S. Darko is another inferior sequel released too many years later for anyone to care. Donnie Darko has a lot of cult appeal that can’t really be replicated. That didn’t stop them from trying anyway. S. Darko refers to Samantha Darko, sister of the late Donnie Darko from the first film. She wanders the road with her vapid best friend Corey. They wind up in a small town where several disturbances try to mimic the original.
Except the new cast of characters can’t back things up. You know you’re in trouble if Jackson Rathbone and Elizabeth Berkley were the best they could do. Although I have a personal appreciation for Daveigh Chase, her role is essentially a less interesting substitute for her brother. Now Sam is the one hallucinating, facing an end of the world scenario, and using the confusing time travel of the original. Only none of the minor alterations make it any less derivative.
An imaginary rabbit is replaced by an undead Sam (Samara Morgan she is not). The end is now 5 days before the 4th of July in 1995. Time travel is used twice in order to make the entire movie feel utterly pointless. Two separate deaths are reversed and the world nearly ends via meteor shower. Religious commentary is handled with far less grace. Meanwhile, the iconic bunny suit is only used as a recognizable image. S. Darko is just as unnecessary as it sounds.
Sam and Justin stare at each other
Preceded by: Donnie Darko
Donnie Darko can’t be fully understood in one viewing. No wonder it gained a cult following. I’ve always known about Donnie Darko, but I had no clue how any of its themes tied together. Although I don’t always understand it, the themes are put to effective use. Only a first time independent director like Richard Kelly could think of something so complex. Drew Barrymore saw its potential by financing the film, but Donnie Darko continued to face production problems. Real world tragedies like 9/11 caused the movie to flop. While there is a plane crash in the movie, I think it was the bleak tone. Donnie Darko is an intelligent troubled youth with paranoid schizophrenia. Jake Gyllenhaal fully understands how to make him angsty but likeable. Some scenes were a lot more funny than I was expecting.
Donnie Darko is a little undefinable with elements of science fiction, psychological thriller, and coming-of-age. Darko narrowly escapes death when a jet engine falls on his bedroom. He survives thanks to his creepy imaginary 6ft. rabbit
Harvey Frank who tells him about the end of the world. Only 28 days before Halloween in October 1988. The movie was also written and filmed in only 28 days. So Donnie spends most of his time unknowingly affecting others and committing several petty crimes under Frank’s influence. Donnie Darko has a far more impressive cast than I realized. Maggie Gyllenhaal, Mary McDonnell, and Daveigh Chase play members of the Darko family.
Katharine Ross plays Donnie’s active psychiatrist and Jenna Malone plays his equally troubled girlfriend Gretchen. Drew Barrymore is also part of the cast as a hip teacher who inspires Donnie. Meanwhile, Beth Grant plays the much more fundamentalist gym teacher. Her scenes include a surprise appearance from Patrick Swayze as a motivational speaker. I was more surprised to see Seth Rogen, Ashley Tisdale, and Jerry Trainor in their earliest film roles. Donnie begins to show interest in time travel, but the movie’s approach requires a book called The Philosophy of Time Travel written by a local crazy woman. When the clock does run out, time takes things to an unexpected conclusion. Donnie Darko: The Director’s Cut may explain things better, but I prefer the thought provoking ambiguity of a very very mad world.
Donnie Darko in a theater with Gretchen and Frank
Followed by: S. Darko
Harvey has to be seen to be appreciated. I’ve seen many James Stewart classics, but nothing is as unique as Harvey. Based on the 1944 play, Harvey tells the peculiar tale of a man who sees an invisible over 6ft. tall white rabbit. My only knowledge of the imaginary rabbit was from references in either Who Framed Roger Rabbit or The Simpsons. I wondered how an entire movie could be centered on an unseen character, but Harvey was far more delightful than I was expecting.
Stewart is effortlessly likeable as the charming Elwood P. Dowd. Aside from frequent drinking, his only problem is how crazy he seems walking and talking with Harvey. Harvey remains unseen throughout, but we do get a quick glimpse in a portrait. Stewart was nominated for his performance, although it’s Josephine Hull who most deserved her Oscar win for playing Dowd’s sister Veta. She’s high-strung and humorous, but Veta is first to suggest committing her brother to a sanitarium. Even though she claims to have seen Harvey as well.
Much like the play it’s based on, each character plays an important role no matter how small. There’s Veta’s neutral daughter Myrtle Mae, a judge caught in the middle, a rough around the edges orderly, will they or won’t they sanitarium workers, and their boss Dr. Chumley who begins to see Harvey himself. Although Harvey is described as a somewhat sinister sounding pooka, you can’t help but root for Dowd’s friendship as he spreads kindness wherever he goes. Harvey is a classic with an invisible friend we all could use.
Elwood P. Dowd with a portrait of Harvey
Million Dollar Baby packs a serious punch. I haven’t seen much of Hilary Swank, but she’s an actress who always makes her performances count. She’s far from a typical 2 time Best Actress winner. It only took 5 years after Swank won for Boys Don’t Cry. Both films feature an intense transformation that the Academy Awards couldn’t ignore. Million Dollar Baby is the first movie to win Best Picture after the Lord of the Rings trilogy ended. It’s not the greatest boxing movie ever made, but it does go deeper than most. All thanks to the personal Oscar winning direction of the legendary Clint Eastwood. He also produced, starred, and provided the subtle guitar score.
Eastwood is the gruff but good hearted boxing trainer Frankie Dunn. He has his own personal problems ranging from faith to family. Although initially refusing to train a girl, Maggie Fitzgerald is exactly the aspiring young underdog he needs in his life. Together they train and eventually bond over their shared struggles. Similar to her previous award winning role, Maggie is from a trailer park with a scumbag family and has her life cut tragically short. Million Dollar Baby also gave Morgan Freeman the opportunity to finally win an Oscar for Best Supporting Actor.
Former boxer Scrap has great interplay with Frankie, a lovable mentor role with Maggie, and Freeman narrates as well. The role is practically redemption for not winning for Shawshank Redemption. Several before they were famous actors include Jay Baruchel as a more dimwitted aspiring boxer. Plus many future Marvel actors like Anthony Mackie, Michael Peña, and a very skinny Mike Colter. Swank still steals the show with her impressive muscle tone, heartfelt sincerity, and brutal boxing matches against real life female boxers. The ending is heart-wrenching, but the message of Million Dollar Baby is clear to always protect yourself and fight for your dream.
Frankie and Scrap help Maggie in the ring
Boys Don’t Cry is the most transformative film of Hilary Swank’s career. Although I would’ve prefered seeing American Beauty win all five major Oscars, I completely understand Swank winning Best Actress. The Academy loves major transformations. No matter how controversial the subject matter is. Boys Don’t Cry is centered on real life transgender individual Brandon Teena. Although I rarely gravitate towards movies like this, I can still appreciate the performances, direction, and handling of tragic events. Transgender movies were almost unheard of in 1999.
Until director Kimberly Pierce learned about the story in college. Swank lost weight, cut her hair, and wore male clothing to effectively pass for Teena. The movie tries to focus on a love story and coming-of-age themes before the brutality comes in. Pierce uses several artistic techniques to represent confinement and longing. The Nebraska trailer park setting only emphasizes 1999’s fascination with escaping a mundane lifestyle. Teena tries to live like a boy, but several reckless decisions with rough male friends make things worse.
Eventually Teena falls in love with burnt out singer Lana Tisdel. Chloë Sevigny gives the second best performance that also deserved an Oscar nomination. There’s plenty of intense passion even if it isn’t entirely factually accurate. As I saw in the documentary This Film is Not Yet Rated, Boys Don’t Cry nearly received an NC-17 for its graphic sex scenes and inevitable assault. The latter is particularly hard to watch. Teena was later murdered by the same “friends” who committed the assault. Leading to a change in hate crime law. Boys Don’t Cry leaves a lasting impact.
Brandon Teena in a skate park
Trolls World Tour is the best Troll 2 I’ve seen. Even if it did inadvertently harm the film industry for years to come. Like most DreamWorks Animation sequels, Trolls World Tour likely would’ve came and went if it was released exclusively to theaters. When the pandemic struck, Trolls World Tour became the first major movie simultaneously released on a streaming platform. So my brother and I were forced to watch the sequel from the comfort of our home. Turning the movie into a bigger success that nearly lead to a ban of Universal films for AMC theaters. Although Trolls World Tour isn’t really worth the extra attention, it is another surprisingly strong sequel that doubles the fun of the original. The computer animation is even more colorful with trippier images that would’ve been cool to see on a big screen.
Anna Kendrick and Justin Timberlake are back to sing their hearts out. Since the soul focus of World Tour is the music. Turns out the Trolls are really one group in a tribe of Trolls defined by musical genres. There are Pop Trolls, edgier Hard Rock Trolls, aquatic Techno Trolls, winged Classical Trolls, centaur-like Country Trolls, and the Funk Trolls that look like the out of place giraffe creature Cooper. Plus more niche genres like Smooth Jazz, Yodeling, K-Pop, and Reggaeton. Poppy & Branch sort of hit the reset button since the latter constantly tries to confess his love. While Poppy makes a few poor decisions as the Queen of the Pop Trolls. She personally confronts Queen Barb of the Hard Rock Trolls with Branch and Biggie’s help. James Corden is promoted along with a few other returning cast members.
The Bergens are reduced to cameos. Leaving room for more voices like Rachel Bloom as the feisty Barb, Ozzy Osbourne as her father, Kelly Clarkson as the Country Troll mayor, Mary J. Blige as the Queen of the Funk Trolls, and Sam Rockwell as a helpful guide named Hickory. The diversity in music makes for a fun soundtrack that takes advantage of even more hits. Troll music is threatened when Barb seeks to unite everyone under rock. Although she seems like the villain, this is 2020. Of course the real enemies are circumstances from the past that no one can control. Though it’s not as annoying since the ultimate moral is embracing differences. Ending with a not as catchy final song that melds all genres called “Just Sing.” Trolls World Tour rocks without even trying.
The Troll tribes united
Preceded by: Trolls
Trolls shouldn’t work as well as it does. I’m not trolling when I say Trolls is the most surprisingly fun original DreamWorks Animation project in recent memory. After Home gave me too many red flags, I very nearly skipped Trolls as well. I remember thinking it was very bizarre to make a movie based on the creepy troll dolls I had when I was a kid. The colorful approach and poppy soundtrack made it seem less like something I needed to see in theaters. I was pleasantly surprised when I saw it anyway. The computer animation is simple, but vibrant like a glittery pastel scrapbook come to life. All trolls retain the trademark tall colorful hair of their namesake. Along with a big nose, big ears, and often exposed butt.
Trolls are an overly happy race that do nothing but sing, dance, and hug. Their natural enemy are a fictional race called Bergens that believe in eating Trolls to be happy. The celebrity voice cast is a mix of musically talented entertainers and frequent animation collaborators. After Pitch Perfect, Anna Kendrick was the perfect upbeat choice for sweetly naive Troll Princess Poppy. Her fellow Trolls are voiced by the likes of James Corden and Gwen Stefani, but they aren’t given a lot of attention. There are big Trolls, small Trolls, glitter farting Trolls, and an odd Troll that looks like a giraffe. All of Poppy’s partying attracts the attention of evil Bergen chef Chef voiced by Christine Baranski. So Poppy is forced to team up with her overly cautious polar opposite Branch voiced by returning DreamWorks collaborator Justin Timberlake.
Their journey is fraught with pipe cleaner spiders and sarcastic clouds. Although most jokes are juvenile, it’s too creative not to laugh out loud. The Bergens are led by the easily fooled young King Gristle Jr. voiced by Christopher Mintz-Plasse. Poppy, Branch, and the rest of the Trolls use everything they know about happiness to keep from being eaten. Including help lovesick scullery maid Bridget voiced by an unrecognizable Zooey Deschanel. Until they’re all betrayed by a zen Troll fittingly voiced by Russell Brand. Poppy & Branch of course come to together in the end through the power of music. As a jukebox musical, Trolls is full of catchy hits. The catchiest song is easily the Best Original Song nominee “Can’t Stop the Feeling.” As kid friendly, party filled DreamWorks movies go, Trolls can’t stop my feeling of enjoyment.
Poppy and Branch sing
Followed by: Trolls World Tour
The Kid Who Would Be King is a noble and true take on a classic for the modern world. I don’t think there’s ever been a truly definitive movie about King Arthur. I’ve always known the basics of the story, but The Kid Who Would Be King really made me appreciate Arthurian legend. Although the idea of kids becoming knights of the round table is admittedly silly, the movie is surprisingly epic. Director Joe Cornish does for fantasy what I assume he did for sci-fi with Attack the Block.
I’m so glad I decided to go see The Kid Who Would Be King by myself. Moreso when I realize it was the second to last 20th Century Fox film before the Disney merger. Which is ironic considering how Disneyfied the movie feels. Louis Ashbourne Serkis, son of Andy Serkis is a strong child lead as Alexander Elliot. He mirrors Arthur’s journey in modern day England. Alex pulls Excalibur from a stone pillar, meets a young Merlin in disguise, unites friends & bullies to his roundtable, and sets out to vanquish the evil enchantress Morgana.
Bedders, Lance, and Kaye are a likeable bunch of schoolmates who similarly mirror Bedivere, Lancelot, and Kay respectively. They learn all about the important Chivalric Code to remain honest and virtuous in their quest. Rebecca Ferguson is a menacing Morgana and Sir Patrick Stewart was born to play Merlin. Although Merlin’s younger actor steals the show with his magical snaps and British humor. The young knights learn to fight in time for an eclipse that requires the entire school’s help. The Kid Who Would Be King is honestly a fun, heartfelt, action filled King Arthur for kids.
Merlin casts a spell on Excalibur
Space Jam: A New Legacy is corporate branding run amok. It’s no secret that nostalgia sells. So it was only a matter of time before Space Jam 2 finally entered active development. When Michael Jordan left the project, the closest thing to a sequel became the underrated Looney Tunes: Back in Action. Although Warner Bros. considered other sports icons to focus on, the only constant was other popular basketball player LeBron James. Space Jam has been a personal favorite of mine since childhood, but I never felt the need for a sequel. The already bizarre premise of the Looney Tunes playing a high stakes basketball game will only feel derivative the second time around. A New Legacy is one of many 2021 films released simultaneously in theaters and on streaming. Appropriate considering how much it feels like an ad for HBO Max. My brother and I saw A New Legacy in theaters with an audience of kids who all seemed to enjoy it. A New Legacy has several problems that I can only blame on current trends.
I’m still not a sports fan, but I of course know who LeBron James is. While he is a slightly better actor than MJ, there’s way too much hero worship placed on “King James.” LeBron’s fictionalized life plays out similar to Space Jam, but they include a father/son element that tries too hard to be sentimental. Especially for a movie concerned with IP. Don Cheadle is given a ton of attention as an evil algorithm named Al-G Rhythm. His unusual plan is to use LeBron’s success to insert him in existing properties. Everyone thinks it’s a bad idea, but the movie does exactly that. Al-G takes LeBron’s son Dom and sends him through the Warner Bros. Serververse. The LEGO Movie, Ready Player One, and Ralph Breaks the Internet did the exact same thing, but somehow A New Legacy feels more in your face. It’s nice to see the traditionally animated Tune World, but something about Bugs Bunny feels off. I know it’s manipulative, but I couldn’t help but have fun with Bugs searching several Warner Bros. movies or shows to find his friends.
That of course includes the DC Universe, Harry Potter, Game of Thrones, The Matrix, and other more inappropriate franchises. There’s a serious double standard that doesn’t stop there. Daffy Duck, Tweety, Sylvester, Elmer Fudd, Yosemite Sam, Porky Pig, Wile E. Coyote, the Road Runner, Foghorn Leghorn, Granny, and Speedy Gonzales get to be on the team, but Pepe Le Pew is suddenly bad. Lola Bunny is also a non-sexualized tough girl with the slightly distracting celebrity voice of Zendaya. Granny is similarly given an unusual amount of attention. The Looney Tunes are computer animated against their will in a video game version of basketball attended by all the remaining IP’s that do nothing but watch. The Goon Squad can’t hold a candle to the Monstars since they’re all real life players I’ve never heard of. Neither can the very forgettable soundtrack that doesn’t even include the catchy “Space Jam” theme. Some of the jokes, including one about Michael Jordan work, but a rapping Porky Pig is pure cringe. The overlong sequel tries to have an emotional payoff that’s totally lost in a movie like this. Space Jam: A New Legacy is a no win situation.
LeBron James and Bugs Bunny play basketball
Preceded by: Space Jam
Home is the worst DreamWorks Animation movie I’ve ever seen. I know most people say Shark Tale or Bee Movie, but I can never hate anything I grew up watching. I was 19 when Home came out. Despite my brother and I promising to always see computer animated DreamWorks movies in theaters, I could tell we weren’t the target demographic. Home is based on a 2007 children’s book called The True Meaning of Smekday. Although a movie adaptation was nearly called Happy Smekday!, they went with the extremely generic Home instead. A short titled Almost Home was shown with Mr. Peabody & Sherman and Rio 2. The 4 minute short is funnier than the hour & a half long movie.
Home feels like it appeals to the lowest common denominator. The animation is basic and kid friendly, the humor ranges from childish to nonsensical, and the music is contemporary. The Boov are a silly alien race with generic alien speak, bubble technology, and skin that changes color based on mood. Jim Parsons voices your basic overly excitable alien Oh. I’m not a Big Bang Theory fan, so I found him annoying in the role. The cowardly Boov peacefully relocate humans to Australia, except for the oddly named Gratuity “Tip” Tucci and her pet cat Pig.
Rihanna voices the first black female DreamWorks lead, but not even she can save the movie. Fellow popstar Jennifer Lopez voices Tip’s lost mother Lucy. I love both singers, but it feels self-aggrandizing to see characters grooving to their own music. Tip & Oh form an unlikely friendship when Oh foolishly invites the entire galaxy to his party. Including the Boov’s sworn starfish enemy the Gorg. They’re pursued by the Boov’s selfish leader Captain Smek voiced by an eccentric Steve Martin and their police officer Kyle. So Tip & Oh travel in a flying car powered by music and slushies. Most of the action is chaotic and any attempt to be heartfelt doesn’t land. Home is further proof that aliens and Rihanna simply don’t mix.
Tip (human) and Oh (alien)