Onward I Go with My Thoughts on ‘Onward’

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CREDIT: Pixar/YouTube Screenshot

There’s a certain trope that’s kind of popular in TV and movies. And you can tell that it’s popular because the characters are always so enthusiastic when it happens. In fact, it’s kind of defined by its enthusiasm. I’m talking about, you guessed it, the almighty Title Drop! It’s that triumphant moment when movie characters say the name of the movie within the course of the movie itself. If they do it really well, it makes you go, “Hey, that’s the name of the movie!” (Thanks, Arrested Development!) And Onward, as it turns out, has a doozy of a title drop. In fact, I’ve decided I would like to evaluate the entire film based on how strong that title drop is.

But first, I’ll run through some more straightforward thoughts I have. This tale of elf bros Ian (Tom Holland) and Barley (Chris Pratt) attempting to resurrect their dad for one day feels like a pretty straightforward quest adventure, although it does have the added twist of taking place in a world where magic has petered out despite the population of magical creatures. Ultimately a big part of your enjoyment of Onward will likely depend on how much you connect to its message of brotherhood. And as a brother, and someone who has a brother, I must fairly say, I felt the brotherly vibes. If you too are a brother, or have ever imagined what it feels like to be a brother, you might feel similarly.

Now, back to that title drop. As the action is really starting to ramp up, with Ian taking the wheel of Barley’s trusty van Guinevere, Barley commands, “Put it in ‘O’ for ‘Onward’!”

Did that moment make me go … well, you know?

Indeed it did.

Success!

Movie Review: ‘The Lego Movie 2’ Has Some More Valuable Lessons to Teach Us With Bright Colors and Peppy Songs

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CREDIT: Warner Bros.

Starring: Chris Pratt, Elizabeth Banks, Will Arnett, Tiffany Haddish, Stephanie Beatriz, Charlie Day, Alison Brie, Nick Offerman

Director: Mike Mitchell

Running Time: 107 Minutes

Rating: PG for Traumatizing Lego Destruction

Release Date: February 8, 2019

Where does a sequel go after the original makes such a definitive statement? This is the conundrum facing The Lego Movie 2: The Second Part. (That subtitle is infinitely unnecessary, but not indicative of the movie’s humor as a whole, and also this title would have looked rather naked without a subtitle.) 2015’s first part summed up in cinematic form the whole ethos of the iconic Danish building blocks: in a world that often favors rigidity and conformity, you cannot give up on your individuality, because everyone can be and is special. Childlike imagination and wonder are what fueled The Lego Movie to be as successful as it was. Those values will get you pretty far in life. So why do any more statements need to be made?

It turns out that while The Lego Movie offers a philosophy with wide-ranging applicability, it is not quite a grand unified theory that covers absolutely everything. It spoke to the power of a singular creative vision, but The Second Part demonstrates how collaboration is equally vital. Emmet Brickowski (Chris Pratt) and his Lego friends are now living in the wasteland Apocalypseburg, because in the human world that is controlling them, a little sister has invaded the playspace of her big brother. So Emmet, Lucy (Elizabeth Banks), Batman (Will Arnett), and company head out to broker a peace with some differently designed block-creatures. This leads to permanent bachelor Batman becoming engaged to a sparkly shape-shifter voiced by Tiffany Haddish, while Superman (Channing Tatum) lives happily alongside General Zod in a Stepford-esque perfect suburb.

Sizing up the situation, Emmet believes that his mission is to free his friends from the brainwashing of strangers. But while it may seem that all is not what it seems, it turns out that that particular mystery trope is not being played as straight as you might expect. The Lego Movie taught us to be skeptical about a constantly smiling world insisting that everything is awesome, but it also taught us that awesomeness sometimes really is awesome if it has genuine feeling behind it. The candy-coated invading milieu of The Second Part initially appears to be fundamentally suspicious. But sometimes a bright, peppy outer layer is only covering a bright and rewarding core. Sometimes a catchy song that jams itself right in your head is so buoyant that you’re happy it’s stuck there. Belief in yourself is important, but don’t forget to be open-minded about everyone else.

The Lego Movie 2: The Second Part is Recommended If You Like: The Lego Movie and its spin-offs, Playing with your siblings

Grade: 4 out of 5 Catchy Songs

This Is a Movie Review: Jurassic World: Fallen Kingdom

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CREDIT: Universal Studios and Amblin Entertainment, Inc.
and Legendary Pictures Productions, LLC.

I give Jurassic World: Fallen Kingdom 3 out of 5 Eruptions: https://uinterview.com/reviews/movies/jurassic-world-fallen-kingdom-movie-review-dino-sequel-provides-action-with-surprising-drama/

This Is a Movie Review: ‘Guardians of the Galaxy vol. 2’ Fulfills Its Blockbuster Duty

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This review was originally published on News Cult in May 2017.

Starring: Chris Pratt, Zoe Saldana, Dave Bautista, Bradley Cooper, Vin Diesel, Michael Rooker, Karen Gillan, Pom Klementieff, Elizabeth Debicki, Kurt Russell

Director: James Gunn

Running Time: 136 Minutes

Rating: PG-13 for Space Opera Whiz Bang and Discussions About the Facts of Life

Release Date: May 5, 2017

As fun as this era of Marvel-ous moviemaking can be, a corporate agenda gets in the way of originality. But it is not necessarily the blueprint of interconnected universes that mandates that every superhero movie must end with a fight for the survival of the planet. That is simply this genre’s instinct. If you want to avoid it, you have to fight it. And expanding the setting to multiple galaxies is not the way to do so. That just raises the stakes. Instead of just Earth, it is the fate of the entire universe that hangs in the balance. Guardians of the Galaxy vol. 2 cannot help but be a part of this exhausting pattern, but it does what it can by rendering this gigantic fight as personal as possible.

When Peter Quill’s (Chris Pratt) long-lost papa Ego (Kurt Russell) shows up, Quill suspects that the reunion is a little too perfect. Gamora (Zoe Saldana) convinces him to give his dad a chance, assuring him that if treachery is afoot, killing him is always an option. So they, alongside Drax (Dave Bautista) and Ego’s empathic companion Mantis (Pom Klementieff) head off to Ego’s home planet. It looks like an idyllic utopia, but eventually it is revealed that Ego is the planet, and his intentions with his son may not be so aboveboard. The threat of universal apocalypse thereby feels intimate because it depends upon how Quill will or will not be manipulated.

Meanwhile, Rocket (Bradley Cooper) and Baby Groot (Vin Diesel) are holding down the fort elsewhere and forming unlikely, but satisfying, alliances with Yondu (Michael Rooker) and Nebula (Karen Gillan). They must deal with an onslaught from a new race of aliens that I do not feel like getting into. They are probably here because they will factor significantly into future Marvel Cinematic Universe installments, but for now, they are a distraction from the main conflict. I am not opposed in principle to splitting up the main crew. Rocket and Groot, after all, have a delightful C-3PO/R2-D2-style repartee wherever they go. They can do their own thing, it just does not need to be so extensive when the main thrust is already so all-encompassing.

While vol. 2 does fall prey to sequel bloat, the Guardians crew is reliable enough for their adventures to have a pretty high floor. The banter is top-notch, fueled as it is by intergalactic culture clash. Gamora attempts to comfort Quill by referencing his attachment to a certain beloved-by-Germans celebrity, but she totally botches the details. Quill later fires back with a Cheers analogy of their relationship that is adorably confused. Drax demonstrates how his race is quite open about discussing sexual matters with a colorful description of his parents’ experiences. This is all helped along by Mantis’ empathic abilities, in which she can feel others’ emotions and thus open up the dams holding back honesty. The pinnacle of all this sharing is Baby Groot’s opinion on hats (which does not even need Mantis’ prompting).

Guardians of the Galaxy vol. 2 is Recommended If You Like: “I am Groot.” “I am Groot?” “I AMMM GROOOOOOOT!”

Grade: 3.5 out of 5 Sweet Sounds of the Seventies

This Is a Movie Review: Passengers

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passengers-jen-looks-sad

This review was originally published on News Cult in December 2016.

Starring: Chris Pratt, Jennifer Lawrence, Michael Sheen

Director: Morten Tyldum

Running Time: 116 Minutes

Rating: PG-13 for Pratt Butt and J-Law Sideboob

Release Date: December 21, 2016

WARNING: This review is SPOILER-heavy.

The first 30 minutes or so of Passengers is not exactly what you have seen advertised in the trailers. That is surely on purpose, because it is not the sort of thing that pops in whizbang mainstream cinema. The ads might lead you to believe that Jim Preston (Chris Pratt) and Aurora Lane (Jennifer Lawrence) wake up simultaneously 90 years too soon from their faulty hibernation pods, but in fact, Jim is all by his lonesome for about a year. Thus the film kicks off with Pratt knocking about in Homeless Lumberjack Chic.

Personally, I would be happy to watch 2 hours of this. There is plenty of hilarity in Jim’s interactions with a spaceship programmed to promise a bright future, which play like a horror satire of cultish weekend resorts. Jim however turns to despair, with only Android Bartender Michael Sheen keeping him from sliding into complete insanity. Robot companions make so many things bearable.

This particular robot companion, however, is not built to solve Jim’s dilemma. So when he discovers Aurora, he believes he has found the human connection to shake him back to life … this despite really only having her looks to establish an attraction. But I get it – sometimes a photo of a rando has struck my fancy, leading me to wonder, “What is the mystery behind this person?” The film also tries to suggest that Jim is won over by Aurora’s writing, but the words of hers we are privy to are rather banal – that nagging movie shortcoming in which a supposed expert’s works are not particularly impressive.

The more pressing issue is the ethical quandary regarding the appropriateness of Jim waking Aurora up. While his motives are presented as primarily selfish, they are not without justification. The ship is critically malfunctioning, and he does not have access to any of the areas that would allow him to fix it. Nor can he wake up any crew members, as he does not have access to their hibernation pods either. But from Aurora’s perspective, this is a huge violation of her agency. There is a chance to play this as a horror movie about the loss of control, and Lawrence is all ready to go to that vein of darkness, but she is granted precious little time to do so.

Passengers climaxes as Titanic in Space, which is to say: those who made the spaceship had the hubris to claim that there is no way it can possibly fail. The A.I. running the ship is categorically unable to process any malfunction. This is at least the third promising premise this film has at its disposal but also the least interestingly executed. The action moves along briskly, but it is overly methodical and flavorless, too concerned with just getting from Point A to Point B.

Despite its shortcomings, I generally enjoyed Passengers. Part of that is surely due to the magnetism of Pratt and Lawrence (and the slyness of Sheen). But even moreso, I am amused by the off-kilter dialogue, in which absurdly large numbers like “8 quadrillion dollars” are bandied about like they’re nothing. (Why are there such big numbers? Because, it’s THE FUTURE!) Then there are the indelible neologisms like “Ultimate Geographical Suicide.” The flaws of Passengers are unavoidable, but so are its irrepressible bursts of personality.

Passengers is Recommended If You LikeTitanic minus all the extras and supporting cast crossed with the post-apocalypse

The First 30 Minutes of Passengers Are Recommended If You Like: The pilot episode of The Last Man on Earth

Grade: 3 out of 5 Space Basketball Pickup Games

SNL Season 40 Premiere Recap September 27, 2014: Chris Pratt/Ariana Grande

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SNL: Ariana Grande, Chris Pratt (CREDIT: YouTube Screenshot)

This review was originally posted on Starpulse in September 2014.

To kick off its milestone 40th season, “SNL” entrusted the premiere to first-time guests Chris Pratt and Ariana Grande.  Pratt proved to be the perfect utility player host, comfortably slotting into all his roles without overshadowing the cast.  His trademark goofy energy could have been put to greater use, but this was an episode of “SNL” that wanted to try out new material and cover some of the most pressing news stories.  New cast members Michael Che and Pete Davidson looked perfectly comfortable as they made auspicious debuts.  Overall, this was an episode that was not entirely focused but was overall more interesting and more experimental than “SNL” usually allows itself to be.  Let’s take a closer look at each of the sketches:

State of the Union with Candy Crowley – This is one of those typical “SNL” cold openings: a news talk show parody that allows multiple stories to be covered with minimal connective tissue.  At least in this case, the various stories were all under the same umbrella of “NFL in Crisis.”  While Roger Goodell and former Baltimore Ravens Ray Lewis and Shannon Sharpe all had their funny moments, this sketch did not make much of a point beyond “Ray Rice and Adrian Peterson are not the only NFL players who have had legal troubles.” Lewis’s hook of constantly changing the subject to kids going to school made up for the fact that this was yet another non-impression from Kenan Thompson, while Sharpe continued to be one of Jay Pharoah’s best impressions, with a particularly Eddie Murphy-esque laugh. B-

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This Is A Movie Review: The Lego Movie

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legomoviecharactersposed
The ending of The Lego Movie was spoiled for me before I saw it.  I’m not complaining; it is my prerogative to not go out of my way to avoid spoilers.  And it wasn’t specifically spoiled in any one review – I put the details together from various reviews and comments sections.  It is also my prerogative when writing my own reviews to include spoiler-ish information if useful, so be forewarned and stop reading if you feel you must.  I believe that a great movie still holds up even if I know the ending ahead of time, whether or not that ending is surprising.  But if it is a surprise, it is fun to have that surprise revealed when it is meant to be.  But, oddly enough, I think I actually enjoyed The Lego Movie more than I would have without knowing the ending.  Each point of conflict was so much more resonant because I knew it was supposed to have sprung from the imagination of a young boy trying to get through to his dad.

Surprise or no, that last scene worked brilliantly.  I loved the way it was directed and edited.  Obviously there was plenty of care given to the visual aesthetic of the majority of the movie, goofily capturing the herky-jerky rhythm of moving blocks around.  Directors Phil Lord and Chris Miller probably could have gotten away with blowing off the live-action portion, but it appears that they gave it just as much care.  There are several high shots of Dad Will Ferrell that are blocked by the Lego models that effectively convey a child’s POV and just look cool.  Also, props must be given for the psychedelic transitions of Emmet traveling between the Lego and real worlds that made everything disorienting in the best way.

The message of The Lego Movie is inspiring, and it is phrased in a perfectly nuanced way.  A prophecy declares that whoever finds the Piece of Resistance will be “the Special,” the one who will save the world.  And so it is that Emmet, a simple construction worker, finds himself in this position.  But Emmet doesn’t find himself among the more obvious Master Builders like Wyldstyle, Batman, and 1980-Something Space Guy because everyone is special; he is among them because anyone can be special.  You see, Vitruvius made up the prophecy, but that does not mean it wasn’t true.  It just meant it was incumbent on Emmet to make it become true.  And so it is for everyone to figure out how to be special themselves, knowing when to follow instructions and when to imagine whatever they can think of. A