Friday, December 21, 2018

Movie Review: “Welcome to Marwen”

Welcome to Marwen

** 1/2 out of 5
116 minutes
Rated PG-13 for sequences of fantasy violence, some disturbing images, brief suggestive content, thematic material and language
Universal Pictures

Article first published at

It’s been a rough comeback for Robert Zemeckis after his years in the uncanny valley of motion capture — The Polar Express, A Christmas Carol, and Beowulf. Within a mere span of six years, Zemeckis — the man behind the Back to the Future trilogy, Who Framed Roger Rabbit, Forrest Gump, and Cast Away — insulted audiences with his three worst films.

When it was announced he would be making a live-action return with the Denzel Washington-starring Flight, I hoped the magic had returned. Boy was I wrong. Thankfully, The Walk showed a return to form, but he stumbled again with Allied. So when I saw he was behind the Mark Hogancamp biopic, Welcome to Marwen, it looked like maybe his bad days were behind him. Unfortunately, that’s only half true.

When focusing on the fictional, therapeutic “Village of Marwen,” the film excels. It’s action-packed, hilarious, authentic, and heart-wrenching. The same cannot be said of the real world theatrics of Mark dealing with PTSD after being assaulted by a group of men — Louis/Captain Topf (Falk Hentschel), Carl/Lieutenant Benz (Matt O’Leary), Rudy/Rudolph (Nikolai Witschl), Stevie/Stefan (Patrick Roccas), and Vern/Werner (Alexander Lowe).

The fictional world of Marwen is a fantastic combination of practical, CGI, and motion capture performances that make Zemeckis look like a kid in a candy store. It’s so realistic it almost makes me wish for a “live-action” version of Toy Story. Almost.

The biggest problem with Welcome to Marwen, is the screenplay. Zemeckis and co-writer Caroline Thompson (Edward Scissorhands, The Addams Family, Homeward Bound: The Incredible Journey, The Secret Garden, The Nightmare Before Christmas, Corpse Bride) are above this. There’s just no emotional impact as we watch Mark deal with the upcoming sentencing of the men who robbed him of his life. It’s the standard will he/won’t he go scenario, and we all know how it’s going to end before the credits role.

It’s sad to see the year end in such a fizzle. But with everything else in theaters it’s not a total bust. Welcome to Marwen isn’t even a way for adults to escape the razzle dazzle CGI extravaganza glutton we’re experiencing with Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse, Aquaman, Bumblebee, Mortal Engines, even Mary Poppins Returns and Fantastic Beasts: The Crimes of Grindelwald. But at least the CGI here serves more of a story aesthetic than simply being the story.

The Zemeckis brand may still be on the rise, but Welcome to Marwen is like drinking Shasta instead of Coca Cola. It’s pretty good; but only reminds you why the other is better and suffers from a disappointing aftertaste once it’s over. A documentary was made back in 2010 and you’re better off seeking out Marwencol instead.

Thursday, December 20, 2018

Movie Review: “Bumblebee”


**** 1/2 out of 5
113 minutes
Rated PG-13 for sequences of sci-fi action violence
Paramount Pictures

Article first published at

It only took six films to make clear exactly what was wrong with the Transformers films: Michael Bay. Not that anyone didn’t know this, but with new director Travis Knight in place for Bumblebee, sixth time’s the charm! The first Transformers was a decent start, but it hasn’t aged particularly well, and all four sequels have been nothing but an embarrassment. Yet audiences still turned out in droves. Fans have waited 11 years for a good sequel, and just wouldn’t you know it, Bumblebee isn’t only the best entry, period, it’s also a prequel! Hopefully this means the franchise is secretly starting over and they can continue to move forward with a new timeline full of the Transformers goodness we deserve.

A war is raging on Cybertron between the Autobots and Decepticons forcing Optimus Prime (voiced by Peter Cullen) to order an evacuation, sending B-127/B (voiced by Dylan O’Brien) to Earth. His mission: to set up a base of operations for the Autobots to regroup in safety. B crashlands in the middle of a Sector 7 (a secret government group monitoring extraterrestrial activity) training exercise with the Decepticon Blitzwing — and lieutenant Jack Burns (John Cena) — hot on his tail. After Blitzwing destroys B’s voicebox and erases his memory core, B transforms into a 1967 Volkswagen Beetle and escapes.

Eventually, Charlie Watson (Hailee Steinfeld) finds B in a scrapyard and is given the Beetle as a present for her 18th birthday under the condition she can get it to start. Now, Charlie finally has a car — much to the chagrin of her hilariously overbearing mother Sally (Pamela Adlon) — and winds up getting more than she bargained for after she finds out her car is really a robot in disguise. Speaking only in hums and buzzes, Charlie names him Bumblebee and soon enough, the whole word is at stake after Charlie accidentally releases a homing signal sending Decepticons Shatter (voiced by Angela Bassett) and Dropkick (voiced by Justin Theroux) on their own mission, posing as peacekeepers, to convince Sector 7 into helping them find Bumblebee and end the Autobots once and for all.

While it may sound like Bumblebee is a tad convoluted, it’s absolutely not. It’s a straightforward coming of age tale, Amblin-style, that happens to have Transformers in it rather than say, E.T. Steinfeld carries the weight of the film on her shoulders fantastically, helped out by a motley crew of hilarious side characters. Cena is perfectly cast as the only government employee who seems to see the reality of the situation. Jorge Lendeborg Jr. provides a pseudo-love interest/sidekick as Memo. Adlon proves she’s always hilarious and not just when starring in her own TV show. And even Jason Drucker and Stephen Schneider, as Charlie’s younger brother Otis and stepfather Ron, get plenty of their own laughs.

But this is all out the Charlie and Bumblebee show, and that’s exactly why Bumblebee succeeds so well. Christina Hodson’s screenplay is surprisingly witty, and even emotional. She knows we may be here for the action, but we also need to care about Charlie, and most of all, Bumblebee’s plight. Michael Bay was completely content with pummeling the audience with grossly filmed/edited action sequences to the point of nausea — Age of Extinction will always be remembered as the Transformers entry that made a colleague puke from it’s so-called camerawork — but Knight knows how to choreograph/film an action scene with the best of them. Enrique Chediak offers up some stellar cinematography. You’d never know this was Knight’s first live-action film, but being President & CEO of Laika Entertainment has paid off admirously.

Bumblebee is one of the biggest surprises of the year and is non-stop fun for the biggest Transformers fans to the biggest skeptics. Full of breathtaking action sequences, huge laughs, and plenty of heart to spare, Bumblebee is another fantastic outing for audiences this season in a very crowded holiday marketplace. It’s too bad Aquaman will be hogging all the IMAX screens because Bumblebee also deserves to be seen on the biggest screen possible. That said, be sure your theater is projecting it in the right aspect ratio. The theater I saw it in projected it incorrectly and caused us to only see about half the film. Lots of headless dialogue ensued. A travesty considering how great it looked while not even seeing the whole screen.

Also worth noting, there is one extra scene at the beginning of the end credits, but nothing after.

Movie Review: “Aquaman”


**** out of 5
143 minutes
Rated PG-13 for sequences of sci-fi violence and action, and for some language
Warner Bros. Pictures

Article first published at

After the success of the Marvel Cinematic Universe, it was a sure bet DC Comics would try to  keep up. What DC forgot to do, was inject a sense of fun into their films. Gritty, brooding, and way too grounded for superhero films, audiences hungered for DC to get it right. With Wonder Woman, they came close. But the finale only reminded fans of everything wrong with the DC Extended Universe. Now, along comes director James Wan to go full-DC and embrace Aquaman’s outrageousness full tilt to deliver the best DC film since Man of Steel, and the best DCEU entry yet.

Arthur Curry/Aquaman (Jason Momoa) introduces us to the backstory of his parents, Thomas Curry (Temuera Morrison) and Atlanna (Nicole Kidman). Atlanna is on the run from an arranged marriage and winds up finding solace with Thomas, a simple lighthouse keeper in Maine. Atlanna eventually gives birth to Arthur, whom she wants to be the missing link to show there can be peace between the worlds above and below the ocean. Soon enough, Atlanna is found out and she is forced to return to Atlantis where she is executed for birthing a half-breed. In the present, Arthur is called up on by Mera (Amber Heard), after Arthur’s half-brother/King of Atlantis, Orm (Patrick Wilson), starts building an army to wage war on the surface. Meanwhile, David/Manta (Yahya Abdul-Mateen II) is on the hunt for Aquaman after leaving his father do die.

Aquaman may still suffer from a case of being convoluted — a plague upon the DCEU from the get go — but it more than makes up for it with a huge sense of fun, style, and badassery. Wan has taken what should have been — and admittedly still is — the most ridiculous of the DC characters, and turned it into an amazing adventure. The screenplay — courtesy David Leslie Johnson-McGoldrick and Will Beall — zooms along at a breakneck pace, as it globetrots its way to the end credits. Usually a pace like this could spell disaster, but the action is never boring, and it leaves you wanting more.

Speaking of the action, Wan directs some of the year’s best. Full of carefully choreographed fights — more than a few captured in what’s made to look like one take — and precision editing, no matter how high the stakes get, at least you always know what’s going on. Action films as of late, rely far too heavily on quick cuts to cover up either the actor’s inabilities, or the director’s inadequacies, but that’s never the case here.

While I previously had never been fully aboard the Momoa train, I do have to say he’s finally grown on me. Giving him his own feature was just what he needed to complete winning over the naysayers and you can tell he’s having the time of his life. I used to look at him as trying way too hard to be the new Dwayne Johnson, but my friend told me to consider him more as The Rock’s dorky brother and now I get the appeal.

Aquaman is everything we’ve been waiting for in the DCEU. It didn’t hurt for me to see it filled with sharks, dinosaurs, and kaiju, oh my! As for the upcoming entries, thankfully, Shazam! is going to be a full-blown comedy. But it’s gonna be interesting to see how Birds of Prey (and the Fantabulous Emancipation of one Harley Quinn), Cyborg, Wonder Woman 1984, Green Lantern Corps, The Flash, and The Batman can measure up. A bar has been set, and all expectations are now Aquaman high.

Movie Review: “Mary Poppins Returns”

Mary Poppins Returns

***** out of 5
130 minutes
Rated PG for some mild thematic elements and brief action
Walt Disney Pictures

Article first published at

It’s been 54 years since Mary Poppins graced the silver screen to the delight of audiences and the dismay of author P.L. Travers. With the release of Saving Mr. Banks, it was obvious Disney was in the midst of a Mary Poppins revival, and here at last is Mary Poppins Returns. While having never received the sequel treatment before now, director Rob Marshall still had a huge legacy to live up to. And Returns is a smashing success from start to finish.

Filled with all new original songs, a brilliant performance from Emily Blunt, and old school Disney sensibilities, Mary Poppins Returns arrives just in time for the holiday break. And just in time to save Disney’s live-action reputation after this year’s mediocre outings of A Wrinkle in Time, Christopher Robin, and The Nutcracker and the Four Realms. Audiences could use a spoonful of sugar and Returns is just what the doctor ordered.

Twenty-five years after Mary Poppins (Blunt) saved Mr. Banks and his children’s relationships, Michael (Ben Whishaw) is repeating history. With the recent passing of his wife, he’s becoming overworked and estranged from his own children — John (Nathanael Saleh), Anabel (Pixie Davies), and Georgie (Joel Dawson). To rub salt in the wound, the bank has come to inform Michael he’s about to lose their beloved family home of 17 Cherry Tree Lane.

Jane (Emily Mortimer) will do anything she can to help him find a missing shares certificate, but in the meantime, Mary Poppins has arrived to once again look after the Banks children — along with Michael’s too. Now, Michael is in a race against time after bank owner William Weatherall Wilkins (Colin Firth) gives him a deadline to come up with the certificate or lose the house for good. Meanwhile, the children are whisked off on their own adventures with Mary and lamp lighter Jack (Lin-Manuel Miranda) to do what they can to help while trying to earn back their dad.

For interested parties, there are no repeats of the original classic songs. But fear not, there are nods to them sprinkled throughout Shaiman’s score. A heaping helping of new earworms abound for repeat ad nauseum. I have no idea how many times I’ve listened to “Trip the Light Fantastic.” When you see a film nearly three weeks early, you’re stuck with what you can get and only two songs have been released as of this writing. Once the full soundtrack drops, I cannot wait to be able to listen to Marc Shaiman and Scott Wittman’s songs and score again.

There is probably no one else who could possibly have stepped into the huge shoes Julie Andrews’ Oscar winning performance left to fill. Blunt is spectacular and even manages to put her own stamp on Mary. Considering it’s been 25 years since anyone has seen her, you might expect at least a tiny bit of personality change. But fear not, this is still the Poppins everyone knows and loves and she’s every bit straight-laced, mischievous, and cheeky as ever. The rest of the cast is superb as well with Miranda getting a chance to show off his Hamilton skills following a fantastic Blunt performance that feels right out of Marshall’s own Chicago.

Marshall hasn’t had the best streak since his Oscar nominated turn directing ChicagoMemoirs of a Geisha, Nine, Pirates of the Caribbean: On Stranger Tides, Into the Woods — none of these allowed him to live up to expectation, until now. The musical numbers are huge and expertly choreographed/staged/shot/edited. For grand musical numbers to fully work, everything has to work in tandem and every number here is a homerun. Even the requisite animated sequence is top notch. The combination of live-action/animation works beautifully and just makes me want a Roger Rabbit sequel even more — Disney, call me, I have your idea ready! There’s even an edge of danger abound, right out of Wind in the Willows.

It took a lot of work to come up with a worthy Mary Poppins sequel, and even with Travers’s book at their disposal, I don’t mind Disney waiting to make sure everything was practically perfect in every way. If you aren’t a huge Mary Poppins fan this may not be for you, but Marshall engages the audience from start to finish — some may shed a few tears along the way — and makes sure Mary Poppins’s return is everything we could want and more.

Sunday, December 16, 2018


Spider-man: Into the Spider-Verse leads with three awards, including Best Picture
December 16, 2018

            In their annual meeting, the members of the Utah Film Critics Association recognized Spider-man: Into the Spider-Verse with three awards, including Best Picture of 2018. The film was also honored as Best Animated Feature, and for the Adapted Screenplay by Phil Lord & Rodney Rothman.
            Roma also received three awards: Alfonso Cuarón for Directing and Cinematography, and for Best Non-English Language Feature.
            In performance categories, Elsie Fisher was named in the Lead Performance, Female category for Eighth Grade, which also received Original Screenplay honors for Bo Burnham. Ethan Hawke received Best Lead Performance, Male for First Reformed; while Oliva Colman received Best Supporting Performance, Female as Queen Anne in The Favourite. In Best Supporting Performance, Male, there was a tie between Russell Hornsby for The Hate U Give and Hugh Grant for Paddington 2.
            Other winners include Annihilation’s Geoff Barrow & Ben Salisbury for Best Original Score, and Won’t You Be My Neighbor? for Best Documentary Feature.
            The Utah Film Critics Association is made up of Utah-based film journalists contributing to print, broadcast and online outlets. For membership and other information, visit


Best Picture: Spider-man: Intothe Spider-Verse. Runner-up: Roma

Best Achievement in Directing: Alfonso Cuarón, Roma. Runner-up: Ryan Coogler, Black Panther

Best Lead Performance, Male: Ethan Hawke, First Reformed. Runner-up: Christian Bale, Vice

Best Lead Performance, Female: Elsie Fisher, Eighth Grade. Runner-up: Lady Gaga, A StarIs Born

Best Supporting Performance, Female: Olivia Colman, The Favourite. Runner-up: Elizabeth Debicki, Widows

Best Supporting Performance, Male: Russell Hornsby, The Hate U Give and Hugh Grant, Paddington 2 (tie)

Best Original Screenplay: Bo Burnham, Eighth Grade. Runner-up: Deborah Davis & Tony McNamara, The Favourite

Best Adapted Screenplay: Phil Lord & Rodney Rothman, Spider-man:Into the Spider-Verse. Runner-up: Audrey Wells, The Hate U Give

Best Cinematography: Alfonso Cuarón, Roma. Runner-up: Rob Hardy, Annihilation

Best Original Score: Geoff Barrow & Ben Salisbury, Annihilation. Runner-up: Nicholas Britell, If Beale Street Could Talk

Best Documentary Feature: Won’t You Be My Neighbor? Runner-up: Minding the Gap

Best Animated Feature: Spider-man: Into the Spider-Verse

Best Non-English Language Feature: Roma. Runner-up: Burning

Movie Review: “Once Upon a Deadpool”

Once Upon a Deadpool

*** out of 5
Rated PG-13 for intense sequences of violence and action, crude sexual content, language, thematic elements and brief drug material
116 minutes
20th Century Fox

Article first published at

*Click here for a full review of the original release of Deadpool 2

Deadpool does not work as PG-13. We knew that already, yet, here we are with Fox’s blatant cash grab Once Upon a Deadpool. Featuring absolutely nothing holiday related aside from its blistering marketing campaign, Deadpool 2.75 is simply a mashup of the original release, the “Super Duper $@%!#& Cut” included with the Blu-ray, new footage featuring Fred Savage, and edited versions of the original with all the cussing toned down and blood removed.

Everything new added in may be hysterical, but there’s nowhere near enough to warrant a quick theatrical re-release. And as projections indicate — it’s expected to bring in a mere $2.6 million this weekend — Fox’s plan to say there’s an audience for a PG-13 Deadpool universe have hopefully been squashed. This is, unsurprisingly, the most boring version of the film. At least the extended cut had new scenes help fill in some story gaps while adding more jokes along the way.

Here, you’re left yawning in between the new with huge stretches of nothing you haven’t seen before. And considering the film was originally released in May, your money is best spent elsewhere. Of course it’s going to be released on home video, same as the extended cut, and that’s exactly where it belongs. It may be fun for the fans to play a game of what’s new, but if you’ve seen the extended cut, only the Fred Savage stuff is new. And as hilarious as it may be, it’s nothing that couldn’t have been included as a third version for the video release.

Considering the wealth of fantastic family films in theaters this holiday season, it makes even less sense to be releasing this. Fox should ultimately be ashamed of themselves. Sorry Disney, fans don’t want their Deadpool watered down, and it would be a huge misstep to try and add him into the Marvel Cinematic Universe. Just let him be and continue milking the cash cow the way he was intended. Deadpool’s teets are far from dry, but only in the form of new material. With X-Force on its way, everyone is better off waiting it out for that and, of course, the eventual Deadpool 3. As for Once Upon a Deadpool, move along folks, there’s nothing to see here.

Movie Review: “Mortal Engines”

Mortal Engines

** out of 5
128 minutes
Rated PG-13 for sequences of futuristic violence and action
Universal Pictures

Article first published at

Even the best writers and directors lay an egg once in awhile. For Peter Jackson, it’s Mortal Engines. A film that has no shame in being a blatant rip-off at its “best,” and revels in stupidity at its worst. Hollywood has placed a lot of trust in amateur directors with big budget features in the last few years, but this is by far the dumbest. Christian Rivers — directing the multitude of plotlines from Jackson, Fran Walsh, and Philippa Boyens’s screenplay, based on Philip Reeve’s novels — may know a thing or two about crafting together some awesome visuals. (He worked on many of Jackson’s films, along with winning an Oscar for King Kong.) But he has no idea how to link the pieces together with plot, pace, or characterization.

We’re told that during the Sixty Minute War, all that remains of humanity are mobile “predator” cities. Under “Municipal Darwinism,” the larger cities consume the smaller and the chase is on between London and Salzhaken. After being consumed, Hester Shaw (Hera Hilmar), is onboard, taking her one chance to try to assassinate Thaddeus Valentine (Hugo Weaving). Thaddeus killed her mom when she was a child and she’s out for revenge. While her attempt it thwarted by Tom Natsworthy (Robert Sheehan), Tom finds himself kicked aside after he mentions to Thaddeus Hester’s claims. Now, Tom must join forces with Hester — and the Anti-Traction League agent, Anna Fang (Jihae) — to stay alive in the Great Hunting Grounds, and stop Thaddeus’s  war machine built to destroy the wall keeping the city of Shan Guo safe from the rest of the world.

For anyone wondering what it would look like to see a collection of mid-play video game scenes up on the big screen, here you go. Mortal Engines may start out on the right track — the opening city chase is quite the sight to behold — but it all goes downhill from there. Filled with characters who only speak in catchphrases, one-liners, and exposition, Rivers and his writers seem terrified audiences will never be able to keep up with the plot.

Maybe it wouldn’t be such a chore if they weren’t trying to squeeze in a million plot lines. It doesn’t help that the dialogue ranges from eye-rolling to cringe worthy, to laugh-out-loud hilarious. If there’s a silver lining, Mortal Engines is unintentionally funny from start-to-finish and the visuals can be quite spectacular. And they better be, considering it spends most of its time blatantly ripping off the entire Star Wars franchise. I doubt if even the most hardcore steampunks could find anything of interest here. Everyone else is best spending their time anywhere else this holiday season.

Mortal Engines crashes and burns. A statement that pains me to say about anything Peter Jackson related, but to use one of his own film titles as an example: you’d have to be completely Brain Dead to enjoy this one.

Friday, December 14, 2018

Movie Review: “Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse”

Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse

***** out of 5
117 minutes
Rated PG for frenetic sequences of animated action violence, thematic elements, and mild language
Columbia Pictures

Article first published at

There are three credited directors for Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse, but a hunch tells me there may be five. Co-writer Phil Lord and producer Christopher Miller — of Lego Movie/Jump Street fame — probably had more input into the final product than anticipated. Don’t forget, the duo were dismissed from the Solo film clear back in June 2017. With extra time on their hands, why not get more involved?

Not to discredit the brilliant work of Bob Persichetti, Peter Ramsey, and Rodney Rothman (another Jump Street cohort and co-writer here), but it certainly didn’t hurt if they did. Not only is Into the Spider-Verse the first feature length animated Spider-Man film, it’s also the best animated film of the year, 2018’s best film, and the best Spider-Man movie ever.

Miles Morales (voiced by Shameik Moore) is just your average teen. That is if the average teen deals with being bitten by a genetically altered spider and getting caught up in a game of saving the multiverse. Kingpin/Wilson Fisk (voiced by Liev Schreiber) uses a Super Collider causing multiple Spider-People — Peter B. Parker/Spider-Man (voiced by Jake Johnson), Gwen Stacy/Spider-Woman (voiced by Hailee Steinfeld), Peter Porker/Spider-Ham (voiced by John Mulaney), and Peter Parker/Spider-Man Noir (voiced by Nicolas Cage) — to be transplanted in Morales’s version of the Spider-Verse.

The trouble with reviewing a film as good as Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse is trying not to sound like a broken record. Everything works better than it has in any of the previous Spider-Man films. As fantastic as Homecoming was, this is even better. Kingpin makes a terrific villain with grounded reasons for what he’s trying to accomplish. He’s surrounded by plenty of henchmen who also have interesting — and in one case heartbreaking — motives.

The animation is a sight to behold. This is one gorgeous piece of art from start to finish. Walking in, there was a lot of hype and it completely blows it away. It’s a jawdropper that needs to be seen to be believed. Along with high swinging action, the screenplay is a boggling collection of jokes and references to all things Spider-Man, Marvel, and pop culture. Keep your eyes peeled for some outrageously hilarious sight gags.

If there’s one surprise, it’s how much heart the film has. Can Spider-Man make you cry? This one might. And not just due to the Stan Lee cameo. Into the Spider-Verse is a game changer of the highest order and cannot be missed. Also, make sure to stay through the end credits in true Marvel fashion.