Spider-Man: Far From Home
Toy Story 4
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Napoleon Dynamite passed me by because it was released a generation or two after mine. It’s one of those movies that feels like it is custom made for people who were somewhat close to Napoleon’s age at the time they saw it, so all I remember was seeing the trailers and thinking it looked moronic. Then I saw it spike in popularity, and heard it referenced everywhere, but I still didn’t make myself go see it. Now, as a man who is old enough to be Napoleon’s father, it was an uphill battle for me to connect with this comedy. Needless to say, I struggled to laugh at all while watching the movie. Napoleon doesn’t strike me as a funny character, but more annoying. A hyper-stereotypical nerd family is bad enough, but one that seems to be in denial of the fact that they are nerds is even worse. I can see the humor in it, though, because they are saying and doing things that don’t fit what you’d typically expect from someone who acts this way, yet it never clicked to make me laugh. There are movies like Napoleon Dynamite that came along at just the right time in my life and I connected perfectly with the humor and still cherish them as nostalgic favorites. I can totally see this being one of those movies for me if it came along at the right time in my life and I connected fond memories of my own high school experience to it, or recalled watching it with my friends and laughing through it. Sadly, I was already 28 years old when the movie came out, so it was too late for me to form that kind of bond with it. The story in the film is meandering, and somewhat pointless. I never know where it’s going next, or what the goal is for the characters. It has that slice-of-life feeling where you’re just observing things that happen to the characters without actually seeing a purpose or theme to it all. Also, most of the characters are not likeable, and that makes it even harder to care about their struggles. I think I understand why Napoleon Dynamite was a cultural touchstone back in 2004, but it simply didn’t resonate for me in the same way it did for audiences 15 years ago. Ranking on my Flickchart Loses to Jack Reacher Loses to Open Season Wins against Fright Night Wins against The Lost World: Jurassic Park Loses to Star Trek: Nemesis Loses to Christine Loses to Fantasia Wins against Manhattan Wins against Green Lantern Wins against The Last Picture Show Loses to A Streetcar Named Desire Napoleon Dynamite ranked 1550 out of 1934 or 19%
I find what Disney tried to do with Fantasia to be truly fascinating. Freeing their animators to take some legendary classical music and create a visual depiction of what they hear/feel is an interesting experiment. I also appreciate that they all have a unique feel, as none of the songs (or cartoons) are similar to the ones that came before. But, despite my interest in what they tried to do, I didn’t have a strong connection to the end result. I do appreciate classical music, but I connect more to the orchestra playing it and how it makes me feel. The first song in the film made this obvious to me, because this is where they centered the visuals primarily around showing the orchestra playing the tune. I was able to marvel at the skill they showed, and let the music take me on whatever emotional journey I felt at that time. It was my imagination in control and not the Disney animation team presenting me with dancing mushrooms or crocodiles. When presented with a cartoon, I’m taken out of my own connection with the music and focus solely on the visual story the animators drew from the music. Most of these stories are simplistic or nonsensical and in a way they minimize the magic of what the composer created. That’s not to say that the visuals aren’t charming and fun, but they simply can’t measure up to Beethoven, Stravinsky, Schubert, and all the others. I think the one piece that came the closest to evoking a feel on par with the music was the Night on Bald Mountain sequence. That’s the one that clicks the best out of the bunch. I don’t hold anything against Disney for trying something different, in fact most of us would think it’s pretty awesome if they attempted something this bold nowadays, it’s just that this particular experiment didn’t work as well for me. I’m not one of those people who call it “boring,” but it’s just not for me.
Cronenberg continues to disappoint me with his early career. Fast Company is unique from his other films because it doesn’t have any horror elements, but it does feature his signature cast full of awful bland actors. A movie about thrill-seeking drivers who engage in some of the most dangerous car racing that exists, and yet every actor is delivering lines like they are accountants. There’s a logical and coherent story to this film, which is an improvement over the other 2 early Cronenberg films I’ve seen, but it’s not a very exciting story. One of the problems is that this kind of car racing is so fast that it lacks drama. I’m not a fan of NASCAR, but at least there is some build to those races, with changing leaders and other potential for drama. But in a race that literally takes seconds, you can’t build any tension. It’s over before you even have time to care. I found the entire movie to lack thrills just like the races. Perhaps it would work if I had some investment in the characters, but since they are so bland and uninteresting I struggled to care. They try to weave in relationship drama as if we cared about the personal lives of these characters, but that fell flat for me as well. Fast Company isn’t a disastrous film, but it doesn’t have enough of interest happening to make me enjoy watching it or ever recommend it to someone else.
Robin and the 7 Hoods is a movie that starts out feeling like a modernized take on the Robin Hood legend, but it kind of drops the allegory early on. Despite having characters all with those famous names, this isn’t about someone who robs from the rich to feed the poor, even if he puts on a front to make you think that’s what he’s doing. In reality, this is the story of two rival gang leaders seeking to take control of Chicago after their Kingpin is killed. I saw this once when I was young because my dad was trying to show me some of the stuff he watched when he was my age. I didn’t remember much about it when watching it this time, but I liked it a lot. The cast is overflowing with amazing talent, and they don’t squander it. We get to see all the marvelous members of the Rat Pack, with the incomparable Bing Crosby standing in for some of the less interesting members of the team. Not only that, but they made the movie a musical and allowed us to enjoy these talented singers doing what they do even better than acting. The story is kind of goofy, but I enjoy that aspect of it. This is a movie that is all about having a good time, and not taking things too seriously. I had a blast watching to see what kind of trick the two rival gangs would pull on one another. There’s one particular scene that is definitely the highlight of the film for me, when Robin and the 7 Hoods stage an elaborate con in order to avoid getting shut down by the police. It’s delightful, and it doesn’t hurt that Peter Falk is playing the rival gang leader. He has a way of acting tough as nails while still being completely hilarious. I’ll admit, the plot doesn’t flow all that well. For example: the romance/relationship angle doesn’t work for me, because it doesn’t seem to connect to everything else that is going on. It’s almost like they made Sinatra’s character a bit too competent, so they felt they needed to create an internal conflict for the gang, but it comes out of nowhere and goes nowhere. I kind of wish they had leaned even harder into the musical aspect of the film as well. I still found Robin and the 7 Hoods a ton of fun. This is a flawed movie where there’s just enough going right to compensate for anything that went wrong.
I still remember the summer of 1991, and all the ads we were inundated with about this new Robin Hood movie that had come out featuring Kevin Costner. If I remember right, some fast food restaurant did tie-in toys for their kids’ meals, t-shirts with Costner’s face emblazoned on them were all over, and toy store shelves were flooded with countless pieces of Robin Hood merchandise. It was a cultural phenomenon, and it is one that I avoided. I can’t say why I didn’t go see Robin Hood. I was a bit too young to drive myself to the theater, but I’m sure my parents would have gladly taken me. Whatever it was, whether I didn’t make time for it, or wasn’t interested, it remained something I heard about only through the constant advertisements. At that point I think I developed some resentment for the film simply because it was so talked about and in my face every day. Thankfully, I didn’t find time to go see or rent it back then, and decades have now separated me from all that noise, allowing me to bring an unbiased opinion. Watching this film for the first time the other day makes me think one thing...Why didn’t I go see it when it first came out?! What was I thinking?! This movie should have been one of those classics I’ve watched countless times since the early 90s. Robin Hood: Prince of Thieves is a thoroughly enjoyable interpretation of the legend that will easily hold the spot as my favorite version, even though I have decades of nostalgia for the animated Disney version. This film tells the story we all know in a great way that somehow manages to hit all the most important elements of the story without straying too far into the things that have become cliché. I thought it was smart to write out the drama between King Richard and Prince John, and create a singular foe in the Sheriff of Nottingham. It made the conflicts seem more personal and it increases the danger level when the foe is so close. I also liked some of the Locksley family history that they added to the story, because it gave greater motivation to Robin. The Robin-Marian romance always felt like a weaker aspect of this story, but here they used it to add a great ticking clock to the climax as he has to reach his true love before she is married to another. If there was any one aspect that didn’t click as well for me it would probably be the inclusion of Azeem. He didn’t seem to add much to the central story, and they constantly had to add value to his character to justify why people in 15th-century were accepting a black man in their midst. None of that matters though, because it gave them an opportunity to add Morgan Freeman to the cast, and any time you do that it’s going to be a great investment. And, while I’m on the subject, let’s talk a little about the rest of the cast. It’s kind of funny watching several of the American actors experiment with English accents but then drop them completely at other times. It never bothers me all that much, in fact I’d be fine if they didn’t even try. Kevin Costner usually gets the most flak for it, but I rarely noticed him even attempting it. He has something special in his performance that I find so charming, and yet I can see why others have criticized him for being bland or wooden. Mary Elizabeth Mastrantonio is perfectly fine as the romantic interest, but she doesn’t get a lot to do other than playing damsel-in-distress. The true stand-out performance comes from Alan Rickman who brings something unbelievably insane to his role. He makes the Sheriff of Nottingham seem obsessive, demented, and completely out of control. With someone that evil, you like the heroes that much more for opposing him. All around, from cast to script and everything in between, I found Robin Hood: Prince of Thieves to be a delightful film and one I need to add to my collection.