Friday, January 11, 2019

Watership Down (2018)

By Cat

Series Name/Year: Watership Down (2018)
Tagline: None
Genre: Animation, Action, Adventure
Length: 1 Season (Mini-Series), 4 Episodes, Runtime range of 51 min. per episode
Rating: TV-PG
Production Companies: Netflix 42, Biscuit Filmworks, ITV Studios Global Entertainment
Producers: Catherine T. Elliott, Allison Charles, Georgia Dussaud, Ben Irving, Cecil Kramer, Noam Murro, Gary R. Naccarato, Martin Rosen, Bhanushali Shilpa, Deepali Bhanushali, Rory Aitken, Ted Biaselli, Tom Bidwell, Ricardo Curtis, Cathal Gaffney, Wes Lui, Lokesh Mishra, Shakti Prakash Mohanty, Eleanor Moran, Darragh O'Connell, Ben Pugh, Matthew Read, Hugo Sands, Rebecca Swift, Larry Tanz, MarĂ­a Ulled, Josh Varney, Erik Vignau
Directors: Noam Murro, Peter Dodd, Seamus Malone, Alan Short
Writers: Tom Bidwell, Richard Adams
Actors: James McAvoy, Nicholas Hoult, John Boyega, Gemma Arterton, Anne-Marie Duff, Sir Ben Kingsley, Peter Capaldi, Tom Wilkinson, Olivia Colman, Mackenzie Crook, Taron Egerton, Freddie Fox, James Faulkner, Lee Ingleby, Miles Jupp, Daniel Kaluuya, Rory Kinnear, Craig Parkinson, Rosamund Pike, Daniel Rigby, Jason Watkins, Adewale Akinnuoye-Agbaje, Lorraine Bruce, Gemma Chan, Lizzie Clarke, Henry Goodman, Peter Guiness

IMDb Blurb: Set in the idyllic rural landscape of southern England, the adventure tale follows a band of rabbits on their flight from the intrusion of man and the certain destruction of their home. Led by a stouthearted pair of brothers, they journey forth from their native Sandleford Warren through the harrowing trials posed by predators and adversaries, toward a promised land and a more perfect society.

I have long been a fan of Watership Down. I watched the cartoon movie when I was roughly middle-school age (and many times since then); and also read the book. I own the author’s companion book which includes a compendium of stories in epilogue of the rabbits at the Down. I’ve even seen a few episodes of the British-Canadian TV series adaptation. That one never aired in the US, to my knowledge. I digress. 

Needless to say, I was excited when I’d learned that Netflix was going to be releasing a mini-series adaptation of this beloved story.  My excitement was slightly tempered with anxiety. How would it turn out? Would they be true to the heart of the story and honor the original production? 

I have my answers. It’s a bit of a mixed bag in results, but overall my experience was positive. I had a chance to watch with my family while my daughter was on her Christmas break from school. We’re both big fans of the adorable long-eared critters. We’ve watched the original together, so she was already familiar with the story as well.

Let’s focus on the positive first.

This adaptation was fairly close to the source material. The pacing was similar but just slightly off of the original. I don’t think that’s necessarily a bad thing – it’s just what one can expect in a 4 episode series as opposed to a single cinematic production. While I missed the presence of Art Garfunkel’s “Bright Eyes” in this series, I’m glad they didn’t try to stuff it in somewhere. It was something special that should belong to the 1978 original alone. (I’m going to ignore the fact they covered the song in the 1999 series that didn’t air in the US.) The key thing is that I don’t believe they left out anything important.

Another point in this adaptation’s favor was the cast. While I can’t honestly compare James McAvoy (Arthur Christmas, Filth, Split) to the late, great John Hurt (The Skeleton Key, Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy, Doctor Who); he did an excellent job with the role of Hazel. He has such a quiet command in his voice that leant well to the role. It was a little harder to distinguish that Nicholas Hoult (Underdogs, Equals, Collide) voiced Hazel’s brother, Fiver. He represented the character well – and Fiver’s one of the most complicated of the whole lot. Surprisingly, I believe I like Gemma Arterton (Prince of Persia: The Sands of Time, Runner, Orphan) as Clover the hutch-rabbit a lot more than the original actress for the role.

As an interesting note of trivia, there’s a little 6-degrees-of-separation of cinema connections going on within the cast as well. Hoult and McAvoy starred in some of the more recent X-Men: First Class (2011) cast ensemble movies. Also, Peter Capaldi (The Musketeers, Doctor Who, Christopher Robin) gave a smashing performance as the seagull Kehaar in this adaptation. He’s just coming out of his stint as the ‘12th Doctor’ on the BBC classic sci-fi show – which connects him to the original movie voice of Hazel, John Hurt. Hurt, of course, plays ‘The War Doctor’ in a season prior to Capaldi’s stint in the role.

It’s easy to get lost down that rabbit hole! Let’s surface for some silflay and consume a couple more items of note that the adaptation got right. OK, I know, I sound loony; but there is method to my madness. I really enjoyed that they didn’t try to muck about with the lapine language that the rabbits were speaking. There’s quite a few words that sound outright alien to anyone who hasn’t encountered this story before. You can likely find definitions somewhere online – or you could just consult the novel. Richard Adams made sure to include a glossary of the terms he used in his story. Generally, these terms are fairly easy to understand within the context of each scene.

A point of note that I found interesting was that this adaptation tones down the violence presented on screen just a smidge, in comparison with the original movie. Let’s be honest. If anyone has watched the original as a child, it’s nearly always a traumatizing experience.  These bunnies fight and there is a LOT of blood. The world is full of dangers to rabbits, and the story doesn’t gloss over any of them. In this version, however, there isn’t nearly as much blood. The violence wasn’t omitted, however – you just don’t see oozing blood and spittle the way you did in the first. This version might be slightly more palatable to a younger audience – but please understand that the themes here overall are dark, full of dread, and generally as equally inappropriate for small children as the original movie is.

The only thing that I am on the fence about with this mini-series is the animation. I don’t mind some of it, but it just felt… odd. It was clearly CGI. I’m not sure what part about it didn’t sit right. I can’t tell for sure if it’s just my bias in favor of the original that is tugging on me, or if there’s really an issue. Considering I’ve seen the animation mentioned as a negative point in quite a few reviews, either we’re ALL biased, or it’s not just me. Don’t get me wrong – it’s not horrible, and it wasn’t enough to take me out of the story – so at least there’s that.

All told, this adaptation is highly enjoyable. It’s also got built-in intermission between episodes! I’m glad that Netflix decided to green light this project, as it introduces a whole new generation to this adventure epic. It will always be that, in my opinion, even if the story is about bunnies. Bunnies need homes too!

Rotten Tomatoes Critic Score – 81%

Rotten Tomatoes Audience Score – 82%
Metascore – 76/100
Metacritic User Score – 5.3/10
IMDB Score – 7.2/10

Trust the Dice: Cat’s Rating – 4/5

Movie Trailer:

Wednesday, January 9, 2019

Dumplin’ (2018)

Number Rolled: 40
Movie Name/Year: Dumplin’ (2018)
Tagline: Find out who you are and do it on purpose.
Genre: Comedy, Drama, Musical
Length: 110 minutes
Rating: PG-13
Production Companies: COTA Films, Echo Films
Producer: Mohamed AlRafi, Jennifer Aniston, Michael Costigan, Kristin Hahn, Trish Hofmann, Danny Nozell, Kelly Todd, Christopher Tricarico
Director: Anne Fletcher
Writer: Kristin Hahn, Julie Murphy
Actors: Danielle Macdonald, Odeya Rush, Jennifer Aniston, Maddie Baillio, Bex Taylor-Klaus, Luke Benward, Georgie Flores, Dove Cameron, Harold Perrineau, Kathy Najimy, Joshua Allan Eads, Hilliary Begley, Sam Pancake, Dan Finnerty, Molly McNearney, Tian Richards, Ryan Dinning, Andrew Fletcher, Taegen Burns, Brooke Hartzog

Blurb from Netflix: To prove a point about measuring up and fitting in, Texas teen Willowdean Dickson enters a local pageant run by her ex-beauty queen mom.

Selina’s Point of View:
The trailer for this film did nothing for me.

I’m so sick of films that seem to buy into the current movements while just perpetuating the worst of it. In this case, the body positivity movement is targeted. They up the scale of bullying, they make the main character a stereotypical ‘fat girl’ in many ways, and they don’t shift very much from the tropes.

At least, that’s what I figured I’d be saying at the end.

Where the film wasn’t perfect, and it did make me roll my eyes quite a bit, it felt more like Angus (1995) than the more tropey, unsalvageable movies out there.

I wound up not hating it as much as I thought I would.

Still, if I’m looking for something like Dumplin’, I’m just going to watch Angus. It’s a better film with a better cast and a MUCH better script. Angus is less stereotypical and it tells a better story.

Dumplin’ did do a few things well. They left out some expected tropes that are usually quite annoying. Still, I find myself watching and wondering if they just tried to make my old favorite with a female protagonist and a pageant-based story.

I’m so irked that Dumplin’ is turning out to be more popular than Angus was. The only big difference is that it came out in a more accepting time.

Cat’s Point of View:
This movie gave me a serious case of the feels. It might be contagious. If you start getting misty-eyed while watching this film, the only cure for it is to make sure to watch it all the way through.

Not only does this Netflix Original have a powerful positive message front and center; there are other themes that run deeper, threaded throughout the story.

The story registered as genuine, with dialogue and scenarios that felt authentic rather than plastic or cookie cutter teen drama. There was substance here. I can’t help but wonder if the author of the book the movie was based on, Julie Murphy (Side Effects May Vary, Dumplin', Ramona Blue), experienced anything like this as she was growing up. I digress.

The streaming giant certainly lived up to expectations for this one, and then some.

Can we talk about the cast? I had this nagging feeling that I’d seen lead, Danielle Macdonald (Every Secret Thing, The Rachels, Patti Cake$), in something recently. That project was likely Bird Box (2018), where she played Olympia. I’m glad for her role here, because this production really let her shine.

Part of my feels-train while watching this movie was that I identified almost on a painful level with the main character of this story. 

That was me in high school. I haven’t been a small person since about 3rd grade. It’s one of the biggest struggles I’ve had in my life. I was lost until I literally found my voice and some modicum of peace within myself. While my inspiration wasn’t as clear-cut and themed as the character’s reverence of Dolly Parton (Gnomeo & Juliet, Joyful Noise, A Country Christmas Story), I can certainly relate.

Getting back to the cast -- MacDonald wasn’t the only familiar face from projects on both the large and small screens. From Jennifer Aniston (Just Go With It, Horrible Bosses, Mother's Day) and Odeya Rush (The Giver, Goosebumps, Dear Dictator) to Disney Channel darlings Dove Cameron (Barely Lethal, Descendants, Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D.) and Luke Benward (Ravenswood, Field of Lost Shoes, Life of the Party), there was a plethora of talent involved with this movie. I am looking forward to sharing this one with my daughter sometime soon.

Rotten Tomatoes Critic Score – 84%
Rotten Tomatoes Audience Score – 78%
Metascore – 53/100
Metacritic User Score – 8.5/10
IMDB Score – 6.8/10

Trust the Dice: Selina’s Rating3/5
Trust the Dice: Cat’s Rating4/5

P.S. IMDb qualifies Dumplin’ as a musical. Trust the Dice would like to add that if it is considered a musical at all, it would be a jukebox musical. Even then, just barely.

Movie Trailer:

Monday, January 7, 2019

The Captive (2014)

Number Rolled: 46
Movie Name/Year: The Captive (2014)
Tagline: When hope is all you have.
Genre: Crime, Drama, Mystery
Length: 112 minutes
Rating: R
Production Companies: Ego Film Arts, The Film Farm
Producer: Atom Egoyan, Patrice Theroux, Stephen Traynor, Simone Urdl, Jennifer Weiss
Director: Atom Egoyan
Writer: Atom Egoyan, David Fraser
Actors: Kevin Durand, Alexia Fast, Mireille Enos, Rosario Dawson, Aidan Shipley, Ryan Reynolds, Paige Baril, Bruce Greenwood, Scott Speedman, William MacDonald, Jason Blicker, Aaron Poole, Brendan Gall, Peyton Kennedy, Mark Gorodnitsky, Kelsey Ruhl, Ian Matthews, Ella Ballentine, Arsinee Khanjian, Christine Horne, Wayne V. Johnson

Blurb from Netflix: Eight years after their daughter’s abduction tore them apart, her parents receive enigmatic clues from the kidnapper hinting that she’s still alive.

Selina’s Point of View:
The Captive was a rough film to watch, for more than one reason.

First of all, the subject matter is terrifying.

The idea that a ten-year-old could be out of sight for just five minutes and get abducted is chilling. It’d be one thing if the movie showed it happening in a city landscape. That’s something pretty much every parent arms themselves against… but this kidnapping happens in the country. A place that’s supposed to be safe. It sends shivers up my spine.

Second of all, it’s my belief that director Atom Egoyan (Where the Truth Lies, Chloe, Devil’s Knot) did the film a great disservice by telling the story out of order – at least in the way he did it. It was very hard to understand what was happening when. The only reason I’m able to figure out the age of the daughter at the end is because the Netflix blurb says it was eight years later.

That said, I really am glad I saw it.

There’s a great cast involved, and they do some damn decent work. I was invested in everyone’s story and there was only one character that I just couldn’t believe.

Trust me, I don’t have to tell you who he was. I don’t think it’s possible to care about him – even though he was a good guy – because his story was just kind of ‘yadda yadda-d’.

I do recommend The Captive – but watch it when your mind is really able to focus, or you’ll lose track of what part of the story you’re in.

Cat’s Point of View:
This movie certainly started out the week with a bang. This wasn’t an action flick so that was less in the literal sense, but intensity is definitely a keyword here.

Child abduction is one of those tough pills to swallow in a plot. I can’t tell you how many times I’ve glanced away from my daughter for mere moments only to find that she’d seemingly disappeared from where she was supposed to be. That moment of adrenaline-laced panic is horrifying, and leaves your heart pounding even after you know it was a false alarm. I can only imagine what it would be like for that feeling to just linger without any relief.

Just thinking about it makes me want to go do the creepy-mom thing and watch my kid sleep for a while to make sure she’s ok.

Over all, this film was highly successful in creating an atmosphere of tension and dread. The story succeeded in drawing me in – but the road wasn’t smooth. 

It was a bit of a bumpy ride due to the timeline bouncing. A good bit of the film is in flashback but it shifts around to the point that you have to think a bit to figure out what point in the timeline the story’s coming from. It took me out of the experience a bit. I can’t complain too much, given the topic here – but still.

My heart broke for Ryan Reynolds’ (Safe House, Life, The Hitman's Bodyguard) character. I tell you what, though. I got outright mad at his character’s wife.

Mireille Enos (World War Z, Never Here, The Lie) had me so well that I wasn’t even thinking of ‘where have I seen her before’ even though she was a familiar face on the screen.  Don’t get me wrong, though. The other cast members such as Scott Speedman (The Vow, Out of the Dark, Animal Kingdom), Rosario Dawson (Unforgettable, The Defenders, Sorry to Bother You), and Kevin Durand (The Strain, Tragedy Girls, Voltron) were great in their roles, too. I just can’t say a lot without the potential for spoilers.

I really wish they’d found a way to make this flow a little better, but really when all’s said and done, the movie’s powerful enough that it can be overlooked to some degree. I wouldn’t have a problem giving a recommendation for this one, though it might not be everyone’s cup of tea.

Rotten Tomatoes Critic Score – 30%
Rotten Tomatoes Audience Score – 33%
Metascore – 36/100
Metacritic User Score – 5.1/10
IMDB Score – 5.9/10

Trust the Dice: Selina’s Rating3.5/5
Trust the Dice: Cat’s Rating3.5/5

Movie Trailer: