The Mandalorian – A Few Thoughts

This is probably my favorite show of all time, so there is no excuse for just now writing about it months after it debuted.

By the way, yes, I’m a Star Wars fanatic. And, no, I’m not capable of being objective when it comes to Star Wars.

However, even with that being said, this is still a phenomenal show for the following reasons.

First of all–it’s got heart. You can tell that the creators of this show wanted it to be great. It looks great. The acting is great. The costumes are great. The story is great. The action is great. They are trying very, very hard to make a great experience for the viewer, and it shows in every way.

Secondly–they nailed the characters. The Mandalorian himself is incredible. We virtually never see his face, yet we care about him. We care about his beliefs, his motives, and his well-being. Obviously, a young character appears that depends on The Mandalorian for safety, and this is partially why we care so much about The Mandalorian himself. A bond forms between this other character and The Mandalorian, almost like that of a father and child, which causes us to see The Mandalorian in a completely different light. This child, by the way, is the element that will capture the hearts of even those who don’t count themselves among the Star Wars faithful. I know this because I saw it happen on several different occasions with people who couldn’t care less about Star Wars or science fiction in general.

Thirdly–this feels like a Star Wars story. Sure, you can absolutely watch it without knowing anything. It stands on its own as a self-contained series. However, if you know Star Wars, it feels like it belongs to the original trilogy from the Seventies and Eighties–it’s got that kind of magic.

Finally–if you are among the enlightened and enjoy Star Wars in all its forms, you will revel in the tiny references, the brief cameos, and the clever in-jokes.

Whether you’re a Star Wars fan or not, this series appeals to everyone. As we’re all stuck at home due to the outbreak, I would put this at the top of your “must-watch” list.

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The Ride Of a Lifetime by Robert Iger – A Book Review

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No one is more surprised that I’ve become a Disney acolyte than, well, me. The serious devotion began after visiting Walt Disney World. Since then, I’ve paid close attention to Disney’s dealings–both past and present. The acquisition of Pixar, securing Marvel, getting hold of the Star Wars intellectual properties, taking Fox, introducing Disney+ … these are impressive feats!

And the man leading the way in all of these endeavors? Robert Iger.

The Ride Of a Lifetime is a brief, simple read, but it is filled with captivating information. Iger spends a little bit of time discussing his rise to prominence from rather humble beginnings, his careful navigation of the Disney hierarchy, as well as his core tenets regarding business.

However, for this reader, the primary joy of the book derived from learning about how Iger and Disney managed all of their most recent, and momentous, accomplishments. Iger is careful to talk about each acquisition respectfully and he is incredibly thoughtful in regards to Steve Jobs and George Lucas in particular, yet he also surprised me by some of his rather candid remarks pertaining to certain Disney executives as well as some of the competition.

If you are interested in Disney, business, or the entertainment industry, I highly recommend The Ride Of a Lifetime. It is well-written, informative, and–best of all–fun to read.

The Lion King (2019) – A Movie Review

This new photo-realistic version of The Lion King is both exhilarating and redundant.

It’s a visual feast in that everything looks absolutely real. My understanding is that this film is almost entirely CGI, yet the animals, the environment–all of it–looks not only real, but also rooted in reality. You see labored breathing, you see real weight coming down on shoulders as the lions walk, you see dust in the air, you see ears twitch, you see plants in the background swaying in the breeze. It’s unreal how real it looks.

However, it’s also repetitive in that it’s a virtual copy of the original animated film. The scenes are the same, the pacing is the same, the jokes are the same, it’s all almost entirely the same. After having seen the original film several times as well as the musical, this latest version felt too much like a rote reproduction.

I also felt that the voices were detached from their characters. Yes, the animals’ mouths looked fantastic and even natural as they spoke, but the voices didn’t seem to be coming out of those mouths. The voices were too clear, too clean, and too undisturbed by the wild surroundings. In other words, the voices sounded straight from the recording booth. They didn’t match the environment I saw on the screen.

But even with that being said, I definitely recommend that you see this film. We took both of our kids, and because it’s the same, there were no surprises, and thus no scares. They do not increase the violence, nor do they display any blood. The hyenas were a little more intimidating than in the original, but my seven-year-old didn’t seem to mind them and she’s generally not a big fan of dogs or wolves.

It’s the CGI that makes this a must-see. At times, I literally could not believe my eyes. From a purely technological standpoint, there are moments in this film that will take your breath away.

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Toy Story 4 – A Movie Review

Yesterday, I think you would have been justified to feel that Toy Story 4 is largely unnecessary.  After all, Toy Story 3 ended just about perfectly.

However, if you happened to watch the Toy Story Toons shorts, you know that Woody and the gang embarked upon a whole new set of adventures with young Bonnie.  These were five minute shorts, though, not a complete movie.  Could Disney and Pixar recreate the magic of the first three Toy Story movies after a nearly twenty-five year run?  Could they continue to hold our interest for two whole hours?

The answer is “yes.”  Most definitely.

Toy Story 4 is a fun, lighthearted adventure that wisely breaks convention with the first three films.

For example, there is no true villain in Toy Story 4, which I thought was really smart.  There are characters in opposition trying to achieve personal goals, but no one is truly “evil.”

Also, Toy Story 4 backed off of the emotional gut punches.  They tease a few of them, but then choose to play them for laughs.  Again, I found this decision very refreshing.

Adults will pick up on a story about finding purpose once you’ve raised your kids as well as the turmoil of finally living for yourself, but young children are unlikely to decipher all of that.  Kids will relate to the comforting power of toys, the way they help confront challenges, and how they ultimately serve as a coping mechanism when difficulty arrives.

Young and old will love new characters, especially Forky (perfectly voiced by Tony Hale).  Other new additions include Gabby Gabby played by Christina Hendricks, Ducky and Bunny given life by the hilarious Key and Peele, and an understated but lovable character called Duke Caboom, performed by Keanu Reeves.  (It’s taking every ounce of willpower not to go out and buy  a Duke Caboom toy right now.)  Annie Potts plays Bo Peep, who makes her triumphant return and is given a really cool, captivating story to explain her absence.

While Toy Story 4 didn’t have to be made, some very important developments occur that could open the door to future movies.  I’m not going to spoil anything, but I see great potential for some of these characters to spin off into their own adventures.  Perhaps not into the movies, but maybe through a certain streaming service arriving soon?

Toy Story 4 is a funny, enjoyable, appropriate movie for the entire family.  It’s not scary at all, there will be no tears, and you can look forward to some hearty laughs and charismatic new characters.

Like I said, Toy Story 4 didn’t have to be made, but I’m glad they made it.  I’ve enjoyed these characters for twenty-five years, and I see no reason why we shouldn’t enjoy them for twenty-five more.

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Are you in need of a new epic series? Try Dr. Nekros, a trilogy that I like to describe as Moonlighting meets The X-FilesKindle: https://amzn.to/2X3S7vO or NOOK: http://bit.ly/2JTFXm1

Mary Poppins Returns – A Movie Review

To be honest, I don’t think I’ve ever seen the original Mary Poppins from start to finish.  We had it on a few years ago for the kids, but I thought it was really strange and didn’t pay it much attention.  I definitely wouldn’t consider myself a fan of the character.

However, when we first started seeing the trailers for Mary Poppins Returns, my kids got very excited.  Frankly, I did, too.  I thought Disney really rolled the dice on trying to revitalize an iconic, beloved character that is deeply ingrained in many people’s psyche.  The willingness to risk financial failure on a venerated property shocked me.  And Emily Blunt?  Can you imagine the guts it takes to try to reprise such a famous role?  A role previously played by a revered actress?  Wow.

So even though I’m not necessarily a Mary Poppins fan, I have to confess that I had a great time watching Mary Poppins Returns.  I found it charming from start to finish.  It felt to me like a classic family movie–the kind of movie they don’t really make that often anymore.  I liked the message, the humor, the acting, the music, and the general creative direction.  In fact, we went with the grandparents and a great aunt, and they all loved it, too.

I’ve heard it argued that it just retreads the original movie.  Some have said it hits the same beats at almost the exact same cadence.  That may be true, but this movie isn’t made for the original fans of Mary Poppins.  This is a completely new experience to my six-year-old and ten-year-old.   Seeing it in a dark theater on the big screen with the loud speakers–this will be their Mary Poppins for life, and we need to realize that.  The same argument can actually be made for Star Wars.  Let the young have what we loved, too, but on their terms, in their own way.  It’s okay to borrow from what made the original a hit, and it’s okay to take things in a different direction as well.

By the way, I’d like to rave about Emily Blunt.  I adored her portrayal of Mary Poppins.  To me, her singing exceeded my expectations.  She sounded as good as anyone, in my opinion.  Furthermore, she had a sly glimmer in her eye that, for the first time, made me really consider the fact that Mary Poppins may be some kind of a supernatural entity–like a well-meaning fairy, or a helpful nymph, or maybe even a sort of angel.  She played the character incredibly stuffy, as the literary source material dictated, but she would at times offer a private grin, a lift of the eyebrows, or even a giant smile, that told me Emily Blunt is playing a character who is playing a character.  I think Mary Poppins’ whole persona is an act, and I loved that interpretation.  Though understated, Blunt’s execution of Poppins using exaggerated facial expressions and body language really struck me as funny.  She always held her hands just so.  The eyes would bulge indignantly just right.  I found the extrovert posing as a strict, prim, and proper snob totally engaging.

I’ve also heard some fans of the original movie claim that Mary Poppins Returns doesn’t have very catchy music.  Again, I’m no expert, but I thought it had excellent music.  My kids had me download the soundtrack which has resulted in several songs being stuck in my head.  Isn’t an earworm the sign of a good song?  Or at least a catchy one?

Finally, the production value of Mary Poppins Returns is phenomenal.  There are several instances when Mary Poppins and the children for whom she is responsible enter a world infused with cartoons.  The special effects are seamless.  I found it amazing to see the actors interacting with what appeared to be classic 2D images.  Of course, I could be mistaken.  Everything could have been CGI for all I know.  The point is that it looked beautiful.

Did the story make perfect sense?  No, not really, but who cares?  I’m not going to Mary Poppins Returns for a think-piece.  I’m going for the singing, the dancing, the humor, and the fact that it is a wholesome movie with a positive message for not just the children, but for everyone watching.

If you’re looking for a family movie, I completely recommend Mary Poppins Returns.

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(Did you enjoy this review?  Check out Scott William Foley’s short stories HERE!)

The Nutcracker and the Four Realms (2018) – A Movie Review

My wife and I took our daughters to see The Nutcracker and the Four Realms Friday night and I have to admit that I enjoyed it quite a bit.

I think the most striking aspect of this movie is that it looks exquisite.  The costumes, sets, and scenery are gorgeous.  It seemed to me that much of it featured real people on real sets.  There existed some CGI, of course, but generally speaking it appeared that the actors were interacting with actual props and materials.  The movie wielded a certain weight that many CGI-laden films do not.

Furthermore, I found the actors and actresses both capable and, more importantly, likable.  It’s hard not to like Morgan Freeman and Helen Mirren, though, isn’t it?  Mackenzie Foy, who plays Clara, is easy to root for even while not being particularly charismatic, and her nutcracker captain, Phillip, played by Jayden Fowora-Knight, is also generically appealing if not particularly memorable.  I’d like to say, though, that I think both of these new faces have great potential.

Believe it or not, Sugar Plum stole this movie.  She crackled with electricity and proved very entertaining to watch.  Oddly enough, I couldn’t place her–I couldn’t figure out who played this fairy.  Imagine my surprise when the credits revealed Keira Knightly as Sugar Plum!   I think this is probably my favorite part ever played by Knightly.  I’ve never seen her so relaxed, magnetic, and … well, fun!

Best of all?  The ballet dancing!  It should come as no surprise that they included quite a bit of ballet in this film.  I found the inclusion of ballet inspired.  They didn’t just toss it in for the sake of throwing it in there–it serves a real purpose to the overall story and looks fantastic.

Again, the whole movie is really a sight to behold.  While the story is full of adventure and even a little creepy at times, it’s incredibly intricate at all levels.  Everything looks like a piece of art.

Both of my kids enjoyed The Nutcracker and the Four Realms, though neither of them were “wowed” by it.  Anytime we see a new movie, at least one of them usually says it’s their new favorite, but that didn’t happen this time.  I’m not really sure why.

In my opinion, you should certainly take your kids to see it.  It won’t make their hearts skip a beat, but it’s still a very well-crafted family film that will probably please everyone, albeit in different ways.

Morgan Freeman, Helen Mirren, Richard E. Grant, Eugenio Derbez, Keira Knightley, Mackenzie Foy, Misty Copeland, and Jayden Fowora-Knight in The Nutcracker and the Four Realms (2018)

(Did you enjoy this article?  Check out Scott William Foley’s short stories HERE!)

Christopher Robin – A Movie Review

I’ll be honest, when I first saw the trailer to this movie, I felt totally turned off.  It struck me as dark, dreary, and unnecessarily … adult.  Well, I’m happy to tell you that I couldn’t have been more mistaken.

Though we aren’t particularly big Winnie the Pooh fans, we like him well enough.  Once I heard good buzz about Christopher Robin and secured assurances from friends that it was an appropriate family film, I couldn’t wait to take my own kids.

I’m so glad I did.  The story is about a grownup Christopher Robin.  It has a charming beginning in which Christopher says goodbye to Pooh and his friends before he must head off to boarding school.  At boarding school, he learns to be efficient, serious, and unimaginative.  Once out of school, he has falls in love, goes to war, has a child, and now works in management for a luggage company.

Christopher Robin is an absolute bore.  He has forgotten how to enjoy life, and in doing so is missing out on the joy of his own wife and child.  As you guessed, Pooh and friends reenter his life, and from that moment forward a charming story ensues.

I won’t lie–I adore this movie.  As an adult, it provided some potent reminders about what is truly important in life.  And though it may have brought a tear to my eye here and there, it never struck me as overtly self-righteous.  It did not sermonize, lecture, or beat me over the head with its message.  It simply told a story, a story that even my nine-year-old could correctly interpret.

My children loved it because it was actually quite fun, cute, and upbeat.  Yes, the beginning is a little dour, but it’s all uphill from there.  Best of all?  Pooh and friends looked totally real.  I honestly couldn’t tell what was a puppet, what was a person in a suit, what was a robot, and what was CGI.  These old stuffed animals looked every bit the part, and as they walked and talked, it appeared natural in every respect.

On a deeply personal note, my six-year-old about made me start bawling in front of everyone.  As Christopher’s daughter was asking why he won’t go on trips with them and spend time with them, my daughter leaned over and whispered to me that she’s glad I take her places and spend time with her.  Crikey!  I about lost it.

I absolutely recommend this for the whole family.  It would make for a great last outing before school starts back up.  It helps that Ewan McGregor is about as likable as they come, as is Hayley Atwell, the electric actress who plays his wife.  And Pooh’s lines are so funny.  He’s truly a genius in the guise of a silly old bear.

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(Did you enjoy this review?  Check out Scott William Foley’s latest book HERE!)