Does ‘Lightyear’ Come to Our Rescue?

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CREDIT: Pixar/Screenshot

Starring: Chris Evans, Keke Palmer, Peter Sohn, Uzo Aduba, Taika Waititi, Dale Soules, Isiah Whitlock Jr., James Brolin

Director: Angus MacLane

Running Time: 105 Minutes

Rating: PG

Release Date: June 17, 2022 (Theaters)

I went ahead and saw Lightyear with my dad on the day before Father’s Day. You can certainly celebrate Father’s Day all weekend, after all! I think I also saw the first two Toy Storys with my dad (plus the rest of my immediate family) way back when, so this was a pretty cool way to sequelize that. As the credits were playing, I scrolled through the RunPee app, and then I explained to my dad what RunPee is. Kind of funny that he’s never heard about it before now even though it’s been around for years. That must’ve been what it was like for Buzz Lightyear when the other characters explained how he was affected by all the time dilation. I enjoy cinematic discussions about time dilation! (Even if they don’t hold up to the scrutiny of real-life physics.) The robot cat was also pretty cool, even though he wasn’t terribly feline.

Grade: 400 Lightyears out of 300 Rescues

‘National Champions’ Presents Its Melodramatic Case for Student-Athlete Compensation

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National Champions (CREDIT: Scott Garfield/Courtesy of STX Films)

Starring: Stephan James, J.K. Simmons, Alexander Ludwig, Lil Rel Howery, Tim Blake Nelson, Andrew Bachelor, Jeffrey Donovan, David Koechner, Kristin Chenoweth, Timothy Olyphant, Uzo Aduba

Director: Ric Roman Waugh

Running Time: 116 Minutes

Rating: R for Big Boy Executive Language

Release Date: December 10, 2021 (Theaters)

National Champions is certainly timely, as the subject of student-athlete compensation has made its way up to the Supreme Court, and players are now permitted to financially benefit from their name, image, and likeness. But I don’t imagine that this conflict will play out in real life anywhere near as operatically it does in this movie. That’s not a criticism! I’m in the theater to be entertained, not to confirm that they get all the facts straight. And for the most part, I was thrilled, amused, and riveted.

Stephan James is at the center of it all as star quarterback LeMarcus James. James (the actor) played Jesse Owens in his breakthrough role, so he’s building up a bit of a resume of athletes who take a historical stand. LeMarcus is a senior playing his last college game in the looming title bout who’s also the presumptive number one pick in the upcoming NFL draft. But he’s calling an audible, as he announces that he’s boycotting the game unless and until the NCAA agrees to recognize varsity athletes as employees and pay them accordingly. He’s got about three days to convince his teammates and his opponents to join him, while also ducking out of the way of his coach (J.K. Simmons), various college football administrators and executives, and the NCAA’s ruthless outside counsel representative (Uzo Aduba).

Director Ric Roman Waugh and screenwriter Adam Mervis (adapting his own play of the same name) have painted a massively cynical portrait of the state of college athletics. Some of their tsk-tsking is well-founded, but my god, is it breathtakingly overwrought. It kinda has to be, considering that pretty much every line of dialogue frames everyone’s decision in life-or-death stakes. This could be a formula for unbearable soul crushing, but thankfully the premise has to allow at least a hint of optimism to poke its way in throughout. That lightness helps us realize that the ridiculousness of all the melodrama is a plus, as laughing at the moral righteousness of this exploitative system is a healthy reaction.

One other noteworthy observation before I go: several real-life athletes and sportscasters appear as themselves, which would add some authenticity, but that’s undercut by the lack of real-life branding. The teams in the championship game are from fictional schools, and ESPN (or any other sports network for that matter) is never once mentioned. I’d argue that the fakeness is weirdly the right choice (though I imagine it actually wasn’t a choice at all); this isn’t the real world after all, but a slightly heightened version of it.

National Champions is Recommended If You Like: Over-the-top line deliveries, Sports movies without any sports, Kristen Chenoweth performances without any singing

Grade: 3.5 out of 5 Salaries

This Is a Movie Review: ‘My Little Pony: The Movie’ Keeps Equestria Buoyant and Simple

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CREDIT: Lionsgate/Hasbro

This review was originally posted on News Cult in October 2017.

Starring: Tara Strong, Ashleigh Ball, Andrea Libman, Tabitha St. Germain, Cathy Weseluck, Emily Blunt, Michael Peña, Liev Schreiber, Taye Diggs, Zoe Saldana, Kristen Chenoweth, Uzo Aduba, Sia

Director: Jayson Thiessen

Running Time: 99 Minutes

Rating: PG for the Stone Hearts and Warped Magic of Cartoon Villains

Release Date: October 6, 2017

There’s a contingent of young adult (mostly) male fans of the My Little Pony: Friendship is Magic TV series who go by the moniker “bronies.” Some might suspect irony in this demographic’s devotion to a cartoon about unicorn ponies, but everything I know about them indicates that they are completely genuine. As I am curious enough to check out any show meant to appeal to demos completely different than mine, I once upon a time wondered if I too might become a brony. So I watched an episode of Friendship is Magic several years ago, and … I didn’t really get what all the fuss was about. But with a movie adaptation on the horizon, and with me as someone who is professionally bound to sample every wide release, the ponies stood another chance of hooking me into their fold.

Alas, after catching My Little Pony: The Movie, I must report that I still remain unconverted. But I suspect the fandom will be pleased. Normally when reviewing something, I keep every possible audience in mind, but MLP should not be faulted too hard for catering to one crowd in particular. It has no desire to expand its appeal with the self-awareness of DreamWorks, or the adult themes snuck into Pixar’s childlike wonder, or the anarchy of Despicable Me. Furthermore, the plot is simple, straightforward, and archetypal: the heroes make a bunch of new friends on a Campbell-esque hero’s journey, and the villain is not evil so much as misunderstood. While I would be more impressed with My Little Pony if it were more ambitious, there is something to be said for easy-to-understand positivity.

For those looking for some distinct personalities and imaginative flourishes, there are some  pleasures to be had. Emily Blunt is positively purring as Tempest Shadow, a heavy metal-influenced purple unicorn who threatens to ruin the good vibes of the ponies’ homeland of Equestria. Then there is Taye Diggs familiziairing everyone with the message of the beatniks in his voicing of hepcat humanoid feline Capper. The color palette is relentlessly bright, which certainly earns my favor, but for those who like it a little darker or at least subdued, it is still impressive how fastidiously each shade of the rainbow is woven together. In total, MLP: The Movie does what it sets out to do.

My Little Pony: The Movie is Recommended If You Like: My Little Pony: Friendship is Magic, Unikitty from The Lego Movie, Parent-child bonding time

Grade: 2.5 out of 5 Hippogriffs