April 2018 Movie Reviews

Jess Melvin, Jonathan Dauterman, Writer

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Sherlock Gnomes: 1/10

“Sherlock Gnomes” is the second installment in the Gnome movie series, following 2011’s “Gnomeo and Juliet.” Where “Gnomeo and Juliet” was a cringe-worthy but mind-numbing affair, “Sherlock Gnomes” goes above and beyond with painfully childish production.
The story does a disservice to the Sherlock Holmes legacy and would confuse its young audience irreparably. Not only does the film attempt to tell its story within an hour and a half runtime, but it shoe-horns in the characters from “Gnomeo and Juliet,” creating a confusing flurry of subplots and character arcs to follow.
The budget of nearly $60 million seems to have been squandered on celebrity cameos, featuring songs by Elton John as well as the voices of Mary J Blige (Irene), Johnny Depp (Sherlock Gnomes), Michael Caine (Lord Redbrick) and Ozzy Osbourne (Fawn). Elton John returns as the executive producer, along with John Stevenson of Kung Fu Panda. As respectable as Elton John is, these Gnome films bring to question his logic.
On the bright side, the animation is decent, but this is a Hollywood film. In the sea of bright and overly-cheery children’s movies, the desolation that is “Sherlock Gnomes” does provide a bit of relief. However, it should be noted that the target audience is elementary, and anyone above grade school age would likely have a hard time sitting through the experience.

Tomb Raider: 7/10

“Tomb Raider” is a film adaptation of the 2013 video game of the same name. Both this film and its game serve as reboots to the classic Lara Croft/Tomb Raider franchise, with the most significant changes being to Croft’s appearance. While the ethics behind altering her looks are subject to debate, the casting of Alicia Vikander leaves a bit to be desired in terms of believability, as she often come across as much more young and vulnerable than Angelina Jolie’s rendition in “Lara Croft: Tomb Raider.” At times, Croft is comparable to Indiana Jones, a brave and charismatic hero. Most of the time, though, she comes across as a woman broken by the death of her father and driven primarily by her desire to live up to others’ expectations. This is not necessarily a bad thing, but it may come across as strange to long-time fans of the series.
Nevertheless, the cinematography and framing of the film are fantastic, with most stunts and tricks being at least captivating if not amazing. As a movie adaptation of a video game, Tomb Raider surpasses expectations in terms of the story, as the narrative is clear and presents character arcs for not only Vikander’s character but many side ones as well. That being said, there is an overreliance on “refreshers,” using flashbacks or obvious restatements of past events.
“Tomb Raider” is an action-packed, exciting adventure of a film; however, it does not stand well on its own and seems geared specifically for fans of the reboot games. For a refreshingly decent video-game movie, or a politically-bare film with a female protagonist, this is a good pick.

Benji (2018): 6/10

As a reboot of a classic series, “Benji (2018)” does its job. Benji is adorable, the morals are clear, and the story is heartwarming. It follows two kids, Carter (Gabriel Bateman) and Frankie (Darby Camp) as they try to buy back their deceased father’s watch for their hard-working mother (Kiele Sanchez). A robber breaks into the watch shop and kidnaps the children, and it’s up to Benji, the dog the children recently took in, to save them. The main characters are hamfistedly good and the villains comically evil.
The cinematography is weak at times, with shots that seem like they are trying to be adventurous but fall flat on their faces.
Atmosphere is executed shakily as the movie tries to be both family-friendly and emotional. Some sad scenes induce laughter, and the music is uncomfortable at best. The movie seems to have been made in the 1970s, for both good and bad.
“Benji (2018)” is a family-friendly film that is full of cheese.

Midnight Sun: 3/10

“Midnight Sun” centers around Katie Price (Bella Thorne), a 17-year-old girl with a rare skin condition that leaves her allergic to the sun, and her crush, popular athlete Charlie (Patrick Schwarzenegger). Together, the two learn to never give up on their dreams.
It would have been endearing to see Katie’s dream of a music career blossom if the producers had found someone who could sing objectively well, but, much like her acting, Thorne’s voice falls flat.
The first and second act spend a big chunk of time establishing the drama that could have made the movie a classic, but as if it were mirroring Katie’s illness, the movie seems to deteriorate as time wears on. The story is harmless, and therein lies the problem. Instead of trying the boundaries of the genre, the film is grotesquely average.
“Midnight Sun” is a film about beautiful people with beautiful problems that would resonate with the romantic crowd in the style of many other better-produced and more enjoyable teen flicks.

A Wrinkle in Time: 6/10

“A Wrinkle in Time,” starring Storm Reid, Oprah Winfrey, Reese Witherspoon, Mindy Kaling, Levi Miller and Chris Pine, is an adaption of Madeleine L’Engle’s critically acclaimed 1962 novel of the same name.
The film focuses on 13-year old Meg Murry (Storm Reid), a social outcast and school misfit who is acting out in response to the disappearance of her scientist father, Alex (Pine). When three mysterious beings (Oprah, Witherspoon and Kaling) offer Meg their help in getting her father back, it propels her into a magical adventure.
By far the best part of the film is the outstanding performance by the films main child actors: Reid as Meg Murry and Miller as Calvin O’Keefe. While this is the first major role of the two young actors (Reid being only 14 and Miller only 15), they nonetheless give a much-needed sense of gravity, depth and clarity to their characters.
“A Wrinkle in Time,” however, does have some noticeable flaws: for one, speaking as someone who has never read the original book, the plot was very hard to follow, often seeming nonsensical, unclear and downright confusing in its mythology. Furthermore, one of the more notable problems with the narrative is the lack of any genuine stakes to the movie, even for the genre. At no time is there a legitimate gravity to the situation or any fear for the characters safety, and this takes away from the larger-than-life structure of the story.
Finally, in a manner reminiscent to Tim Burton’s Alice in Wonderland films, an overabundance of state-of-the-art CGI graphics replaces the imagination and creativity of the original story. This leaves the story feeling hollow and empty, as the visuals seems to be the focus more than any story or character development.
Overall, despite the high expectations for the movie and the quality of the original novel, “A Wrinkle in Time” fails to deliver on expectations and is an ultimately boring adventure. It’s not necessarily horrible by any stretch of the imagination, just average for the genre.

Love, Simon: 9/10

Love, Simon, starring Nick Robinson, Josh Duhamel, Jennifer Garner and Katherine Langford, is making history as the first film from a big studio to feature a gay, teenage romance. The film shapes up to be one of the better rom-coms in recent years, and one of the main reasons is for the portrayal and of its teenage characters in ways that are more believable than teenagers in other recent media. This is especially apparent after shows such as Riverdale and 13 Reasons Why, both of which have received criticism for their exaggerated, often unrealistic and borderline strange depictions of high school students.
Love, Simon, based on Becky Albertalli’s 2015 novel Simon vs the Homo Sapiens Agenda, follows the same basic plot as its source material. The focus of the story is on the titular character, Simon Spier (Robinson), a quirky high school senior who also happens to be one of the only gay kids at his school. Simon is still in the closet to his friends and family and is currently unwilling to come out, hoping instead to wait until he goes to college. Simon’s world is turned upside-down when a fellow closeted classmate known as “Blue” messages Simon online.
From there, Simon frequently responds to Blue using “Jacques”, an alias of his own. When a classmate, Martin (played by Logan Miller), finds out about Simon’s secret, he blackmails Simon into setting him up with his friend, Abby (Alexandra Shipp). The narrative also pushes Simon into considering coming out to his parents (Duhamel and Garner) and younger sister Nora (played by Talitha Bateman) earlier than planned.
Love, Simon retains a high quality and upbeat nature in spite of its heavier subject matter, arguably augmented by the realism in many of its situations; the witty writing; Robinson and Langford’s performances; and the many three-dimensional characters of the story. I highly recommend this part rom-com, part drama film.

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