Category: Movie Reviews

Review: The Christmas Chronicles (2018)

WARNING: Potential Spoilers Ahead

2.0 / 5.0

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This film has all the qualities you would expect from a straight-to-streaming-release Christmas film. It is rife with cheesy cliches, moments of questionable acting, predictable plot points, forgettable characters, and inconsistent tone.  Despite all its flaws, The Christmas Chronicles is a strange but mostly entertaining addition to the ever growing list of holiday b-movies for one main reason: Kurt Russell.

Kurt truly shines, proving my theory that every movie would be drastically improved by casting him, as he dives into the Christmas cinematic universe as one of my favorite renditions of Santa Claus to date.  If my review was based solely on his performance, the movie would earn 5 stars. Unfortunately, there are moments where Kurt Russell is absent, and the movie suffers greatly.

Without Kurt’s Kris Kringle, The Christmas Chronicles is better described as a chronic case of Christmas cliches. The film is a bland rehashing of Christmas movie tropes, including a forgettable “here is how bad your life could turn out without the Christmas Spirit™” involving one of the two child protagonists, complete with the one dimensional violent bad guy to show what the absence of that Christmas Spirit™ can do.

The writers do not stop here, leaning into this trope, going as far as blaming all instances of deep human suffering from the dark ages to World War II on this lack of Christmas Spirit™.  The solution to this epidemic that plagues all of humanity? Just believe in Santa Claus. It is an odd decision that is incredibly off putting, tonally inconsistent, and unnecessary. Its either poor nonsensical writing, or a shallow pessimistic attempt to critique religious belief.

Overall, The Christmas Chronicles title being plural is appropriate, as it feels like multiple different movies smashed together in one. It has elements of the hallmark/lifetime Christmas movies full of sappy emotion but lacking depth, along with trippy action-packed hyperspace travel, fantastical magic abilities, a bizarre Kurt Russell musical number in a jail cell, and strange one-foot-tall CGI elves.

The movies eccentric and at times outright outlandish natures makes it oddly charming. I would not be surprised if the movie attracts an annual cult following. By no means do I see it as a quality film, but it is incredibly unique. The creators take risks, and the result is worth adding to the pantheon of wacky zany Christmas movies.

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Review: Ralph Breaks the Internet (2018)

WARNING: Potential Spoilers Ahead

4.0 / 5.0

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The sequel to the underappreciated Wreck-It Ralph follows in its predecessor’s footsteps by delivering an experience that truly appeals to viewers of all ages, showing that you can make an entertaining children’s film that has depth, satire, and social commentary.

The film looks beautiful, and the journey of Vanellope and Ralph through the internet is presented in a fun and whimsical fashion. Many moments seem to draw a lot from other films, especially Ready Player One, but due to its often satirical tone and tendency to parody other movies, it warrants a pass for the borrowed aspects.

Despite 5 years passing since I last saw Wreck It Ralph, I was instantly invested and transported by the opening scene with Ralph and Vanellope, drawn in not by visual spectacle and action, but instead by complex well portrayed characters. In a blockbuster world where style is forced over substance and story, as studios chase profit by creating franchises, it was refreshing to watch a sequel that prioritized the characters, developing emotional connections and narrative arcs first. The only thing that took me out of the film was when Disney stopped to gloat over owning a massive chunk of the entertainment world.

When the movie gets to its action, jokes, and references, they feel earned since I truly care about Ralph and Vanellope, and enjoy seeing them interact in this new universe. Furthermore, as the plot develops, the writers keep the focus on the characters. Not only do they avoid chasing the macguffin, but the film intentionally sets up several quests as diversions, only to subvert them in the end when it reveals that the real villain the entire time is Ralph’s insecurity, toxic possessiveness, and resistance to change.

In addition to the main theme of toxic insecurity and control, there is the poignant message when the refugees from Sugar Rush need empathy, support, and provision from the other characters. The commentaries on the sexist treatment of previous Disney princesses is also effective, although awkward when you realize Disney is making the commentary to continue to sell merchandise for its problematic properties. Overall the film avoids the overt and cliche winks to the camera, while simultaneously retaining the impact of its underlying messages. 

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Review: Poseidon (2006)

2.0 / 5.0

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From the beginning Poseidon felt like a shameless and cynical cash grab attempting to dredge the depths for any ounce of profit left behind by Titanic (1997). Trying to ride the wave of Perfect Storm, Poseidon ends up feeling like the premise for Titanic was jammed into the universe of the Final Destination movies.

Death is fetishized in the first act, as the passengers and crew of the luxury cruise liner are brutally killed.  The film presents their deaths not with the dramatic and emotional impact of Titanic, but with the almost comical feel of a slasher, where the end goal is a pissing contest to see who can come up with the most creative and original way to dispatch their characters.

While not my cup of tea, the Final Destination series and many slashers films at least remain tonally consistent by leaning into this premise effectively. Poseidon, on the other hand, strays from this quickly.  The film turns from aquatic horror to dramatic action adventure, and I am expected to suddenly start caring for the remaining wooden, underdeveloped characters after just seeing the glamorized deaths of the other wooden, underdeveloped characters.

This unappealing tonal inconsistency is not aided by the poor script. Most of the cast have performed much better in other works, so it’s hard to place much of the blame on the acting, especially considering the poorly written dialogue. Every time characters are talking on screen the film feels lost and confused, desiring nothing but the next action set piece.

This is understandable though, as the special and practical effects are by far the greatest strength of Poseidon. While the cold indifference shown to the brutal slaughter of hundreds of people was incredibly off-putting, showing all the empathy and subtlety of a Michael Bay film, it is a visual marvel. The set pieces are incredibly complex, and yet the movement is captivating and easy to follow.

It must be pointed out that in addition to the technical genius displayed in the effects, Kurt Russell’s performance is phenomenal. He dazzles with his hallmark charisma and charm, giving a believable performance while the rest of the script falls apart around him. He genuinely seems to be just having a great time, while simultaneously being fully aware of what kind of movie this is. While it is by no means a good movie, watching Kurt Russell reprise his role as the quintessential action star in masterfully designed set pieces makes it at least an entertaining movie.

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Review: Cloud Atlas (2012)

2.5 / 5.0 

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At its peak, Cloud Atlas feels as if the cast simply got together for a jam sesh where they alternated between a diverse list of characters, experimenting and testing their range. In this regard, the film has many strong moments. Captivating performances, especially from Tom Hanks, Halle Berry, Hugo Weaving, and Doona Bae, are paired with beautiful visuals, and well crafted practical and special effects.

Unfortunately for Cloud Atlas, it is not just an A-list actors’ jam session, but instead a feature length (and then some) film. As such, it really falls flat, fumbling the 6 concurring stories, jolting the viewer to and fro as it violently whisks them through the time-space continuum. The film was a slog, disorientating and distracting from its strengths, and substantially weakening the thematic payoff at the end.

Now it must be said that this task of fitting 6 distinct arcs into one film is an onerous one that may have turned out much worse in the hands of less visionary filmmakers. That being said, the Wachowskis would have been much better served employing a narrative structure closer to the Coen brothers’ Ballad of Buster Scruggs, which presents each arc fully before proceeding to the next, allowing the viewer to make the thematic connections them self. This would have been more inline with David Mitchell’s novel, which only cut each of the first five stories once, and presented the 6th unbroken.

Instead, Cloud Atlas mutilates each arc with more cuts than I could count, before force feeding the connecting theme and overarching philosophy down the viewer’s throat, like Dr. Goose delivering poison to Adam Ewing. It left a bad taste in my mouth, as if the film had a contempt for the viewer, seeing them as stupid and shallow, unable or unwilling to understand the film’s theme unless it was violently shoved in their face.

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Review: The Sound of Music (1965)

5.0 / 5.0 

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Through the first two thirds of run time, The Sound of Music is a charming and complete love story:  however, it is the powerful third act that puts it over the top. The Von Trapp Family, led by Maria and the Captain, shows what it looks like when pride in one’s heritage and country is based not on tribalistic feelings of superiority and supremacy, but instead on a commitment to a moral and ethical truth. In presenting the duality of lighthearted music alongside dramatic suspense, rooted in unwavering moral integrity, the film strikes a consistent tone that flows seamlessly from beginning to end.

The Sound of Music is truly an artistic masterpiece that feels ahead of its time, and would surely warrant Academy consideration if it were released today.  It sports an iconic soundtrack, phenomenal performances from both leading and supporting actors, beautiful cinematography, and a brilliantly woven narrative teeming with powerful themes that are just as relevant over half a century later.

Julie Andrews as the lead character Maria is practically flawless. She fully embodies both the youthful whimsy and insightful wisdom of Maria, hitting every note in both her singing and acting. Julie presents a brilliant role model who is strong, independent, righteous, and confident, never wavering from this strength and leadership, even when the film pursues her romantic arc with Christopher Plummer’s Captain Von Trapp.

Despite the eponymous sounds of music being the driving force, the creators do not flee from the use of rests, as the film pulses with energy beyond just the score. Actors deliver poignant and nuanced performances, allowing the subtleties of facial expression and body language to convey much more than words and notes alone.  The film crackles with tension in its moments of silence, such as the cemetery chase scene. The visuals of not only the astonishing Austrian mountains, but also of the abbey and the Von Trapp manor, are phenomenal, rivaling even the best contemporary cinematography.

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