The Leaf Men and the Brave Good Bugs

Epic doesn’t quite live up to its title. In fact, it kind of faded into obscurity. I applaud Blue Sky Animation for taking risks, but it’s difficult not to compare Epic to similar environmental movies like FernGully or Avatar. Ice Age & Robots director Chris Wedge originally pitched the idea to Pixar before it returned to his founding company. Epic is very similar to the DreamWorks film Rise of the Guardians. Both are loosely based on William Joyce children’s books dedicated to his late daughter Mary Katherine. The Leaf Men and the Brave Good Bugs was similarly given a super generic movie title. Epic could literally refer to anything. It tells the story of a miniature society of Leafmen who protect the forest from the blight infesting Boggans.

Although we’ve heard this kind of story dozens of times before, the computer animation is breathtaking. Everything from the tallest tree to the smallest insect feels realistic in this microscopic world. The animation is so good that it doesn’t really matter how basic most of the characters are. Amanda Seyfried voices M.K., the blank slate protagonist thrust into a fantastical world. Jason Sudeikis voices her kooky scientist father devoted to finding the leafmen. The Leafmen are your standard duty-bound soldiers. Josh Hutcherson is the hotshot rulebreaker Nod and Colin Farrell is his mostly serious mentor Ronin.

Aziz Ansari & Chris O’Dowd are the mostly funny comic relief slug & snail duo Mub & Grub. The Boggins are your average horde of mindless monsters. Christoph Waltz is the guy you call for an evil villain like Mandrake. Epic isn’t a musical, but there are at least three major singers in the cast. Pitbull is a gangster toad, Steven Tyler is an all-knowing glowworm, and Queen B Beyoncé is the literal Queen of the forest Tara. She also provided the song “Rise Up.” When M.K. is shrunk, she’s entrusted with a pod that will ensure the forest’s survival. If nothing else, the battles are epic and so is the world it takes place in. Epic is an admirable FernGully for the next generation.

9. Epic

M.K. protects the pod with Mub

Did We Just Become Best Friends?

Step Brothers isn’t exactly a warm display of brotherly love. As I’ve said many times before, I’m not always the biggest fan of crude R rated comedies. Even though Adam McKay is one of the most respected modern comedy directors. Anchorman won me over, but I still haven’t seen Talladega Nights. I’ll admit I probably wouldn’t have seen Step Brothers if not for so many of my friends enjoying it. Step Brothers reunites Will Ferrell with John C. Reilly and the result is mostly hilarious.

Brennan and Dale are grown men still living with their parents. They’re forced to become stepbrothers when Brennan’s mom marries Dale’s dad. Richard Jenkins and Mary Steenburgen are just as committed. Although the main focus is on the titular stepbrother’s, Brennan also has a douchey more successful brother to deal with. Adam Scott has the right kind of punchable face and Kathryn Hahn goes a little over-the-top as his long-suffering wife. When it works, Brennan and Dale are a fun pair of manchildren who hate each other before becoming best friends.

When it doesn’t work, it really doesn’t work. Some of their antics can be too immature, profane, or random. Namely the drum scene or sleepwalking scene. The funniest scenes are of Brennan and Dale bonding, trying to kill each other, going on unsuccessful interviews, and getting picked on by school kids. They also go to therapy, make an explicit music video called “Boats ‘N Hoes,” and set everything right at the f***ing Catalina Wine Mixer. I’m not surprised that Step Brothers gained a cult following, but I’m only so immature enough to appreciate it.

Step Brothers

Brennan and Dale get through fighting

Truth Lies Beneath the Surface

Serenity (2019) has nothing to do with Firefly. Have you ever seen a movie with terrible reviews, yet no idea why that was the case? Serenity (2019) looked promising with an Oscar winning cast that included the likes of Matthew McConaughey and Anne Hathaway. That kind of star power was better suited for Interstellar. Djimon Hounsou, Jason Clarke, Diane Lane, and Jeremy Strong are also fairly respected actors given nothing good to work with. Serenity (2019) was nominated for 2 Razzies, has a 21% on Rotten Tomatoes, and bombed so hard they had to stop marketing it.

I admittedly wouldn’t have bothered seeing Serenity (2019) if not for the opportunity to review it the day after Serenity (2005). The difference is this Serenity refers to a boat, not a spaceship. At first the movie seemed like a boring sea voyage. Watching it was borderline incomprehensible with McConaughey’s trademark southern drawl and all the excessive swearing. I figured out Baker Dill was some kind of fisherman living in a small community obsessed with catching tuna.

When Hathaway comes along as a sexy blonde femme fatale, the movie suddenly feels like noir. Clarke unsurprisingly plays the abusive villain who they plan to kill. At that point my only question was why they kept cutting back to Dill’s estranged son playing a computer game. Serenity (2019) has a twist that comes completely out of nowhere. One that makes all the bad acting seem somewhat deliberate. It’s the kind of twist that thinks it’s more meaningful than it is. I’d almost recommend Serenity (2019) for just how ridiculous the twist is, but it’s not enough to endure a lousy film.


Baker and Karen on Serenity

You Can’t Take the Sky from Me

Serenity is the closure Firefly fans deserved. When it comes to shows that were cancelled too soon, Firefly is often #1. Despite strong critical reception, Fox stupidly ended the show 11 episodes into a 14 episode season. Firefly gained a devoted fanbase of “Browncoats” who managed to do the impossible. Giving a short lived TV series a second chance as a high production movie. Since I’m a big fan of Joss Whedon, watching Firefly was easy. The space western aesthetic was wholly unique, the action was high stakes, and the banter was laugh out loud hilarious. Everything you want in a Joss Whedon production. Since most of his work was on TV, Serenity was surprisingly Whedon’s feature directorial debut. Serenity has the “shiny” cinematic scale, but it’s just low budget enough to honor the show. The Firefly-class ship is fully explored in an impressive single take. Like the series, the losing Independants resist the unifying Alliance. A central government that united America with China.

The Serenity crew continue to smuggle, firefight, battle Reavers, and aim to misbehave. I’ve always liked that the verse isn’t made up of aliens, robots, or anything else super science fiction. Most of it is fairly realistic. The entire cast returns just as charming as they were 3 years ago. Nathan Fillion as rough-and-tumble Captain Mal Reynolds, Gina Torres as second-in-command warrior woman Zoe, Alan Tudyk as her lighthearted pilot husband Wash, Morena Baccarin as nurturing Companion Inara, Adam Baldwin as untrusting mercenary Jayne, Jewel Staite as adorkable mechanic Kaylee, Sean Maher as unwitting doctor Simon Tam, Summer Glau as his mentally disturbed sister River, and Ron Glass as Christian voice of reason Shepard Book. Inara and Shepard are the only characters not initially on the ship for understandable reasons.

The best thing about the movie is that it answers almost every question we would’ve had, had the show continued. What did the Alliance really do to River?, How did the Reavers come to be?, Will Simon & Kaylee ever hook up? The movie adds David Krumholtz as a hacker ally named Mr. Universe and Chiwetel Ejiofor as the ruthless Operative who seeks to rid the world of sin. Whedon’s usual religious commentary is always a little uncomfortable, but at least the movie retains his trademark quips. Along with his annoying tendency to kill off beloved characters. The first death is expected, but the second death is such a “gorram” slap in the face that it nearly ruined the movie for me (Qiáo sī·wéi dēng zhēnshi gè húndàn!). Fortunately the film won me over with River fighting like a total badass. Though it never should’ve been cancelled, Serenity does a more than serviceable job of keeping the show alive.


The crew of Serenity

Free Your Mind

The Matrix Resurrections is a major glitch in the Matrix. The Matrix is an action sci-fi masterpiece, The Matrix Reloaded is hit or miss, and The Matrix Revolutions is a complete mess. Even though the trilogy was completed 18 years ago, Warner Bros. continued to pester the Wachowskis about making a 4th installment. They always said no, but all that changed when they lost their parents. Lana Wachowski became the sole director who wanted to resurrect Neo and Trinity. Nothing will ever top the original, but the “White Rabbit” trailer seemed promising. I was wrong of course. Resurrections is a little better than the 3rd installment, except it has the same problems as both Reloaded and Revolutions. It’s overly long, talk heavy, and so boring at times I nearly fell asleep. Not that another Matrix movie isn’t just as relevant as it was back then (especially in the age of the Pandemic). The greatest crime is a serious lack of boundary pushing action. Even the weaker Matrix movies had stand out set pieces that used “bullet time” in an inventive way. Resurrections is just repetitive and awkward.

Neo is plugged back into the Matrix as video game developer Thomas Anderson who literally designed the Matrix trilogy. The other movies had humor, but Resurrections is way too meta and on the nose. We’re constantly reminded about the trilogy through archive footage and callbacks. Keanu Reeves’ popularity only grew in the years since The Matrix. While he does feel like Neo, I really wish he didn’t look like John Wick. Having both 4th installments released on the same day would’ve been cool nonetheless. Neo is force fed blue pills and manipulated by his therapist played by an over-the-top Neil Patrick Harris. Trinity is also stuck in the Matrix with no memory of who she is. Carrie-Anne Moss was more relevant on TV and in video games, but I’m glad Trinity was finally given the respect she deserved. In some ways, Resurrections is a better love story than an action movie.

Machines are given unusual redesigns, some characters return, but most are recast. Only sequel actors Jada Pinkett Smith and Lambert Wilson return as Niobe and the Merovingian respectively. Sati, the Indian girl from Revolutions is recast with Priyanka Chopra. That’s not as uncomfortable as Laurence Fishburne and Hugo Weaving being replaced by Yahya Abdul-Mateen II and Jonathan Groff respectively. The explanation is that these are rebooted versions of Morpheus and Agent Smith, but both performances are overly eccentric. Even Jessica Henwick’s blue haired white rabbit sporting Bugs feels like a discount Trinity. Resurrections knowingly checks off all the boxes from the original. Neo is unplugged, practices kung fu, and fights a bunch of agents. Neo being unable to fly is insulting, but I’m not sure why he practically uses the force. The twist didn’t surprise me too much. The Matrix Resurrections is a red pill I never needed to take.

The Matrix Resurrections

Neo saves Trinity

Preceded by: The Matrix Revolutions

Tears of the Moon

Jungle Cruise is the best film based on a Disney park attraction without Pirates of the Caribbean in the title. Even though the movie is basically Pirates of the Caribbean on a riverboat. Although Jungle Cruise was developed as far back as 2004, it didn’t come out nearly as fast as The Country Bears, The Haunted Mansion, or the aforementioned pirate franchise. Since I’ve still yet to attend a Disney park, I didn’t know too much about the ride. A simple riverboat tour ended up being a surprisingly entertaining summer movie. I initially thought it looked a little too generic or old fashioned, but my mom, brother, and I decided to see it in theaters after the Pandemic pushed it back. Jungle Cruise is overly long and complicated, but it’s the cast that makes it fun. For some reason, Dwayne Johnson really likes making jungle movies.

Frank is a steamboat skipper who gives jungle cruises on his crummy old boat “La Quila.” Only the Rock’s charm can make all of his ride inspired puns funny. Tribal chief Trader Sam is present, but the character is gender swapped in order to avoid controversy. Emily Blunt is equally enjoyable as one of many strong female Disney characters. The difference is Dr. Lily Houghton being a scientist in a male dominated world who doesn’t always look before she leaps. She sets out on an adventure with Frank in order to find the fabled “Tears of the Moon” tree which contains healing properties. They travel down the Amazon river accompanied by Frank’s friendly pet jaguar and Lily’s clearly gay brother MacGregor played by Jack Whitehall. Something Disney made a big deal about even though it’s never explicitly stated.

Frank and Lily bicker for most of their screen time, but they do become more romantic overtime. The jungle is fraught with exciting peril and exaggerated historical antagonists. Jesse Plemons plays the villainous Prince Joachim with an over-the-top German accent. Though not as over-the-top as Paul Giamatti’s Italian accent. Among other things, the biggest similarity to Pirates of the Caribbean is a band of cursed Spanish conquistadors. Édgar Ramírez plays the lead conquistador Aguirre who’s made out of snakes. While his fellow conquistadors are made out of trees, mud, and bees. Jungle Cruise earns its PG-13 rating and genuinely surprised me with a twist near the end. Though it doesn’t reinvent the genre, Jungle Cruise does manage to harken back to the classic Hollywood jungle adventures.

Jungle Cruise

Frank and Lily on a riverboat

I Gave You My Heart🎁

Last Christmas gives you its heart. Merry Christmas everyone! There are so many movies and specials named after Christmas carols. It doesn’t surprise me that someone finally made a movie based on the hit song “Last Christmas” by Wham! Although the female friendly Paul Feig is the director, Last Christmas belongs to Emma Thompson. She co-wrote, co-produced, and co-stars in the movie. I suppose that makes sense considering her experience in fellow English Christmas rom-com Love Actually.

Last Christmas centers around unenthusiastic Christmas shop elf Kate. This was Emilia Clarke’s first role after Game of Thrones. She’s the perfect attractive rom-com lead and a surprisingly good singer. Clarke’s exotic look is given an explanation with Kate’s parents being from Yugoslavia. Thompson plays her overbearing Yugoslavian mother. Kate’s life is a mess, but she meets a handsome stranger who shows her the true meaning of Christmas. This would be Henry Golding’s second romantic performance after Crazy Rich Asians.

They never interact, but Michelle Yeoh also appears as Kate’s Christmas loving boss Santa. Clarke and Golding have natural chemistry that saves what could’ve been a forgettable premise. Like the titular song, the movie includes a literal heart transplant that makes the twist easy to figure out. The soundtrack is a fun wintery mix of Christmas carols, Wham! songs, and George Michael solos. Of course “Last Christmas” is played to death, but the final performance is a spirited number. Last Christmas is a nice gift for someone special.

Last Christmas

Tom tells Kate to look up

The Present of Parents

Four Christmases tries to bring people together in time for Christmas, but it only succeeds in tearing them apart. Vince Vaughn and Reese Witherspoon play a mostly convincing couple. Although they didn’t get along on set since he’s more off the cuff and she sticks to the script. Brad & Kate are the kind of couple that never wants to get married or have kids. Not my favorite kind of people, but to each his own. They each belong to divorced families that they purposefully avoid seeing in order to take exotic trips. Until they get caught in their lie on live TV.

Four Christmases refers to each house they have to visit on Christmas day. Robert Duvall is Brad’s father who’s comfortable being poor. The rest of his family are stereotypical hillbillies that like to rough house. Mary Steenburgen is Kate’s new aged mother who’s seeing a pastor. The rest of her family are mostly women who like to tell embarrassing stories. Their story goes on a while with a whole Nativity play in between.

Sissy Spacek is Brad’s mother who’s awkwardly dating Brad’s childhood best friend. Jon Voight is Kate’s father who’s the only normal parent of the bunch. Not to mention their siblings played by other name actors like Jon Favreau, Kristin Chenoweth, and Tim McGraw. I got some amusement out of the cast and hijinks that ensue, but it’s a bit too cynical for me. Brad & Kate didn’t win me over with their alternative views, but even I couldn’t root for them when they start drifting apart. The rushed happy ending doesn’t make Four Christmases a tradition I want to endure again.

Four Christmases

Brad reacts to Kate’s nephew spitting up on her

The Mouse House

Home Sweet Home Alone is more soulless cash grab than Christmas classic. Disney wasted no time after the Fox merger. Although the last 2 movies aired on ABC, Home Sweet Home Alone is a more official Disney movie. They clearly didn’t believe in the project since it was dumped on Disney+ and quickly devoured by critics and longtime fans. They even admit in the movie that remaking a classic is always a bad idea. Yet they continue to milk a concept that only worked the first time.

Now we follow the Nazi friend from Jojo Rabbit (Archie Yates) as an obnoxious British kid who ends up home alone… sort of. Max Mercer isn’t really the focus of the movie. We barely get to know his mom or relatives before they’re whisked away. Any emotion is entirely off-screen and reserved for the “Wet Bandits” of the movie. That’s right, Disney can’t resist making the criminals who break into the house sympathetic and misunderstood main characters.

They’re seriously a married couple with a family who fell on hard times. Rob Delaney’s Jeff and Ellie Kemper’s Pam are just trying to recover a priceless doll they think the kid stole. They’re brutalized by traps ranging from juvenile to sadistic until the whole thing ends up being a huge misunderstanding. Making the whole movie a colossal waste of time. Macaulay Culkin was smart to refuse a cameo, but Buzz actor Devin Ratray wasn’t so lucky. Home Sweet Home Alone is more painful than any trap in the franchise.

Home Sweet Home Alone

Max with his new present

Preceded by: Home Alone: The Holiday Heist

Christmas: Impossible

Mickey’s Twice Upon a Christmas is more Christmas than Disney can handle. Mickey’s Once Upon a Christmas may have been direct-to-video, but Mickey’s Twice Upon a Christmas is every bit the direct-to-video sequel sell out that most of them are. The primary difference is using computer animation on Mickey Mouse, Donald Duck, and Goofy for the first time in Disney history. Not counting Kingdom Hearts of course. The sequel has some similarities to the original, but segments are increased from 3 to 5 with pop up books in between.

Belles on Ice – The first segment focuses on both Minnie & Daisy. Mickey & Donald are only around for moral support. “Belles on Ice” gives the Disney ladies time to shine, but most of their time is spent fighting. They both get into a heated ice skating competition that includes the alligator and hippo dancers from Fantasia. Despite their pettiness taking up most of the story, they do come together in the end.

Christmas: Impossible – The second segment focuses on Huey, Dewey, and Louie. An ill-mannered Donald and polite Daisy aren’t nearly as important as Uncle Scrooge. “Christmas: Impossible” is about the mischievous boys mailing themselves to the North Pole where they hope to get on Santa’s nice list. Much like the first movie, this is my personal favorite story. The adventure in Santa’s workshop is fun, the elves are quirky, and Santa has plenty of heart. The message of thinking about others works its way through even if the boys had to mess up along the way.

Christmas Maximus – The third segment features Goofy, but focuses on his now grown up son Max. It’s nice to see Disney maintain some form of continuity between Max’s appearances. Even though I’m very much against Max being in love with anyone other than Roxanne from A Goofy Movie. “Christmas Maximus” is a mostly cliché story where Max is afraid Goofy will embarrass him in front of his new girlfriend Mona. It’s a mostly harmless series of antics that feels more like a music video set to the song “Make Me Look Good.”

Donald’s Gift – The fourth segment focuses on Donald. Ducks dominate the movie with Daisy, Huey, Dewey, and Louie making another appearance. “Donald’s Gift” has the most mixed message with Donald wanting to cozy up by the fire with hot chocolate, but constantly being annoyed with the song “We Wish You a Merry Christmas.” I’ll always be filled with Christmas spirit, but I do understand some people wanting to be left alone.

Mickey’s Dog-Gone Christmas – The fifth segment features Mickey, but focuses on his pal Pluto. The normally cheerful Mickey goes overboard with Christmas decorations and yells at Pluto when he makes a mess. “Mickey’s Dog-Gone Christmas” is another cliché story where Pluto runs away from home, only to wind up in the North Pole. Donner and Blitzen are a comedic pair of reindeer who adopt Pluto until Santa has time to fulfill Mickey’s wish. Unlike the original movie, Mickey, Minnie, Pluto, Donald, Daisy, Scrooge, Huey, Dewey, Louie, Goofy, and Max come together as part of the story.

In conclusion, Mickey’s Twice Upon a Christmas is something I watched just as much as the original when I was a kid. Though I don’t remember what VHS tape or DVD I saw it advertised on. The computer animation does feel unnecessary, but it’s really not that bad. Though there are more stories than there needs to be and most of them do go a little overboard, Mickey’s Twice Upon a Christmas is innocent fun.

Mickey's Twice Upon a Christmas

Mickey and friends sing “We Wish You a Merry Christmas”

Preceded by: Mickey’s Once Upon a Christmas