MOVIE: Star Wars – Episode IX – The Rise of Skywalker (2019)

Star Wars: Episode IX – The Rise of Skywalker Year: 2019 Rating: PG-13 Length: 142 minutes / 2.37 hours Full disclosure: I’m not a die-hard Star Wars fan by any means. Sure, I like the original trilogy, but Return of the Jedi (1983) is my favorite of that set (take that how you will). In the end, I don’t look at this franchise through the lens of the expanded universe or all the lore tied to it. I just see them as movies. Are they entertaining? Sure, they have their moments. Are they groundbreaking? Not since A New Hope (1977), in my opinion. So, while The Force Awakens (2015) felt like a rehash/reboot, I did appreciate how The Last Jedi (2017) took some risks in terms of character development. So, how does The Rise of Skywalker (2019) fare? First of all, the plot moves at a hyperspace-clipped pace. There seemed to be so many loose ends to tie up and nostalgia to fit in that...
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MOVIE: Toy Story 4 (2019)

Toy Story 4 Year: 2019 Rating: G Length: 100 minutes / 1.67 hours After the Toy Story “trilogy” ended in 2010, I was honestly a little confused and irritated that Disney/Pixar would open up this franchise again for a fourth entry. That being said, I now see the entire “story” was not complete at that point. There was still some amount of finality that the franchise had not reached. Of course, now I’ll be mad if they decide to make a Toy Story 5 since Toy Story 4 (2019) wrapped everything up so nicely and conclusively. Then again, maybe the next entry in the series will finally explain the odd rules about toy sentience. By far, the most striking thing about Toy Story 4 is its visuals. I was ten years old when Toy Story (1995) came out. Even in the four years between it and Toy Story 2 (1999), I could see massive improvements in what computers could create in terms of CGI imagery. With Toy Story 3 (2010) having just over a decade to improve its visuals,...
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MOVIE: Aladdin (2019)

Aladdin Year: 2019 Rating: PG Length: 128 minutes / 2.13 hours When the animated version of Aladdin came out in 1992, I was seven years old. As a young boy, I could finally relate to the titular character since the focus of this Disney film wasn’t as much on the “princess” as it was on “Prince Ali.” Consequently, this film has remained one of my favorite Disney films over the years and is one I have mostly memorized after repeated viewings in my childhood. As such, I was partly looking forward to this live-action adaptation due to my love of the original. The other part of my anticipation was because Guy Ritchie was directing it (and I’ve loved plenty of his earlier works). Having now seen this version of the rags-to-riches tale, I’m in this weird “uncanny valley” of storytelling. Because I have the original memorized, this version of the story was close enough to be predictable but not a word-for-word re-enactment, which is what I found...
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BOOK: The Hunchback of Notre Dame (1831)

The Hunchback of Notre Dame Year: 1831 Author: Victor Hugo Length: 1,136 minutes / 18.93 hours Victor Hugo is one of those classic authors who I’ve hesitated reading because his stories tend to have a lot of details that don’t necessarily add to the plot. Sure, The Hunchback of Notre Dame is no Les Miserables, but Hugo’s style made this book perhaps a little longer than it should have been. Either way, now I know a lot more about the architecture of Notre Dame Cathedral. Despite all this, the story of The Hunchback of Notre Dame is timeless in many ways, not the least of which centers around its titular character. While modern stories are vying to be inclusive and diverse, Victor Hugo managed to write a story in the 1800s that not only included a disabled individual but racially diverse characters (at least for France) as well. The fact that both are sympathetic protagonists helps cement Quasimodo and Esmerelda in my mind. They’re both persecuted in their own ways;...
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MOVIE: Ralph Breaks the Internet (2018)

Ralph Breaks the Internet Year: 2018 Rating: PG Length: 111 minutes / 1.85 hours Back in 2012, I was impressed that a movie like Wreck-It Ralph could exist. The amount of licensing agreements needed to bring together so many recognizable characters from famous franchises was a daunting task the likes of which I hadn’t seen since Who Framed Roger Rabbit? (1988). Similarly, the sequel to Wreck-It Ralph, Ralph Breaks the Internet (2018) had the challenge of integrating so many brand names and websites into something that could work as a story without becoming too dated as time marches on. In both cases, I think the balance between brand-name recognition and original content helped to make for an entertaining film. In the lead-up to the release of Ralph Breaks the Internet, I was concerned that it was going to rely heavily on internet memes for its laughs—taking a somewhat similar tack from The Emoji Movie (2017). I also had concerns that this movie would also focus...
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MOVIE: Christopher Robin (2018)

Christopher Robin Year: 2018 Rating: PG Length: 104 minutes / 1.73 hours Tell me if you’ve heard this one before: a child from a famous story grows up into a businessman who doesn’t have time for his family but eventually comes to face his lack of work/life balance by revisiting the fantastical world of his childhood. If you thought this was the plot of Hook (1991), you’d be right. Unfortunately, it is also the almost-identical plot to the Winnie the Pooh sequel, Christopher Robin (2018). I’d forgive its unoriginality only if I knew who the audience for it was. Is it a morality tale for overworked parents? Is it a lesson for kids to never take work seriously? I honestly don’t know. I will say that Disney did a good job bringing the stuffed animals of the original story to life in this live-action adaptation, except that I was pretty shocked to find out that Rabbit (Peter Capaldi) and Owl (Toby Jones) were actual animals, and not of the stuffed variety....
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MOVIE: Incredibles 2 (2018)

Incredibles 2 Year: 2018 Rating: PG Length: 118 minutes / 1.97 hours Before we start, I have to say that The Incredibles (2004) is perhaps my favorite Pixar film. Back when superhero films were starting to become successful (albeit, not nearly as lucratively successful as the Marvel Cinematic Universe), The Incredibles artfully blended a superhero film with a family/midlife crisis plot that worked on so many levels. It is then no surprise that I was truly looking forward to its sequel, Incredibles 2 (2018). In the back of my head, I knew that most of Pixar's talent had switched over to Disney about eight years ago, but I hoped enough of the original team would be around to make this sequel something special. Unfortunately, time seems to have worked against Incredibles 2. If this had come out ten years ago, it would have enjoyed some of the originality that comes with beating the Marvel behemoth out of the gate. As it is now, I'm not sure if Incredibles 2...
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MOVIE: A Wrinkle in Time (2018)

A Wrinkle in Time Year: 2018 Rating: PG Length: 109 minutes / 1.82 hours While plenty of children's books are imaginative, no amount of CGI can cover up the fact that a faithful adaptation to the source material should be the highest priority. Unfortunately, due to the heavy Christian undertones in the original story, an anti-Christian Hollywood managed to churn out this loose adaptation of A Wrinkle in Time that doesn't do much more than waste a few hours of your time. Sure, there are hints to such important ideas as faith, but they're lost in lackluster character development that tries to "modernize" something that has been timeless for decades. Each of the sequences in this film merely seems like an excuse for gorgeous set design. If anything, the alien worlds and settings are neat to look at, but they don't do much to distract from the events that just happen without much explanation as to why, or what purpose they serve. For instance, the scene...
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MOVIE: Coco (2017)

Coco Year: 2017 Rating: PG Length: 105 minutes / 1.75 hours In the never-ending string of incredible visuals brought to life by Pixar, Coco (2017) continues this trend into the afterlife. At this point, I’m convinced Pixar could just go ahead and shoot live video and put their animated characters in the scene and I’d still think the whole thing was animated. The interplay of color, light, and shadow really come out in this celebration of Mexican culture. All spectacular visuals aside, Pixar again delivers on an emotional impact that left me crying, as always. When it comes to new ideas, Pixar certainly still knows how to create a visually-compelling story. While Coco has a lot going for it, there are a few weaknesses, some of which are my own opinion based on my likes and dislikes. I know the film mostly targets children (and older children at that), but the plot was just a smidge too predictable. Sure, it was enjoyable to see my...
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MOVIE: Frozen (2013)

Frozen Year: 2013 Rating: PG Length: 102 minutes / 1.7 hours It's hard to deny the worldwide phenomenon that is this movie. While I'm sure parents now twitch any time "Let it Go" comes on, the fact of the matter is many factors led to the success of this film. Starting in the mid-2000's, Disney saw they had a problem and set about trying to fix it. By rehauling how they told stories, and how they approached the characters in these stories, they soon were back on top of the animation industry (while Pixar continues to be content pumping out Cars sequels). Stunning visuals can only get you so far in a Disney movie, and Frozen (2013) certainly takes the cake when it comes to visualizing snow and ice through computers. What makes Frozen work as a story is its complexity. No one character is completely good or completely bad, each having their faults and limitations, as well as their good intentions and personal desires. This...
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MUSIC: Aladdin (2011)

Aladdin New Amsterdam Theatre May 10, 2017 Anyone who knows me will know that Aladdin (1992) is easily one of my top three favorite Disney movies. Not only is the focus of the narrative more on the male lead than the "princess," but the songs were catchy, and the Genie was hilarious. You can then imagine my surprise to learn that this movie was now a Broadway musical (much in the same way Beauty and the Beast (1991) and The Lion King (1994) before it). Since I was in New York City on vacation, I had to take in a Broadway show and was glad that this was the one I saw. Knowing that a ~90 minute animated film would need to be padded out to a full, 2-act stage musical, the additions to the plot made sense. Many of the animal companions (if not all of them) were replaced with friends, handmaids, or lackeys in this production. The sub-plot of Aladdin wanting to...
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MOVIE: Moana (2016)

Moana Year: 2016 Rating: PG Length: 107 minutes / 1.78 hours Let's get one thing straight: computers are incredible. Each successive year that passes, I find my eyes blown away at the amazing capabilities of computers to create the kind of imagery found in movies like this. From hair and water effects to some of the more supernatural aspects, the visuals of this film are quite commendable. Sure, Zootopia (2016) looked good too, but since its characters weren't human or in a "human" environment, it was difficult to see just how amazing the visuals could be. But this was likely due to Zootopia having more focus on an interesting plot instead of stunning effects. I am impressed that Disney has taken the leap to another non-white "princess" with Moana, but much of the cliche trappings of this type of film are out in full force. If I were to tell you Disney made a coming-of-age movie featuring the main character with an animal sidekick, a mute...
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MOVIE: The Jungle Book (2016)

The Jungle Book Year: 2016 Rating: PG Length: 106 minutes / 1.77 hours If there’s any more proof there aren’t any new ideas in Hollywood, it’s the fact that beloved animated classics are being remade as live-action films. Sometimes this works, but more often than not, the ploy to attract those nostalgic feelings from the audience fails, thus leaving the viewer with the sense that their childhood is ruined. I’m generally pretty hesitant of these types of films, mainly because part of me doesn’t want to admit that the original films sometimes weren’t that great. That being said, the latest in these adaptations, The Jungle Book (2016) certainly surprised me. Unlike some films like Maleficent (2014), which takes a different point of view from the main story of Sleeping Beauty (1959), and more like Cinderella (2015), which covers the same material as its predecessor, Cinderella (1950), The Jungle Book takes the main ideas from Rudyard Kipling’s book, via the animated interpretation of The Jungle Book...
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MOVIE: Zootopia (2016)

Zootopia Year: 2016 Rating: PG Length: 108 minutes / 1.8 hours Let me just start by saying that I've really become a fan of Disney's animation since about 2010. Before then, I was wild for Pixar, but around the time Tangled (2010) came out, Pixar hadn't been making the quality films I had become used to. Instead, Disney was now churning out great films like Tangled (2010), Wreck-It Ralph (2012), Frozen (2013), and Big Hero 6 (2014). Their latest film, Zootopia (2016), certainly upholds the level of quality expected of this animation studio. Not only were the visuals stunning (as always), but the plot and characters were all on-point. As is almost expected of a film meant for children, but made with adults in mind, there were a number of popular culture references that I found myself laughing uproariously for while the rest of the audience missed the joke. From slight alterations to animal-themed products (i.e. "Cub Soda"), to jokes pertaining to certain animal characteristics...
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