Movie Review: RACE TO WITCH MOUNTAIN

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race to witch mountainDisney
2009
PG

“Don’t go in the pimped out fridge, Jack…”

Back when I was a wee lad growing up , my burgeoning love of science fiction and horror was fostered by, among other things, Disney movies. Classics like The Cat From Outer Space and The Black Hole occupy my nostalgia banks, as does the movies Escape To Witch Mountain and its sequel, Return To Witch Mountain. I was somewhat enamored with the Witch Mountain movies, mostly because it featured kids around my age at the time, who had powers and the guy who played Uncle Jesse on the Dukes Of Hazzard as their uncle. It’s been decades since I’ve watched either one of those, but I’ve always thought these would be prime for either a reboot, or at least a revival movie.

Well, here we are, in the 21st Century, and we now have, if not a reboot of the Witch Mountain movies, then definitely a continuation of the mythos kind of sort-of sequel, Race To Witch Mountain*. Released in 2009, and staring everyone’s favorite wrestler-turned-movie star Dwayne “The Rock” Johnson as our human protagonist, proving he’s not only a natural action star, but a Disney family oriented action star as well. Like Arnold Schwarzenegger, only with better teeth and diction.

Jack Bruno, a Las Vegas cabdriver struggling to stay on the right path, gets an out-of-this-world incentive when two aliens, disguised as teenagers, suddenly appear in his taxi. In a race against government agents, an alien hunter and time itself, Jack must help the children recover their lost spaceship so they can return home and save their planet and ours.

If we’re going to be completely honest with ourselves here, we have to admit that the original Witch Mountain movies weren’t what you would call amazing genre-bending blockbusters. I’ll be the first to admit that they were rather low-budget and cheesy. Comparatively, Race To Witch Mountain is a fine addition to those two movies. I consider it a requel–a movie that’s kind of a sequel, but also works as a reboot–as it’s a different story, and the two original actors portraying the kids in the first couple of movies have cameos here helping the kids out, using their original names from the films. Of course, that’s just me being a fanboy nerd, here. The kids were a bit on the obnoxious side, but for the most part, I rather enjoyed Race To Witch Mountain for what it was, that being a family friendly sci-fi adventure. Of course, Dwayne Johnson is very good at what he does here, playing the set-upon taxi driver who finds himself babysitting a couple of alien kids.

Overall, I found Race To Witch Mountain just as good as the original movies. The best thing to do is to set aside the nostalgia glasses, and enjoy this as it was intended to be, a sci-fi family romp.

[* = and before you start getting pedantic; yes, I am aware of the TV movie remake from 1995; I’m just not counting that one]

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Movie Review: SOLO A Star Wars Story

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solo a star wars storyLucasfilm / Disney
2018
PG-13

“So, what’s your name, anyways?”
“Rrraaawwgghhhyyy.”
“You’re gonna need a nickname, ’cause I ain’t saying that every time.”

The second release in Disney’s supplemental films in the Star Wars universe, Solo: A Star Wars Story delves into the back story of everyone’s favorite intergalactic scoundrel with a heart of mythra, Han Solo. While there was the Han Solo trilogy of books that was regulated to the Legacy non-cannon section since Disney acquired Lucasfilm, that didn’t stop Disney from delving into the past and giving us an official canon back story for Han — how he met Chewie, got into smuggling, and came across that little space boat called the Millennium Falcon.

Having been released a mere six months after The Last Jedi, I think that contributed to the lack of enthusiasm with the release of Solo. There wasn’t as much of a buzz, and preview reports were lackluster at best. Also, there may have been something about the change of directors midway through that could have been part of it. I have to admit, I wasn’t really all that jazzed to watch it myself, and my fellow partner in crime, Nex, kept referring to it as the “Ill-Advised Star Wars Movie”. Regardless, I watched Solo, along with the other Exalted Geeks (recording the podcast about it here), and so let’s get to my thoughts on the movie. But first, as always, the Rundown (spoilers ahead):

We open on the planet of Corellia, where a young Han is livin’ the Dickens style street urchin life, stealing shiny things for a giant worm alien gang leader. This is the day that he and his love interest named Qi’ra make their escape from the gang to get off of the planet to a better life; only, it doesn’t exactly go as plan, as Qi’ra gets recaptured, while Han manages to get off of the planet, but at the expense of joining up with the Imperial Navy as a flight cadet. Fast forward to three years later, and we find that Han and the military aren’t exactly a great fit, as he’s been downgraded to the infantry, and while on one of them Imperial conquests of a planet, Han tries to hook up with a bunch of criminals posing as infantry soldiers, but is then thrown into a pit to be fed to a beast of some sort. Of course, by the law of plot conveniences, this “beast” turns out to be none other than Chewbacca, and after a bit of a rocky start, they bond by working together to escape. They catch a ride off of the planet by the same batch of criminals Han ran into earlier, because one of the members — the one with the big neon I’M GOING TO DIE FIRST blinking on his forehead — took a shine to their moxie. Or whatever. After a heist to steal a shipment of a super hyperspace fuel called coaxium goes south due to the interference of SPACE PIRATES!, the crime lord who hired the group to steal the stuff decides to let them try and make it up to him, by taking raw coaxium from the mines on Kessel, and assigns his top lieutenant, who turns out to be Qi’ra, to tag along and make sure nothing goes wrong this time. Or, you know, death. So, they hire the guy with the fastest ship in the galaxy, which turns out to be some guy named Lando Calrissian (I’m sure he’ll be of no consequence later in the series), who pilots a certain heavily modified YT-1300 Corellian light freighter he calls the Millennium Falcon. After a bunch of chest-puffing between Han and Lando, they take off for Kessel, where they pick up the raw (and highly unstable, I should add, otherwise there wouldn’t be much tension and drama involved) coaxium, all the while causing a riot and freeing a bunch of Wookiee slaves and triggering a droid uprising. Han manages to make the jump in 12-ish parsecs through the Maw and gets the shipment safely to the planet Savareen to process the coaxium. Then the SPACE PIRATES! show up, say they really aren’t the bad guys in this movie, and then Solo tries to do the right thing by confronting the crime lord. There’s a bit of cross/double cross going on, the crime boss dies and then Han takes off while Qi’ra decides she’d rather be the new crime boss and stuff. Then Han wins the Millinnium Falcon from Lando, and he and Chewie flies off to join up with some gangster on the planet Tatooine. The end.

So, overall, while I feel that Solo wasn’t exactly necessary as a movie, it was still pretty good. There were plenty of cheesy bits in there — how Han got his last name, an inverse of the “I love you / I know” exchange, and a surprise cameo that seemed a tad shoehorned in. Also, did we really need a social justice warrior droid, or implied human/droid sex? Did they really contribute to the story, here? But, I digress (I look forward to all of your comments and emails)…

Alden Enrenreich does a decent job portraying the younger Han. But Donald Glover is the best one here as Lando, channeling his inner Billy Dee Williams, convincing me he’s gonna break out a Colt 45 at a moment’s notice.

Solo: A Star Wars Story is an enjoyable distraction but not exactly essential watching. It’s a good matinée flick, and I’ll probably watch this again sometime when the DVD gets released.

HALLOWEEN’ING Day 2: Toy Story Of Terror!

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halloween'ing 2017

toy story of terror

It was inevitable that Pixar/Disney’s long running Toy Story franchise would get its own Halloween special, and it did so back in October of 2013, with this special that ran on ABC and then was given its own DVD release full of shorts and other special goodies.

The story involves the toys on a trip with their new owner since Toy Story 3, when they stop at a motel run by a manager that steals the toys of visiting kids and sells them online to the highest bidder. So, it’s basically the reworked plot of Toy Story 2, only with an Iguana and a 21-minute run time.

The tone of Toy Story Of Terror! is more Scooby Doo than actual horror, but it’s a fun shot of Halloween themed wackiness that will entertain both you and the little monster that’s watching it with you.

Buy the streaming here.

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Movie Review: GUARDIANS OF THE GALAXY Vol. 2

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guardians of the galaxy 2Marvel / Disney
2017
PG-13

“I’m Mary Poppins, y’all!”

Peter Quill and his fellow Guardians are hired by a powerful alien race, the Sovereign, to protect their precious batteries from invaders. When it is discovered that Rocket has stolen the items they were sent to guard, the Sovereign dispatch their armada to search for vengeance. As the Guardians try to escape, the mystery of Peter’s parentage is revealed.

Leave it to the Marvel Cinematic Universe to effectively ruin the rest of the Summer Blockbuster Season right off the bat. Again. It happened last year with Captain America: Civil War. And now, we have all witnessed the kind of big action blockbuster that will effectively ruin all other movies that would come out after during the coveted Summer months. Yeah, I’m gonna call it:

Guardians Of The Galaxy Vol. 2 is the best Summer movie of 2017.

Seriously, all of the others that are coming out in the next few months after this have their work cut out for them. And this is a movie that, really, doesn’t even have much of a concrete plot. Regardless, HERE THERE BE SPOILERS.

So, after the greatest opening title sequence ever realized, we find our motley crew of space heroes on the run from the very race they were hired to protect, where they stumble upon Peter “Star Lord” Quill’s father, who just happens to be Ego, the Living Planet. And in case you’re wondering just how a planet would get it on with a human lady from Earth, there was a Kurt Russell avatar involved. All the other questions about that are actually handled in the movie, so please don’t ask me. I want to be able to sleep at night. Anyway, Quill, Gamora and Drax go with Ego and his consort named Mantis, while Rocket and Baby Groot stay behind to both repair the wrecked Milano, as well as guard Gamora’s sister Nebula. Only, the Ravagers are looking to capture the Guardians for a payout, and after a bit of wackiness that sees both Rocket and Groot captured, along with the help of Nebula, the Ravagers decide to mutiny against their leader Yondu. Which, of course, eventually turns out to be a bad idea. Meanwhile, Quill’s getting some quality time with his intergalactic sperm donor, learning that he’s half Celestial (essentially a demigod) and uses his new-found powers to…play catch with Ego. How heartwarming. Of course, underneath all this shiny-happy outer shell lies a chewy nougat center of horror, as Ego’s true plan is finally revealed, and it’s up to the Guardians to take him down before Ego’s plan destroys the universe as we know it. No sweat.

So, what we have here is a rare sequel that is better than the predecessor, but also manages to flesh out the main characters to the point that when repercussions happen, you feel them in your gut. You get the feels. All the feels. But, you never think that you’re being manipulated into this, and actually balances out the action and comedy that works so well together.

That’s not to say the movie wasn’t without its weaker points. I didn’t think the character of Mantis was really that necessary, except for some exposition (maybe she’ll get fleshed out more in the inevitable sequel of this sequel), and while still a joy to watch, Drax seemed…off. I can’t really explain why, he just does. And probably the most minor quibble would be that the movie throws so much at you during its run time that you really do need to take in a second showing to process it all. Or even a third.

Regardless, Guardians Of The Galaxy Vol. 2 once again proves that James Gunn is not only a very competent director, but can turn a potential dud into a fantastic blockbuster. That is no easy task. Especially when we’re talking about sequels. My advice, go see this while it’s still in the theaters. It’s worth the price of admission, plus the overpriced soda and popcorn.

Movie Review: DOCTOR STRANGE

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movie-review-doctor-strangeDisney / Marvel
2016
PG-13

“You’ll die defending this world, Mister…”
“Doctor.”
“Mister Doctor?”
“It’s Strange!”
“Maybe, who am I to judge?”

Dr. Stephen Strange, a young, arrogant surgeon with a promising career, loses his ability to operate after a terrible accident. Despondent and suicidal, Dr. Strange seeks advice from a mystical being knowing as the Ancient One and learns that he is the newly designated Sorcerer Supreme, responsible for protecting the planet from evil. With his girlfriend Clea and his loyal assistant Wong in tow, Strange sets out to fulfill his destiny.

So, here we have the final Marvel movie of 2016, and it’s another origin story of another Marvel character that I never really bothered to check out back in my comic book geek days. Truth be told, I was very much “meh” about watching this particular entry in the overall Marvel Cinematic Universe that I would have been more than happy waiting to watch it when it got released onto DVD. But, certain members of the Exalted Geeks felt that I should tag along and watch as a group whole the weekend of its release, going so far as to secure the reservation at the theater we were going to watch it at. That, and we normally record a podcast about it, and I had the recording equipment.

So, I watched it. And, it wasn’t that bad, really. I didn’t think it was going to be bad; like with Ant Man and Guardians Of The Galaxy, I didn’t think I would be as entertained as I was due to the lack of interest in the source material themselves. And once again, I was proven wrong. I sense a pattern, here.

Doctor Strange is the story of Benedict Cumberbatch effecting an American Accent and playing an extremely talented and successful neurosurgeon with the narcissistic ego to match. He gets into a car accident which injures his hands beyond complete repair, which sends him into a downward spiral and spending everything he has to find a way to bring his precious hands back. This leads him to Kathmandu (don’t hold your breath waiting for a Bob Segar joke, turns out the movie already makes one of those), where a mystic known only as the Ancient One reluctantly takes him in and begins teaching him the ways of inner healing…along with a bunch of trippy Hogwarts For Adults kind of things. Which all come in handy when some followers of a dark and powerful entity called Dormammu show up to destroy the three Sanctums and summon their master to this reality to cause darkness and chaos. Armed with his burgeoning abilities, along with the Cloak of Levitation and the Eye of Agamotto (Mister Roboto, domo), Doctor Strange must team up with the remaining slingers of the mystic forces and prevent Dormammu from coming in and messing with the Earth’s feng shui.

Doctor Strange can be boiled down as a mash-up of those Shaolin Kung-Fu movies with Harry Potter. Entertaining, yes; a nice mix of action and humor for balance, and some fantastic effects, especially with the first mystical trip-out scene. Ultimately, this is an origins movie, so the story is pretty straight-forward and not mixed in with the rest of the Marvel continuity as of yet. But, you get some glimpses of possible future usage of the future Sorcerer Supreme in the overall scheme. Most of the characters also have a kind of nuanced depth to their setup, which keeps them from being your standard “Good Vs. Evil” black and white hero story. Something they seemed to forget to do with Kaecilius, though it didn’t really hurt the overall dynamic.

In the end, Doctor Strange did turn out to be a good movie, entertaining and up to the standard Marvel Movie quality. Try and see this one in the theaters for the effects are gorgeous. Other than that, like Ant Man, I don’t really see myself seeing it more than once on the big screen.

Movie Review: PETE’S DRAGON (2016)

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movie-review_-petes-dragon-2016Disney
2016
PG

“I know the forest like the back of my hand. I wouldn’t have missed a dragon.”
“You missed Pete.”

Mr. Meacham, a woodcarver, delights local children with stories of a mysterious dragon that lives deep in the woods of the Pacific Northwest. His daughter Grace believes these are just tall tales, until she meets Pete, a 10-year-old orphan who says he lives in the woods with a giant, friendly dragon. With help from a young girl named Natalie, Grace sets out to investigate if this fantastic claim can be true.

I’ll just get this out of the way right now: Yes, I was a fan of the original 1977 musical version of Pete’s Dragon that was a campy animation-meets-live action flop for Disney. I watched it every time it played on HBO back in the day. I was also 7 years old. Looking back, of course it didn’t age well, but I still find some kind of whimsical charm to the whole thing. I still break out in a rousing chorus of “Bill Of Sale” whenever I’m grocery shopping, for whatever reason my brain decides on.

It was around the time when I watched Tim Burton’s “remake” (really a sequel, but whatever) of Alice In Wonderland when I thought that, of all the Disney movies to remake, Pete’s Dragon could befit with the ol’ patented Burton dark whimsy. Well, part of my fanboy desire was realized, as Pete’s Dragon was remade as more of a straight family drama, only by some guy whose previous body of work I don’t recognize, and not by Tim Burton. Ah, well. At least this time around, they done good with Eliot and the gang.

And by that, I mean they went the wise route to keep the spirit of the original movie, but craft its own tale independent of the previous one. This is not a musical (I doubt there’s anyone who’s disappointed with that, really),
the story is set on the other side of the country, and the means in which Pete finds his giant green companion…well, I don’t want to give away too much. Let’s just say, the opening few minutes aren’t going to be very pleasant for the small kiddies.

The story was pretty good, if not a bit ham-fisted with the inevitable environmental message; the child actors were quite good, meaning I didn’t find their performances annoying. And, there were some moments that managed to tug on my blackened heartstrings a bit. Fortunately, the theater was dark, and I made up for that by blasting away a bunch of kill-bots with my youngest nephew afterwards. You read that right.

Of course, the main attraction of this redux is Elliot himself. Obviously not the Don Bluth animated cartoon, but also not your traditional dragon with the scales and the…well, scales. Elliot is more of a big, ginormous puppy with green fur and wings. And the ability to make himself invisible in a way that was rendered at least plausible.

Maybe the only disagreement I have with the movie is the placement of the two main guys: I would actually believe the creepy kid from American Beauty to be the man more concerned with hunting Elliot, than have New Bones from the rebooted Star Trek movies be the…well, not necessarily a bad guy per se, but at least the guy who is clearly the heel in the story. You cannot manipulate me into hating Karl Urban, movie. YOU CAN’T MAKE ME.

Anyway, the Pete’s Dragon redux is a surprisingly good movie. It had the spirit of the original, while crafting something much better, with some fantastic effects and a brisk adventurous story, in my estimation. Worth a look-see.

HALLOWEEN’ING 2015: Day 10 – “The Legend Of Sleepy Hollow” (Disney)

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HALLOWEEN'ING 2015

disney legend of sleepy hollow Oh, now, this brings back memories. Very pleasant ones, in fact. Every year, on television, for the Halloween season, Disney’s take on the Washington Irving classic The Legend of Sleepy Hollow would be broadcast, and I would always watch this with my family.

The Legend Of Sleepy Hollow, the Disney film, was originally produced as a two-parter along with an animated adaptation of The Wind in the Willows, as The Adventures Of Ichabod And Mr. Toad in 1949. Then, in 1955, the two portions were separated and shown separately, both on television and subsequent home video releases. I can’t recall ever seeing the Wind In The Willows portion, but I definitely remember watching The Legend Of Sleepy Hollow a bunch of times.

No matter how many times I watched this as a kid, even though I knew the Headless Horseman was going to show up and give Ichabod Crane chase, it always freaked me out, and I always looked forward to getting freaked out. Yeah, I had that quirk as a kid.

The Legend Of Sleepy Hollow, it’s a classic animated ghost story that goes well with the season. If you haven’t seen this…and so help me, I’ve been saying that a lot recently, you need to do so.

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