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)

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

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

Good Grief

The Peanuts Movie is a love letter to the beloved franchise. Apart from the original Ice Age, The Peanuts Movie would easily be my favorite movie from Blue Sky Animation. Similar to the equally faithful Horton Hears a Who!, The Peanuts Movie managed to stay faithful to the original comic strips by Charles M. Schulz. It helps that his son and grandson personally developed the movie not long after he passed away. It’s refreshing to see a classic franchise adaptation that doesn’t throw in pop culture references, modern technology, or any unwanted new characters. The Peanuts Movie is rated G, because it doesn’t feel the need to degrad the source material with crude jokes or potty humor. While they couldn’t help but make it computer animated, Schulz’s hand drawn style is maintained in a clever way. My brother and I saw the movie in theaters with a big smile on our faces. Although they haven’t watched most Blue Sky movies, our parents were just as pleased to watch it.

The Peanuts Movie is pure nostalgia with a simple story that touches on almost every aspect of Peanuts history. Most of the movie takes place during wintertime in order to pay homage to A Charlie Brown Christmas. Charlie Brown tries to be a winner, but faces all of his biggest insecurities. Trying to fly a kite and failing at baseball happen early on, but attempting to kick a football is saved for a mid-credits scene. His biggest struggle is trying to get the Little Red-Haired Girl to notice him. It’s a sweet love story that finally gets her to speak and show her face. Fortunately the unseen adults are back to speaking through a trombone. The entire Peanuts gang has time to shine and show off their defining traits. Noah Schnapp captures Charlie Brown 1 year before making a name for himself on Stranger Things. Linus carries his blanket and always has something insightful to say. Lucy continues to put Charlie Brown down and give him unhelpful advice from her psychiatry stand.

Sally spends most of her time wanting to be a cowgirl. Peppermint Patty is the lazy tomboy she always is and Marcie is not too far behind as her smarter sidekick. Schroeder’s piano playing is given special treatment as part of the 20th Century Fox theme. Pig-Pen causes a mess wherever he goes and Franklin has a lot of screen time since he’s the only diverse character. Violet and Patty are also around in a supporting role. Equal attention is given to frequent scene stealer Snoopy and his buddy Woodstock. They have an entire subplot devoted to Snoopy writing about the World War I Flying Ace and his enemy the Red Baron. Snoopy’s love interest Fifi and his entire family are all part of it. The Peanuts Movie weaves together many classic storylines like a talent show, dance, or book report. Although Charlie Brown believes he’s a blockhead, it’s always heartwarming to see his friends root for him when he wins. Blue Sky is the only studio I know that can take a wonderful idea like The Peanuts Movie and turn it into a success.

11. The Peanuts Movie

The Peanuts celebrate Charlie Brown

I’m Still Standing!

Rocketman soars as high as a kite. Since Elton John is one of the greatest living musicians, it was only a matter of time before someone gave him a biopic. Turns out the singer had been wanting a movie based on his life story since the 2000’s. The timing couldn’t have been better for it to happen in 2019. Dexter Fletcher directed Rocketman a year after his uncredited work on Bohemian Rhapsody. Both musical biopics center around gay singers who dealt with a lot of personal struggles. Music manager John Reid also plays a part in both stories. Even more ironic is the fact that Taron Egerton was practically born to play Elton John. Though singers and/or actors like Justin Timberlake and Tom Hardy were considered, Egerton had a lot of bizarre connections to the singer.

Egerton already sang “I’m Still Standing” in Sing and John himself had a featured role in The Golden Circle. He also happened to work with Fletcher before on Eddie the Eagle. Kingsman director Matthew Vaughn encouraged the casting by becoming a co-producer. Edgerton pulls off the bespectacled look and every flamboyant outfit. Although I saw Bohemian Rhapsody in theaters, I chose not to do the same with Rocketman. Though I am a big fan of John’s songs, the R rating spoke for itself. Unlike Bohemian Rhapsody, Rocketman doesn’t hold back on the singer’s homosexuality or various addictions. The film explores his younger days as a piano prodigy and the strained relationship with his parents that led to him changing his name from Reginald Dwight to Elton John.

Bryce Dallas Howard is practically unrecognizable as his mother. As his star rises, John forms his longest lasting platonic relationship with songwriter Bernie Taupin played by Jamie Bell. His troubled love life includes abusive manager Reid played by Richard Madden, but his relationships with women are significantly downplayed. Rocketman is more of a fantasy with purposeful historic inaccuracies and stylish musical numbers for all his songs. Every performance is fun to watch, but Elton’s rehab visits and struggle to love himself are the heart of his life’s story. Which is why “(I’m Gonna) Love Me Again” won Best Original Song. And I think it’s gonna be a long, long time ’til anything tops Rocketman.

Rocketman

Elton John dressed up

Le Mans ’66

Ford v Ferrari is the last 20th Century Fox film nominated for Best Picture. It couldn’t have happened to a more old fashioned movie. In fact, Fox always wanted to bring the racing rivalry between Ford and Ferrari to life. At one point they wanted Tom Cruise and Brad Pitt, but Matt Damon and Christian Bale are suitable replacements. After Logan, director James Mangold shifted gears back to the biographical dramas he used to make with acclaimed films like Walk the Line.

I’m still not an automotive expert, but even I know the idea of a Ford beating Ferrari in a race sounds like a pipe dream. Ford v Ferrari is all about Ford being challenged to build a racecar with enough speed to outrace Ferrari at the 1966 24 Hours of Le Mans. Damon is the determined automotive designer Carroll Shelby and Bale appropriately portrays his hotheaded frenemy Ken Miles. Shelby is close with Miles’ family and does everything he can to push the racer.

Even when everyone else is trying to get him out of the driver seat. They deal with the heads of Ford played by Jon Bernthal and Tracy Letts. They also deal with a lot of scientific mechanics in order to get the Ford GT40 to crazy speeds. Racing scenes are so fast and smooth that you feel like you’re right there. No wonder Ford v Ferrari won technical awards like Best Film Editing and Sound Editing. Though the outcome isn’t fair, the thrill of the race is more than enough. Ford v Ferrari is an honest-to-goodness sports drama about the American dream.

Ford v Ferrari

Carroll Shelby and Ken Miles on a Ford

Formula 1

Rush is a 2 hour long adrenaline rush. I’m not a racing expert, but I stand by my philosophy that a good movie can make anything interesting. Though I’ll admit I primarily watched Rush because I assumed it would be a top Oscar contender. You have Academy Award winning director Ron Howard, the biographical angle, and strong reviews from critics. Yet Rush wasn’t nominated for a single Oscar. Just 2 Golden Globe nominations for Best Motion Picture – Drama and Supporting Actor.

I’ll further admit that Chris Hemsworth was another major draw for me. It doesn’t help that he looks exactly like Thor without a beard. I guess he was kind of typecast with long hair for awhile. Rush explores the Hunt-Lauda sports rivalry of the 1970’s. James Hunt is a British Formula 1 racer who drives a McLaren. Niki Lauda is an Austrian Formula 1 racer who drives a Ferrari. Though the film doesn’t stray away from their mutual admiration for one another, a heated rivalry makes better conflict. Chris Hemsworth gives his all to a more dramatic performance and Daniel Brühl made his presence known.

Imagine Thor racing against Baron Zemo. Both racers are driven to outclass each other and they couldn’t be more different. Hunt is a partying playboy who indulges in drugs and sex (including a very naked confrontation with Natalie Dormer). Lauda is more levelheaded, though he does make a mistake that leads to severe burns. Olivia Wilde and Alexandra Maria Lara have a front row seat as their respective wives. Howard makes every race dramatic with fast cuts, slow motion, and moody lighting. Rush is an underrated slice of racing history.

Rush

James Hunt and Niki Lauda