Once upon a time, in that far off year of 1997, the author Vonda N. McIntyre wrote a novel called The Moon and the Sun, which was met with much praise, and even was able to win the prestigious Nebula Award for Best Novel, over such stiff competition as George R.R. Martin's A Game of Thrones. Its mix of historical fact, lavish fantasy and romance enchanted readers, and it was not long until Hollywood came calling for a film adaptation.
By 1999, a film was in the works with the Jim Henson Studio, but even though that fell through, a variety of studios over the years, including the Walt Disney Company, tried to bring McIntyre's story to life with visions of box office gold in their heads. However, for the longest time, it simply was not to be. But then, Paramount Pictures finally got an adaptation off the ground, filled with recognizable stars such as Pierce Brosnan, Kaya Scodelario, Fan Bingbing, and William Hurt. That movie was filmed back in 2014, and was set to hit screens a year later in the Spring of 2015. But, a funny thing happened. A mere three weeks before it was supposed to enter wide release, the film was pulled with no explanation, other than the special effects needed more work. After that, everything went quiet, and nobody seemed to want to talk about the film in question.
Now here it is January 2022, and the film shot eight years ago is finally hitting the screens as The King's Daughter. Paramount has long disowned it, so it's been put under the umbrella of independent studio, Gravitas Ventures. Was the eight-year wait fans of the novel had to endure worth it? Judging that this movie is being dumped in theaters like a dirty secret with little to no promotion, you probably already know the answer to that. Featuring a cheesy look, special effects that would have looked dated back in 2015 when it was originally planned to come out, choppy editing that has scenes suddenly starting and stopping on a whim, wooden performances, and questionable direction, this is a dead in the water fantasy film that was hardly worth dragging out long after most probably stopped caring.
Set in an 1864 Paris that finds everyone speaking with a British accent, King Louis XIV (Pierce Brosnan, wearing a goofy wig) becomes obsessed with immortality after an attempt on his life is made. His shady and scheming personal doctor (Pablo Schreiber) tells the King that the secret to immortality lies with a mermaid, who apparently have healing powers. If the mermaid is sacrificed during an eclipse, King Louis can use its life force to gain eternal life. How and why the doctor believes this, and what an eclipse has to do with any of this, the movie fails to explain. This is despite the fact that the movie comes equipped with a storybook Narrator (voiced by Julie Andrews), who sadly only opens and ends the story, but doesn't explain anything else that happens in between. A running commentary might have helped.
A Mermaid (Fan Bingbing) is stolen from her home in the Lost City of Atlantis, and placed in a grotto-like prison, where she swims around, waiting for her fate. At that same time, the King's illegitimate daughter, Marie (Kaya Scodelario), is brought to live at the palace. Marie discovers the presence of the Mermaid, and the two bond, giving the viewer the desire that this will turn into a family friendly take on The Shape of Water. Sadly, it's not to be. Marie is a free spirit, feels that the Mermaid should be free as well, and when she learns of her father's intentions for it, devises a plan with the King's hunky Sea Captain (Benjamin Walker, who fell in love with Scodelario while shooting this movie, married her, and had two children with her before it came out) to set it free. Oh, and somewhere in the middle of this, there's William Hurt as the King's Priest, who plays his role here as if he lost a bet, and is thinking of the long, sad talk he's going to have with his agent when the shoot is over.
Despite being given permission to film scenes within the actual Palace of Versailles, The King's Daughter has an overall cheap look that features questionable CGI for the scenes concerning the Mermaid, and some truly ugly sets throughout, such as the underground grotto where the Mermaid is kept prisoner looking like something out of a cheap theme park attraction. Scenes that are supposed to fill the audience with wonder, such as when the Mermaid takes Marie swimming with her, or when we lay eyes on the Lost City of Atlantis, fail to create the slightest emotion, which is probably its biggest crime. And what are we to make of the editing, which seems incredibly choppy, and with out of place music montages? Simply glancing at a random ten minutes of the film is enough to tell you that this was a troubled production, and why Paramount lost so much faith in it.
Perhaps one day The King's Daughter will inspire a fascinating documentary about the making of it, but it has not inspired a watchable movie. The blame should not be laid at the source novel, as apparently, the movie made a lot of changes. Something has gone horribly wrong, and I have a feeling a lot of the people involved wished this movie was still being hidden.
Redeeming Love is a sappy romantic melodrama set in the Old West that would be corny, if it wasn't so desperate and dull. The story seems to be told in slow motion, and the passion that's supposed to be there between the lovers simply is not. Of the central couple, the only thing that can be said is that the guy is nice and compassionate to a fault, while the girl runs away so much every time he tries to get close to her, it kind of becomes a twisted running gag.
The movie is based on a popular novel by Francine Rivers, who co-wrote the screenplay with the film's director, D.J. Caruso, and tells the story of Angel (Abigail Cowen), a prostitute who lives in an Old West town that is so sinful, it's actually named "Pair-a-Dice". (Subtlety is not this movie's strong suit.) Angel is the most popular woman at the brothel, to the point that the owner (Famke Janssen) holds a lottery every day with the local men to see who gets to spend time with her. Into town rides the God-fearing farmer, Michael Hosea (Tom Lewis), who is so lonely, he prays to God that he can find a wife. As soon as he lays eyes on Angel while she's out for a walk, he is smitten, and knows that she is the woman that God wants him to be with. Maybe I would believe him if the script ever bothered to develop Michael into a real character, instead of simply a decent Christian man who is as bland as dish soap. We learn little about him, and exactly why he feels this deep connection with her to the point that he pays double her asking price so that he can visit her in her room every night.
He never asks for sex, as he says he just wants to talk. He then says he wants to marry her, and take her away from her current life. We can tell that Michael is a compassionate man, but there's simply nothing to him. As for Angel, she says early in the film that she does not reflect on her own past. As soon as she says this, we are brought into a series of extended flashbacks that tell of her tragic childhood and the events that led her to where she is. It's a story that piles on the sadness and misery, including a loss of her faith, the loss of her mother, being routinely abused and manipulated by powerful and evil men, insulted, and genuinely dragged through the mud. Michael is supposed to offer her love and escape, but both characters are such bland non-entities, it's impossible to be engaged in either of their stories, or to develop a desire to see them join together.
Redeeming Love slogs its way through its story, constantly coming up with various excuses for Angel to run away from Michael, because she feels he deserves better than her. He comes to find her the first couple times she does so, but by the third time she runs away from him, he leaves it up to the Man Upstairs to decide if she will come back to him. All of this happens at such a dragged out pace, the movie starts to resemble an experiment to find out just how much a movie can be slowed down. It attempts to add some drama by adding in Michael's jealous brother-in-law (Logan Marshall-Green) and Angel being constantly haunted and hunted down by her past, but it's all for naught, because the movie never engages on any level, aside from some well shot scenery.
The big problem here is that neither the screenplay or the performances by the two lead actors manage to sell this relationship as anything worth giving a damn about. They're obviously doing the best with the material they have (which provides them no favors), but he simply comes across as a nice bore, and she's someone who is all tragic backstory and no personality. If Redeeming Love wants to lift our spirits, first it has to care about the characters at its center, and I never got that impression.
If the movie I saw yesterday, Belle, represents what animation can truly do and be, then Hotel Transylvania: Transformania represents what it all too often is - A passable and pleasant time waster for kids that adults won't find offensive. The fourth, and supposedly final, entry in the long-running kid's franchise, this is a film with some cute moments and likeable characters, but it's bound not to stick in anyone's mind after it's over.
The good news is that despite the absence of two of the original actors (Adam Sandler and Kevin James stayed out this time), and original director Genndy Tartakovsky not returning to helm (though he did help with the screenplay and is credited as one of the producers), this should not anger long-time fans. The movie still feels much in line with what came before, and it maintains its memorable visual style that often seems inspired by the classic Looney Tunes shorts, and allows these characters to freely bend, snap and zip about the screen to create exaggerated movements that often made me chuckle more than the dialogue. As always, it's the script that's not up to the visuals. While it's not bad in the slightest, and it has a bit more going on in its plot than the last entry did, it just never comes across as anything memorable. It's perhaps fitting that the movie is debuting on Amazon Prime (after its planned theatrical release got canceled last year), as it feels right at home on the small screen.
Transformania finds franchise lead, Count Dracula (voice by Brian Hull, successfully stepping in for Sandler), planning to retire from running the titular Hotel, and enjoying time with his new human bride Ericka (Kathryn Hahn). His plan is to leave the Hotel under the care of his daughter Mavis (Selena Gomez) and her human husband, Johnny (Andy Samberg). But when Johnny causes a ruckus during the celebration where Dracula plans to announce his retirement, the vampire gets cold feet about turning the place over, and lies to Johnny, telling his son-in-law that there is a law that only monsters can run the Hotel. Disappointed, Johnny turns to reformed monster hunter, Van Helsing (Jim Gaffigan), who has invented a device powered by a crystal that can turn a human into a monster, and vice versa. After some required slapstick, Johnny is transformed by the ray into a giant dragon-like creature, while Dracula becomes a middle aged human with thinning hair and a pot belly.
Many of the other monsters staying at Hotel become affected by the device, leading to some fun visuals that the movie sadly doesn't exploit as much as it could have. Frank the Frankenstein's Monster (Brad Abrell, stepping in for Kevin James) becomes a hunky human model, Wayne the Wolfman (Steve Buscemi) loses all of his fur, but keeps a beard in his human form, Murray the Mummy (Keegan-Michael Key) turns into a 5,000 year-old man without his bandages, and it turns out Griffin the Invisible Man (David Spade) has been naked the entire time, and now everyone knows it. To reverse the effect, our heroes have to travel to South America where another crystal can be found to power the device. This leads to some jungle adventure scenes that play kind of like a demo for a video game tie-in, or perhaps a thrill ride attraction.
Running at only 75 minutes minus the credits, this latest Hotel Transylvania certainly doesn't overstay its welcome, and never offends, but it can't help but feel slight. The problem could lie with the fact that I chose to watch this after a film like Belle, but even if I did choose to view this before it, I don't think my reaction would be too different. Like the other movies, it's visually pleasing, and there are a lot of fun ideas which it never gets around to exploiting. There are some callbacks to the previous films that I enjoyed (I was happy to see the return of the airline run by the destructive Gremlins.), but the entire experience also felt a bit middling overall. This is a film franchise that I have always kind of admired for its animation, but has never completely clicked with me. It's probably not surprising that this one didn't either, but if you have been taken in by this series in the past, I can see this one doing the same.
As always, I liked these characters and the actors portraying them (even the new ones filling in for the old stand-bys), but the writing simply failed to grab me. If you have kids who want to watch this, I'd normally say go ahead, but there's a film I've already talked about playing in theaters this weekend that is more deserving of your time and money.
For the past 15 years, writer-director Mamoru Hosoda has risen to become one of the top talents in the world of Japanese animation, and his latest film, Belle, may be one of his best achievements yet. Mixing elements of a relatable teen coming of age story, a commentary on social media, as well as elements of the classic Beauty and the Beast story, this is an inventive and compelling commentary on human nature that is joyous, hopeful, and filled with a lot of truths.
After a successful theatrical run in Japan, as well as a screening at the Cannes Film Festival (where it received a rare 14-minute standing ovation), Belle is being released here by GKids in both an English dub, and the original Japanese soundtrack with subtitles. In all my years of watching anime (and foreign films in general), I have always preferred the original soundtrack. But, I must be honest, this is one of the best English dubs for a foreign film I have ever heard. Music plays a big part of this film's story, and the original songs featured in the film have all been rerecorded in English by the film's lead dub actress, Kylie McNeill, and they are absolutely beautiful. McNeill not only delivers a fantastic performance, but her takes on the film's songs had me hunting them down on line as soon as I got home from my screening. I applaud the talent involved with this English language version, as this is one of the rare times I did not feel like I was missing something by watching a foreign film not in its original language.
McNeill provides the English voice of Suzu, an awkward and shy teenage girl in a small Japanese town who has a hard time opening up to a lot of the other kids at her school, as well as to her father (Ben Lepley). When Suzu was a child, she loved to sing, and her mother (Julie Nathanson) encouraged her daughter's gift of music. But a terrible tragedy ended everything when her mother was killed saving another child who was in danger of drowning. Since then, Suzu has never sung again, and has basically closed herself off to all but a select few others, such as her best friend at school, Hiroka (Jessica DiCicco). It is Hiroka who introduces Suzu to "U", a virtual reality social media world where you can be anything you want to be and gives the user the opportunity to reinvent themselves through an avatar.
Suzu signs into the program, and creates an avatar based on the most popular girl at her school, Ruka (Hunter Schafer). Naming herself "Belle", Suzu finds the bravery she forgot she had through the other users, and even finds the ability to sing once again. Her songs as Belle lead to millions of followers on line, and even virtual concerts that become events within the U world. During one of her concerts, a mysterious avatar in the form of a vicious Dragon (Paul Castro Jr.) crashes the event, and causes destruction. He is being pursued by a group who pass themselves off as superheroes in the U world, and claim to be fighting to protect the other users. The Dragon has a reputation for being violent and unruly, yet oddly enough, certain children users support him, and see him as a friend.
The Dragon intrigues Suzu enough that she seeks him out within the U World, and slowly begins to befriend him and gain his trust by writing a song just for him. As they spend time together, Suzu can't help but notice the scars and wounds he has on his body, and becomes suspicious, since the avatar a user gets is based somewhat on their own physical appearance. ("Belle" shares Suzu's freckles on her face.) Fearing that perhaps the user behind the Dragon avatar might be hurt or in danger, Suzu and her friends do what they can to try to find out who the Dragon truly is, and if there is a way that they can save them from whoever is hurting them in real life.
Though Belle is largely an in-house effort by Hosoda's Studio Chizu, they did receive some outside help by veteran Disney animator, Jin Kim (he provided the character design for the Belle avatar), and acclaimed Ireland animation studio, Cartoon Saloon (Wolfwalkers), who created the backdrops for the virtual U World. These combined efforts lead to not only one of the most visually striking animated films I have seen in a while, but films in general. The film mixes traditional hand-drawn animation with CG so expertly, I eventually stopped noticing the different styles the film implements. The combined efforts of the various talented artists is seamless, and creates some unforgettable moments that are so vast and expansive, it's worth seeing it on the largest screen possible. (The film in playing in IMAX in select areas.) This is a movie that is constantly alive with visual invention, as there's always something to admire, from the serene beauty of the small town real world settings, to the open spaces of U.
More than just a visual wonder, the movie is also poignant and powerful as it covers a number of emotional themes such as social isolation, dealing with loss and pain, as well as physical and emotional abuse. It's also nice to have a movie set around social media that is not overly critical of it, nor is it trying to "expose" it. It gives Suzu a voice to sing and stand out once again, and her journey becomes how she learns to stand out in her own life, as well as the virtual one. The movie takes a balanced view on its central subject matter, and manages to highlight both the pros and cons of social media, without fully embracing either side. It also gives plenty of time for the people in Suzu's life to take center stage, and they have been developed just as endearingly as she has, culminating in a script that can be funny, sad, and incredibly powerful when it chooses to be.
Belle is truly one of the great films of 2021, and deserves to be seen at a theater if possible. It's the rare kind of film that is constantly dazzling, and fully emotional and heartfelt. It also serves as yet another reminder of what can be done with animation beyond talking animals, Minions, or 90 minute corporate products.
Given Hollywood's current obsession with reviving dormant properties, it was perhaps inevitable that a movie like Scream was coming down the pipe. The original 1996 Scream film cleverly paid tribute and poked fun at the slasher genre by having its characters be aware that they were in a horror movie, and the rules of such. The fun came from watching these characters who knew the rules still find themselves in over their heads. This sequel (the fifth in the series) has fun tackling such current pop culture topics as toxic fandoms, sequels that take films in an entirely different direction and spark outrage on line, and naturally, dormant film properties getting revived by going "back to basics".
This kind of film is what the characters within it refer to as a "requel". It's not a remake or a sequel, but it continues the story with a new cast, while paying respect to the past by including the legacy characters that the long-term fans want to see, as well as including callbacks and references to the original. Taking this approach, the directing team of Matt Bettinelli-Olpin and Tyler Gillett (2019's Ready or Not) have created a fitting tribute that understands what made the original film so much fun, and why it still endures today with most fans. Considering that none of the original creative minds were behind this one, it's clear that the filmmakers have nothing but love, but also know how to add their own creative spin. This is not just a movie designed to drum up nostalgia like Ghostbusters: Afterlife. It's vibrant, frequently funny, and brutal in its violence when it needs to be. The only thing the film doesn't nail is that it's too easy to guess who is behind the new string of murders this time around.
Just as in the first movie, the film opens with a teenage girl home by herself, receiving a creepy phone call from a mysterious voice (once again provided by voice actor Roger L. Jackson) who wants to play a deadly movie trivia game concerning horror films. Right off the bat, there's a clever meta twist. The killer wants to talk about the classic stalkers like Jason or Freddy, but the girl named Tara (Jenna Ortega) doesn't know those kind of movies. She's more into "arthouse horror" like The Babadook, It Follows, or Hereditary. Tara has the misfortune of living in the town of Woodsboro, where all the murders in these movies have occurred, with each one inspiring a sequel in the in-universe Stab horror movie franchise. Those films have been in decline in popularity, and the last film (directed by The Last Jedi's Rian Johnson) infuriated fans by how much it deviated from what came before.
Now someone is trying to "go back to basics" as it were by posing as the notorious Ghostface Killer, and start a new murder spree that's in line with the original movie and the actual events. Tara's the first victim, but she survives and is hospitalized. This brings her estranged and haunted older sister, Sam (Melissa Barrera), back to Woodsboro, along with Sam's boyfriend, Ritchie (Jack Quaid). Sam naturally has her own bitter past with the town, and it may even have a connection with what is going on. There's a new fresh-faced cast of young suspects who represent Tara's circle of friends, who are so suspicious of one another once the murders start up, I kind of had a hard time buying them being friends in the first place. And of course, the original trio of heroes of Sidney (Neve Campbell), Gale (Courtney Cox) and Dewey (David Arquette) show up to help solve the mystery as well.
While Scream is a lot of fun throughout, it's stronger in some aspects than in others. What it succeeds at, it does beautifully, such as bringing the original characters back into this town that they probably should have nothing to do with after everything that's happened to them in the four prior movies. In particular, David Arquette gets to do some of the best acting of his career, creating a surprisingly sympathetic portrait of his familiar character. Campbell and Cox slip right back into their familiar roles, even if they don't get to do anything as challenging as Arquette. This is also a smart movie, that knows how to play up the meta aspects for humor and satire, while at the same time creating some genuinely tense moments. It expertly juggles its own tone, and genuinely knows how to get its audience involved. In all honesty, this is probably one of the better crafted sequels this franchise has seen.
There are just certain elements I could not get behind. The young cast is largely wasted here and, like I mentioned, I just did not buy them as being friends. There is no real bond like we expect, and the movie never gives us enough of a reason to care about them or their connection to the mystery at hand. Also as previously mentioned, it's just too easy to figure out who is behind it all this time around. The movie uses a lot of tricks to try to throw us off the trail, but despite this, I'm sure many in the audience will feel one step ahead of the story. Still, what's important here is that the film works. It's a lot of fun as it plays out, has clever dialogue, and never comes across as diminished returns. Even if I was aware that certain elements were not as strong as I would have liked, I was still caught up in the experience.
The movie ends with a text tribute to the series' original director, Wes Craven, who passed away in 2015. It's a fitting way to close out, as I feel he would have been proud with what these filmmakers have done with his later legacy. Scream is that rare early January release that doesn't feel like something the studio is trying to sweep under the rug. It's energetic, and that's something very few movies in their fifth entry can say.
The 355 is the kind of movie that the early days of January are made for. It's a kind of workmanlike take on the Mission: Impossible formula focused on a group of talented actresses who don't get to show off much of their talent here. I suppose the appeal is to get to see these women kick a lot of ass, but that simple pleasure is robbed from us by the shaky camera work and rapid editing the action scenes use. I'm starting to miss the days when filmmakers had enough confidence in the stunt work to actually let us enjoy it.
The movie was dreamed up by Jessica Chastain, who stars and serves as the lead producer. Unfortunately, she decided to trust her idea to co-writer and director, Simon Kinberg, who previously directed Chastain to one of her lesser performances in 2019's Dark Phoenix. He does her no favors here either, having her play a personality-deprived CIA officer who goes by the name of Mace. As the film opens, she's sent to Paris with fellow officer Nick Fowler (Sebastian Stan). They're to pose as a newlywed couple in order to pick up the film's plot device, a high-tech decryption device that can take down planes, hack into any system, and in the wrong hands could bring about World War III. Despite the fate of the world hanging in the balance, Mace and Nick have plenty of time for flirting and a PG-13-rated fling. Naturally, things are not what they seem, and there's a lot of other people who are also after the device.
One of these people are German BND agent Marie (Diane Kruger), who interrupts the drop off of the device, leading to the first of many unmemorable action scenes through the streets of Paris and the subways. Funny thing about this movie. The plot requires the characters to visit such far off places as Morocco and Shanghai, but we either see little of these exotic locales, or they look an awful lot like a set on a studio back lot. Marie enlists the help of an old friend from MI6 to track down the device named Khadijah (Lupita Nyong'o), and when they find themselves in over their heads, they learn that they will have to team up with Marie in order to get the device and save the world. Also along for the ride is a Colombian therapist named Graciela (Penelope Cruz), who is the "fish out of water" character, having never had to deal with espionage, and has a family waiting for her back home.
These four women, along with a fifth who joins them late in the film (Fan Bingbing), make up the group of heroines who learn they can only trust each other, and that the respective people and agencies they work under and with may not have their best interests in mind. The movie tries to keep its identity of its true villain a secret, but any audience member who understands the main casting rule of thrillers like this ("If a character played by a well known actor or actress is introduced, and then exits for a majority of the film, he or she is the one behind it all".) will have no problem guessing the identity of the person these women should not be trusting. Along the way, the movie just kind of goes through the motions. There's no reason why this movie needed to be made, other than people got paid to. And aside from a brief scene concerning the women just relaxing and sharing drinks together, they never really get to create personalities or play off each other.
The 355 is the kind of movie that feels like it's been made with off the shelf parts from other movies, and it's been assembled competently enough (outside of the shaky camerawork), but there's nothing that stands out about it. With studios struggling to get audiences to turn out for non-event movies at the theater, films like this won't help. It's highly likely anyone who watches it will struggle to remember much when Spring rolls around in a few months, let alone by January 31st.
I am a rabid movie fan since 1984 who calls them as he sees them. Sometimes harsh, but always honest, I offer my 'reel opinions' on today's films. I don't get money for my reviews, and I have to pay to get into every movie I see (even the really awful ones), so what you will see here is the true reaction of a man who is passionate about film. - Ryan Cullen