Review of “Abominable”

Yi (voiced by Chloe Bennet) is an ambitious and talented young woman living with her mother and grandmother in a small apartment in Shanghai.  Her father has recently died leaving Yi with his violin, that she plays beautifully, and feeling a bit lost.  She wants to take the trip her father had planned to take them on and collected postcards of all the locations in China he wanted to visit.  To do that, Yi is working various odd jobs in the neighborhood to build up her travel fund.  One night while on the roof of the apartment building, where Yi has a small hideaway, she discovers a large creature hiding.  There is also a helicopter from Burnish Industries flying low over the buildings, shining a spotlight looking for something.  Yi discovers the creature has an injured arm.  She gets bandages and treats the injury once the creature has calmed down from Yi discovering him.  Once the creature sees a billboard advertising trips to Mount Everest, he makes it clear that’s where he’s from.  Yi decides she will help the creature she starts calling Everest return to his home in the Himalayas.  Everest has escaped from a Burnish Industries research facility where he was captured by Mr. Burnish (voiced by Eddie Izzard) and zoologist Dr. Zara (voiced by Sarah Paulson).  In his younger days, Burnish was an explorer and was on Mount Everest when he saw a Yeti.  He reported what he saw but wasn’t believed since he had no proof.  Now an older man, he is obsessed with showing the world he was telling the truth and doesn’t care if the Yeti gets hurt in the process.  Dr. Zara insists the Yeti not be harmed.  Yi is on the roof feeding Everest pork dumplings made by her grandmother Nai Nai (voiced by Tsai Chin) when a Burnish Industries helicopter flies over and sees him.  Everest puts Yi on his back and begins running across rooftops.  Yi’s friends Peng and Jin (voiced by Albert Tsai and Tenzing Norgay Trainor) see Everest and Yi running from the helicopter, think a monster has abducted their friend and they chase after them.  Yi gets Everest on a barge leaving the city.  Peng and Jin get there as Yi jumps on the barge and they jump on as well.  Together, the three friends and Everest take an epic journey across China, testing their friendship and learning all the wonderous things Everest can do while also trying to keep one step ahead of Burnish, Zara and their mercenaries trying to recapture the Yeti.

“Abominable” isn’t the greatest animated film. It has a simplistic and predictable storyline, ticking off all the boxes when it comes to plot and the twists that aren’t expected but are clearly coming. It likely won’t win any awards as it’s really a very average kids movie. That being said, I was deeply affected by the film.

It is a beautifully realized fantasy world where Yeti are real and it’s possible for three teens and a fantastical creature to traverse China and reach the base of Mount Everest, thanks in part to magic. It deals with loss in an honest way you don’t see very often. It also covers the alienation families can feel when there is a death and no one wants to talk about it. The film is about recovering lost connections, whether that’s with family, friends or music. Yi, Peng and Jin rediscover their friendship on the journey. Peng is a bit younger than the other two and he wants his friends to play basketball with him while they are off doing their own things. Yi is working all the time and Jin is dating numerous girls and trying to be an influencer on social media.

Music is a big part of “Abominable.” Yi’s violin playing is mournful at first but becomes energetic as their journey continues. Near the end, Yi’s playing takes on a fierceness that mirrors the action of the film. There’s an aspect of the story I don’t want to spoil for you, however it involves Yi’s playing and how Everest’s magic affects it. Everest also hums in deep bass notes that activate his magical control over nature. The combination of Everest’s humming and Yi’s playing is a highlight of the film.

There is beauty in the sadness of Yi. She aches for her father. Her only connection to him is his violin, the postcards, a photo of the two of them together and her memories. That sadness permeates the film and only builds over time. Yi is longing for a connection to pour her love and sadness into and Everest provides a vessel for it. Their journey and adventure give her a purpose she hasn’t felt since her father died. While she is only delaying her grieving by keeping busy (she says at one point she hasn’t cried yet), Yi is merely groping for something to ease her pain. As she travels to the Himalayas, she discovers something about herself that’s been in front of her all along. It’s part of that simplistic storyline I mentioned earlier, but the journey and the wonder Everest bring into her life makes this realization hit emotionally like a ton of bricks.

Visually, “Abominable” is gorgeous. The bright colors and realistic yet fanciful environments allow the audience to get caught up in both the beauty and the wonder of it all. Everest looks like a hairy ball with arms, legs, a giant mouth and beautiful blue eyes. He glows when using his magical abilities, causing plants to grow, sometimes to massive size, and modifies the landscape to get away from Burnish’s men. One use of his powers creates a blue glow in the sky like the Northern Lights. While I know it doesn’t exist, “Abominable” made be believe in magic for a moment.

“Abominable” is rated PG for some action and mild rude humor. The group is chased by Burnish’s men on foot and in various vehicles. They shoot at Everest with tranquilizer guns and threaten him with cattle prods. Everest causes blueberries to grow to enormous size and they pop off the vines and strike the characters in comical ways. Everest falls from a tall bridge and is hit by an assault vehicle. The rude humor consists of Everest burping loudly, he and Peng needing to urinate and Everest burping flower petals on Jin. There is no foul language.

The movie made me cry twice. Granted, it isn’t difficult for an animated film to make me cry. I think every Pixar movie I’ve seen has done it (damn you “Toy Story 3,” “Up,” “Inside Out,” “Moana,” “Coco,” et al.) Live action films get me too. My wife and I recently watched “Linda Ronstadt: The Sound of My Voice” and I cried. In college, I wrote a paper for a film class about “It’s a Wonderful Life.” I sat in a cubical in the main library at the University of Tennessee and watched the film on a small TV. I had seen bits and pieces of it before, but never watched it all the way through. When Harry Bailey toasts George as the richest man in town, I began bawling like a baby. I wasn’t a BMOC and this emotional display wasn’t going to improve that, but that’s just who I am. I get emotional over things that some may see as silly. “Abominable” is one of those silly things that touched me deeply. I can’t explain it, but the combination of the visuals, the characters and the story made me feel overwhelming joy and that came out as tears. Maybe most won’t be affected the way I was, but I hope you are open to the experience as the film is worth your time and money.

“Abominable” gets five stars.

Again, this week there’s only one new film in wide release and I will see and review it.


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Review of “The Goldfinch”

Theodore Decker (Oakes Fegley as a 13-year-old, Ansel Elgort as an adult) has suffered numerous tragedies in his life. His father, Larry (Luke Wilson), was a drunk with dreams of being an actor and abandoned his family. His mother was killed in a terrorist bombing at a New York City museum. For a time, Theo lives with the Barbour family. Mrs. Barbour (Nicole Kidman) is a bit cold and distant at first but warms to having Theo around. The Barbour’s are considering adopting Theo when Larry shows up with his new wife Xandra (Sarah Paulson) and moves his son out to Las Vegas. There, Theo meets Boris (Finn Wolfhard), a wild young man from Ukraine that lives with his abusive father. When another tragedy befalls him, Theo runs away, returning to New York City to live with Hobie (Jeffrey Wright), a restorer of antique furniture he met after his mother’s death. Theo grows into an intelligent and charming young man, but he always has a cloud hanging over him from the chaos in the museum that isn’t just the loss of his mother.

Based on a novel of the same name, “The Goldfinch” is a sumptuous and beautifully shot film. It is filled with loving looks at classic paintings, antique furniture, lavish New York apartments, the desolate wasteland outside Las Vegas, the aftermath of a bombing and the near-perfect structure of Ansel Elgort’s face. For all its beauty and technical mastery, “The Goldfinch” lacks any guts. It provides all the makings for both a fascinating mystery and searing character drama yet ignores all its gifts in exchange for atmosphere and style. The movie wants you to be so dazzled by the visuals, you’ll ignore its fatal flaw: There is no “there” there.

That isn’t to say the film has nothing entertaining about it. Ansel Elgort puts on a master class in creating a character that has numerous layers implied in his performance. There’s a sense of danger in the adult Theo. He is broken by the loss of his mother, his feeling of guilt, the betrayal by his father and the choice he made in the museum. Elgort’s performance is nuanced and subtle, while also being complicated. I was never sure if Theo was ever telling the truth at any time. Usually he was, however, he is shown being capable of defrauding people. Does he treat everyone this way? I was never sure.

Elgort is turning very little story into a wonderful performance. The script from Peter Straughan is long on reaction shots and short on meaningful interactions. There are numerous thoughtful stares and quiet, emotional closeups as Elgort and others in the cast are getting their hearts broken or wearing them on their sleeves. Some of these scenes are affecting, but they lack any real punch since the movie spreads all the meaningful events so thin. It drops a few tidbits here and there to suggest something interesting is around the corner. Finn Wolfhard’s Boris (played as an adult by Aneurin Barnard) coming on to the scene introduces Theo’s dangerous side with his use of drugs and alcohol at odds with his cultured and conservative demeanor. These vices increase into adulthood with Theo crushing up pills and snorting them to dull the pain of his past. All of this implies a person on the edge of self-destruction, yet we don’t feel the danger of Theo’s lifestyle as it is always shown with a veneer of perfection. The filmmakers want the beautiful people to stay beautiful at all costs.

The movie has a listed running time of two hours and 29 minutes. There is probably a very good movie buried under the mountain of long, silent stretches. It feels like at least 30 minutes could be trimmed, if not more. While the film held my interest and I wondered what would happen next, I ultimately found the ending of the movie to have been a long, beautiful and boring ride. I didn’t know what to expect, but I expected more than I got.

“The Goldfinch” is rated R for drug use and language. Theo and Boris still some pills, crush and snort them. They also trip on LSD. They are shown drinking beer and smoking when both are underage. The pill snorting continues as Theo is an adult. Foul language is scattered.

Ansel Elgort, Oakes Fegley, Finn Wolfhard and Nicole Kidman are standouts in a cast that is filled with very good actors and performances. It is a shame all their efforts are wasted on a film that takes two and a half hours to go almost nowhere. I don’t know if it’s the fault of the novel the film is based on or the interpretation of that novel to a movie script. Wherever the fault lies, “The Goldfinch” is a lost opportunity to create both a compelling mystery and a deep psychological drama. I wanted so much more as the minutes ticked by, but all I got was a very slow train passing by with the occasional boxcar having mildly interesting graffiti.

“The Goldfinch” gets two stars out of five.

My wife and I do a podcast called “Comedy Tragedy Marriage.” Each episode, one of us picks a movie, we watch it together then talk about it. It’s available on all the major podcasting platforms. Please give it a listen.

This week, I’ll be reviewing “Rambo: Last Blood” for

Also opening this week:

Ad Astra—

Downton Abbey—

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Review of “Glass”

David Dunn (Bruce Willis) runs a home security company by day and patrols the streets of Philadelphia by night stopping or avenging crimes. The blurry images of David in his poncho have earned him the media nickname of The Overseer. David, with the help of his son Joseph (Spencer Treat Clark), is on the hunt for Kevin Wendell Crumb (James McAvoy), a man with 24 distinct personalities, who has kidnapped four cheerleaders. One of Kevin’s personalities is a violent killer called The Beast. Joseph is able to narrow down the search area and David actually bumps into Kevin, getting a psychic image of the girls in an abandoned factory. David frees the cheerleaders and fights with Kevin as The Beast. After they fall out of a window, the two are apprehended by police and Dr. Ellie Staple (Sarah Paulson). David and Kevin are taken to a mental hospital where they are held along with Elijah Price (Samuel L. Jackson), the man responsible for the train crash of which David was the only survivor nearly 20 years ago and who wants to be called Mr. Glass. Dr. Staple tells the three she specializes in treating people with a particular kind of mental disorder: Those that consider themselves superheroes. She connects physical and emotional trauma from their lives to their delusion of being extraordinary. David and Kevin are held in rooms that can weaken them. David’s room is equipped with high-pressure nozzles spraying him with water while Kevin’s room is fitted with strobe lights that force another personality to take over should he become the aggressive Beast. Elijah is kept under constant sedation. Dr. Staple has three days to examine and treat them. If she cannot convince the trio of their averageness, they may never leave the hospital.

Director and writer M. Night Shyamalan apparently had a plan back in 2000 when “Unbreakable” was released to continue the story of David Dunn and Mr. Glass. Other projects and a downturn in the quality and box office of his films put that plan on hold until “Split” came out in 2017. The success of that film brings us to the team-up flick “Glass” which completes what has been dubbed the Eastrail 177 Trilogy. Sadly, Shyamalan had too much time to ponder how the story should go and couldn’t make up his mind, so it went in several different directions leading to an unsatisfying mush.

“Glass” starts out with great potential. The battle between David Dunn’s reluctant hero and Kevin Crumb’s damaged villain seems like a brilliant premise for a movie. Even when the pair plus Mr. Glass get locked up together, the setting for a battle of brains and brawn feels more complete and intriguing. Dr. Staple’s inclusion muddies the waters a bit and the choices made by David and Kevin to play along (David could break his chains and Kevin could simply close his eyes) are odd since their existence and reality are being challenged. When we get to the finale, that’s when things really start to implode.

Prior to that, there’s a practical matter that really screams out for discussion: The mental hospital where our three protagonists are held is the most poorly run institution on the planet. Apparently, the place empties out of doctors and staff after 5 pm leaving one orderly to work overnight. Elijah meanders around the building with no trouble. He and Kevin walk out practically unnoticed. David also strolls through the building looking for his rain poncho with no interference. This was a catastrophe begging to happen, and it does.

That said, the ending of “Glass” is kept in the confines of the grounds of the hospital. While the plan is to create chaos at another location (which is made clear on a couple of occasions), Shyamalan stays firmly rooted just outside the mental institution, staging what is likely one of the choppiest and most disjointed fight scenes in movie history. Dunn is supposed to be this incredibly strong man, impressing his young son with how much weight he can lift in “Unbreakable,” but never actually punches Kevin when he’s in Beast mode. By the same token, the Beast never punches David. They spend most of their fights throwing each other around and trying to strangle each other. Some of the fights are shot in POV so there is a distracting amount of movement. It becomes disorienting trying to focus on what’s happening when the entire world you can see is shaking like a paint mixing machine. There are also long pauses for explanations and revelations about past story items. While one is the ubiquitous “Shyamalan Twist,” it brings what little excitement generated from the action to a halt.

There is a second twist to “Glass” that comes out of nowhere and it feels like a bad idea that no one could talk Shyamalan out of. I shan’t get into it here, so I don’t spoil it, but it builds a whole added layer into the mythology that seems unnecessary and so out of left field as to be a last-minute thought. I can’t say much more than that, but it seems like Shyamalan has thoughts of continuing the story of superheroes among us.

The film also sputters to a stop. It seems to be over a couple of times, then there’s another five to 10 minutes. This is another reason why the second twist feels like an end-of-the-writing-process inclusion. Shyamalan felt like another tag scene needed to be added. Then another and another, so the last-minute addition was complete. From my end, it’s a lot of images that don’t add anything to what’s come before.

“Glass” is rated PG-13 for violence including some bloody images, thematic elements, and language. There are numerous times when a person is thrown against the wall by either David or Kevin. One woman is hit by a table thrown by Kevin and we find out later she had broken bones from it. One person gets their throat slashed but the only blood we see is in the aftermath and not as much as there would be. We see another person crushed by Kevin. Kevin also bites and rips off flesh from a person, but we only see blood around his mouth. There are suggestions of the kind of abuse young Kevin suffered but we don’t see it directly. Foul language is scattered and mild.

Despite all the issues I have with “Glass,” I enjoyed watching the film. I’ve seen both “Unbreakable” and “Split,” so finding out the two films existed in the same universe and the story would be concluded in “Glass” was an interesting concept. The movie has so much potential and gets off to a good start; however, once the doctor with the oddly specific specialty is added and the seemingly last-minute added layer of mythology is exposed, “Glass” becomes a muddled mess of half-thought-out ideas that’s been too long in the creation process. I wanted to love it, but “Glass” broke me.

“Glass” gets three stars out of five.

This week, kids training to save the world and a fisherman’s past comes back to haunt him open in theaters. I’ll see one of the following:

The Kid Who Would Be King—


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