Sunday, March 17, 2019

Movie Review: “Five Feet Apart”


Five Feet Apart

*** out of 5
116 minutes
Rated PG-13 for thematic elements, language and suggestive material
CBS Films

Article first published at TheReelPlace.com

There’s a gentle sweetness to Five Feet Apart that manages to save it from sickening saccharine. If there’s one thing the current global climate could use, it’s a little compassion. Granted, director Justin Baldoni stumbles a bit in the finale, but manages to regain its footing before the credits roll. And the title itself has even found itself amongst outcry from the medical community as the rule for those with cystic fibrosis is, apparently, six feet apart. But the title is explained in the film and is used as a plot point. Five Feet Apart may still succumb to all the standard teen drama clichés over its two hours, but the endearing cast keeps it from falling into the same old tropes.

Stella (Haley Lu Richardson) and Will (Cole Sprouse) are a couple of hospitalized “CFers” who meet cute in the NICU. Both are being seeing for cystic fibrosis treatment, but while Stella is there for routine, turns out Will also has B. cepacia. Lucky for him, his mom (Claire Forlani) has money and he’s trying out a new drug trial. And while Stella and Will may not quite like each other at first, most of the movie will come as no surprise as we see them grow fonder through various montages. It doesn’t hurt that Stella’s long-time friend Poe (Moises Arias) does what he can to play cupid as a way to deal with his own romantic shortcomings. Now, the two must find a way to cope with their emotions as their ailments keep them apart. Yes, this is where the title fits in.

Richardson has always been good no matter how small the role. Typically starting in smaller arthouse dealings, it’s been a long road for her from The Bronze, The Edge of Seventeen, Split, and now Five Feet Apart. She has a charming disposition and it goes a long way when the film starts to slip up toward the end. Sprouse has had an even longer career in front of the camera. I was very surprised by how grown up little Ben from Friends/Julian from Big Daddy has become. Not being a viewer of CW’s Riverdale, I had no idea he was still acting, let alone playing Archie Comics’ Jughead. He doesn’t have quite the same amount of charisma as Richardson, but the two are at delightful enough together to make the film work.

If there’s one thing going against the film, it’s when Baldoni turns on the melodrama. Shenanigans ensue and odd character decisions arise — mostly involving Stella’s backstory of her suffering from survivor’s guilt after her sister’s death. And the film takes a turn for the Romeo and Juliet kind as our doomed lovers wind up having to stare death in the face. Thankfully, it comes back around and saves itself from getting too cheesy while walking a pretty good tightrope already. Is Five Feet Apart a new teen classic? Not even close. Is it worth a trip to the theater? I think if you’ve made it this far through the review, you’ve probably made up your mind already. But for those of you who may be on the fence, there’s plenty of charm to appease anyone who happens to get dragged to it against their will.

Friday, March 8, 2019

Movie Review: “Captain Marvel”


Captain Marvel

**** out of 5
124 minutes
Rated PG-13 for sequences of sci-fi violence and action, and brief suggestive language
Marvel Studios

Article first published at TheReelPlace.com

After 11 years and countless male superheroes, it’s obvious the entire Marvel Cinematic Universe rests in the hands of Captain Marvel. Here’s a superhero who fulfills her own prophecy by the end credits as the one person who could take down Thanos all by herself. Something our beloved Avengers are in desperate need of after the snapture of Infinity War. A superhero so mighty she forced Rotten Tomatoes to reconfigure certain sections of their website! Trolls be damned, Captain Marvel is the badass we’ve been waiting for and didn’t even know it. And appropriately making her big screen debut on International Women’s Day to boot.

Kree, 1995, Vers (Brie Larson) has been suffering from nightmares involving a woman from her past. Yon-Rogg (Jude Law) accepts an early morning spar where he warns her to control her emotions if she ever wants to control her abilities. After using her powers to defeat Yon-Rogg, Vers is tasked with a mission by the Supreme Intelligence (Annette Bening) to rescue an undercover Kree operative. Turns out, they’re really in the midst of a Skrull ambush, and Vers is taken hostage by Talos (Ben Mendelsohn). In a daring escape, Vers crash lands on Planet C-53 (Earth) where she meets S.H.I.E.L.D. agents Nick Fury (Samuel L. Jackson) and Phil Coulson (Clark Gregg). Now, Vers must learn who she truly is — Captain Carol Danvers — and work alongside Fury to end the war between the Kree and Skrulls, once and for all.

I am admittedly a Marvel fanboy. Even some of the weakest entries — Thor: The Dark World — I gave a more glowing review than deserved. So it may come as a surprise that the first 20 minutes of Captain Marvel are not great. Full of super dark cinematography, choppy editing, and a sluggish pace, it’s not until Danvers finally gets to Earth when the film kicks into gear. It also starts to find time to flesh out Danvers and her past, with directors/co-writers Anna Boden and Ryan Fleck giving ample time to some much needed characterization.

Captain Marvel is not a perfect film, but as a huge Hollywood blockbuster, not many are. What it is, is fun.. Filled with ample girl power, ’90s nostalgia, and a pinpoint soundtrack, it lives up to the hype, even if not exactly flying passed it. At least Larson kicks as much butt as we hoped she would. She’s the perfect embodiment of Danvers. Samuel L. Jackson is super chipper and hilarious as a young deaged Fury with both eyes and no chips on his shoulders. And to say Goose the cat steals the show is an understatement. There’s also a fantastic Stan Lee cameo — truly one of his best ever — and two end credit stingers.

Captain Marvel is prepped and ready to break the superhero glass ceiling and I can’t wait to see how she tackles the fallout of Infinity War and any additional sequels of her own.

Friday, February 22, 2019

Movie Review: “How to Train Your Dragon: The Hidden World”


How to Train Your Dragon: The Hidden World

*** 1/2
104 minutes
Rated PG for adventure action and some mild rude humor
Universal Pictures

Article first published at TheReelPlace.com

It’s been five years since How to Train Your Dragon 2 proved DreamWorks was just as capable of serving up sequels with the same relish as Pixar. Unfortunately, animated family films have come a long way since then. Hot off the heels of Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse, it’s been far too long since the last Hiccup and Toothless outing and How to Train Your Dragon: The Hidden World  just can’t live up to expectations.

After countless video games and Netflix episodes, writer/director Dean DeBlois has managed to make the best looking version of a How to Train Your Dragon film, but The Hidden World suffers from too little too late when it should be going out with a bang. The marketing is making a huge deal about this being the trilogy closer and while it’s nice to have a series where the characters have continued to grow and mature, it’s such a shame the same can’t be said of the story.

The Hidden World picks up after the last film with our favorite band of misfits on a “stealth” mission that winds up being anything but. Hiccup (voiced by Jay Baruchel), Astrid (voiced by America Ferrera), Snotlout (voiced by Jonah Hill), Fishlegs (voiced by Christopher Mintz-Plasse), Ruffnut (voiced by Kristen Wiig), and Tuffnut (voiced by Justin Rupple replacing T.J. Miller) have just saved a new group of dragons and brought them to sanctuary in Berk.

A new threat rears its head in the form of trophy hunter Grimmel (voiced by F. Murray Abraham). And now they must find the dragon utopia “The Hidden World,” to save their winged friends from Grimmel’s plot. Most importantly to save Toothless, whom was thought to have been the last Night Fury, only to find out Grimmel has one of his own.

The saddest aspect of The Hidden World is how much it follows the exact same beats as the first two films. There’s an opening Hiccup-monologue introducing the new dragons to Berk so the audience can get brought back up to speed. Hiccup must find a way to follow in his father’s footsteps to be the leader Berk needs. And the standard will they/won’t they relationship continues to bloom between Hiccup and Astrid with a possible marriage not too far off.

The best thing is the introduction of the female Light Fury. Toothless and Light Fury’s interactions are the star of the show and thankfully they get plenty of time to interact. Toothless finally manages to become a full bodied character presenting even more charm than ever before. Just wait till you get a load of the mating ritual scene. Hilarious, yet sweet.

How to Train Your Dragon: The Hidden World manages to hit all the right notes, it’s just too bad we’ve heard them so many times over the years from repeat viewings of the first two films. Nine years is too long to spread out a franchise into merely three films. Had DreamWorks managed to deliver this a few years ago, it would have felt more fresh. But with DeBlois simply delivering more of the same, it’s disheartening to consider the big finale to be so meh.

To answer the age old question, you really can be whelmed by a movie. The Hidden World is never bad, and it’s gorgeous to look at it, but it delivers nothing we haven’t seen before. For some that may be enough, but for those of us with higher expectations, it just never manages to be as great as it could have been either.

Saturday, February 16, 2019

Movie Review: “Happy Death Day 2U”


Happy Death Day 2U

**** out of 5
100 minutes
Rated PG-13 for violence, language, sexual material and thematic elements
Universal Pictures

Article first published at TheReelPlace.com

Considering how lame PG-13 horror has become, Happy Death Day felt like a blast of fresh air and brought in a ton of money. It’s no surprise a sequel has come and thankfully, director Christopher “Son of Michael” Landon returns to keep the tone mostly the same. With Happy Death Day 2U, Landon trails down a new path and introduces a heavy dose of time travel a la Back to the Future. So while poor Tree (Jessica Rothe) may have escaped her deadly Groundhog Day loop, a new wrinkle rears its head and pits her against a whole new twist of fate.

Tree has survived her murderous birthday, but now Carter’s (Israel Broussard) roommate Ryan (Phi Vu) is having his own deja vu. After his time travel thesis project is shut down by the Dean (Steve Zissis), Ryan gets murdered by our favorite baby-faced killer. Thankfully, Tree is around to explain what happened to her and Ryan fesses up that his project was what caused her own time loop.

And just wouldn’t you know it, the Dean storms in to shut down the project, this time sending Tree back to the future (her birthday), stuck in a parallel universe where nothing is the same. Here, this version of Carter is dating Tree’s sorority sister Danielle (Rachel Matthews) and her mom (Missy Yager) is alive and well. Now, Tree must decide if she wants to stay in a reality she has no memory of or say goodbye to her mom to be with the man she loves with the help of Carter, Ryan, and Ryan’s fellow science geeks Samar (Suraj Sharma) and Dre (Sarah Yarkin). All with a whole new killer hot on their tail!

Landon manages to score yet again with Happy Death Day 2U. Armed with a bigger tale, which surprisingly answers some questions from the first, it’s every bit as fun. Rothe continues to lead the films and has tons of fun. The best bits come from finding ways to make suicide as hilarious as Bill Murray did in Groundhog Day. And it should come as no surprise to anyone who’s seen the first film that Tree has never even heard of Back to the Future, something that could go a long way to saving her own life. Not a whole lot has changed, but it is nice to spend some time developing new characters (Samar and Dre), while getting to know Ryan better.

It’s not a spoiler to say Landon has already announced a third film — I can’t wait to hear its title — and it’ll be interesting to see where he takes the franchise from here. Considering he’s already tackled both slasher flicks and time travel, he can probably do pretty much whatever he wants. I guess so long as audiences show up again. And they should, Happy Death Day 2U is a fun ride keeping the audience guessing, all while providing characters you want to root for.

Movie Review: “Isn’t It Romantic”


Isn't It Romantic

**** out of 5
88 minutes
Rated PG-13 for language, some sexual material, and a brief drug reference.
Warner Bros. Pictures

Article first published at TheReelPlace.com

The world sometimes needs a happy go lucky film. And Rebel Wilson’s Isn’t It Romantic delivers in spades. Tackling rom-coms with plucky aplomb, no cliché is left unscathed. Irony abounds in the form of the film’s writers: Erin Cardillo, Dana Fox, and Katie Silberman. When you see a film comes from the creative minds behind The Wedding Date, What Happens in Vegas, Couples Retreat, Hot Pursuit, and How to Be Single, you can’t help but brace yourself. Leave it to them to take everything they’ve pandered to audiences over the years and wrap it up into something hilarious. The art of spoof is alive and well and they tear their own mistakes apart only to reshape them into something the rest of us can love.

Natalie (Wilson) is taught at a young age by her mother (Jennifer Saunders) that watching Pretty Woman is a waste of time and no one will ever love someone who looks like they do. Now a success architect living in New York, she’s stuck being underappreciated at work with a subordinate (Betty Gilpin) who spends her day watching rom-coms and her best friend Josh (Adam DeVine) getting put in the friend zone. But a new world awaits after Natalie is mugged on the subway, knocks herself out, and wakes up in the PG-13 rom-coms she hates so much. Now, she has to defeat the cliches and win the love of her life in order to wake back up and escape the new worlds he hates more than reality.

If you’ve seen the trailer you already know whether you want to see it or not. But for anyone on the fence, or who may have turned up their nose, it doesn’t set out to reinvent the wheel, but damn if it isn’t hilarious from start to finish. Wilson holds the film all on her own, but is given plenty of help from her costars. Liam Hemsworth gets lots of mileage out of aping his brother Chris’s hilarious turn in Ghostbusters. Hey Hollywood, cast them together already! Wilson and DeVine even continue to be charming together here, even after two Pitch Perfect outings. Director Todd Strauss-Schulson continues to keep the laughs flowing with a scant 88 minute runtime. Full of big laughs, and a big heart, Isn’t It Romantic breaks formula while giving it a huge bear hug and makes sure even the most cynical have plenty to ooh and aah at.

Friday, February 8, 2019

Movie Review: “The Lego Movie 2: The Second Part”


The Lego Movie 2: The Second Part

***** out of 5
106 minutes
Rated PG for some rude humor
Warner Bros. Pictures

Article first published at TheReelPlace.com

Whether working in animation or live-action, Phil Lord and Christopher Miller seem unstoppable. Starting with Cloudy with a Chance of Meatballs, they’ve graced us with everything from two Jump Street films, Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse, and a glutton of LEGO films: The LEGO Movie, The Lego Batman Movie, and The Lego Ninjago Movie.

With The Lego Movie 2: The Second Part the streak continues, proving sequels can be every bit as good, if not almost better, than the original. With the big twist out of the way, the duo have a whole new way to play.

The DUPLOs have landed, and Bricksburg will never be the same. Five years after wreaking havoc and destroying the city, Emmet (voiced by Chris Pratt), Lucy (voiced by Elizabeth Banks), and the remaining citizens, have escaped to build anew in Apocalypseburg. But just wouldn’t you know it, while out brooding, Emmet draws the attention of a whole new set of invaders.

Now, General Mayhem (voiced by Stephanie Beatriz) has taken Lucy, Batman (voided by Will Arnett), Unikitty (voiced by Alison Brie), Metalbeard (voiced by Nick Offerman), and Benny (voiced by Charlie Day) deep into the Systar System. Here, they come face-to-face with Queen Watevra Wanabi (voiced by Tiffany Haddish) who happens to be planning a matrimonial ceremony while Emmet teams up with the dangerously mysterious Rex Dangervest (also Pratt) to save his friends and stop Our-Mom-Ageddon!

Since we know our favorite band of misfit Legos are being played with — Finn (Jado Sand) now being joined by his sister Bianca (Brooklynn Prince) — the tonal shifts could give some viewers a headache. It’s really a brilliant move to further Lego mythos while delivering an even more heartfelt — and at times even sadder — message. While the first Lego wound up being the story of a boy just wanting quality time with his dad, here we get to see how a sibling rivalry can assault our favorite brick characters.

The animation is every bit as stunning as the previous Lego films, and the introduction of additional Lego lines makes for some hilarious new characters. Pratt is living it up getting to play two different versions of who may or may not be the same characters, and everyone else — including the new voice cast — gets to crack wise.

While The Lego Movie 2 manages to hit the sibling rivalry nail right on the head, it’s also a joke-a-second laugh factory. The film is so packed with jokes that it almost feels like it could be too much for one movie. A running gag involving Bruce Willis — and Rex’s Raptor pack — almost steal the show.

The Lego Movie 2 wants to have its cake and eat it too and it’s a fantastic feast from start to finish. Thankfully, Warner Bros., Lord, and Miller — along with director Mike Mitchell — didn’t rush to get a sequel pushed out the door. It really has been five years since the original came out and The Second Part meets and exceeds expectations across the baseplate.

Friday, January 25, 2019

Movie Review: “The Kid Who Would Be King”


The Kid Who Would Be King

**** 1/2 out of 5
120 minutes
Rated PG for fantasy action violence, scary images, thematic elements including some bullying, and language
20th Century Fox

Article first published at TheReelPlace.com

People were surprised that I was excited to see The Kid Who Would Be King. As Joe Cornish’s follow-up to Attack the Block, I hoped it would be more than just another reimagining of King Arthur and Excalibur. While it still is, it manages to stand all on its own. Attack the Block came out of nowhere and planted Cornish on the geek map. And he hasn’t slumped yet.

With co-writing credits on The Adventures of Tintin and Ant-Man we finally get to see Attack the Block was more than just a one-off that introduced the world to John Boyega. Aided by a fun cast and a score by Electric Wave Bureau that may be up for awards this time next year, The Kid Who Would Be King is the family adventure we didn’t know we needed.

With an amazingly animated opening retelling the story of King Arthur and his sword Excalibur, we’re brought up to speed that King Arthur’s evil half-sister Morgana (Rebecca Ferguson) lies in wait in the underworld for her chance to rule the world. In the present, Alex Elliot (Louis Ashbourne “Son of Andy” Serkis) does what he can to keep from getting bullied by Kaye (Rhianna Doris) and Lance (Tom Taylor).

Alex is also dealing with his dad abandoning him and his mother (Denise Gough). During a skirmish with Kay and Lance, Alex winds up pulling a sword from a stone in a construction site, and soon enough, he’s off on an adventure with his best friend Bedders (Dean Chaumoo), Merlin (Angus Imrie/Patrick Stewart), Kaye, and Lance. Together, they must defeat Morgana and save the world before the total eclipse gives her the chance she needs.

Considering the overload of family fare, hopefully word-of-mouth can save the day for The Kid Who Would Be King. Harkening back to the ’80s Amblin heyday, it’s a family adventure similar to E.T. or The Goonies. Serkis holds the film on his own while being backed by a fantastic entourage who all have camaraderie to spare. It’s oddly ironic to find Taylor playing an actual knight in this movie after his role as Jake Chambers in The Dark Tower. That story is also derived from the Arthurian legend, although you’d never know it from the film.

Cornish isn’t setting out to rewrite the legend, but he’s done a fantastic job of updating it for modern times. With Morgana, the story does start to get a little on the dark/creepy side, but never too much to question the PG rating. Full of excitement, humor, heart, fantastic special effects, and an early voting contender for Best Score, The Kid Who Would Be King may not wind up being king at the box office, but it’s absolutely worth a look. With an end setting up the possibility for franchising, they better make quick work before the cast grows up. This is one series I definitely would like to see more of soon.