Tag Archives: adventure

Way late review: The Spiderwick Chronicles

Pleasant surprises come when expectations are low. Movies aimed at kids today are a mixed bag. Pixar has a solid record of rising above the fray. Then there are atrocities like The Smurfs. Some might blame the bad films on trying to turn questionable source material into cinematic gold. If that’s the case, I hear the Harry Potter books are pretty good. The films? That’s a tougher call. Enter The Spiderwick Chronicles, a film I originally mistook for a Harry Potter wannabe. My mistake.

Twins Jared and Simon move to a spooky old house, previously owned by their great uncle Arthur Spiderwick, with their older sister, Mallory and mother. Jared is upset about the move and angry with his mom. He blames her for breaking up the family while Simon, Mallory and mom know the truth. Dad ran off with another woman. Before there is any time to settle into the home strange happenings occur which lead Jared to discover Arthur Spiderwick’s book. The tome details Arthur’s findings of magical creatures all around him, some good and some evil, like the ogre Mulgarath. If the book falls into Mulgarath’s hands it’s game over. And that sets the stage for the rest of the movie which includes some fairly intense chase scenes, jump scares, and even a little blood drawn – a bit surprising for a modern children’s PG movie. The story moves along at a quick pace with good enough computer animation and child actors who aren’t annoying.

There is just the right amount of comedy relief provided in the form of Hogsqueal (Seth Rogen) a friendly bird eating hobgoblin and Thimbletack (Martin Short) an odd, small creature who turns into a nasty little green monster when he gets upset. The humor from both the animated characters comes in the natural rhythm of the film, though one could argue that the end of the final showdown is anti-climatic with its comedic result. My kids loved it. I think the lightheartedness provided a needed break from the edge of the seat intensity.

Spiderwick Chronicles is a fun action packed kids fantasy movie. The plot is relatively simple which enables a fast paced story set in a magical world full of adventure and danger. And the danger feels refreshingly real as there are consequences and scares as a result. Add some well timed laughs and it all adds up to an entertaining family film.

 ★★★★☆ 

This post is part of my Way late reviews. Read more reviews here.

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Way late review: Quigley Down Under

Some actors are easy for me to believe in a historical setting while others are not. Tom Selleck falls in the hard to believe category. It’s no fault of his own. He’s not a bad actor but put him in a period piece where he’s a sharp shooting American cowboy, Matt Quigley, and I find it hard to believe him in that role. There is something about him that feels too modern for that time. Thus Quigley Down Under is a bit handicapped for me with Selleck in the lead role.

Matt Quigley answers Elliot Marston’s ad for a sharpshooter. Professor Snape…errr…Marston (Alan Rickman) is a rich Australian who says he needs someone who can pick off dingoes from great distances. Quigley eventually shows Martson in person just how good of a shooter he is. He hits a bucket three-fourths of a mile away several times until the bucket disappears in a dust cloud.

From the start we see that Quigley is a man of great honor. He teaches a gruff man a lesson when that man tries to shove aside an older couple to beat them onto the boat for Australia. Just minutes after getting off the boat, Quigley sees some men mistreating a woman and intercedes on her behalf. The tone of these first couple scenes has a light hearted, almost slapstick feel to it, which isn’t problematic until further into the story where the tone changes rapidly between light comedy and melodrama. Making matters worse is the character Crazy Cora (Laura San Giacomo) who is the woman Quigley valiantly steps in to protect. As one might deduce from the name, Crazy Cora is not quite right in the head. In the beginning she is played for laughs. The second half of the film she’s played for drama. It’s as if her whole purpose is to make crystal clear the tonal changes.

Quigley makes his way to Martson’s and learns that Marston has hired Quigley to kill aborigines, not dingoes, off his property. Quigley responds to this little twist by punching Marston through the wall, outside Marston’s home, not once but twice. Quigley is eventually overtaken and he and Cora are left to die in the dessert several days away from civilization. Except Quigley doesn’t go down without a fight and gets just enough energy to kill the two Marston henchmen. This leads to a very watchable tale of an odd couple (Quigley and Cora) fighting the odds and eventually seeking justice not just for themselves but the aborigines.

There may be some eye rolling moments and certainly some miscast characters, but it’s hard not to at least like Quigley Down Under.

 ★★★☆☆ 

This post is part of my Way late reviews. Read more reviews here.

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Way late review: Back to the Future

Nostalgia heavily tints a movie like Back to the Future for someone my age. It’s not just another movie. It’s a phenomenon. Michael J. Fox. Huey Lewis and the News. 1985. As my son likes to say, “good times, good times.”

Watching the movie always feels familiar and comforting. This time around I watched it in a wonderfully remastered Blu-ray. Wow! What a difference that makes. If you like the movies, then I highly suggest picking up the triology on Blu-ray. The picture is so much better than what I saw last on DVD.

Watching Marty McFly travel 30 years in the past, make a mess of his own history and then scramble to fix it and get back to 1985 reminded me how much I enjoyed Michael J. Fox growing up. Even in some fairly terrible movies that came later, I still enjoyed them if for no other reason than the energy Fox brought to the screen.

Back to the Future is a fun watch. There aren’t any big laughs for me but the twists with time travel, no matter how convoluted they can get towards the end, make for some funny moments. The action is lively but never over the top, something most adventure films these days should take note of. The constraints of movie making circa 1985 weren’t all that bad for films like this. Instead of over stylized action shots we get interesting set pieces and construction of scenes.

Nostalgia is strange, especially when it comes to movies. When I think of Back to the Future without having watched it for a while, I think “great movie”. When I watch it, I think “very good movie”. The opening act is uneven, with the McFly family and other characters like Biff and Mr. Strickland played way over the top. It’s intentional but the intended laughs don’t come as a result. The scene with Marty blowing away the high school dance with his 80’s style guitar shredding is awesome until they have Michael J. Fox lip sync the song. On Blu-ray it was painful to watch. There are some other smaller nitpicks that I won’t delve into mainly because they aren’t important other than it all adds up to making Back to the Future a less than five star movie for me. Still a fun repeatable watch and a strong start to a solid trilogy. More on the other two films in the future.

 ★★★★☆ 

This post is part of my Way late reviews. Read more reviews here.

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