47 Meters Down: Uncaged (2019)

47 Meters Down: Uncaged (2019)

Directed by: Johannes Roberts. Starring: Sophie Nélisse, Corinne Foxx, Brianne Tju. Runtime: 1h 30 min. Released: August 16, 2019.

47 Meters Down: Uncaged follows a quartet of girls who go diving in underwater city. As they’re exploring, they learn they’re trapped with a group of evolved sharks in the claustrophobic labyrinth of caves.

Uncaged follows in the footsteps of the original film in terms of its characters, as their development isn’t the greatest. Mia (Sophie Nélisse, The Book Thief) basically gets picked on at school for some reason… She seems nice enough so the being picked on aspect seems random.

There’s not much empathy from her new stepsister Sasha (Corinne Foxx), but their chemistry becomes fine enough as the film swims along. Basically they’re given tickets by their parents (Mia’s father Grant is played by John Corbett; Sasha’s mom Jennifer is played by Nia Long) and then they ditch that to go to the caves with Sasha’s friends Alexa (Brianne Tju) and Nicole (Sistine Rose Stallone). They know about these caves because Grant leads the exploration of the underwater city.

The cast in the film is fine, but we just don’t get to know these characters, especially Alexa and Nicole. To be fair, we don’t really get to know Mia or Sasha that well, either, but their sisterly bond works for the film, it’s just very much akin to 2017’s 47 Meters Down.

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John Corbett, Sophie Nélisse and Brianne Tju in  47 Meters Down: Uncaged. (IMDb)

By the way, the firt film was made for $5 million and intended to go straight-to-DVD and this film is made for $12 million and was always intended to be a theatrical release. Some scenes in Uncaged are  hard to see because of how dark everything is, and there’s even a scene that’s very similar in set-up to the first film involving a red flashlight, but the shark visuals seem stronger.

The set design and production design is also fantastic as it looks believable that this could be a long-abandoned underwater city instead of just a movie a claustrophobic movie set for a mediocre shark movie. The set-up improves in this film as the characters aren’t confined to one area (in the first film Mandy Moore’s jut in a cage) and can move around the city, but the film still feels claustrophobic. The characters are truly uncaged, but a better pun would be calling this 47 Meters Down: Uncaved.

The potential here isn’t truly uncaged yet, however. The formula for the film works but the first hour has its share of boring moments as they’re setting up its premise. The film improves when a way out of the city seems imminent and then all the shit hits the fan, so at least there’s an action-packed finale as the film is kind-of exciting for 30 minutes. There’s not much here in terms of memorable horror, either, just a decent finale and some tense scenes. I enjoyed this by the end of it, but it’s still mediocre.

Score: 50/100

Terminator: Dark Fate (2019)

Terminator: Dark Fate (2019)

Directed by: Tim Miller. Starring: Linda Hamilton, Mackenzie Davis, Arnold Schwarzenegger. Runtime: 2h 8 min. Released: November 1, 2019.

In Terminator: Dark Fate, an augmented human named Grace (Mackenzie Davis) and Sarah Connor (Linda Hamilton) must stop an advanced liquid Terminator – a REV-9 (Gabriel Luna) – from hunting down a young girl, Dani Ramos (Natalia Reyes), whose fate is critical to the human race.

It seems that the best way to breathe some life into a franchise is just to go back to the well and do the same thing over again. That’s what this does as it has a lot of similarities to Terminator 2: Judgment Day. They do a lot of the same things, especially with the REV-9 villain, who is basically just the T-1000, who’s made of liquid metal. The REV-9 is just regular liquid and this one’s new trick is turning into two separate Terminator’s.

Linda Hamilton works well here as Sarah Connor as for the past 20 or so years, she’s been answering anonymous texts that lead her to where Terminators will be. And she kills them, at least most of the time. That’s how she crosses paths with Grace protecting Dani Ramos. Dani is a fine John Connor substitute in this film and learning about her future is interesting. Mackenzie Davis is great as Grace, and she shows some true action star potential. I’ve only seen her in a couple mediocre comedies, but she’s impressive here.

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Mackenzie Davis and Natalia Reyes in Terminator: Dark Fate. (IMDb)

What they do with Arnold Schwarzenegger’s character is interesting, too. He’s still the T-800 but named Carl as he’s adapted to human life after accomplishing his mission and staying in our time. The dynamic between the T-800 and Sarah Connor is fiery and tense. Schwarzenegger’s performance is most enjoyable if you don’t try to make sense of the Terminator timeline, because it really doesn’t make sense.

The action in the film is also exciting and there are some good action set pieces. There’s a point where there’s a fatigue with the action, because the film feels long at 128 minutes, but it’s still worthwhile for the most part. The film doesn’t do a lot of anything new but considering Terminator: Salvation isn’t that great and Terminator: Genisys is just a mess, this is a welcome treat.

A little rinse and repeat goes a long way for this sequel that would be an appropriate send-off for the franchise because, while it’s set up for a sequel, I don’t think we necessarily need anything further from this story. We arguably didn’t need this one but I’m glad we got it – it’s just a bit of a shame this story couldn’t have been the fourth film in the franchise in the mid-2000’s when people still kind-of cared about Terminator.

Score: 70/100

Togo (2019)

Togo (2019)

Directed by: Ericson Core. Starring: Willem Dafoe, Julianne Nicholson, Christopher Heyerdahl. Runtime: 1h 53 min. Released: December 20, 2019.

Some spoilers follow.

The story of the sled dog, Togo, who led the 1925 serum run in Nome, Alaska, but was considered by most to be too small and weak to ever lead a dog race. Togo is a true underdog story as even his owner, Leonhard Seppala (Willem Dafoe), never thought he would amount to much. We see through flashbacks Togo being a hyperactive pup and smartly getting out of his pen to go race beside Seppala’s sled dogs.

These scenes are charming as we see how Togo becomes Seppala’s most trusted dog. Dafoe is stellar as Seppala as he leads a noble expedition to get the serum from Nenana, about 675 miles away, as the weather is too harsh for the serum to be flown to Nome. The stakes are high because of the diphtheria outbreak in Nome, and this expedition is to save the lives of the town’s children. Seppala leads the dogs but Togo is the lead interest in the film as an aging dog that looks to be on his final legs.

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Willem Dafoe in Togo. (IMDb)

Seppala knows the risks of using Togo as his lead dog because of his age, but he knows that if he doesn’t bring Togo, they’d never make it. The story about a man and his dog is excellent here and the chemistry is great. The drama here is excellent, too, especially with a charming Julianne Nicholson as Constance Seppala who is the only one who really fights for Togo when he’s a pup.

The action here is also breathtaking and so is the cinematography by Ericson Core, who also directs. The action’s at its most incredible when they race across the Norton Sound, ice breaking and all, and the way back is even more intense. The film has all the inspiration of a sports movie, and brief sports scenes of an actual dog race, the All-Alaska Sweepstakes, shines. I’d just love to see a live-action dog racing film that has a similar look and tone, because a feature-length story of a dog race would be great. I’ve only ever really seen a dog race in Snow Dogs in film, but that’s just a goofy comedy.

I think this is an excellent untold story of Togo as he and Seppala traveled the longest out of any of the relay teams of 260 miles through beyond freezing conditions. Togo’s the star of the 1925 serum run, and the film’s not trying to take away any of the fame of the most-known dog of this race, Balto, it’s just sharing the lesser known tale of Togo.

Score: 80/100

Dora and the Lost City of Gold (2019)

Dora and the Lost City of Gold (2019)

Directed by: James Bobin. Starring: Isabela Merced, Eugenio Derbez, Michael Peña. Runtime: 1h 42 min. Released: August 9, 2019.

Dora (Isabela Merced), a teenage explorer, is sent from the jungle to the city to try to fit in with others her own age. Soon, Dora leads her cousin Diego (Jeff Wahlberg), a family friend Alejandro (Eugenio Derbez) and others on an adventure in the jungle to find her parents (Michael Peña, Eva Longoria).

Dora and the Lost City of Gold is a delightful surprise and a creative live-action adaptation of the popular kid’s cartoon Dora the Explorer. Some of the references that the filmmakers put in to the show – like when Dora will talk to the camera and say “can you say backpack?” and then everyone exchanges glances because she’s literally talking to no one. These meta moments are hilarious and clever.

Isabela Merced is the perfect Dora as she captures her sense of adventure and energy very well. I’m impressed with Merced as an actress because she’s shown she can play to so many ranges, like in Instant Family when she was a moody teenager protective of her younger siblings and here she convincingly plays someone with an endless supply of positivity.

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Isabela Merced in Dora and the Lost City of Gold. (IMDb)

That’s a flaw as the positivity becomes a bit much after awhile, but the writing addresses that and the discussion is refreshing. Merced has a lot of great moments here and a lot of good songs, too. Others in the cast are good, too, like Jeff Wahlberg as Diego and Eugenio Derbez as family friend Alejandro. Derbez shines in different ways in this film and his performance is entertaining.

The film very much feels like a teen movie with Dora’s fish-out-of-water humour getting used to high school, and the jokes never feel lazy. Sammy (Madeleine Madden) as a brainiac but kind-of mean girl works, and Randy (Nicholas Coombe) works for his awkward humour, too, as they’re the ones out of their element when they’re dragged into this jungle adventure.

The storyline and adventure are also well-written. It’s standard in a way as everyone is just trying to find the hidden Inca city Parapata, made solely of gold, but it’s an exciting adventure and one that has enough surprises and enough action to maintain interest. It also has a lot of laughs and one of the best scenes is a hallucination-inspired animated sequence that looks like the real Dora the Explorer show. The film feels like the real Dora, too, even though she’s a teenager, and creative scenes like this is why this is such a delightful surprise.

Score: 75/100

Scooby-Doo: Return to Zombie Island (2019)

Scooby-Doo: Return to Zombie Island (2019)

Directed by: Cecilia Aranovich, Ethan Spaulding. Starring: Frank Welker, Grey Griffin, Matthew Lillard. Runtime: 1h 20 min. Released: September 3, 2019 (video).

Some spoilers follow.

I’m sitting here eating some of those Betty Crocker’s fruit flavored Scooby Snacks (not a sponsor). I’m 25 yet still have the snack preferences of an elementary school child, but that’s beside the point. I decided it would be an appropriate time to review Scooby-Doo: Return to Zombie Island. A direct sequel to the 1998 film Scooby-Doo on Zombie Island, this has the Mystery Gang coming out of retirement to investigate a mystery on the familiar zombie-infested island.

That’s my first problem with the film, the fact that they’ve “retired.” It opens with a montage of our gang chasing a bunch of villains as if in a last hurrah and then it’s revealed Fred has sold the Mystery Machine (for some reason). I haven’t been following the current television shows for Scooby-Doo so I don’t know if it’s canon that Mystery Inc. has closed up shop, but in this film, it comes out of nowhere with zero explanation. Scooby (Frank Welker) and Shaggy (Matthew Lillard) make Fred (also Welker), Daphne (Grey Griffin) and Velma (Kate Micucci) promise not to solve any mysteries for the foreseeable future because they’ve like, had it, man! Enough of that spooky stuff, they just want to watch horror movies where the monsters are fake.

When they win a trip to Zombie Island from an Elvira marathon show, we realize that most of the group don’t know how to live without sleuthing. Shaggy and Scooby will always have their food (and by the way, all the food in this film still looks delicious), but Velma only has her sleuthing. It’s also annoying when Shaggy and Scooby are attacked by zombies and they all think there’s a rational explanation for it because they can’t investigate the mystery. It’s convoluted and irritating, but the film becomes okay when Shaggy and Scooby release them from their promise and let them investigate the strange happenings and why they were invited to the island.

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Zombies in Scooby-Doo: Return to Zombie Island. (IMDb)

Then, we realize why they had the whole convoluted thing about them not being able to investigate the mystery – because there’s not enough story in this film and there’s not much of a mystery. They literally have to kill about 35 minutes here so they can get it to feature length. If they were allowed to investigate from the get go, Velma would have solved this “unsolved mystery” (as she calls it on her blog) in about 10 minutes.

A note about the voice cast: I like the cast and how it’s adapted over the years, like now that Frank Welker is voicing Scooby as well as Fred. Matthew Lillard voicing Shaggy in animated projects since 2010 is a stroke of brilliance because he really embodied Shaggy in the live-action films (Scooby-Doo and Scooby-Doo: Monsters Unleashed). Of course, I also like Grey Griffin as Daphne, as she’s voiced her in feature films since my personal favourite Scooby film, Scooby-Doo and the Cyber Chase. My only complaint is Kate Micucci. I like her as an actress, and though she’s voiced the character since 2015, I’m still getting used to her. Her voice fits the character, but her voice is just so distinct I still hear too much Micucci and not just Velma.

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Matthew Lillard and Frank Welker as Shaggy and Scooby in Scooby-Doo: Return to Zombie Island. (IMDb)

Anyway, Return to Zombie Island still does have a couple clever moments. The classic Scooby chase scene where they go from room to room will always be funny. The film’s also clever in a character name that would be a spoiler, but that is with Alan, played by John Michael Higgins (and this casting is solid). I think the best joke is when Fred is recapping the first film and Shaggy is just shouting, “We know, man, we were there!” It’s helpful exposition for those who might forget the first film, and it’s a good meta joke, but even recapping it so blandly takes away some of the joy of the first film.

The original is one of my favourite Scooby movies and I love these movies, and this one is just rough to watch and feels lifeless. By the end of it I didn’t care to hear anyone call our gang meddling kids because the story isn’t interesting. Its biggest problem is just breaking that sacred formula of investigating a mystery and getting called meddling kids, as the random introduction of them retiring just takes away my enjoyment. The formula’s still there, it’s just buried under a lot of Scooby Snacks.

Score: 40/100

My first podcast – Filmcraziest Presents: Popcorn Flicks, Episode #1, “The Luck of the Irish”

My first podcast – Filmcraziest Presents: Popcorn Flicks, Episode #1, “The Luck of the Irish”

Hi everyone and Happy St. Patty’s Day!

I’m excited to share my first self-produced podcast for my website, called Filmcraziest Presents: Popcorn Flicks. The podcast will be a review show about Disney Channel Original Movies. I love Disney Channel Original Movies and they have a lot of nostalgia for me (I did a bunch last October during the Halloween month, so hopefully I’ll talk about all of those on the podcast in time). I’ve always wanted to start a podcast on DCOM’s and I finally tricked someone into doing it with me and that’s my good friend Bobby Strate, who I met through my scriptwriting program.

We’re two awkward guys discussing the film, so hopefully it’s entertaining. I decided to make the pilot episode the 2001 DCOM The Luck of the Irish since today is St. Patrick’s Day (I’m posting this at 9 p.m., so it’s still St. Patrick’s Day for a couple hours more).

I realized after we reviewed it that it’s probably the most offensive way you could celebrate Irish culture, and we talk about that during the podcast. We discuss its stereotypes (where all Irish people are leprechauns), its unbelievable premise and how it could be stronger with its villains, and the laws of physics in basketball during the movie.

I’d love to hear any feedback! I don’t have much of a budget yet for a logo or a theme song, so hopefully by next episode I’ll have those. Also, to let everyone know, there’s vulgarity so this podcast is definitely not sponsored or affiliated with Disney in any way. We also spoil everything. Without further adieu, here’s the link to where you can listen:

 

 

Abominable (2019)

Abominable (2019)

Abominable posterDirected by: Jill Culton, Todd Wilderman (co-director). Starring: Chloe Bennet, Albert Tsai, Tenzing Norgay Trainor. Runtime: 1h 37 min. Released: September 27, 2019.

When a Yeti (endearingly called Everest) in Japan escapes captivity, he ends up on the apartment building of Yi (Chloe Bennet). They can’t stay put for long as a wealthy businessman named Burnish (Eddie Izzard) and British zoologist Dr. Zara (Sarah Paulson) want their Yeti back. Everest escapes and brings Yi with him – as well as her neighbours, Jin (Tenzing Norgay Trainor) and his younger cousin Peng (Albert Tsai), who tag along on an adventure to bring him back home to Mount Everest.

Abominable is an entertaining animated film that maintains a sense of wonder for most of its runtime, especially when the characters set out for Everest, thanks to its settings and visually stunning animation. It’s also so creative how Everest can change nature around him and how he can manipulate it. It adds to the film’s mythology of yetis and those are my favourite scenes.

The story is also emotionally sound as Yi has lost her Dad and it’s nice watching her find her sense of family and adventure again. It’s especially moving when she wants to find her love of music again as she carries around her father’s violin. The film is just charming throughout with some lovely scenes, even if there’s nothing truly special about its A to B storyline that is very similar to Laika Studio’s Missing Link.

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Albert Tsai, Tenzing Norgay Trainor and Chloe Bennet in Abominable. (IMDb)

The comparisons are hard to avoid but I think they are both strong films in their own ways. This has a stronger emotional story but Missing Link has a lot of smart humour. I couldn’t really choose which one I like better because I like them about the same. A couple years ago I would have said Abominable because I just like this style of animation better, but I’ve started to enjoy stop-motion animation since Kubo and the Two Strings.

I also just really like this film’s screenplay by director Jill Culton. It’s smart and emotionally compelling and some of the creativity in the adventure is great. I like that the yeti is basically a child, too, as it creates some childish humour that just works. The voice acting is good here, especially Chloe Bennet as Yi. The villains are weak here as they get a bit annoying by the end of it, and that’s my main complaint. This film’s about the adventure and the film’s sense of adventure is charming throughout and I think that makes this well worth the watch.

Score: 70/100