His vivacious wife recently passed away and both of his kids – sunny Skyler (Nixon) and her older brother Luke (A. McCoy) are both devastated in their own way. While Skyler who in most ways seems like her late mom seems to be ready to move on, Luke remains introspective. Once an avid swimmer like his mother, he has refused to put so much as a toe into the water since his mom died.

What this kind of tragedy calls for is – a family vacation in an island paradise and not just any island paradise – the one here Mom and Dad got married on. Luke is about as excited to go as a cat would be to a rocking chair convention but he puts a stiff upper lip on and off he and his sister go with Dad bravely leading the way.

At first Skyler is entranced; the island is beautiful, tropical and the family has rented a gorgeous house on the sea. They’ve also rented a boat…and with the house apparently comes a dolphin who strikes up a friendship with the desolate Luke.

At first Luke is terrified of the cetacean but eventually begins to accept him, naming the dolphin “Echo” – and even to rely on him. As Dad makes friends with a group of marine biology students, particularly the smart and sassy Nova (Louder), the group of students is excited about the bond that Luke has made with the playful Echo. However, reality intrudes; Echo needs a pod and finding him one won’t be an easy task.

In the meantime surly fisherman Naz (Gow) has noticed that the lines to his buoys have been cut and he suspects a rival fisherman to be the culprit. But as the sabotage begins to spread to the other fishermen on the island Naz and his first mate Moe (Hamilton) realize that the lines haven’t been cut so much as chewed through and the logical culprit is the playful dolphin who has grown fond of playing fetch with stray buoys. Naz determines that in order for the fishermen to be able to retain their livelihood, Echo is going to need to meet up with an “accident.”

As family movies go this one is fairly harmless and even has some lovely underwater photography to boot. While Echo is partly rendered in CGI, there are plenty of practical effects as well. While the setting is a beautiful Caribbean island, the movie was actually filmed in Louisiana, specifically in the tropical paradise of Slidell. Talk about Hollywood magic, right?

Travis McCoy as the dad has lots of charisma and could have a good career ahead of him playing the “hot dad” if he so chooses. The kids are about as annoying and precocious as is standard with a family film and the juvenile actors who play them actually do a pretty credible job without feeling too forced, a common mistake with young actors. Kudos for that which is also a function of how the director handles them, so that’s to the plus side for Marlatt.

My issue though is that if feels like they got the overall tone of the family wrong. My understanding from the film is that the death of the mom was a fairly recent event. Only Luke displays any sort of melancholia that would be associated with grieving. Young Skyler has moments where something reminds her of her mom but these are fleeting and most of the time, she seems to be incredibly bubbly and positive. The husband who is now tasked with raising two kids by himself, almost never seems to show any sort of feeling one way or the other about his late wife. I think it would be a healthy thing for kids to see that daddies and mommies grieve too.

Other than that this is basic family film 101 with a likable dolphin who is apt to leap above the waves at any given moment, a pair of precious but precocious kids, ecologically committed young people and villains who really aren’t all bad a’tall. While I don’t think that a theatrical release is in the cards for this one, it is already available on most of the major streaming services and on DVD as well – it’s even region free so you can play it no matter where you are. If you have a kid or two who are into the ocean in a big way (and dolphins in a bigger way) and you’ve worn out your copies of Dolphin Tale and Free Willy, this might just be what your family needs.

REASONS TO GO: The kids will love this, particularly those who love animals or the ocean (especially dolphins).
REASONS TO STAY: Being kid-friendly doesn’t have to mean the movie is predictable and formulaic.
FAMILY VALUES: There is some mild peril.
TRIVIAL PURSUIT: Dolphin Kick is the first screen credit for young Axle McCoy.
BEYOND THE THEATERS: Amazon, Fandango Now, Google Play, iTunes, Microsoft, Vudu, YouTube
CRITICAL MASS: As of 1/23/19: Rotten Tomatoes: No score yet: Metacritic: No score yet.
COMPARISON SHOPPING: Dolphin Tale
FINAL RATING: 5.5/10
NEXT:
The Final Wish

Santa Claus (Le père Noël)


Even Santa Claus has to do laundry once in awhile.

(2014) Family (Under the Milky Way) Tahar Rahim, Victor Cabal, Annelise Hesme, Michael Abiteboul, Philippe Rebbot, Amélie Glenn, Jean-François Cayrey, Djibril Gueye, Naoufel Aliju, Satya Dusaugey, Charlie Dupont, Lou Ballon, Charles Albiol, Steve Tran, Mathieu Lourdel, Yamina Meghraoul, Jérôme Benilouz, Laurence Pollet-Villard, Pierre Core, Dominique Baconnet. Directed by Alexandre Coffre

 

Our heroes don’t always hold up to close scrutiny. Look closely enough and you’ll find faults as egregious as, well, our own. It never occurs to us that those we admire the most are just as fallible, just as flawed as us. And let us not forget, to the average six-year-old there is no bigger hero than Santa Claus.

Young Antoine (Cabal) is just that age and still a believer in Father Christmas. He reads his list of Christmas wishes, certain that Santa can hear them. When his mother (Hesme) urges him to get to bed on Christmas Eve or Santa won’t arrive, he follows her instructions – but going to bed as every child and most parents know is very different than going to sleep.

Antoine hears a clatter out on the balcony of his family’s Paris high-rise apartment building and arises to see just what is the matter. On the balcony he sees such a sight as he never believed he would see; Santa Claus in full red suit and beard. But this Santa (Rahim) isn’t there to deliver presents; he’s there to rob the occupants of the apartment. He manages to convince the wide-eyed tyke that Santa’s sleigh is broken and requires gold to run again – so with no time to return to the North Pole to retrieve some, he needs to take what he can find so that the presents can be delivered around the world by sunrise.

The thief’s glib lie backfires on him when Antoine decides he’s going to stick to Santa like glue. Antoine believes he’ll be rewarded by night’s end with a ride in Santa’s sleigh. Unfortunately, “Santa” is being chased by some real bad men who he owes a lot of money to (hence the need for gold) as well as the cops who have been getting reports of a thieving Santa all night long. As the crazy Christmas Eve moves into Christmas morning, man and boy form a special bond. They may be able to provide the things the other needs – if they both don’t end up in jail.

In case you wondered if lowbrow family films were exclusively the province of American filmmakers, here is the proof they exist in France as well. This French-Belgian co-production has all the family film clichés that it feels like you’ve seen it all before unless you’re Antoine’s age. When they say the plot almost writes itself, well, here’s a case where it probably do – the baseball team’s worth of writers notwithstanding.

Rahim is certainly charming and while any Americans who are familiar with the actor likely know his work in A Prophet, in a much different role he shows he has the star power to carry a film on his own. Unfortunately, Cabal is given a role that has been written as if all six year olds are absolute morons. I know that six-year-olds are trusting sorts but there are things here that Antoine takes on faith that even a four year old might say “Hey now, that just doesn’t make any sense!!!”

Seeing Paris at night during the Christmas season is a joy in and of itself, and the music by Klaus Badelt is truly complimentary to what’s going on in the film. Unfortunately these things aren’t enough to rescue a film that is ultimately one giant cliché written by a committee of folks who think that being a kid with little experience means being foolish and accepting of the laziest plot devices. Your kid deserves a better movie than this, particularly if he/she has the gumption to read subtitles o top of everything else.

REASONS TO GO: The music is nice and the night scenes of Paris during the holidays are magical.
REASONS TO STAY: Cabal is massively annoying and the character dumbed down.
FAMILY VALUES: There is some violence and child peril.
TRIVIAL PURSUIT: There are nine writers credited to the film.
BEYOND THE THEATERS: Amazon, Google Play, iTunes, Vudu
CRITICAL MASS: As of 1/1/19: Rotten Tomatoes: No score yet: Metacritic: No score yet.
COMPARISON SHOPPING: The Santa Clause
FINAL RATING: 5.5/10
NEXT:
Dark Fortune

The Greatest Showman


Hugh Jackman knows this movie is a snow job.

(2017) Musical (20th Century Fox) Hugh Jackman, Michelle Williams, Zac Efron, Zendaya, Rebecca Ferguson, Austyn Johnson, Cameron Seely, Keala Settle, Sam Humphrey, Yahya Abdul-Mateen II, Eric Anderson, Ellis Rubin, Skylar Dunn, Daniel Everidge, Radu Spinghel, Yusaku Komori, Daniel Son, Paul Sparks, Will Swenson, Linda Marie Larsen, Byron Jennings, Betsy Aidem. Directed by Michael Gracey

 

Phineas Taylor Barnum once famously said “There’s a sucker born every minute” and that “Nobody ever went broke underestimating the intelligence of the American consumer.” The fact that this movie has done the kind of box office it has is proof of that.

Barnum (Jackman) is a penniless dreamer who has married a beautiful rich girl named Charity (Williams) whose family his father once worked for. Her father most assuredly does NOT approve of the match. Barnum has big plans to buy a specific mansion near where they grew up but no means to get there but after losing yet another low-paying job disappears on him, he decides to go into business for himself, using a little financial chicanery to secure a bank loan to open up his Museum of Oddities.

At first business is slow but his wife believes in him. It’s just when he begins to add human acts – bearded ladies, Siamese twins, General Tom Thumb a performing little person, trapeze artists and acrobats does his business begin to thrive. Upper class playwright Philip Carlyle (Efron) is taken by the show and by a trapeze artist name Anne (Zendaya) in particular but it still takes Barnum some fancy talking to get him to invest in the Museum as a partner.

While on an overseas trip he hears the Swedish Nightingale Jenny Lind (Ferguson),, then the most famous singer on Earth, perform at Buckingham Palace and is completely taken by her voice and her beauty. He offers to bankroll her tour of the United States as her manager for which she would get an unheard-of (at the time) guaranteed sum. The tour threatens to bankrupt P.T. but it also threatens his marriage as Lind tries to seduce him and leave his wife for her.

.A suspicious fire burns down the Museum and all of a sudden Barnum is left with nothing again; furthermore his family of unusual acts is no longer feeling the love, having seen him turn their backs on them and treat them like unwelcome guests. Can this dysfunctional family reunite and rebuild?

I had high hopes for this, particular given that Jackman is in the title role. It’s perfect casting and Jackman who cut his show biz teeth on musical theater in Australia is more than up to the task, being the big reason to see the movie. His natural charm and likability shine through and even when he’s acting like a jerk you still like the guy and like me were pretty sure he would come around to his senses.

Unfortunately after that it’s a very short list of reasons to see this. While I like the theme of inclusiveness (although they tend to bang the audience over the head with it), after that there are some key components to the film that simply aren’t up to snuff. First and most glaringly is the songs. They are absolutely dreadful; all of them sound pretty much the same and none of them really are the kind you’ll be humming after you leave the theater; as I write this I can’t remember the tune to a single one of them. That’s very bad news for a musical.

The writers for whatever reason seem to stick a song in even where one isn’t needed and in fact the musical number ends up disrupting the flow of the film. Personally I loved the idea of a musical about Barnum but it needed a capable songwriter to write the music and lyrics. This sounds like it was written by Broadway hacks which it certainly wasn’t; the folks involved wrote the music and lyrics to La La Land and did a much better job with that property. There is not one song here that is anywhere near as memorable as “City of Stars.”

The writers also play fast and loose with history (for example, there is no evidence whatsoever that the relationship between Barnum and Lind was anything but a business one) which isn’t an original Hollywood sin but there are so many characters here that were invented out of whole cloth – certainly Barnum had plenty of interesting people in his life that could have made appearances here. Poor Michelle Williams has so little to do that her smile begins to look awfully strained by the end of the movie. Even CGI couldn’t save it – except that the CGI that the movie does utilize is uniformly terrible.

I could go on and on. Barnum’s children here are essentially perfect movie kids whose presence is superfluous and disruptive. There are too many anachronisms in the dialogue to shake a stick at – but why kick a horse when it’s already down, except not only is this horse down it’s also been lit on fire, stabbed through the heart, shot, beaten with a crowbar and drowned in a vat of acid before being miraculously resurrected and buried alive. Actually, the horse has it better than those who must watch this movie. See it for Jackman if you must but see it at home so you can turn it off when you start to feel yourself beginning to need to do whatever it takes to stop the torture.

REASONS TO GO: Hugh Jackman is charismatic and charming. The “different is okay” theme still resonates.
REASONS TO STAY: The songs are generic and awful. There are too many historical liberties taken and the children are an unnecessary distraction. It feels like the writers were flailing around a bit.
FAMILY VALUES: There is some violence and some sexual innuendo.
TRIVIAL PURSUIT: Many of the costumes used in the film are the property of Ringling Brothers Barnum and Bailey Circus and have been actually worn by performers.
CRITICAL MASS: As of 2/518: Rotten Tomatoes: 55% positive reviews. Metacritic: 72/100.
COMPARISON SHOPPING: Chicago
FINAL RATING: 4/10 (all Jackman)
NEXT:
Off the Menu

Coco (2017)


Life’s a long song.

(2017) Animated Feature (Disney*Pixar) Starring the voices of Adrian Gonzalez, Gael Garcia Bernal, Benjamin Bratt, Alanna Ubach, Renée Victor, Jaime Camil, Alfonso Arau, Herbert Siguenza, Gabriel Iglesias, Lombardo Boyar, Ana Ofelia Murgula, Natalia Cordova-Buckley, Selene Luna, Edward James Olmos, Cheech Marin, John Ratzenberger, Luis Valdez, Carla Medina. Directed by Lee Unkrich and Adrian Molina

 

There was a point in time when I could confidently state that each and every movie that Pixar put out was of the highest quality and were all amazing in their own right. That is no longer possible; there have been some less-than-stellar sequels and even a few new movies that haven’t exactly been critical successes. The latest Pixar effort could consider the cold streak – or it could be a return to the legacy that they’ve been building.

Manuel (Gonzalez) is a 12-year-old boy who wants nothing more than to sing and play music but he has the sad misfortune of being part of, as he grouses early on, the only family in Mexico that hates music. That’s because years early, his great-grandmother (Victor) had been deserted by her husband who left to go become a musician and had never returned. The experience had scarred her and ever since her decree that there would be no music in the house had been continued by the matriarchs that followed – Manuel’s mother (Ubach) being the most recent one.

But Manuel’s hero Ernesto de la Cruz (Bratt) who has long since passed on urges him from old movies not to give up and follow his dream. However as the family prepares for the Dia de los Muertos (Day of the Dead) celebration, Manuel and his mother have a confrontation, smashing his guitar which Manuel absolutely needs to compete in a musical competition that might be the first step on the road to attaining his dreams. Desperate, he decides to take the guitar hanging in the crypt of Ernesto de la Cruz. When Manuel strums the guitar to make sure it’s in tune, he is magically transported to the Land of the Dead.

It is a place where Manuel definitely doesn’t belong and the longer he stays, the more likely it is he will never leave. He needs a relative’s blessing to send him home but his great-grandmother won’t give it unless he promises to renounce music, which is the same as renouncing himself as far as Manuel is concerned. Then, to Manuel’s amazement, signs point to the identity of his true father – Ernesto de la Cruz himself.  Getting to see the great star in the afterlife is no easier than getting to see him was in life so Manuel enlists the aid of Héctor (Garcia) who claims to know him which Héctor agrees to give provided that Manuel makes sure that Hector is remembered by the living which keeps his skeletal spirit from drifting away (which is what happens to his pal Chicharrón (Olmos) in one of the most emotional scenes in the film).

But there are no easy paths to one’s dream and especially, no easy paths to the Land of the Living. The fall-out of a crime that happened decades earlier begins to take possession of the narrative and Manuel wonders if he is not learning the value of family too late for him to practice it in the Land of the Living. And the most intriguing question of all is to be answered – why is this movie named Coco?

This is absolutely a return to form for Pixar, one of their best ever and certainly their best in at least five or ten years. Unkrich and Molina have crafted a vibrant world that is both fascinating and fun. Kids will love the bright colors, the spirit guide animals and the goofy Tim Burton-esque skeletons, while adults will be partial to the family-friendly message, the genuinely moving scenes (particularly in the last act) and some of the beautiful images such as the flower-strewn bridge from the Land of the Living to the Land of the Dead.

The movie is inevitably going to be compared to Fox’s similarly-themed Book of Life and there is some justification to that. The Fox film had the benefit of the participation of Guillermo del Toro as a producer; some say that his input made that film just a little bit more magical and perhaps that’s true but to be honest I’m not certain how much input he had into the creative aspect of the film. I’m not saying he didn’t have any, I’m just saying I don’t know how much involvement he had in it. The music of Coco has also been unfavorably to that of Book of Life which is absolute malarkey. The Fox film used mariachi versions of American pop hits; Pixar opted to go with original music written in the Ranchera style. The exception is the execrable hit “Remember Me,” which was written by the Frozen team; the rest of the music is absolutely amazing and enjoyable.

Pixar’s animators took a lot of time watching guitar virtuosos play the music that was actually used in the film; therefore the fingering that is onscreen is the correct fingering for that song. Nobody does the details quite like Pixar does and you might think “what does it matter?” Trust me, it matters.

There are a couple of things that stand out as unusual for modern animated features. First off, we have a plucky young boy in the lead. Disney tends to prefer their princesses to their pirates when it comes to animation; it is refreshing to see a young lad getting to shine in an animated feature. On a second and far more important note, the movie is culturally sensitive to the point it has resonated not only with Hispanics here in the United States but it has been a massive hit in Mexico and other Latin American countries. Not only is that a smart financial move on Disney’s part but it’s the right thing to do at a time when our President has characterized the people of our neighbor to the South as rapists and thieves who live in a s***hole country. I’m all for teaching our kids tolerance and acceptance of different cultures.

One part of the Mexican culture that every other culture can relate to is the importance of family and that lesson is brought home in a heartwarming but not too sweet way. I was misty-eyed at various points of the film but particularly near its conclusion. I genuinely cared about the characters and about what they meant to each other. I’m generally not one for purchasing Disney films for our digital video library – my wife is the Disneyphile in our family – but this one I’m going to insist we get.

The only quibbles are that Gonzalez is a little bland and unremarkable as Manuel and some of the plot is absolutely predictable although to be fair there are some really good twists that come along – like for example why the film is named Coco in the first place. I have to say that this is my favorite Pixar film since Up and although not quite up to that standard completely, it comes quite close and may over time usurp that film’s position as my favorite Pixar film ever.

REASONS TO GO: The music and songs are outstanding. Beautiful, colorful backgrounds make this a visual treat. A genuinely heartwarming film, especially near the end.
REASONS TO STAY: Gonzalez is a bit nondescript.
FAMILY VALUES: There is some cartoon violence and a few serious thematic elements.
TRIVIAL PURSUIT: Coco is currently the highest grossing film in Mexican box office history, surpassing The Avengers.
CRITICAL MASS: As of 1/30/18: Rotten Tomatoes: 97% positive reviews. Metacritic: 00/100.
COMPARISON SHOPPING: The Book of Life
FINAL RATING: 8.5/10
NEXT:
Star Wars: The Last Jedi

War for the Planet of the Apes


Caesar can be a little grumpy sometimes.

(2017) Science Fiction (20th Century Fox) Andy Serkis, Woody Harrelson, Steve Zahn, Karen Konoval, Amiah Miller, Terry Notary, Ty Olsson, Michael Adamthwaite, Toby Kebbell, Gabriel Chavarria, Judy Greer, Sara Canning, Devyn Dalton, Aleks Paunovic, Alessandro Juliani, Max Lloyd-Jones, Timothy Webber, Lauro Chartrand, Shaun Omaid, Roger Cross, Mercedes de la Zerda. Directed by Matt Reeves

 

This past summer was largely disappointing when it came to quality blockbusters. Sure, there were the usual suspects; loud sci-fi action, crude comedies, big superhero epics and so on. Mostly all of the high expectations for some of these wannabe billion dollar franchises fizzled out of the gate with only a few exceptions.

War for the Planet of the Apes however was one of the best-reviewed films of the entire summer. That rarely translates to big box office bucks – it didn’t recoup its $150 million production budget at the domestic box office and it finished with under $500 million at the worldwide box office, a decent enough number but surely not to the expectations of the suits at Fox.

The movie was curiously light on action despite the title; what it turned out to be was an ape character study of Caesar (Serkis), leader of the intelligent apes and the Colonel (Harrelson), the militaristic dictator of the remnants of humankind. You see the virus that made the apes smart is making humans dumb as rocks. Few thinking, rational human beings remain. The Colonel thinks all of the apes should be wiped off the face of the Earth so that humans can survive; in his mind, Homo sapiens won’t go gently into that good night.

Serkis delivers the best performance of his diverse career. Caesar is extremely conflicted; he wants peace but there is no reasoning with a fanatic. When struck by a personal tragedy, Caesar feels despair and fury but he is still tempered by the basically decent simian that he is. Of course, he’s an inspiring leader of his tribe who look to him as their savior while to the Colonel he’s a different kind of symbol. Zahn provides comic relief (and pathos) as Bad Ape.

There is a subplot involving a mute human child that ties into the ape movies of the 60s and 70s which aficionados of those films will appreciate; I surely did. There aren’t a ton of action sequences but the ones there are Reeves pretty much nails.

The CGI is surprisingly substandard for a film of this importance; there are some sequences in which it is painfully obviously computer-generated. Good CGI is seamless and fits into “reality” like a glove. That doesn’t happen here and it takes the viewer right out of the film from time to time.

I wasn’t among the critics singing the praises of this film. To my eye, it isn’t as good as the first two films in the series. I’m not sure the studio initially had faith in it either as  the movie could easily end the franchise right here; however with a fourth film already approved by Fox and a strong overseas box office chances are the franchise will continue, hopefully with films better than this one. However it is still a better than average summer movie and despite its flaws one of the best to come out this past summer which isn’t saying much.

REASONS TO GO: Serkis does some of his best work ever here. The Nova subplot is truly captivating.
REASONS TO STAY: The film is sadly uneven and isn’t up to the high standards of the franchise. Some of the CGI looked too much like CGI.
FAMILY VALUES: There are a few disturbing images, plenty of sci-fi violence and battle scenes as well as adult themes.
TRIVIAL PURSUIT: Serkis in interviews promoting the film indicated that this won’t be the conclusion of the series which may come in the fourth or fifth film of the series; in fact, Fox has already greenlit a fourth film in the franchise.
BEYOND THE THEATERS: Amazon, Fandango Now, Google Play, iTunes, Microsoft, Vudu, YouTube
CRITICAL MASS: As of 12/16/17: Rotten Tomatoes: 93% positive reviews. Metacritic: 82/100.
COMPARISON SHOPPING: Starship Troopers
FINAL RATING: 7/10
NEXT:
Mother, I Love You

Despicable Me 3


Gru can’t believe that his twin brother has Fabio hair.

(2017) Animated Feature (Universal/Illumination) Starring the voices of Steve Carell, Kristen Wiig, Trey Parker, Miranda Cosgrove, Dana Gaier, Nev Scharrel, Pierre Coffin, Steve Coogan, Julie Andrews, Jenny Slate, Andy Nyman, Adrian Ciscato, Brian T. Delaney, Katia Saponenko, Ken Daurio, Cory Walls, Carlos Alazraqui, Mindy Sterling, Laraine Newman, Teresa Ganzel. Directed by Kyle Balda, Pierre Coffin and Eric Guillon

 

There’s this thing about the third film in a trilogy. Once in awhile, it turns out to be the best of the series i.e. the original Star Wars trilogy or Indiana Jones. Most of the time, however, the films in a trilogy tend to get progressively weaker. Which one in the Gru trilogy will the third film be?

Gru (Carell) is working with his new wife Lucy (Wiig) in the Anti-Villains League trying to take down Balthazar Bratt (Parker), a kid star from a forgotten 80s sitcom who is out to steal the world’s largest diamond. When that goes sideways, the two are fired by new no-nonsense AVL head Valerie Da Vinci (Slate).

When Gru’s mom tells her son about the twin brother Dru (Carell again) that he never knew he had, Lucy urges him to visit his twin along with the girls – Margo (Cosgrove), the level-headed one; Edith (Gaier) the playful one and Agnes (Scharrel), the shrill unicorn-obsessed one – to visit. It turns out that Dru has taken up the family business and plans one last big score with his brother. It’s back to being despicable once again – or is that deplorable?

The first movie felt fresh and fun, the sequel less so and this one feels tired and uninspired. Dru isn’t much of an addition to the ever-expanding family and the girls get more obnoxious and unendurable with each passing film. Worse yet, Bratt is an unremarkable villain who seems to be all gimmick and no interesting traits. The movie relies way too much on gadgets, some of which are admittedly fun but one gets into gadget overload – did the directors learn nothing from the mid-80s Bond films?

You’ll notice I haven’t mentioned the Minions up to now. That’s because they have a much-reduced presence in this film compared to the first two and I think that ends up hurting the movie overall. I can understand that the producers might have been concerned about an oversaturation of Minions, considering that they had their own movie a couple of years ago (and another one scheduled for 2020) but they have been the best part of the Despicable Me franchise from the beginning. Trying to rely more on Gru and the colorless Dru was a tactical error.

There’s enough here to keep the kids entertained and clearly they were – the movie was the only summer release to gross more than a billion dollars at the worldwide box office. However, parents who decide to rent or buy this one might want to find a reason to leave the room when the kids are watching.

REASONS TO GO: There are some great “mom” moments. Some of the gadgets are clever.
REASONS TO STAY: The franchise feels like it’s running out of steam. The film could have used more Minions and less Dru.
FAMILY VALUES: There is a little bit of cartoon action and some rude humor (if your kid goes ape for fart jokes, you might want to think twice about letting them see this).
TRIVIAL PURSUIT: Elsie Fisher who voiced Agnes in the first two films was replaced by Scharrel because Fisher had outgrown the role.
BEYOND THE THEATERS: Amazon, Fandango Now, Google Play, iTunes, Vudu
CRITICAL MASS: As of 11/22/17: Rotten Tomatoes: 60% positive reviews. Metacritic: 49/100.
COMPARISON SHOPPING: Minions
FINAL RATING: 6/10
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The Man Who Invented Christmas