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Dumbo, Do We Have Liftoff?

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This review will be two reviews in one. First off, will the kids like this movie? Boy, I am hard pressed to say one way or another. The audience I saw it with included a fair share of children and I didn’t hear much laughing, giggling, or gasps of glee. Maybe they were delighted within.

However, unlike the 1941 animated version, this Dumbo, nor Mrs. Jumbo his mother, speaks, so that needed connection between a kid and a character is solely dependent on the digital animators’ abilities to make the little elephant come alive through his big blue eyes. It didn’t work for me, but it may for your child.

As for the adults in the audience, particularly for all of us Tim Burton fans …. well, let me start at the beginning.

The first scene of the film, the tracking shots of the Casey Jones Junior train pulling into the circus grounds, all the animals and acrobats, the old and worn train cars painted with period advertisements, the Maxfield Parrish turquoise skies, were absolutely beautiful. Rick Heinrichs, the production designer that has been with Burton since his youthful days at Disney, from their first film together, Vincent, creates a world that hums with charm and the possibility of magic.

Danny Elfman’s music, as always, hits just the right note, a perfect alchemy of artful boldness, wry humor, and earnest pathos.

At this point, it’s looking good.

Then the actors enter the scene. Danny DeVito plays the nice Danny DeVito, as opposed to the creepy Danny DeVito. Colin Farrell as Holt Ferrier returns from the first World War minus an arm, but hoping to restart his life as a lasso-tossing trick rider. In his sad-eyed, laconic performance, underplayed as much as his touch of Texas accent, he steps out of the steam at the train station to meet his motherless children, his wife having died while he was away fighting in France.

Nice set-up, but the trouble begins with his children, particularly his daughter Millie, played by Nico Parker, in her first film role. A striking looking child, her acting is as wooden as the weathered boards on the side of the train cars. Playing a smart and scientific child, the young actress interprets that as speaking in a robotic, unemotional and unengaging  monotone, every line a concluding sentence. Her brother is a little more natural, but not enough for the two of them to be the empathic anchors of the film. Without being able to feel for and with the kids, it’s bumpy skies ahead.

Along for the ride is a group of low-rent circus performers, all pleasant as can be, and all representing the classic Burtonesque troop of outsiders … an African-American strongman and accountant, a plus size, sweet-singing mermaid, an Indian snake charmer, a married pair of Hispanic magicians … but they’re markedly bland, making me long for the earlier menageries of characters in Beetlejuice, A Nightmare Before Christmas, and Ed Wood.

And then there is Dumbo.

The first time he flew under the big top it was one of the film’s rare moments of magic, largely due to Elfman’s swooping score.

Other than that, again, pretty bland. For me, he was never a real character but rather a product of digital wizardry. Intriguing in the trailers, but incapable of carrying the emotional heart of  the film as he soared and flopped his oversized ears.

As for Michael Keaton’s big business man and promoter, V. A. Vandervere, this was a performance aimed at Johnny Depp freakishness (think Burton”s Willie Wonka) but missing the target by the width of this fair land. It was frankly an awful performance by a fine actor. It’s too bad, too, because Burton used to be so good at handling campy performances. Johnny Depp in Ed Wood Christoph Waltz in Big Eyes, or Alan Arkin in Edward Scissorhands come to mind. Alan Arkin actually plays a small role in this film, and to be honest, it was one of the few believable performances.

As for the story, it was written by Ehren Kruger, who also penned several of The Ring and Transformer movies. Here, too, he goes for high concept at the cost of an engaging connection to the characters and a plot that matters.

Did I mention the production design? I know I did, but I want to say again how great it is. The latter part of the film is set in an elaborate, Art Deco theme park, Dreamland, that in all its glitz, glory and consumerism is both a tribute to Disneyland and a (purposeful?) critique.
And it’s not the only critique in the film, for, in the end, Dumbo is a message film against animal cruelty and for animal rights, against corporate life and for diversity. It just isn’t very good, and for this Tim Burton fan, a real disappointment.

I would love to know if Tim Burton has any more original work in him. Who can forget Winona Ryder dancing in the ice storm of shavings as Johnny Depp craves an angel in Edward Scissorhands? (One of my favorite moments in all film historyOr Jack Skelton delivering creepy Christmas gifts in The Nightmare Before Christmas (shared salute to director Henry Selick)? Or Johnny Depp facing down the Headless Horseman in Sleepy Hollow? Or the dark and bloody world of Sweeny Todd, for my money one of the finest screen musicals of last few decades. God, I miss that Tim Burton. How I miss Burton’s world. Please come back to it, Tim.

 

 

 

 

 

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Caesar’s Reign Comes To The Big Screen With New Trailer For Kingdom Of The Planet Of The Apes

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Director Wes Ball breathes new life into the global, epic franchise set several generations in the future following Caesar’s reign, in which apes are the dominant species living harmoniously and humans have been reduced to living in the shadows. As a new tyrannical ape leader builds his empire, one young ape undertakes a harrowing journey that will cause him to question all that he has known about the past and to make choices that will define a future for apes and humans alike. “Kingdom of the Planet of the Apes” is directed by Wes Ball (the “Maze Runner” trilogy) and stars Owen Teague (“IT”), Freya Allan (“The Witcher”), Kevin Durand (“Locke & Key”), Peter Macon (“Shameless”), and William H. Macy (“Fargo”). The screenplay is by Josh Friedman (“War of the Worlds”) and Rick Jaffa & Amanda Silver (“Avatar: The Way of Water”) and Patrick Aison (“Prey”), based on characters created by Rick Jaffa & Amanda Silver, and the producers are Wes Ball, Joe Hartwick, Jr., p.g.a. (“The Maze Runner”), Rick Jaffa, p.g.a., Amanda Silver, p.g.a., Jason Reed, p.g.a. (“Mulan”), with Peter Chernin (the “Planet of the Apes” trilogy) and Jenno Topping (“Ford v. Ferrari”) serving as executive producers.

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Masterchef Is Back! For Halo Season 2

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A quick recap – Halo is set in a war-torn 26th century, where humanity led by the United Nations Space Command or UNSC and their supersoldiers known as Spartans, fights against the onslaught of the alien conglomerate known as the Covenant. The full dust-up of Halo Season 1, can be found here. Onward into the introduction of Halo Season 2!

It’s been six months since the forced separation of Spartan Masterchief John (Pablo Schreiber) and Cortana (Jen Taylor), and the Silver Team has been sent on a mission to evacuate residents of the planet Sanctuary before the Covenant glasses the whole thing. This comes with its own set of challenges, given the resistance of the planet’s inhabitants, and it doesn’t help that Masterchef starts seeing things right in the middle of trying to save some marines. Or is he? Those energy swords the squad of Elites were carrying looked worryingly real.

Back on Reach, the Silver Team is entirely dismayed to learn they have a brand new Office of Naval Intelligence (ONI) representative come in as the new boss, to finally replace the traitorous Halsey, James Ackerson (Joseph Morgan). And of course, Ackerson manages to immediately get under Masterchief’s skin, by not only expressing far too much interest in John’s relationship with Cortana but also apparently disbelieving of John’s report of his encounters on Sanctuary. That just means Masterchief has to go around, if not entirely over, Ackerson’s head.

Elsewhere, Soren (Bokeem Woodbine) is trolling the slave markets in his boredom, only to stumble across a soon-to-be indentured servant who claims he knows the whereabouts of the UNSC’s most hunted human, Catherine Halsey (Natascha McElhone). That should bring a huge bounty, but really, Soren should’ve known better by now.

Halo Season 2 premieres Thursday, February 8th, 2024, and will continue to air every Thursday, only on Paramount+!

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Reborn as a Vending Machine I Now Wander the Dungeon’: I look forward to your next use!  

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If the title of this delightful little isekai anime entry didn’t give it all away, our nameless protagonist is a vending machine fanatic who, after being killed by a vending machine, gets reincarnated in another fantasy-style world as one! 

Japan has a tendency to give birth to all sorts of crazed fads that can last for decades, and no one does better when it comes to the vending machine industry, too. These days there are vending machines that will serve you sushi you can actually eat, hot pizza in the box, wagyu steaks, freshly popped popcorn, and a whole mind-boggling array of tasty treats, and other non-edible but still useful items! Umbrellas! Condoms! Oxygen masks, sterile bandages, shoes, and emergency clothing! Actually, far more things that we use on an everyday basis, could be considered as technically a vending machine, and the anime explores that beautifully. Into the world of vending machine fanaticism, we dive! 

So our poor protagonist never gave a name, and inevitably when he’s discovered by his first official friend the starving hunter Lammis, she dubs him “Boxxo”. Like many isekai that seem to take inspiration from video games and RPGs, Boxxo discovers he ways he can communicate, level up his existence, and even evince magic-like powers and attack and defend against monsters and enemies. Though in the beginning, and as an underlying theme throughout the show, Boxxo is primarily concerned with providing unique never-before-tasted-in-this-world food and drink to the amazed folk, human and otherwise. 

Boxxo’s prices are entirely reasonable and hey, he can even choose to give out his wares for free on occasion, so his popularity immediately skyrockets. Lammis with her awkward charm and prodigious strength blessing, introduces Boxxo to other friends of Clearflow Lake Village and associates along the way – Director Bear, an actual bear-monster who’s the head of the Hunters Association; Lammis’ friend Hulemy, the insane genius magic item engineer; the Bearcats Suco, Pell, Short and Mikenne, cheerful hunters with astronomic appetites; even suspicious Kerioyl, leader of the Menagerie of Fools party. 

The show approaches the practicality and versatility of the true vending machine with amusement, but also with the love true fans display for things they’re passionate about. Certainly, things like a brothel needing a condom vending machine exist in our world, but to toss them into a potentially more innocent other-world isekai is a welcome and often hilarious treat. The show celebrates the cheerful idiocy and devotion of the fans to their chosen fandom, in this case, yes vending machines, but also the spirit of the lonely otaku finally finding their Tribe! 

Pay your coins to watch ‘Reborn as a Vending Machine’ on Crunchyroll now! 

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