Don’t Have a Good Day, Have a Great Day

Free Guy isn’t a good movie, it’s a great movie. Although I think it is very Deadpool light. Free Guy is also like Ready Player One with a dash of The Matrix, a drop of The LEGO Movie, and a touch of The Truman Show. It’s no secret that Ryan Reynolds practically plays himself nowadays. Although the concept of a self aware NPC in an open-world video game sounded cool, the marketing screamed PG-13 Deadpool. There were several jokes made about Disney since Fox developed the movie under the uncomfortable 20th Century Studios banner. Further delays included Deadpool & Korg crossovers and a muscular Ryan Reynolds interview.

It wasn’t until Free Guy finally hit theaters that I couldn’t help but have fun with the surprisingly heartfelt premise. Guy is just your average mild mannered bank teller who loves coffee, his Buddy played by Lil Rel, and “Fantasy” by Mariah Carey. Until he suddenly goes off-script and becomes the hero Free City deserves. Free City is an unmistakable combination of Grand Theft Auto and Fortnite. The movie’s video game appreciation is made clear with several cameos from real life YouTube and Twitch gamers. The heart comes from Guy falling in love with the sexy badass Molotov Girl. Killing Eve star Jodie Comer very convincingly plays both her British avatar and American player Millie.

Millie and her estranged co-creator Keys, played by a nerdier Joe Keery, have an unexpected impact on the game. Real world villain Antwan threatens to unplug the game if Guy isn’t deleted. This of course isn’t the first time Reynolds and Taika Waititi worked together (*cough* Green Lantern). There’s a nice sense of community when Guy fights to save his world’s existence. Although Free Guy isn’t without faults. It’s not Deadpool, but some jokes feel overly crude, PC, of blasphemous for my taste. Not to mention how profane it is without F bombs. The movie takes far better advantage of surprise celebrity cameos and unexpected references to Disney owned properties. The action is intense, but I expect nothing less from an entertaining shoot ’em up. Free Guy makes every concept work to its advantage.

Free Guy

Guy and Molotov Girl work together

Stupid Bunny Suit

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.

S Darko

Sam and Justin stare at each other

Preceded by: Donnie Darko

It’s a Very Very Mad World

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

Donnie Darko in a theater with Gretchen and Frank

Followed by: S. Darko

Warner Bros. The Movie

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.

Space Jam A New Legacy

LeBron James and Bugs Bunny play basketball

Preceded by: Space Jam

The True Meaning of Smekday

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.

29. Home

Tip (human) and Oh (alien)

Don’t Tell Her About the WABAC

Mr. Peabody & Sherman is the best adaptation of a Jay Ward cartoon, yet it still failed at the box-office. Proof that some properties are just too old fashioned to appeal to kids. Which is unfortunate considering how much care went into Mr. Peabody & Sherman. Although it could’ve been released closer to Dudley Do-Right and The Adventures of Rocky and Bullwinkle, a live-action movie wouldn’t have worked. So the project was put off until DreamWorks Animation gained the rights. Rob Minkoff was still attached as director. Making this his first animated movie since The Lion King. Peabody’s Improbable History was another segment of The Rocky and Bullwinkle Show that taught viewers about history. Although a Rocky & Bullwinkle short was omitted from theaters, the movie did spark a successful traditionally animated Netflix series.

My only exposure to Mr. Peabody & Sherman was in a humorous Simpsons cameo (“Quiet, you”). I wasn’t sure how to feel about a movie, but my brother and I had fun with it. Computer animation was the right call with a simplistic design that honors the look of the cartoon. Although Robert Downey Jr. was considered, Ty Burrell is just as good as the world’s smartest dog Mr. Peabody. All his many accomplishments are given a modern update, but adopting a boy named Sherman is exactly the same. Young Peter Parker himself Max Charles voices Peabody’s bespectacled boy. There’s an abundance of puns and immature jokes, but the relationship between a dog and his boy is the heart of the movie. Allison Janney threatens Mr. Peabody’s right to raise a human as social worker Ms. Grunion. Fellow Modern Family co-star Ariel Winter is also added as Sherman’s cute but mean classmate Penny Peterson who calls him a dog.

A dinner date with her parents (voiced by Leslie Mann and Stephen Colbert) sets off a series of time travel hijinks. The most memorable part of the original cartoon was the WABAC Machine. The much more unique rules of time travel have no effect on the past, but you can’t travel to your own time. Throughout the movie, Mr. Peabody, Sherman, and Penny end up in the French Revolution, Ancient Egypt, the Renaissance, and the Trojan War. Encountering exaggerated versions of historical figures like Marie Antoinette, Maximilien Robespierre, King Tut, Leonardo da Vinci, Mona Lisa, King Agamemnon, Albert Einstein, George Washington, and several others. Celebrities like Stanley Tucci, Patrick Warburton, or Mel Brooks make them funny, but that depends on how well you know history. Mr. Peabody & Sherman is highbrow entertainment in a vibrant package.

26. Mr. Peabody and Sherman

Mr. Peabody and Sherman in the WABAC

He’s Got Your Wings

The Fly II could never live up to David Cronenberg’s 1986 remake. The Fly (1986) was simply too popular not to expect a sequel. Even though Cronenberg was replaced by the first film’s Oscar winning makeup artist Chris Walas. Which is why The Fly II is gross for the sake of being gross. Jeff Goldblum is only seen in archive video since John Getz is the only actor who returns. Geena Davis refused since Veronica Quaife is quickly killed in childbirth. Much like Return of the Fly, the sequel follows Seth Brundle’s son Martin.

Eric Stoltz tries, but Goldblum is a tough act to follow. The only interesting thing about Martin’s character is his rapid aging that makes him grow into a young man at 5 years old. Businessman Anton Bartok adopts and studies Martin only to recreate Brundle’s Telepods. The right set up is there, but The Fly II isn’t clever enough to do anything with it. There’s still a disgusting animal test, Martin still ends up with a girlfriend, and there’s still a jerk getting in the way.

Daphne Zuniga is fine as Beth Logan, but her relationship to Martin doesn’t feel as tragic. Stathis Borans is only around to recap the first movie and recommend a cure. Martin experiences the same fly transformation, except that he enters a cocoon. The final act turns into a slasher movie too reliant on overly gory effects. The Martinfly barely resembles a fly and isn’t nearly as iconic. I’m not sure how intentional it was, but the confusing ending is exactly the same as Return of the Fly. The Fly II inherited everything except for the cleverness of the remake.

5. The Fly II

Martinfly

Preceded by: The Fly (1986)

Be Afraid, Be Very Afraid

The Fly (1986) is one of the greatest remakes of all time. Director David Cronenberg took a simple monster movie and gave it a body horror twist. Similar to the 1958 original, I only ever watched the latter half of the remake. My mother actually recommended it since she remembers seeing in in theaters. Audiences were horrified, but The Fly (1986) became a surprisingly huge hit despite being a gory Cronenberg flick. The Fly (1986) follows American scientist Seth Brundle. The always eccentric Jeff Goldblum delivers a performance so good that it’s a wonder he wasn’t nominated for Best Actor.

The tragic romance of the original is increased with Brundle meeting journalist Veronica Quaife. It helps that Geena Davis was dating Goldblum at the time. Brundle introduces her to his Telepods. Teleportation is greatly improved with more modular pods that successfully transport matter. Flesh is a bit more tricky with disgusting tests performed on a baboon. The R rating is more than earned with Academy Award winning makeup. There’s also an emphasis on sex since the remake can be seen as a metaphor for aging. Veronica chronicles Seth’s work, but can’t shake her ex-boyfriend/co-worker Stathis Borans played by John Getz.

The primary difference between the original is a slower transformation. Brundle is fused with a fly and experiences a truly disgusting mutation. Goldblum is captivating as he first feels energetic, craves sugar, and has a high sexdrive. That’s where the iconic (and often out of context) line “Be afraid, be very afraid” comes in. It gets worse when he graphically breaks a man’s arm, develops thick hairs, walks on the walls, and his fingernails & teeth start falling out. More disgusting is the fly-like vomit he uses to eat. The most disturbing scene by far is a pregnant Veronica having a nightmare where she gives birth to a maggot. Brundlefly never produces wings, but he does become more hostile when attacking Stathis and finally becomes a monstrous fly. The Fly (1986) takes an icky concept and turns it into something poignant.

4. The Fly 1986

Brundlefly

Remake of: The Fly (1958) & Followed by: The Fly II

Buzz Off

Curse of the Fly has practically nothing to do with The Fly. Despite a 1965 release, its black & white picture is even more primitive. No one returns, so the entire cast are mostly British unknown B movie actors. Maybe that’s why it was so hard to find. Curse of the Fly wasn’t available anywhere until it was part of a Fly box set. I was only able to watch it on YouTube. Not that this supposed third installment was worth watching.

Return of the Fly at least felt like a sequel with another half-human half-fly hybrid. Curse of the Fly has no flies whatsoever. It opens with an attractive woman running around in her underwear. I would’ve thought I was watching the wrong movie if not for the title card. The Delambre name is used, but there’s serious confusion as to the relation. Martin is the grandson of the original fly, but it’s unclear if they mean André or Philippe.

Martin’s father is named Henri, yet the original Inspector has a picture of Philippe as a fly when discussing their cursed family. Teleportation has a lot more focus since the closest thing to animal mutations are people with distorted faces. Even that’s not given as much attention as a plot that feels just like Rebecca. Martin hastily marries the scantily clad Patricia, she becomes the new Mrs. Delambre, and a shady housekeeper doesn’t like it. Wasn’t this supposed to be a Fly movie? Curse of the Fly is lost for good reason.

3. Curse of the Fly

Martin is attacked

Preceded by: Return of the Fly

On the Fly

Return of the Fly is the cheap follow up to the 1958 classic The Fly. Despite being released only a year after the original, Return of the Fly is in black & white. It’s a little more atmospheric that way, but the B movie feel hasn’t gone away. Return of the Fly is essentially a copy and paste of the first movie with a more unknown cast. Horror legend Vincent Price is the only actor who gives the sequel any credibility.

The most obvious way to continue the story is to have André’s son Phillippe pick up where his scientist father left off. Philippe’s mother is dead, but his Uncle François is still around. Most of the movie is just Philippe rebuilding his father’s matter transporter and testing it out. Without the mystery angle, it takes about an hour to see the half-human half-fly again. So a criminal assistant trying to steal his work is added. There’s still a romance, but that’s not given much attention.

The only mildly disturbing addition is a police detective becoming a half-hamster hybrid. Other than that, Philippe becomes a fly exactly the same as the first movie. Except that his giant fly head looks just as goofy as the human head superimposed on a fly body. Another difference is having the human body run away, while the fly body is easy to capture. It’s also less clear whether the fly is a monster or not. Although there’s a much happier ending, Return of the Fly is too derivative to fly on its own.

2. Return of the Fly

Philippe strangles Alan

Preceded by: The Fly & Followed by: Curse of the Fly