Category: movie reviews

Movie Review: The Little Mermaid

I first watched The Little Mermaid in the theaters when it came out. It was a very big deal at the time. A return to form for Disney, and it launched the string of successful animated movies that Disney would create next: Aladdin, Beauty and the Beast, and The Lion King. I was a huge Disney fan growing up, and I still am. However, I was only 11 when it first came out, and while I’d definitely watched it multiple times since then, it has probably been 15-20 years since I last saw it. A lot can change with a person in that amount of time. Would the movie still hold up?

In my memory, it was this fast-paced comedy musical romance thing. The romance wasn’t that important to me as an 11 year old, but the music and comedy were. “Under the Sea” was so much fun, and so was “Les Poisson.” Ursula was a great villain. And rewatching it last night, all of that was definitely still the same. The music and animation were still fantastic. The plot . . . ?

That let me down quite a bit.

Who, exactly, are we supposed to root for in this movie? The obvious answer is Ariel, but what does she do that’s actually worth rooting for? She’s duped by a sea witch into giving up her voice (for a man she’s never talked to and has interacted with for a total of about 5 seconds). But I suppose you can at least argue up to that point she’s doing something. She has a goal (beautifully stated in “Part of Your World”), and she’s working toward that goal. Except the goal changes. It stops being about living her dream of living on land, and turns instead into somehow getting random prince boy to marry her.

Once she’s on land, she does absolutely nothing to advance her goal. Well, she stares lovingly into Eric’s eyes, but assuming you don’t count that as an active protagonist, she’s pretty much useless after she’s got legs. Sebastian does a fair attempt of helping her out, using his ninja composing skills to inspire a bunch of strange aquatic creatures into an impromptu serenade, but Sebastian is most definitely not the main character of the movie. True, he does change (going from being self-centered to actually risking his life so Ariel can get Eric), but . . . to say he’s anything more than a sidekick would be a stretch. (Though it makes me wonder how cool it could be if when Disney did the live action remake, they instead focused it all on Sebastian . . .)

In the end, who kills Ursula? Eric does. And what has he done to earn that? Not a whole lot. I realize this is far from a problem unique to The Little Mermaid, and that it’s long been lobbed as a critique of Disney movies, but I tend to hold movies that were made in the 80s to a higher standard of enlightenment than those made decades before then. And I get it: it’s a kids movie. It presents a simplified version of falling in love and living happily ever after. But I went into the movie knowing all the complaints people have made about Disney princesses of yore, and the counterarguments people have made that “it’s just a kids movie,” and I was curious what I would think about it.

The thing that really sealed the deal for me was talking to Daniela about it after the movie. She had no real patience for the plot either. Would I boycott this movie and refuse to let my kids watch it? Of course not. But I can’t watch it today without seeing the weaknesses of the movie, regardless of how I once watched it. Comparing it to Moana or Frozen or Tangled or any number of more recent Disney movies, and I for one am grateful they stopped with the damsel in distress plot and went with something people can really admire.

In the end, this one’s just a 7/10 for me. Still love the art and music. Wish the plot were better.

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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.

Ocean’s Eleven: Twenty Years Later

We watched Ocean’s Eleven the other night with Daniela. In my head, it’s a movie that’s still pretty recent. I mean, it didn’t come out that long ago, did it? But then when I saw all the actors, I realized it must have been a while. Even knowing that, I still figured it was maybe 10 years ago.

Nope. It’s been 20 years. It came out in December, just a few months after 9/11.

The great news is that it still very much stands up to the test of time. I’ve loved this movie since I first saw it. It’s such a great mixture that operates well on so many different levels. The actors, the plot, the soundtrack. The movie just oozes with cool. I love a good movie where the plot itself is a heist, setting the audience up for something and making them think they know what’s going on, only to leave them all bewildered at the climax, thinking everything can’t possibly turn out okay now, and then twisting a final time to show what’s really going to happen. The Sting is another movie that does that supremely well.

Of course, Ocean’s Eleven is an interesting case, because it’s a remake of an earlier movie, done forty years later. I’ve seen both, and the new one resonates better with me. That actually leads me to a good question: what makes a movie fair game for a remake? I know Hollywood is in love with taking something that’s already there and just redoing it, and I know it gets a lot of guff for it. Which movies should be considered off limits, and which shouldn’t?

Funnily enough, I’m not at all opposed to remakes. I’m just opposed to bad ones. And often you don’t know if a remake is going to be good or bad until you see it. That said, the hallmarks of a bad remake are usually easy to spot. I’d say the biggest one would be what’s motivating the remake. If it’s really nothing more than just wanting a quick cash grab, it’s almost certainly going nowhere. Take the remake of Psycho, for instance.

Done in 1998 (just 3 years before Ocean’s), and a remake of another 1960 movie. But Gus Van Sant mimicked the original to a fault, using the same shots, the same camera movements, the same editing. He basically made a modern copy of Hitchcock’s. It was in color and with different actors, but . . . why in the world did anyone think it was a good idea?

With Ocean’s Eleven, they took the core conceit of the original. Vegas heist. All-star cast. And they updated it. Changed the plot. Modernized elements. Brought in a new sense of style and coolness, and so it all worked very well. To make a successful remake, you can’t just photocopy. You have to bring something new. Something of yourself.

Could they remake The Sting? Sure. It’s one of my favorite movies of all time, but I’d go check out a new version. If that new version had ragtime music, took place in the 30s, and just treaded water in the wake of the original, I’d pass, but if they saw something in that original and wanted to do their own thing with it? I’d give it a shot. The biggest trick is reminding yourself that a remake doesn’t replace the original. It doesn’t erase anything.

There are some movies that I think would be very difficult to remake and bring something new. Peter Jackson’s Lord of the Rings trilogy, for example. It’s a work that so sprawling and involved, I just can’t imagine a movie studio funding something like it again. But never say never. I would love to be shown up by Hollywood, and while the industry excels at pushing out a fair bit of drivel, it also can make some really great stuff in the process.

In any case, back to the original topic. Since the movie is now older than quite a few college students, if you haven’t seen it and want an excellent example of how much fun a heist movie can be, I encourage you to check it out.

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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.

Screen Size Matters: Bullitt

I first watched Bullitt probably around . . . fifteen years ago? Give or take. I was on a classic movie kick, and I’d heard a lot of great things about the movie, so I checked it out. As I recall, I watched it on my computer screen. It was . . . just okay. I remember telling people I thought the car chase wasn’t all it was hyped up to be. That it action scenes have come a long way since then.

If it weren’t for Daniela’s list that I made her, I probably wouldn’t have watched Bullitt again. However, it was on there, and so last night we sat down to watch it. (Slight aside for a moment to plug HBO Max. I know there are a lot of movie streaming services out there, but I’ve really been impressed with HBO, mainly because of their Turner Classic Movies hub. There are always a slew of really good movies to be found there. Are they the newest? No, but they’re excellent and well worth your while.)

Watching Bullitt on a 105″ screen was a much different experience than watching it on a 13″ screen. Sure, in theory screen size is all relative. If you put a 13″ screen close to your face, isn’t it about the same size as a 105″ screen further away? Yes, and yet definitely no.

For one thing, I was able to really appreciate the unusual camera angles and creative shots that went into the movie. It won an Oscar for Film Editing. It’s directed by Peter Yates, who actually began as a professional race driver, interestingly enough. The plot is well-written, and the soundtrack by Lalo Schifrin (of Mission Impossible theme fame) was excellent. But most of all, seeing the car chase on the big screen just made it feel much more immediate. It’s filmed in San Francisco, and some of the driving in it is just awesome. It helps that the entire movie takes a very realistic approach to everything, so when the action scenes come, they bring a much bigger punch.

Overall, I gave it an 8/10, which is much better than what I remember it being.

This is also a reminder that seeing movies in actual theaters is even better than seeing them in a home theater. Again, I get the whole “size is relative” argument. But which would be more impressive: seeing a 50 foot colossus from 500 feet away, or seeing a 5 inch action figure from 5 inches away? My proportions might be off, but you get the picture. You can tell your brain “it’s basically the same size” as much as you want, but in the end, you’re not fooling anyone. Maybe if you could watch it in VR, you might be able to create the same sort of effect, but for now, I’m really looking forward to hopefully getting out to the movies again this year.

Marvel movies demand it.

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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 Four Feathers (1939)

Daniela and I have been working our way through different movies some more, and the evolution of pacing in movies is an issue that I keep seeing pop up in some of the older movies. Today’s case in point is the 1939 film, The Four Feathers. It’s got a 7.5 on IMDB and is a good movie at heart, but it’s got several issues with pacing that really bring it down in my book, simply because film has gotten better at keeping a story going in the 80 years since this movie came out.

In the film, a man resigns his post in the army right before Britain goes back to war in the Sudan. He gives many sound reasons for wanting to be done, but he eventually admits his main one was that he was scared of going to war. Four of his friends each send him a white feather, a symbol of cowardice. He decides to earn his way back into their good graces by proving he’s courageous after all.

There are some things about the movie I really enjoy. In the course of the film, one of his friends goes blind, and the main character ends up saving his life, but never reveals it was him who saved it. There’s a scene where this is revealed, and it’s really moving and well done. You can also tell that a lot of effort went in to making the film as realistic and engaging as possible (for it’s time.)

But there are a slew of things that drag the film down. Long stretches where they do little other than show riders on horses racing to battle, or people pulling ships up a river. Some of the characters’ actions just aren’t well conveyed, so they do things that don’t make sense, which can make them come across as dense. These days, action movies have learned enough about how to tell a compelling story that they’d be able to show the same things happening in a fraction of the time, leaving more room for real tension and suspense to flourish.

I’ve seen the movie was remade with Heath Ledger in the starring role, and I think I’m going to have to give it a try, just to see what they did with it. I know very often people accuse Hollywood of making pointless remakes, but there are definitely films where a remake can bring a movie to a new audience successfully.

But how do you review a film like this one? To me, I have to stick with using the same metric I use to evaluate any movie. Grading it on a curve doesn’t seem to make sense to me. Yes, it took place much earlier in history, and so it’s at a disadvantage of sorts, but it’s still just plain boring in many parts. (This is the same beef I have with Citizen Kane. I can recognize the huge influence it played on the future of film while at the same time admitting it’s just not very captivating by today’s standards.) In the end, I gave this one a 6.5/10, which was a let down. I’d seen it before years ago, and I remembered it being much better.

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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.

Retro Star Wars Movie Review: Caravan of Courage

Look. Things were different when I was growing up. We didn’t have fancy things like a whole Star Wars universe. We had Star Wars and The Empire Strikes Back, and then we finally got Return of the Jedi too. (I was five when it came out.) There were rumors of some kind of Christmas special that had appeared at some point, but other than that, that was the extent of our Star Wars options. If we wanted lightsabers, we could use the cardboard tubes from wrapping paper. And we were happy, dagnabbit.

Later on, other things came out. Things like the Timothy Zahn sequel books to the movies. Prequels. All that jazz. Until we arrive to the present day, where Star Wars is a veritable force in the universe.

But if you’ll come with me back to when I was a kid, I can highlight another Star Wars movies that was a personal favorite. Caravan of Courage. It was all about some kids teaming up with Ewoks to take down a huge monster thing. There was magic. Action. Adventure. No romance. And Ewoks. As a kid, I thought it was great. We had a copy we’d taped off TV on VHS, and I watched it multiple times.

So imagine my excitement when Disney brought Caravan of Courage to Disney+. Finally I’d get a chance to relive the glory days, when anything Star Wars was better than nothing. I gathered the family around a couple of nights ago, and I gave them a disclaimer. I hadn’t seen the movie in decades. It might be terrible, but I remembered really liking it as a kid. They were game, so we watched the movie. (It’s under 90 minutes, which made it a pretty easy sell.)

So . . . how was it?

Well, MC liked it a lot, so it’s got a target audience that it still plays well with. But everyone else (including, sadly, me) saw that it left a whole lot to be desired. The acting is bad. The special effects are . . . not great, even by made-for-TV-in-the-80s standards. (A few times it was just all too clear the Ewoks were people dressed up in teddy bear costumes. Once you stop being able to view them as real creatures, it turns the whole thing into a comedy.) The pacing was glacial. The writing was really bad. (Though it did introduce a few Ewok terms back into my vocabulary. “Feech” and “Lurdo” being my two favorites.)

It still had a bit of the nostalgia factor going for me, but I was amazed at just how much of the movie I had forgotten. I think all I remembered of it was “kids and Ewoks teaming up against a monster.” And that definitely is what happens in the movie. But it’s all really episodic, with the kids constantly making really, really stupid decisions without any other justification than “kids do stupid things.” As a writer for children and young adults, that was perhaps the biggest let down. The kids weren’t really allowed to make any good decisions and solve problems on their own. Instead, they were the source of most of the problems.

So should you watch this movie? It depends. If there’s literally any other new Star Wars thing to watch, or the hope of watching, in the next five years, I would wait and watch that instead. But if all you’ve got is Caravan of Courage, then . . . beggars can’t be choosers? Don’t look a gift womp rat in the mouth?

I gave it a 4/10, and it probably deserved worse.

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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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