[REVIEW] ‘Jungle Cruise’ or a Puntasatic Adventure

In some ways a movie like Disney’s new Jungle Cruise should be made for me. I’m a big Disneyland fan, love the Jungle Cruise attraction and am always up for an adventure story. Even last Fall I did a whole video ranking all of the current films based on Disney rides (even The Country Bears!)

Ever since the success of the original Pirates of the Caribbean Disney has been dying for a new successful franchise and whether it be Tomorrowland, The Lone Ranger, John Carter, A Wrinkle in Time and more. It’s discouraging because when these new franchise attempts fail (both critically and box office) they go back to the bland but profitable live action remakes.

Anyway, now we have Jungle Cruise and it’s a light, enjoyable romp through the jungle. That said, it’s a little frustrating because it had all the pieces to be one of my favorites of the year but several choices it makes hold it back from greatness. It’s ok, not great. The strengths of Jungle Cruise lies in its leads with Emily Blunt and Dwayne Johnson having nice chemistry together. The banter between them feels classic and the action scenes bring back the joy and thrills of a classic adventure film (this film leans into the nostalgia many will have for films like The Mummy, Indiana Jones, Romancing the Stone and even Tintin).

I also really enjoyed Jack Whitehall as Blunt’s uppety brother MacGregor. He was new to me as an actor but he stole every scene he was in. I particularly enjoyed his interactions with a pet leopard they have on board the cruise! The CGI wasn’t the best on the leopard but Whitehall made it funny so I didn’t care. Speaking of CGI, there is also a really well done action scene where Johnson steers the boat away from a giant waterfall.

One of the best things about the Disneyland ride is the punny skippers with their embarrassing Dad jokes. I was worried this film would forgo that aspect and take itself too seriously. Fortunately Johnson is up for the cheesy humor, and I got a real kick out of that. The jokes made it a cheeky fun adventure romp.

The problem with Jungle Cruise is it tries way too hard to build lore and create a mythology around the adventure. It should have just been a simple escapade through the jungle but instead we get long sections with Johnson explaining the backstory of the special flower, enchanted conquistadors and aspects to his character that don’t really help endear him to us more in any way.

These long scenes of exposition drag the movie down and we feel its over 2 hour length more than we should. There are also some weird music choices and the CGI can be weak for a film of this magnitude.

I enjoyed Jesse Plemons as the evil Prince Joachim villain but did not need the conquistadors or Paul Giamatti (who’s scenes must have been cut) as a competing merchant named Nilo. It begins to feel overwrought and tiresome when it should be super fun.

Nevertheless, I do think Jungle Cruise is worth watching and a throwback to wholesome family adventure films of the past. I hope it does well and we see more films like it in the future.

“And now, ladies and gentlemen, boys and girls, the moment you’ve all been waiting for…the backside of water!”

6 out of 10

Smile Worthy

Current Mini Reviews

Hey everyone! After catching you all up on my recent TV and series watching I have 6 movies to do the same for. It’s been a very busy time for me with theater, movies, television, books, podcasts, travel and more but I wouldn’t want it any other way.

Here are my thoughts on 6 recent movies:

Old

Old Review: M. Night Shyamalan Makes Another Happening - Den of Geek

I know there are many who vociferously defend director M Night Shyamalan. I am not one of those people. I find him to be a very gimmicky filmmaker who tries to outsmart the viewers rather than simply telling a good story. His latest Old has an intriguing premise about a group caught on a beach where they rapidly age including the children who we see as 3 different actors.

The problem with Old is it takes a 22 minute short and stretches it out to 2 hours. There’s not enough story here. The actors try especially Thomasin McKenzie who I have loved in many projects like Jojo Rabbit and Leave No Trace. But the actors aren’t given enough development for their characters and are strapped with terrible dialogue. I also really disliked the camerawork, full of extreme close ups and blurry one shots. It took me out of the movie every time as if Shyamalan wanted to draw attention to himself instead of the story. It alsp has at least 2 endings too many, so overall it’s a pass on Old for this critic. It’s not one of the director’s worst but that’s really not saying much.

3 out of 10

Frown Worthy

Once I Was Engaged

Once I Was Engaged (2021) - IMDb

Back in 2015 there was a sweet little movie called Once Upon a Beehive. Ostensibly a faith-based film but one that focused on tolerance, kindness and acceptance by girls at a Latter-day Saint teenage girls camp. Now because we can’t have nice things we have a sequel called Once I was Engaged. While this film does take some narrative risks I admire, it did not work for me as a comedy.

It’s a little hard to talk about the story choices without giving away spoilers but let’s just say it sets up as a traditional wedding movie but there is always something off with the couple. It’s just not quite working the way it should. The problem is the jokes feel like a Mormon movie from the 2000s with easy jokes like watching The Princess Bride, eating tons of froyo or having Mitt Romney record a wedding congratulations video. I don’t know how funny jokes like that ever were but they certainly aren’t amusing now.

The problem with a movie like this is if the chemistry is off and the jokes aren’t working the whole thing feels very self-absorbed and tiresome quickly. A wedding is just a day. A marriage is what actually matters. These movies lose that.

4 out of 10

Frown Worthy

Stillwater

Stillwater Is a Difficult, Curious Film About Havoc Wreaked By Americans Abroad | Vanity Fair

Director Tom McCarthy is certainly making a name for himself with one of the most eclectic filmographies working today. Of course, he has the Oscar winning film Spotlight from 2015 that I loved but he also has sweet dramas like The Visitor and family films like last years Timmy Failure: Mistakes were Made that I adored. Now he has the new slice of life drama Stillwater starring Matt Damon that I admire more than I love but I’d still recommend seeing.

Stillwater tells the story of Bill Baker, a rough and tumble oil-rig worker from Oklahoma that goes to Marseille, France to try and help his daughter (Abigail Breslin) out of prison in an Amanda Knox type scenario. While there he becomes attached to a French woman and her daughter as they seek to find out the truth in his daughter’s case.

The strongest thing about Stillwater is the performances. Damon is fantastic and completely believable as Bill. Breslin is also good along with the entire cast. It feels like a slice of life with the highs and lows that go along with it. However, it also feels tonally disconnected and the story is all over the place. One minute it’s a light romance. The next a father/daughter family movie and then an investigative thriller and even horror. It’s a lot and the pacing is very slow. One can’t help but feel a lot of scenes are unnecessary and could have been cut.

Still, I recommend it for the positive attributes.

6 out of 10

Smile Worthy

Annette

Annette (2021) - IMDb

I honestly don’t even know where to begin with Annette. This film opened the Cannes Film Festival this year and it is without a doubt one of the weirdest films I’ve ever seen in my life. It’s so strange it seems destined to become a cult classic and that’s probably where it belongs. It is only for the aggressively artistic filmgoer. Mainstream moviegoer beware.

The best way I can describe Annette is it is a musical by the Sparks Brothers as directed by Leos Carax. It stars Adam Driver as a controversial stand up comedian who has an opera-singing wife in Marion Cotillard. They have a baby named Annette who is depicted in various types of puppets. The music is not your typical Broadway style but wild rock ballads that accompany strange, sometimes shocking imagery. The plot is thin and at 139 minutes I became exhausted with the shenanigans on stage.

I have to say I didn’t hate the experience of watching Annette unlike some super artsy films. There is a charm to it that movies like The Dead Don’t Die or Film Socialism don’t have. Those movies pander to their audience. This puts audaciousness out as art and hopes the audience has fun with it.

However, I don’t really know what it is trying to say or why it had to be so inaccessible? Couldn’t it have even more of an impact if it had a cohesive story and narrative? A lot of the good parts feel wasted in an orgy of nonsensical imagery. That said, if you are up for something completely bizarre give it a watch. It has strong sensuality so be forewarned.

All the singing and music is really good. Cotillard didn’t need to be dumbed in La Vie en Rose. She’s a great singer along with Driver!

5.5 out of 10

An Artsy Smile Worthy

Snake Eyes: G.I. Joe Origins

Snake Eyes: G.I. Joe Origins movie review (2021) | Roger Ebert

From a super nutty arthouse film to a standard run-of-the-mill action film we have it all on this set of mini reviews. By way of Hasbro and Paramount we have a new action film loosely in the GI Joe family called Snake Eyes. It is an origin story for the character of Snake Eyes played by Henry Golding of Crazy Rich Asians fame. I love Golding. He is a movie star in the making and may be the most handsome and charming actor working in Hollywood today. He’s definitely in my top 3.

And to be honest he is the main reason to watch this film. While they don’t take full advantage of his charisma and charm he’s still a solid leading man and puts up a good performance. The action is generic and uses too much shaky cam but it’s a serviceable fun martial arts style action movie. Not great but watchable. It left me mildly curious for the next installment. Hopefully in that one they will use Samara Weaving more because she is totally wasted here.

I’d say it is similar in quality to this year’s Mortal Kombat but this one has Golding so it gets the edge and the mild recommendation. I also liked Andrew Koji as Storm Shadow, who’s character is arguably a co-protagonist. Also I know nothing about GI Joe so can’t speak to that aspect of the film

5.5 out of 10

Smile Worthy

Current Mini Reviews

Hey everyone! I hope you are doing well. I have a bunch of catch-up to do today so I hope you will all bear with me and enjoy another one of my mini-review posts. This includes some reviews from Tribeca that I never got to log. Here goes!

Lady Boss: The Jackie Collins Story

Jackie Collins documentary 'Lady Boss' in the works | Page Six

This is a documentary I saw at the Tribeca Film Festival about novelist Jackie Collins. My grandma used to read her books so I was interested to learn more about her. Of course, she not only is an author but is movie star Joan Collins’ little sister.

I wish the movie had gone more into her writing and how she came up with ideas. Instead it is mostly about her personal life and loves. Fortunately she had a pretty exciting personal life so it still works. It is neat to see how a strong woman who wrote strong female characters was treated during the 80s and 90s. Plus, I like these type of human interest biodocs so I still enjoyed it but it could have been better.

6.5 out of 10

Smile Worthy

Glob Lessons

This film has some good moments and I loved the Christmas setting but it struggles to keep the main characters likable or provide anyone you can root for. I like both Colin Froeber and Nicole Rodenburg in the leads and her direction has promise. I’d see something from her again.

If you’ve ever been a freelancer you can relate to some of what the characters are going through. Your work is constantly changing and evolving and that’s part of what makes it great but also scary.

In the end, it’s always nice to have a sweet story about platonic friendship so a mild recommendation.

5.5 out of 10

Smile Worthy

12 Mighty Orphans

When I first saw this at Tribeca I was pretty disappointed. It’s hard to not be with such a great cast with Luke Wilson, Martin Sheen, Robert Duvall and more. However, looking back on it it’s a harmless well-mean sports movie.

It tells the story of a football team in the Great Depression Texas comprised of all orphans that went on to win the state championship. They are led by a new coach Rusty Russell played by Wilson.

The script is frustratingly pedestrian especially when you consider the quality of the cast, but the story is so inspirational it overcomes the problems. It also looks good with nice cinematography and production design. If you need some inspiration give it a watch.

5.5 out of 10

Smile Worthy

India Sweets and Spices’

India Sweets and Spices' Review: Spirited Intergenerational Dramedy - Variety

This is another movie that could have been much better with a stronger script. It tells the story of an Indian-American family that puts on parties to impress their local community and relatives. Think Monsoon Wedding but in America and just parties not a wedding.

Sophie Ali shines as the teen daughter who is trying to both support and rebel from her parents and she had great chemistry with convenience store shop owner’s son played by Rish Shah. I wish the movie had just been about them and their romance.

Most of the stuff about Ali’s parents is less interesting. It’s too melodramatic and tedious. However, I still think there is enough to enjoy to recommend here. It just could have been much better.

6.5 out of 10

Smile Worthy

America: the Motion Picture

America: The Motion Picture on Netflix has one big problem.
I normally am not the biggest fan of raunchy comedies but the history angle of this film had me intrigued. Unfortunately I should have gone with my initial instinct. I can see what the maker’s of this film were trying to do but it all landed very flat for me.

This film felt like you got a group of the stupidest college frat guys together and had them write the script. The jokes are very raunchy but the problem is they aren’t the least bit funny. The few that are funny are repeated to the point of exhaustion. There is nothing that feels insightful, evocative or worst of all funny. Just watch Hamilton or even 1776 instead. Those are far better than this disaster of a film.

1 out of 10

Frown Worthy

Trust

Sometimes it is refreshing to watch a film that knows what it is and doesn’t try to be anything more. Trust is such a film. It knows it’s melodramatic soap opera and that’s what it is. If you like spicy romantic films like the kind of they have on Lifetime Channel than you will enjoy this- only Trust has better acting than you will see on Lifetime.

Victoria Justice and Matthew Daddario star as a couple who are struggling to connect with the stress of their jobs and trying to become pregnant. Katherine McNamara is the vixen who tempts Daddario and Lucien Laviscount has his eye on Justice. It’s predictable but I had fun watching it.

It helps that Daddario and Justice have great chemistry and their scenes together sizzle.

6 out of 10

Smile Worthy

Witnesses

Witnesses' Leads Specialty Box Office With Commanding Debut – Deadline
I have mixed feelings about Witnesses. On one hand it is impressive how the film embraces the messiness of the story of the 3 witnesses to the Book of Mormon. They all separated from Joseph Smith and the movie doesn’t shy away from that. The acting and production values are all also impressive with a Joseph Smith that looks a lot like a young James Marsden.

The problem is the narrative gets muddy and confusing and I can’t imagine anyone outside the church understanding what is happening or caring. Big things happen spiritually that don’t have the gravitas they should have especially when they are the subject of such persecution later.

I recommend it for members of the church that want to learn more about these key players in church history but that’s about it.

5.5 out of 10

Smile Worthy (Barely)

So there you have it. That’s what I have been watching lately (along with the full reviews I’ve done and a whole bunch of TV I will recap later).

What about you? What have you been watching? Did any of you get to go to the virtual Tribeca Film Festival?

[REVIEW] ‘Space Jam: A New Legacy’ or Just Enough Laughs for a Winning Game

I’m ;not sure what I was expecting from a new sequel to the1996 hit movie Space Jam? The original isn’t a great movie but it’s a serviceable family comedy carried mainly by how much I love the Looney Tunes. Now we have this sequel, Space Jam: A New Legacy and I’d say the exact same thing: It’s not a great movie but it’s serviceable carried by how much I love the Looney Tunes. If you want a truly great Looney Tunes entry check out the recent Looney Tunes Cartoons on hbo max. Those are something special. This movie is just ok.

In Space Jam: A New Legacy they replace Michael Jordan with Lebron James and have him on a quest to find his son and save him from the clutches of Al-G Rhythm played by Don Cheadle (in an over the top performance I had fun with). Some have compared this story to Stephen Spielberg’s Hook and they aren’t wrong there.  I didn’t mind that plot device for the story but it did feel a little too serious and somber for a movie with crazy cartoon antics I seem to be the only one who enjoyed Tom and Jerry this year but that film kept a more consistent tone. I also seem to enjoy callbacks to IP in projects more than most critics. It can be cringy, but for example, I enjoyed the Disney characters in Ralph Breaks the Internet or The Shining sequence in Ready Player One. Other people seem very annoyed by these scenes, and I can understand why, but for whatever reason they amuse me. The same is true here. I liked when they are going through the ‘Warner-verse’ and collecting the Looney Tunes members from other Warner Bros films. It was clever and funny, for example, when they get Lola from Wonder Woman or Road Runner from Mad Max Fury Road.

That said, I don’t understand who this movie was made for? Why would they have scenes like Mad Max Fury Road that’s an R rated film? They also have characters from movies like A Clockwork Orange, Game of Thrones, It and What Ever Happened to Baby Jane. What are they all doing in there? I’m not sure if the movie was made for kids today or for people my age who grew up with the original? When there are plenty of PG-12 and under IP out there why use these R rated characters? Weird?

I really enjoyed the different animation styles within Space Jam: A New Legacy. We get live action 2D and CGI as well as animation that changes with the different worlds they are in. For example, while in DC World we get a comic book panel inspired design as they try to recruit Superman. I didn’t even mind the CGI animation as it was fresh and new.

Once the basketball game starts the laughs work well. I particularly enjoyed a joke at the halftime that I will not spoil for you. Whenever it tries to be sentimental it doesn’t work. Lebron is fine in the lighter sections but doesn’t have the acting chops for the more tender moments. It does have a nice message about being yourself and supporting our loved ones in their dreams but the dramatic beats made the movie feel long (it is too much at 115 minutes).

Space Jam: A New Legacy is coming out same day in theater and on HBO Max and I think the latter is where it belongs. It has just enough laughs to be enjoyable but not enough for the big bucks of the theatrical experience. However, if you like the Looney Tunes, like I do, than it is worth a watch.

Even if not perfect it’s great to have the team back together again.

6 out of 10

Smile Worthy

 

[REVIEW] ‘Summer of Soul’ or Sing Out Harlem!

There’s nothing like a live concert! This is especially true when you get multiple artists playing together in a musical festival or celebration. The combined energy from the performers and the audience is intoxicating and something I adore.

Imagine adding more to that with the historical and musical significance of the Harlem Cultural Festival that occurred in Harlem in 1969. After over 50 years the footage from this landmark concert has been released in the new documentary Summer of Soul, which you can watch in theaters today or on hulu streaming. It is one of the best films of 2021. No question.

One of the challenges of a documentary like Summer of Soul is how much of the music to show while also providing cultural and political context to the songs, performers and festival itself. Some may wish for just music but director Ahmir ”Questlove” Thompson does a great job balancing these demands. I particularly loved the first-hand accounts of both performers like Gladys Knight and The 5th Dimension singers, and concert attendees who witnessed the events. It really gave a feel for the full concert experience and how important it was to all involved.

“You put memories away and sometimes you don’t even know if they are real” is the closing thought of the documentary by one of the concert attendees and it captures the power of this type of film. It not only chronicles what happened with amazing music but it reminds of the impact it had on real people, on their lives and how it made the world a better place. In doing so it hopefully encourages us all to listen, celebrate and sing out as much as we can today.

And even if you don’t care about any of the historical or cultural importance watch Summer of Soul for the amazing music. Everything from Motown, R&B, gospel, blues and more is featured and some of my favorites are Mahalia Jackson, Gladys Knight & The Pips, The Family Stone and more. It’s absolutely incredible and you won’t regret checking it out.

Turn on Summer of Soul for a documentary that combines history, music, soul and the Black experience perfectly.

9.5 out of 10

Smile Worthy

[REVIEW] ‘Black Widow’ or Nice to See Natasha Kick-Butt Again

There are many factors which go into making the Marvel Cinematic Universe as successful as it is. The detailed planning, consistent execution and overall inspiring experiences make for films that even at their worst are competent blockbusters people enjoy. However, the most important key to their success is their remarkable knack for casting and ability to build affection for their characters. We are forgiving of the flaws of a film because we love the characters and are attached to their stories within the MCU.

Such is the case with Natasha Romanoff or Black Widow. We are attached to her character and Scarlett Johansson in the role that even in an imperfect film we are happy to be spending time with our old friend. This is especially true in this case because of losing her in Avengers: Endgame so sadly.

It is also our affection for Black Widow that made us all want her to have her own movie much sooner. While comforting to see her again on the screen, it can’t help but feel like a missed opportunity that she couldn’t have been a more celebrated part of the Infinity War narrative and not just a supporting player. In some ways the new Black Widow movie feels a little like an apology for all the fans who wish Marvel had the guts to release a Black Widow film way back in phase 1 as opposed to now in phase 4. Also the fact that both female superhero films in the MCU have been prequels feels more than a little safe and strange. Be braver Marvel!!

That said, what did I think of the film we got? Overall I enjoyed it. I certainly thought it was much better than I expected it to be and I had a good time with it.

If you recall in Avengers Age of Ultron we get a little peak into Natasha’s past with the ‘Red Room’ where she was trained to be the super spy we all know her to be. This new movie, Black Widow, elaborates on that vision and takes us back to the time between Captain America: Civil War and Avengers: Infinity War.

Natasha is on the run and trying to find out more information about the organization behind the ‘Red Room’ that is trying to stop her from being an avenger. This includes reconnecting with her ‘family’ played by Rachel Weisz, David Harbour and Florence Pugh.

The best part about Black Widow is the interactions between the family and particularly the dynamic between Natasha and Pugh’s Yelena. They have great chemistry and feel like actual sisters. Weisz is underused as Melina but Harbour is also charming as Alexei or Red Guardian.

Because we like all of these characters it’s fun to see them fighting off bad guys while exchanging witty banter. That dynamic is what makes the MCU terrific. The action was also all enjoyable without being too memorable. It did the job. The villains are serviceable for this story even if I will not remember them by the time the next Marvel movie comes along. The MCU isn’t about villains. It’s about heroes, and I like these heroes.

I do think Black Widow pushes its luck at 134 minutes and there are times it drags. The action isn’t memorable enough to sustain the runtime and because we know what happens with Natasha the stakes are never very present.

Recently on twitter I said

What I mean by that is Wonder Woman 84 (which I gave a marginal recommendation) was narratively messy but it really tried hard to talk about big themes and take its characters on a big story. Black Widow doesn’t do any of that. It is way cleaner and succeeds in making a fun, competent action movie. Like I said, it’s a better movie than Wonder Woman 84 but it doesn’t try as hard either. So it comes down to what you want out of a film. Do you want a satisfying but perhaps forgettable blockbuster or do you want something that swings and a lot of the times misses? I can see arguments for both.

I went to see Black Widow with my niece and we had a great time together. It earns its PG-13 rating but if you do take your teens and pre-teens they will have a great time. It will be interesting to see how they use Yelena in the future (stay for post-credit scene). I look forward to seeing more of Pugh.

While not perfect and a bit too late, Black Widow combines kick-butt action with the best family in the MCU to make for a fun ride!

7 out of 10

Smile Worthy

[REVIEW] ‘The Boss Baby: Family Business’ or What Did I Just Watch?

Believe it or not there was a time when DreamWorks Animation was a prestige studio making gorgeous masterpieces like The Prince of Egypt and How to Train Your Dragon.

And now we have this…

How far DreamWorks has sunk. I didn’t understand the appeal of the first The Boss Baby film but now a sequel so obviously devoid of ideas it makes me both irritated and upset.

But hold on. Let me calm down so we can talk about the positives of The Boss Baby: Family Business…there are a few. First, I wish the movie had abandoned the baby nonsense and been about young Tabitha trying to fit in at the gifted and talented school. Those scenes were good and her character was compelling. I especially liked a musical dance sequence to Cat Stevens ‘If You Want to Sing Out’. It is unquestionably the highlight of the film.

The animation is also well done with some nice uses of 2D in dream sequences and the score by Hans Zimmer works well for the story.

And then there is all the baby nonsense with Ted (Alec Baldwin) and Tim (James Marsden replacing Tobey Maguire) all grown up getting turned back into babies to help the new boss Baby Tina (Amy Sedaris) defeat Jeff Goldblum baby from taking over the world.

To say I dislike this baby world and story would be an understatement. Evidently it appeals to others but not me. I hate the design of the characters especially the adults with the bulbous heads and giant eyes. I hate the story with the brothers fighting and then being turned back into babies. Groan.

Most of all I hate the humor. It’s for the most part crass, unappealing and lazy. For example, there’s a scene in this movie that has the 2 adult babies fighting and pulling each other’s nipples while ‘Time Warp’ from The Rocky Horror Picture Show accompanies them. You know for kids…

And there are so many jokes only adults will understand like references to Shawshank Redemption and other R rated films into the script. I can laugh at puerile humor when done well but this was so bland and didn’t get a chuckle out of me. If you liked the first one maybe you’ll enjoy this more than I did. I really can’t say but it is at best lukewarm versions of old jokes.

Watching The Boss Baby: Family Business was one of those moments where I think to myself ‘what am I doing with my life watching this?”. There is so much quality entertainment right now for kids that don’t waste your time with this terrible film (except for Tabitha. That was good)

3 out of 10

Frown Worthy

The Boss Baby: Family Business will be available in theaters and on Peacock July 2nd

[REVIEW] ‘F9: The Fast Saga’ or Stupid Action is as Stupid Action Does…

There’s a scene in Furious 7 where Dwayne Johnson decides “Daddy’s got to go to work” and he muscles a cast off of his arm and what was once broken is ready to go. This scene is ridiculous. Of course, but it was also funny and cheeky without being annoying. It is scenes like these that made the Fast and the Furious movies work. I even own all 7 on bluray (the tire collection (ad)!).

If people ask me for advice I tell them to just watch 5-7 because I think that is the best trilogy of the series. 1-4 are watchable action flicks but nothing special. Then we got to 8 and the franchise started to lose me. Charlize Theron did not work for me as a villain and most of the action felt predictable, staged with no stakes. The only part I liked in Fast 8 was the scene with Jason Statham as Shaw dealing with a baby as he is escaping. That’s like the cast scene from 7. Action mixed with enough humor to make me smile.

Now we have F9 and the wheels have completely come off the franchise and it’s not even trying to ground the action in any kind of realism. Whether that is a good thing will be up for debate but in the opinion of this critic it made for a long 145 minutes. Also the action was shot and edited in such a choppy way that it started to make me nauseous. Practically every action scene involving the characters diving off a cliff with complete confidence they will be saved from the ravine below or pressing a button and magnets saving them. There’s no sense of risk, pain or strategy behind the action and even in something crazy like Mad Max Fury Road you need that or it’s bland. Honestly I think Superman is more nervous than these guys.

Also having your characters constantly point out the ridiculous nature of the scenes doesn’t help. Tyrese can say all he wants that ‘maybe we are invincible?’ but that doesn’t make the action any more interesting or the characters any more deep. I know you are just supposed to have dumb fun with this movie but again without any sense of risk or stakes for the characters it’s like watching a demo reel for a vfx company not an actual movie. Tyrese and Ludicrus also go into space which is just as ridiculous as you might expect but it’s not just a winking quick scene for fans. It’s a long sequence that gets more insane by the minute.

I am also well aware this franchise prides itself on being about family. I love family. I love movies about families. What I don’t like is Vin Diesel treating this material as if he is in a tragedy with his gravely voice scowling through the self-serious dialogue. I also don’t like John Cena being his estranged brother yelling every cliche from the villain handbook only waiting for his all-too easy but inevitable redemption. His plan could have killed millions of people (not too mention all the property destroyed along the way.). Anyone who is after our team of heroes makes stormtroopers look like good shots. You can’t save everything by just yelling family all the time. It’s bad, really bad.

They also spoil a popular character coming back to life in the trailer/poster and then jump over backwards to try and make it make sense but it doesn’t.

Some people will probably have fun with this movie. I think we all have our thresholds of stupidity and this one (and the last) certainly surpassed mine. If you enjoy it more power to you. I will put it with Transformers and other movies that report to be full of big fun but lack any real entertainment value. No thanks!

3 out of 10

PS. Charlize Theron should never use this hair stylist again…

Pixar 45: ‘LUCA’ or Some Fun in the Pixar Sun

It goes without saying that any Pixar film is going to have a certain amount of buzz surrounding it. Their latest film Luca is perhaps getting the most discussion because it is not getting a theatrical release but going straight to Disney Plus. Some have seen this as a sign of a lack of faith by the studio in the project while others have deemed it a compliment as it is being singled out to market the streaming service, which is so key to their current business strategy. I guess it depends whether you see Disney Plus as more of a dumping ground or shining platform which side you land on.

VIDEO: New Trailer for Pixar's

Anyway, beyond its release let’s talk about the movie itself. What’s interesting is a lot of the feedback I am hearing I do not agree with. I know I’m in the minority but Soul wasn’t a favorite of mine. I still recommended it (and certainly don’t hate it) but the script became muddled and the message felt all over the place- particularly when it comes to the mid-section involving a cat. At one point it seemed to be saying to embrace your spark, find out what you are meant to do in life but in other ways it said that spark alienated you from other people and led to unhappiness: that a normal life is better than a creatively inspired one.

So Soul is a movie I admire for the music and animation but the script let me down. Now Luca, on the other hand, has much smaller ideas and it in my opinion does a better job in executing that simple vision. To put it simply Luca is a story about friendship, summer and growing up. That’s it. No big emotional punches or big action scenes. Just a simple sweet story.

To be more specific Luca tells the story of a young fish creature named Luca (Jacob Tremblay) who bristles up against his controlling parents and wonders what can be in the world above the ocean (obviously a plotline I love. The Little Mermaid die hard fan!). One day he meets a boy named Alberto (Jack Dylan Grazer), and he realizes they become human when dry on land and turn back into fish creatures when wet.

Both Alberto and Luca’s dream of racing around Italy on Vespas and when they meet a girl named Gulia (Emma Berman) they enter a race to win their own vespa. There’s a ‘villain’ Ercole who challenges them in the race and plays the part of the bully needed for this kind of narrative. The bigger threat is any of them getting wet from the ocean or even worse rain!

I can see why some think the story of Luca is too simple but I don’t agree. I liked being with Luca, Alberto and Giulia as they ate gelato and raced around the Italian countryside together. And it’s not like there aren’t deeper themes which can be pulled from the story. Obviously the idea of hiding who you are and being fearful of being discovered is something that will ring true for LGTBQ audiences and more.

But mostly it’s a story about friendship and I’m a huge sucker for those kinds of stories. There’s something special about the friendships we make as children. The free spirited nature and lack of agenda give a purity to the relationships that is tough to impossible to replicate as adults. Luca captures this magic, and I really enjoyed it.

And hey it made me want to go to Italy so nothing wrong with that!

Fortunately if you have Disney Plus you don’t have to decide whether to watch Luca or Soul. You can enjoy both to your hearts desire. Someday I hope to see both in a theater but for now I’m grateful for the artists at Pixar and their incredible track record of touching films.

Luca is a delightful tale of summer friendship the whole family will love

8 out of 10

Smile Worthy