Löded Diper

Diary of a Wimpy Kid: Rodrick Rules shifts the focus to brotherhood. Something I can very much relate to.  Just like the first book, I read Jeff Kinney’s 2008 follow up book Rodrick Rules before seeing the movie. The movie was also an immediate follow up since Fox needed to strike while the iron was hot. Middle Schoolers aren’t getting any younger. Zachary Gordon’s voice changed, but Robert Capron and most other classmates sound about the same. After reading the sequel, I realized just how many scenes in Diary of a Wimpy Kid were borrowed from Rodrick Rules. The adaptation is comparable to the first in terms of what they add, subtract, or alter. Animation is still used in all the usual places.

As Greg Heffley enters the 7th grade, his brothers get on his nerves more than usual. His younger brother Manny is a tattletail and older brother Rodrick continues to pick on him. Devon Bostick is given more of a spotlight with a better understanding of his sibling rivalry and rock band Löded Diper. Steve Zahn is just as overly enthusiastic as he was before, but it’s Rachel Harris who has more time to shine as their embarrassing music loving mom. Rowley is still Greg’s best friend, but he mostly tags along or focuses on magic. Absent characters like Fregley or Patty stick around and Chirag is given his “Invisible Chirag” storyline from the book.

Greg’s crush Holly Hills is mentioned in Rodrick Rules, but she doesn’t become important until later books. The movie casts a young Peyton List as Holly in order to give Greg a romantic subplot. At least she replaces the unnecessary original character from the first movie. The film keeps Greg’s embarrassing summer, “Mom Bucks,” Rodrick’s wild party, Rowley’s sleepover, visiting grandpa at a retirement home, and a talent competition. Diary of a Wimpy Kid: Rodrick Rules isn’t a deep representation of brotherhood, but it is an okay way to kill an hour and a half.

Diary of a Wimpy Kid Rodrick Rules

Greg and Rodrick try to hide their mess

Preceded by: Diary of a Wimpy Kid & Followed by: Diary of a Wimpy Kid: Dog Days

The Cheese Touch

Diary of a Wimpy Kid is the movie based on the journal that definitely isn’t a diary. In case you’re unaware, the Diary of a Wimpy Kid book series has been very popular with kids since 2007. Author Jeff Kinney intended it to be like The Wonder Years. Although I was 11 when the first book was published, I’ll admit I hadn’t heard of the series until the first movie came out. 20th Century Fox acquired the rights with the intention of launching a franchise. Since the books are quick and funny, I decided to read Diary of a Wimpy Kid before watching the adaptation. There are several differences, but the movie does capture the spirit of the diary journal. Animation is even used to recreate the signature artwork from the books.

Greg Heffley is your average kid navigating the highs and lows of Middle School. Zachary Gordon has the right energy, but he’s not really arrogant enough. Robert Capron does manage to capture the childish innocence of Greg’s best friend Rowley. Much like the book, the focus is primarily on their friendship and futile attempts to be more popular. Other important characters from the book are mostly well represented. Devon Bostick shines as Greg’s pesky older brother Rodrick, Rachel Harris fits as Greg’s bespectacled mother, and Steve Zahn is a little more excitable as Greg’s father. There’s also his embarrassing younger brother Manny.

Weird classmate Fregley practically leaps off the page, academic student Patty is upgraded to Greg’s bully, and small Indian classmate Chirag is also more present than he was in the book. For some reason, Chloë Grace Moretz is added to the movie as an original character who questions school social status. Obviously an entire school year can’t be covered in an hour and a half movie. So the movie adapts key moments, reworks some, and adds a few unnecessary childish gags. The film keeps the wrestling tryouts, Halloween, Safety Patrol, the Wizard of Oz play, Rowley’s big wheel accident, and Zoo-Wee Mama! comics. Then there’s the fabled “Cheese Touch” that just about everything centers around. Diary of a Wimpy Kid captures those awkward preteen years almost as well as the book.

Diary of a Wimpy Kid

Greg and Rowley eat lunch with Fregley

Followed by: Diary of a Wimpy Kid: Rodrick Rules

Pigeon: Impossible

Spies in Disguise is the unceremonious final film from Blue Sky Animation. Despite already owning Pixar, Disney ended up obtaining the rights to Blue Sky with their 20th Century Fox acquisition. Only to shut the studio down a year later. My brother and I saw Spies in Disguise on Christmas blissfully unaware that it would be the last. Although it’s a strange way to end Blue Sky’s run, I’m glad I ended up enjoying their last movie. Spies in Disguise is surprisingly based on an ameteur computer animated short on YouTube called Pigeon: Impossible (watch the short here).

The movie is given high quality computer animation, but nothing fancy. The plot instead makes Agent Walter Beckett a super smart boy genius and turns the pesky pigeon into a spy in disguise. The always charismatic Will Smith essentially plays himself as the self-proclaimed “World’s Greatest Spy” Lance Sterling. He has a variety of gadgets, spy cars, and takes out the Yakuza with little effort. Since Tom Holland is literally everywhere, it was only a matter of time before he did animation. Walter works with Sterling at the agency H.T.U.V. hidden under the Washington Monument. The young scientist pushes for colorful non-lethal gadgets.

I honestly wasn’t sure how I felt about the movie until Walter transforms Sterling into a pigeon. The absurd situation is laugh out loud hilarious. Sterling blends in with a gang of comical pigeons and sticks with Walter until he gets his body back. All the while H.T.U.V. thinks he’s a traitor to the organization. Rashida Jones voices one of many semi-serious agents who hunts Sterling down. Ben Mendelsohn not so surprisingly voices the Bond-esque villain Killian who plans to conquer the world with era appropriate drones. Walter and pigeon Sterling end up bonding on their wacky spy adventure and learn to accept unique ways of solving their problems. Spies in Disguise flew in at just the right time.

14. Spies in Disguise

Agent Sterling (pigeon) and Walter (human)

Other Natural Disasters

The Evening Star is the continuation of Terms of Endearment no one’s heard of. Sequels to Best Picture winning films aren’t very common, but author Larry McMurtry wrote many books in his Houston series. The Evening Star picks up where Aurora Greenway left off. Shirley MaClaine reprises her Oscar winning role and seems to be doing everything she can to hold the movie together. Unlike Terms of Endearment, The Evening Star was not praised by critics. I feel like the sequel tries too hard to recapture what worked in the first movie.

Aurora is once again dealing with family problems and her complicated love life. Emma’s children are grown up and just as troubled as she was. Tommy is not so surprisingly in jail, Teddy has a disrespectful son, and Melanie desperately wants to get away from her overprotective granny. Juliette Lewis has played rebellious characters like this before. Emma’s best friend Patsy is recast with a more meddlesome Miranda Richardson. Aurora is at odds with her, but maintains a small circle of friends that includes the General Hector and her maid Rosie.

The latter is also recast with Marion Ross at least deserving a Golden Globe nomination. Ben Johnson plays her neighbor/husband Arthur in his final film role after passing away. Jack Nicholson manages to steal the show despite being nothing more than a glorified cameo. Aurora’s primary romantic conquest is a creepy relationship between her and her counselor Jerry played by the much younger Bill Paxton. This time not one, but three characters die in an attempt to elicit the same emotional response. The Evening Star is a little burnt out.

The Evening Star

Aurora and Garrett look at the evening star

Preceded by: Terms of Endearment

Come to Terms

Terms of Endearment is a lot to come to terms with. It’s a human-interest story that was very common in the 80’s. The kind of story guaranteed to win Best Picture at the Academy Awards. Aside from its Oscar win, I never had too many expectations going into Terms of Endearment. I only knew it was a tearjerker, and that my manager strongly recommended it. Simpsons producer James L. Brooks directed, produced, and wrote the film himself. Winning three separate Oscars in the process. Terms of Endearment is based on a 1975 novel by Larry McMurtry. It chronicles the back and forth relationship between a mother and her daughter. I just don’t think it’s for me. Just about everyone is flawed and occasionally unlikeable.

The great Shirley MaClaine won Best Actress for her performance as the controlling Aurora, who maintains an obsessively close relationship with her daughter. Debra Winger was nominated for her performance as Emma, who deliberately marries a man her mother doesn’t approve of. Jeff Daniels got a serious career boost playing Emma’s neutral college professor husband Flap. Nearly 30 years of their lives go by with little warning. Emma and Flap have three kids, but each of them have affairs when life gets too tough. John Lithgow was nominated for his performance as Emma’s kind of pathetic lover Sam.

Aurora’s love life is just as complicated. She distances herself from Danny DeVito, but ends up falling for Jack Nicholson. Nicholson very much deserved his Best Supporting Actor win as Aurora’s overly confident, yet somehow charming former astronaut neighbor Garrett. I felt the most invested when he was on screen. Reality sets in when someone is diagnosed with a terminal illness and everyone has to come to terms with it. Although I was on the verge of tears, I guess I couldn’t connect as much as I could’ve. Even though it is a perfect catharsis for each character. Terms of Endearment is technically brilliant with a perfect cast, fine performances, and realistic characters dealing with realistic problems.

Terms of Endearment

Emma lays down with her mother Aurora

Followed by: The Evening Star

Bull in a China Shop

Ferdinand is loaded with bull stuff. I never read it, but the children’s book The Story of Ferdinand is as old as 1936. Ferdinand is a lovable gentle giant who’d rather smell flowers under a cork tree than bullfight. It’s a simple story with a simple lesson, but people have read more into it over the years. My earliest exposure to Ferdinand was in The Blind Side, but I have since watched the 1938 Disney short Ferdinand the Bull. Blue Sky Animation finally decided to make a feature film after their failure with Ice Age: Collision Course.

My disillusion with the studio made me skip the movie in theaters; only for Ferdinand to be nominated for Best Animated Feature. The computer animation is simply pleasant to look at. He’s not Spanish, but John Cena is perfect for the flower loving bull considering his experience in arenas. The basic plot of Ferdinand having a peaceful life before a bee makes him look mad is kept intact. There’s just a lot of padding like a little girl named Nina who raises him like a dog. The celebrity cast of colorful characters similarly makes the movie longer with cartoony antics.

There’s a calming goat with Kate McKinnon’s occasionally annoying voice, a tough cattle of potential bulls, overly flamboyant horse bullies, and a trio of comic relief technicolor hedgehogs named Una, Dos, and Cuarto (we don’t not speak of Tres). Though the funniest gag is the classic “Bull in a china shop.” Ferdinand is also set in modern day with all the dated pop culture references and songs you’d expect. The book’s climactic bullfight against matador El Primero feels big without having to sacrifice its flower smelling conclusion. Though it does feel like a disposable kids movie, Ferdinand has a lot of heart.

13. Ferdinand

Ferdinand smells flowers under a cork tree

Life’s a Witch

The Craft: Legacy isn’t as charming as it thinks it is. The original Craft gained a less than ironic cult following. As a Christian, I wouldn’t consider myself among them. Not that the original wasn’t well crafted for the kind of magical story it was trying to tell. So the idea of a remake sounded pointless for something that only came out in 1996. At least I thought it was a remake. Blumhouse only wants to make horror movies that are still connected to the original.

When the first trailer dropped out of nowhere, several scenes from the original were recreated. Specifically the “Light as a feather, stiff as a board” levitation and “We are the weirdos, mister” comeback. Until the trailer shows a clearly superimposed photo of original witch Nancy Downs. Fairuza Balk does play a part, but it’s clearly sequel bait. Since it was 2020, Legacy streamed exclusively on Amazon Prime with very little warning. If the original was a time capsule of the 90’s, then Legacy is a time capsule of the 2020’s (and not in a good way).

Director Zoe Lister-Jones fills it with everything annoying about modern teenagers. It doesn’t help that this coven of witches are obvious clones of the original. The lead outcast Lily is just another new kid in town. The difference is her stepfather and three stepbrothers who not so surprisingly end up being evil. The witches also cast a spell on a bully in order to make him more sensitive. The young cast feels very generic with David Duchovny and Michelle Monaghan being the only actors I recognized. The Craft: Legacy is only for weirdos.

The Craft Legacy

The sisterhood

Preceded by: The Craft

The Witching Hour

The Witches (2020) will never be half as disturbing as the original 1990 adaptation. This isn’t the first time a Roald Dahl book has been readapted. Since I didn’t grow up watching The Witches (1990), I can’t say I objected to the idea. Though I wasn’t expecting it so soon on HBO Max (thanks to the pandemic). Robert Zemeckis was attached to direct and screenwriter Guillermo del Toro continued to push for more dark children’s films. The Witches (2020) was also co-written by black-ish creator Kenya Barris.

This version of the story is now set in 60’s Alabama instead of 80’s England. The renamed Charlie and his grandma Agatha are both African American. The change doesn’t do much aside from adding in race relations. Plus somewhat distracting Chris Rock narration. Octavia Spencer is just as strong-willed as the original actress. They stay at a hotel now ran by Stanley Tucci. The titular witches loom over the hotel and have the bald heads, square feet, and hatred of children just like the original. The primary difference is their three finger claw hands that caused an unnecessary outcry among disabled individuals.

Anne Hathaway is a suitable Grand High Witch, but Anjelica Huston already set the bar really high. Hathaway is a little too cartoonish and nowhere near as grotesque with a simple toothy grin. The tone feels too safe and the CGI used on the mice isn’t as convincing as puppetry. Charlie and his fat friend Bruno are still turned into mice, but female mouse Daisy is added as they plan to take down the evil witches. Unlike the original, the book’s bittersweet ending is kept intact. The Witches (2020) doesn’t push many boundaries.

The Witches

The Grand High Witch

Remake of: The Witches (1990)

The Zombie War

World War Z is what happens when a zombie outbreak reaches a global scale. Zombie media was practically inescapable in the 2010’s. So I wasn’t exactly surprised when World War Z became the highest grossing zombie movie of all time. It’s both rated PG-13 and feels more like an action movie. I liked the movie alright, but I am curious to read the 2006 book World War Z: An Oral History of the Zombie War. Apparently, World War Z is one of the most unfaithful book to movie adaptations of all time.

The book reads more like a United Nations report with interviews from survivors of the zombie war. While the movie doesn’t lose its geopolitical commentary, it’s not as overt as originally intended. Though there are still plenty of uncomfortable parallels to the modern day pandemic. Zombies seem to appear out of nowhere, but some countries already knew. These zombies are fast, resourceful, and multiple by the thousands. Box-office draw Brad Pitt is thrown into the action as a former UN agent with a family to protect.

With his wife and daughters safely in military custody, Gerry Lane stumbles from country to country searching for answers and a possible cure. The most intense set pieces are a horde of zombies scaling a wall in Jerusalem and an outbreak happening on a plane. It’s almost enough to make up for the anticlimactic ending. Although it is unique to have illness be the cure, several rewrites and production problems couldn’t pull it off. World War Z is more brainless action than intelligent thriller.

World War Z

Zombies scale a wall

Wild Night

Project X is the craziest party you’ll ever see. There’ve been plenty of wild high school parties in movies, but nothing comes close to this. The party is so out of control that Project X had to come with a warning. There’s no real point to the movie other than showing the most reckless behavior imaginable. Even though a lot of teenagers make bad decisions, it’s not always gonna be enjoyable to watch. I get why critics hated Project X, but I mostly saw it as brainless entertainment.

Tom is a promising student with a small circle of friends. Kirby is his only female friend who truly likes him. His nerdy friend J.B. is as likable as she is, but Costa is a movie best friend that no one in their right mind would actually hang out with. He’s the biggest foul mouthed misogynistic jerk in the movie (and that’s saying something). I think my favorite character is the mysterious loner behind the camera. Project X uses a found footage approach to make it seem more authentic. Most actors are unknown aside from a random appearance from Miles Teller.

Everything centers around the party in Pasadena. Tom’s parents leave for the week, a massive amount of invitations are sent out, neighbors are warned, drugs & alcohol are acquired, and security is hired. The party seems harmless at first, but then the music kicks in, girls get topless, the dog gets passed around, the house gets trashed, and a little person starts punching below the belt. It only gets worse when the cops are called and a maniac shows up with a flamethrower. Though it led to several imitators, Project X is not something to aspire to.

Project X

Tom’s party gets out of control