If you’re interested, here’s the link to my latest WIMZ.com review:
Tim Goodman (Justice Smith) lives in a small village outside Ryme City. He’s informed his father Harry, a private detective in the bustling, high-tech city, had died in a car crash while on a case. Tim and Harry weren’t close as Harry had moved to Ryme City after the death of Tim’s mother, leaving the boy in the care of his grandmother. Tim felt abandoned and wanted nothing to do with his father. Tim goes to Ryme City’s police department to see Lt. Yoshida (Ken Watanabe) and get the keys to his father’s apartment. Tim is checking his father’s mail when he’s approached by a junior reporter named Lucy (Kathryn Newton). She is working on a story about a mysterious surge in Pokemon attacks that somehow involves Harry. In Harry’s apartment, Tim finds a Pikachu. The weird thing is, Tim can hear what Pikachu is saying, which is unheard of. This Pikachu (voiced by Ryan Reynolds) is Harry’s partner, but is suffering from amnesia. Ryme City was founded by billionaire Howard Clifford (Bill Nighy). In Ryme City, humans and Pokemon live together in harmony with no Pokeballs and no battles. Clifford is suffering from a degenerative neurological disease and is trying to find a cure by studying Pokemon. His son Roger Clifford (Chris Geere) has taken over much of his father’s businesses, including a news network Lucy works for. Tim wants nothing to do with investigating whatever Harry was looking into despite the urging of Pikachu. It’s only when it appears Harry may not be dead that Tim joins with Pikachu to investigate Harry’s last case, one that may completely change the relationship between humans and Pokemon.
I was too old to get into Pokemon when it came to American airwaves on the Kids WB back in the late 1990’s. It also isn’t something that I believe would have interested me if it had come along at a more appropriate age. It’s a story that has no discernible ending and no purpose other than to pit these animals against each other for the glory of the trainer. It has a stink of animated cock fighting that I’ve always found objectionable. There’s not much battling in “Pokemon Detective Pikachu” and that makes a big difference for me. It’s also a plus that Ryan Reynolds provides the voice for Pikachu and gives the cute yellow electrified Pokemon enough mature edge to keep adults interested in what is a kids’ movie.
The extensive integration of digital characters with the human actors looks very good for the most part. There are some scenes where the people are clearly interacting with nothing but trying to look like they are working with something three dimensional. This is especially obvious when there are several small Pokemon climbing on a character or attacking a character. I think it’s the lack of weight and the missing reaction to that weight that makes some of these scenes noticeable. When humans and Pokemon are walking together or otherwise interacting, the eye lines and occasional contact between them is believable.
There is also an effort to add depth to the story by making it about a grown son that feels abandoned by his father. This isn’t examined very deeply but provides the basis for a somewhat moving scene where Tim begins to accept the death of his father. Justice Smith delivers a very good performance as a young man struggling to find his way in the world without both of his parents. The script doesn’t spend a great deal of time studying how Tim’s father’s leaving has hurt him, but it does show a young man that seems lost and without direction. In this world where everyone has a Pokemon partner, Tim can’t invest the time and emotion into getting close to one. The implication is he fears the Pokemon will leave him like his father did and he doesn’t want to take the chance of getting hurt again. While it barely scratches the surface of something deeper, the film at least tries to throw some emotion into a fantasy adventure movie.
Ryan Reynolds is the only thing that might attract adults without children to “Pokemon Detective Pikachu.” Unless they have fond memories of collecting the trading cards or playing the various video games, those unfamiliar with Pokemon and the various creatures may find themselves overwhelmed and a bit lost. Reynolds voicing Pikachu is the gateway for those of us that are pocket monster illiterate. Reynolds provides a bit of mature snark to the fuzzy yellow Pikachu. His comic riffs and asides make every scene with Pikachu completely watchable and entertaining. I would probably watch another film with just Pikachu, voiced by Reynolds, walking around and commenting on things he sees in Ryme City. Reynolds seems to enjoy providing voices for characters that are hidden behind masks or otherwise hide his face. Perhaps that is freeing and allows him to explore his imagination and sense of humor and improvise lines he discovers in the moment. That’s easier on the “Deadpool” films as those are live action and the character’s snarky lines aren’t reacted to by the other characters other than an eyeroll. With the animated Pikachu, Reynolds probably had to stay more on script since his lines were performed on set by another actor. Reynolds then voiced the character that then needed to be animated. Still, there are scenes where Reynolds appears to be winging it and they are very funny despite his not being able to use the kind of colorful language allowed in the R-rated “Deadpool.”
“Pokemon Detective Pikachu” is rated PG for some rude and suggestive humor, action/peril and thematic elements. Pikachu suggests he passed gas in one scene. There is a scene where Pikachu is injured that caused some tears and sniffling in the audience. The Earth seems to be trying to kill Tim, Lucy, Pikachu and Psyduck in one scene. There is a violent car crash that is shown at least four times. Pokemon become violent when exposed to a gas on a couple of occasions. Pikachu battle Charizard. Foul language is limited to one “Hell” and one “damn.”
Do those adults that know nothing about Pokemon need to take a crash course in the various types of pocket monsters they’ll be seeing? No. Just accept you’ll be exposed to numerous types of fantastical animals that are both familiar and strange and just let it wash over you like all the unnamed aliens you see in “Star Wars” and other sci-fi films. While on-screen labels would have been nice for the uninitiated, knowing their names and powers isn’t important as the film isn’t about the Pokemon, but about Tim, the search for his father, and the mystery at the center of Harry’s last case. It also helps that the movie is funny, moving and entertaining. Who cares what a Squirtle or a Bulbasaur can do?
“Pokemon Detective Pikachu” gets five stars.
Next week, I’ll be reviewing “John Wick: Chapter 3 – Parabellum” for WIMZ.com.
Other movies coming out this week:
A Dog’s Journey—
The Sun is Also a Star—
Follow me on Twitter @moviemanstan and send emails to firstname.lastname@example.org.
Secretary of State Charlotte Field (Charlize Theron) has plans to run for President in 2024; however, when former TV actor, President Chambers (Bob Odenkirk), tells Charlotte he plans on leaving office after his first term to act in movies, she moves her ambitions up to 2020. Fred Flarsky (Seth Rogen) is an investigative journalist whose small liberal Brooklyn-based newspaper has been purchased by conservative billionaire media mogul Parker Wembley (Andy Serkis) and Fred quits his job in protest. Fred’s best friend Lance (O’Shea Jackson) takes him on a night on the town to cheer him up. The wind up at a fund raiser for the World Wildlife Fund where Charlotte is also in attendance. Charlotte and Fred knew each other growing up as they lived next door to each other. Fred had a crush on young Charlotte and even kissed her, leading to an embarrassing reaction. Charlotte and Fred talk briefly where they reconnect over their shared past. Wembley is there and Fred confronts him then falls down a flight of stairs. Charlotte wants to add Fred to her staff as a speech writer, much to the chagrin of her assistant Maggie Millikin (June Diane Raphael) who thinks Fred is too big a risk to her fledgling campaign. As they travel and work together, Fred and Charlotte develop an affection for one another that goes beyond friendship and could derail her presidential ambitions.
“Long Shot” asks a great deal of its audience, namely believing Charlize Theron and Seth Rogen are convincing as a romantic couple. While the film takes a few shortcuts to get the pair to fall in love, screenwriters Dan Sterling and Liz Hannah do a good job of building a world where these two could be a couple. They also include some very funny situations and good jokes to smooth the way.
Charlize Theron is amazing in the movie. She comes across as a legitimate and polished government official and she can be very funny. Theron has proven in “Young Adult,” “Tully” and “Gringo” she has the comedy chops to steal any film from her costars and she does that in “Long Shot.” While Rogen has his moments, Theron is given the best lines and delivers them with gusto. A sex scene where she makes requests that shock Rogen’s Fred is a brilliant bit of role reversal that Theron delivers with the proper amount of lust and intensity, so you believe that’s what she wants, and she means to get it.
Theron also has the gravitas to make the scenes of Charlotte carrying out her duties ring true. Her walking through the halls of the White House, going over the schedule with her aides or dealing with a crisis in another part of the world, reminded me of Aaron Sorkin’s “The West Wing,” except when she’s tripping on Molly and having to deal with a third world dictator. That’s more like a Rogen comedy than a Sorkin drama. That scene still works because of Theron and her ability to convincingly play a person on drugs holding it together to get past the emergency while trying to convince everyone else she isn’t high. It’s a scene that could have derailed the whole film, but Theron makes us believe Charlotte is capable and experienced enough to pull it off.
Rogen is mostly playing his usual man-child, but the script plays to that strength and makes the character increasingly self-aware. There are actual moments of growth and maturity for Rogen’s Fred as the story progresses. It’s not the kind of performance that will win any awards, but this is one of Seth Rogen’s better performances.
If the movie has an issue, it’s the high-mindedness of Charlotte. Perhaps I’m too cynical when it comes to politicians, but I simply couldn’t believe a decision Charlotte makes near the end of the film. I won’t give it away, but Charlotte chooses a path that is political suicide and does so for love. Actually, that mostly gives it away, but it’s a rom-com, so you know something along that line has to happen. Anyway, Charlotte’s decision is the kind of thing that wouldn’t happen in real life. It especially wouldn’t have the positive outcome as it does in the film. It’s the kind of thing we would hope our leaders would do, but they don’t.
“Long Shot” is rated R for strong sexual content, some drug use and language throughout. Along with the aforementioned sex scene, we see the outcome of a moment of self-pleasure along with discussions of a sexual nature. Fred and Charlotte take Molly, and at a security check point, Fred empties his pockets showing us he’s carrying several drugs. Foul language is common throughout the film.
Seth Rogen is frequently in films where his character is paired with a woman that is, based on looks alone, out of his league. “Knocked Up,” “Neighbors” and its sequel, “The Green Hornet,” and “Like Father” (a Netflix film), all pair Rogen with very attractive women as his love interest. I suppose this is part of the underdog theme that runs through most of his films, showing even the messy schlub can find happiness with a put-together and attractive woman. It’s just another part of the film that stretches credibility to near breaking point, but the script makes this “Beauty and the Beast” scenario work. It’s a minor miracle.
“Long Shot” gets five stars.
It’s a full slate of films opening this week, hoping you’ve seen “Avengers: Endgame” as many times as you can stand and looking for something different to watch. I’ll see and review at least one of the following:
Pokemon Detective Pikachu—
Follow me on Twitter @moviemanstan and send emails to email@example.com.
Following their defeat at the hands of Thanos (Josh Brolin), the surviving Avengers are in different stages of grief. Tony Stark (Robert Downey, Jr.) is floating in space with Nebula (Karen Gillan) onboard the Guardians of the Galaxy’s ship. They are out of power and will soon be out of breathable air. Steve Rogers (Chris Evans), Natasha Romanoff (Scarlett Johansson), Thor (Chris Hemsworth), Bruce Banner (Mark Ruffalo), James “Rhodey” Rhodes (Don Cheadle) and Rocket (voiced by Bradley Cooper) are at the Avengers’ headquarters trying to figure out how to track down Thanos and mount another attack, gain control of the Infinity Stones and reverse “the Snap” that wiped out half of all life in the universe.
That’s all I can really tell you about the story of “Avengers: Endgame,” otherwise people will yell at me about spoilers. There is a great deal going on in the film and a proper synopsis would likely take a couple of pages, even if I left out the ending. It’s an expansive movie that takes advantage of a decade and 21 films in the canon of the Marvel Cinematic Universe. It is an achievement unlike anything in comic book movie history and movie history in general. The closest thing to what Marvel has accomplished here is the coming end of the Skywalker saga in the “Star Wars” movies. It is a feat of movie universe creation that will be difficult to repeat.
“Avengers: Endgame” is certainly about the enhanced abilities of dozens of people as they face an impossibly strong opponent with a fervent belief what he’s doing is correct. But what makes this film especially effective is the little human moments of emotion, grief, fear, remembrance and joy that highlight important turning points in the film. The first, a very, very minor spoiler, is Jeremy Renner’s Clint Barton enjoying a family cookout when his wife and kids become victims of Thanos’ snap, leaving him frantically searching for them. Joe and Anthony Russo, the directors and architects of several MCU films, treat the capturing of this moment like a found-footage film. The movements of the camera are somewhat shaky, and we feel as if we are eavesdropping on a private scene that quickly becomes a catastrophe. There are several moments like this throughout the film that are to varying degrees much like this opening shot. For such a massive film, spanning across space and time and including so many heroes, the Russo’s still find ways to bring it all down to a personal level, one on one with a couple of characters chatting about how the snap destroyed their lives.
All the surviving characters are broken in some way, but Thor is the most obviously damaged. Again, no spoilers, but the God of Thunder is little more than the pop of a balloon for most of the film. He’s given up being a hero and just drinks beer and plays video games. Seeing the character turned from a grandiose blowhard to a drunken coward is something I can’t say I expected but enjoyed as Chris Hemsworth expertly molds Thor’s stately demeanor into that of a pathetic lush that has given up on saving the world and himself.
Returning to Jeremy Renner, his Clint Barton is put through the emotional wringer by the film. After losing his family, Barton becomes a murderous avenger, pardon the expression, who in the comics is known as Ronin. This leads to the reunion with Johansson’s Natasha as seen in the trailer. Renner hasn’t been given much to do in his previous appearances in the MCU other than make a life-saving archery shot and be brainwashed by Loki’s Infinity Stone-powered scepter. This time however, Renner is in the center of the action and forced to deal with more loss. He delivers a powerful performance, exposing his raw feelings and becoming a reflection of the audience’s emotional turmoil.
There are more scenes like that in “Avengers: Endgame,” but telling you about them would be a spoiler, so I won’t ruin the movie for you. I will say the film is more emotionally deep than any MCU film before it and has plenty of laughs as well. Despite its three-hour run time, the movie has no wasted space and no filler. You may have seen the articles online telling you when you can take a bathroom break and these scenes are not the most earthshattering or the most important to the plot, but they don’t feel like a waste of time either. I’ve seen far shorter films that could have used a trim, but there is almost nothing in the movie that could have been legitimately cut.
“Avengers: Endgame” is rated PG-13 for sequences of sci-fi violence, action and some language. There is some blood shown in the more violent scenes. An arm gets chopped off in battle, but it isn’t bloody. A head gets lopped off, but it is hidden and not graphic. A throat is slashed with a sword, and while it does bleed a great deal it doesn’t spurt blood like in an R-rated film. There are numerous fights and battles throughout the film. Foul language is scattered and mild.
I clearly loved the movie, the story, the performances, the visuals, it all worked for me completely…except for the way Steve Rogers story was wrapped up. Again, no spoilers, but there was just something too cute about how Captain America’s long tale was ended. Yes, I’m giving this fantastical story way too much thought, but there are some questions in my mind if the way things end for him is even possible and not undo everything we know about the character and his adventures in the MCU. I should ignore it, but the more time passes, the more I’m confused and want an explanation. Actually, I have an explanation…it’s a movie based on a comic book. Nothing else needs to be said.
“Avengers: Endgame” gets five stars.
Now that “Avengers: Endgame” has snatched up all the box office money, four new movies are opening this week to look for the change hiding under the cushions of your couch. I’ll see and review at least one of the following:
Listen to The Fractured Frame podcast for the latest in movies, TV and streaming, available wherever you get podcasts. Follow me on Twitter @moviemanstan and send emails to firstname.lastname@example.org.
Back in the 5th Century, a powerful sorceress named Nimue (Milla Jovovich), also known as The Blood Queen, led an army of monsters in a battle against humanity and released a plague on the world. But, Nimue was betrayed by a witch on her council and was beheaded by King Arthur with his sword Excalibur. Arthur dismembered the still alive Nimue, placed each of her body parts in separate boxes, sealed by a priest’s blessing, and scattered across Britain so she could never release her death plague on mankind again. Summoned from Hell in a last-ditch effort by the Nazis to turn the Second World War in their favor, Hellboy (David Harbour) was meant to be killed by agents from the Bureau of Paranormal Research and Defense (BPRD). Instead, agent Trevor Bruttenholm (Ian McShane) raised the young demon into a man and used his unique abilities to fight the forces of evil. A couple of Hellboy’s enemies team up to find the pieces of Nimue and put her back together. They want revenge against Hellboy, but Nimue has other plans that include bringing the Apocalypse…and she needs Hellboy to make Hell on Earth a reality.
This reboot of “Hellboy” was doomed to fail. First, fans of Guillermo del Toro’s 2004 original are deeply loyal to that film and the two would inevitably be compared, with del Toro’s films always being the one preferred. Next, there’s David Harbour’s portrayal of Hellboy compared to Ron Perlman’s. Perlman is much more playful and lighthearted as the spawn from Hell, while Harbour is primarily angry and conflicted through the movie. Finally, there’s the story. According to the film’s Wikipedia page, aspects from four different Hellboy comics were used to create the story seen in the film. It’s an “everything and the kitchen sink” approach that doesn’t give the movie much of a chance to breathe, as it gallops through an enormous amount of exposition and CGI action scenes to arrive at a conclusion that is painfully obvious.
There’s so much going on in “Hellboy” I haven’t mentioned two major characters. The first is Alice Monaghan, played by Sasha Lane. She has a connection to Hellboy’s past and one of his past enemies. She’s important to the plot as she can contact and speak to and for the dead. It’s an ability the plot requires to be important at expedient times in the story. Despite how she’s used, Alice is a refreshing character. Her snark is one bright spot in an otherwise dreary movie.
The second is Major Ben Daimio, played by Daniel Dae Kim. Daimio is a member of Britain’s paranormal agency M11 and has large scars that look like claw marks across his face. Daimio doesn’t like Hellboy and puts plans into place to kill him. Daimio also has a secret that makes him a bit of a hypocrite. I feel a bit sorry for Kim. He was put in the role after Ed Skrein was originally cast then withdrew after he was informed the character in the comics is of Asian descent. I’m sure Kim is a very good actor as he’s been in a bunch of stuff I’ve seen. However, in “Hellboy,” he’s miscast as an aggressive, always angry Brit. Kim can’t hold on to the British accent for the whole movie. In one scene he ditches it altogether. While Kim can hold a fake military weapon believably, I just didn’t buy into his being a gung-ho soldier.
The tone of the film is dark and angry, a sharp contrast to the 2004 film’s lighter, more humorous take. Perhaps this is closer to the character from the comics, but it makes for an uninvolving and morose movie viewing experience.
“Hellboy” is rated R for gore throughout, strong bloody violence and language. There is blood, intestines, brains, decapitation, severed arms, legs, fingers, eyes poked out, bodies hanging from hooks, what appears to be insects causing people to disintegrate, bodies impaled on various things, etc. Foul language is common.
I don’t recall hearing anyone clamoring for a new “Hellboy” movie prior to learning about this film being in production or after. It arrived with a thud at the box office, only making $12-million in its opening weekend. That does not bode well for recouping its $50-million budget and for making any sequels. While it isn’t the horrendous mess the real critics claim it to be, “Hellboy” is a loud, overstuffed and unnecessary reboot that isn’t much fun.
“Hellboy” gets three stars out of five.
This week, I’ll be review “Breakthrough” for WIMZ.com.
Also opening this week:
The Curse of La Llorona—
Listen to The Fractured Frame for the latest news in TV, streaming and movies, available wherever you get podcasts. Follow me on Twitter @moviemanstan and send emails to email@example.com.
Billy Batson (Asher Angel) is a 14-year-old boy in the foster care system of Philadelphia. When he was four, he got separated from his mother at a Christmas carnival. When his mother couldn’t be found, he was put in foster care. Billy’s dream is to be reunited with his real family, not the fake family in foster homes. Billy has run away from nearly two dozen of them in the search for his mother. Dr. Thaddeus Sivana (Mark Strong) was raised by a verbally abusive father (John Glover) and an equally vile older brother. In 1974, as a child, Sivana was magically transported by a wizard to be offered great power, but he proved to have an impure heart when he was tempted by the Seven Deadly Sins and was returned to his family. He dedicated his adult life to returning to the wizard and gaining the power of evil. When Sivana figures out how to return to the wizard, he finds him weak and unable to stop him. Sivana takes the Eye of Sin and is made enormously powerful by the Seven Deadly Sins. Billy is sent to live with a new family that has four foster children. One of them, Freddy (Jack Dylan Grazer), walks with the aid of a cane. Freddy is being picked on and beaten up by a couple of older, bigger bullies when Billy intervenes. The bullies chase Billy, but he escapes via a subway train. On the ride, everyone in the car disappears and odd symbols appear on the electronic sign. When the train stops, Billy is greeted by the same wizard who tells Billy he must be the new champion to fight against the evil Sivana is about to unleash on the world. To gain the wizard’s power, Billy must hold his staff and say the wizard’s name: Shazam!
An early complaint about DC’s superhero films was they were too dark and depressing, along with being not very good. None of those complaints can be made against “Shazam” as director David F. Sandberg and writer Henry Gayden have produced a film that shines with humor and positivity without being saccharine and preachy. They also provide character development and growth for both the hero and the villain. As an origin story of a second-tier character, this compares favorably to Marvel’s “Guardians of the Galaxy” or “Ant-Man.” Maybe DC has finally got their act together.
Zachary Levi is terrific as Shazam. I know his original name was Captain Marvel, but that requires a deep dive into various lawsuits and legal rulings I don’t want to get into. DC settled on naming the character Shazam during one of their recent reboots. Anyway, Levi is great. He embodies the spirit of a damaged youth suddenly given enormous power, and he behaves the way you would expect. He acts like a jerk. Using his powers to impress people and make money, Billy lives out his fantasies until he is faced with the threat posed by Dr. Sivana. He then runs away and doesn’t want to face the responsibilities of being a superhero, as you would expect an immature child to do.
Levi is a great deal of fun to watch as Shazam. He’s a playful dope and a weak-willed coward. He turns the modified Billy into an amplified version of the pre-super powered character, and he does it believably. It’s a performance that, in any other non-superhero movie, might be considered for awards season. Since he’s wearing a cape and a skin tight body suit (with fake muscles underneath and a glowing lightning bolt on his chest), Levi will have to settle for at least a couple of sequels and an appearance in a team-up movie should DC decide to try making another Justice League film.
As Billy’s new foster brother, Jack Dylan Grazer is fantastic as Freddy. The usually optimistic young man with a bum leg practically steals the movie from Angel and Levi. Grazer is a dynamo with an infectious laugh and love of life despite his problems. Freddy is Billy’s guide to the world of superheroes and he’s an enthusiastic coach and cheerleader. Grazer also is effective when the story calls on Freddy to tell Billy the truth about his obnoxious behavior while he’s also being honest about the hurt he feels regarding his lot in life. Grazer being so good in the film shouldn’t be a surprise as he was, for me, the stand-out character in 2017’s “It” as the hypochondriac Eddie. If he can avoid the pitfalls of being a talented child actor, Grazer will have a very long and productive career.
If there’s an issue with the film, it’s the hero’s learning curve for using his powers. There are abilities Shazam has he only figures out late in the movie, such as flight. That only shows up due to an attack from the villain. There are other powers he discovers early on, like shooting lightning from his fingers, that he doesn’t use when it would appear to prove useful. The inconsistencies of his using his abilities and not using them doesn’t make much sense.
That’s a minor quibble when you compare it to how good the movie is, not only from a story point of view, but also visually. The CGI used to create flight and the battles during it looks amazing. While there are shots similar to those in “Man of Steel” during the flying fights, the quality of the work in “Shazam” is vastly better. Faces look more lifelike. Movement is more natural. Considering “Man of Steel” had a budget more than double “Shazam,” it’s improved visual quality implies either major software advances or a more qualified effects team.
“Shazam” is rated PG-13 for language, intense sequences of action and suggestive material. There are several fights in the film. Some are between superpowered characters and others are just regular people. There’s only a little blood, but a character has an eye replaced by a glowing orb in a violent way. The suggestive material is a couple of visits to a “gentlemen’s club” we never see the inside of, and comments made about it. Foul language is scattered is consists mostly of variations on “s**t.”
If you want to put some thought into it, “Shazam” is a story of damaged characters and how they react to their damage. Some seek out world domination while others are looking for a family to belong to. Sex and relationship advice columnist and podcaster Dan Savage tells people they have a biological family and a logical family, and sometimes the logical one loves you more. While this movie is more about super heroics, it also says something about finding peace with your weaknesses, shortcomings and situation. We may not be able to fly and shoot lighting from our fingers, but we can find peace and help others to do the same or just not add to the pain of others. That can be heroic in a quieter way.
“Shazam” gets five stars.
Four new films are vying for your entertainment dollar. I’ll see and review at least one of the following:
Listen to The Fractured Frame for movie, TV and streaming news, available wherever you get podcasts. Follow me on Twitter @moviemanstan and send emails to firstname.lastname@example.org.
Holt Farrier (Colin Farrell) comes home from fighting in World War I in 1919. While he was away, his wife died from influenza and he lost his left arm from a war injury. His children Milly and Joe (Nico Parker and Finley Hobbins) are cared for by other people in the circus for whom Holt was once the star performer, doing tricks on horseback. The Medici Brothers Circus travels the country entertaining small-town crowds. The owner, Max Medici (Danny DeVito), has sold off Holt’s horses as the flu epidemic and the war have cut into business. Max puts Holt in charge of the elephants, including his latest acquisition, an Asian elephant named Jumbo. Jumbo is pregnant and gives birth to Jumbo, Jr. The baby elephant has enormous ears and is thought of as a freak. When crowds see Jumbo, Jr., they laugh and throw trash at him, angering his mother, who storms the tent. This leads to Jumbo, Jr.’s name being changed to Dumbo. Dumbo’s mother gets sent off to another attraction, making Dumbo sad. Milly and Joe are playing with Dumbo, blowing a feather back and forth between them when Dumbo sucks the feather into his trunk. This make Dumbo sneeze, causing his ears to flap and lifting him off the ground. None of the adults believe Milly and Joe until an accident under the big top proves Dumbo’s giant ears allow him to fly. The publicity of Dumbo flying attracts the attention of Dreamland amusement park owner V. A. Vandermere (Michael Keaton). His park has a permanent circus and wants Dumbo to be his newest act to secure more financing from billionaire banker J. Griffin Remington (Alan Arkin). He wants his girlfriend and star trapeze artist Colette Marchand (Eva Green) to ride on Dumbo’s back as he flies around the big top. However, Vandermere proves he has dark motives and will do anything to make Dumbo fly.
Disney’s live-action remake of the classic animated 1941 “Dumbo” feels like a cynical cash grab. I know all movies released are meant to make significantly more money than it cost to produce them, however, “Dumbo” feels like everyone is working on the film just to make a paycheck and the lack of caring shows.
“Dumbo” never strikes any of the emotional high notes you would expect from the story. When Dumbo’s mother is comforting him after she gets locked up and is about to be sent away, you should be turned into a blubbering mess, but you’re not. When Dumbo flies around the big top for the first time, proving what the children said to be true, it should be a moment of wonder and joy, but it isn’t. Early on, when Holt steps off the train and sees his children for the first time, there should be some kind of heightened feeling, but there isn’t.
Nothing works emotionally in the story including some of the characters. Milly Farrier is a robot for most of the film. Whether she’s presented with disappointment or triumph, her reaction is the same: Indifference. I don’t believe this is a choice made by actress Nico Parker, but director Tim Burton. Burton seems to be making a film about outsiders and trying to give every character their own weakness or foible. Holt is missing an arm and is a widower. Milly is emotionally shut down. Her brother Joe seems clueless. Medici is a short, small-time con man. Dumbo has big ears and misses his mother. I believe the story Burton is trying to tell is how these outcasts fight to triumph in a world built to keep them down, however, by the end of the film (no spoilers), the only winner is the elephant.
Colin Farrell looks uncomfortable as Holt. He has no chemistry at all with the young actors playing his children. That becomes part of the story as it is referenced over and over again that Holt’s dead wife always knew how to talk to the children, however, even by the end of the film, there’s something off about how Holt, Milly and Joe interact. Perhaps Farrell doesn’t like working the children. Maybe director Tim Burton was trying to up the discomfort between the characters since Holt had been away at war, is perhaps dealing with what we now call PTSD, and has to adjust to being a single parent. Whatever the reason, Farrell looks like he doesn’t want to be there.
Then there is the villain. Keaton’s Vandermere can’t decide if he has a foreign accent or not. He mugs and preens, strutting as if dancing whenever he’s on screen. It’s an odd performance that is hampered by some contradictory choices the script has the character make. I’m not going to spoil it, but Vandermere seems to cut off his nose to spite his face late in the film.
Eva Green’s Colette starts out as a snobbish ice queen but quickly turns into Holt’s ally and a surrogate mother to his children. This transition is far too fast and isn’t precipitated by any major event. She goes from being a diva to a warm-hearted step mom in no time flat.
About the only thing that almost works in “Dumbo” is the elephant and even that has some issues that stick out. Dumbo seems to understand a great deal of English right out of the womb. His blue eyes are weirdly large (it’s rare, but there are blue-eyed elephants in the wild). We see several shots from Dumbo’s perspective, and he appears to have mildly warped eyesight. One would think this might hamper his ability to avoid objects in his flight path, but it doesn’t. Dumbo, and most of the animals shown in the film, is computer generated. There are moments when you don’t notice it as much, but frequently the CGI is obvious and that kills any wonder the film might have had for me.
“Dumbo” is rated PG for peril/action, some thematic elements, and brief mild language. There are a couple of scenes where fire threatens various characters. A person is killed by a falling big top pole. There is some minor violence that is mostly played for laughs. A person is dragged by a horse. There are threats made to kill various animals and implying some animals were killed to make a pair of boots. Foul language is mostly suggested and mild.
Tim Burton needs to step away from big budget projects. While he has made some entertaining movies for the Disney and others, Burton’s last couple of efforts have been lackluster. I had similar feelings about another Burton film: ‘“Miss Peregrine’s Home for Peculiar Children” isn’t a terrible movie. It just isn’t terribly memorable. It looks amazing and features some interesting ideas in regards to people with unique abilities. What it doesn’t do is really strike deep in the heart of the audience and make us care about what happens to the denizens of this peculiar world.’ I guess Burton tries too hard to make his movies about misfits and outsiders when, in this case, he should have concentrated on making a light and sweet family film. It isn’t offensive, but it isn’t entertaining either.
“Dumbo” gets two stars out of five.
A civil rights drama, a Stephen King adaptation and a superhero adventure are making their way to a screen near you. I’ll see and review at least one of the following:
The Best of Enemies—
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