Don’t Look Up

Every end of the world movie I adore gives almost no detail as to what will end the world. These movies are more about watching the characters deal with their own existence in the face of a shared extinction. Don’t Look Up spends the entire film talking about the fact that the world is going to end, and barely scratches the surface of the characters. I was hoping for something closer to Seeking a Friend for the End of the World, and instead we got Mars Attacks.

Don’t Look Up starts with Kate (Jennifer Lawrence) discovering a new comet, which becomes a celebratory event for the observation centre. The celebration ends abruptly as Dr. Mindy (Leonardo DiCaprio) calculates the size and trek the comet will take towards Earth. Within hours the two are flown to the White House after the revelation that the comet will become a world ending event on impact. President Orlean (Meryl Streep) refuses to take action after hearing the facts as she is more concerned about re-election. So Kate and Dr. Mindy take it upon themselves to get the news out to the media. Roadblock after roadblock, it’s a fight to be heard so action can be taken throughout the movie and essentially the rest of the film.

Kate and Dr. Mindy are the only characters that share any relatable qualities, as everyone else is purely a satire of the role they are playing. It leaves no surprises and doesn’t play as well as I think it’s supposed to. With every one of these roles filled by star power and over the top acting it seemingly resembles Mars Attacks. By the end every character shows so little intelligence, you may wonder if they’re even worth saving.

In the end, Don’t Look Up is just another film about the government not listening, it’s just the stakes are higher in this one. The characters spend the film shouting to be heard, but we just want to know what they are thinking. It’s fine and forgettable after you see it. It would have been good if the material was thought provoking enough to carry conversations about it long after the film, alas it won’t.

Robert Ring

Hotel Transylvania: Transformania

Ten years after the first Hotel Transylvania we have a fourth and (for now) final instalment. In terms of animated franchises, I have enjoyed this one. For children it’s an animated adventure with monsters, and for adults it’s a parody of the Universal Monster movies. I absolutely chuckle to the jokes that poke fun at holes in each monster everyone has always taken for granted.

Unlike the previous films, Hotel Transylvania: Transformania is skipping theatres and is available right now on Amazon Prime Video. This must have cost Amazon a lot, considering the last film grossed over $500 million at the box office. As a new parent this was a good move for both parties as parents are more afraid to take their children out into public during the pandemic which ebbs and flows. You won’t see this happen with Minions 2 however, as that first film grossed over $1 billion at the box office and they’re waiting to recreate that once more.

Transformania once again is about Dracula’s coming to terms with moving on. And this time it’s about him retiring and passing on the hotel to his daughter Mavis, and son-in-law Johnny. Dracula being afraid of the hotel turning into a chaotic “surfer dude” paradise reverses his decision and tells Johnny that it simply cannot happen because Johnny is not a monster. Now we come to the Transformania part of the movie where Johnny succeeds in finding a way to turn into a monster. The device for turning into a monster can also turn monsters into humans. Dracula and most of the Transylvania gang find themselves turned into humans. For what was simple to become human, becomes a quest to reverse.

The transforming gimmick was a great way at making some of the retreading plots feel fresh this time around. The anchor of these films has always been Adam Sandler voicing Dracula, yet you wouldn’t know that he was absent from this film, as well as Kevin James. If it was because of contract disputes he was easy to replace as Sandler has always played Dracula with a somewhat parody voice of Dracula, so it never felt original to begin with. Besides everyone has always used that Dracula voice at every costume party.

Overall Hotel Transylvania: Transformania is another solid entry in the franchise. It doesn’t give a satisfactory end to the franchise as a whole, but who is to say another one won’t be made in a few more years. It’s worth the watch with your family on the weekend for the price of an Amazon Prime Video subscription and they even have the older entries on the service too.

Happy watching,

Robert Ring

Crawl

Horror is that dime a dozen film genre where there is maybe one out of a hundred exceptional films. It’s a genre that can be experimented with by wannabe filmmakers trying to make a name for themselves, but very few succeed in making a career out of them that people actually like. You can name the few that do it with consistency and I think by now we can add Alexandre Aja to that list. Because Crawl is really quite exceptional.

The premise of Crawl sounds as if it’s been made before, but it’s original. The plot sounds ridiculous, of a gator film in a hurricane. And yet, we are carefully pulled into the story feeling the claustrophobic spaces in the basement as our two protagonists try to outrun and outsmart gators. Even when the ridiculous, and I mean ridiculous third act begins we buy it because the filmmaker cared to make us really believe this world in the beginning. Crawl is a tense film that will inflict jump scare after jump scare on you. It was a great experience when I saw this on the big screen with an audience that was screaming, and it worked just as well again at home.

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Apart from the horror, the story surrounds an estranged father and daughter relationship. The daughter was a champion diver trained by her father to go the distance, but we see that in time the coaching seemed to strain their relationship and she doesn’t seem him until he is in life-threatening danger during the hurricane. This gives us people to care about, which is the hardest thing for most horror movies to give an audience.

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I hope we get more monster films like this that have so much care attached to them. If you happen to catch the special features on the Blu-ray disc you will find the set is almost entirely practical, which blows my mind as I thought for sure it would require plenty of CGI. I recommend checking it out when you’re next looking for a monster movie.

Robert Ring

Batman: Under the Red Hood

This is one of the very best Batman films ever made!

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This animated film from the beginning starts with the Joker hitting Jason Todd, the second iteration of Robin with a crowbar. Robin is beat senseless before he is blown up by a bomb killing him just as Batman approaches the scene. The start of this film alone is the darkest opening of an animated film I’ve ever seen. Five years pass and Batman is still haunted by the memory of the event. Batman is more withheld and unwilling to take on help from Nightwing because of the loss of Robin against his new foes the Red Hood and Black Mask. The Red Hood is another mysterious figure that brings to light some twists in the Batman mythology, one that will shock you if you go into this film blind.

You will not forget this film because of the twists and turns, but you will also be surprised by the amazing performances in it too. John DiMaggio does an impressive take on the Joker that I’m surprised isn’t brought up when people are ranking the different iterations of the Joker character. I mean this Joker is intimidating in size and looks. With as much drama there is in this film, it’s surprising how dramatic it is throughout the entire runtime. It seems like they really perfected the form of these animated features with this film, and every film after should aim for this quality. The Red Hood is a key figure and watching this film as a companion to the video game Batman: Arkham Knight would be a real treat.

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Without spoiling any more on an animated feature with a runtime of 75 minutes. Batman: Under the Red Hood is a fantastic Batman one shot and the best DC animated film I’ve seen to date. You MUST check this one out!

Previously Batman: Year One

Robert Ring

Batman: Year One

There are so many of these DC Animated films that I’m expecting to come across a bad one, and yet here is another one better than the last.

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Batman: Year One is a unique retelling of the Batman story parallel to Commissioner Gordon. This story shows Batman as he transitions from Bruce Wayne into Batman, and as Lieutenant Gordan becomes Commissioner Gordon. Throughout the feature, we glimpse the two evolving over a year starting from January all the way to December. However unrealistic that may seem, it probably does all those with OCD a favor in not going from say September to August. Still, it’s authentic enough. While the film is titled Batman: Year One, to me it’s Gordon’s film. We finally get to see why Gordon was made commissioner in the first place, and it’s a thrilling ride. At this point, Gordon is stirring up Gotham almost as much as Batman by sticking to his morals and not becoming a crooked police officer. From Batman’s side, we get to see how much of an amateur he was going headfirst into this solo crime-fighting venture. The two stories merry up and give us insight into why Gordon and Batman have a great relationship built on respect and understanding.

This is a must-watch for anyone that loves Batman. Hell, I thought it was just a great film and even persuaded my girlfriend to watch it. She loved it. Bryan Cranston voices Commissioner Gordon and I honestly think it’s one of my favorite roles from him and he has done so many great things. There is a great perspective of Gotham we aren’t normally privy to that lets us see what exactly the problem is with Gotham. If like me you always question why this city along with every other city never gets better with all the crime-fighting well this one helps uncover that question.

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If you have the Blu-Ray you are also treated to a 15minute short centered around Catwoman as she takes on a criminal circuit. Catwoman was in the movie and she was really cool so it was great that they included it. Batman: Year One is only sixty-four minutes long, so I think the Catwoman short was to make up for the shorter time of the feature. Alongside the short there is a documentary on the original graphic novel Batman: Year One by Frank Miller. It reveals what a turning point The Dark Knight Returns and Batman: Year One had on the comic book industry as the baby boomers came back with these gritty and mature stories.

DCU Batman: Year One BD

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If you haven’t seen any of the DC Animated features this is a good starting place. You won’t be lost and it’s not a time sink at just over an hour. I highly recommend it.

Previously Batman: Gotham Knight

Next Batman: Under the Red Hood

Robert Ring

Detective Pikachu

Detective Pikachu gives 90s kids a look beyond the make-believe we all had playing the original Pokémon Blue and Red games. Back when we played those games, we didn’t think about seeing these handheld experiences as movies. No. Those games were worlds we wanted to live in ourselves. Seeing this movie gave me a sense of that. It also showed how wrong my imagination depicted the size of the Pokémon against people.

Detective Pikachu at first seemed like a bit of a wacky movie to begin what will become a franchise of Pokémon films. While watching it, I couldn’t help think it was a combination of Who Framed Roger Rabbit and I Robot. The movie doesn’t hold your hand through the world; you’re just thrown into it like Who Framed Roger Rabbit. So don’t expect to go into this movie expecting to learn about Pokémon, because the questions surround them will remain unanswered.

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The film starts with Tim (Justice Smith) hearing of his father’s death. His grandmother raised Tim in a small town, so he travels to the big city to pack up his father’s place. Tim’s an isolated sort of guy, he lives in a world where everyone has a Pokémon companion, but he chooses to go without one. That is until he finds the real star of the movie, the mouse type Pokémon, Pikachu. Pokémon cannot be understood by humans, yet Pikachu (voiced by Ryan Reynolds) finds Tim can hear him. Pikachu was his father’s, and while they can communicate, Pikachu has lost his memories of the events that led to the demise of Tim’s father. As Tim and Pikachu conclude foul play, the two investigate what happened.

The nostalgia level is pretty high for Pokémon fans of the games and the television series. I saw my favorite Pokémon, Rayquaza as a pin-up poster in Tim’s room, and this is just one out of plenty of Easter eggs throughout the film. They didn’t overdo the variety of Pokémon on screen either. You probably wouldn’t see more than fifty types, so it makes it manageable for those less familiar from being overwhelmed.

Overall, I had fun watching Detective Pikachu. It’s a good movie, and it’s a solid first entry into the inevitable live-action franchise.

Robert Ring

American Teen

American Teen is a documentary that takes place throughout the lives of four teens in their senior year. Basically, you have the real-life breakfast club. There is the rebel, Hannah. The jock, Colin. The prom queen, Megan, and the geek, Jake. It’s a film that deals with the pressures of the future while nearing the end of school. Are the grades good enough to get into a dream college? Is it possible to get a scholarship? Will life be worse after school?

Megan is the smart girl with the looks. She spends every afternoon working on the student council to give her an edge towards her college ambitions. Her father is always implying for her to work hard to get into the college he wants her to go to, like he and her siblings before her went. It’s a prestigious college, so she needs to be at the top of her game. She is also your typical queen bee who attacks the characters of others. As you later find out she has a reason for being the way she is. Hannah is the quirky outsider. She loves music, film, photography. She wants to leave Warsaw and move to California to become a director. She starts to become absent from school when her boyfriend breaks up with her. You learn that she is on antidepressants and this worries her because she believes she will have manic depression like her mother. Colin is the basketball star of the school. He comes from a family that can’t afford to send him away to college, so he must get a scholarship, or his dad says he will be joining the army. His dad himself was once there and now works as an Elvis impersonator. Colin starts to slip up when he needs to show his best for the games that scouters show up for. Jake is the typical geek in the band. His only real goal is to get a girlfriend. He does succeed in getting a few dates but still lacks the common interests and understanding of the other.

This documentary may be called American Teen, but the troubles are universal to everyone that went through school, no matter what clique you belonged to. Each person is seen to have their own massive pressure weigh down on them toward their ambitions. It is especially interesting to see how the parents handle their kids. From the start they are almost telling them how to succeed through school and by the end they are the people that can help their kids through their troubled times, letting them no whatever happens they will be ok. There are quite a few interesting animated segments that show the personality of each person and how they see the world. As a documentary, a lot does feel contrived. Many questions arise as to say how can these filmmakers possibly let these kids do some of the nasty things they do. One example is a naked picture is spread throughout the school. Apart from that, it is a very emotional journey for these teens to go through.

Being a teen is hard. We have the director to thank for showing us the lives of four very different individuals with very similar fears. There is a lot to relate to here. It is far from a fantastic documentary, but maybe it will give you an understanding of the different people we were back in high school.

Robert Ring

First Man

Once the human race took to the sky we really took to the sky we really took to the sky. In only around sixty years we had gone from piloting planes throughout our atmosphere to piloting shuttles into outer space. We are amazing. Moving on to interplanetary travel will take longer, but maybe sooner than we think.

Ryan Gosling’s upcoming film First Man about Neil Armstrong

First Man is the story of Neil Armstrong, the first man to step foot on the Moon. Ryan Gosling plays Armstrong as he tests rockets in the beginning, and from there becoming the top astronaut at NASA. Armstrong’s story is not just about his journey with NASA to the Moon. It is just as much about his personal life. Armstrong’s daughter dies at the start from a tumor at a young age. This death follows Armstrong throughout the film. It’s not something he can talk to with others. It isolates him from his family and social life. Armstrong’s journey to the Moon becomes more than a feat of humankind, but also a personal quest for him to let go of his daughter’s death. The trip to the Moon first involved many test flights with a number of them being disastrous and fatal. It’s quite a harrowing tale seeing the lives that were affected and the money spent to get humankind on the Moon.

Armstrong’s wife, Janet, played by Claire Foy shows us the stress and personal story from her side too. Janet sees NASA as a fresh start to their lives after the loss of their daughter. At first, the family community around NASA is blissful to her. This changes when the other wives lose their husbands to test flights. At this point, fame doesn’t become worth it. Janet must watch her husband come back more emotionally broken as his friends die and he is moved up the line in their place. One of the most powerful scenes in the film is when Janet orders Neil to tell their sons that he may not come back. Easily one of the most powerful scenes of the year. It’s such a simple scene that makes the recluseness of Neil be forced out. Janet’s story is just as exciting as Neil’s, and Claire Foy will get an Oscar Nomination for her performance that cannot be understated. Seeing through both of their eyes, these separate personal journeys both in similarity and differences come to a breathless final scene is worth the price of admission.

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First Man is a beautiful looking movie. You get a feel as if you were in the cockpit every time. The sound and the lack of it make you feel the anxiety and stress these astronauts would have felt at the time. When things go wrong, you want to remind yourself that you are still sitting in the comfort of the movie theater and not strapped to rockets with no hope of turning around. First Man is not for everyone and is being reviewed as such. Damien Chazelle is very deliberate in what he is trying to convey, and for me, it works. This film is entirely different tonally to Whiplash and La La Land. I think Chazelle has proven with three films that he is one of the most daring and brilliant directors in Hollywood today. His work will already be inspiring the next generation of filmmakers.

I highly recommend that you see First Man if you are even slightly interested in one of history’s greatest achievements.

Robert Ring

An Adventure in Time and Space

There really is no genre better than the biopic to me. After I watch a good one, I go into a frenzy and quickly research the real facts of what transpired. Artistic license is used to dramatize events since usually a life is lived dully unless you embellish it. This film came in the 50th anniversary Doctor Who boxset I picked up. I thought it would be a cheap looking mediocre affair made on a dime to cash in on the anniversary. Nope. It was a gem of a biopic.

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An Adventure in Time and Space is a title that references the nature of Doctor Who. The Doctor every episode will take a trip through time: backward or forwards. This film captures the way Doctor Who came to be from the modest budgets to the famous regenerations. It does tend to gloss over a lot of these things quickly whereas I would love to see entire scenes devoted to these. However, it keeps a good pacing, and the real meaty part of this story is the man who plays the first doctor, William Hartnell. William is an old actor, who from the sounds of the film was typecasted and never really took off due to his relative stubbornness. All this changes when he becomes The Doctor. At first, the show is struggling to get afoot as the pilot episode doesn’t work and is reshot. Poor ratings on the eventual airing of the pilot are due to unfortunate timing as JFK is assassinated. After a few bad starts and almost cancelation Doctor Who takes off. William finally sees people clamoring for him, they want to see him, and the bitterness disperses like Scrooge on Christmas. The rest of the film tackles William’s failing health as he feels like the production and future of the franchise relies on his involvement.

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William Hartnell is played superbly by David Bradley, Argus Filch of Harry Potter fame. I never knew Bradley had this acting in him. The other star of this film rides on the producer, Verity Lambert, the first woman in the role of producer at the BBC. She was tasked with the purpose of getting Doctor Who together. It was her career riding on this. Doctor Who was initially a show for children to educate them about the past, yet this fulfillment of the show appears to have gone to the wayside in favor of spectacular science fiction. Verity succeeded in getting children to watch, but it was more to do with the horror they were experiencing as the terrifying Daleks take to the screen in the second episode. Verity’s character talks to the women of the sixties too. She was believed to have become a producer from sleeping with the senior boss. Therefore, we cheer when she triumphs, and everyone can see she progresses because of talent.

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This is a special movie for people that watch Doctor Who. It’s also a unique little biopic in its own right. An old typecasted actor and a newly appointed producer take on all odds to create a show that succeeds for generations, more than fifty years now. I recommend this one.

Robert Ring

Christopher Robin

Goodbye Christopher Robin was my favorite film of last year, so I was beyond excited to see Christopher Robin. And I’ll get into what I thought…

Christopher Robin begins with a tea party for Christopher as he leaves the 100 Acre Wood for boarding school. Then through montage, we see he loses his father, he marries, he goes to war, and comes home after serving away for years to meet his daughter. Then he settles as a manager overseeing an executive bag making company. This older Christopher (Ewen McGregor) has grown into a self-involved working man. Christopher puts his family second and cancels a weekend trip away so he can work to please his boss. Over in the 100 Acre Wood Winnie awakes to find all his friends are gone and seeks out Christopher Robin after not seeing him since he was a child at the tea party. Christopher stumbles into Winnie, yet Christopher is still more interested in finishing his work but eventually decides to help Winnie find their friends.

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The scenes that focus solely on Christopher Robin without Winnie and friends are boring and derivative. We don’t need to be told the story of a father that loses focus of his family in favor of work, especially here. Another blunder was casting Ewen McGregor, he looks good on the poster, but he didn’t pull it off. There was no Christopher Robin in him, and it wasn’t something that came later as he rediscovered what was important. The scenes involving Winnie were enchanting, yet they were not emotionally moving because Ewen McGregor’s acting was flat. I wanted it to be a bit of a psychological film playing with our minds whether Winnie was real or imaginary, but it was clear they were real as everyone could see them.

Christopher Robin should have taken a lesson from Spielberg’s Hook as he did a phenomenal character study on the reimagining of a beloved character. If Winnie and friends were not so engaging this would have been a terrible film, instead, it evens the film out to be just ok. If you are interested in Winnie the Pooh, go and see Goodbye Christopher Robin.

Robert Ring