Tag: Time Travel

An American Pickle (2020) Review 2

An American Pickle (2020) Review

Seth Rogen is one of the more interesting Frat Pack 2.0 alumni. Simply known as “that kid with that funny laugh” in Freaks and Geeks and Donnie Darko ages ago; Rogen is now a 38 year old man.  Although he still isn’t above doing stoner comedies he’s come into his own in the past 10 years or so, having worked with industry titans like Danny Boyle and Disney. An American Pickle is like a marriage of his old and new sensibilities, and mostly comes out on top.

The premise (a man in 1919 falls into pickle brine and is preserved for 100 years) is almost immediately presented, solved and unquestioned. Herschel Greenbaum is thrust into the 21st century and introduced to his great grandson Ben in what feels like minutes, as the two meet and their personalities clash: a conflict that fuels the rest of the film.

An American Pickle is surprisingly lean. There’s no poorly thought out and cliché romantic subplot. There are barely any real supporting characters: just fleeting cast members who fly in and out on a moment’s notice. Nearly the entire film is supported on the shoulders of Rogen, who carries it with a dual role that’s surprisingly sweet.

An American Pickle (2020) Review 3
An American Pickle (2020)

Well, one of them is, anyway. Rogen as Ben is far less impressive than Rogen as Herschel. The latter is really where the heart of the film lies, as Herschel is a much harder role to step into and far more complicated than a modern app developer with a chip on his shoulder. Seeing what Herschel does in the face of adversity is sometimes fascinating, as the plot moves with a rapid pace from shenanigan to shenanigan.

An American Pickle basically plays out like a multi-act play, as each member of the Greenbaum family tries to one-up the other, either out of spite or pure gumption. Some of their silliness is endearing, interesting and funny. Some of it drags and feels utterly pointless. This pendulum swings for an hour and a half and then it’s over. That’s pretty much all there is to it.

If you’re older or have family issues, you’ll probably get more out of it, as a lot of the drama resides in the pain of generational reconciliation. While the script is short on laughs at times, it scarifies comedy for poignancy and pulls you right back in again. I went into An American Pickle expecting a raunchy absurdist comedy and got something completely different. While it’s incredibly uneven, it has a soul, a debt ultimately paid for by Seth Rogen himself.

Kung Fury (Movie) Review 2

Kung Fury (Movie) Review

While the following formula might not work for everyone, I performed a controlled and detailed experiment to discover the math behind whether or not you will enjoy Kung Fury. I watched the movie with three people, each born five years apart; person “A” was born in 1985, person “B”, in 1990, and finally, person “C” in 1995. Using a simple two dimensional graph I discovered that the amount of pleasure experienced while watching the movie dropped significantly the closer one got to 1995, culminating in a “what the hell am I watching” score of zero. However, if you find yourself closer to person “A” on the graph, you’re going to love this movie.
kungfuryinsert1Which is kind of obvious when you think about it. Despite the recent trend of 90s nostalgia- one only has to walk around downtown Toronto and see the overwhelming amount of 17-year-olds rocking grunge influenced plaid, ripped jeans, and Nirvana t-shirts- there’s been a big revival in retro 80s themed media. More than likely because those 17-year-olds all have older brothers and sisters who lived through the 90s and remember how lame it was. The 80s are really where it’s at, and those same older brothers and sisters are the ones out there making games like Far Cry: Blood Dragon and TV shows like season 2 of the maniacal Australian spy spoof Danger 5, the latter of which shares a lot of similarities with Kung Fury.

But hey, if you grew up watching movies laced with heavy synth soundtracks, plenty of cheesy one-liners, and an overwhelming fetish for Miami and California, Kung Fury might be right for you.

Without getting into spoiler territory (not that it really matters for a film that’s essentially a 30-minute attempt to cram in as many references as possible rather than focus on crafting a deep plot and cerebral narrative) Kung Fury follows a super-powered cop who, thanks to being struck by lightning WHILE being bit by a cobra, becomes the long-prophesized Kung Fury, a master of the ultimate martial art. After leaving the force during a disagreement with his balding, hoarse-voiced and constantly smoking Chief of Police, the titular hero is forced to do battle with a time traveling Adolf Hitler out to steal his powers and become the Kung Fuhrer. Add in some scantily clad and machine gun toting barbarian babes, a nerdy sidekick technology guru who can “hack away” bullet wounds, and a guest appearance from the god of thunder himself, Thor, and there’s your movie.

It would be pretty simple to just take all these characters, toss them into a low-budget production with some lame special effects and call it a day, but the team behind Kung Fury go the extra mile in almost every respect. The movie is absolutely teeming with callbacks to the era of pastel and arcades. The gritty voiced, take-no-shit Caucasian martial arts master of a protagonist, David Hasslehoff voicing the talking Lamborghini that’s a mash-up of K.I.T.T. crossed with HAL9000, and the aforementioned hacker sidekick who at one point uses a freakin Nintendo Powerglove to hack our hero “thousands of years” back in time to the era of Vikings and Laser Raptors. If even that isn’t enough to tickle your retro bones, there are times during the chaos when VHS style tracking errors warp the screen that almost cause you to get up out of your seat to smack the VCR…until you remember you’re watching it on a laptop.
kungfuryinsert2The icing on the cake comes with the absolutely incredible soundtrack composed by Swedish born artist Mitch Murder. Each track is labeled after it’s corresponding scene in the movie, showcasing titles like “Face Puncher” and “Power Move” to name a few. Add in one or two required hair metal tracks like Christoffer Ling’s “Barbarianna” to round out the selection and there’s enough here to keep the fun going.

At only 30 minutes long, the film is short enough to not overstay its welcome; as much fun as it is I feel that a full-length Kung Fury would get a little grating after a while. There’s only so much radical epicness a person can take. The producers found an ideal length that hits its highs at the right point and leaves you with a general feeling of “that was awesome” without losing its charm and fun. The movie is free and can be viewed in full on YouTube and the Kung Fury website. If you grew up with G.I. Joe, Karate Kid and Lethal Weapon you will enjoy the hell out of this flick.

Project Almanac (Movie) Review 1

Project Almanac (Movie) Review

Oh time travel, you are a fickle beast aren’t you? Whether it’s Homer Simpson with a toaster, Marty McFly with a rad skateboard, the Loopers with their looping, or whatever the hell was supposed to be happening in Primer, things never quite go as planned now do they? You see there are paradoxes and temporal displacement and many other problems that just tend to be out of your average time traveler’s grasp. It always seems like a good idea at the time though doesn’t it? Especially if you’re a bunch of rowdy teens hoping for good time. Oh hey! Look, it’s Project Almanac. A movie about a bunch of teens who discover time travel while filming their adventures on camcorders. Yep, it’s the inevitable time travel found footage movie that we all should have guessed was coming. It’s ok too. Not great. Not horrible. Just ok.

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The film stars Jonny Weston as one of those teens who only exist in movies that seems to be a social reject from their entire high school community purely because they wear glasses. Weston plays a science wiz who creates impressive inventions in the hopes of landing a MIT scholarship. He gets one, but not it’s not enough for his out-of-work mother to afford. So he does what any teen genius would do in this scenario and hunts around in his former super-scientist father’s abandoned attic hoping to find a new invention. Instead he and his sister (Ginny Gardner, always filming everything for the sake of the found footage conceit) find an old video camera with a tape of one of Weston’s childhood birthdays. While combing through the tape, Weston finds footage of his teenage self in the background. He’s confused, but obsessed. Eventually he and his wise-cracking genius friends (Allen Evangelista and Sam Lerner) stop obsessing over the prettiest girl in school girl (Sofia Black-D’Elia, whose character is limited to being pretty and appealing) long enough to dig around in Weston’s basement and find hidden plans and parts for a time machine that Weston’s father was designing before he died. So they do what anyone would do in that situation, finish the time machine with car batteries and Xbox parts and go on an adventure. Nothing could possibly go wrong, right?

Project Almanac was clearly conceived around the one sentence pitch, “Chronicle, but with time travel.” That’s exactly what the movie is and exactly how it plays. Granted, Chronicle was a pretty great and creative flick, so it was inevitable that knock offs would follow. The trouble is that the found footage shtick has grown past a trend and into a genre now, so this movie feels very generic. We all know the routine. A bunch of teens have semi-realistic bonding through jump cut footage for a while. Then they discover a supernatural element belonging to a specific style of genre movie. Then they talk about filming it for a while and then whatever clichés of the chosen genre take over from the found footage clichés. It’s how low-budget Hollywood B-movies are apparently required to be made these days. Even if the concept of characters filming every single one of their actions is feeling more and more realistic all the time, the movies are getting tedious.

Admittedly, Project Almanac is far from all bad. First time director Dean Israelite shows considerable promise as a filmmaker. He’s got a knack with low-fi spectacle and working with actors. The three guys at the center all give naturalistic performances with impressive chemistry, just enough to make you buy into the world. The homespun inventions are amusingly conceived and just credible enough to get away with the silly pseudo-science. Then once all the rambling set up is finally in place, the film offers a hefty amount of fun for a while. Playing off of teenage wish fulfillment fantasies and Groundhog Day “repetition makes perfect” comedy, the second act of the movie is a bit of a riot. It’s a spin of teen comedy tropes with just enough gentle science fiction to work as genre as well. The effects are charmingly low-fi and the tonal gearshifts keep things unpredictable. For a while, you’ll start to think that Israelite and the gang might pull this thing off and then the wheels come off.

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Inevitably, Project Almanac turns into one of those butterfly effect tales of the perils of time travel. It’s clear that’s where things are heading from the moment that the protagonist pops up on his old birthday video. For a while it works, sliding the movie gently from goof off fun into suspenseful fun. Then it all falls apart while speeding towards the finish line. Plot holes and logic gaps pile on top of each other at a feverish pace and the last 10-15 minutes has to be the least believably filmed section in any found footage movie ever made. It’s really a shame because Israelite and co. build up quite a bit of good will and charm dragging their Chronicle time-travel along for two hours before they lose the thread. Ah well, all things considered, it’s not a bad movie. At least a studio gave young and inexperienced filmmakers a chance to make something creatively conventional. That’s something. Now the next step is for Paramount to keep their Paranormal Activity-inspired micro-budget blockbuster wing alive without forcing every project into a found footage conceit that it doesn’t need. Project Almanac automatically would have been a better movie without being saddled with that baggage and hopefully someone at the studio noticed.

Mr. Peabody & Sherman (Movie) Review 1

Mr. Peabody & Sherman (Movie) Review

If you’re aware that a Mr. Peabody And Sherman movie is coming out this week, you’re probably dreading it. Don’t. Whether you’re concerned that the film will crap all over the classic shorts by Jay Ward (whose work like Rocky And Bullwinkle and Dudley Do-Right has been butchered in Hollywood repeatedly) or have never heard of Jay Ward and are merely concerned about the potential of a movie about a time-traveling dog and boy duo, I can assure you that this flick will surpass your expectations. It’s a film the manages to capture the spirit of the late Jay Ward’s cartoons perfectly, which means it’s funny, sweet, colorful, irreverent, creative, fast-paced, and constantly entertaining. Movies like this make family entertainment seem easy, simply piling on goofy pleasures from start to finish without a second wasted or a forced message to swallow. It would be nice to live in a world where this was the norm and Mr. Peabody & Sherman felt like an average family blockbuster. But we don’t live in that world, silly. A big Hollywood family flick this funny and entertaining is rare, especially when it’s adapted from a cult classic. Buy a ticket and smile for 90 minutes. It’s really that simple.

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For the unfamiliar, Mr. Peabody and Sherman were characters from the Jay Ward’s classic Rocky & Bullwinkle series. It was essentially a sketch in which a hyper intelligent dog and a dorky kid would travel back in time to pal around with comically exaggerated versions of historical figures. Essentially, it’s smart-dumb comedy, sneaking in some facts amongst the surreal gags that seemed so groundbreaking when Ward unleashed it in the 50s. The film version essentially follows that formula, tossing Peabody and Sherman into the French Revolution, ancient Egypt, the Trojan War, and the Italian Renaissance and shoving jokes into the mouth of famous faces backed by famous voices (an unhinged Stanley Tucci as Leonardo Da Vinci, Mel Brooks as Einstein, Patrick Puddy Warburton as an idiot Trojan soldier, etc.). There’s a plot arc of course, involving a snotty girl (Ariel Winter) in Sherman’s (Max Charles) class who mocks him for having a dog for a father (Ty Burrell perfectly recreating the old Peabody voice). So Peabody has her parents over to impress them and Sherman and the gal end up in the Way Back machine prompting an impromptu adventure through time. It sounds stock, but thankfully, the filmmakers deliver a film rooted perfectly in Jay Ward’s cracked sensibility, where even the unconventional family heart is treated as strangely wonderful. It’s a blast.

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Most of the success of the film can be attributed to director Rob Minkoff. The animation veteran clearly adores the source material and goes out of his way to make a reverential movie that recreates Jay Ward’s charming voice for a new generation. His movie is absolutely hysterical, with ingeniously dumb gags like Leonardo Da Vinci’s creepy Renaissance robot child, the French army’s hatred of cantaloupes, and the Trojan army’s weakness for accepting wooden gift horses prompting giddy responses from adults and children alike (it’s clear watching the movie that the original Peabody And Sherman shorts were a massive influence on the hysterical Bill & Ted movies and that influence comes back around here). Minkoff also goes out of his way to recreate Ward’s crude, yet cute cartoony style in glossy CGI, allowing for all sorts of cartoon tomfoolery that will make you smile. He’s also a gifted storyteller (the man did direct The Lion King) as well as a talented action director (he also directed the Jackie Chan/Jet Li flick The Forbidden Kingdom), so the movie stimulates the adrenaline glands and tickles tear ducts when required. Perhaps most importantly, Minkoff understands that the core of Mr. Peabody & Sherman is simple, goofy entertainment and never tries to make his movie anything more than that. Lesser filmmakers would have tried to make the story too dramatic or silly, but Minkoff finds the irreverent middle ground and walks the tight rope just right.

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Mr. Peabody & Sherman is a big, bright, colorful 90-minute blast of entertainment and nothing more. Yet simply getting delivering that without any needless sentimentality or a barrage of tired pop culture gags is rare enough to make the movie feel special. Sure, it’s not as endlessly creative and inventive as The Lego Movie, but that’s a lofty comparison to make even if it’s a recent one. Nope, the movie is as joyously silly and entertaining as the original Jay Ward cartoon, and that’s exactly what it should be. The film is a perfect way for fans of the original series to feel bubbly and nostalgic and kids to get introduced to Ward’s classic characters in a contemporary CGI blockbuster. It’s rare for any Hollywood adaptation of a classic property to actually honor the source material, but that’s exactly what happened here. It’s 90 minutes of classic cartoon anarchy and for that we should all giggle and rejoice. It’ll be a long time before it happens again, so let’s hope this flick is as successful as all the failures (Garfield, Space Jam, Marmaduke, etc, etc, etc). For once, a reboot actually deserves some brand name loyalty success.