Movie Review: Mary and the Witch’s Flower (2017)

I’m pretty sure I’ve mentioned my love for Studio Ghibli and the works of acclaimed artist and director Hayao Miyazaki here on the blog before. If not, it’s never a moment too soon to start. Hubby and I even cosplayed as No Face from the Academy Award winning movie, Spirited Away. For pics, head over to that post.

That said, Mary and the Witch’s Flower is not from Studio Ghibli. But, ask any fan of the studio and they’ll tell you that the most beloved elements of Ghibli are present from the gorgeous art style, the sweet orchestral scores, and the weirdness of the creatures and characters.

This is not by chance. The director of Mary and the Witch’s Flower, Hiromasa Yonebayashi, worked as an animator on many of Ghibli’s best loved films including Spirited Away, Howl’s Moving Castle, and Ponyo.

The Story

Mary, a girl of perhaps twelve or thirteen, is sent to the beautiful flower filled countryside to live with her grandma while her parents relocate for work. She feels out of place and that she can’t do anything right. One day she spots a cat and follows it into the nearby forest where she finds a rare fly-by-night flower.

This flower is magical and allows whoever crushes its blossom to fly on a broomstick. Mary finds this out by accident and the broomstick whisks her away to Endor College, a school of magic where all of Mary’s many wants and wishes could quite possibly come true.

But, as all stories go, Endor College harbors a dark secret. Terrible things are happening behind the scenes and Mary finds herself right in the middle of it. She must risk everything to try to set it right and save both herself and her new found friend.

My Review

Compared to many of Miyazaki’s works, Mary and the Witch’s Flower is far less weird. Some of the usual environmental themes still come through, in this case, a lesson on why one shouldn’t meddle with nature or create unnatural creatures. But, there’s no heavy handed harping about the evils of pollution or man’s tendency to destroy – which is a nice change.

Mary herself is actually a little irritating. They paint her character as unnaturally clumsy and awkward and not particularly kind to the neighbor boy who, compared to her, seems responsible and good natured. The story is meant to teach her that there is a world of things to care for and she should stop being so self conscious, and it succeeds.

Like I said before, even if you aren’t crazy about the story, the art style and music are fabulous and make up for a lot of the weirdness found in the story. My kids loved the movie and I thought it was excellent.

Recommendations

The movie kicks off on a fairly intense scene where a young girl is desperately trying to escape from creepy cyclops creatures amidst explosions and peril. My 8 year old was fine with it, but he’s generally okay with reasonable amounts of action and tension. If your little one is sensitive to dangerous situations and creepy images, then this might be too much.

Other than that, the movie is squeaky clean. No offensive language, no drinking or smoking, and no romantic elements. In addition, there are lots of good role models and positive messages about accepting yourself the way you are

I give Mary and the Witch’s Flower 4/5 stars for being fantastic but still a touch weird.


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2020 Year in Review

Well, my pretties, we’re here at the end. If you’re reading this then you’ve made it this far. Congratulations. This has been a different year for everyone, myself included.

At the beginning of this year, I had some pretty big dreams. I was going to power through editing and publishing the rest of the Shadow Barrier series and had two more books on stand by just waiting for attention. With enough good planning, I was going to get those out this year as well.

And, that didn’t happen.

But, I did get two books out:

In January, I rereleased Stonebearer’s Betrayal, with it’s fabulous new cover. And in June, it’s much awaited sequel – Stonebearer’s Apprentice. The third book in the series, Stonebearer’s Redemption, is a few months from completion. Huzzah.

I don’t think I missed a single week of posting on the blog which resulted in lots of book reviews, movie reviews, and some deep thoughts as I figured out how to live with all the COVID changes. It’s always fun to look back through the work of the year, and this year it’s interesting to note the change in tone of the personal essays as the months of isolation started to take effect.

Anyway, enjoy this end of year list post!

Christmas Movie Review Posts:

Book Reviews of Author Friends

Book Reviews

Non-Fiction Book Review

TV Reviews

Throwback Movie Reviews

Movie Review

Personal Essays

Miscellaneous


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Christmas Movie Review: Arthur Christmas (2011)

It’s been Christmas movie watching time here at my house and we certainly have our favorites. Arthur Christmas is one of those movies that surprises, delights, and is just plain good.

The Story

Arthur is the younger of Santa’s two sons. Because he’s not in line to be the next Santa, he gets pushed around to different North Pole jobs. He’s clumsy, naive, and full of more Christmas spirit than anyone else on Santa’s staff, including the big man himself.

His older brother, Steve, has taken it upon himself to make Santa’s deliveries an efficient and orderly operation. He’s scrapped the old fashioned sleigh in favor of the S-1, a city-sized spaceship with enough high-tech gadgetry to make any nerd cry. At the North Pole, he’s created a mission control center that supports each and every present drop.

When a undelivered present is found after Santa’s delivery run is finished, Steve states that it’s inconsequential. Missing one child out of over 7 billion is no more than a rounding error. She’ll receive a gift equivalent instead sometime during the general window of Christmas.

This is unacceptable to Arthur. No believing child should miss out on their gift from Santa, even if it means extra time and effort on their part. He enlists the help from grandpa Santa who had secretly hidden the old sleigh. Off they go to deliver the girl’s gift only to learn that grandpa Santa doesn’t know how to get there.

Various accidents ensue, grabbing the attention of military survelliance all over the world.

Is Arthur successful? Can’t tell you. That would be a spoiler. You’d better go watch it.

My Review

Like I said before, this is a delightful movie that is great fun for the whole family. There’s a great balance of gorgeous settings, humor aimed at adults, fun characters with realistic problems, and a good message at the end.

Oh, did I mention that it also has one of the most gorgeous film scores for a kid’s Christmas movie? Lots of brass fanfare and sweeping strings – my personal favorites.

Another big plus for the adults is the terrific cast voicing the characters. There’s James McAvoy as Arthur, Hugh Laurie as Steve, Jim Broadbent as Santa, Imelda Staunton as Mrs. Claus, and Bill Nighy as Grand Santa.

Recommendations

Even the youngest kid is going to like this one. There’s plenty of eye candy and silliness to keep young watchers engaged while there’s also enough depth to keep the adults amused. There are some mild inappropriate bits – like when grand Santa talks about putting naughty children back to sleep with a sock full of sand and a dab of whiskey on the lips. There’s also a scene where they are almost attacked by lions and shot at by a Idahoan.

I give Arthur Christmas 5/5 on my Christmas movie list. Good all around.


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Christmas Movie Review: Elf (2003)

‘Tis the season to be a little silly, and Elf is definitely a silly family-friendly movie with plenty of fun for both parents and kids.

Confession time. The first time I watched Elf, I hated it. Everything about a fully grown man acting like a 5-year-old all over New York City made me cringe in the worst sort of way. I literally hid under a blanket because I was so embarrassed for Buddy’s character.

I didn’t watch it again until I had kids of my own. Which, by the way, raises the bar on what you see as embarrassing. All the stuff that really bothered me the first time I watched it suddenly became seriously funny. Ah, the joys of being a parent, am I right?

The story

Buddy is a human who has been raised by Santa’s elves up in his workshop at the North Pole. One day he learns that he, in fact, is not an elf and that his real dad lives in New York. Buddy decides that the next logical step is to find his father, not only to reconnect, but also because the man is on Santa’s naughty list and perhaps there is a way to change that.

Unsurprisingly, Buddy’s dad want’s nothing to do with a 35-year-old man baby who doesn’t know how to function in the real world. His wife, however, is far more understanding and welcomes him into their home where he meets his half brother. Buddy can’t be trusted to be left alone. The last time they did that, he used the wood from their entertainment center to make a rocking horse. He has to go to work with his new found dad.

It doesn’t go well.

As a side story, Buddy meets a department store worker working as an elf for the holidays and totally falls in love. He’s so different from anyone that Jovie has met before, that she can’t help but give him a chance.

All this comes to a head when Buddy rushes to his dad’s work to tell him that he’s in love during a critical meeting, and what’s worse, Buddy inadvertantly insults the man his dad had the hopes of closing a big business deal with. Dad tells Buddy to get out of his life and never return.

Buddy, totally heartbroken, leaves to see if there is somewhere in the world he belongs and happens to spot Santa crashing into Central Park. It seems that without Christmas cheer, Santa’s sled can’t fly. Buddy, having been a North Pole elf, thankfully knows how to fix the engine and finally feels needed. In the meantime, his half brother convinces his dad that family is all about helping each other and they go looking for Buddy.

When they find him in Central Park, dad finally realizes that everything Buddy has told him about his past is actually true. He has a huge change of heart and helps Santa get back to delivering presents.

My review

For a Christmas story, this one is pretty perfect. We have an innocent character who only wants to do good in the world and one who’s lost sight of the meaning of Christmas and family. Through their interactions, they both grow and learn together what is really important. Do I still think it’s a bit silly? Yes. It’s over the top silly. But, now, with that blessed lens of perspective, I can laugh along with all the things Buddy does and just enjoy the story.

The story is well balanced, full of heart, and now a family favorite.

My recommendations

I’ll state this again, but if you’re the type that can’t handle watching adults acting childish, this movie will make you super uncomfortable. Buddy literally has no inhibitions, but he also doesn’t know any better, so much of it is forgivable if you can get that far.

There are hoards of positive messages and great role models of what it means to be good family and a good friend. There’s no real swearing, it’s all swapped out for silly things like “crap” and “meanie.” There’s one reference to someone being naked in a shower, but it’s not dwelled on.

For a clean fun Christmas movie, Elf gets a 4/5 in my book.


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Christmas Movie Review: Die Hard (1988)

I’ll be the first to argue that this isn’t actually a Christmas movie – it’s an action film that takes place at Christmas. Although, for fairness sake, when most Christmas movies are closely examined, they aren’t either – I’m looking at you Home Alone.

I rewatched Die Hard this last week because beyond all odds, hubby hadn’t seen it. And … it’s a Christmas movie that we could enjoy together that the kiddos wouldn’t be interested in – I’m totally counting this as date night.

The Story

John McClane is a New York cop who flies to Los Angeles to reconnect with his wife and kids. She moved when she got a job offer she couldn’t refuse and he didn’t follow because he loved his job in New York. The couple experienced serious relationship friction ever since.

He meets her at her swanky Christmas office work party at the Nakatomi Plaza and because this is an action movie, the whole building is seized by German radical Hans Gruber and his odd assortment of Euro-henchmen. Those in the party are promptly held hostage, but McClane slips away and starts assessing the situation as only a professional NY cop can.

Knowing he can’t beat Gruber and his team alone, McClane tries to call in the local authorities only to find the phone lines have been cut. He pulls a fire alarm, but it gets cancelled before anyone responds. He finally gets a hold of one of the radios and uses the emergency line to call in the situation only to be considered a prankster.

A single patrol car is sent out to verify that everything is okay. As the car is leaving, McClane, desperate to get the LA cop’s attention, throws one of Gruber’s team that he’d already killed in self-defense out the window at the car and then shoots at it with a machine gun.

With the authorities officially alerted and Gruber eager to get his hands on McClane, the situation turns into a game of cat and mouse. McClane is simply trying to not die as Gruber keeps increasing his efforts to find and eliminate him. It’s not really McClane’s fault that Gruber’s team keeps dying as they try to kill him.

All the while, Gruber is working his master plan, which is to get his hands on the untraceable bonds held in the building’s vault. He’s got a lock breaker who simply needs time to force the different levels of security. Everything else going on is a ruse to distract the authorities to what’s actually happening.

Does Gruber succeed? No. His end in the movie is perhaps the most spectacular and has been meme’d more than a few times. Even better, McClane also succeeds, not in saving the building, but realizing that he’d do anything to keep his wife safe and how much he really does love her (and also what a jerk he’s been in the past).

My Review

I don’t watch a lot of true action films, so returning to the genre is a nice change. Die Hard has held up remarkably well for being over 30 years old. The story is just as relevant now as it was back in 1988, if not more so, and the only parts of it that feel dated are the massive 80s hair on the women. Contrary to many contemporary action films, there is a well constructed story with good motivations pushing the different characters to do what they do. Gruber wants money, McClane wants to protect his family and the innocent bystanders in the building. Even the secondary characters are fairly well fleshed out.

There are a few strange plot choices within the story that are simply there for the story’s sake. McClane, following the advice from his seat buddy on the plane, removes his shoes to help deal with the stress and jet lag of travel. This makes it so he’s dealing with the entire hostage situation barefoot in a building with lots of broken glass, something that significantly ups the tension. The other strange plot choice is Gruber, a German national, counting on the FBI to cut the power to the building at a strategic time in order to release the last lock on the vault. It’s enough far fetched that the plan makes Gruber look either wildly brilliant, or a little crazy.

In the end, I was entertained and that’s all that matters. The main character learned how much he loved his family and he drives off into the Christmas night to the sound of Christmas music. So yeah, it’s totally a Christmas movie.

My recommendations

It goes without saying that this is not a kid’s movie. There’s unnecessary violence, blood splattering, plenty of language, and even a few short instances of top-only nudity. That said, older teens would probably really enjoy it for the well paced action that doesn’t push so far that it gets boring. There’s nothing that’s truly frightening or suspenseful, just action.

Honestly, I would recommend this for a fun, date night flick. There’s not a lot of complicated dialogue to follow so you can talk during the movie and not miss much.

I give Die Hard 4/5 stars for being exactly what it’s supposed to be and nothing more.


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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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