Noelle (2019)

Noelle (2019)

Directed by: Marc Lawrence. Starring: Anna Kendrick, Bill Hader, Shirley Maclaine. Runtime: 1h 40 min. Released: November 12, 2019.

This review contains spoilers.

When Santa Claus dies, the mantle is handed down to his son Nick Kringle (Bill Hader), but he’s scared to take on the role and runs away to Phoenix. His sister, Noelle Kringle (Anna Kendrick) must track him down and bring him back so they can save Christmas.

Noelle has some solid fish-out-of-water humour as Noelle goes to Phoenix to find her brother, which gives it an Elf vibe and there’s nothing wrong with channeling a great movie. I’m also convinced that Anna Kendrick makes any film better and it’s no different here as she brings such a charm to this film. Kendrick truly embodies Christmas spirit as Noelle, as Noelle herself learns what Christmas is all about. Bill Hader’s also good as her brother Nick, and their chemistry is enjoyable. Like Kendrick, Hader can make any film better. Elf Polly (Shirley MacLaine) who helps Noelle is also great acting alongside her.

The story itself is predictable, but to be fair, it would be an honest challenge to find a Christmas film that isn’t predictable. Of course we know by the end that Noelle becomes Santa, but it’s the journey that matters. Some of the moments where everyone but her notices that should be the real Santa are sweet, notably when she speaks to a young girl using sign language though she doesn’t know sign language, as only natural Santa’s have a knowledge of every language. Noelle is a good character in her own right, but Kendrick and her general wholesomeness really makes her come alive.

Noelle article
Anna Kendrick in Noelle. (IMDb)

A problem with the story here is a lack of conflict. The main conflict is getting Nick back to the North Pole so they can save Christmas because of the Christmas deadline. Meanwhile, back at the North Pole, Mrs. Claus (the delightful Julie Hagerty) is stressing because the interim Santa Claus isn’t working out. By the way, Noelle isn’t simply handed the Santa reigns from the start because the role of Santa is “traditionally” played by a man. This interim Santa is their cousin Gabriel Kringle (Billy Eichner) who works in the technology department. He wants to take some of the joy out of Christmas and deliver presents by drone, and he also comes up with an algorithm for the naughty and nice list that only has less than 3,000 “nice” children in the world because all the kids have minor infractions. The film dips its foot into this conflict but it never really feels like it comes into fruition as it’s all talk. The conflict would be nice, though it would have felt like the Toy Santa villain plot in The Santa Clause 2 if it had actually embraced it, and instead feels like filler.

Noelle’s “friendship” interest here is private investigator Jake Hapman (Kingsley Ben-Adir) who helps her find Nick in Phoenix. Her relationship with this man is fine and it’s unclear throughout if it’s platonic or a love interest, or just a friendship based on the spirit of Christmas and helping each other out. Either way, they’re fine together and Noelle’s friendship and kindness to his son Alex (Maceo Smedley) is charming.

Despite its flaws, I think Noelle is a good film as Anna Kendrick’s performance just distracts so well from any shortcomings, and it’s fun throughout, too. It’s also a solid first effort at an original film on the Disney+ service. And in terms of Christmas movies, I don’t know if I’d watch this every year, but Anna Kendrick would sure make me consider it.

Score: 70/100

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.

Dora
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

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:

 

 

The Call of the Wild (2020)

The Call of the Wild (2020)

The Call of the WildDirected by: Chris Sanders. Starring: Harrison Ford, Omar Sy, Dan Stevens. Runtime: 1h 40 min. Released: February 21, 2020.

I haven’t read Jack London’s original novel The Call of the Wild, but considering it is his masterpiece, I doubt Chris Sanders’ 2020 adaptation lives up to it in any way. It’s a dog’s journey as Buck, a St. Bernard-Scotch Collie, starts out with a rich family (Bradley Whitford is the patriarch) where he plods around the house like a bull in a china store and ruins lunch parties. Then he’s tricked into a dog catcher’s truck, abused and sold onto a dogsled team in the Yukon in the early 1900’s.

This sled team is run by a man called Perrault (Omar Sy) and his wife Francoise (Cara Gee), who deliver mail throughout the Yukon. This portion of the film is its strong suit, and in five minutes is already a better film about delivery dogs than last year’s Arctic Dogs. The best adventure scenes are in this portion, especially one on a frozen lake and a separate escape from an avalanche. These scenes are both worth watching. I liked Omar Sy as Perrault and there’s good humour here, too. I found myself emotionally connected to the story during these scenes.

It’s all a bit strange that Harrison Ford, as John Thornton, isn’t a major player at this point. Ford doesn’t become an important character until the film’s second half. This is bizarre knowing it’s advertised with Harrison Ford as the star, and it seemed like he would be in the film in its entirety. Technically, Ford is there throughout.

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AHHHHH! (IMDb)

He doubles as the narrator telling Buck’s story – but that doesn’t make sense. He tells Buck’s story even though he is not present for the entirety of it. He tells us things that he can’t know, but the story isn’t good enough to competently tell its story without this narration. I’ll think of it as Buck narrating his own story in the third person and his inner voice is Harrison Ford. It would be awkward during dinner if Buck would talk and Ford’s own voice would come out, though this is the only explanation that makes sense.

I must mention the CGI for the dogs. There are no animals harmed in the making of this film because there are no animals on set. I don’t think the VFX animators have ever seen a dog in real life – because the way the dogs look, move and behave, they aren’t dogs. They’re strange creatures in dog costumes.

The CGI is so distracting and I don’t see why the normal dogs couldn’t just be regular dogs. Buck at least has a reason because he does incredible and inspiring things that no normal dog can do. When he isn’t doing those things, why couldn’t he be played by a normal dog? Some of his actions border on amazing, but others are cartoonish – especially a hilarious moment where Buck bites a Siberian Husky by the neck, flips him in the air and literally body slams him into the snow. The WWE has never looked so fun.

The emotional aspects would be better if we knew we were caring about a dog that’s actually alive. He’s just so expressive and so weird looking, and it’s distracting when it looks like he’s always about to talk in his inner Harrison Ford voice and ask for a Scooby Snack.

Call of the Wild article
Harrison Ford and a CGI “dog” in The Call of the Wild. (IMDb)

Besides Perrault, the humans aren’t much better. Harrison Ford as Thornton isn’t that interesting here. He’s not bad at all, as he’s quite passable phoning it in. He shows up in the film as someone who just spends his days drinking to forget about trauma from his past. The Gold Rush aspect of the film brings about a message of living within your means, and Thornton shows that well.

He’s a dog person who protects Buck from abuse, and that comes in the form of the lazily-written antagonist Hal (Dan Stevens), an upper-class schmuck searching for more wealth in the Gold Rush, convinced he’ll be able to find gold with the help of Buck and the other dogs.

The Call of the Wild doesn’t need antagonists – the man vs. nature aspect works well enough – but Hal completely kills the decent pacing as a hammy, one-note villain who just wants his gold. The film makes me hate Dan Stevens for 40 minutes and that sucks. Karen Gillan is criminally wasted as his wife, Mercedes, only there to sit in the sled and protest when Hal pulls a gun on the poor CGI creatures. She literally has less than two pages of dialogue. I’m a big fan of Dan Stevens, but he’s just here to twirl his moustache (which he never twirls) and chew the scenery.

Speaking of the actual scenery, Janusz Kaminski’s cinematography is great. There’s some truly solid adventure here, and once Buck starts hearing the call, it’s sort-of intriguing near the end. The film is just not consistently spectacular enough to see in theatres. This is also a film about following your inner nature. My inner nature is telling me if The Call of the Wild calls me, I’ll just mute it.

Score: 50/100

Dr. Seuss’ The Grinch (2018)

Dr. Seuss’ The Grinch (2018)

 

The Grinch poster
IMDb

Released: November 9, 2018. Directed by: Yarrow Cheney, Scott Mosier. Starring: Benedict Cumberbatch, Cameron Seely, Rashida Jones. Runtime: 1h, 26 min.

When I went to see “Overlord” in November, I overheard a mom saying to her kid “Are you excited for your first movie?” Knowing how cool it is to see your first movie at a theatre, I was bummed he was seeing something as mediocre as “Dr. Seuss’ The Grinch” for his first movie at the theatre.

“Dr. Seuss’ The Grinch” is the third adaption of How the Grinch Stole Christmas! where Benedict Cumberbatch voices the titular Grinch in a version that doesn’t add anything new or interesting to the story.

This time, The Grinch isn’t particularly feared and is just seen as meaner than the average Who. He still doesn’t like Christmas, so when the Who’s bring in a gigantic Christmas tree, he hatches a plan to put an end to their happiness: Steal Christmas.

Illumination Entertainment’s animation style fits Seuss’s style, especially his inventions which the animation brings to life well. I like their vision of Whoville, but the animation is the only good part of the film, even though it makes Cindy-Lou Who (Cameron Seely) look like a Martian with her pigtails sticking up in the air, and the character design’s similar to “Despicable Me.”

As for the story, there’s just not enough plot for a feature film. It’s just told with very little creativity, and there are no Jim Carrey kind-of antics to distract from the lack of story.

The Grinch featured
Benedict Cumberbatch in Dr. Seuss’ The Grinch (IMDb)

Cumberbatch is fine as the Grinch, but he’s not terribly memorable. Nothing about this film is memorable, and the main source of laughs come from the Grinch’s cheery neighbour (Keenan Thompson) and the Grinch’s dog Max and an overweight reindeer, and the Grinch trolling the citizens of Whoville made me smile, but those moments were the only times I did.

Pharrell Williams’ monotone narration also does not help matters of entertainment. Since you already know which direction is going, I was getting antsy for the Grinch just to steal Christmas, but it feels like it takes forever to get there. There just aren’t many interesting characters to watch in this one, as the Grinch and Cindy Lou’s interactions are extremely limited until he makes his Christmas heist.

Even then, it’s a bit of a cliche way for Cindy Lou to meet him – setting up a Rube Goldberg trap to try to catch Santa Claus so she can ask him for something selfless.

We know about the Grinch’s loneliness and we know that he steals Christmas and that his heart grows three sizes, but this version doesn’t delve into any kind of new backstory or anything interesting, for that matter. And it was just kind of weird seeing a version where the people aren’t afraid of the Grinch. But for this version, the filmmakers just unfortunately don’t do anything to make it memorable.

Score: 50/100

 

Incredibles 2 (2018)

Incredibles 2 (2018)
Incredibles 2 poster
IMDb

Released: June 15, 2018. Directed by: Brad Bird. Starring: Holly Hunter, Craig T. Nelson, Sarah Vowell. Runtime: 1h 58 min.

Writer/director Brad Bird and stars Holly Hunter, Craig T. Nelson and Samuel L. Jackson are well-aware it’s been 14 years since the The Incredibles, as they address this wait before screenings of Incredibles 2. It is a long time – long enough for Holly Hunter (Helen Parr/Elastigirl) to turn 60, the same age Craig T. Nelson (Bob Parr/Mr. Incredible) was when they made the original in 2004.

But now Incredibles 2 is finally here and it’s a great nostalgia trip after all these years. I smiled so much during the opening scene because it’s so entertaining, and I thought it was worth the price of admission alone.

Politicians of Metroville still want superheroes to stay hidden and not intervene. Not everyone wants supers to be hidden – as the CEO of a telecommunications company, Winston Deavor (Bob Odenkirk) and his sister Evelyn (Catherine Keener) have come up with a way to get supers back in the good graces of Metroville.

They want to use Elastigirl (Hunter) to show the government supers can save the day without a lot of structural damage. That’s the main reason they pick her over Bob (Craig T. Nelson) – because he causes the city so much money. “Big problems need big solutions,” Bob explains. This time, Helen’s out on secret missions and Bob’s the stay-at-home dad.

It’s so cool watching Elastigirl fight crime for the bulk of the film this time, as her powers of stretching all over the place is visually more interesting than Bob just using his strength on everything. Plus, Holly Hunter is generally amazing so more screen time for her is welcome. The rest of the voice cast is also really great.

The main plot is Helen foiling the plans of a mysterious figure called the Screenslaver, which is entertaining and has a lot of well-animated, dazzling action scenes. Some aspects are predictable, but the pure entertainment of the third act more than makes up for it. The story’s also very well-written.

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IMDb

I generally loved the plot so much because it’s so cool going back to these characters, and the Parr’s family dynamic still feels fresh after 14 years. The parents do switch roles this time. Bob deals with jealousy of Helen fighting crime and him being pushed into the shadows of parenting, and it’s handled with humour.

He seems more like Bob in this film than Mr. Incredible, but he shines whenever he’s in his super suit. Speaking of super suits, Frozone (Samuel L. Jackson) also has enough chances to shine. Other fan favourite Edna E. Mode (Brad Bird) also has a great appearance.

Bob helping Dash (Huck Milner) with homework and him screwing up trying to help Violet (Sarah Vowell) with boy problems will be relatable for dads. The biggest laughs come from the scene-stealing Jack Jack (Eli Fucile) who’s unable to control his newfound powers. That’s a huge thing Bob has to deal with. Anyone who’s seen the Jack Jack Attack short film will definitely love this sub-plot. He’s one of the most entertaining aspects of the film and Brad Bird seems like he’s having a blast writing this.

Besides the great old characters, we get to know a few new heroes – Sophia Bush as Voyd, for example – and they’re fun side characters that Bird explores. The film’s storyline flows nearly as well as the original and the dialogue’s still sharp and the humour’s great. Michael Giacchino’s score helps a lot with the film’s nostalgic feeling, and it’s a hell of a lot of fun.

Score: 90/100

The Incredibles (2004)

The Incredibles (2004)
The Incredibles
IMDb

Released: November 5, 2004. Starring: Craig T. Nelson, Holly Hunter, Samuel L. Jackson. Directed by: Brad Bird. Runtime: 1h, 55 min.

In Metroville, superheroes are forced into retirement by the government after getting hit with lawsuits, and the supers promise to refrain from superhero work. Effectively, this makes their secret identities their only identities.

For Bob Parr/Mr. Incredible (Craig T. Nelson), not being a superhero is a big ask. 15 years after supers are forced into hiding, Bob works in insurance claims by day and hangs out with Lucius Best/Frozone (Samuel L. Jackson) at night, listening to police scanners. Since he can’t be heroic as Mr. Incredible, the cinematography makes his days look dark and depressing.

When he’s given an assignment by a mysterious person to be heroic on a remote island, everything’s brighter. After this, he and his family are forced into super action – including wife Helen/Elastigirl (Holly Hunter) and their kids Violet (Sarah Vowell) and Dash (Spencer Fox), as baby Jack Jack stays at home with a babysitter.

“The Incredibles” is about a family that must hide their powers – Violet can go invisible and make forcefields and Dash can move at super speeds – but otherwise they’re an average family. Helen and Bob even parent differently like normal families.

Bob says that their powers make them special; Helen wants them to know their powers aren’t the only thing that make them special. They’re mostly on the same page – except in a moment that should be punishment for Dash after he puts a thumbtack on his teacher’s chair, Bob’s just excited that Dash was going too fast to be seen on camera.

The Incredibles (pic)
Dash, Violet, Bob and Helen in The Incredibles. (IMDb)

While embracing who you are is an important theme, family’s the most prominent one. One of the film’s coolest moments is when the Parr’s stand together as The Incredibles for the first time, ready to fight the villains as a family. And that moment especially set to Michael Giacchino’s score makes it feel so awesome, and the score is great throughout.

The villain himself, Syndrome (Jason Lee), is well-written by writer/director Brad Bird. Syndrome is a rich guy who creates his own powers by creating gadgets and weapons and his backstory of desperately wanting to be a hero and facing rejection put him on his supervillain path.

The screenplay’s one of the film’s strongest suits as everything flows so well throughout. The lesson that Bob has to learn that being a hero isn’t the most important thing, and that he can be a hero by being a father, is also insightful. Everything’s top-notch here from the dialogue, humour, great characters and action scenes. Bird just brings it to life in such an amazing way.

Bird has some funny comments about villains in general, one of which is an observation on drawn out villain monologues when they could defeat the hero at any moment. “The guy has me on a platter and he won’t shut up!” says Lucius. Bird also voices scene-stealing fashion designer Edna E. Mode, who designs super suits, and her bit about “no capes” is one of the film’s funniest moments.

Score: 100/100