Along with holdovers and independent releases, there were three major films that made an attempt to dominate the box office this Thanksgiving. Because I all but haunted the cineplex over the long weekend, I decided to give a quick take on all five of the films I went to see.
Ralph Breaks the Internet
I didn’t despise The Emoji Movie in the same way most people hated its existence. It had its moments, but where it faltered was in the execution of a story full of jokes for the sake of a specific reference. A year later, Disney releases Ralph Breaks the Internet, which follows in the footsteps of The Emoji Movie by jumping into the internet for laughs. The difference is that where Emoji fell relatively flat, Ralph continues to embody deep emotional depth.
Some might say it works better because it involves characters we’ve already fallen in love with. That might be part of it, but what Disney does with its trek through the internet is poke fun at both the device and itself with a natural flow that fits perfectly with the story they’re trying to tell, which follows Ralph (John C. Reilly) and Vanellope (Sarah Silverman) as they hunt down a replacement part for Candy Crush before it gets permanently unplugged. Every joke, right down to how they present users on the internet, is a fun jaunt that may not be as good or have quite as much heart of the original, but still delivers a fun, creative and enjoyable film.
My Grade: A-
What is essentially Rocky: Chapter 8, Creed II sticks closely to the familiar formula set up by its seven predecessors. Having won six straight fights after his loss in the original Creed, Adonis (Michael B. Jordan) finally gets his chance to win the Heavyweight Championship belt. With Rocky (Sylvester Stallone) in his corner, he handily takes the title, opening himself up to many challenger calls. Enter Viktor Drago (Florian Munteanu), the son of Ivan Drago (Dolph Lundgren), the infamous boxer who killed Adonis’s father, Apollo, in the ring.
It’s great to see Lundgren back in villainous form, and Munteanu does a great job as the mammoth mound of muscle that puts the hurt on Adonis. However, other than the tightly edited boxing sequences, once again filmed with a great eye for action and tension, the film isn’t quite sure what to do in between the fights and inevitable training montages. Adonis’s love affair with Bianca (Tessa thompson) has some very strong moments, but it never truly plays into his decision to fight Viktor, nor does his argument with Rocky over why he would want to take on a fighter like him. When Rocky and Ivan’s personal stories are more important — and more emotionally effective — than the title character’s, you know something is a bit off.
My Grade: B+
For a movie that touts itself as a taut thriller, Widows is unbelievably slow and drawn out for its own good. When a crew of thieves, led by Liam Neeson (who’s the only one important enough to point out) is killed after a heist gone wrong, Neeson’s wife, Veronica (Viola Davis) takes it upon herself to round up the crew’s other wives to complete her husband’s last job in order to payoff the vindictive and corrupt man (Brian Tyree Henry) running for Alderman of a district in the outskirts of Chicago against another corrupt politician (Colin Farrell) running for no other reason than pure nepotism.
Steve McQueen, who did a terrific job with his Oscar-winning film, 12 Years A Slave, seems to have become self-absorbed by his own artistry, editing the film in a way that feels over-indulgent. For a heist movie, there’s very little heisting, leaning instead on an over-abundance of preening, whether it be over the death of a loved one or between two political characters that seem completely out of place. Several characters are given hardly anything to do (especially Robert Duvall as the current Alderman who’s retiring for health reasons) and the motivation for why characters do what they do all seem extremely thin. Except for Veronica, no one has any depth beyond simple clichés and typical villainous behavior, no more so than Daniel Kaluuya as a thug who does nothing for the film except add unnecessary tension to the climax of the film.
My Grade: C-
There are many iterations of the legend behind the man who “stole from the rich to give to the poor.” Other than the Disney animated version, they all follow the same basic structure: When Robin of Loxley, an elite Englishman, returns home after fighting in the the Crusades, he finds the stewards in power have taken his land and have taxed the people into poverty in the name of the king. In order to put an end to it, Robin takes up the mantle of hero to take down the elitists in government and the church by taking back the money that was stolen from its people.
This new version of Robin Hood doesn’t change that basic structure. Where it differentiates itself is by making everyone involved much younger (giving it a more millennial vibe) and starting the story prior to Robin Hood taking refuge in Sherwood Forest. In this version, Robin (Taron Egerton) takes his cue from Oliver Queen, doing double duty as both the Hood and Robin of Loxley, infiltrating the elites to find out their plans while hiding under a mask to essentially rob Peter to pay Peter. It’s an interesting way to go about the legend, but feels all too familiar at the same time, and though the acting is all well and good, the pace and the structure just never quite gel with the idea, making the whole effort seem a bit pandering.
My Grade: B
The Front Runner
Based on the 1988 presidential run of former Senator Gary Hart (Hugh Jackman), The Front Runner is the perfect example of “show, don’t tell”… but for the wrong reasons. As Senator Hart, Jackman eases into the turmoil of a man lost in a new media climate, where the issues aren’t necessarily as important as the the possibility of a sexual affair. This type of thing may not seem as revolutionary in this day and age where 24/7 media access focuses so heavily on scandal for ratings, but back then, this type of thing was new, and not a lot of people, including the press, new quite how to handle it.
Where the film falls off the rails is in its tendency to tell us what’s happening rather than show us. In one scene, Hart’s wife, Lee (Vera Farmiga), says she needs to see her husband and one of the campaign aids tells her it’s going to be hard getting past the media who has surrounded their private home. The next time we see Lee, she’s at Hart’s hotel room, telling him their daughter (Kaitlyn Dever) had to crawl into the back of the car and be covered by a blanket in order to get out. Seeing this event happen in real time would have helped us viscerally connect to the turmoil Hart and his family had to endure and why he was so adamant about keeping his family out of the story. The movie is an important one, in that it asks the questions of how far the media should go to get a story, however, the film seems to only be interested in telling us it’s important without ever showing us why.
My Grade: B
Next week, new movies include The Possession of Hannah Grace. If you would like to see a review of this, or any other film out next week, please respond in the comments below.