Throwback Movie Review: Pirates of the Caribbean, On Stranger Tides

This one’s the forth movie and the one with the mermaids, just in case anyone was struggling to tell the difference between one adventure to the next. Heaven knows I can’t keep them straight either. Ok, where were we?

Right.

In the continuing effort to indoctrinate the kiddos in all things nerd, we continued our quest down the rabbit hole that is the Pirates of the Caribbean universe, and this time both Will Turner and Elizabeth Swann have been left out of it.

I’ll take your Keira Knightly and raise you a Penelope Cruz!

The Story

Jack Sparrow is on trial in London for crimes against the crown. No surprise there as he is a nearly famous pirate captain and all that. But, instead of finding Jack under the prisoner’s hood, we find his first mate Gibbs instead. This sets us off on a long, arduous journey of deception, impersonation, and misplaced trust that continues throughout the rest of the movie with each of the major players.

Angelica impersonates Jack, using his legendary status to hire a crew out of London. Jack impersonates a judge to save Gibbs. Captain Barbossa changes teams, and gives up piracy to become a privateer of the crown, ridiculous wig and all, and the mermaids can shift to human form. Angelica lies to Jack saying she’s pretending to be Blackbeard’s daughter to reach the fountain of youth. This is a bit of a double cross, as she actually is Blackbeard’s daughter, but creating the lie made getting Jack to join the crew easier and their chance of success greater.

To say things get complicated feels redundant at this point, as every Pirates movie so far seems like it tries to out do the prior in complexity in some way or another.

The real story is about the legendary fountain of youth and each pirate’s captain’s reasoning for needing to reach it. Angelica wants more time with her father after their lifelong unexplained estrangement. Blackbeard wants to defeat a prophecy that he’ll be killed by a one legged man within a fortnight and continue being the most famous pirate ever. Jack, well, Jack never really is sure what he wants, but there is an inkling there that he wants to protect Angelica because they used to be together. And the Spanish – did I mention the Spanish? They’re in here as well, because needless complexity – they think the fountain of youth is an ungodly abomination and want it destroyed.

I mentioned mermaids. There are also freaky killer mermaids who’s sole purpose is to drag sailors down to the icy depths and, eat them? It’s not really clear. Part of the ritual of the fountain of youth is to drink a mermaid’s tear from one of the twin silver chalices found in the wreckage of none other than the 200 years missing Ponce de Leon.

Still following me? Why? Even my kids threw up their hands at this point and called the writers some not very nice names. I tried not to take it personally. In all honesty, the writers they managed to get all this stuff in there that I’ll stake money the producers wanted and still created an okay-ish storyline. Kudos to them.

After lots of swash, swash, buckle, buckle in every moment possible, although strangely enough no epic ship battles with cannons in this one, we draw all the different forces together at the fountain of youth and the various captains battle it out in their own ways.

I’d tell you who wins, but that would be all spoilery of me – which isn’t very nice.

Meet our star crossed lovers, the mermaid and the missionary, who are currently sitting in a pile of broken glass.

My Review

This one is probably my least favorite of the five movies only because there are so many elements that don’t need to be there and don’t make a whole lot of sense, like the Spanish fleet. While it’s okay to introduce a new pirate captain, if you’re keeping track there has been a new significant captain in each movie( and a small hoard of insignificant captains in movie three), having the extra Spanish fleet and captain in this movie felt underdeveloped.

The only reason he had to be there is to add relevance to Ponce de Leon being a famous Spanish explorer. Adding them in was a way to tie a few of the many trailing plot threads together. That, and the Spanish costumes and aesthetic were kinda hot. So, there’s that.

I would have liked Will and Elizabeth to have been part of this movie because they were significant parts of the first three. However, if they are supposed to now be in a safe and committed relationship, it doesn’t make sense for them to be in there unless yet another story line was introduced. The single female role of Angelica couldn’t have been swapped for Elizabeth by any stretch of the imagination. Will could only appear if the story needed the Flying Dutchman to make an appearance. So it was a good thing they got left out. I guess.

The mermaid bit also felt underdeveloped and forced. It was as if the producers were looking through pirate lore and noticed they hadn’t mentioned mermaids yet and did a brainstorming session of how to incorporate them into the film. Their whole contribution to the story was the single forced tear and a very light romance with a character whose entire reason to be in the story is to be the religious voice of reason – and fall in love with a mermaid.

In all, Pirates 4 has an ages old mystery to be solved, but it turns out finding the fountain of youth is kind of easy, so they threw in some extra action and romance to liven things up.

Did I mention the burning coal cart chase? They literally threw in a car chase in case the explainy bits got boring in the beginning.

Recommendations

If you’ve made it this far in the series you might as well keep going. The already established captains do a great job at what they are already good at doing and that’s pretty entertaining. The story, while weak in some aspects, has lots of interesting emotional elements going on, none of which feel terribly compelling, but are amusing nonetheless.

The violence, while still there, is notably less intense than the other movies and, since it’s a Disney, the cursing is non-existent. But, there are some lovely nekked mermaids who remain carefully draped and shadowed so you don’t see anything. Good thing they have long hair or they’d have to change the rating of the film. And get a different production company.

I rate Pirates of the Caribbean, On Stranger Tides 2.5 of 5 stars for too many underdeveloped ideas.


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Movie Review: Ghostbusters, Answer the Call (2016)

When there’s something strange, in your neighborhood. Who ya gonna call?

Shout it with me now – GHOSTBUSTERS!

I grew up watching the original Ghostbusters and remember being both a little terrified and thrilled by it. It came out when I was only four and I most definitely saw it when I was way too young. It gave me nightmares for months, but even then I still wanted to watch it. Fun fact: it’s also the movie that taught me my first swear words. My parents were thrilled, I tell ya.

The newest reinvention of Ghostbusters takes the original movie and gives it a huge facelift – namely by swapping out the all-male ghostbusting team for a female cast and swapping the ditzy secretary to Chris Hemsworth. (Seriously, watch it just for that – so funny.) While the basic storyline stays the same, the locations and ghosts get an update as well, making the story more relevant to this decade of viewers.

The Story

Erin Gilbert is a recognized physicist working at Columbia college and is trying her best to fit in, and more importantly, be treated as an equal among her peers. Needless to say, this goal is challenged when her old friend and fellow physicist continues to push a book about ghosts the two of them wrote years before.

In a desperate attempt to get Abby to pull the ridiculous book down, Erin agrees to help Abby with a paranormal investigation of a haunted mansion where they witness and get slimed by a very real ghost. The footage is posted online and Erin loses her job.

With nowhere else to go and a new found excitement for the paranormal, Erin agrees to join the team and they start taking calls for other ghost sightings, significantly more sightings than what should be happening. As they work through the different cases, they realize that the sightings follow along ancient supernatural ley lines and there is something much bigger going on.

At the same time, the Feds join the picture trying to publicly denounce the Ghostbuster’s work to prevent a panic, all while still needing their help. Then, a famous ghost debunker, played by Dan Ackroyd, tries to prove them as phonies as well, only to be tossed out a window by a ghost that one of the Ghostbusters release to prove him wrong.

Turns out, our villain Rowan, has been planting devices around the city that attract ghosts in order to charge his mega device. This ultimately will give him power over all ghosts and earn him the respect and attention he failed to achieve on his own. The Ghostbusters must stop him before all of New York is swallowed into a vortex of doom.

If you want to know how it ends, you best go watch it.

My Review

I literally have avoided this movie because I worried that it wouldn’t do justice to the original, or worse, just be gross and stupid. I was wrong. In the end, I loved what they did with the story itself and how they crafted each of the characters to serve very different roles. It definitely helps that the entire cast is populated with amazing comedians and actors. The Ghostbusters themselves are entirely composed of ladies from Saturday Night Live.

The original Ghostbusters skirted some fairly adult material and I had concerns for this one possibly going down that route as well. Instead, it pulled way back on the weirdly sexual themes contained in the first and made the primary villain a social reject nerd who wanted attention – something far more relatable than an all powerful androgynous catwoman who needed a “Key Master” to open a portal. Yeah, I didn’t realize that was also a sex thing until way too late.

While the majority of the ghosts have also gotten a very cool CGI facelift, fear not – original Slimer does make an appearance.

Recommendations

This Ghostbusters is significantly more family friendly than the original. There are still instances of sexual themes and ogling and a splash of suggestive dialogue, but it felt far less icky. As for violence, there’s an exciting ghost fighting montage during the climax that’s more fun than intense and at one point I think a guy gets shot in the jewels. There is, however, a suicide by electrocution which some could find disturbing, but happens so fast that no one has a chance to dwell on it.

As for language, yeah, it’s a little worse than the original. While there’s still not a ton, it’s there. It’s mostly minor swears and a middle finger. I didn’t really notice it as a problem.

Should young kids watch it? My youngest was fine, although the first ghost startled him a little bit. No nightmare inducing traumas here. That said, he’s got two older siblings that make sure he’s seen and heard just about everything, so there’s not much that phases him. I’d recommend ages 10+ that are okay with mild swearing and moderate intensity scenes with ghosts.

I give Ghostbusters 2016 a rare 5/5 stars for being well written, well executed, and thoroughly enjoyable.


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Movie Review: Edward Scissorhands

Crazy as it may sound, this year marks the 30th anniversary of the iconic Tim Burton film, Edward Scissorhands. If that doesn’t make you feel old, I don’t know what will. It made me feel old, and that’s saying something. I rewatched the movie to commemorate the anniversary and –

It was really boring.

The Story

Edward Scissorhands is a man who was created by an inventor who is every bit a mad scientist. The inventor lives in a castle on a hill overlooking 1960s iconic suburbia. Robots and machines fill this castle making salads and cookies. Before Edward was complete, his creator dies, leaving him unfinished. Instead of a pair of functioning hands, he has multiple pairs of scissors in place of fingers making him look a bit like Freddy Kruger.

Edward would have been content to stay up in the castle, isolated and alone, but is instead found by an Avon rep, Peg Boggs, who decides he needs to come live with her. As Edward has only known his castle world, the “modern” world comes as a bit of a shock.

All the nosy neighboring housewives start their gossip and a series of hijinks ensues where they discover that Edward is good at topiary, grooming dogs, and cutting hair. When Edward doesn’t give one of the housewives what she wants, she starts spreading rumors about him that he’s different and dangerous.

It all comes to a head when Peg’s daughter comes home with her complete dick of a boyfriend. When he discovers that Edward can open locks, he comes up with an idiotic plan.

Everything goes wrong, naturally, and Edward is chased out of the suburb back to his castle where he lives to this day.

My Review

I’ll admit, I liked the movie a lot more as a kid where the novelty of Edward’s scissor hands was still interesting and watching him be really good at a few unique things was fun. But like most movies rewatched as an adult, I found there were lots of really weird choices made by the writers.

First, it moves sooooo slowly. Granted, movies from the early nineties tended to spend more time building up the vague idea of ambiance, but this was a grueling sort of slow development that felt pointless.

As a writer, I get what they were trying to achieve. Edward is coming from one created world and being transplanted into another which is just as artificial. All the houses are painted in candy bright pastels and are uniformly boring. All the housewives have nothing better to do than gossip and paint their nails until their husbands get home. Edward is the only interesting thing that has happened or will happen.

Showing up far too late in the movie for any real meaning is a forced ethics discussion where Edward has to weigh what’s right over what is kind and he chooses kindness. This is important for the finale where he has to make another difficult ethical choice, this time choosing his own life and that of the girl he likes over the dick boyfriend’s life.

If there’s a moral to the story it’s that everyone should mind their own business or people get hurt.

Recommendations

If you love Tim Burton and his imagery, there are some fascinating bits where you’ll see his earliest style coming through. It’s all over the castle and its grounds. It’s in Edward’s original costume, and it’s loosely in the story as being different is explored.

If you are craving a hit of 60s nostalgia, that’s there as well from the styles of the homes, to the colors, to the stereotyping, to the glass grapes, and to the vintage cars. There’s even a rotary phone and corded land lines.

As one of Johnny Depp’s earliest roles, it’s really strange to see him playing a character with so few speaking lines. He literally spends the movie blank faced and being dragged around by other people.

After those few things there’s nothing in this film that’s terribly interesting. The story isn’t well developed, the characters feel like cardboard, and it moves beyond slowly.

I give Edward Scissorhands 2/5 stars for being slow and boring with only a few rare interesting or beautiful bits. Bonus point added for Danny Elfman’s music.

Throwback Movie Review: Pirates of the Caribbean, At World’s End

There’s nothing more redeeming to an okayish sequel than to get another chance and make a trilogy. For those keeping track, this is the third Pirate’s movie and the one where Jack Sparrow is stranded on the Bonneville Salt Flats, erm, I mean Davy Jones’ locker. We also visit the foreign and mysterious South China Sea and Chow Yun-fat. Yeah, I don’t know how they talked him into the movie either, but it works.

Behold, Davy Jones’ locker. If you squint, you can see the Wasatch Range in the background.

The Story

We left the second Pirate’s movie with several unresolved issues. Will still hadn’t saved his father like he’d vowed. Jack was eaten by a Kraken, which simply cannot be because he’s the reason we watch these movies. Barbossa continues to have an unhealthy interest in the Black Pearl and since Jack is interwoven into the Pearl’s fate, is still part of the story. Davy Jones corrupted himself and Flying Dutchman and it’s crew by not fulfilling his duty of escorting dead souls of those who died at sea to the afterlife. Elizabeth feels horrible guilt because she believes she’s responsible for Jack’s death – which she is. Shackling someone to a mast while a Kraken is attacking tends to do that.

Meanwhile Lord Cutler Beckett, the project manager of the East India Company, has angered pirates far and wide by executing anyone associated with piracy in all of the Caribbean – which is literally everyone. This compels the Brethern Court, consisting of the nine pirate lords of the sea, to convene and find a way to stop him.

The former crew of the Pearl, now under Barbossa and on a boat from the South China Sea, rescue Jack from Davy Jones’ locker in what can be only called a cinematic extravaganza of special effects. One of those is finding Jack and the Pearl in the otherworldly white expanse of Davy Jones’ locker. If you ever want to see it, simply head 40 min west of Salt Lake City on I-80. Bizarre place, the kids love it.

Back to the story, Jack is needed to cast a vote at the Brethern Court, as he’s the pirate lord of the Caribbean and never appointed a successor before getting mixed up in Davy Jones’ affairs. Meanwhile, Elizabeth Swann inadvertently becomes the pirate lord of the South China Sea. They, and the other pirate lords, argue about how to handle Beckett and after lots of dialogue choose to go to war. They believe they’ll win because they have Calypso to do their bidding. And…they’re wrong. It seems no one told her that her love, Davy Jones was the one responsible for trapping her in a human body in the first place.

She causes a maelstrom, another wickedly cool special effect which draws the two hero ships into it’s spiraling waters. A great sea battle ensues, lots of crazy happens, and at this point is where the spoilers will get me into trouble.

The cover for Keira Knightly’s new album (no, not really)

My Review

This is my second favorite pirates movie after The Curse of the Black Pearl. We see some incredible new places, I particularly love the visuals of entering the ice cave into the upside down world. Is this still a complicated Pirates movie? Yes. There’s a heck ton of different storylines happening and I still haven’t quite figured out what Jack’s deal was with Davy Jones that started this whole mess in the first place.

For being complicated, at least everything feels like it fits. We know what Beckett is up do thanks to the second movie, so having him expand this role and become an even greater threat makes sense. The new characters introduced served an important role and were woven into the stories of the characters we already knew, which is fairly important. It’s what makes a sequel not feel accidental.

The only really weird part that should have been given a lot more attention is the strange relationship between Jones and Calypso. If her anger was to become a key element of the climax, then it’s important for the audience to understand where it was coming from on a very relatable level.

Yes, that is Keith Richards.

Recommendations

This is a solid movie that’s easy to like. All our favorite characters return and do fun things. There is action and cool places and dramatic effects. Yes, there is complexity, but for the most part, all of it fits together. As with all the Pirates movies, this is not great for young audiences due to the violence, dramatic explosions, and the whole bit about Will having his heart cut out, which is thankfully off screen.

As for objectionable material, yes there is a bit of kissy kissy there at the end, but all clothes stay on and it’s fairly chaste. There isn’t any swearing and everyone keeps their clothes on, although apparently ample cleavage is now okay for Disney so proceed with caution if that makes you uncomfortable.

All-in-all it’s a fun adventurous romp.

I give Pirates of the Caribbean, At World’s End 4/5 solid campy goodness with only a few weak spots.


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Throwback Movie Review: Pirates of the Caribbean, Dead Man’s Chest

Another weekend means another Pirates of the Caribbean movie viewing as a family. In the years since I’d seen Dead Man’s Chest, I’d forgotten how long of movie it is. We had to watch it in two parts. All the same, it is a fun romp with lots of action.

The Story

Just like the first movie, Curse of the Black Pearl, Dead Man’s Chest revolves around an object instead of a specific main character. You guessed it, it’s literally the dead man’s chest or rather, the chest that Davy Jones keeps his heart in.

It seems Captain Jack Sparrow made a deal with Davy Jones and now it’s time to pay. Jack will do anything, including barter with other people’s lives, to escape his fate — one hundred years of forced service before the mast of the the Flying Dutchmen. He drags Will into this, hoping that Davy Jones will take him as a replacement, and fails.

Desperate to find a way out, Jack consults with the voodoo priestess, Tia Dalma, who reveals that Davy Jones weakness is the chest where he has placed his heart to escape the pain of love gone wrong. Whoever has the heart controls Davy Jones. If you can control Davy Jones, you control the sea.

Lord Beckett knows this and wants to use the heart as leverage for the profit of the East India Company. He arrests Will and Elizabeth just before their wedding and manipulates Will to go after Jack’s enchanted compass – the tool he believes will lead him to the secret hiding place of the dead man’s chest.

This is where Will is stuck in a giant knot of issues. He’s trying to get the compass so he can barter for Elizabeth’s freedom. While he’s at it, Jack shanghais him on the Flying Dutchman where he discovers his long lost father is one of the cursed crew on Davy Jones ship and wants to free him. Now he must find a way to save them both and he has zero resources other than his own courage.

Of course, Elizabeth isn’t going to sit this one out. The second she’s freed from prison by her father, she forces Lord Barrett to give her the Letters of Marque meant to pardon the individual who holds them. She then sneaks onboard another ship and directs it to Tortuga with hopes of finding Jack. If she can find Jack, she can find Will. Instead she finds Norrington, the man she was meant to marry in the first movie. He’s lost his commission and standing in the navy and hit rock bottom. He reasons that if he finds the compass for Lord Beckett first, he might win his position back.

All these story lines crash back together at Isla Cruces, where the chest is buried. A brilliant three way sword fight breaks out between Will, Jack, and Norrington to determine who ends up with the heart.

Did I mention there’s also a kraken?

My Review

Dead Man’s Chest has all the elements we came to love in Curse of the Black Pearl. There are lots of pirates doing their morally grey best to get by. There are also pirates who are monsters as they are more sea creature than human. There is an object that everyone has to get their hands on but for very different reasons. And, there’s a love story of two people trying to protect each other, usually by attempting to sacrifice themselves instead.

It’s still fun, but it suffers from sequel syndrome. The elements we love are there, but they aren’t new and exciting anymore so they can’t shine as brightly as they did in the first movie. There are fewer surprises as we know what to expect from the different characters. The characters themselves are stuck in a position where it feels like they they don’t have an important internal lesson to learn and instead are trying to fix a situation.

While it’s entertaining, it doesn’t have the wow factor of the first. The kiddos still enjoyed it but weren’t as into it as before. And, like I said, it’s really long.

Recommendations

If you liked the first Pirates movie, you’ll like the second. Probably not quite as much, but all the good stuff is still there. There’s amazing settings, great costumes, characters doing their thing, and enough complexity and conflict to keep things interesting.

I’d say it’s still better for older kids than younger ones because of the whole sea creature monster pirate element as well as a very realistic heart being in that box. Add to that the kraken attack scenes, and there is quite a lot of intense violence. That, and because the story is fairly complicated, younger audiences might struggle to know what’s going on and why it matters. But, that said, there’s enough action and crazy things going on that they might not care.

I give Dead Man’s Chest 3 out of 5 stars for being entertaining, but not surprising.


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Throwback Movie Review: Pirates of the Caribbean, Curse of the Black Pearl

It’s been seventeen years since the debut of the first Pirates of the Caribbean movie, which means this movie has been around as long as my marriage. A few years ago we tried to show this to my kids and they decidedly didn’t like it. It was too spooky, had freaky skeleton pirates, and required attention to small details like the dialogue. This last weekend we put it to the test again — and they loved it.

The Story

In short, the main character of this story is actually the pirate vessel the Black Pearl herself. It is the boat itself that has influenced everyone in the story and driven the leading characters to make unexpected choices. Elizabeth rescues Will Turner from the Black Pearl when he’s young. Captain Jack Sparrow was the captain of the Pearl until there was a mutiny. The crew of the Pearl became cursed when they got greedy and took Cortez’s treasure.

The rest of the story is spent restoring these characters back to where they belong. Elizabeth needs to end up with Will Turner. Will needs to come to terms with his father being a pirate and still a good man. Jack needs to get his boat back. And, the crew needs to get uncursed.

What’s interesting is how each of these pieces become woven together. Elizabeth gets involved in the curse when she steals Will’s necklace, which is a piece of the Cortez treasure. Will should have always been part of the pirate crew because of his father, but only gets involved after Elizabeth is taken by the new captain of the Black Pearl, Barbossa.

In the end, the story is delightfully twisty. First we are shown all these pieces of each character and then in the last third of the story we see how each of these pieces snap together in interesting ways and everyone gets what they deserve, just not in the way you’d expect.

My Review

This is a fun movie that’s both full of action and heart. Even though this is a pirate story, Elizabeth and Will both face problems that are very relatable to the audience. As an adult there is plenty of dramatic elements and complexity to keep things interesting and for my kids there was enough slapstick humor and action to make it fun.

The sets are incredible, the costume design intricate and fascinating, and even though it’s campy and silly, the acting is actually pretty good.

My Recommendations

This is a great family movie, provided that all are old enough to not be scared by the pirates turning into skeletons and are willing to track what’s happening so it all makes sense. It’s clean, no swearing or overly graphic violence. Yes, there’s plenty of fun fighting and sword play, but very few depictions of blood.

If a kid’s old enough to be okay with the Pirates of the Caribbean ride, they should be fine for the movie.

I rate Curse of the Black Pearl 5/5 stars, super fun, lots of eye candy, and it’s exactly what it set out to be – a great pirate movie.


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TV Review: Hamilton

Whoa, whoa, whoa. Put down your pitchforks. I know Hamilton isn’t technically a TV review, it’s a musical theater review. Unlike a lot of people, I never had the chance to see it in a real theater. Watching it on Disney plus is the next best thing I could get my hands on. Did I miss out on the full experience, yes. Absolutely. Watching a recording of a stage production means that you miss the energy and vibrancy of a live performance. That, and it’s all too easy to watch the three plus hours in small chunks over the course of a week. Some of the experience is lost there as well.

But, now I can join the ranks of those who have seen the show. For that alone, it’s worth it.

About Hamilton

For those of you who have lived under a rock for the majority of the 2010s, Hamilton is a musical about the life of Alexander Hamilton, a impressive figure when it comes to the founding of the United States of America. Because it is history, I’m not going to worry about giving away spoilers at this point. I figured you had over 200 years, it’s fair.

We start the story with a young Hamilton trying his hardest to be the best he can be with his limited means. He’s ambitious and willing to do the work it takes to make a difference as the United States is taking shape and shaking off its ties to Britain. He meets Eliza, the woman who becomes his wife, and we see the conflict that causes in her older sister who is attracted to his drive and intelligence, not to mention his passion for the causes he chooses to support. We also see the beginning friction of his relationship with Aaron Burr as Hamilton is a man of action, and Burr prefers to wait.

The Revolutionary War is in full swing and America is doing poorly. They don’t have the supplies they need and enlist the help of France through the help of Lafayette. This leads directly to the victory at Georgetown and the end of the war.

King George isn’t amused.

The end of the war means nothing but work for Hamilton who puts his every waking hour into writing up documents and creating systems to enable the United States to finance her government and govern her people. Eliza goes upstate to be with family leaving Hamilton the time and space he needs. This leads him down the path into temptation and he finds himself in the arms of another woman who ends up blackmailing him to keep his infidelity secret.

Meanwhile, Burr is causing more friction by switching parties to defeat Eliza’s father, Philip Schuyler. France is experiencing its own revolution, and Jefferson champions the cause of America going to its aid. Hamilton advises neutrality and his argument wins which puts him under intense scrutiny. Jefferson, Madison, and Burr want to discredit him before Washington.

All of this leads to the publication of the Reynold’s document, written by Hamilton himself and detailing his affair and subsequent blackmail. He chose to come clean publicly to prove he didn’t misuse government money. This destroys him, his family, and leads to the death of his son in a duel gone wrong defending his father’s honor.

The last straw between Hamilton and Burr occurs after the election of 1800 when Hamilton endorses Jefferson over Burr. Burr demands a duel and the rest, well, is history.

My Review

I went into Hamilton not knowing what to expect. It is a musical that defies all expectations in so many aspects. When it comes to an American historical my first reaction is that it’s going to be just as exciting at the Hall of the Presidents exhibit at Disneyland, meaning not exciting at all. To counteract this, Hamilton was written for today’s young people. The music is fast and clever, lots of rap and hip hop music, lots of very contemporary humor.

That said, after watching the first 45 minutes I wasn’t sure what all the fuss was about. Sure it was interesting, but at that point it wasn’t that interesting. Most of the music up to that point wasn’t memorable with perhaps the exception of Hamilton’s own iconic song that defines his character, “I’m not giving away my shot.”

What caught my attention was the use of choreography and dancers. In many musicals the dancers feel like a nice layer of frosting, coming in and out only when a point needs to be made. However, in Hamilton, they are actively used to not only add interest and dimension to what’s happening in the spotlight, but to also illustrate concepts that are hard to catch on stage, such as the path of a single bullet.

In contrast to the first 45 minutes, the last 45 minutes nearly ripped my heart out. We are confronted with tragedy after tragedy. Hamilton admits to is indiscretions and nearly loses the love of his life as a consequence as we watch her take all of his letters and burns them. His son dies after being shot in a duel to defend his honor. And the culminating blow, Hamilton himself knowing he is going to die and confronting each of his decisions and wonders if he made any difference.

It’s at times like these that I’m glad I watched this in the dark comfort of my own home. Lots of tears shed.

Considering everything, Hamilton is every bit of the success it has gained. There is a huge emotional payout, a mother load of talent, and in the end several catchy songs that stick in your head.

Recommendations

While this is intended for today’s audience and has plenty of pop culture influences to make it fun to watch, it does have a few mature elements that I’d blush to share with my kids. They don’t shy back from relating the tale of Hamilton’s infidelity, in song no less. That, and the subject matter itself is complicated enough that even I struggled to keep track of who was doing what and why.

However, I think that all high school students should watch it so they have a better understanding of what the Revolutionary war and our cry for independence meant for the people who lived it.


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Movie Review: Onward

Watching this movie happened as a bit of a fluke. Youngest kiddo needed something to watch in the evening after a busy day and we’d worn out our usual favorites. We’d seen the trailer and it looked interesting, but wasn’t something we were going to make a special effort to see.

That was before the lock down and the world was our very large oyster. It took a few weeks to reach the attitude of “heck, why not?” when it came to watching pretty much anything. And, it was on a streaming service we already had. Win.

The story

In New Mushroomia, magic and mythical creatures are a part of history. The world was full of elves, centaurs, pixies, and manticores and their magic was the force that made things work. Everything from transportation to interior lighting was taken care of using spells and unicorns.

Then technology happened – and it was easier, faster, and every one could use it. Fast forward a few generations in New Mushroomia and magic is nothing more than a part of history. People keep small dragons as pets and drive mini vans.

Ian Lightfoot is a teenage elf trying to make it through high school in one piece and survive his driving test. He’s shy, has a hard time talking to people, and would much prefer if he never had to leave his house ever again. He also has a wild older brother who lives and breathes fantasy role playing games.

On Ian’s sixteenth birthday he and his brother are given a gift from their deceased father, a real wizard’s staff with a single spell, the power to bring their father back for a single day.

But, this is a movie and something has to go wrong. In the process of attempting the spell the boys only bring half their father back – his now very alive pants. They set out on a quest to finish the spell before it wears off.

The rest of the movie turns into a fantasy twist reminiscent of Indiana Jones where the boys hunt down clues in unlikely places and test their courage. Are they successful? That would be an awful spoiler and I won’t tell you. But – I will say that it has a satisfying ending.

My review

Onward is urban fantasy at its most entertaining. It’s relatable, down to earth, and doesn’t take itself too seriously. There is a real problem for the boys to solve that’s incredibly important to them, but isn’t so big that it feels forced. They’re not saving the world. They just want one more day with their dad.

After everything, I ended up liking it more than I expected to. My biggest worry going in was that there wouldn’t be enough relatable material. Not a problem, we’ve all been teenagers and had to navigate that world. Add to that sibling issues, trying not to get in trouble with mom, and then layer on top of it a chance to see a dear parent who died too soon, if only for a day.

Yep. It hit all the feels. Not only was there action and adventure, there were also sweet moments of reflection and introspection. There were emotional highs and plenty of laughs as well as moments of loss and sacrifice.

I’ll admit, I cried at the end.

Recommendations

This is a solid family film that I think anyone would enjoy, although those who like any form of fantasy would especially like it. There is enough action and laughs that even very young kids will find lots to entertain them, although the climax scene might be too intense for some.

Because the boys quest is wrapped around being able to see their father one more time, I’d counsel anyone who’s recently lost a parent to proceed with caution. While I feel the film redeems itself, it might be too much to take.

I give Onward 4.5/5 stars


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Never Surrender: A Galaxy Quest Documentary

Holy snot balls, Batman! Did you know it’s been 20 years since Galaxy Quest came out. I could have sworn it was only like, I don’t know, eight? The time has flown by and yet Galaxy Quest is one of the rare movies we watch at least once a year. Even better the whole family likes it, so it’s a win-win for everyone.

To celebrate, the lovely people at Screen Junkies and FANDOM, created a documentary that was released November 26th, 2019. While we watched this one weeks ago, I wanted to review it today because our family recently visited the one and only Goblin Valley this last weekend. This is where the weird alien planet was filmed and is a favorite camping spot of ours.

Never Surrender is entertaining in that “Wow, I never knew that” kind of way. While a large part of the film is spent with the actors themselves reacting to just how many people love the movie and consider it their favorite, and another large chunk was spent in loving memory of the late Alan Rickman – the best parts for me were when they talked about the development of key story ideas.

For instance, did you know that the Thermians unique speech patterns and body language weren’t part of the original script? Instead, they were an accidental invention of Enrico Colantoni, the actor who played Mathesar. Mind blown.

While I would never doubt it for a heartbeat, I didn’t realize there were so many cosplayers devoted to Galaxy Quest. Two of the people interviewed for the documentary are Utah’s very own Harold and Roxanne Weir who do an amazing Mathesar and Laliari. I’ve caught them doing other cosplays, such as Harold’s spot on Severus Snape, at conventions and events I’ve attended as an author. Seeing them in the film was a special treat.

For those of you who love Galaxy Quest, you’ll enjoy this documentary. There’s a little of everything in there from the history of the story’s development, to the actors reminiscing, to the development of key scenes.

I rate Never Surrender 4/5 stars – solidly good.

The Hobbit, Extended Edition

A few weeks ago I wrote about how I was surprised that my entire family was excited to watch every single hour of the extended Lord of the Rings movie trilogy. As a geek parent, these movies are part of our heritage and an important milestone to pass on to the next generation. Not only do they represent an icon in the history of fantasy, which is understandably important to me, but they also mark a turning point in movie history. Lord of the Rings, Return of the King swept the Oscars and was the first high fantasy to do so.

Just as you can’t just watch part of the Star Wars saga and call yourself a fan, you can’t just watch Lord of the Rings and not the Hobbit. The stories build off of each other and give valuable backstory to their characters.

Last week we embarked on a new adventure following Bilbo Baggins deep into the Lonely mountain and narrowly escaping the jaws of the dragon Smaug. We watched as power and riches nearly destroyed the last dwarf prince Thorin Oakenshield. We saw how in the wrong hands, the ring of power corrupts its wielder. We learned that the most important power one can have is that of grit, determination, and courage, although magic is nice at times.

When Hobbit originally came out, I boycotted it. I was mad they choose to stretch a single slim novel into three fairly long movies. When this had been done with other books I liked, it always resulted in massive disappointment. I love the books of both the Lord of the Rings and the Hobbit. Even the huge success of Lord of the Rings as a movie wasn’t enough to convince me to invest my time into watching the entire Hobbit trilogy in all its extended glory.

It didn’t help that when Hobbit came out my personal situation had changed drastically from when LOTR came out. LOTR came out when I was in college. The Hobbit came out when my youngest was one. Going to movies was difficult at best. I have a whole long story of how we tried to take a nursing baby into Indiana Jones: Kingdom of the Crystal Skull thinking he would sleep only for him to cry the whole time and then explode a diaper.

Time heals all wounds and when it came time to find the next movie to watch as a family, the Hobbit was a perfect fit. The kiddos already liked LOTR and knew the characters and at a run time of nearly 9 hours, it would take several days to finish – perfect for all those nights we were scratching for something to do while stuck at home together.

Turns out, the Hobbit is an excellent series of movies. Yes, I know that the screenwriters took lots of liberties with adding elements that didn’t originally exist in the book, but they stayed true to what we understand of Middle Earth and the world Tolkien created.

Is it a family friendly film? Sure. There’s no course language, no nudity (unless you count the extended scene where the dwarves are playing in the fountain at Rivendell, I don’t), and while there’s expected violence, there’s very little graphic injury. The same as LOTR, there are, however, several horror elements so I don’t recommend the Hobbit for young or sensitive viewers.


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