Pete’s Dragon (2016)

PeteDirector: David Lwery

Screenwriters: David Lowery and Toby Halbrooks

Cast: Bryce Dallas Howard, Robert Redford, Oakes Fegley, Oona Laurence, Wes Bentley, and Karl Urban

Disney’s gluttonous onslaught of reimagined live-action reboots hits a new milestone with Pete’s Dragon, a remake of the 1977 film of the same name. Just four months after the release of the monumentally successful Jungle Book, Pete’s Dragon represents the first time the studio has released two remakes of its classic films in one calendar year! Still, as easy as it is to view these remakes as a withered corpse of lost inspiration dressed up as a gift to a new generation, I must put my snarkiness aside and admit that Pete’s Dragon is another solid entry on the remake roster.

Pete’s Dragon tells the story of an orphaned boy named Pete (Oakes Fegley) who while lost in the forest discovers and befriends a mythical dragon whom Pete names Elliot. Pete and Elliot live and thrive in the forests of the Pacific Northwest for six years before Pete stumbles upon lumberjacks cutting deep into the woods near where he and Elliot live. When Pete is spotted by Natalie (Oona Laurence) the young daughter of one of the workers, she chases him into the forest and during the chase nearly falls from a tree and screams causing her father Jack (Wes Bentley) and his girlfriend Grace (Bryce Dallas Howard) to arrive on the scene. Jack’s brother Gavin (Karl Urban) accidentally knocks Pete unconscious leading them to take him to the hospital and in turn, abandon Elliot in the woods alone. Now apart for the first time in years, Elliot an enormous, green, furry fire-breathing dragon leaves the woods in search of his lost friend. Meanwhile Pete is invited to stay with Jack and Grace and discovers that Grace’s father Meacham (Robert Redford) claims to have seen a dragon once long ago. Trouble brews as Elliot is spotted by Gavin who sees nothing but dollar signs if he can somehow capture himself a dragon!

Pete’s Dragon was directed by David Lowery, whose most notable film Ain’t Them Bodies Saints (2013) couldn’t be more thematically distant from this film. However, Disney has done well at attracting great directors and allowing them to make family films that are their own. Whether it’s David Lynch’s The Straight Story from 1999, Niki Caro’s McFarland USA from 2015, or more recently Kenneth Branagh’s Cinderella and Jon Favreau’s Jungle Book. These films work because of the creative freedom allowed to their directors, and Lowery benefits from this, creating a beautiful film and a grounded fable with good performances. Also, the dragon is nicely realized here. In 1977 the limits of technology forced the dragon to be a hand-drawn cartoon inserted into a live-action film. Here the dragon is created with cutting edge CGI to make it feel more immersed allowing the narrative to not use the dragon as a distracting novelty, but a realistic presence resulting in a richer cinematic experience.

So given all of the classic films produced by Disney studios over the years, you have to wonder, why Pete’s Dragon? Is it the dated aspect of the original film? Could it be the popularity of Game of Thrones and its dragonesque motifs? Maybe it’s because it was a good candidate for Disney to show us another child victimized by the sudden and tragic death of parental figures after Cinderella (2015) and Jungle Book (2016)? Quite honestly, Pete’s Dragon may be the best candidate to benefit from a remake thus far. Lowery is the first to truly deviate from the source film’s major story points. Pete’s Dragon has more in common with King Kong or Free Willy than it does with the 1977 original, which was basically a goofy musical version of The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn…with a dragon. Lowery casts a deep, fantasy-laden tone here; the film is more a sum of its parts than the original film’s more segmented feel. Additionally, the 1977 film is more obscure than Cinderella or The Jungle Book, and it received far more polarizing reviews than either of these films, making it ripe for a makeover. Still, while Pete’s Dragon was perhaps most worthy of a remake treatment, it is still a pretty safe movie in any regard. Plot points come fast and predictably, emotional turning points are crowbarred in manipulatively, and Bryce Dallas Howard once again wears unflattering clothing while facing off with enormous presumably extinct reptilian creatures. Any way you look at it, the previous remakes have been based on older and/or obscure Disney films. Next up, we have Beauty and the Beast in early 2017, which is neither old nor obscure, so the pressure’s on. B

Pete’s Dragon is rated PG and has a running time of 1 hour and 43 minutes.

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Sausage Party

Capturing the shock, awe, and absurdity of a movie such as Sausage Party requires a delicate touch. That is why I decided to not add one more sausage to the party by giving another masculine perspective on a movie so obviously aimed at the male gender. That’s right, the sometimes brilliant, always progressive People’s Critic is both honored and pleased to introduce this month’s guest reviewer, Pamela Kuczewski. Pamela was generous enough to attend a screening of the raunch-fest that is JasonSausage Party and serve up her perspective on the culinary Caligula.

Enjoy!

-The People’s Critic

 

SPDirectors: Greg Tiernan and Conrad Vernon

Screenwriters: Kyle Hunter, Ariel Shaffir, Seth Rogan, and Evan Goldberg

Cast: Seth Rogan, Kristen Wiig, Jonah Hill, Bill Hader, Nick Kroll, and James Franco

What happens when you combine loveable stoners, animation, and a lot of penis jokes? Surprisingly, a lot more than I was expecting. As a woman who grew up with an older brother, I was exposed early on to foul language and humor; this upbringing has helped me appreciate what I refer to as “guy movies.” This film most likely falls beneath this category, however it has much more to offer than what “meats” the eye, even for the ladies.

This newest film from buddy writers Seth Rogen and Evan Goldberg explores faith, hope, friendship, and a filling dose of filth, all with an incredible cast of comedians and serious actors alike. The movie opens at a grocery store on a bright morning with food and produce singing their joyful praises to shoppers, or Gods. The song entitled “The Great Beyond,” sets the stage for a fanciful musical number, much like something you’d see in a Disney movie. Picture “Be Our Guest” with more f-bombs. What was more surprising than a jubilant yet inappropriate musical number was that it was composed by Oscar-winning composer Alan Menken, of Disney’s The Little Mermaid and Aladdin fame. Impressive – I would never have matched Alan Menken music with Seth Rogen lyrics but it absolutely worked. The song represents the foods’ faith and hope in the Gods and that they will be the chosen ones. Little do they know what is really in store for them in The Great Beyond.

Our phallic hero, Frank (Seth Rogen), is introduced with the rest of his horny hot dog friends (Jonah Hill and Anders Holm). Brenda (Kristin Wiig), a hot dog bun, is of course Frank’s curvaceous girlfriend. Already, the language is vulgar and I either can’t stop laughing or am too astounded to laugh. Some food is “chosen” but there’s a tragic accident involving a janky shopping cart wheel, causing the food to capsize out of the cart along with a bag of flour. What follows is a smoky scene that mimics the opening scene of Saving Private Ryan, only with food. I’m sure you can imagine. A villain is introduced after this accident – a douche (Nick Kroll) – who feels screwed out of his disgusting destiny and blames Frank and Brenda for the whole thing. Our heroes spend much of the movie being chased by a vengeful douche. Yeah, a douche. This was one of those jokes that should have maybe died early on in the film, but every hero needs an antihero.

What follows the accident is a quest for truth about what really lies in The Great Beyond. Frank’s faith is tested and he learns the truth from Firewater (Bill Hader) a pot-smoking Native American bottle of booze. He discusses the need to inform the others with Brenda, but she can’t see past her blind faith. The truth is confirmed by deformed wiener Barry (Michael Cera) who makes it out of the grocery store and witnesses the horrific cooking and eating of his friends. Somehow, with the help of some misfit food (including an odd Stephen Hawking-esque Gum character), Barry returns to the store to help Frank lead an all-out attack on the Gods.

While the constant hot dog/penis jokes are plentiful – you could say the movie is engorged with them – what lies beneath is a story about faith. Like many people, the silly yet relatable characters wonder what’s real, what’s their purpose, and if seeing is believing. This religious theme, or the “Why are we here?” question, is woven deep into the film and quite well.

High praise goes to the animators and voice actors for giving personality to food. Most every culture and ethnicity is captured exactly how you would envision it: a Jewish bagel (Edward Norton) bickers with a pita bread (David Krumholtz). A taco has the sultry voice of Salma Hayek. Of course the tequila sounds like a drunk Mexican and Mr. Grits is an obvious African American character. The stereotypes may be the least offensive aspect of this movie. If you were offended by the marionette sex in Team America – or enthralled – then prepare for the supermarket orgy. It’s safe to say the orgy gave the movie its name. Honestly, the level of creativity was incredible. Being an R-rated movie, it was interesting to see how much the writers were able to get away with. If my goal in life was to see a hot dog pull anal beads out of a bun, then consider my goal completed.

Sausage Party delivers with laughs, action, romance, faith, and friendship. While raunchy and at times a little too over the top for this chick, it’s not without its “tip-touching” moments. B+

 PamnPamela Kuczewski is both a technical writer and a writer, technically.  Hailing from the great state of Michigan, Pamela developed her love for the written word at Western Michigan University. Winona Ryder is her best friend (or so she wishes), and she now lives with the man of her dreams and writes movie reviews for The People’s Critic when she’s not wasting time working 40 hours a week or watching Johnny Depp movies.  Follow Pamela on Twitter @prlawrie.

Café Society

CafeDirector: Woody Allen

Screenwriter: Woody Allen

Cast: Jesse Eisenberg, Kristin Stewart, Steve Carell, Corey Stoll, and Blake Lively

So I preface this, as I do all of my Woody Allen reviews, with a statement of assured objectivity.  Yes, I am a self-proclaimed Woody Allen fan, but I am not above delivering a negative review to projects that are worthy of one.  It just so happens that there are few projects of Allen’s without redeeming quality. The trend continues with Café Society, Allen’s 41st film he has written, directed, and released within a year of his previous film.

In his 81st year of life, the director shows no sign of slowing down. His new deal with Amazon may be a catalyst, as Café Society is his first to be produced by the Internet giant, and it is his best film since 2013’s Blue Jasmine. It also arrives on the heels of his new Amazon produced television series, Crisis in Six Scenes, premiering this fall.  Who would think the hardest working man in show-business would be 80?

For Café Society, Allen (who also narrates the film) takes us back to 1930s Hollywood where an agent named Phil Stern (Steve Carell) is at the top of his game, representing all of the legendary talent of the time.  Stern’s success is as massive as the distance he puts between himself and his family. Stern’s sister Rose Dorfman (Jeannie Berlin) lives in Brooklyn with her husband Marty (Ken Stott).  When Rose contacts Phil with a favor that he give her youngest son Bobby (Jesse Einsenberg) a job in his firm, Phil reluctantly agrees to at least meet him, resulting in a familiar Woody Allen plot construct – “a tale of two coasts.”

Like every good Woody Allen movie, familiar plotting must be countered with memorable and well-designed characters.  The lavishness of the Stern life is beautifully contrasted with the working class Dorfmans. Rose’s daughter Evelyn (Sari Lennick) maintains a middle class life with her philosopher husband Leonard (Stephen Kunken), and her oldest son Ben (Corey Stoll) quietly runs a pretty active mob syndicate (Bullets Over Broadway-style) unbeknownst to the rest of his family; his scenes are outstanding.   That just leaves Bobby as the lost soul looking for his slice of happiness, and he quickly finds it in the form of Vonnie (Kirstin Stewart), his Uncle Phil’s beautiful assistant. Bobby falls for Vonnie at first sight and his advances towards her do not go unnoticed, although Bobby does have competition as Vonnie has a boyfriend. What follows is a more or less traditional exploration of whether all is truly fair in love and war but with some twists along the way. The predictability is nicely offset by the solid performances.  Look out for Blake Lively in a small role later in the film that channels Diane Keaton in Annie Hall. Performances aside, Allen has also made a visually gorgeous film with some beautiful scenery. Café Society marks Allen’s first digitally shot film, and he makes good use of the technology capturing some vintage Allenesque shots but with a new vibrant quality.

One criticism that is often laden on Woody Allen films is that his pace of production can throttle the work, preventing good films from being great due to time constraints.  That may factor in with Café Society, but certainly not to the degree that I’m willing to part with the annual Woody Allen film.  His cinematically nomadic spirit is something to appreciate, and it warms my heart to know that the moment Café Society premiered, his 2017 project was already announced, cast, and in pre-production.  B+

Café Society is rated PG-13 and has a running time of 1 hour and 36 minutes. 

Jason Bourne

JBDirector: Paul Greengrass

Screenwriters: Paul Greengrass and Christopher Rouse

Cast: Matt Damon, Tommy Lee Jones, Alicia Vikander, Vincent Cassel, Julia Stiles, and Riz Ahmed

It’s been 9 years since Matt Damon last appeared as Jason Bourne.  An expansion of the franchise called The Bourne Legacy was released in 2012 starring Jeremy Renner, but Damon’s future playing the iconic action hero was on some shaky ground.  That is until Paul Greengrass agreed to helm his third Bourne movie, leading Damon to sign on as well.  Damon had been rather vocal over the years explaining that his decision to do another Bourne movie rested with Greengrass agreeing to do the same.  So here we are in 2016 with Jason Bourne. The partnership resurrected, and from the look of things, we still may not have seen the end of this collaboration just yet.

Jason Bourne opens with Bourne (Damon) seemingly at his low point. Off the grid and participating in underground bare-knuckle boxing matches, Bourne is out of the game and just trying to remain unnoticed.  That is until he is located by ex-CIA agent Nicky Parsons (Julia Stiles), who has been working as a hacker in Iceland and is looking to blow the lid off of the CIA’s latest secret programs. Her angle for getting Bourne to help her is the promise that she has discovered some major revelations about his past.  She has also discovered the latest CIA conspiratorial program, code named Iron Hand, which involves a collaboration between the CIA and a massive social networking platform called Deep Dream.  Parsons’s trudging around in CIA secret servers quickly gets the attention of new CIA director Robert Dewey (Tommy Lee Jones) and his protégé Heather Lee (Alicia Vikander). Subsequently, when Bourne suddenly surfaces in conjunction to Parsons’s hacking, Dewey and Lee start a no-holds-barred man-hunt to capture Bourne once and for all.  Dewey’s old-school mission is to eliminate Bourne using his trusted “asset” (Vincent Cassel) to do the job.  Lee, however has a new-school ambition based on a psyche profile on Bourne that she discovered.  She believes Bourne can be brought back into the CIA as an agent once again.  Regardless, Bourne is back on the grid and back on the run as he continues his search to uncover his past as well as to prevent Dewey from exploiting his power for personal gain.

Jason Bourne is basically everything you expect and want in a Bourne movie. There’s nothing entirely new going on here, but if you liked the previous films, you will like this one.  There is a moderately successful attempt at exploring some contemporary issues regarding privacy and responsibility on the side of technology companies.  This feels very fresh in light of the FBI’s recent lawsuit against Apple regarding assistance for unlocking the San Bernardino shooter’s iPhone back in February of 2016.  Otherwise, the film is traditional action faire with some good acting (Vikander), some adequate acting (Damon/Jones), and some terrible acting (Stiles, seriously – Razzie nominee potential here).

Overall, Jason Bourne is another step forward for the franchise and leaves things in a potentially compelling position to move in a different and fascinating direction.  It’s not the best Bourne and it’s not the worst Bourne; it’s just Bourne.

Jason Bourne is rated PG-13 and has a running time of 2 hours and 3 minutes.