Cinema Dispatch: 2022 May Catch Up

So how’s everyone else enjoying their Spring? Lots of sunshine and pretty flowers? Well for me it’s been nonstop rain, a tornado warning, and a broken toilet that cost a bunch of money to fix, so things have been just a tiny bit hectic over here. That’s certainly a reason why my movie reviews have been a little late recently, but thanks to streaming services and studios becoming less confident about their theatrical releases, it’s now easier than ever to catch up on stuff in a timely fashion! To wit, I have three movie reviews for your enjoyment and to hopefully distract from the fact that I haven’t seen the new Top Gun movie yet!

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Chip ‘n Dale: Rescue Rangers

Chip ‘n Dale: Rescue Rangers is owned by Walt Disney Pictures

Directed by Akiva Schaffer

The former stars of the nineties animated show Chip ‘n’ Dale Rescue Rangers have gone through a lot since its cancellation all those years ago with Chip (John Mulaney) selling out and going corporate while Dale (Andy Samberg) trying to make it work all these years later; banking on the nostalgia adults have for his glory days and selling signed photos at conventions to keep himself afloat. To make matters worse, they ended the show on pretty bad terms so they’ve hardly spoken to each other since then, but fate brings them back together as one of the cast members of that show Monterey Jack (Eric Bana) is in deep with the cartoon mafia and gets kidnapped right after calling both of them for help. With their friend’s life in the balance, Chip & Dale must put aside their differences and work together to scourge the LA Underworld (or at least the nostalgic cartoon version of it) to save their friend and perhaps even come back together after being apart for so long.

I’m either gonna be too harsh on this movie because I’m a giant sourpuss or I’m gonna be too nice to this for fear of looking like a giant sourpuss. It occupies a very strange place for me as I do genuinely enjoy a lot about this movie, but I still can’t quite get behind it for reasons that… well probably make me look like a giant sourpuss. Before we get into that, let me just say that I got a decent amount of laughs in this and I was genuinely tickled by a lot of the imagination on display. There are some deep-cut references that certainly appealed to me, and concepts like the putty captain and the puppet chef were well-realized and fun to watch on screen. Heck, I’d go so far as to say that the inclusion of Ugly Sonic has me convinced that he should get his own spin-off series because they were just that funny! It’s almost like the nineties kids finally got the Roger Rabbit sequel we always wanted to see as the movie’s use of nostalgia, however cynical it may be, is at least cleverly realized with some very funny premises throughout. I love the idea of turning the objects of nostalgia that are the lifeblood of the convention scene and making them the literal guests trying to make a few bucks at rickety card tables with tri-fold boards of merch. It’s clear that the creative behind this are of my particular generation, both with the nostalgia for all this nineties crap and the subsequent decades of nostalgia baiting entertainment, so it gets more than a few points for some level of authenticity even if the movie leans far too heavily on it which I guess brings us to what’s wrong with the movie. The thing is that you can only rely on sight gags and nostalgia for so long before the movie has to start standing on its story and this is where the movie just doesn’t work for me. I didn’t find Chip or Dale particularly endearing as characters, nor did I find the plot all that interesting with the mystery being pretty threadbare. Now I could avoid being a giant sourpuss here and chalk this up to being a kid’s movie where a swift pace and lighthearted tone can carry an otherwise simplistic storyline, but I feel the age and density of so many of the references means that it’s aiming a bit higher than it wants to admit. Do kids even know who the Rescue Rangers are? Heck, are kids gonna get any of the Disney Afternoon jokes in here; let alone the references to more adult-oriented stuff like South Park or the general concept of bootleg movies? It’s a movie that clearly wants to have its cake and eat it; setting its targets squarely on a Millennial audience while hiding behind the Gen Z for its immature and simplistic storytelling. Perhaps it splits the difference evenly enough that both groups will get at least something out of this and I can’t deny the moments I enjoyed throughout, so it gets a little bit of a pass from me but this trick isn’t gonna work indefinitely. Millennials will get sick of 90s-stalgia just as everyone got sick of 80s-stalgia about a decade ago, and what is that gonna leave us with? 2000s-stalgia? I mean it’d be nice if I got my Megas XLR reboot, but still…

3 out of 5

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Morbius

Morbius and all the images you see in this review are owned by Sony Pictures Releasing

Directed by Daniel Espinosa

Dr. Michael Morbius (Jared Leto) is a brilliant hematologist who wins all sorts of awards for his work, but with a rare blood disease ravaging his internal organs, it’s only a matter of time before he himself succumbs to the very thing he tries to understand. His best friend Milo (Matt Smith) is suffering from the same disease which only gives him more incentive to find a cure, but in his haste and hubris he makes perhaps a few too many scientific leaps and ends up on the idea of fusing his DNA with that of a vampire bat. I mean when you say it out loud it kind of seems obvious what would happen next, but he and his colleague Dr. Bancroft (Adria Arjona) are undeterred as they conduct the experiment in international waters, which… I mean let’s just say there was some good news and bad news by the time the ship made it to port. Morbius is seemingly cured of his disease and has movie-abs to show for it, but he now has an insatiable thirst for blood that makes him dangerous when he needs another fix. Can Morbius find a way to balance his vampire side and human side so that one doesn’t overpower the other, and is there someone else pulling the strings that are throwing his life into chaos?

I honestly don’t feel like picking on this movie too much. I mean it definitely deserves a certain amount of derision given that its lead is a C-tier cult leader and how shamelessly it tries to pander to MCU fans, but as a movie divorced from the story around it, it’s frankly no worse than most other vampire movies and the fact that Kevin Grevioux is not involved in any way feels like a missed opportunity. Even so, very little of what I enjoyed in this movie was intentional as so much of this feels the need to take itself way too seriously. Seeing Jared Leto figure out that he can fly with his magic bat powers and using it to soar his way through a subway was utterly hilarious, as was every failed attempt he had at humor which sounded like a robot trying to understand human emotions. The only aspect of this movie that shines is Matt Smith who may start the movie off as a rather bland sidekick but really comes into his own in the second half with a campy performance that easily outshines our supposed lead. There’s enough here that at least some people on the production were in on the joke and made some of this entertaining, but for the most part, it’s just a dull slog without much direction. It’s based on a Marvel character so they felt the need to make this a superhero movie in some way, and yet no one seemingly wanted that to be the case as the crime-fighting stuff is relegated to one scene that is completely out of place with everything else in the movie. What it wants to be a story about brother against brother, but even that isn’t handled very well as our protagonist just doesn’t engender enough sympathy for the hard decisions he has to make to carry any real weight. As I said, I don’t hate this movie and if you have a soft spot for the Underworld sequels or even kitschy nonsense like Dracula 2000, this isn’t without a small amount of charm. That charm is not enough to carry the movie, however, and it ends up being woefully pedestrian for whatever type of movie it’s trying to be. Whatever clout it hopes to gain from the Marvel branding, despite this movie taking none of the strengths of those movies, is ultimately fleeting and it’s gonna be that much more of an afterthought in a year or so once the new Blade comes out and Marvel has an actual vampire movie under its belt. The less of the day is to be yourself and don’t try to copy the cool kids when you just don’t fit in with them. There’s a geeky niche that could have used a version of this movie that only Matt Smith was able to envision, but instead, it’s gonna sit alongside Dark Phoenix and Fant-4-Stick as a cautionary tale for anyone else who wants to ride Marvel’s coattails.

2 out of 5

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Firestarter

Firestarter and all the images you see in this review are owned by Universal Pictures

Directed by Keith Thomas

Charlie McGee (Ryan Kiera Armstrong) is not your typical adolescent as she has pyrogenetic powers, and unfortunately, there is no Charles Xavier School for Gifted Youngsters to set her straight which means her similarly psychically powered parents (Zac Efron and Sydney Lemmon) have to guide her through the emotional highs and lows of her life; otherwise, she will inadvertently set everyone ablaze. If that wasn’t bad enough, the mad scientists who gave her parents these powers are after them and so they have to constantly be on the run along with managing an explosive ten-year-old. Can Charlie keep her powers in check to protect her family’s secrets, or will she need those powers to protect them from much more sinister forces out there?

King stories have definitely been on the upswing with some fantastic adaptations of his work in recent years, but the pendulum might be swinging back in the other direction as this reminds of that really bad period for King movies; back when stuff like Riding the Bullet was somehow getting greenlit. It’s a shame because there is plenty to work with here, but it feels like Blumhouse put their B-Team on this and gave it a microscopic budget. Either that or the director is someone the studio sees potential in and wanted to give him something small to work on his directing chops because so much of this movie feels like a demo reel; all style over substance but not in a way that requires too many resources. The movie is bathed in mood lighting no matter what the scene is (there’s a school gym in here that’s lit like a prison) and it funnels us through a grab bag of mildly interesting but disconnected “scary scenes” where they build the tension with different techniques each time. There’s enough talent both in front of and behind the camera that I can’t dismiss this entirely or get too angry at it. Zac Efron is somewhat lost in the movie but does manage to capture a certain amount of ruthless charm at various points in the movie, and Ryan Kiera Armstrong does a solid job of putting Charlie through her paces even if she does look a few years too young for the part. There’s even some decent effects work with Charlie’s powers being well-realized and there is some catharsis to be had with the big finale, but even with all that the story just can’t back it up. For however much the two leads are trying, the dialogue is just clunky and stiff and I can only imagine it’s because most of it is ripped right out of the pages of the book and no one was willing to mess with King’s words. Stephen King has something called the Dollar Baby program where he sells the right to adapt certain stories of his for only a dollar to students and independent productions. This feels like one of those only without the charm of it being from a bunch of young and hungry creatives, and Blumhouse either needed to rein this production in or give it to someone who can make it more than mildly artistic test footage. There are certainly worse King films out there from studios much bigger than this, but we’ve come to expect more from these adaptations and I for one do not want to go back to the dark days! I’ll have fun with the occasional Dark Tower, but there’s no way I can deal with another Cell every few years!

2 out of 5

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