Category: movie reviews

Movie Review: Scoob!

I almost never watch bad movies. I don’t mean that as a brag or anything. I just mean that I monitor ahead of time the kind of movies I’m going to consume, and then I steer away from anything that looks like it’s just going to waste my time. I almost never make an exception to this.

Except . . .

Saturday night, I wanted to watch something with MC, and I was looking for something that might be a tinge Halloween-y, and there was Scoob! waiting in the HBOMax lineup. I liked Scooby Doo. A new version of it in movie form? What could be so bad about that?

I hit “play” without really thinking about it any more than that.

Let this be a lesson to you all. Friends don’t let friends watch bad movies. In fact, “Scoob” should be a verb that sums up this sentiment. If you let someone watch a movie you know is bad, you’re basically scoobing them, and they’re justified in being upset after the fact.

This movie was horrendous on so many different levels, I struggle to know where to begin. You’d think making a Scooby Doo movie would be pretty straightforward. You’ve got the characters, the plot is usually pretty much the same. All that’s missing is the zany hijinks, and maybe some cool musical numbers here and there to make kick it up a notch.

Scoob! decided to forego all of that. Instead, they tried to make this be the launching point of an entire Hanna Barbera Universe. So you’ve got Captain Caveman, Dynomutt, Blue Falcon, Dick Dastardly, and Muttley. On the one hand, that sounds like kind of a cool concept. I mean, I always liked the laff-a-lympics, seeing all those characters interact. But the execution of it is just . . . bad. Captain Caveman’s there and gone in a few minutes. They tried to make all these characters work at the same time, and they used a bizarre plot (Dick Dastardly’s trying to get into a secret vault of treasure guarded by Cerberus, who naturally is one of Scooby’s ancestors?) It all ends up being a big old mash of everything. I like pizza and ice cream and rootbeer and broccoli, but I’m not crazy enough to put them all in a blender and hit purée and then expect the result to taste good.

And they do strange things to the characters themselves. A small thing would be the fact that they made Velma Latinx. By itself, that wouldn’t be a big deal. Except they didn’t really go all the way with it. They tinged her skin color just enough to make you wonder, and then they had her use a single Spanish word at one point in the film. Fish or cut bait, people. The way they did it, it felt like she was channeling Dora the Explorer now and then, and not in a good way.

But much, much worse is what they did to Scooby. They turned him into a completely talking character with a slight speech impediment. Listen, people. Scooby-doo talks in short phrases at best. He’s not the sort of dog that’s going to have a conversation with you. He’s just not that bright, okay? Every time Scooby started pontificating about something, another piece of my childhood died.

But wait! There’s more! Because it wasn’t enough to do all of that, they also decided to throw in brief prequel sequence all about how Shaggy met Scooby and the rest of the gang. And none of that worked, either.

Which sums up the whole movie. None of it worked. None of it was funny. The plot was lame. The voice acting was bad. The animation was creepy. (They have a running Simon Cowell joke, and his transition into 3D animation is the stuff of nightmares.) The songs were non-existent. This movie was terrible on pretty much every level of the terrible spectrum.

The only saving feature I can think of is that MC liked the film. That was the only thing keeping me from stopping the movie. Don’t fall into the same trap I did. Don’t Scoob yourself, people. Stay as far away from this movie as you can. 1/10. Awful.

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Like what you’ve read? Please consider supporting me on Patreon. Thanks to all my Patrons who support me! It only takes a minute or two, and then it’s automatic from there on out. I’ve posted the entirety of my book ICHABOD in installments, and I’m now putting up chapters from PAWN OF THE DEAD, another of my unreleased books. Where else are you going to get the undead and muppets all in the same YA package? Check it out.

If you’d rather not sign up for Patreon, you can also support the site by clicking the MEMORY THIEF Amazon link on the right of the page. That will take you to Amazon, where you can buy my books or anything else. During that visit, a portion of your purchase will go to me. It won’t cost you anything extra.

Movie Review: That Darn Cat

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Sometimes it can be difficult to find a movie everyone in the family is going to like. I’ve been burned a few times by turning to old favorites I loved as a kid, since some of them just don’t stand up to today’s pacing and expectations. So while I’d seen That Darn Cat listed on Disney+ for a while, and I remembered really enjoying it back when I was a kid, I had a hard time convincing myself to try to get the rest of the family to watch it. I mean, come on. A movie about a sting operation set up by the FBI to follow a cat in hopes that it will lead them to a kidnapping victim? And it’s a comedy?

Seemed like a big ask.

But over the staycation I wanted to find a family friendly film, and . . . that’s what I ended up on. The rest of the gang had their doubts. However, I’m pleased to say that the movie more than held up, and we all really enjoyed it. I gave it an 8/10, believe it or not. It’s true, some of that might be nostalgia at work, but I don’t think nostalgia played too big of a role in it.

What worked about the movie? Its light hearted adventure and earned laughs. (Though it started out much, much darker than I expected a G rated Disney movie to start. Basically a bank teller’s told she’s going to be killed in cold blood while she’s a kidnapping victim. No wonder I was scared of being kidnapped as a kid . . . ) The animal acting in the movie’s a lot of fun too. Daniela was amazed they could get the animals to do all the things they did. These days, it likely would have just been done with CGI, and that’s a bug shame.

The film also boasts a very robust Disney pedigree. Hayley Mills and Dean Jones directed by Robert Stevenson (who did Mary Poppins, Bedknobs and Broomsticks, The Love Bug, The Absent Minded Professor, and more). Will it change your life or make you view the world differently? No. But for a fun time that everyone in the family can enjoy, it’s definitely worth your time. I’m glad I gave it another shot.

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Like what you’ve read? Please consider supporting me on Patreon. Thanks to all my Patrons who support me! It only takes a minute or two, and then it’s automatic from there on out. I’ve posted the entirety of my book ICHABOD in installments, and I’m now putting up chapters from PAWN OF THE DEAD, another of my unreleased books. Where else are you going to get the undead and muppets all in the same YA package? Check it out.

If you’d rather not sign up for Patreon, you can also support the site by clicking the MEMORY THIEF Amazon link on the right of the page. That will take you to Amazon, where you can buy my books or anything else. During that visit, a portion of your purchase will go to me. It won’t cost you anything extra.

Movie Review: Enola Holmes

Back in April, Netflix announced it had bought the rights to Enola Holmes, a new movie starring Millie Bobby Brown (Eleven on Stranger Things), Henry Cavill, and Helena Bonham Carter. Under normal circumstances, I would very much have expected this movie to get a theatrical release with that sort of cast. However, COVID being COVID, many movies have had to adapt. If they’re particularly big movies (like Mulan or Tenet or some of the other hoped-to-be-blockbusters), then the film companies tried to do something special for them, up to and including delaying their release.

A movie about Sherlock Holmes’ younger sister apparently doesn’t get the same sort of treatment. Go figure.

The good news is that Hollywood’s loss is our gain. It’s just important to be able to recognize it as such. (I wonder what sort of an ultimate impact this pandemic will have on films. We’ve been trained to expect that the best movies (for the most part) naturally gravitate to the theaters for their first release. Or at least, the movies Hollywood has dumped the most money into. “Best” might not be the right word. Films that premier on streaming services still have a bit of an “also ran” taint to them. The biggest question that might impact this is “can a direct-to-streaming movie make as much money as a theatrical release? Hollywood is trying all sorts of approaches at the moment. Time will tell, I suppose. But without that theatrical release, a lot of the metrics used to tell how successful and popular a film is just don’t work. Opening weekend box office, for example. And films use those splashes to build momentum. I tend to think the pandemic will have many impacts that we can’t even guess right now . . .)

In any case, Denisa and I had the chance to watch Enola Holmes two nights ago. I’d heard generally positive things about the movie, and I’m happy to report they were generally right. It’s a fun adventure movie for the whole family. (It’s rated PG-13 for “some violence,” but I have to wonder if the reviewers were watching the same movie I was watching. I fully expected it to be PG when I checked just now.)

Enola is the younger sister of Sherlock and Mycroft Holmes. She was raised to be an independent thinker, which doesn’t quite line up with what society expects out of women in her day. When her mother suddenly disappears in the middle of the night, Mycroft steps in to send Enola to finishing school, where she can learn to be a proper lady. Naturally, she has other ideas. Like finding the location of her mother and figuring out why she left.

Adventure ensues.

It’s quick moving and well executed for the most part. I though Brown did quite a good job as Enola, though the plot had some rather gaping holes in it here or there that could have done with some patching. (Several times when we get an answer to a mystery, it seems to be just sort of . . . “because.” That was disappointing.)

That said, if you’re looking for a fun way to pass 2 hours, you can’t really go wrong with this one. The production value is there; it’s light hearted and quick moving. Just don’t think about it too much, and enjoy the ride. 7/10.

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Like what you’ve read? Please consider supporting me on Patreon. Thanks to all my Patrons who support me! It only takes a minute or two, and then it’s automatic from there on out. I’ve posted the entirety of my book ICHABOD in installments, and I’m now putting up chapters from PAWN OF THE DEAD, another of my unreleased books. Where else are you going to get the undead and muppets all in the same YA package? Check it out.

If you’d rather not sign up for Patreon, you can also support the site by clicking the MEMORY THIEF Amazon link on the right of the page. That will take you to Amazon, where you can buy my books or anything else. During that visit, a portion of your purchase will go to me. It won’t cost you anything extra.

Movie Review: The Social Dilemma

I’d been hearing about the Social Dilemma the last while, and I finally took some time to watch it myself. It’s focused on the (mostly harmful) effect social media is having on us as a society. While I don’t think it’s a perfect film by any stretch, it does raise some very valid concerns I’ve already had for quite some time, and I think it’s an important movie for people to watch, if only to be aware of the sort of influence social media (and other technologies) can have on our lives and our societies.

The premise is quite straightforward: platforms like Facebook, Twitter, and Pinterest make money by selling ads to their users. On the surface, that doesn’t seem very disturbing at all. After all, we’ve had ads sold to us on television for decades, and that hasn’t destroyed society, right? (Unless you count the fact that I can still remember the jingle for AlkaSeltzer thirty plus years after I heard it on TV.)

Then again, Facebook touts its ability to sell targeted ads, ensuring marketers can reach just the right audience. But still, I remember growing up (back in ye olde days when I actually watched normal television) that the ads I’d see on TV on Saturday morning would be different than the ones I’d see watching Murder She Wrote in the evening with the fam. (For some reason, there were far fewer ads for Transformers. Likely because adults didn’t appreciate the finer things in life.) So there have been targeted ads for quite some time. Why worry about Facebook all of a sudden?

The trouble arises in the way technology is able to profile us these days. So much of what we do is done online, and a ton of it is on social media platforms. Facebook can tell how long you look at a post, whether you click on an article, what interests you, what disinterests you. Technology is able to tell things about you that you might not have told to anyone else. (Famously. Target sent a “so you’re expecting” coupon book to a teenaged girl living at home with her parents. It’s algorithms had analyzed people’s shopping searches to recognize when someone was expecting, and it sent out ads to those people. And yes, the girl was expecting, but no, her parents didn’t know about it, and yes, this caused problems.)

Even more troubling (and something the documentary doesn’t go into) is the fact that tech companies can begin to build profiles of you even if you don’t extensively use their platforms. Even dabbling is enough. Why? Because they’re able to track patterns across huge populations. In an easy-to-understand example, if a high percentage of people who like a certain musician tend to be liberal, or who watch a TV show tend to be conservative, and then you mark down that you like that musician or TV show, then the platform begins to make certain assumptions about you. It gets to be like Sherlock Holmes, taking seemingly random tidbits of information to deduce you’re a fifty year old grandmother of seven living in Arkansas, with a penchant for action movies and a history of flatulence. All because you said you liked a certain TV show.

And that’s not even taking into account Google and its massive, massive databanks about you. What you search for when no one knows you’re searching. Google probably knows you better than almost anyone else.

Pair this knowledge about its users with the ability to sell ads to those users, and you get a dangerous combination. An unregulated combination. We recognized it’s not right to use cartoon characters to market cigarettes to children, so we made laws against it back in the day. Well, Congress is about as able to keep up with tech trends as an untrained cocker spaniel, and targeted ads online are pretty wild west right now. Yes, you’re supposed to be 14 to have a Facebook account, but even targeting ads to 14 year olds can get into icky territory.

The simple fact is that ads influence people. Anyone who says they don’t needs to explain why companies are willing to spend billions of dollars on them. And Facebook can see precisely what sort of an effect its ads has on its users. It can see which ones make a difference.

Let’s go straight to the more disturbing areas. Ads make a difference. Political ads can make people want to vote a certain way (or discourage then from voting at all). Russia has been using Facebook and other social media platforms to sow discord in American society, to great effect. If a company has the power within its grasp to sway an election one way or another (not just in America, but anywhere it has a presence), should that be something that’s enabled? Should there be some restrictions on how that power is used?

But it’s not all outside agents, and it’s not all about elections. One of the points of the film that stands out is that social media can get people to believe crazy things. The go-to example is always flat-earthers, which seems like such a blatant instance of people denying long proved facts, but not all flat-earthers are crazy or stupid. A significant chunk of them are just people who are bad at evaluating sources. As I wrote about conspiracy theories before, it’s really hard to get out of one once you’re in one, because they’re self-confirming. Any efforts to dissuade your belief can also just cement it further. If social media can propagate things like flat earth theories, then why in the world wouldn’t it be effective growing belief in everything from Pizzagate to Qanon?

The film takes a heavier hand with this than I would have liked, and I worry that can tune some people off of its message, but the core of the message is still there, and this is one of the best ways I’ve seen of getting that message across.

The question then comes up, “What now?” If you believe all of this is happening, then what should you do about it? Time to throw away all your smart phones and social media accounts? Speaking as a person who’s known about this for a while, and yet is still a tech junkie, here are some recommendations I have if you’ve seen the movie and want to adjust your life somewhat (without going into full hermit mode):

  • Do not get your news from social media. Period. Let me restate that one more time for emphasis. Do not get your news from social media. Sometimes that news will be an ad. Often it will be something shared by a friend (or a bot) and not fact checked. If the news is something that really sets you off (for good or bad), then go to one of your trusted news sites and look it up there, or at least confirm the story. I go to several news pages each day to see what’s happening. I visit the actual sites, or if there’s an RSS feed, I check the updates on Feedly. Anything that’s just funneling information your way should be suspect. I’m not saying it’s wrong, but you should treat it like a piece of candy you found on the ground. It might make you think you’d like to eat that little sweet, but maybe go to the store and buy a fresh piece instead.
  • Set boundaries on your social media use. A time limit would be nice. They are designed to soak up as much time as you will give them. The good news is that they’re generally also designed to put the most interesting things first. Read the first few stories and posts, and then move on with your life. If you find yourself constantly wanting to check the latest news, then you might have a problem. Boundaries are good.
  • Curate your feed. Again, this isn’t to say you should just unfriend anyone who disagrees with you, but I do think you’ll save a lot of stress by slimming things down. I friend just about anyone who wants to friend me. (Or at the least, I don’t refuse the request, and I let them follow me.) But to make it into my actual feed takes more work. Instead, I typically “friend and unfollow.” If you’re not someone I haven’t seen and interacted with in real life more than a day or two here and there, then why do I need to know what you’re up to? Unfollowed. Likewise, I will unfollow anyone whose posts just make me constantly think less of them. I don’t want bad interactions on Facebook to make me start disliking people in real life. Then again, as long as the person is posting some things that are worth it, I’m willing to tolerate a fair bit. I have some friends who are rabid Trump fans, believe it or not. And they’re not hidden, despite them linking to Fox News stories semi-regularly.
  • Curate what you share with others. Don’t just post something without looking into it first and confirming it’s accurate. Be part of the solution, not part of the problem.
  • Talk to your kids about social media, and make sure they’re aware of what it does (and shouldn’t do). I tend to think the vast majority of the country is just on Facebook or Twitter or the like and not really thinking about how it all works. It’s like electricity to them. Flick a switch, and it turns on. What technology should you be cautious around? Anything that’s free, basically. If they don’t make money from your wallet, they’re making money from you in other ways, whether by selling your data to others or selling access to you.

Anyway. Just a few thoughts. Do check the movie out, and try to look past its weaknesses. The thought behind it is very valuable. 7/10

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Like what you’ve read? Please consider supporting me on Patreon. Thanks to all my Patrons who support me! It only takes a minute or two, and then it’s automatic from there on out. I’ve posted the entirety of my book ICHABOD in installments, and I’m now putting up chapters from PAWN OF THE DEAD, another of my unreleased books. Where else are you going to get the undead and muppets all in the same YA package? Check it out.

If you’d rather not sign up for Patreon, you can also support the site by clicking the MEMORY THIEF Amazon link on the right of the page. That will take you to Amazon, where you can buy my books or anything else. During that visit, a portion of your purchase will go to me. It won’t cost you anything extra.

Movie Review: Downton Abbey

I don’t think anyone goes into the Downton Abbey movie expecting to be changed for life or meaningfully impacted in some way. (At least, if they do, I’d kind of like to talk to them to figure out what exactly made them set those expectations for the film.) It’s been on HBO Max for the last while, and I’ve seen it there, and I always just came up with something else I’d rather watch. Downton seemed very . . . “not now” to me. Something I enjoyed for its time, but which was over.

However, Denisa was a bit more committed, and she managed to get me to agree to watch it. (Full disclosure: I had been excited to hear the film was coming, and I’d intended to see it in theaters. Life got in the way, and my enthusiasm dwindled.) Would I really enjoy returning to the characters for a feature length outing?

Yes. Yes, I would.

The film felt like the cinematic equivalent of comfort food. Better yet, comfort food that wasn’t riddled with too much soap (opera), like the show tended to do from time to time. Was the premise a bit of a stretch? Yes. “The king is coming to Downton! But the staff is going to be shoved to the side by the king’s staff.” Will they be able to find a way to serve the king anyway? Of course they will. Will it be believable? Of course it won’t. Will you care? You’re watching a Downton Abbey movie. Of course you won’t.

I thoroughly enjoyed heading back to Downton. It reminded me of all the things I liked about the show. The characters were consistent and well played again, even if the whole thing felt like one long bit of fan service. (Probably because it was, duh.) That said, I will give the show full props for managing to make the elite be both snobbish and likable. That’s a very hard feat to carry off, and I think they manage it by setting out the rules by which these people live their lives. You understand there are constraints, and then you can see that they are good people living within those constraints. It’s a great technique.

In any case, if you’re a Downton fan, you should watch this movie. If you aren’t, you’re probably safe staying away. Let’s just call it what it is: the grownup equivalent of a Pokemon movie. Watch it. Enjoy it. And then maybe go easy on your kids when they want to go watch a My Little Pony movie or something. 7/10.

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Like what you’ve read? Please consider supporting me on Patreon. Thanks to all my Patrons who support me! It only takes a minute or two, and then it’s automatic from there on out. I’ve posted the entirety of my book ICHABOD in installments, and I’m now putting up chapters from PAWN OF THE DEAD, another of my unreleased books. Where else are you going to get the undead and muppets all in the same YA package? Check it out.

If you’d rather not sign up for Patreon, you can also support the site by clicking the MEMORY THIEF Amazon link on the right of the page. That will take you to Amazon, where you can buy my books or anything else. During that visit, a portion of your purchase will go to me. It won’t cost you anything extra.

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