Where Are We Going?! ‘Dora and the Lost City of Gold’ Review!

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CREDIT: Paramount Pictures

The best parts of Dora and the Lost City of Gold are when Dora goes to high school, and I kind of (actually more than kind of) wish a lot more of the movie took place there. Now, I generally have a rule that I do not criticize a movie for what it isn’t, instead preferring to grapple with what it actually is. But when the movie itself gives us a preview of what it could’ve been, I think it’s valid to wonder “what if?”

I’m a sucker for fish-out-of-water scenarios and recontextualization, and Dora’s enrollment into Los Angeles’ secondary school system is a textbook example. It’s very Mean Girls-esque, but tonally reversed, as Dora is too unflappably peppy and resourceful to ever be consumed by the darkness of high school pettiness. Instead, she is going to win over everyone eventually by sheer force of will, and Isabela Moner is absolutely up to the task. And let’s be clear: she’s not naive. She knows her classmates make fun of her for singing about her backpack and other aggressive idiosyncrasies, but she is just so sure of herself that she can’t be anyone else, and that is a quality I admire more than just about anything. When her school has a “Dress as Your Favorite Star” dance, you get the sense that she actually does understand that “star” means “celebrity,” but she nevertheless chooses to dress as the Sun, so that’s pretty awesome.

Anyway, Dora and some friends get kidnapped, then they go searching for her missing parents in the jungle, and that’s the majority of the movie. It’s a family-friendly Indiana Jones, and you’ve probably seen this sort of adventure dozens of time before. But never before with Danny Trejo voicing a monkey.

I give Dora and the Lost City of Gold a Grade of “Delightful!” Encantadora! Can you say, “Encantadora”?

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This Is a Movie Review: The Mule

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CREDIT: Warner Bros.

This post was originally published on News Cult in December 2018.

Starring: Clint Eastwood, Bradley Cooper, Laurence Fishburne, Michael Peña, Dianne Wiest, Andy García, Isabel Eastwood, Taissa Farmiga, Ignacio Serricchio, Eugene Cordero

Director: Clint Eastwood

Running Time: 116 Minutes

Rating: R for Casual Racist Slurs and Showing Someone a Good Time (*Wink Wink*) for the Night

Release Date: December 14, 2018

The Mule does not need to feature casual racism and crankiness about how young people are ruining everything with their newfangled technology, but it stars and is directed by Clint Eastwood, so what are you gonna do? At this point in time, he can at least be entertaining as a self-parody. This is, after all, a movie in which he literally says “if you can’t open a fruit box without calling the Internet” and “Damn Internet, it ruins everything.” Or maybe this ultimate cinematic tough guy is actually self-aware and toying around with his reputation. In one moment, when he calls a black family “Negroes” while helping them change a tire, he does get chided for his ignorance. But it isn’t like that scene even needs to exist. Nor does there need to be a scene when he makes a connection with lesbian motorcyclists who proudly call themselves “dykes on bikes.” If The Mule is woke, it is simplistically so, which is fairly amusing, but also a little concerning.

There is a level of professionalism but also a lack of consideration that makes The Mule entertaining and imbues it with a strong message but also renders it shallow. The script is based on a New York Times article about the real-life story of Leo Sharp, who in his 80s became a drug mule for the Sinaloa Cartel. Eastwood plays Earl Stone, a fictionalized version of Sharp. He has spent decades dedicating himself to his horticulture career at the expense of his family, and now that the bottom has dropped out on his business, he finds himself turning to a much more lucrative and much more illegal profession.

The story of a man who never made time for his wife and daughter because he was too focused on his flowers is certainly different, but everything else about The Mule is predictable, sometimes worryingly so. Most of the characters who are people of color are cartel members, while all of the white characters are either Earl and his friends and family or DEA agents. That in and of itself is not wrong as it may very well reflect reality, but in 2018 it feels tone deaf not to more carefully consider that racial divide. And that really is a shame in this case, because The Mule actually does appear interested in taking a more unique approach to the material. The plot hinges on Earl realizing that it is never too late to be a good spouse and parent, a lesson he attempts to impart to his cartel handlers and the DEA agent on his tail (Bradley Cooper). It is a fascinating story on its own that also comes across on screen as mostly fascinating, but it’s spiked with a few too many shots of Eastwood crankiness.

The Mule is Recommended If You Like: The Crankiness and Casual Racism of Late-Era Clint Eastwood

Grade: 3 out of 5 Dykes on Bikes for Entertainment Value/2 out of 5 Stereotypes for Social Value

 

This Is a Movie Review: Ant-Man and the Wasp

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CREDIT: Disney/Marvel Films

I give Ant-Man and the Wasp 3.5 out of 5 Quantum Realms: http://newscult.com/movie-review-ant-man-wasp-keeps-cool-summer/

This Is a Movie Review: A Wrinkle in Time

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CREDIT: Disney

I certainly enjoyed Ava DuVernay’s spin on A Wrinkle in Time, though I am a little disappointed it does not reach the level of blockbuster classic that I hoped it would. I think much of that has to do with its too-low-calorie mix of epic and low-key. Sure, Meg travels a great interdimensional distance to save her father from a dark entity threatening the entire universe, but she does so over just the course of an afternoon. That relative speed is part of the hook, sure, but it should not feel so speedy. It really would have been beneficial to more deeply explore the effects of tessering on Meg, Calvin, and Charles Wallace.

There are a lot of wonderful design elements and sufficiently creepy moments, but much of those do not feel terribly specific to what this particular film is trying to say. Perhaps the scariest sequence is the disturbingly harmonious cul-de-sac on Camazotz, but that is not really preying on any unique Murry family fears; the fight at hand is not really one against suburban conformity. As for the supposedly weightless bromides of inspiration and self-confidence, I do not find them terribly off-putting, but they certainly could have benefited from the offbeat verve that Zach Galifianakis naturally taps into as the Happy Medium.

I give A Wrinkle in Time 3 Happy’s out of 5 IT’s.

This Is a Movie Review: 12 Strong

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CREDIT: David James/HS Film, LLC/Warner Bros.

This post was originally published on News Cult in January 2018.

Starring: Chris Hemsworth, Michael Shannon, Navid Negahban, Michael Peña, Trevante Rhodes, Geoff Stults, William Fichtner, Rob Riggle, Elsa Pataky

Director: Nicolai Fuglsig

Running Time: 129 Minutes

Rating: R for Typical War Violence and Expletives, Though Far From the Genre’s Most Explicit

Release Date: January 19, 2018

12 Strong dramatizes a U.S. military operation immediately following the September 11 attacks, in which Task Force Dagger struck back against the Taliban in the mountains of Afghanistan. A mission that could have lasted years is instead completed in a matter of weeks. Thus, the film ends on a moment of triumph. But that is a note that rings hollow, as nearly two decades in, the war on terror is still going on, with no clear end in sight.

To be fair, the dispersed, insidious, leaderless nature of terrorism makes it profoundly difficult to stamp out entirely, and it is accordingly just as difficult to convey the entire meaning of this conflict in a single work of art. 12 Strong does not purport to capture that entirety, nor should we fault it for failing to do so. But it does deserve to be taken to task for bringing up some existential conundrums and declining to thoroughly investigate them. An Afghani ally tells the men of Task Force Dagger, “You will be cowards if you leave, and you will be our enemies if you stay.” And that is really the crux of this issue. But instead of grabbling with that dilemma, 12 Strong leaves it hanging.

At its heart, though, 12 Strong just wants to be a celebration of heroism. And on that score, it is more committed, but not especially capable. It was filmed in New Mexico, and you can feel just how much it is not actually on a real Afghani battlefield. A cheap, careless aesthetic is not exactly the best way to honor these guys. I am sure budgetary constraints made things difficult, but that could have been counteracted with the same ingenuity that Task Force Dagger displayed, but alas, the final product is a bunch of grey dullness with occasional flashes of personality (that personality coming from the fact that these soldiers were forced to ride horses, which most of them are not trained to do, thus resulting in a few solid laughs).

12 Strong is Recommended If You Like: Saving Private Ryan but with straight-to-video production values

Grade: 2 out of 5 Horse Soldiers

 

This Is a Movie Review: My Little Pony: The Movie

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CREDIT: Lionsgate/Hasbro

I give My Little Pony: The Movie 2.5 out of 5 Hippogriffs: http://newscult.com/movie-review-my-little-pony-the-movie-keeps-equestria-buoyant-and-simple/

This Is a Movie Review: The Lego Ninjago Movie

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CREDIT: Warner Bros.

This post was originally published on News Cult in September 2017.

Starring: Dave Franco, Justin Theroux, Olivia Munn, Jackie Chan, Fred Armisen, Abbi Jacobson, Kumail Nanjiani, Michael Peña, Zach Woods

Directors: Charlie Bean, Paul Fisher, and Bob Logan

Running Time: 101 Minutes

Rating: PG for Ripped-Off Lego Limbs and Feline-on-Toy Destruction

Release Date: September 22, 2017

If you want to learn how to nail down comic timing, you could do much worse than studying the repartee in The Lego Ninjago Movie. This second spin-off of the toy block film franchise and the first based on the speciality Ninjago line (which also already has its own long-running Cartoon Network TV show) should ostensibly be the most action-oriented of the series, but its cast ensures that it is instead defined by the cheeky humor that has buoyed each of the Lego films thus far. The voices of the high school-age core ninja group include improv and sketch veterans like Fred Armisen, Abbi Jacobson, Kumail Nanjiani, and Zach Woods. And their leader, Master Wu, is brought to life by the always comedically inclined martial arts legend Jackie Chan. As they protect their home city of Ninjago and seek to become one with the elements, they pop off quips like “Can I be the element of surprise?” and display their meta bona fides by complaining about Wu’s “needlessly cryptic metaphors.”

The thrust of the plot mostly revolves around Green Ninja Lloyd (Dave Franco) and his struggle against his father Lord Garmadon (Justin Theroux), a four-armed warlord seeking to conquer Ninjago who keeps mispronouncing (or correctly pronouncing?) his son’s name as “L-loyd.” Lloyd’s attempts to reconcile with the father who abandoned and forgot about him make for the dopily cliché stuff of legend. This is the same evil-father/chosen-one-son knockoff typical of so many Star Wars copycats. But of course, that dopiness is the point. In a world where love stories begin by opponents in war detecting unbearable beauty on opposite sides of the battlefield and the biggest hit on the radio is the weirdly personal “Boo Lloyd!,” fully embracing clichés only makes sense.

For those of you wondering how the real world intervenes in the block world this time around, it should be noted that there is a cute kitty cat who stomps around the town. Dubbed “Meowthra,” this feline is the secondary villain, the monster that indiscriminately and unknowingly ruins intricately designed block structures.

Where Ninjago falters is in its actions sequences. To be fair, its earthbound fighting moments have plenty of visual wit, but when the ninjas take to the skies, the aerial sequences are as unintelligible as the Transformers series at its worst. But that will only be a minor bother when you make it through to the end credits and fall in love with the latest buoyantly terrific song from a Lego movie.

The Lego Ninjago Movie is Recommended If You Like: Lego’s entire filmography, Star Wars father-son relationship parodies, Silicon Valley, Finding the humor in “Cat’s in the Cradle”

Grade: 3.5 out of 5 Ninjanuities