Reconnect@RRPL – TV Review

Avatar: The Last Airbender Poster

Avatar: The Last Airbender is an incredible series that I’ve watched twice. The three seasons have different feelings to them, with the second season being my overall favorite. The cast of characters in this series are memorable and layered with complexity. The world is very creative with the elements, spirits, cultures, and animals being well-developed. The only downside is that the series can be a bit immature at times. Overall, I think dealing with deeper topics with levity helps endear the audience further to these characters and to this world.

The series starts by explaining that there are four elements: water, earth, fire, and air. There is only one person who can control all 4 elements known as the Avatar. One hundred years before the events of the story, the Avatar disappeared. There were four nations based around benders (people with the ability to manipulate the elements), but the Fire Nation attacked and destroyed the Air Nation. We quickly learn within the series that the world has been struggling to avoid falling to the Fire Nation’s empire.

We’re introduced to Sokka (Jack De Sena) and Katara (Mae Whitman) as the two siblings feud. Eventually Katara waterbends at Sokka hitting an iceberg. The iceberg lights up and Aang (Zach Tyler) emerges unaware where or when he is. In the distance a Fire Nation ship is looking for the Avatar. When they see the light in the sky, Prince Zuko (Dante Basco) and Uncle Iroh (Mako) take it as a possible sign that they’ve found the Avatar.

I wouldn’t say this series is for everyone, but it’s certainly an expertly done animated series. Among reviewers and fans, there are few animated series that rival its praise. The different cultures displayed in the show are based off real cultures and this helps build a rich world. The characters at the start of the show seem very basic, but if you look around you’ll see article after article about the complex layers of the main cast. This show takes you on a journey in the traditional sense where the trip is more important than the destination. The destination is still very important, but many enjoy these characters so much they want to see them in comics and other media. Rated TV-Y7-FV.

Ryan

Imagine You Story- Streaming Review

Ellen Page, Robert Sheehan, Tom Hopper, David Castañeda, Justin H. Min, Aidan Gallagher, and Emmy Raver-Lampman in The Umbrella Academy (2019)

First, this review covers season 2 of Netflix’s Umbrella Academy. Therefore, there will be spoilers and references to the first season. I enjoy this series because the premise is interesting. While all the main characters have extraordinary powers, I do enjoy that this season focuses on most of them trying to find a pathway to living normal lives. Without their domineering father in their lives, the characters go on a journey of self-discovery. We learn a lot about who these people may have become had they not been recruited to be part of the Umbrella Academy.

While Five (Aidan Gallagher) succeeded in bringing his siblings back in time, he failed to drop them off at the same moment in time. First to arrive are Klaus (Robert Sheehan) and Ben (Justin H. Min). Then Allison (Emmy Raver-Lampman), Luther (Tom Hopper), Vanya (Ellen Page), and finally Five arrives. With the difference in time ranging from a month to years, the group becomes separated despite all arriving in the same alley in Dallas in the 1960s. Five arrives in the middle of a battle with all his siblings fighting off an invasion of soldiers with their powers. As Five starts to understand what’s going on, a nuclear bomb is dropped. Hazel (Cameron Britton) asks Five to come with him and they both go ten days into the past. Hazel briefly explains to Five that the timeline had been altered and that they witnessed the end of the world in the nuclear explosion.

As Hazel explains to Five that he must stop the apocalypse, they’re attacked by assassins who kill Hazel. Five uses his powers to escape and tries to find his siblings. Meanwhile, the other siblings have been living lives of their own. Klaus has created his own cult, yet he has become tired of his followers’ fanatic devotion. Allison has gotten married and is a civil rights activist. Diego is in an insane asylum, convinced he must save JFK before his assassination. Vanya suffers amnesia after an accident so she’s living with a family on a farm. The siblings are scattered, and do not know where or when the others arrived.

I do have favorite characters in this series. I find that Five, Klaus, and Vanya have the most interesting solo stories. I still think every character has their moment, but I’d likely say Luther is my least favorite right now. Exploring how each character developed and changed while isolated I think says a lot about them. The scene of the family fighting together in the apocalypse was very rewarding as we saw them fully utilize their abilities. I think it was a good season even though some stories dragged, yet, the plot picks up its pace weaving the characters story lines into an exciting finale and leaves me wanting more. Rated TV-14.

Ryan

Imagine Your Story – Movie Review

Logan Lerman, Brandon T. Jackson, and Alexandra Daddario in Percy Jackson: Sea of Monsters (2013)

Percy Jackson: Sea of Monsters is the sequel to Percy Jackson & The Olympians: The Lightning Thief. This film seems to take a different tone from the last one. While the last film could have been a self-contained adventure, this film works on world building to expand the Percy Jackson universe. There isn’t a third film though despite there being a third book called The Titan’s Curse, but there is also an announcement that Disney will make a series for their streaming service. I still found this film enjoyable though and it made me want more. However, I do feel like certain character growth regresses in this film.

The film starts off with a flashback to demigods fleeing from cyclopes. One girl gets struck down, and so Zeus turns her into a tree to protect the demigod camp. We then see that years later Chiron (Anthony Head) and Mr. D (Stanley Tucci) are surprised by a new demigod who made it past the barrier. When they ask if he knows who their parent is, he points to an image of Poseidon one of the big three gods. We then see that Percy Jackson (Logan Lerman) is struggling on an obstacle course against his rival Clarisse (Leven Rambin). Clarisse ends up winning, and we learn Percy has been doubting himself in comparison to Clarisse.

Percy gets called into Mr. D’s office and learns that he has a half-brother who is half cyclops called Tyson (Douglas Smith). Percy starts showing Tyson around when suddenly the barrier around the camp is attacked. A metallic bull breaks through and with help from others is defeated by Percy. Luke (Jake Abel) shows up explaining he survived the fight before and he is still seeking to overthrow the gods. Luke explains he poisoned the tree that creates the barrier around the camp and leaves. Annabeth (Alexandra Daddario) figures out the only way to cure the tree is by finding the Golden Fleece which can heal anything. Clarisse gets chosen to go on this quest, but Percy and his friends decide to go on the same quest separately worried about the consequences of failure.

This film seems to develop many areas at once. One area that particularly bothers me is the introduction of Clarisse in respect to Annabeth. Annabeth was supposed to be the star at the camp, and Clarisse seems to take that role from her relegating Annabeth to mostly be support. The film does have several interesting scenes and keeps the idea of being an adventure with multiple locations used. With the introduction of two new characters, the franchise seems to be gaining momentum here. Which is the reason the ending almost feels too soon. While they resolve their main conflict, they strongly suggest there will be greater adventures to come. Rated PG.

Ryan

Imagine Your Story – Movie Review

Logan Lerman in Percy Jackson & the Olympians: The Lightning Thief (2010)

I somehow missed Percy Jackson & the Olympians: The Lightning Thief when it first came out. I love Greek myths and fantasy adventures, so this seems like a great movie for me. I was recently able to watch it, and I enjoyed the film. It has great world building in that it makes you believe that there is magic hidden from the rest of us. Then the main characters really get to explore that world in a cross-country adventure.

The film starts off with Zeus (Sean Bean) talking to Poseidon (Kevin McKidd) about the fact that some child of the gods stole Zeus’s lightning. We meet Percy Jackson (Logan Lerman) in a pool with his friend Grover (Brandon T. Jackson) timing how long Percy can hold his breath under water. We learn that Percy is a fairly average person who struggles with reading. We meet Percy’s mother Sally Jackson (Catherine Keener) and Percy’s mean stepfather Gabe Ugliano (Joe Pantoliano). Percy goes on a field trip to a museum with his teacher Mr. Brunner (Pierce Brosnan) and Percy gets taken aside by a substitute teacher. The substitute teacher turns into a harpy and starts asking Percy where the lightning is. Mr. Brunner and Grover come in to rescue Percy revealing they’re there to protect him.

Grover takes Percy home and informs Sally that they need to get out of there now. Gabe starts grabbing Percy to which Grover defends Percy. As Sally, Grover, and Percy are traveling Percy asks questions about what’s going on only to learn he’s a demigod and they need to get him to a camp to be safe. While they’re driving they’re suddenly attacked by a Minotaur. Grover is able to help everyone get out of the car. The group avoids the Minotaur until Percy is safely past the barrier to the camp, but his mom can’t get in. The Minotaur grabs his mother making her disappear, and Percy learns that Hades has her to trade for the stolen lightning.

This movie was an interesting adventure. I like films with elaborate world building. It allows the imagination to run wild in that world and make the viewer question what it’s like to live in it. I’d imagine the book is much more thorough on expanding certain points. This film does a good job of telling an exciting tale and it feels like a Greek myth told in modern times. I’ll likely need to read the books myself now. Rated PG.

Ryan

Imagine Your Story – Movie Review

Judi Dench, Colin Farrell, Josh Gad, Nonso Anozie, Lara McDonnell, Tamara Smart, and Ferdia Shaw in Artemis Fowl (2020)

I’ve anticipated this film since its announcement. Artemis Fowl was a book that excited me since I saw a promotional video at a book fair, and eventually I got to read it from a library. I loved the books and thought it would make a great movie adaptation. When I saw the recent trailers, I was confused by the shift in tone they were going for. While many seem to not like this film, I do think it will do better with certain age ranges. The film certainly doesn’t seem to capture the tone of the books but is an imaginative story.

The film starts out with the press on the lawn of the Fowls. We receive narration from Mulch Diggums (Josh Gad). We see that Mulch has been taken into an interrogation room of some sort. We then start to learn about Artemis Fowl (Ferdia Shaw) and his rather dismissive nature of everyone except his father. Artemis Fowl Sr. (Colin Farrell) reveals he must go off on a business trip again. Soon after Artemis receives a call that his father has been abducted and that he must deliver an item called the Aculos to trade for his father’s safety.

We’re introduced to officer Officer Holly Short (Lara McDonnell). She has been trying to solve the mystery of the disappearance of her father for years. She is part of a police force for magical creatures known as LEP (Lower Elements Police). Holly goes to a tree to investigate only to have Artemis and Domovoi Butler (Nonso Anozie) ambush her. Holly wakes up in a cage. Artemis has a plan to find the Aculos that he can’t accomplish without Holly”s help. LEP launches a full-scale recon mission to retrieve Holly. The standoff escalates as Artemis attempts to meet the kidnapper’s deadline.

I did enjoy this film, but the changes that were made from the books are hard to handle. Since seeing the film I’ve seen old trailers that suggest they were going in a different direction at some point. They seemed to have decided between a PG-13 film and this PG rating. The characters likewise do things differently creating a different feel to the plot. If you know little to nothing about the books, I think you could enjoy this movie for the fantasy adventure it is.

Ryan

Call of the Wild

Harrison Ford in The Call of the Wild (2020)

I’m always a bit hesitant when I go and to see a movie about a dog as they can often be too silly or too tragic. Based on the trailers, I thought it might have a similar story to Balto, which seemed appealing to me. While most of the film is set in a cold climate, it’s not a film about diverting disaster. This film is about the development of the dog Buck. While it had a slow start, it’s overall an enjoyable film that I think most children would enjoy barring a few intense scenes.  

The film starts off somewhere in the American South at an unspecified date. We see Buck roaming the town and then he returns home to his master’s home. Buck ruins a feast they were preparing and so Judge Miller (Bradley Whitford) has Buck sleep outside. A stranger arrives in the middle of the night and lures Buck with food. Buck climbs into the back of their wagon and is trapped. Buck is transported via train and boat, while taught to fear his captors. Buck is brought to be sold in the Yukon area of Canada.  

As Buck is lead around the town, he bumps into a John Thornton (Harrison Ford). Buck sees John dropped his harmonica and breaks free long enough to return it to him. Buck is soon sold to a new master named Perrault (Omar Sy) who uses a dog sled team to deliver the mail along with his wife Françoise (Cara Gee). Buck doesn’t understand how to pull a sled at first, but he starts to see some sort of inner wolf that leads him to follow his instincts. Buck comes to help the other dogs as he sees the current pack leader leads out of fear. One day Françoise falls into some ice and Buck races to save her. Saving Francoise amongst other changes shows that Buck is ready to be a valuable member of the pack.

I didn’t know this film was based on a novel called Call of the Wild by Jack London. That helps to explain to me why Buck’s life is told like a series of adventures rather than just being a singular conflict. I do find it appealing that it’s told as a self-exploration story from Buck’s perspective and we see how much the character changes from beginning to end. I would recommend this film to people who want to see a story about the adventures of a dog. While it does have some intense scenes, I do think most children would enjoy it. The story has a few silly moments, but it’s mostly a film about the character exploration of Buck. Rated PG. 

Ryan 

Dolittle

Robert Downey Jr., Emma Thompson, Marion Cotillard, Octavia Spencer, John Cena, Selena Gomez, Rami Malek, Kumail Nanjiani, and Tom Holland in Dolittle (2020)

Based on the initial reviews I expected this movie to be boring or reliant on juvenile humor. I didn’t find this to be true, I’d in fact say it is an adventure movie primarily.  I’ve not read any of the novels, so my experience with the series is limited to Eddie Murphy’s movies of Dr. Dolittle. I found the trailers didn’t tell much about the movie other than the Gorilla was scared, which helps elucidate a concept of the film. Dr. Dolittle (Robert Downey Jr.) isn’t just a medical doctor, he’s a person interested in the world around him and helping those in it. 

 The film starts with an animated backstory narrated by Poly (Emma Thompson) about the early life of Dr. Dolittle. We learn about the untimely death of his wife Lily Dolittle (Kasia Smutniak) and the self-imposed isolation of Dolittle. We then see a boy with his family called Tommy Stubbins (Harry Collett) hunting against his wishes. He tries to miss a duck only to injure a squirrel. Poly the parakeet sees Tommy distraught by this and leads him to Dr. Dolittle’s wildlife reservation. Tommy gets caught in a trap, meanwhile we see Lady Rose (Carmel Laniado) also finds the reservation. 

Dr. Dolittle was going about his daily routine with the animals with a large unkempt beard when he sees Tommy hanging from the net outside. Poly tries to persuade him to help Tommy, but Dr. Dolittle decides to send Chee-Chee, the gorilla, (Rami Malek) to scare Tommy and Rose despite being scared of the humans himself. Rose isn’t scared and walks right past Chee-Chee. Rose tells Dr. Dolittle that the Queen Victoria of England (Jessie Buckley) is unwell and has specifically requested Dr. Dolittle to which he refuses the request. After Tommy brings in the squirrel, Dolittle reluctantly agrees to help it. The animals overhear during the surgery that if the Queen dies, that the reservation that was granted will no longer be Dr. Dolittle’s.  

This film was an enjoyable adventure that was made for the whole family in mind, though it does have some scary scenes for younger audiences. The special effects of the animals are done well enough that you feel they are present in the scenes, but they still have some human characteristics to add to the experience. There are several characters within the movie who have well-developed personalities with relatable flaws. One of the concepts that really made me laugh was Dolittle speaks to the animals in their languages. In Eddie Murphy’s version we’re told that he speaks like the animals, but we never see him talk like the animals. The whole concept is well done, and I hope there will be a sequel. I could imagine each film focusing around a few of the animals introduced in this film to create a deeper connection with the characters. Rated PG. 

Ryan 

Sonic the Hedgehog

Jim Carrey, Frank C. Turner, James Marsden, Tom Butler, Neal McDonough, Adam Pally, Shannon Chan-Kent, Tika Sumpter, Elfina Luk, Ben Schwartz, Lee Majdoub, Debs Howard, and Natasha Rothwell in Sonic the Hedgehog (2020)

The first trailer for this film caused heavy backlash because of the initial look of the title character. After the estimated $5 million redesign of the character, people seemed to regain confidence that it would not be laughably bad. What really sold me on this film was Jim Carrey’s mannerisms in the trailer of Dr. Ivo Robotnik. I’m happy to say that Sonic the character looked presentable and Jim Carrey really delivered an eccentric version of Robotnik. The film had a good mix of action and comedy that delivers a strong family film. It’s not a fantastic film, but I think it gives multiple generations a Sonic film they can enjoy.  

The film starts off near the end of the film and Sonic (Ben Schwartz) narrates how his journey started years ago. He explains he was raised by an owl called Longclaw (Donna Jay Fulks) who tried to protect him from those who would want to steal his power from him. Baby Sonic (Benjamin Valic) thinks he’s too fast to be seen, but enemies arrive to get Baby Sonic. Baby Sonic gets handed a bag of magic rings by Longclaw and is told to escape to a planet on the other side of the universe. The rings create portals that he can flee into. If the next planet fails, he’s told to flee to a world full of only mushrooms. 

We see that Sonic has been living alone for years and has created his own hidden home underground on Earth. He’s been living in Green Hills watching the people in the town without letting himself be seen. He feels alone though as he can’t interact with them. His favorite person he calls Donut Lord who is really Tom Wachowski (James Marsden). One-night Sonic is frustrated with being alone as he plays baseball, which causes him to run fast enough that he releases an electrical charge that takes out the power grid. Dr. Ivo Robotnik (Jim Carrey) is called in to investigate this anomaly and Sonic sees that he’s being tracked. Sonic goes to hide out in Tom’s garage where Tom uses a tranquilizer dart on Sonic out of pure surprise.  

This movie feels familiar to other family films that I’ve seen before. It delivers on the premise well though. Jim Carrey helps create a threatening but strange character in Robotnik along with his sidekick Agent Stone (Lee Majdoub). The movie seems to rotate in scenes of character interaction and action scenes, which helps keep it exciting. It’s a fun family film that seems to be set in a world of strange characters. I really enjoy how it just leans into the absurd but maintains an internal logic to prevent things from being confusing. Rated PG. 

Ryan 

A Beautiful Day in the Neighborhood

Last year I saw Won’t You Be My Neighbor? and I honestly think it’s a shame that it didn’t win the Oscar for best picture, let alone receive any form of nomination. With that in mind, I had high hopes for A Beautiful Day in the Neighborhood. I’d say this is a good film, but it has a different tone and focus from what I expected. The film itself is about the real events of Lloyd Vogel (Matthew Rhys) and how he came to know Fred Rogers (Tom Hanks) in a difficult time in Lloyd’s life. There is almost a magical or mythical presence to Mr. Rogers which does come through amidst Lloyd’s troubles.

The film starts like an episode of Mister Rogers’ Neighborhood. Mr. Rogers sits down and shows us a picture board where he reveals a picture of Lloyd Vogel. He talks about how Lloyd got injured because he couldn’t forgive someone in his life. Mr. Rogers talks about how forgiveness can be very hard as it’s hard to know what to do with the anger we feel. We then transition through a toy set (like on the tv show) to Lloyd’s life.

We see Lloyd talking to his wife Andrea Vogel (Susan Kelechi Watson) about going to Lloyd’s sister’s third wedding. Lloyd learns his father Jerry (Chris Cooper) will be there and isn’t happy about it. At the wedding Jerry tried to confront Lloyd about their past and Lloyd ends up hitting him. Lloyd shoves and is then hit back by someone breaking up the fight. Lloyd goes into work the next day and lies about his injury to everyone saying it was from “softball.” Lloyd gets assigned to a piece about Mr. Rogers despite his objections. Lloyd gets to the set at his assigned time, only to learn the show is behind schedule again as Fred Rogers is spending time with a sick child. Lloyd eventually gets a chance to talk to Fred Rogers where Rogers asks Lloyd some questions as well, like what really happened to his nose.

The movie overall is a journey from Lloyd’s own cynicism to the bright disposition Fred Rogers seems to spread around himself. Lloyd does see though that Rogers is a genuine human who tries to do his best. The story is told in a rather creative fashion so that it feels that the entire film is taking part within a special episode of Mister Rogers’ Neighborhood. I think Tom Hanks does a fantastic job portraying Mr. Rogers. I will say though that last year’s Won’t You Be My Neighbor would at very least be a good companion piece to watch alongside this one as I think it helped better explore the life of Fred Rogers and explains the puppets a bit better. Overall this is an enjoyable film, with some darker topics than I was expecting. Rated PG.

Ryan

Jojo Rabbit

Sam Rockwell, Taika Waititi, Scarlett Johansson, Stephen Merchant, Alfie Allen, Rebel Wilson, Thomasin McKenzie, and Roman Griffin Davis in Jojo Rabbit (2019)

The topic matter is intended to be unsettling or uncomfortable with this film. It’s a dark comedy where they explore some unsettling historical events, so I’d say it’s not for everyone. I’ve enjoyed Taika Waititi’s films in the past including Hunt for the Wilderpeople and the better known Thor:Ragnarock. I was a bit apprehensive that it would be too comedic, disrespectful, or too sobering which would make it hard to watch. I think it struck the right balance and told us a story about a little boy living in a highly stressful environment, even if he doesn’t see it that way. 

The film starts off with a rather unsettling rendition of the Beatles’ I Want to Hold Your Hand used to introduce the fanaticism that Adolf Hitler elicited by comparing him in a way to the Beatles. We then meet Jojo (Roman Griffin Davis) as he’s talking to his imaginary friend Adolf (Taika Waititi) to psyche himself up for Hitler Youth summer camp. He and other 10-year-old boys and girls including his best friend Yorki (Archie Yates) are going to learn the basics of becoming a Nazi. The boys do various training exercises like learning to shoot, throw grenades, fight, use their knives, and in general just prepare to go to war. As some older boys notice Jojo isn’t hurting anyone in a team battle, they decide to pick on him. 

The older boys try to force Jojo to kill a rabbit and when he refuses, they taunt him with the name “Jojo Rabbit” because he’s afraid like a rabbit. His imaginary friend Adolf and Yorki give him a bit of a pep talk and Jojo enthusiastically runs back during grenade training. Jojo takes a grenade from Captain Klenzendorf (Sam Rockwell). He throws the grenade and it bounces off a tree back at him. Jojo ends up being injured and he wakes up in a hospital to his mother Rosie (Scarlett Johansson) looking at him. Jojo starts working for Captain Klenzendorf as his scars are deemed “too frightening” for the other children. As Jojo arrives home early one day he calls out for his mother and finds Elsa (Thomasin McKenzie) hiding in a secret room. 

This movie really balances its topics and themes well. It’s clear that Jojo is just a boy, but what he’s raised to believe is something terrible. This movie doesn’t make any efforts to excuse his beliefs either, just try to explain them. We see the struggle of the other adults and children in this world who must deal with being in the middle of a war that they seem to be losing. This movie ranges from some silly jokes to some dark moments. I think many would enjoy this film or get something from the messages within. It’s certainly for people who enjoy a bit of history and dark humor. Rated PG-13. 

Ryan