Category: movie reviews

When Childhood Movies Don’t Disappoint: The Parent Trap

I noticed the original Hayley Mills Parent Trap was put on Netflix a few weeks ago. This was a movie I’d watched a number of times as a kid, and I always really remembered it fondly. Which, these days, is usually a good sign that I should avoid watching it again. I’ve been burned by my earlier bad taste too many times. But the thing with childhood favorites is I always feel compelled to pass them on to my children. If I liked the movie back then, won’t they like it now?

So we watched it together as a family the other night. And for once, I discovered that the movie held up remarkably well. I still really enjoyed it from start to finish.

For those of you who don’t know, the movie’s about twins whose parents divorced when they were babies. Mom went to Boston, Dad went to California, and they each took a child with them. Because who cares about what the kids think, right?

Fast forward a decade or so, and through a strange coincidence, the twins end up at the exact same summer camp. They can’t stand each other at first, but they become friends and deduce they’re actually siblings. Since they’re identical, and each wants to meet the parent they don’t know, they swap places and parents when they leave camp. The ultimate goal, of course, is to reunite their parents and convince them that they still love each other. But there’s a twist: Dad’s met a new woman, and he’s planning on getting married soon, so the twins are going to have to accelerate their plans a fair bit.

Comedy ensues.

It’s really a pleasure from start to finish. Sure, there’s a bit of clunky acting now and then. A lot of that has to do with the fact that Hayley Mills was acting with herself, so responses are tough. But the special effects still stand up, and the story’s a lot of fun too (as long as you don’t think too hard about it). The family enjoyed it, and I can happily recommend the movie to anyone else looking for a fun evening with their kids.

Well done, Disney.

Movie Review: I Am Not a Serial Killer

It’s not every day I get to review a movie based on one of my friend’s books. That’s pretty exciting right there. Dan Wells’ I Am Not a Serial Killer is a really cool book, first and foremost. I read it back in the day and loved it then, and I remember him talking it up on our way to WorldCon in LA, back when I first met him. A kid who’s obsessed with serial killers and knows he has all the markings of becoming one himself, and wants to somehow avoid that? Awesome concept for a character, and really well executed in the book. Add to that a plot about an actual serial killer picking off people in a small town, and you have a recipe for success.

So the book is great. But how is the adaptation?

Uneven. (Sorry, Dan. Please don’t unleash your minions on me. I just call ‘em like I see ‘em.)

It’s tough, because there’s a lot I really like about the movie. First and foremost is the acting. Christopher Lloyd (Doc from Back to the Future) does a great job of playing the lead’s elderly next door neighbor, and the lead himself (Max Records, from Where the Wild Things Are) is my favorite part of the film. He really portrays John Cleaver so well, showing a boy on the brink between light and darkness. There’s a scene where John confronts his mom that’s really terrifying in a very real sense, and the success of it is squarely on Records. The acting is super.

The feel of the movie is also great. It felt like a nice throwback movie from the late 70s/early 80s. Trimmed down and bare bones, but in a good way. It didn’t shove it in your face ala Stranger Things, but it pervaded the whole production.

The conflicts and plot from the book carry over well, so that helps a lot too. The set up is the same, so all is ready for a great movie.

It’s the adaptation where things fall apart. Specifically, transitioning all elements of the plot successfully.

In the book, John has a love interest that presents problems for him. He’s attracted to a girl, but he’s trying not to stalk her, despite not really knowing how to approach her otherwise. That’s done well in the movie, but it feels tacked on. Ultimately, the plot development goes nowhere. It’s vestigial, with not enough given to it to have it make sense to people who aren’t familiar with the book.

A second, bigger example of this is the climax of the movie. Trying to keep this as spoiler free as possible, the way the villain is fought comes from out of the blue. There’s no discussion of the villain’s weaknesses or experimentation to find them. Dan didn’t do that in the book. He set things up wonderfully, so you know exactly what can and can’t be done to win.

Honestly, it felt to me like something had been filmed (in both cases: the villain and the love interest) and had been left on the editing floor. Maybe I’m wrong. For three quarters of the movie, everything’s awesome. It starts slowly, but builds really nicely. And then the resolution just feels rushed and haphazard. Disappointing.

Check the movie out if you’re interested in creepy independent horror, or if you want to see some cool acting performances. I gave it a 6/10, though this is with my new “Bryce is rating movies more harshly” mantra.

Anyone else out there already seen it? What did you think?

Rogue One: Spoiler-Free Review

I’m about to head off for a library meeting in Bangor, but I wanted to get this out before I left. I went to the first showing of Rogue One last night that I could. 7pm. Took Tomas and DC with me, despite having heard that the movie is aimed more at adults. (I think my kids would have mutinied if I’d gone by myself, or if I’d just taken Tomas. I took both of them to Episode VII, after all.) The theater was full, but not sold out by any means. (Can I just say once again how awesome it is to live in a place where I pay $6 for adult full-price tickets and $4 for kids? Yeah.)

Without getting into any spoilers, I loved the movie. Speaking as a Star Wars fan, it’s the prequel we always wish existed. It perfectly sets up Episode IV, and I wanted to go home and watch A New Hope right off. What was to like?

  • The characters were very well done and well acted. You cared about these people, and that’s huge. Ever since Episode IV, much of the tension of the Star Wars universe has rested in our investment in the Skywalker family and its outcome. We see the same characters again and again. There are new ones introduced, but they’re not as important. Rogue One has almost a whole new slate of characters. And they’re diverse and awesome.
  • It’s set in the Star Wars universe, it fits into all that we know of Star Wars, but it doesn’t star Jedi. These are normal people, doing their best, having trust in the Force as best they can, even though they can’t throw rocks around a room with their minds. It really fleshed out the universe in a great way.
  • It’s a war movie. Go into this thinking Dirty Dozen or Guns of Navarone, and then add Star Wars to that. I asked the kids what they thought of it at the end, and they were both a bit ambivalent. Why? Because (and I don’t think this is a spoiler to anyone at all) not everybody lives. Those great characters they came to know and love? Some of them die. (I won’t say how many, though.)
  • The score was fantastic, despite John Williams not being the composer. It was its own thing, with just enough of the themes thrown in to make it fit into the greater whole. Well done, Mr. Giacchino. It was a big relief, honestly. I was worried it wouldn’t work.
  • The cameos are great. They’re peppered throughout, both blatant and subtle, and it was fun trying to spot them all. A great reason to see the movie with a theater full of fans.
  • The plot was very well done too. In a way, this movie is very much like Titanic or another history-based film. We all know the ending from the outset, so the interest comes from finding out how they get there. It’s a real ride, in this case.
  • Actions scenes and effects were completely awesome. There were multiple scenes in the last third of the film that just worked 100% on every level. Really moving, thrilling, playing on bits from the earlier movies, throwing in new stuff. The best action of any Star Wars movie. Period.

I could go on, but I’m short on time. Was it a perfect movie? It’s hard for me to assess, since I’m a big fan, and I have a hard time setting that aside. If you’re a big fan, I think you’ll adore this film. If you’re ambivalent, I still think you’ll love it. If you’re not a fan or haven’t seen any of the other movies, I think it’s a 4/5, most likely. Really well done.

If I had any complaints, it would be that the set up felt like it took too long. Once the movie was about half way through, then everything starts to really pop, and then it just goes into a whole new level toward the end. But then again, all that set up was the stuff that made me care about the characters, so how can they take it away and still have the impact at the end?

Anyway. I have to run, but those are my thoughts for now. Feel free to get into spoilers in the comments, BUT BE WARNED THERE MIGHT BE SPOILERS IN THE COMMENTS.

5/5 Loved loved loved it.

Movie Review: The Jungle Book

Nothing like a massively out of date movie review to catch your interest this fine Tuesday, right? I mean, this has to be one of the most irrelevant reviews I’ve posted. I’m so out of date with new movies that I don’t catch them until they’re out on Netflix.

Sigh. How the mighty have fallen.

And it’s not even like I’m here to tell you that everything you heard about the movie was wrong. It wasn’t. It’s a gorgeous film, with incredible effects and a great version of the original movie it’s based on. So why am I reviewing it now?

I think it’s because it’s a movie that for the first three quarters, I thought I was going to give a 3 or a 4 to, and then the ending managed to bump it all the way to a 5/5, and I wanted to think about how that happened.

First, my issues with the first three quarters: the movie was good. Just good. I’d been told it was great, and so my expectations were very high heading into the film. Instead, I just sort of ended up wondering if all the hype had been overblown. Sure, the special effects were great, but wasn’t it really just a retread of the animated movie, except with some live action thrown in?

In addition to that, the dialogue was really bugging me. Not because of what was being said, but rather how. All the interactions seemed deliberate and drawn out. Someone would say something, and then the response always came a bit too ┬álate. It was like the characters were communicating over a bad phone line. Sometimes this would happen even in the middle of one character speaking. They’d. Say something and. Then wait for a. Bit. Before finishing what they were. Thinking about.

It was like Captain Kirk had directed them.

So although the effects were great, I was thinking about settling in at a 4/5 rating. Maybe a 3/5 if the dialogue continued to bug.

But then the last quarter of the film hit, and everything came together. First of all, the plot took some great turns that I didn’t necessarily see coming. No huge twists or anything, but it managed to take what was in the original and make it new enough to surprise me and generate some really good emotions. That was very impressive.

Second, I began to believe the dialogue quirk was done deliberately. (Because seriously, why else would that happen? No way Bill Murray was goofing on his performance.) And so I asked myself why it was happening. The answer seemed clear: it was going for a more “storybook” approach. Again, riffing on the original, but in a new, interesting way. I know that might seem like a copout, but to me, it made the movie go from being a hodgepodge of effects and plot and retreading into a single complete package. The dialogue, the story tweaks, the acting, the echoes from the animated version: it all came together.

In the end, the climax of the movie really struck me. It resonated. And that was the final piece. As a whole, the movie thrilled me, and it managed to do it in a surprising way. So for that, it sealed the deal. 5/5

That’s my story, and I’m sticking to it. What did you think of the movie?

Movie Review: Little Shop of Horrors

There are some movies I just assume everyone has seen, because I’ve seen them myself so many times. But then I talk to people and mention the movies in casual conversation, and I’m reminded that just isn’t the case. So even though it feels redundant to me to review such an excellent movie musical as Little Shop of Horrors . . .

I’m going to do it anyway.

Because everyone should watch this movie. It’s just so much fun, and so unique. And never mind the fact that when I had Tomas and DC watch it with Denisa and me the other night, their response to the movie was . . . less than enthusiastic. (They couldn’t get over the Audrey’s accent in the movie. Sigh.)

If you didn’t know, the story is simple: normal guy finds alien, man-eating plant. Becomes famous, but at the cost of blood and bodies. He’s in love with a girl who’s dating a sadistic dentist, and he wants to save her from the hellish neighborhood they live in.

Oh, and it’s got songs and music from the same team that brought you The Little Mermaid and Aladdin. (Side note: wouldn’t it be awesome if Disney would do an animated version of this movie? They’re doing all these live-action versions of animated films. Why not flip that around, guys?) It’s got some of my favorite songs from any musicals. I grew up playing the dentist song over and over. (On vinyl. Go ahead. Make fun of me.) The music is funny and smart and beautiful all at once. That ain’t easy to pull off.

The film version gets even better by starring Rick Moranis, with cameos by Bill Murray, John Candy, Jim Belushi, and more. And to top it all off, it was directed by Miss Piggy and Yoda or (as he’s otherwise known), Frank Oz.

Seriously. This is a fun blast of a movie. It’s one that you should watch, and since it’s Halloween time right now, why not watch it between now and the main event?

5/5 Love love love this movie. Even Audrey’s accent.

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