I don’t typically think Melissa McCarthy is at her best when her husband Ben Falcone writes for and directs her and this movie hasn’t exactly changed my mind about that, but it was just good enough to make me smile.
McCarthy’s charm is her saving grace; even when she’s not exercising the full spectrum of her talent, she’s still extremely watchable. Joined in Thunder Force by Octavia Spencer, these two ladies have fun chemistry and an even funner premise. A mutation has rendered a handful of lucky sociopaths into supervillains, but unfortunately for the world, no heroic counterparts exist. Thankfully Emily (Spencer) is a real brain, and she’s developed a special treatment that would grant the kind of powers so people could really fight back. It’s possibly that Emily and her childhood friend Lydia (McCarthy) are not the best choices to receive this treatment, but let’s not dwell. It’s happening. Lydia’s getting super strong and Emily’s going invisible and you better believe Lydia’s pretty pissed that Emily’s training is so much easier than hers. Of course, the training’s going to pale in comparison to fighting Chicago’s worst villain lineup, including The Crab (Jason Bateman), The King (Bobby Canavale), and Laser (Pom Klementieff).
Thunder Force is 100% stupid of course, but also like 55% funny. My laughter was often out of sheer confusion, but the kind of confusion that’s curious and maybe even a little awed. It’s still not a great equation but I’ll take it. I may even watch it twice.
Flora (Matilda Lawler) is a little girl who wants to believe the world is filled with wonder and magic, but experience has taught her to embrace cynicism instead. She may hope for the best but she prepares for the worst, reading disaster preparedness books alongside the comic books written by her father. Incandesto and his super hero friends are so familiar to her she can practically see them but her father George (Ben Schwartz) has had no luck selling them, and has recently left the family, bereft. Mom Phyllis (Alyson Hannigan) isn’t doing so hot either. A romance writer, Phyllis has been in a bit of a slump lately, and her new project isn’t very inspired either.
But don’t worry, folks, this isn’t some sad sack story, this is a super hero origin story, and the super hero is a squirrel named Ulysses. Ulysses gets sucked into a robot vacuum and once resuscitated, he’s got super powers! He’s super strong, and super fast, and super troublesome when Flora brings him into the house. He also writes poetry, but it’s unclear whether that’s actually a super power. Anyway, any squirrel in the house is likely to wreak havoc, but Ulysses is capable of so much destruction! All accidental, of course, but ask mom if she cares. She does not! But in the course of things, mean Miller (Danny Pudi) at animal control gets whiff of a potentially rabid squirrel and he’s on the case, pursuing the Buckman family, the boy next door, William (Benjamin Evan Ainsworth) who is temporarily hysterically blind, and their super squirrel Ulysses, stopping at nothing to euthanize super Ulysses, willing even to tranquilize humans in his quest to cage a furry little super hero.
Matilda Lawler is an insanely cute kid and a very capable actor. Much of the film’s charm emanates directly from her. Ben Schwartz harnesses a lot of his oddity and delivers straight up goofball as the affable, supportive dad. Their family adventure makes for excellent family viewing, and there’s no denying the soft, endearing fuzziness of Ulysses the poetry writing super squirrel. Director Lena Khan does an excellent job of translating the hijinks onto the big screen but keeping it grounded first and foremost in family values. The characters may be offbeat but the message is hopeful, the story is bright, and the squirrel is hard to resist. Flora & Ulysses has the makings of an excellent family movie night.
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Robert Rodriguez has two very different speeds when it comes to making movies: ultra violent, and children’s action-adventure. These may seem fairly disparate, but I think Rodriguez has just tapped into the truth that grown men and small children want pretty much the same things when it comes to movies, though one demographic wants a generous side of boob a little more than the other. The Adventures of Shark Boy and Lava Girl 3-D was my first Robert Rodriguez movie; imagine my surprise when years later I discovered his oeuvre wasn’t all spy kids and junior super heroes.
We Can Be Heroes is Rodriguez’s newest film, a family-friendly one for Netflix. It’s not about super heroes, though it does have plenty of them in it, including Rodriguez’s old friends, Lavagirl and Sharkboy, who are now all grown up (the original Lavagirl Taylor Dooley returns, but Taylor Lautner is replaced by JJ Dashnaw) and fighting as part of the Heroics team, which includes Miracle Man (Boyd Holbrook) and Tech-no (Christian Slater, for some reason), and is led by Marcus (Pedro Pascal) from his office. Marcus doesn’t fight anymore, a promise he made to his daughter Missy (YaYa Gosselin) due to his single-father status. But when aliens invade, the first thing they do is round up and neutralize all the super heroes, leaving behind only their children, who take it upon themselves to save the day. Missy is the rare super hero offspring who seems to have no powers of her own, but is a natural born leader – a challenge to Wild Card (Nathan Blair) who is technically able to assume any power but lacks the focus to do so reliably. Also in their little gang: Noodles (Lyon Daniels), a tween who can stretch his limbs to Elastigirl limits; Wheels (Andy Walken), a kid in a wheel with a predictable nickname who’s actually as strong as he is smart; Ojo (Hala Finley), a girl whose strange drawings seem to predict the near-future; twins Rewind (Isaiah Russell-Bailey) and Fast Forward (Akira Akbar) who can do with time exactly as their names suggest; Facemaker (Andrew Diaz), who can rearrange his features a la Mr. Potato Head; Slo-Mo (Dylan Henry Lau), whose super questionable skill is doing everything very slowly; A Capella (Lotus Blossom), whose song notes can make things levitate; and little Guppy (Vivien Blair), the adorable offspring of Sharkboy and Lavagirl, who can move and manipulate water.
Their parents, the real super-heroes, were captured because they failed to work together. Their squabbles broke the team up and left them vulnerable. Their kids will have to learn to do better, to make their special skills complement each other’s if there’s to be any chance of saving the earth from alien domination. To make matters worse, Heroics HQ is headed by Ms. Granada (Priyanka Chopra Jonas), whose motivations are questionable. Who can they trust and how will they save the world? And how will they manage to carry out such an important mission on their very first? You’ll have to watch to find out, but suffice to say, kids in the audience will likely be pleased. Adults not so much. The kid acting is nothing to write home about. Missy, the lead, is inconsistent, and A Capella, the singer, is downright annoying, a smug little shit who can’t stop hogging the spotlight. Noodles and Guppy are quite watchable though, with Guppy especially cute when she goes into “shark frenzy” when she loses her temper.
I applaud the attempt to come up with some half-way original super powers as most grown up movies don’t even do that. They’re not all winners, but everyone gets at least one moment in the sun. And there’s a training montage that I know is going to be a huge hit for at least four boys that I know, two of whom just got obstacle course stuff (like slack lines) so they can do ‘ninja warrior’ training at home, and two of whom already have a course or two set up thanks to their intrepid grandfather who grants all kinds of adventure wishes. This movie makes their super hero fantasies a reality, and it validates their contributions, present and future, to society. When so many forces tell them they’ll have to wait to grow up, this movie tells them they’re valuable, resourceful, and capable right now – and that’s the kind of soul food that nourishes their dreams, even if the packaging seems kind of corny and uninspired to you and I. So while We Can Be Heroes isn’t a great movie, it’s destined to be kid-approved, and might even inform their play and pretend for the rest of their holidays, which means less work for you! That’s what we call a win-win.
It’s been 70 years since we last saw Diana Prince (Gal Gadot). She’s working at the Smithsonian in cultural anthropology and archeology, she’s doing her hero work on the down-low, and she’s been missing her sweetie, Steve. She’s been missing him for 70 long years.
Her new colleague at work, the meek and self-conscious Barbara (Kristen Wiig), is a gemologist doing a little investigative work for the FBI. The stone itself is worthless, but it claims to be a wish-granter, a dream stone, and both Barbara and Diana make wishes on it before they realize its true potential. Diana, of course, wakes up beside Steve (Chris Pine), but Barbara wakes up cool and powerful and strong, like Diana, although wishing to be like Diana does come with a little more than she bargained for.
Anyway, Max Lord (Pedro Pascal), greedy 80s business man, seemed to know the stone’s possibilities very well, which is why he cozies up to Barbara in order to snatch it. With infinite wishes at his disposal, Lord becomes overwhelmingly powerful and practically unbeatable – especially since the wishes seem to extract something from the wisher, and Diana’s been growing weaker. Barbara, meanwhile, is growing stronger, but also shrewder, meaner. And Lord’s finding ways to increase his reach, taking his avarice international, influencing entire nations, not to mention enemies.
In fighting Max Lord, Wonder Woman is fighting pure greed, corruption, and the world’s obsession with more. Wonder Woman has always been more than capable at taking down villains with her expertly applied kicks and punches and of course her trusty lasso. But how do you fight concepts, ideology, or human nature? This presents an interesting challenge that even Wonder Woman hasn’t seen before.
Gal Gadot is of course absolute perfection as both Diana and Wonder Woman. Having spent the past 70 years among humans, she is of course more jaded, more knowing, but she’s also more human herself, subject to the same loneliness that anyone would be if they’d been grieving for seven decades, and reluctant to get close to anyone because of it. She’s become more familiar with her strength and her abilities, and puts her weapons (tiara, lasso) to greater use. To win, Wonder Woman will have to flex not just her muscle, but also her ingenuity, and harder still, her faith in humanity’s inherent goodness despite plenty of evidence otherwise.
Kristen Wiig is well-cast as Barbara Minerva, a woman who is tired of being overlooked. As she transitions into the film’s co-villain, Cheetah, her confidence and her newfound powers race to outstrip each other, and we see her grow into her new role, wearing her new power like a mantle, like the fur coats she’s begun to adopt.
As for Pedro Pascal, it’s just nice to see his face for once. He understands that Max Lord doesn’t have to be evil to be a great villain. Villains who go around murdering and pillaging are easy to identify and unanimously reviled. But a villain who gives the people what they want will get away with a whole lot more. Since eliminating Lord would also mean negating their own wishes, people like Cheetah, who would otherwise perhaps not be on his side, are willing to fight for him to protect their own interests. Pascal puts a charming face on greed and desire, convincing an awful lot of people to wish for things they probably know they shouldn’t.
Director Patty Jenkins’ action sequences remain divine, but she’s not afraid to remind us that Wonder Woman, unlike some super heroes who shall remain nameless, is about more than just brawn or fancy gadgets; she’s got heart, and not just her own strong sense of right and wrong, but an impressive belief that ultimately humanity will share it and choose it as well.
In flashbacks, we saw a young Diana (Lilly Aspell) competing in Amazonian warrior games, where she learned that she couldn’t win until she was truly ready. What will the grown up Diana be asked to give in order to win, what sacrifices will she make for people who will never know or appreciate it, and how will she fight differently when she actually has something to lose? Seventy years among humans will change a woman, even a Wonder Woman.
If you’re in the U.S., Wonder Woman 1984 is available to stream on HBO Max. In Canada, it’s available as a premium rental. Stick around for a mid-credits scene.
If you were a teenager in the 1990s, you probably remember The Craft. It’s a pretty good 90s time capsule, particularly its alt-rock soundtrack that Columbia House was eager to send to you for free*, and also Skeet Ulrich. The Craft did not go out of its way to set up a sequel, which in hindsight is also a characteristic of a bygone era.
These days, everything is open for a sequel, or better yet, a franchise. And Hollywood is retroactively franchising lots of films that seemed like one-offs. Now it’s The Craft’s turn to get sequelized, and possibly franchised(-ized?). That’s a very 2020 approach, especially since due to COVID-19 The Craft: Legacy has gone straight to VOD as a premium rental.
Lourdes (Zoey Luna), Frankie (Gideon Adlon) and Tabby (Lovie Simone) are teen girls who want to be witches. But their attempts are not going well, because as the original film established you always need four witches before things get crazy. Enter Lily (Cailee Spaeny), the new girl in town, who has a really awful first day of school but as a result catches the eye of the witch trio, and once they get together the magic starts to happen.
Speaking of 90s relics, David Duchovny is in this movie as Lily’s mom’s fiance, which is why Lily and her mom (Michelle Monaghan) have moved to this little west coast town, and which I have the feeling is the same town as in the first film. Do those little details matter? They might, in the next instalment!
I expected this movie to be really, really awful, and it’s actually quite fun. A big reason why it’s fun is the way the witches use their powers. They didn’t use their powers to ruin people’s lives or to seek revenge. That bad girl trope is consistent with the longstanding narrative that powerful women are to be feared, but it’s beyond time we got rid of it and let women be superheroes, and that’s exactly what The Craft: Legacy does. After all, there was no doubt that when Peter Parker got magical powers, he was going to use them for good, and this film lets its heroes do the same. The fact that outcome seems unusual or worth mentioning shows the inequality at play, and in that respect as much as anything, The Craft: Legacy shows both how far we have come since the 1996 original, and how far we have to go.
It also happens to be an entertaining film where girls get cool powers and fight bad guys, so it’s win-win.
A bunch of teenagers get sent to summer school and find they have something in common: they’re all second-born royals. Their older siblings are destined to inherit thrones while they are the spares, side-lined and over-looked. Not this time. This time, teacher James (Skylar Astin) tells them they’ve all been sent here under false premises; this isn’t summer school, it’s a training academy designed to awaken their super powers.
Super powers? You heard right. They’re just as surprised as anyone, but the story checks out: Sam (Peyton Elizabeth Lee) has super senses, Tuma (Niles Fitch) can get anyone to obey him, Roxana (Olivia Deeble) can turn invisible, Matteo (Faly Rakotohavana) can command insects, and January (Isabella Blake-Thomas) can borrow anyone else’s super power by touching them.
This movie is not meant for adults but tween girls 8-12 should be in heaven. It basically borrows from the Netflix blueprint for princess-themed romantic movies that usually air around Christmas with a dash of Artemis Fowl with a light Hamlet twist. Rebellious teenagers, royal jewels, family secrets, cute boys, and what passes for rock and roll these days: what more could a girl possibly want?
It’s definitely wholesome enough for family viewing and while parents probably won’t enjoy it, it’s also not the worst thing to get stuck watching. There’s a training montage that rivals popular game show The Floor Is Lava, sparkling tiaras and the plump little pillows they sit on, some truly terrible CGI, a few surprisingly bottom-of-the-barrel super powers, royalty-free jamming, a dead dad, an extremely brief cameo from Prince Harry, a diverse cast of talented kids, and a dog named Charlie.
Secret Society of Second-Born Royals is deeply inoffensive and perfect for family viewing. Find it on Disney+.
Detective Cosme (Antonio Resines) is being put out to pasture, but he’s showing his young replacement, Detective Valentine (Javier Rey), the ropes before he goes. They inspect a gruesome crime scene together, a possible homicide of course, a maniac bodybuilder so intent on building muscle mass he winds up with a windpipe crushed by his own weights. Cosme is meticulous and organized in his habits, in direct opposition to his son Jorge (Brays Efe), your classic lazy slob, a good for nothing grown son who works at a comic book store when and if he gets out of bed and still lives at home. But luckily for Cosme and Valentin, Jorge spots something neither of them ever could: the crime scene looks suspiciously like a panel from issue #1 of The Incredible Hulk. And the next murder scene they’re called to seems to be another comic book recreation. Madrid has a serial killer on its hands, and Valentin will have to tolerate Jorge’s help to stop the man bent on using seemingly random victims to imitate various superheroes’ origin stories. Oh, and did I mention Valentin’s beautiful new boss Norma (Verónica Echegui) is a bit of a cosplaying geek herself? Yeah.
This cop movie is spiced heavily with super hero flavour. If you know and love comics, you’ll likely predict the outcome a lot faster than the rest of us, and pick up on clues and cues planted specifically for your discerning eye. The film is a little uneven, sometimes cheesy heroic catch phrases, sometimes gritty police procedural, sometimes real horror and gore, other times goofy costumes. And yet it’s obvious that director David Galán Galindo is not only offering a send up to the super hero genre, he’s inspired by it, influenced by it, and given it a more real-world setting than others have been able to. It’s less slick than M. Night Shyamalan’s Unbreakable, less glossy, less ambitious, but it’s obvious too. The script is occasionally awkward and juvenile, and the sole female character could use a fuller and more subtle approach, but mostly Unknown Origins is a story we know very well, and it works because we love the genre and we can never get enough.
Wendy (Cornelia Gröschel) is a wife and a mother and a waitress at a German pork chop fast food joint (!?!?). She goes to weekly therapy sessions and wishes she could be more assertive at work. Money is tight and she could use a raise. She is a good mother and generally content in life. One evening, while running some trash out to the dumpster behind her work, she comes across a vagrant man, digging around for scraps of food. She’s decent to him, but it’s he who has a message for her: “you’re one of us,” he tells her. “Follow the mermaid.” It’s exactly the right kind of mysterious and intriguing that she can’t help exploring at her earlier convenience. But what she finds is totally unexpected: not only does she have dormant super powers, the pills she’s been prescribed her entire adult life are what’s keeping these powers sedated, unbeknownst to her. Wendy’s beginning to unravel a vast conspiracy that’s been keeping her and others like her in the dark. But why?
This is a dark, live action version of The Incredibles where the government has medically suppressed super powers as much as possible, and driven outliers underground. Usually such a movie would tend to be sympathetic toward those denied their true potential but this one makes a pretty strong case for government interference, which is interesting, especially because the film itself tiptoes awkwardly around the “Hitler” thing. But even the mostly well-intentioned Avengers leave behind some pretty serious collateral damage.
The first half of the movie, the secret uncovered and the powers tested, is the much better half. The second half falters a bit without a strong stance or identity, and is too often tempted into outright cheesiness. Which is too bad, because I liked how grounded in reality we were, how Wendy seemed poised to embody the meek inheriting the earth. But it seems that neither director Felix Binder nor screenwriter Mark O. Seng is willing to commit to super powers being a net gain or a net loss, a feature or a bug. Are they something to be feared? Controlled? Exterminated? Should the government be legislating ANYONE’s body? Is it okay to ask some people to change who they are for the greater good? And what exactly is the greatest good, how is it measured, and who does the measuring? My mind takes off racing in a thousand directions and unfortunately the movie just stalls out. Missed opportunity.