Tag Archives: 3stars

TrollHunters: Rise of the Titans

[3 stars]

When last we saw our intrepid heroes, they were….well, don’t worry about it, there is a significant recap to remind you and get you current from the final moments of Wizards. Which, to be honest, left us hanging a bit and with a need to wrap it all up.

And, yeah, that’s not entirely going to happen, but that isn’t a surprise either. Rise of the Titans breaks into new ground for the franchise, having done fantasy and science fiction and myth, we’re now into Kaiju, with obvious nods to Godzilla vs Kong and Pacific Rim. The story is big in more ways than one. It is also a bit more rushed than the series since they’ve only allowed themselves a bit less than 2 hours to cover all the ground they wanted. And it is a LOT of ground. It also means there isn’t any of the really quality voice acting and character building we’ve seen in the past…because this is a wrap up. There are revelations and epiphanies (and some logic leaps for that matter) but none of the big arcs we’ve seen in the past, unless you count this as the end of an uber-long arc for all the shows, which would be fair.

The story was written and directed by several people, which shows in the breakdown of this event movie. For all intents it’s about 4 episodes in length, and the flick is divided into some natural breaks, though completely one story. This also isn’t a segment of the franchise that you can watch out of order, as you could the many series. Without the grounding of the previous stories, it will make absolutely no sense. It’s a gift to its audience, and has a wonderful ending that I’m desperately hoping they just leave as is. Not because it isn’t good, but because it is and doesn’t require anything more.

Either way, if you loved the foundation series, as I did, then you will enjoy and must see this conclusion. If you haven’t found the shows yet, give them a shot. Yes, they’re for younger people, but there is so much in there that adults will be well hooked and entertained as well. At least some of us will be.

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The Last Letter From Your Lover

[3 stars]

Yeah, up front, this is a sappy and manipulative movie by design. And I’m fine with that. Director Augustine Frizzell aimed the adaptation squarely at romantics, no others need apply. The story cleverly follows two couples from different periods through the lens of discovered letters and the mystery and curiosity they invoke.

In the 60s we follow a married woman discovering a life and love she didn’t even know was possible. But the relationship between Shailene Woodley (The Mauritanian) and Callum Turner (Emma.) comes across as more an act of desperation rather than a great love affair. Part of that is the period acting, but part is simply the lack of chemistry between the two. Given that our window to them is through letters, it could be a style choice to make it reflect more of a written romance; but many of the scenes are clearly flashbacks so that distance isn’t consistent.

On the other hand, Felicity Jones (The Midnight Sky) and  Nabhaan Rizwan (1917), in current times, are completely compelling as the inevitable couple that Jones refuses to acknowledge. Their mental and emotional dance is instantly tangible, even though neither knows quite what to do about it. We invest in them immediately and want them to succeed.

Outside of the main couples, Joe Alwyn (A Christmas Carol) plays the suitable cad of a husband for Woodley to react against. And the late Ben Cross turns in one of his final performances with a sweet and sad depth that carries all the emotion you wish the couple had had in their younger incarnations.

So find someone you really care about who can appreciate the movie for what it is, and curl up together. It will leave you happy to be in love and not unentertained.

The Last Letter from Your Lover Poster

Freaky

[3 stars]

Let me just say up front that I love this concept. And given that it was co-written and directed by Christopher Landon, the same guy who brought us the very funny and clever Happy Death Day series, I was definitely on board. And the resulting story does pull itself together in nice ways. I just wish it had been executed with as much care and finesse as the idea suggested and as the pedigree promised.

That said, it wasn’t for a lack of effort on the part of the actors. Everyone committed to the story and the silliness. The balance wasn’t always quite right, but everyone tried to maintain a thread to reality.

In the top spots, Vincent Vaughn (Hacksaw Ridge) and Kathryn Newton (Pokémon Detective Pikachu) have the most challenging roles. Newton manages to get “cold killer” down well, though we can’t really assess her “Vaughn” as we never know him. Vaughn, on the other hand, does a much more credible, if slight pushed, version of Newton. The tenor of the movie forces him to the broader side rather than the more realistic, but he rarely pushes it too far.

There are also some nice showings by Newton’s friends Misha Osherovich and Celeste O’Connor. They are clearly over-the-top in just about every way, but with Landon’s guidance they are kept within a range that works. There is also a surprising performance by Uriah Shelton which helps the flick round out nicely.

Freaky isn’t as precisely crafted as Landon’s previous films, but it isn’t without its moments and value. It is definitely a movie that requires a particular taste in horror and comedy, but if you have it, you’ll enjoy this. Whether it requires more than one viewing in your lifetime, that’s up to you. Once was fine for me, though I will be watching for some of the players down the road. Landon does have a knack for finding lesser-known talent. And I still want to see what he comes up with next as well.

Jolt

[3 stars]

Kate Beckinsale (Love  & Friendship) has made a portion of her career playing tough fighters in poorly scripted movies (can we talk Underworld?). And here we are again in an obvious franchise play with a script that is just as often good as it is, well, not.

This isn’t a story with a lot of surprises, just a lot of clever quips and many fun fights. Jai Courtney (Honest Thief) serves as catalyst for Beckinsale’s Lindy with a sort of guilelessness. And Bobby Cannavale (Thunder Force) and Lavern Cox (Promising Young Woman) provide a weird, almost believable cop duo. And while you’d expect the addition of Stanley Tucci (Supernova) and Susan Sarandon (The Calling) to elevate the story some, they’re just there to have fun.

For a first script by Scott Wascha’s it isn’t unwatchable, just occasionally cringey (especially the prologue). And director Tanya Wexler (Hysteria) manages to keep it all moving along with just enough character to the action. The result is a hyper-real tale of female power, not unlike, though with considerably less finesse and panache, as Gunpowder Milkshake or Sin City. It isn’t great, but it is definitely diverting and, if you can handle the violence, entertaining.

I’d love to see where they could take this story and if they can expand on the universe in a way that makes sense. Certainly they’ve queued it up to be an ongoing black-ops series. Time will tell, but at least this movie is relatively self-contained (and with a tag during the credits) in a way that doesn’t leave you hanging.

Jolt Poster

Mad About You (2020)

[3 stars]

Remember that couple you used to hang out with all the time, but then they had a kid and you drifted apart as life pulled you in different directions? Well, the Buckmans are that couple and, with the child about to fly the coup, they’re back. Paul Reiser (The Little Hours) and Helen Hunt (Ride) are still at the center of this odd romantic sort of comedy, but Abby Quinn joins them as their suitably neurotic daughter, and holds her own. Other notables returning are Jon Pankow with a fun storyline of his own that he shares with Antoinette LaVecchia. And Richard Kind (Ride), likewise, with the wonderful Kecia Lewis. Another amusing add, for Quinn’s benefit, is Asif Ali (WandaVision), who delivers his broad humor with incredible precision and confidence.

The season, much like any long comedy set, has it’s weak moments. But Reiser, who wrote a good part of the season, also gave it a particular shape. The dozen episodes hold together for a very satisfying conclusion and pause, setting up another season if that should ever come. If you liked the original run, you’ll slip back into this extension fairly seamlessly. It has all the warts and flaws of the original, but it has evolved to fit in with the times and it has embraced the long gap between our view of their lives. And, as with the original, it stays just meaty enough in its examination of marriage to avoid being easily dismissed.

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Shiva Baby

[3 stars]

Shiva. It’s a thing. And Emma Seligman captures it in a way that is both delightfully uncomfortable and weirdly accurate. Not so much in the specifics, but definitely in the feel of it all. Seligman hit it all dead-on in her script and in her directing. Not bad for a first feature that presents a black comedy with more heart than you anticipate.

She also managed some great casting for her needs. Rachel Sennott (Call Your Mother) manages to be petulantly put-upon while also staying somewhat tragic. She’s a hot mess, but somewhat formed by the world she grew up in.  And Molly Gordon (The Broken Hearts Gallery) is a great counter-balance to Sennott as the calm core of the crazy day of mourning.

Frothing around the two are some fabulous characters. Polly Draper and Fred Melamed (In a World…) as her parents are painfully fun. They run the line between mean and caring in a way that many will recognize. And Dianna Agron (I Am Number Four) brings an outside, quiet tension to the gathering that stays utterly controlled. The rest of the rooms are filled with recognizable faces that lob quiet bombs and cross-conversation through the flick. Seligman just lets the conversations wash over you at times as Sennott passes through or is within proximity; often to funny effect.

If you enjoyed movies like Barney’s Version or This is Where I Leave You, this is probably another you should throw onto your list.

Shiva Baby Poster

Space Jam: A New Legacy

[3 stars]

OK, I get it. I understand why some folks will just love this crazy and silly romp through parenthood and basketball. And, to be completely fair, LeBron James actually pulls off his role believably. And Don Cheadle (Avengers: Endgame) gets to eat some serious scenery as well.

As a story, this is about on par with a Looney Tunes cartoon. It doesn’t hold up under any scrutiny. But the Tron/Matrix send up, and totally unabashed WB advertisement for every bit of IP they still own, entertains on several levels. The more you know, the more you’ll enjoy the references and background characters. (Though I also have to admit that voices for the classic ‘toons and some of their characterizations, esp. Bugs, didn’t quite work for me.)

Helping James out as his on-screen son, Cedric Joe feels about perfect. And Sonequa Martin-Green (Star Trek: Discovery) got to show us a new side of herself as James’ partner.

But most of the kudos really have to go to director Malcolm D. Lee who found the tone and the pace to keep it all going. He’s the core reason this crazy gamble worked. A brilliant classic? No. But certainly not an embarrassment. And while it will work on the big screen, it honestly is fine on a smaller one as well.

Space Jam: A New Legacy Poster

Fear Street: Part 2-1978

[3 stars]

When last we left our story in 1994, we thought we had an idea of what was going on…only to be disabused of that at the very end. So here we are in 1978 to learn more. Leigh Janiak returns to continue guiding the story, and this time it’s decidedly darker.

Gone is the wry humor, though there is a certain amount of sarcasm. Gone is the light fun. This one is deadly serious and angsty; much more a typical slasher in the woods film than the previous. Janiak captures the era in color pallet and sensibility nicely, but I did miss the fun of the first part. A change in her co-writer to the up-and-coming Zak Olkewicz probably helped inform that shift.

That said, the cast and her direction continues to impress: Embracing the genre and running with it while still managing to keep it female forward. The additions of Sadie Sink (Stranger Things), Emily Rudd, and Ted Sutherland to the sprawling tale also worked nicely. The three drive the majority of the action and expand what we know of the characters and the mystery from the ’94 frame.

Fear Street is turning out to be a wonderfully crafted, long story. As a series of movie releases over months or years, it would have been a frustrating wait and lose momentum. As a three week sequence it is building nicely and keeping me engaged. I’m curious to see how it continues to evolve into the 1666 origin time-frame and if it can pay off. But, even if it falls flat, the first two are credible horror flicks, full of fun, mayhem, surprises, and nice twists to the genre.

Fear Street Part Two: 1978 Poster

Daniel Isn’t Real

[3 stars]

Imaginary friends in psychological horror films are far from new. But this entry into the mix by Adam Egypt Mortimer (Archenemy) is actually rather well done. It manages to skirt all the questions such on-screen situations raise without committing to any one answer till it decides it wants to or needs to.

Miles Robbins (Halloween) is the main focus of this story, along with his “friend,” given creepy life by  Patrick Schwarzenegger (Scouts Guide to the Zombie Apocalypse). The two have a fun dynamic that progresses by degrees as you’d expect it to. Adding fuel to the fire are romantic and artistic interest Sasha Lane (Utopia) and, as his mother, Mary Stuart Masterson (Blindspot).

Robbins spends the film balancing what he thinks he wants and knows, with what he fears is really happening. Chukwudi Iwuji (John Wick: Chapter 2) provides a voice of reason… mostly. By the time the wheels all come off, everyone’s choices become suspect, though Lane’s approach remains credible and strong.

Figuring out what this movie is going to be is half the fun. It isn’t easy to pick apart and doesn’t quite follow the paths you expect. In the end you get the story Mortimer intends, but whether that is one you’ll agree with or even like is going to be a matter of taste. He could have done more with it, but he also needed to keep the tale moving because his audience was going to constantly be trying to leap ahead. The pacing never really allows that to happen in a way that spoils the story. On purely craft grounds, I think this one is worth it if you like the horror genre. And it’s way more satisfying than the similar attempt (in craft) in the also recent Flashback.

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Promised Neverland

[3.5 stars]

There are so many secrets in this series that it limits what I can comment on. So, instead, it’s really a matter of whether it’s worth your time or not. It is.

Generally, Promised Neverland is a fascinating, if somewhat genre-standard, tale of children in an orphanage who discover nefarious plans. There are lots of narrow escapes and “big moments.” But it is also infused with that kids anime silliness in the characters that I find challenging to watch. At least when it is a constant stream of it. And it means most of the voice work is serviceable, but not brilliant. I did stick with the dub version on this one after trying both sub and dub. Honestly, the original voice work was no better, so I gave my eyes a break to concentrate on the gorgeous art and tale in front of me.

The story will carry you along. The second season already out and I can’t imagine that you could watch the first and walk away. The second season builds on the revelations of the first, and introduces some intriguing new levels to the story overall. I loved that the world kept expanding, but it also got a little unwieldy and just a bit illogical. Choices didn’t always flow naturally (on either side) and some of the character changes felt a bit forced. Had they split the action into two seasons to build up the background info, it may have felt less manipulated.

However, it does, for all intents, completely wrap up by the end of season two thanks to some very rapid fast-forwarding. In this case (unlike Trese), that approach worked as it was all lined up and it was really just watching the dominos fall rather than filling in gaps. It could have been pushed into a third season, but that isn’t the story they wanted to tell, so I felt comfortable with the choice.

The resulting story is definitely worth your time and will likely manage to surprise you. It has even inspired a live-action version that is in the works. So, clearly, it also has a following and I count myself among them now.

The Promised Neverland Poster