A Dangerous Influence (Won’t You Be My Neighbor, 2018)

Wont_You_Be_PosterBy the time I was watching Mister Roger’s Neighborhood had been going on for over ten years. And I was one of the thousands of kids in America who grew up with the kindly neighbor and his land of imagination…Daniel the Tiger, King Friday the 13th (I totally did not catch that as a kid) and Lady Elaine Fairchild…but I confess, as I aged, I moved out of the neighborhood for Star Wars and Doctor Who and Transformers and G.I. Joe…

He seemed a quaint memory of a simpler time.  And so it fell onto Morgan Neville to remind us of the dangerous rebellion at the heart of Mister Rogers.

A soft spoken minister, Fred Rogers looked at the images coming into the homes of families across America…and he thought…maybe you could do more than slap people in the faces with pies.

The documentary looks at his career, the successes and the failures. It explores his relationships…and one of the things that stands out? Fred wanted people to know they were loved and valuable.  This is most heartfelt in the stories from François Clemmons. Their’s was a close friendship. You can tell when he speaks, there is a mix of joy and sadness.

What these types of documentaries always to get at eventually is the “seedier” side of the subject.

“You thought he was nice, but he was a tyrant!”

“You thought he loved kids, but he was a pedophile!!!”

But while viewers might brace themselves for the inevitable truth…the real truth is…Fred Rogers was just that decent and kind. Sure, he was not perfect. And he seemed plagued with doubts that he was doing any good.

Now, I talked earlier about the dangerous rebellion of Mister Rogers…and I stand by this. Fred Rogers fought for kids to be treated as more than just…”kids”. He did not believe in talking down to them…and so he focused on the events that the nation was facing and not pretending the best thing is for us to coddle children and hide the ugliness of the world.

Mister Rogers talked about the assassination of a President.  He talked about the Space Shuttle Challenger explosion. He saw these terrible things that kids were not being equipped for because we coddled them.

And yet, Fox News had the audacity to lay problems with modern society at his feet. That his message that you are special as you are was the real problem.

As I watched Won’t You Be My Neighbor, I was filled with joy and sadness. The cold hard truth is that the problem is too much Mister Rogers. Our culture faces the problem of not nearly enough Mister Rogerses(??).

I miss you Mister Rogers…and it makes me a bit sad that my nephews have grown up without you.

Dive Deep (Aquaman, 2018)

Aquaman_posterSure, you know Aquaman can swim fast, talk to fish and punch hard. But what do you really know?

This holiday season, we have the full story of the savior of the seas.  Born of a lighthouse keeper from the surface world and the Princess of Atlantis, Arthur Curry has long dealt with the heartbreak of the death of his mother, believing it really to be his fault.

BUT THAT’S NOT ALL!!! when his half brother Orm sets his sites on uniting the kingdoms of Atlantis and destroying the surface world, the princess Mera seeks the aid of Arthur, who has avoided his Atlantean heritage.

BUT THAT’S NOT ALL!!! See, there is a magical trident that Aquaman will need to defeat his half brother, so he and Mera go on a big time treasure hunt.

BUT THAT’S NOT ALL!!! There is a guy called Black Manta who wants revenge on Arthur!

BUT THA- Oh, you get the idea.  They have packed a ton of stuff into this film, making it a bit of a mess. It is such a busy film full of story ideas it can make you wonder if any of those stories could have better room to breath in their own film.  However, one gets the sense that they had multiple assignments with this film. They had to fill in the back story not just of Arthur, but of Mera, Orm, Atlantis and a magical trident.

And yet, the film is a lot of fun.  The whole little side story in which Arthur and Mera are trying to find the trident National Treasure style is fun excitement.  And the film sets up a simple but good message for Aquaman to learn.  The effects are really good, which is important, because the entire sense of design depends on it.

The real highlight of the film is Atlantis. It is a lush and colorful undersea kingdom.  The use of undersea life in the designs of their vehicles and architecture is wondrous. This is DC film embraces the whimsy of it’s conceit to give a unique corner of the DCEU. There is also a real attention to small detail in all the underwater sequences that make is easy to forget people don’t breath or talk underwater. We get Aquaman in his traditional outfit and you know what? It looks great.

But it is not just the design and effects that the film has going for it. Now, Mamoa has limited acting range…but the filmmakers have filled the movie with a cast that keeps this from being an issue. He can do his brash and confident guy thing, because he is supported by top notch talent like Temuera Morrison, Nicole Kidman and Patrick Wilson. Wilson really carries a lot in the relationship between Orm and Arthur. He somehow manages to give a heart to a megalomaniacal maniac king. His hatred of Arthur is in a misguided blame for the loss of their mother, and Wilson sells this well.

And then there is James Wan. Wan is without a doubt one of the strongest directors in action films today. Even his giant action scenes are easy to follow. He balances sequences with multiple simultaneous leads exceptionally well (such as when Arthur and Mera become separated and have their own individual fights).

Aquaman manages to overcome a lot of odds, being far more entertaining than the elements ought to allow. So, in spite of a busy storyline, Aquaman is a rollicking fun adventure.

The Family Line Part Two (Snow 2: Brain Freeze, 2008)

Snow_2_PosterNick and Sandy now live in their magic home together…she has big news, but everything keeps getting pushed aside, due to the stress of the impending holiday…after a fight, Nick decided to go somewhere to contemplate his feelings.

When he appears in a family’s shed and is startled, he is knocked unconscious. The end result is that Nick has lost his memory just days before Christmas. He ends up on the run with the help of a scheming little kid and the interference of Buck, who resents him to “stealing” Sandy.  Sandy is busy trying to reconnect with Nick and help restore his memory.

The film is kind of convoluted, it adds new elements like a magic book, with a keeper, an ancient order of believers who help keep Christmas alive in people’s hearts. Buck was an over the top villain in the first film, he is even more one dimensional here. There are a lot of plot points that seem to get lost, and the result is a less than engaging film.

I do like the leads, but the story just kind of leaves them even more lost than Nick’s memory.  I do not have much more to say than that…

Backward Compatible (Bumblebee, 2018)

Bumblebee_PosterIt is Charlie’s 18th birthday. And Charlie feels out of sync with the entire world. It seems her mother and brother were able to move past the death of her father. She had no friends.  The rich snobs mock and bully her. All Charlie has is her car. Which does not work. A project she had been working on with her father. And she cannot even make it work.

But on her birthday, in her Uncle Hank’s junk storage she finds an old VW Bug.  She tries to bargain with Hank, but he simply lets her have it as a Birthday gift. After getting it home, She makes a discovery about her car.

Bumblebee has always been one of the big favorites of the Transformers for the audience. He is easily one of the most likable parts of the live action franchise (in spite of some rather “ug” moments) and so, it makes sense to put him front and center.

This seems like it should have been destroyed by fatigue of a franchise that has never been particularly good.  But against the odds, the trailers actually got even jaded fans kind of hopeful.

What we have gotten is a movie about a robot that transforms into a yellow VW Bug who is befriended by a heart broken young woman.  And…

It works.  It works really well. Charlie is sympathetic in her sullenness. She does not simply lash out angrily. She just cannot understand why it seems like the rest of the world has found it so easy to move on, when the death of her father seems so insurmountable.  Her family is not terrible.  Really…they are painfully awkward.  But they are trying.  Memo, the young man who is crushing on her is actually a real welcome change of pace for this franchise. It is not that he is super competent.  But he is brave, funny and kind. Cena’s military man is a balanced take. He is a good guy trying to make the right decisions(and the lone voice of reason when the Government considers working with the Decepticons).

The friendship of Hailee Steinfeld’s Charlie and Bumblebee is really sweet and charming.  There is just a goofy wholesomeness there that is really endearing.

I think this film has the best designs of the franchise. The Bay films have been painfully busy and confusing.  Here, they have opted for looks more in line with the 80’s cartoon and toys and the result is beautiful and clean.  The film makers commit to their late eighties setting by including a nearly constant barrage of 80’s classics.

Along with heart, the film has real humor.

I used to say that the first Michael Bay Transformers film was probably about as good as you could hope for when it comes to a movie about giant robots that turn into cars.  Turns out, I was wrong.  Six movies later, we get the best Transformers movie.

The Family Line Part One (Snow, 2004)

Snow_PosterDays before Christmas, a poacher has captured one of Santa’s Reindeer and given it to a zoo.  Santa goes undercover to save his reindeer (and by Christmas).  Santa is part of a lineage that passes from father to son and it is Nick’s first year, so he is trying to not screw it all up.

Nick stays in the same boarding house as animal loving Zoo employee Sandy, who has been given his reindeer Buddy.  At the same time, the poacher, Buck, is pursuing Sandy in a major push to get into bed with her. She is repulsed by him in every way, from his personality to how he makes a living.

Tom Cavanaugh imbues the character of Nick Snowden with an off kilter, but friendly quietness. Ashley Williams brings a dedicated sweetness to Sandy. She is a true lover of animals. They are surrounded by quite a cast of goofy characters (Buck is played by the Last Exorcism’s Patrick Fabian who is perfectly sleazy), The horny elderly folks, a weak willed zoo employee and a little kid who sees no problem in blackmailing Santa Clause.

I appreciate that they put some thought into their own mythology. The Santa Legacy is given a unique spin of a wizard’s curse. The film is very light humor, it has its moments, but nothing is terribly hilarious. Again, I applaud some of the creativity in their building in the backstory, but overall this is pretty lackluster holiday fare.

What a Scrooge Part 12 (It’s Christmas, Carol, 2012)

Its_Christmas_Carol_PosterIf you thought that this was a movie where a miser named Carol (played by Carrie Fisher) is visited by three ghosts… You are a little off.

Carol is a powerful young publishing executive who treats her employees poorly and has favored her career above all other relationships. On Christmas Eve, Carol is visited by her former boss Eve (Fisher).  There is a little hitch…Eve has been dead for a few years.

Eve is Marley and the three ghosts all rolled into one. Times are tough in the Ghost Trade.  Eve shows Carol how she has lost all her great loves. Her love of life changing stories, the love of her life…even her own mother.

The story hits all the beats of a Christmas Carol, and Fisher is a lot of fun, giving the Ghosts a more direct and personal connection for the character of Carol.

It’s Christmas, Carol is not a remarkable take on the Dickens story. On the other hand? It is still kind of fun, and if you are missing Carrie Fisher? It is a fun watch.  Overall, this is a serviceable take on the tale, even if it is not particular memorable. I know that sounds harsh, but I did not hate the film.  I would even say that fans of a Christmas Carol will likely find it entertaining. And I thought the gag regarding the Ghost of Christams Future is quite good.

Groundh-er-Christmas Day (the Christmas Do-Over, 2006)

Christmas_Do-Over_PosterKevin is in a miserable place. His rock star dreams never panned out. His marriage collapsed, his former in-laws hate him and his son does not yet see what a lousy dad he has. He barely plans for a Christmas gift for his son and on Christmas Eve, he does anything he can to avoid participating.  When his son makes the wish that everyday could be Christmas, Kevin pays the price…

Kevin finds himself restarting Christmas Eve over and Over.  The film follows a very specific (and familiar template). First Kevin is confused and each day goes very badly for him. Then he starts to put the things he witnesses to use. He tries to scheme his way through things. This actually is played largely for comedy…especially how he works hard to undermine his wife Jill’s new boyfriend Todd. Honestly, this goes on so long it almost had me concerned he might get rewarded…but the film actually addresses it when one of Kevin’s attempts to escape the loop result in him realizing Kevin is actually a good guy who makes Jill happy.

The film is actually largely entertaining. Jay Mohr always makes for a good ass. Daphne Zuniga plays Jill, and is quite sympathetic. And a lot of the scenes of Kevin trying to scam the system are funny. And there are even some genuinely sweet moments as Kevin starts to see how badly he screwed things up.

The film has a small but good cast. The frustrated in-laws are played byTim Thomerson and Adrienne Barbeau. Ruta Lee is amusing as the heavy drinking Granny (let us ignore that she is only about ten years older than either Barbeau or Thomerson)…the one family member outside of his son who still likes Kevin.

The biggest pill of the film to swallow is, funny enough, not the concept. Instead, it is the ending. The ending is wrapped up in seconds, tosses characters aside for an unearned “Hero Gets what they Want” end. Instead of working within the framework of the lesson he learns, meaning he simply needs to accept the consequences and be the better man he learned to be? It gives us a less than five minute “Everything is fixed” ending. Very disappointing for an otherwise light and entertaining holiday movie.


Shedding the Mortal Coil (Mortal Engines, 2018)

Mortal_Engines_PosterIn the future, there are predator cities and there are the cities trying to survive. What does this mean? Uhhhh…well, a gravelly voice informs us of the 60 minute war that left the world devastated. To survive, people built mobile cities that roamed the countryside. Smaller cities were more like miner towns of the old west, except the towns are mobile. They also face the threat of predator cities, which are dedicated to roaming the land and overtaking smaller cities for scraps.

Set amongst all this is the plans of Hester Shaw, a mysterious women hellbent on revenge against Thaddeus Valentine, who overseas the giant predator City of London. London is desperate and running on fumes, but Valentine believes he has found the answer in the ancient technology that destroyed the world. So, ambitious people.

The film actually opens with one of the dullest “car chases” I have ever sat through. I was bored during the majority of the large city on city stuff. Early in the film there is a fairly exciting on foot chase, which is the true inciting incident forcing a mismatched pair (a young Londoner unaware of Valentine’s deviousness until it is to late and the previously mentioned Hester Shaw, who spends a good chunk of the film annoyed with him). There are rebels, who live in a sky city, scavengers and slave traders…it is a miserable world, except for the mystical city that Valentine hopes to overrun with his powerful new weapon.

Honestly, the hard part of the film for me was…well, it begs far more questions than the movie has time to answer. How on earth did the roving cities come about? The film also references parts of that history that are interesting, but unable to be examined.  Why if this was a book… (it is)

See, suspension of disbelief is a really weird thing. First, it can vary from person to person. But some stories make it a little easier.  ”

Why can this guy shoot lasers from his eyes? Genetic mutation!”

“How are dinosaurs and giant apes on this island? The island has been cut off from the rest of the world for centuries, and evolution went it’s own way!”

But here? There is just so much that does not make sense. Why roving cities? Who came up with the notion? How was this done???

And sadly, the story is just not interesting enough to override the questions. I found myself bored repeatedly, and that made the moments of heart or interest more disappointing than anything.

It is visually nice, though if a bit dreary, but everything is functional. it lacks any real sense of wonder.  Mortal Engines just lacks the life needed to make it work.

What a Scrooge Part 11 (Chasing Christmas, 2005)

Chasing_Christmas_PosterJack Cameron is a bitter man.  His marriage went south with his wife cheating on him and it pretty much left him broke and unwilling to move forward in life.  His daughter wants him to get past it and embrace life…or at least…maybe Christmas. But Jack won’t budge. This brings him to the attention of the infamous Ghosts. Or rather, the organization that gives the the orders of who to visit each Christmas.

But when the Ghost of Christmas Past goes rogue, Jack finds himself and the Ghost of Christmas Present trapped in the past and in a race against time to save the very holiday he despises.

The film is, in some respects, one of the more imaginative takes. The ghosts are all part of a corporate entity. Each Ghost is an employee fulfilling a role. All the ghosts fall into strictly human appearance. And setting up a situation where Jack is stuck in the setting of the past, allowing him to see things that he missed in his youth, revealing how flawed the footing of his marriage from the start.

Of course, you cannot merely come to terms with a failed marriage, as Jack starts to be drawn to the attractive Ghost of Christmas Present. Because truly moving forward in the movies always means finding new love. So, there is a lot of predictability here…but I actually found Arnold pretty sympathetic here. He is pretty good moving from confounded to accepting of the predicament.

This won’t change a Scrooge, but it is a light bit of holiday TV movie fare that entertains.

You Can Never Have Too Much Spider-Man (Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse, 2018)

Spider-Man_Into_PosterA few years ago, after the big Sony hack, Sony and Marvel resumed the failed talks about  Spider-Man films. It resulted in the very fun Spider-Man: Homecoming, pretty much run by Marvel. But Sony still holds the rights to do with the Spider-Man characters what they want.  And so…that gives us this animated feature.

Miles Morales lives with his mom and dad, but is starting life at a new school. After a frustrating week, he goes to see his uncle Aaron, who takes him to a hidden place where he can do some street art. Miles gets bit by a Spider-Man. When he witnesses a tragedy and finds himself having to make a promise to Spider-Man moments before he is killed…with no idea how to do it. Until he stumbles across Peter Parker…Spider-Man???

They discover that whatever the Spider-Man of Mile’s Morales’ world was trying to thwart has actually brought several Spider People into Miles’ world. But the world may end and so they have to team up to send everyone home and stop the destruction of the Spider-Verse.

And you know what? This only sounds confusing.  Because the movie manages to make everything pretty darn simple. Our focus is on Miles, and even the Spider-Man we meet in the beginning is a celebrity. We don’t get to know him. We just get glimpses, enough to know he was a real hero.

The film also gives us intros to each character that are a whole lot of fun. Each Spider-Man has a unique look and artistic style. And it even impacts how they interact with the world they are in. Spider-Man Noir speaks in dark pulpy fashion and is always in black and white. And he is perplexed by color.

Jake Johnson’s Spider-Man is one whose life went a bit off track compared to the Spider-Man of Mile’s world.  Spider-Gwen is keeping the world at bay, avoiding really connecting to people. And Spider-Ham is just hilarious.

This movie has a lot of heart, there are genuinely touching moments. Moments between Miles and his father, Peter and the life he has left in his universe (wondering if it is even worth going back to). Miles and Gwen, Miles and Peter….

But the film is also ridiculously funny.  I mean, seriously funny. And part of that is in how the movie makes use of its medium. I cannot recall another animated film that took such grand opportunity to put it’s possibilities on full display.

In my book? This has been the best of all the Spider-Man movies. I want more with these characters. I want more movies with this version of Miles and his family and all the other Spider-People. This was a genuinely fun movie and I recommend checking it out. Sony raised the bar here…And I did not expect that.  But Marvel better pay attention.


Blog at WordPress.com.

Up ↑