Movies: Ralph Breaks the Internet

Voices By: John C. Reilly, Sarah Silverman, Gal Gadot, Taraji P. Henson, Alan Tudyk
Directed by: Phil Johnston, Rich Moore
Written by: Phil Johnston & Pamela Ribon (screenplay); Rich Moore, Phil Johnston, Jim Reardon, Pamela Ribon, Josie Trinidad (story)
Walt Disney, 2018
PG; 102 minutes
3.5 stars (out of 5)


Okay, so I'm going to make a big confession here: I never saw Wreck-It Ralph. I've had it explained to me, and I've seen enough scenes from it that I basically understand the story, and I've just never felt compelled to sit down and watch it (no matter how many people told me how great it is—or maybe because of that).

So maybe you have to already be a fan to 100% love this movie. I only kind of liked it. I thought the representation of the Internet was great, and there are definitely some cute moments, but either I already needed to love the main characters or... Something.

The story: Vanellope is bored. The levels in her game are all the same, nothing ever changes. So Ralph tries to make her feel better by creating a new racing track in her game. The result: the girl playing the game at the time breaks the steering wheel and Mr. Litwak can't afford to buy another one (the only one being on eBay since the game manufacturer is out of business), so he plans to scrap Sugar Rush.

Clearly, this is a problem. But thanks to Mr. Litwak also recently joining the 21st century by acquiring Wi-Fi, Ralph and Vanellope are able to jump online in search of that elusive steering wheel. Hilarity ensues? I mean, to some extent, I guess so. But none of it made me truly laugh. Maybe I'm just too hardhearted. Or am not the target audience.

The major conflict is that Ralph wants to get the steering wheel and get back to life as they know it. Meanwhile, Vanellope has now been exposed to the wider world and wants to stay in an online racing game called Slaughter Race. The theme of the movie then pursues rather predictable and tired lines: following one's dreams, friendship, "Let It Go," etc. In fact, the whole thing is a bit heavy handed for my tastes, and while I can see that much of what happens (no spoilers) is Ralph's fault, the fact that Vanellope is never called out on some of her behavior bothers me.

Largely, I enjoyed the style of the film. However, the attempts to thrust what I suppose counts as "substance" down my throat... Sure, I want substance in my movies. But there is such a thing as too much, and this movie definitely works overtime to make sure I "get it."

Bottom line: cute but a bit too pointed with its message. I don't really like Ralph or Vanellope, so again, maybe I needed to see the first one in order to appreciate the characters here. As things stand, though, I give this a slightly better than middling score. It's entertaining but—at least for me—nothing special.


Movies: The Bill Murray Stories: Life Lessons Learned from a Mythical Man

These stories have been around for ages, sometimes accompanied by photographic or video evidence: Bill Murray showing up at random house parties, Bill Murray stealing someone's french fries while at a fast food restaurant, Bill Murray stepping into someone's engagement photos. It boils down to the sense that Bill Murray is a pretty cool guy. I'm not sure we needed an entire documentary about that, but it's interesting to pool the stories and hear the theories on why Bill Murray does what he does.

I used to watch Saturday Night Live with my parents. Looking back, I'm surprised I was allowed to, but I'm guessing my parents were banking on a lot of the jokes going over my head. Same with National Lampoon's Radio. But the one thing I picked out right quick when listening to National Lampoon's was Bill Murray's voice. It was very distinct to me. "There's a lobster loose!" I heard the car radio say, and I looked at my dad and said, "That sounds like Bill Murray." (It was.) Yet even though I grew up in the 80s, during Murray's hey day, I don't recall seeing many of his movies. I saw Ghostbusters, but it scared me. I didn't see Groundhog Day or Scrooged until much, much later. And it wasn't until the Wes Anderson movies that I really noticed Murray on the big screen.

Okay, that's my history with Murray's work. But what about this documentary? It goes to people and asks them to recount their I-met-Bill-Murray stories. And then hypothesizes on why Murray would do these things. For fun, maybe, or to stay in touch with the world and still feel like a person rather than a star. In the end, the film goes for the easy way out: "It doesn't really matter." Which kind of makes the movie feel like it doesn't matter either? I think maybe the filmmaker (Tommy Avallone) hoped Murray might actually turn up at some point for this, but he should have known better; it's worth much more to Murray to retain his mystique.

Still, I'll hazard my own explanation for Murray's behavior. It may be subconscious on his part, but I think he's somewhat aware that his legacy is more valuable in the small moments than the large ones. Think of it this way: there is the widely consumed media (movies, television), in which everyone has the same  "Bill Murray experience." We all see those movies, and those are static, fixed. But in smaller, unexpected doses... In real life, in the moment... the experience is very different and far more valuable. He's leaving little memories of himself everywhere.

And making memories for himself too. So many people focus on what they get out of these brushes with stardom that they seldom consider it from the other side. Stars are people. They remember interesting encounters and fun nights out same as anyone.

These aren't the only possible reasons for Bill Murray to wander into people's houses or baseball games or whatever. In fact, there's surely no one reason so much as a confluence of them. But these are reasons I didn't hear mentioned in the film, so I wanted to pose them.

The truth is, I've met—worked with, even—a fair number of famous people, but I've never had the pleasure of meeting Mr. Murray, though I sure would like to. He reminds me of my dad, and when I looked up his birthday I understood why—he's only 10 days younger than my dad. They have a similar laid-back intensity, which is hard to understand if you haven't lived with it or dealt with it regularly. It's a weird mixture of gravitas and whimsy, an oddball humor married to an undercurrent of depression. It makes no sense, but there it is. I don't know that having near birthdays explains their similarities, but I'll pretend it does.

No one I know personally has had a run-in with Bill Murray. Maybe some day... Until then, I'll have to live vicariously. This movie is a pretty good place to start.


Movies: Fantastic Beasts: The Crimes of Grindelwald

Starring: Eddie Redmayne, Johnny Depp, Jude Law, Zoë Kravitz, Ezra Miller, Callum Turner
Directed by: David Yates
Written by: J.K. Rowling
Warner Bros., 2018
PG-13; 134 minutes
3 stars (out of 5)


Well, I liked it more than the first one. But... There are still a lot of problems here. At least for me.

This film picks up six months after the last one ended. Grindelwald escapes during his extradition from New York's Ministry of Magic to London's. Three months after that, we discover Newt has been confined to the UK, his... travel pass or whatever the Ministry of Magic gives out... revoked. He's given the chance to travel again if he'll join his brother Theseus, the auror, in his work to find Grindelwald. Newt says no.

But then Dumbledore asks Newt to go to Paris to search for Grindelwald anyway. Um... I dunno. All the motivations in this film crisscross into knots. People want to find Grindelwald, they want to find Credence (remember him?), they want to find their girlfriends and sisters and... 🙄 There are a lot of unnecessary flashbacks and subplots, a lot of hitting the audience over the head with information, and not a lot of actual tension. Plus the action scenes are so heavily edited that one can't follow them; you just sort of sit and wait for them to play out. Very little sense of wonder here, or amazement at what we're seeing. And the big reveal can be spotted miles away—and contains some revisionist history so heavy handed that I just couldn't swallow it.

All this and yet, as I mentioned, I did actually like it more than the first one. Which isn't saying a ton, since I found the first one pretty meh. This one is meh, too, in other ways, and a bit irritating (again, with that revisionist history), but the story overall was more interesting. Though it had almost nothing at all to do with "The Crimes of Grindelwald."

And if you were one of those people who anticipated that Jude Law would only be on screen for about ten minutes... You were right. Pick up your prize at the door.

What did I like, then? Leta LeStrange. I think her story would be fascinating. And I like Theseus Scamander, too (what little I've seen of him). I think younger Dumbledore is cool and wouldn't mind more of that, either. Even Nagini's story might be interesting to read or watch.

But. Newt + Tina does nothing for me. Jacob + Queenie does nothing for me either. ::shrug:: I'm not sold on either of those relationships or plot lines. Not feeling the chemistry there.

So. I know I'll be in the minority. But I'm no huge Harry Potter fan to begin with; I only ever thought the series was okay. So this movie isn't aimed at me, and my lukewarm feelings toward it won't douse the fire of all the fans who are sure to love it.


Vote for Faebourne!

My novel Faebourne (now available in paperback as well as on Kindle!) is up for a Reader's Choice Award, but is sadly lagging in the polls. Mind giving it a vote? It's on page 14, under Historical Fiction. I appreciate the support!


Movies: Crazy Rich Asians

I was really excited for this movie. The book has been on my TBR list for a long time, and at first I thought I'd try and read it before seeing the adaptation, but last night I gave in and watched. And... I was a little disappointed. Like so many things these days, I think it might have been overhyped.

This isn't to discount the fact that a film with an all-Asian cast made money. I'm so, so glad to see new faces, new cultures on screen. And I'm equally enthused that the film did well. Hopefully that will open doors to more of these kinds of movies.

And by "these kids" I also mean good, old-fashioned rom-coms of the type they really don't make any more. Ultimately, that's what Crazy Rich Asians is, and I guess that might be where it fell down for me. Because I do love rom-coms. But this one was so predictable, so rote... And I think maybe the book has more depth? The film hits all the typical beats, and in some cases developments seem to come out of nowhere (the dad thing), or get semi-lost in the shuffle (the affair subplot). Everything is really slick here—it's actually a gorgeous film to look at—but it loses something in introducing so many characters that none of them gets enough screen time to make much of an impression. (Peik and Oliver excepted, of course.) Like, we're introduced to Amanda as a "threat" in the form of an ex, and then she just drops off the face of the film. Bernard and Alistair are jerks, and that's their only defining qualities. The grandma switches sides on a dime. And we're supposed to feel bad for Astrid, but he hardly know her either. Meaning a lot of what should have had tension... didn't.

At least for me. But I think the casting and acting was spot on. It was the script or the editing that failed. Perhaps it presupposed that viewers had read the book and already knew the characters? That we'd walk in with the background info we needed to fully enjoy what we were about to watch?

I think what I'm getting at is: I should have waited and read the book first. I still want to. And, to be clear, this isn't a bad movie. The hype just didn't do it any favors because it made me expect more. Still, I enjoyed it. In a sea of action flicks and... whatever else they're making these days (horror?)... this was a nice change.