Saturday, March 30, 2019

Movie Review: “Dumbo”


** out of 5
112 minutes
Rated PG for peril/action, some thematic elements, and brief mild language
Walt Disney Pictures

Article first published at

With all of the recent and upcoming live-action Disney adaptations, I didn’t think any could be more unnecessary than Beauty and the Beast. As much as I may despise Maleficent, at least it tried to put a new twist on the material with its counterpoint story. But the lamest attempt so far comes from Tim Burton. Shocking I know. But alas, here we are with Dumbo, the most boring/depressing retelling yet. The least I hoped for was a fun reteaming of Batman Returns alumni: Burton, Michael Keaton, and Danny DeVito. I didn’t even get that. Keaton is smarmy and chews scenery while DeVito mugs and guffaws his way through the film.

It’s 1951 and the Medici Brothers’ Circus has seen better days. Max Medici (DeVito) is barely keeping the show afloat while dealing with financial troubles. But he’s placed all his money on a sure thing after purchasing the pregnant elephant Jumbo. A baby elephant is just what the show needs. Meanwhile, World War I vet, Holt Farrier (Colin Farrell) has returned to find his children (Nico Parker and Finley Hobbins) estranged and everyone now gets to deal with the Disney-Single-Family-Unit-Trope.

After Jumbo gives birth to the giant eared Dumbo, Jumbo is sent into a rage while being harassed by the crowd. Jumbo winds up killing a member of the staff so now Medici has sold her off. But you can’t keep a good Dumbo down as he finally learns how to fly and is quickly sold off to the conniving Dreamland amusement park owner, V. A. Vandevere (Keaton). Now, everyone must band together to save Dumbo, and Jumbo, before Vandevere comes to terms with extreme measures.

I have no idea who thought Ehren Kruger’s screenplay fit for filming — other than Disney execs. Gone are the talking animals replaced with an onslaught of miserably boring humans. When you go to see a movie called Dumbo, you expect the movie to be about our beloved Disney pachyderm. Not a bunch of characters we’ve never seen before taking over the poor animal’s movie. No one cares about Holt’s missing arm or him trying to reconnect with his kids. We came to see a movie about a flying elephant. The kids aren’t charming enough to keep your attention long enough to realize how bored you are. Eva Green as a trapeze artist looks every bit as bored as you’ll be in every scene.

The Disney live-action train has absolutely no signs of slowing down and there’s no end in sight. With three more headed our way this year, I hope they’re better than this. Dumbo could have seized the opportunity to make a film larger-than-life with an adorable main attraction. Instead, we’re stuck with the sideshows front and center for most of the runtime. The most embarrassing joke being Michael Buffer announcing (twice!), “Are you ready for DUMBOOOO?!” If that doesn’t make you roll your eyes now, it’s even more wince-inducing in the film.

Don’t step right up, folks, there’s nothing to see here.

Friday, March 22, 2019

Movie Review: “Us”


**** out of 5
116 minutes
Rated R for violence/terror, and language
Universal Pictures

Article first published at

Trying to follow-up the brilliant Get Out would be no easy task for anyone. Jordan Peele comes close with Us, stumbling with a final twist horror fans will see coming a mile away. A second viewing will clear up some questions, but it’s also going to raise more.

While new layers and nuances abound with Get Out, Us is best taken at face value. Repeat viewings will be fun, but the screenplay doesn’t come close to Get Out. In the long run, what Peele has managed to do is bring in an audience who would normally never watch these kinds of films.

In 1986, Adelaide (Madison Curry) is visiting a boardwalk in Santa Cruz with her parents. After wandering off, she enters a fun house where she comes face-to-face with a doppelgänger leaving her traumatized. Now grown (Lupita Nyong’o) with a family of her own — husband Gabe (Winston Duke) and children Zora (Shahadi Wright Joseph) and Jason (Evan Alex) — Adelaide is vacationing back in Santa Cruz.

Soon enough, a series of coincidences pointed out by her friend Kitty (Elisabeth Moss), can’t prepare her for when doppelgängers of her entire family come knocking. Now, everyone is in a fight for their lives to escape their clutches, find out who they are, where they came from, and what they want!

A lot of hype has been building since Us debuted at SXSW and for good reason. This is a very well constructed thrill ride that keeps you intrigued from start to finish. The cast is pitch perfect keeping us laughing one minute and on the edge of our seats the next. Nyong’o gives the lead performance she’s been waiting for and this is the most tolerable Tim Heidecker has ever been. Michael Abels’s score is also one of the best horror scores in a long time.

There may be a few bumps along the way, but at least it doesn’t completely fall apart. The idea of violent doppelgängers is terrifying enough, it’s too bad there are so many questions unanswered. Normally, horror movies better when there’s an air of mystery, unfortunately in the case of Us, it’s a tad too mysterious.

Us may not be Oscar worthy, but that’s no reason not to just sit back, enjoy the ride, and let it terrorize you as Peele intended.

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

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

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.