Radioactive – A Movie Review

My wife and I tend to enjoy movies based on historical events. Though we’d honestly never heard of Radioactive, we both like Rosamund Pike and I generally find Amazon Originals to be high quality.

While we’re glad we watched Radioactive, we agreed that it probably isn’t for everyone.

First of all, as expected, it is well made with very good acting. The sets, the effects, the costumes–all were top notch. They also depicted Marie Curie as an actual human being with very real flaws. I always envisioned Curie as a stuffy old woman, so this dynamic presentation shook up my presumptions.

I also appreciated a very fast pace. In just under two hours, they managed to cover most of her adult life. Furthermore, they did their best to explain the process of her science–warts and all.

However, Radioactive took some surrealistic turns that might prove jarring for some viewers. It would also jump forward in time for a few moments in order to illustrate the ramifications of Curie’s work, which, while interesting, seemed largely unnecessary.

Finally, I can’t help but sense that the film may have taken some liberties in the interest of creating drama. After watching the movie, you can do a quick Google search to see how much of it was sensationalized. Surprisingly, Curie actually was somewhat scandalous in her own time.

There’s no denying, though, the hugely important scientific contributions Curie made to the world and the film does an excellent job at conveying that fact. It also makes a point to accurately depict Curie having to work far harder at obtaining the basic resources her male counterparts easily received. Some things never change, I guess.

Radioactive will surely make you look at Curie in a different light, but that’s not a bad thing. Like I said, it looks great, is very well acted, generally maintains historical accuracy, and even takes a few experimental risks to keep you on your toes. If movies based on history are your thing, Radioactive will surely entertain.

(Note: For teachers thinking about showing this film in classrooms, be aware that there is brief nudity and suggestive moments between Curie and her husband. I would encourage you to view the movie beforehand to determine your comfort level.)

The Midnight Sky – A Movie Review

I wasn’t quite sure what to make of The Midnight Sky when I saw its title card appear on Netflix. The description and trailer didn’t totally captivate me, but they didn’t repel me, either.

In the end, I watched it because I generally like George Clooney and because I enjoy “realistic” science fiction movies about space travel–recent films like Moon, Interstellar, Arrival, The Martian, and Ad Astra immediately spring to mind.

If you’re unfamiliar with the premise, the year is around 2049, a global catastrophe has occurred, and George Clooney’s character is one of Earth’s last survivors as he manages an observation station in the far north. He has taken it up on himself to try to contact a space crew returning from Jupiter in order to deter them from entering Earth’s atmosphere.

The good news is that I only intended to watch an hour of the movie before going to bed and, instead, I ended up watching the whole thing while staying up far too late. It is an interesting, exciting film that keeps the audience guessing and holds them in a constant state of anticipation.

I also appreciated that it suggested horrible tragedy and violence in many cases without actually showing anything terribly gory.

My primary issue with The Midnight Sky, however, is that I felt as though I’d seen bits and pieces of this movie in several other films. The Road seemed to be a heavy influence, as did those other science fiction movies I already mentioned, especially The Martian. It was made very well, it had great pacing, and it looked good, yet none of it struck me as original. Finally, George Clooney, who has made a career off of his charm, displayed none of that natural charisma. That–coupled with the David Letterman beard–made for a pretty dour character.

The Midnight Sky is fine. It’s not bad–not by any stretch of the imagination. After all, it kept me up an hour more than I intended. It’s a perfectly acceptable, enjoyable science fiction movie. But it’s also not necessarily a unique experience that will make you feel like you’ve seen something new.

Black Beauty (2020) – A Movie Review

Did you know Black Beauty is based on a book written by Anna Sewell and published in 1877? I sure didn’t.

I remember watching a Black Beauty movie as a kid in the early 1980s. Though I don’t remember much about it, I still have fond feelings for it even to this day.

When I discovered that Disney Plus released an adaptation of the title, I couldn’t wait to watch it with my own kids.

I’m very pleased to share with you that I think Black Beauty (2020) is a wonderful family film. It is exciting, pleasing to the eye, emotional, fast-paced, and imparts several important lessons.

I’ll admit that it gets a little sappy from time to time and that it pushes the boundaries of logic when it comes to plot, but, like I said, it’s got a great message and proved entertaining for the whole family.

If you have Disney Plus and would like to watch something as a family, you could do a lot worse than Black Beauty.

Soul – A Movie Review

I loved Soul, but my kids can’t necessarily say the same.

If you’re unfamiliar with the film, the premise is that Joe, a middle school band teacher, is finally about to catch his big break after years of near misses. He’s landed a coveted jazz gig, one that could literally change his life, but then experiences an accident that will probably end up killing him hours before his performance. He travels to a point leading to “the great beyond,” but manages to escape that plane of existence by finding the place souls reside before being born. From that moment forth, he attempts to hitch a ride back to Earth in order to repossess his own body.

Does that sound complicated? It is. Yet, for as complex and even existential as Soul is, it unfolds in a fairly straightforward manner.

At its heart, Soul is about managing what drives us in life while still maintaining a willingness to enjoy every day. It’s an important lesson, one that I think many adults will respond to. Furthermore, as a parent, I strongly reacted to how we guide our children through childhood. We so often want our children to find “their thing,” to excel in a specific area, that we forget to allow them to simply explore all of life’s facets. Soul reminds us that living well should be enough.

The animation is, as you would expect from Pixar, exquisite. In fact, my wife commented that, until the characters enter the frame, the Earthly environments are photorealistic. I also have to commend the surrealistic scenarios depicting those moments beyond reality as we know it. They were challenging, astonishing, fun, and beautiful.

In fact, Pixar showed incredible bravery in even making Soul. This is a high-concept, philosophical, even potentially controversial film–and it’s a children’s movie! But, even having said all that, it’s fun. It’s funny. Even while diving deeply into the meaning of life, it’s still graceful and lighthearted.

Of course, when a movie features a jazz musician, the jazz must be perfect. Jon Batiste fills that role flawlessly. And as for those reality-bending moments outside of life as we know it? Who else could be better at that kind of music than Trent Reznor of Nine Inch Nails fame?

Finally, Jamie Foxx delivers a likability to Joe even when Joe is not always likable. Joe has allowed his passion to overtake virtually every other aspect of his life, and Foxx understands how to convey this without making Joe seem villainous. Tina Fey plays a soul named 22 who becomes ensnared in Joe’s plot to return to Earth, and, like Joe, 22 is not always her best self. Yet, Tina Fey straddles that line between making 22 both annoying and lovable that, frankly, shouldn’t have worked. In the end, both Foxx and Fey’s voices are the reason the movie hits the emotional pitch that it does.

However, though my wife and I loved it, I should note that my kids weren’t crazy about it. My eight-year-old had a little trouble following the plot and said everything kind of looked the same, whereas my twelve-year-old described it as just “okay” and kind of “weird.”

Pixar has sometimes been accused of making very adult children’s movies, and I wonder if Soul will end up winning over more adults than children. Regardless, Soul is a daring, gorgeous movie that isn’t afraid to tackle truly existential issues.

Wonder Woman: 1984 – A (Spoiler-Free) Movie Review

Let me start by saying that I adore the first Wonder Woman film. That moment when Wonder Woman climbs out of the trenches and crosses No Man’s Land … I think it will forevermore be one of the most iconic cinematic scenes in movie history. Furthermore, it had a tight storyline, introduced the entire world and culture of Themyscira, and provided a potent moment in history with World War I. True, the final battle with the prerequisite big bad left something to be desired, but otherwise the movie proved a total success. It had heart, humor, and a real soul.

1984 has … some … of those things … at times.

I’m afraid Wonder Woman: 1984 fell a little flat with me.

The good news is that there’s a lot to like about Wonder Woman: 1984. Kristen Wiig totally sold me as Barbara Minerva. Furthermore, I think we all need to give Wiig huge respect for filming an intense action movie at forty-five years of age. She looks amazing and we get to see her as the superstar she’s always been.

Gal Gadot, as usual, oozes charisma and her chemistry with Chris Pine is as sharp as ever.

The opening scene featuring the Amazons during Diana’s childhood is superb. I’ve heard rumors they are making a spinoff film focusing upon the Amazons and I think that’s a very wise decision. I just pray they continue to include Robin Wright and Connie Nielson.

Also, the final scene of the movie, particularly in how it relates to Barbara Minerva, is wonderful. They fixed everything that disappointed me about the final scene in the first film.

Unfortunately, though they got the ending right in Wonder Woman: 1984, I fear they missed several steps getting there. My major issue with the film centers around its central premise. I won’t spoil it for you, but it explains how Chris Pine’s dead character returns and how Barbara Minerva undergoes a certain change. Look, I know we’re dealing with fantasy, but after such a relatively grounded first film deeply rooted in the horrors or World War I, 1984’s premise seemed rather silly. Sadly, that premise never led anywhere more complex than its most basic concept. The story, as a whole, just didn’t work for me.

I’m also afraid that the special effects simply didn’t hold up to the first film. Diana is now using her magic lasso much like Tarzan uses vines or Spider-Man uses webs. I kept finding myself getting distracted by the physics of the lasso and how Diana swinging about didn’t ever look natural. The lasso seemed to appear and disappear at will and didn’t adhere to any certain length or rigidity. Simply put, it didn’t look good.

Finally, Wonder Woman: 1984 struck me as a series of vignettes rather than a complete story. The opening scene on Themyscira is so beautiful, but ultimately unnecessary to the overall story. Most of Chris Pine’s scenes are there for comedic effect and could have been left on the cutting room floor. Diana experiences some new revelations about her abilities that are, honestly, unnecessary to the story as well and rather contradictory to what we’ve seen from her in Batman v Superman and Justice League. Finally, the incredible moment in the trailer when Wonder Woman lassos lightening? Total letdown.

I really do regret to say that Wonder Woman: 1984 is not as well written as its predecessor, the special effects are not as good as its predecessor, and it’s nowhere near as substantive as its predecessor. However, I’ll keep watching Wonder Woman movies because I love the character, I love Themyscira, and I love Gal Gadot working with Patty Jenkins.

The New Mutants – A Movie Review

Honestly, The New Mutants proved to be an entertaining watch. I understand this movie has suffered a great deal of drama and has, consequently, been lampooned in the court of public opinion, but it actually has a lot going for it.

First of all, The New Mutants is packed with young star power. Maisie Williams from Game of Thrones, Anya Joy-Taylor from The Queen’s Gambit, and Charlie Heaton from Stranger Things all have featured roles.

Secondly, it’s a relatively small film. The cast is limited, the setting is isolated, and the story is tightly focused on basically six people.

Finally, you don’t need to know much of anything to watch The New Mutants. It’s pretty much a standalone film with only passing references to the X-Men universe in which it presumably belongs. I appreciated that it wasn’t your typical superhero fare in that it felt far more akin to a horror movie than anything. Yes, these are characters based on those from the comic books, and they have mutant abilities, but none of them yearn to put on tights or go save the world.

This is not to say that The New Mutants is perfect. The story is a little confusing, the dialogue is–at times–cliched. But, the special effects are pretty fun, especially when Heaton and Joy-Taylor’s characters power up.

At a touch over ninety minutes, The New Mutants is a very easy watch. I suspect we will see much more in the decades to come from these young stars, so this will be a provocative film to look back upon.

Jingle Jangle: A Christmas Journey – A Movie Review

If you’re looking for a movie to watch as a whole family, I completely recommend Jingle Jangle: A Christmas Journey, available to stream on Netflix.

Full of stars with excellent singing and dancing, Jingle Jangle: A Christmas Journey is also funny, wholesome, entertaining, and full of surprisingly good special effects.

I don’t want to disparage Netflix, but I wasn’t expecting the quality evident in Jingle Jangle: A Christmas Journey. Don Juan Diego, played by Ricky Martin, is a metallic puppet that looked so grounded in reality that I found myself mesmerized–he quickly became my favorite character! Furthermore, a robot eventually appears that is also thoroughly realistic. The sets are extraordinary as the tale unfolds in some sort of a steampunk alternate world where technology is both amazingly complex but also archaic. The costumes are intricate and beautiful to behold. This movie is honestly a pleasure to view.

But the songs and the dancing, for me, are the real draw. I guess that shouldn’t come as a surprise, though, because John Legend played a role in writing the music. Plus, who knew Forest Whitaker could sing? I’ve been watching this man since Platoon and I had no idea. And, of course, Keegan-Michael Key played a bad guy who’s still pretty darn likable and not all that terribly bad. (If you ever want to go on a deep dive with me, I think Key’s character was simply the victim of mistreatment by Whitaker’s character that led him to his villainous ways.) The entire cast is really a delight.

The story is a little scattershot and takes a few detours, but it all ends up making sense and works. Again, for a Netflix movie, it proved unexpectedly coherent.

So if you need a good movie to watch this weekend with the family, give this one a shot. I think everyone will enjoy it.

An American Pickle – A Movie Review

An American Pickle is a strange, disparate comedy, but I actually enjoyed it quite a bit.

The premise is that an impoverished immigrant comes to America with his new wife, begins working in a pickle factory, and then, after falling into a vat of brine, wakes up 100 years later in modern day Brooklyn. He only has one surviving member of his family left, a great-grandson. By the way, Seth Rogen plays both the immigrant and the great-grandson.

I described An American Pickle as strange and disparate because while there are some laugh-out-loud moments, this movie is oddly quiet and serious at times. It very much centers on the importance of both family and faith. However, it will then switch gears and become absolutely ridiculous. This uneven pacing threw me for loop, but that’s not to say I didn’t like it. The unpredictable nature of the film actually kept me engaged.

Again, An American Pickle has a rather unexpected sense of poignancy. Rogen plays both Herschel Greenbaum and Ben Greenbaum. Herschel is literally a relic of the past. He is bias, violent, crude, and uneducated, yet he is also devoted to family, hardworking, tenacious, and devoutly religious. Ben, on the other hand, is technologically savvy, intelligent, and politically correct, but he’s also disconnected from society, has no real sense of family, and won’t acknowledge his own emotions. I think we recognize certain aspects of ourselves in both these characters–the good and the bad.

There also seems to be quite a bit of social commentary in An American Pickle (but you have to perhaps overanalyze the film in order to recognize it). The insanity of our current political climate, our overabundance on technology, our waning sense of community, our religious indifference, and our tenuous grip on family bonds are all on display in An American Pickle. Of course, the film is not overemphasizing these issues, but they are definitely there if you want to notice them.

I wouldn’t say An American Pickle is among my favorite movies, but I certainly enjoyed it and appreciated the fact that it took a different approach to comedy. If you’re in need of a quick, unusual movie to watch, I recommend you give An American Pickle a try.

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Mulan (2020) – A Movie Review

As a family, and after a very long week, we were very excited to watch Mulan the night it premiered on Disney Plus. 

I can honestly say it was a hit with the whole family!

My eight-year-old and twelve-year-old daughters liked the action, the humor, the live horses, and the fact that an out-and-out action movie starred a female lead. 

My wife appreciated the “girl-power” aspect of the film and that fact that, while epic in scope of warriors warring, it never crossed the line into overt violence. (I challenge you to find a drop of blood among all the swordplay in this film.) She also liked the theme imparting the importance of family.

I found the cinematography breathtaking. There are some incredible shots of landscapes in this film. They also utilize unique angles and perspectives enough so that I actually found myself commenting on it. That doesn’t happen to me very often. 

I delighted in their nod to traditional Chinese action cinema. There’s a lot of wire work in this film with people running up walls, along walls, jumping from rooftop to rooftop, which is fairly common in Chinese film. My eight-year-old asked me at one point if people can really run sideways on a wall. I briefly explained what was going on with that. Total dad move, I know.

Speaking of action, there’s quite a bit of it in Mulan. I found it very interesting how they suggested a great deal of violence without actually showing anything all that violent. If you pay attention, you’ll notice quick cut after quick cut in the action scenes. They don’t linger too long on any one shot during the battles, and that is done with intention. By Disney’s standards, this is a pretty violent film, but I still had no problems letting my eight-year-old watch it because it never actually showed anything. In fact, though it’s rated PG-13, I would have been comfortable with it having a PG rating. 

Granted, some of the action is a little hokey. There are moments that absolutely remind an adult that this is a Disney film and therefore a film primarily aimed at children. But, overall, even this grizzled old man found it quite exciting to watch. 

Furthermore, it was fantastic to see some of our favorite actors in this film. Jason Scott Lee, Donnie Yen, and Jet Li all play significant roles in Mulan. The crazy part was that I somehow didn’t recognize any of them until the credits rolled! Jet Li is virtually unrecognizable. And Jason Scott Lee’s performance proves that he has been extremely underutilized in Hollywood. 

Yifei Liu plays Mulan, and though the actress has been the subject of controversy, there’s no denying the fact that she oozes charisma. She is simply interesting to watch. Her acting didn’t blow me away, but I still found myself captivated by her performance.

However, to me, the real star of the movie is Li Gong. My understanding is that she plays a completely new character named Xianniang, a witch, and I found her character to be the most complex, the most sympathetic, and the most interesting. I was shocked when I visited her IMDB page and saw her body of work. Li Gong has been around for a long time! Though her scenes probably take up no more than fifteen minutes of the film, they were a fantastic fifteen minutes. 

Of course, it’s only fair that I mention that Mushu, the dragon from the cartoon, is nowhere to be seen. However, they do replace him in a way with something quite mesmerizing and important to the story. Mulan is somewhat rooted in reality, at least enough so that a character like Mushu wouldn’t fit. Also, there is no singing in this version of Mulan. You’ll hear some familiar orchestra music, but there are no ballads or bangers. 

I’d also like to briefly talk about the price point. As Disney Plus subscribers, we had to pay $30 for the premier access. For me, this was not an issue. Let me explain why. First of all, we haven’t been to a movie theater in six months due to the pandemic and we’re desperate for something approximating the big-budget, blockbuster experience. Secondly, I would have spent far more than $30 at the actual theater–after tickets, drinks, and popcorn it probably would have been closer to $70. Does it bother me that I had to pay when I already have a Disney Plus subscription? No, because I still would have paid that $70 at the theater while still having my Disney Plus subscription. Of course, there’s also the strong possibility that we would have bought the Blu-Ray in three months, so tack on another $25. Because we bought Mulan on Disney Plus, we now own it for as long as we have our Disney Plus subscription. In my mind, I’m actually coming out ahead. Feel free to disagree with me, but that’s my point of view on the topic. 

If you’re looking for a family movie night, I absolutely recommend Mulan. I’m not sure I would let a child younger than seven or eight watch it, but if you’ve got kids around that age or older, it’s perfect. Enjoy!

The One and Only Ivan – A Movie Review

My wife and oldest daughter adore the book that this movie is based upon, so we had to watch it on Disney Plus when it debuted this weekend. Overall, they were very happy with it.

I wasn’t familiar with the story at all, so I didn’t quite know what awaited me. If you’re unfamiliar with the book, Ivan is a gorilla headlining a small circus found in a shopping mall. (Yes, you read that right.) He has lived most of his life in this circus, and though his domain is not as small as a cage, he also isn’t allowed outside and the quarters are cramped. This part of the book is based on a true story, believe it or not. In the movie, he also shares the space with a dog, a seal, an elephant, a parrot, a chicken, and a rabbit. When a new arrival shows up to join the circus, the entire dynamic shifts, but is it for the better? You’ll have to watch the movie to find out.

First of all, the CGI in this movie is superb. I had a hard time telling where reality ended and CGI began. To my eye, it appeared almost perfect. Ivan, in particular, looked lifelike, especially when it came to his expressions.

Secondly, the voice acting is superb. I loved Sam Rockwell as Ivan. Danny Devito as Bob is equally lovable. I don’t want to spoil the other parts, but you’ll hear voice work from Helen Mirren, Angelina Jolie, Chaka Khan, Ron Funches, and Phillipa Soo. Impressive cast, huh?

Bryan Cranston plays the human lead, Ivan’s owner and ringleader. As usual, Cranston manages to make a man who has some unappealing traits somehow likable. Furthermore, a child actor named Ariana Greenblatt held her own. The only reason I may sound surprised is because this actor plays the youngest sibling on the Disney show Stuck In the Middle. (You folks with kids will know who I’m talking about.)

I found the story appealing, but I won’t lie, it’s a pretty slow moving film. The ending makes the wait worthwhile, but impatient viewers may wander off to the kitchen for a snack. However, like I said, the ending is really good and solidifies many of the themes explored throughout the film. These themes include ideas pertaining to freedom, security, family, and even friendship.

I think this is a very good family film. My eight-year-old got a little antsy about three-quarters through it, but that’s when things picked up, so she got drawn back in. My wife and twelve-year-old daughter were entertained throughout.

It’s not violent, there aren’t any bad words, and it isn’t terribly sad except for the off-screen loss of one character. Those experiencing tears at the end will do so out of happiness, not sorrow. I’m told the book is far sadder.

If you’re a fan of the book, looking for a family movie, or simply a CGI aficionado, I recommend The One and Only Ivan.