Onward – WMR

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Hello Cinephiles,

Today we’re talking about the 2020 film Onward.

Story

I had heard reviews about this movie that said it was the herald that Pixar had lost it’s magic and just become another copy of Disney. (Which I think is unfair since modern Disney owes a lot to Pixar.) This movie didn’t disappoint me. Like the vast majority, it left me crying.

I think the story itself is fairly simple but the world and buildup are fantastic. There’s very little in the movie that isn’t used or exploited again.

That all being said… It was a little predictable. The structure of a Quest or road trip movie, dictates that no matter what they choose, it’ll be wrong but end up pushing the character development. I guessed every twist in advance, which is uncommon for a Pixar.

Score: 0.5

Characters

The story is the characters. That’s really what Pixar is best at, engaging, flawed, lovable, characters that grow because of the story.

From the awkward Mom’s boyfriend to the retired adventurer, they all have depths. I mean, they somehow managed to make a character who was just a bottom half, have a loving and endearing personality.

Score: 1

Dialogue

“You’ll never be ready. Now Merge!” is probably one of the most inspiring things I’ve heard. As someone without his license, it’s also terrifying.

The dialogue is true and it’s certainly authentic; but it’s not extremely memorable after a first watch.

Score: 0.5

Visuals and Music

The movie’s description call it a Suburban Fantasy and the visuals never let you forget it. Anytime you see a lush, beautiful, fantasy moment, the visuals will throw in a plane or road sign or manhole cover.

It’s a great balancing act that makes the entire movie visually coherent. I love the look and feel of this world. It’s beautiful and ugly in all the right ways.

The music is mostly variations on fantasy themes with a bunch of classic rock inspired music thrown in. The combination gives a quirky feel but is definitely authentic its Dungeons & Dragons influence.

Score: 1

Fun

This movie had everything I wanted and didn’t try to jam in an awkward romance.

It was exciting, pretty, and a lot of fun.

Score: 1

Overall

This movie feels like it was made to entertain me and pull at my heartstrings. It won’t hit everyone the same way but it is an extremely fun road trip movie set in a suburban fantasy. Plus there’s a gelatinous cube.

Score: 4 stars

Teen Beach Movie – WMR

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Hello Cinephiles,

Today we’re talking about the 2013 Disney Channel movie Teen Beach Movie.

There are a few movies about people getting sucked into their favourite movie, book, or game. I’m not sure what this niche genre is called but I obviously love it since I wrote a book in the same genre. Go check out Everdome.

Story

The movie’s plot is simple and too the point. It’s almost completely unimportant and used as a vehicle for the music, whimsy, and references.

Score: 0

Characters

The main characters in this movie are basically Disney Channel cutouts that develop as time goes by.

Oddly enough the “real” world characters have less depths then the stereotypes in the movie world.

They are however very sweet and extremely fun to watch.

Score: 0.5

Dialogue

This movie is pure and utter cheese and ham. The movie revels in some of the best cheese lines.

The dialogue is delightful.

Score: 1

Visuals and Music

The movie is surprisingly pretty. They really worked towards making it over saturated and beach movie like.

The music is a love letter to teen love stories and classic movie musicals.

Score: 1

Fun

Fun music, cool concept, and extremely entertaining dialogue. This movie has a very low cringe factor and a lot of fun.

Score: 1

Overall

If you’re a fan of musicals and classic beach movies you’ll love this one. I’ve seen it twice and it’s the kind of movie I’d watch without being annoyed. I will also absolutely sing along.

Final Score: 3.5

Enchanted – WMR

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Hello Cinephiles,

Today we’re talking about the 2007 movie Enchanted.

Story

This is a tongue-in-cheek love story to Disney princess movies made in a time where there hadn’t been a princess movie in nearly a decade (Mulan came out in 1998). This was before Princess and the Frog, Tangled, and Frozen; and way before Sophia. The love of princess movies was considered childish unless you liked them ironically (That’s 2000’s for making fun of something you like so that you come off cool and aloof.)

All that being said, this movie revels in fairy tales and magic. It swims and dances in all things genuinely innocent and magical.

Underneath all that, it is an expertly pulled off Rom-Com.

Score: 1

Characters

Intentionally grating in their saccharin sweetness or in their jaded bitterness (dude, it’s the late 2000’s, enjoy having survived the 90’s and prepare for the ridiculous and horrifying 2010’s.)

There are three characters that grow, Giselle and Robert do the old innocent and grump move towards each other and fall in love, dance. And Nathaniel realizes he’s just a minion and learns to love himself.

Giselle could easily have fallen into the manic-pixie-dream-girl category but over the movie she adjusts to the world and gains agency. She goes from needing to be caught to catching. It’s lovely development but without insulting what she started as.

Score: 1

Dialogue

Like the rest of this movie, the dialogue is peppered with in-jokes and allusions to Disney. It’s not overwhelming, but it’s fun to pick out. Beyond that, the dialogue relies heavily on double meanings and misunderstandings. I really enjoy the way the characters talk with each other when the misunderstandings happen.

Although well done, the dialogue sometimes got self-indulgent in the, “I’m from a fairy tale” sense.

I also rolled my eyes hard at, “I have a gift / A book I know.” I realize they were trying to make him seem down on fairy tales and wanting her to find real life role models, but it just came off as hating on books. I wish they’d had a scene with the little girl and Giselle geeking out over the book.

Score: 0.5

Visuals and Music

This movie is colourful and beautiful. The music is great.

However, the Central Park song (How do you know) is one of the greatest musical moments I’ve ever seen. Both in it’s contrast with Robert’s disbelief and eventual acceptance and with the pure joy that everyone throws into it.

Score: 1

Fun

This movie is a joy to watch from beginning to end. James Marsden hams it up with a delightfully nice prince. (Look at his face with Giselle and Robert kiss.) There’s action, romance, and lots of Easter-Eggs.

Score: 1

Conclusion

If you like Rom-Coms, princess movies, musicals, or fish out of water stories, this one is worth a watch. The world of 2007 was a different place and time, but you have to love it’s innocence.

It’s also a movie filled with strong, capable, and lovely women with urgency and character development. Something that is sometimes lacking in Rom-Coms.

Final Score: 4.5 out of 5

Birds of Prey: And the Fantabulous Emancipation of One Harley Quinn – WMR

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Hello Cinephiles,

Today we’re talking about the 2020 movie Birds of Prey: And the Fantabulous Emancipation of One Harley Quinn

This is supposed to be a sequel to the 2016 Suicide Squad. I reviewed that at the time and was extremely generous in my rating.

Story

The story was overly simple which was a good thing but also telegraphed what was going to happen. This wasn’t a movie that left me guessing, it told you early on what was going to happen and then those things happened.

As with any anti-hero story, there were a few morally awkward moments and a lot of humour.

Score: 0.5

Characters

The movie truly shines through its characters, all written and acted superbly. It was nice that they remembered that Harley is smart. I hate smart characters doing dumb things, but Harley did dumb things because she was hurt, broken, sad, and disturbed.

All that other characters were fantastic and left you feeling like they were well rounded (Although definitely in need of a hug and a paid vacation).

Score: 1

Dialogue

Some of the dialogue was brilliant, the narration was awesome, but not everything was great. All the actors had moments were their natural accents slipped, some of the turns of phrase felt like they were meant for someone else to say, and when Harley wasn’t there or narrating, the movie took a dive towards bad cop drama.

Score: 0.5

Visuals and Music

The action pieces, aesthetic, and music were fantabulous. The simplicity of the story led to those big action set pieces. I don’t think I’ve seen better action than that scene in the evidence locker. I also desperately want this soundtrack.

Score: 1

Fun

Other than a few moments were it started dragging (usually non-narrated story parts for the BOP) this was a thoroughly fun movie. Action, humour, drama, and great music.

Score: 1

Conclusion

This movie was fantastic and if you can handle brutal action, I highly recommend it. I definitely look forward to re-watching it.

Much better than Suicide Squad, which I’ll have to re-watch and re-review.

Final Score: 4 out of 5 stars

The Ghosts of Buxley Hall – WMR

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Hello Cinephiles,

Today we’re talking about the made for TV movie from 1980 The Ghosts of Buxley Hall.

Story

The story is pretty simple, but feels like it lacks depth. We don’t really get to know much about the characters backstories or motivations, beyond the ghosts. Even the “In Your Face” feminist story line feels a little flat.

It is however a nice linear story that follows through with its promises and foreshadowing.

Score: 0.5

Characters

This has all the stereotypes but made more human than I expected. The military man, the independent woman, the troubled boy, the troubled girl, the tough guy who doesn’t like kids, the bully, and the mad aunt who wants money.

They all have tender moments where their human side is shown. Unfortunately the cast is much too big for the movie. It means we are constantly moved between the kid’s story, the adult’s story, and the ghosts. Sometimes forgetting about one of the others.

Score: 0.5

Dialogue

The dialogue is pure 80’s and pure cheese. Most of the best lines are given by the Sargent or the general’s wife.

Score: 0

Visuals and Music

This movie might have been about ghosts but it could have seriously used some colour. The shots however are very well designed and clean. Both the music and the visuals are effective if not inspired.

Score: 0.5

Fun

This is a fun movie. You know everything will end well and you get a combination ghost story, coming of age, and boarding school story.

Score: 1

Conclusion

This is a fun fluffy movie that is now 40 years old and is showing it’s age. It’s not offensive but it’s definitely shallower than it could be. However, it is a lot of fun.

Final Score: 2.5 Stars

Sleeping Beauty – WMR

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Hello Cinephiles,

Today we’re talking about the 1959 film Sleeping Beauty.

Story

This is a classic. It’s now 61 years old and the 16th animated feature by Disney.

The story is pretty standard fairy tale with a little less death, rape, and horror in it than Grimm liked. A lot of the hour and seventeen minutes is spent of the set up to the big song number in the woods.

Other than some cringe-inducing grabbyness on Phillip’s side and some alcohol jokes that haven’t aged well, it held up pretty well.

The major difference with it and the more modern films is how simple the story is. Something that can be said about a lot of 1950 movies, not just the animated ones.

Score: 0.5

Characters

Poor Aurora had little to no choices in the movie. She was literally tossed around by the forces of fate and faerie.

Phillip was a nice strong hero but also felt young and less 1400 more 1950’s, which I suppose was the point.

The fathers, as is usual, were useless; and Aurora’s mother had almost no part.

Maleficent was a lonely, angry witch who could have used more motivation.

Score: 0.5

Dialogue

On average, the dialogue was simple, easy to understand and very forgettable. Maleficent didn’t need to call herself the Mistress of Evil for us to know she was the baddie, but she did.

The narration at the beginning felt over exposition-y and could have been done in dialogue or visually instead.

Score: 0

Visuals and Music

This was an absolutely gorgeous movie. Colourful, clean lines, no choppiness in animation. There are plenty of movies that don’t look half as good that came out in the past 10 years. The change in colour with the change in light source was beautiful, if a little over done.

The music was fantastic and catchy. If you don’t get Once Upon a Dream stuck in your head I’ll be surprised… and a little jealous.

Score: 1

Fun

This movie didn’t drag and if I found myself annoyed at the characters, there was always something visually stunning to look at. I had fun the entire time and wasn’t even tempted to look at my phone.

Score: 1

Conclusion

Overall, the movie was fun and beautiful. Some of the jokes fall flat after 60+ years but I didn’t need to pause and talk to my kids about what terrible thing was going on.

Final Score: 3 Stars

Spies in Disguise – WMR

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Hello Cinephiles,

Today we’re talking about the 2019 movie Spies in Disguise.

Story

The movie starts as a standard spy thriller reminiscent of older James Bond. It even has a Bond-style intro sequence. There’s a car chase, stakeout, and they add a great twist by inserting an awkward and slightly out there scientist and gadget maker.

The movie exploits the tropes of Spy Thrillers, Accidental Spy, and buddy comedy in a way that could have easily been cringe worthy but wasn’t.

The themes of the movie seem to be a combination of violence begets violence and to challenge tradition. Which is pretty subtle and backed up with some spectacular action sequences.

That being said, it was a little predictable.

Score: .5

Characters

The tough guy scared by loss who’s a super spy is a tired cliché and is used to make you dislike the character to start with and redeem him in the long run. Will Smith does a great job with a character that could have been less likeable than Daniel Craig’s Bond. Unfortunately the character spends far too much of the movie on bravado and complaining. It gets annoying.

The geeky scientist who is driven by a sad backstory is normally the villain. He has every earmark of turning bad, but the writers never even let you think it a possibility. He’s a stalwart believer in a non-fatal form of justice. (Spider-Man, is that you?)

The secondary characters are entertaining but the villain is utterly forgettable.

Score: .5

Dialogue

Quipy, intelligent, and delightful. The movie shines in it’s dialogue and visuals.

A nice bonus for both an animated movie and a spy story was that the techno-babble was coherent and based in real science.

Score: 1

Visuals

It was a beautiful movie. Using visuals to move the story forward and add humour. It’s a beautiful movie that would be hilarious even without sound.

Score: 1

Fun

Other than a few times I wanted to slap the Spy character or the spy agency people, I really enjoyed this movie. There’s action, adventure, humour, and a feeling that everything will work out.

Score: 1

Conclusion

This is one of the better spy spoofs that I’ve seen. It avoids a lot of the pratfalls of awkwardness and really delivers some clever laughs. Dragon laughed a lot and sat the entire time.

Final Score: 4 Stars

Star Wars: The Rise of Skywalker – WMR

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Hello Cinephiles,

Today we’re talking about the 2019 film Star Wars: The Rise of Skywalker.

Warning Spoilers!

Story

This is marked as the end of the Skywalker Saga (AKA numbered Star Wars movies) and was meant to tie up the loose ends and stories of the old, new, and middle characters in the series.

Although the story was pretty coherent, it was meandering and often got marred down by awkward nostalgia. Treating things like the fallen death star or Luke’s old X-wing as near magical artifacts of nostalgia.

As much as this felt like a love letter to the old Star Wars, it also felt like a massive set up for the future of that universe. Introducing so many new elements into the last movie that some from previous movies faded into the background. (Poor Rose.)

Overall, it was hopeful, anyone can be redeemed, the force is with us, you aren’t your parents, etc etc. (What’s with American entertainment and the obsession with hereditary power and competence.)

It was fun, but overly self-indulgent in it’s own mythos. Also “Wonder-Force-Twins” ex-machina.

Score: 0.5

Characters

I’ll have to watch the whole trilogy again but I felt that the characters changed a lot between movies. Poe’s character seemed to have the least consistency between movies, but even Rey felt different.

The only completely consistent character was Kylo.

It was nice to see the old crew, but overall it was frustrating to see the inconsistencies.

I did love Leia though.

Score: 0.5

Dialogue

The dialogue was exactly what you’d expect from a post-Lucas Star Wars. Hammy but not to the point of cringe. Lots of throwbacks and the actors genuinely delivered emotion.

Nothing stood out as infinitely quotable and a lot of it was whiny.

Score: 0

Visuals and Music

This was Star Wars. Visuals and Music are essential the best parts. When the Star Wars theme starts playing during the opening exposition crawl, I get shivers.

This is genuinely beautiful. From lightsaber fights on a storm-wracked wreck, to jungle planets, and the Sith homeworld. It was wonderful to watch.

Score: 1

Fun

There was a part of the movie near the end where Rey has gone off on her own and the others are feeling helpless that I just got bored. From that part onward, it felt like the ending was both rushed story-wise and slow pacing-wise.

Score: 0.5

Conclusion

This was a Star Wars movie. It had all the Star Wars stuff, both good and bad. I can see why some people loved it. I can also see where some people hated it.

Final Score: 2.5 Stars

Trolls – WMR

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Hello Cinephiles,

Today we’re talking about the 2016 movie Trolls.

Story

The basic concept for this movie is that the Trolls are being hunted as food by Bergens. The unreliable narrator tells us that it’s the only way the Bergens can experience happiness. This is a dark concept that had me extremely interested. It’s probably the best part of the movie.

The theme of happiness runs throughout the movie with the inevitable, “Happy was inside you the whole time,” ending.

The humour is fun when they go a little psychedelic, but mostly relies on fat jokes, fart jokes, and a super awkward romance.

The film’s message ends up falling flat in it’s complete disregard for diversity and blatant misunderstanding of depression and trauma.

Score: 0 (I can’t believe anyone sober could approve this script.)

Characters

Ripped straight from an 80’s high school drama, these characters manage to have less depth than the dolls they’re based off.

Sad geek/loner/weirdo pines for beautiful/vapid/popular girl. His entire journey is to realize it’s okay to be happy. He’s finally accepted when he changes colours and starts to sing, effectively conforming to the group.

The king Bergen and scullery maid love story is so shallow they need four separate romance tropes to prop it up.

Score: 0

Dialogue

Overall the dialogue is pretty bland. A lot of, “Be Happy,” and the music is mostly used as reinforcement of the themes.

Forgettable overall.

Score: 0

Visuals

The visuals are pretty decent, even though they looked ripped from Little Big Planet and Kirby. They’re used to great effect to show the contrast and texture of this horror world, where there’s always a bigger fish to summon.

Score: 0.5

Fun

At the ten minute mark after the 3rd fart joke, I started to get worried.

The movie was fun when it concentrated on the contrast between joy and horror, but mostly I found myself wishing I was watching the new Cats movie instead.

Score: 0.5

Conclusion

This movie is offensive, awkward, and downright boring. Save yourself the pain and watch something else.

Final Score: 1 Star

Wednesday Movie Reviews

Hello Cinephiles!

I love stories, and movies are a beautiful and engrossing way to tell stories. Since I watch a lot of movies, I’ll be dedicating my Wednesday’s column to reviews.

Criteria

I’ll be judging movies on Story, Characters, Dialogue, Visuals, and Fun. Each will be worth 1 star (.5 is allowed).

This should give my reviews a standard that will allow me to compare them.

Qualifications

I have watched movies my whole life.

Not enough?

I have a degree in Communications specializing in media creation and analysis. I worked as a videographer and as a video lab technician. I have 4 published novels and have been writing in this blog for over a decade. I help host Nights at the Round Table for Silver Stag.

I also used to work at a video store. For my younger audience, that’s where you could rent VHS tapes to bring home and watch movies.

Philosophy

Movies, like all stories, are meant to make us feel and experience something. They are entertainment and emotion. A good movie can make you feel something, a great movie can make everyone in the room feel the same thing.

Disclaimer

If you think the acronym SJW is an insult and that political correctness is a bad thing… move along, these reviews aren’t for you.

I consider representation, punching up, and social messages to be essential in a good film.


Well that’s about all. See you Wednesday for the first film review.

Good watching,

Éric