“Bob Marley: One Love" stars Kingsley Ben-Adir, Lashana Lynch, James Norton, Tosin Cole, Aston Barrett Jr., Anthony Welsh, Sevana, Hector Lewis, Michael Gandolfini, and Nadine Marshall. Released on February 14, 2024, the film chronicles the life of reggae singer Bob Marley.
The film was directed by Reinaldo Marcus Green, who also directed “Monsters and Men,” “Joe Bell,” and “King Richard.” They say that you express love with words and actions, but in some cases, the way to express it is with peace and the serene sound of reggae music. With Valentine’s Day being about showing love to everyone, it’s appropriate that we have a music-focused biopic involving an iconic singer manifesting it with tranquility and melody. The musician I’m referring to is Bob Marley, whose distinctive vocal and musical styles made him a global figure for Jamaica and the entire world. He even made Jamaican music famous outside his hometown with songs like “One Love” and “Three Little Birds”. While Marley was taken away from us way too soon in 1981 due to his skin cancer, his musical legacy will always live on along with other famous musicians. Like the other musical biopics we got recently, Marley’s story is being retold for the cinematic crowd, becoming the latest movie in this recent money-making trend. Was it able to capture the legacy faithfully? Let’s find out.
The movie depicts the events surrounding Bob Marley (Ben-Adir), a kind-hearted family man and reggae singer in Jamaica. The story focuses on the rise of Marley’s fame during the mid-1970s when Jamaica was heavily affected by the political conflict between the left and right wings of the country. The events that occurred include the attempted assassination of him before his peace rally concert “Smile Jamaica”. As Bob and his wife Rita (Lynch) recover from the incident, he embarks on a journey to London to overcome adversity and violence by providing a new album that would revolutionize people’s love for generations.
I don’t have much experience with Bob Marley regarding his history and music. The only thing I remembered from him was the song “Three Little Birds,” mainly from the movies “Shark Tale” and “I Am Legend.” Thank you, Will Smith, for reminding me of its existence. However, my parents have fond memories of the artist while I’m stuck with the melodies of today. But I was willing to watch it anyway due to the involvement of Reinaldo Marcus Green, who’s coming off the heels of the award-winning “King Richard” three years ago. Plus, I have had a soft spot for musical biopics since “Straight Outta Compton”. While there have been a couple of misses in this cinematic trend, I admire Hollywood’s desire to reintroduce yesteryear's iconic artists to longtime fans and newcomers, even if the events told weren’t 100% accurate. So where does this cinematic tale of Bob Marley land in the musical biopic spectrum? I would say it’s somewhere in the middle. It’s no “Straight Outta Compton”, but like Marley’s music, the film has its heart in the right place.
Instead of exploring Bob Marley’s entire life outside his career, “One Love” only covers the pivotal two-year span approximately five years before his death in 1981, with his childhood and early relationship with Rita represented in flashbacks. In addition to his quest to bring peace back to his home country, the movie showcases Marley and his band, the Wailers, creating an album inspired by the soundtrack of the 1960 epic historical drama, “Exodus”, and their situation. Some people may prefer to see more of Marley’s personal life, but to me, it’s a perfect timeline for the movie to cover due to its relevance. We’ve been surrounded by hate and violence for so long that we often forget what it means to surround ourselves with love and compassion. Through Bob’s journey and music, the movie examines the importance of bringing peace, compassion, and forgiveness not just for everyone but also for ourselves. With its themes of peace, unity, and love, “One Love” reminds us that life’s too short to be overshadowed by stupidity and hatred and that only the power of serenity (and reggae music) will set us free.
With so much stuff happening around me and my family, especially for political reasons, I can easily relate to “One Love” regarding its thoughtful themes and Bob’s music. I would even say that everyone else who feels the same way will find plenty to admire from the musical biopic. However, it’s also one of the only elements keeping the movie’s fundamental rhythm from fading out of existence. Regarding its execution and storytelling, “Bob Marley: One Love” is an occasionally safe, by-the-numbers reflection of Marley’s crucial moments of his career that struggled to maintain the tenderness it’s going for. With the movie only focusing on those events, its screenplay had little to work with to make it more than just another simplistic biopic. The heart and soul of Bob Marley exist due to the involvement of Rita Marley and her children, including Ziggy, as the film's producers. However, when it comes to the script, it periodically relies on the genre’s tropes that the previous musical biopics handled better.
The first act was the best part of “One Love,” in my opinion, mainly because of the cast’s charisma and Green’s direction. Reinaldo Marcus Green has demonstrated his potential as a promising filmmaker in the African-American community despite not being on par with his vision in "King Richard". His approach to the musical sequences, settings, and Bob's flashbacks was visually appealing and aesthetically pleasing, particularly in its depiction of 1970s Jamaica. As for the rest of the movie following the Europe tour, the momentum periodically faltered to the point where it relies on its formulaic notes to keep the music playing and the slow pacing engaging. Fortunately for me, the second and third acts had enough enjoyable moments to overcome its narrative setbacks, especially the ending. They’re not terrible, but I wouldn’t call them groundbreaking, either.
In addition to Green’s direction, the film’s cast made a remarkable effort in their performances to capture the characters’ authenticity and soul, mainly Kingsley Ben-Adir. Ben-Adir’s career took off thanks to his roles in “One Night in Miami,” “Barbie,” and Marvel’s “Secret Invasion.” He has been in other films and television shows before the ones I mentioned, but Regina King’s “One Night in Miami” was when I realized Ben-Adir’s potential as an actor. If that’s not enough for you to feel the same way about Ben-Adir, then I have no doubt his performance in “One Love” would make you change your tune. Kingsley Ben-Adir successfully captured the charming persona and humanity of the iconic reggae singer through his acting nuances, especially his Jamaican accent, making him one of the movie’s highlights. Lashana Lynch was also terrific in her performance as Rita Marley, with her scene involving an argument with Bob showcasing her exceptional talent. James Norton and Tosin Cole were also decent as Chris Blackwell and Tyrone Downie, respectively.
Overall, “Bob Marley: One Love” represents the singer’s journey for peace and unity with compassion and charisma, but its storytelling struggled to match the amount of love and boldness as his musical legacy. It is a straightforward and harmless biopic that genuinely pays tribute to Bob Marley as a musician and a person. However, those seeking another exceptional biopic that goes beyond its usual clichés may not find much innovation in its musical structure. I would also say it’s one of the movies that provide enough warmth and happiness to wash people’s troubles away, no matter how significant their flaws are. Kingsley Ben-Adir and Lashana Lynch shine as the Marley couple, and Green’s presentation is a visual and authentic delight. Unfortunately, regarding its formula and hit-and-miss emotional depth, it’s a run-of-the-mill biopic that had a great movie hidden underneath its harmonious surface. If you love Bob Marley and his music, you’re going to enjoy this film more than I did. Just don’t expect it to be another masterpiece for the genre.
“Madame Web” stars Dakota Johnson, Sydney Sweeney, Celeste O’Connor, Isabela Merced, and Tahar Rahim. Released on February 14, 2024, the film has a paramedic with psychic abilities protecting three young women from a nefarious explorer.
The film featured the feature directorial debut of S. J. Clarkson, who also directed the 2010 television film “Toast”. She also helmed episodes of several television shows like “Doctors,” “EastEnders,” “Heroes,” “Dexter,” and “Ugly Betty.” It is based on the Marvel character created by Denny O’Neil and John Romita Jr. It is also the fourth film in Sony’s Spider-Man Universe. It bears repeating that Sony’s business with the web-headed superhero has been booming for years, especially with its recent content, including the Spider-Verse movies and the MCU Spider-Man films. However, its attempt at providing a cinematic universe without our friendly neighborhood Spider-Man has repeatedly proven that anything involving Spider-Man is better than anything involving his adversaries and allies. Despite the misfortunes surrounding its installments, aside from the Venom movies, the studio is still pushing through with this messy blueprint by introducing another character from the Spider-Man lore to cinematic audiences. But unlike the previous installments centered on the villains, this movie focuses on one of the hero’s allies. An ally that can lead spider-people to their chosen destinies. This direction seems like a suitable change of pace for Sony’s “villainous” cinematic universe, but is it enough to get itself off its web of problems? Let’s find out.
The story centers on Cassandra Webb (Johnson), an awkward paramedic in Manhattan with a mysterious past. While on duty, Cassandra has a near-death experience that results in her developing clairvoyant abilities, allowing her to see into the future. However, the future she’s seeing isn’t so bright and dandy, as she can see how and when people will die, including three young women: Julia Cornwall (Sweeney), Mattie Franklin (O’Connor), and Anya Corazon (Merced). Cassandra sees that the women would die at the hands of Ezekiel Sims (Rahim), an enhanced explorer with the same psychic powers as her and a black Spider-Man-stylized suit. With their lives at stake, Cassandra strives to harness her newfound abilities to protect them before their destinies are erased forever.
Regarding my history with the Spider-Man lore, I’ve only remembered Madame Web from the 1990s Spider-Man animated series. Anything else? Zippo. Then again, I haven’t seen much of the character in the other Spider-Man media, so that could be another reason for my lack of experience with her. Regardless, I know her enough to see how this seemingly profound Spider-Lady is portrayed in movie form. While I didn’t have much expectations for “Madame Web,” considering my current feelings toward Sony’s Spider-Man-less universe, I expected it to have enough redeeming qualities to overcome its web of flaws. I was smart enough to find a couple in “Morbius” despite it being overly mediocre, so I had no problem doing the same with “Madame Web”, especially since I’m not a massive comic book fan.
In the comics and the 90s Spider-Man series, Madame Web is portrayed as a blind and paralyzed older woman who’s connected to a life support system and is fully experienced with the Spider-Verse. In the film, she’s changed to a young, ordinary paramedic experiencing her given abilities for the first time. So what we have here is another superhero origin story where a protagonist gains superpowers and goes on a journey of self-discovery while defeating a significant threat. You can pretty much connect the dots on how the plot will turn out, but what matters is the execution. Not only does it need to be at least entertaining, but it also needs to honor the character through her personality and journey. Unfortunately, it lacks the commitment required to accomplish both of those tasks. While it’s not without a few moments that I found slightly tolerable, they’re not enough to save “Madame Web” from its disastrous future.
In addition to being another basic superhero movie, “Madame Web” is also described as a grounded suspense thriller involving Cassandra protecting the three teens and learning about herself. This seemed like an interesting direction on paper, considering the amount of fundamental, high-budget superhero blockbusters we’ve been getting. It would’ve allowed itself to go beyond its superhero tropes and provide a realistic and tension-filled approach to the worn-out genre. But, of course, this is Sony and Marvel we’re talking about. They want to ensure they give audiences the superhero movie they deserve, complete with costumes and CGI. The problem is that audiences want refreshing and exciting ideas from the superhero genre…and good quality. Regarding its formulaic and muddled plot, “Madame Web” showcased that Sony kept neglecting that issue, resulting in something that’s as poisonous as a spider’s venom, and I’m not talking about the symbiote.
But before I talk about what went wrong with “Madame Web”, I want to start with the positives that prevented me from giving it the lowest grade possible. I felt like other people were wasting their breaths focusing on only the negatives of “Madame Web” first, and I didn’t want to be like those party poopers. So, I decided to change things up for this review because why not? One of the elements I somehow enjoyed was Dakota Johnson as Cassandra. Since appearing in the “Fifty Shades” movies, Dakota Johnson has tried to prove herself a reliable actress. Some of her recent projects have been hit-and-miss, but she does appear to be giving it her all to stay relevant. “Madame Web” has Johnson performing a similar feat in the superhero genre regarding her performance as the titular character. It’s far from extraordinary, but Johnson seemed to be the only member of the cast making an effort to carry the movie. Her portrayal of Cassandra’s awkwardness and wit is the only part of the web that isn’t all tangled up like the rest of it. She’s no Robert Downey Jr.’s Iron Man or Benedict Cumberbatch’s Doctor Strange, but she does get brownie points for trying.
But what about the rest of the cast, you ask? Well, they’re not awful, but I wouldn’t call them amazing, either. It sucks, considering the amount of talent involved, including the three actresses playing the potential Spider-Women. Sydney Sweeney, Isabela Merced, and Celeste O’Connor were all fine in their roles as Julia, Anya, and Mattie, respectively. Sadly, due to the direction and script, the chemistry between the three lacked the charm and emotion that most superhero films are known for, especially the MCU. On the bright side, their Spider-Women costumes looked surprisingly decent. Tahar Rahim attempted to provide life to the film’s mediocre antagonist, Ezekiel Sims, but it came off as bland and uninteresting even with his Spider-Man-like abilities. At least Matt Smith’s villain in “Morbius” has moments despite him being forgettable. What’s Ezekiel’s excuse other than not having webs coming out of his hands? If there’s one performance I dislike the most, it’s Kerry Bishé as Cassie’s mother. While she’s only in a couple of scenes, her performance sounded forced and corny.
Another element I found tolerable was the movie’s visuals. I can occasionally tell whether they used CGI, especially from Ezekiel jumping around like Tigger from "Winnie the Pooh". However, the visuals weren’t to the point where it’s overly dated or embarrassingly cheap like in “Expend4bles”. They’re passable for what they’re attempting to accomplish, especially with Cassandra’s powers and the final fight, which I found surprisingly better than “Morbius”. Sure, it follows the typical structure of other superhero movies, but that scene should deserve credit for being slightly diverting. But, of course, those rewards come from sitting through the majority of “Madame Web”, which can be a chore if you’re not as patient as I was.
Part of the movie’s issues was its screenplay. In addition to its formulaic trappings and expositions, “Madame Web” failed to take full advantage of its tension and character depth to provide something unique and enthralling to the genre. It also had a few instances of cheesy dialogue that I didn’t know if they were intentional or not. However, its biggest offender was Cassandra’s arc, which wound up being less interesting than I thought it would be. Besides her past and struggle with her powers, nothing about Cassandra regarding her personal journey stuck for me like a fly on a wall or, in this case, a web. Part of the tension comes from the film’s engaging characters, not just the action and stakes. If you don’t have good character writing, you lose that part of the excitement, leaving the latter two to carry the rest of the weight. As for S. J. Clarkson, I will say that her transition from television to cinema needed more adjustments. While its dark tone is welcoming, Clarkson’s approach to the action and emotional stakes was equivalent to my bathroom towel: rough and dry. If she wants to continue directing feature films, Clarkson would have to take notes of what went wrong in “Madame Web” and improve herself in her next project.
Finally, we have the movie’s editing. Unlike the cons I listed, the editing left me feeling mixed regarding its intention. To give credit where it’s due, it did well in reflecting Cassandra’s unnerving and kinetic peeks into the future. On the other hand, everything else between those sequences was a different story. The reshoots could be the cause of this issue regarding its role in the Spider-Man universe, but besides that, it had a sense of inconsistency that disrupted the film’s flow. As a result, the suspenseful parts feel less exciting and a tad sloppy. The sequence involving Cassandra rescuing a driver from a car hanging off a bridge is one example of this.
Overall, “Madame Web” is an unfortunate fly tangled in a messy web of mediocrity and blandness. Its grounded suspense thriller approach to the superhero genre seemed promising at first glance, and its focus on the Spider-Women instead of the villains was a suitable change of pace for Sony’s Spider-Man Universe. Sadly, those ideas were bogged down by its abysmal execution, resulting in a heavily formulaic and tensionless superhero film that couldn’t stick to the wall longer than it should. Dakota Johnson was a fine fit as the titular character, and the visual effects were passable at best, especially for its final fight. Unfortunately, they couldn’t erase its future of being another cinematic equivalent of getting punched in a gut regarding Sony’s Spider-Man-less franchise.
With this and “Morbius”, it’s clear that the studio lacks the commitment and passion for its Marvel characters that aren’t Spider-Man and Venom. Sure, the “Venom” movies aren’t flawless, but they’re flawed in a fun way. “Morbius” is unintentionally amusing with the right mindset, but “Madame Web”? It…just exists. I’m sure there are a few people who enjoyed it more than I did because I met one who thinks it’s better than “The Marvels”. If so, more power to them. With the upcoming "Kraven the Hunter" and "Venom 3" set to release later this year, Sony needs to make a significant change in direction if they want to continue expanding this universe.
“Lisa Frankenstein” stars Kathryn Newton, Cole Sprouse, Liza Soberano, Henry Eikenberry, Joe Chrest, and Carla Gugino. Released on February 9, 2024, the film is about a teenager reanimating a corpse and forming a relationship with it.
The film featured the directorial debut of Zelda Williams, the daughter of Robin Williams, who directed the short films “Shrimp” and “Kappa Kappa Die”. Valentine’s Day is usually the perfect day to spend quality time with the people you love, whether it’s your romantic partner, sibling, or even your parents. However, some celebrate alone or struggle to find the perfect someone for that particular occasion. In a case like this, if you can’t find the right person, you can just make your own. This young woman has the right idea, but not in the way we expected. We’re kicking off the loveliest week of the year with the romantic-horror-comedy that’s to die for, and I mean that in a literal sense. This film not only puts a modern teen twist on the iconic monster story involving a mad scientist and his undead creature but also has Zelda Williams taking a crack at directing her first feature film. Does it provide the right spark to reinvigorate the rom-com formula, or is this movie better off dead? Let’s find out.
The story centers on Lisa Swallows (Newton), a misunderstood teenage goth girl isolated by everyone due to her estranged personality. She’s reeling over her mother’s death, and her father, Dale (Chrest), remarried a nasty woman named Janet (Gugino). After a disastrous night at a party, Lisa visits a cemetery to speak to the grave of a young Victorian man (Sprouse) whom she’s affectionate with. Suddenly, a bolt of green lightning strikes the grave, resulting in the man being reanimated as a lovesick zombie. As Lisa attempts to hide the creature from the public, she gradually grows love-stricken over the reanimated corpse, leading her to shape him into the man of her dreams with bizarre yet bloody consequences.
Romantic comedies have a surprising lack of horror elements in their substantial list of content, as far as I can remember. The last time we had something involving horror and romance was “Warm Bodies” a few years ago unless I missed a few in between. So, it was nice to see Hollywood deciding to retake this approach because we could all use a little spark in the tried-and-true love story. Rom-coms are like pieces of chocolate. You know what to expect from the taste, and they could be unhealthy if consumed too many times, but we can’t help but savor them because of how much goodness they bring. But in some cases, it doesn’t hurt to try other refreshing flavors of the same brand. This brings us to “Lisa Frankenstein”, one of the only times I was interested in a romantic comedy. Of course, what better day to watch it than on Valentine’s Day...all by myself? But the real question I should ask is whether the movie is decent enough to watch regardless of the day. After watching it myself, I would say it’s definitely an experience that’s bizarrely affectionate but surprisingly flawed.
“Lisa Frankenstein” is one of the movies that attempt to provide intriguing risks to its fundamental rom-com appeal regarding its presentation and story. The movie is supposedly regarded as a callback to the classic horror comedies of the 1980s with a dash of Mary Shelly’s Frankenstein to boot. So, while the movie has some hints of romance between a goth girl and a mute zombie, it primarily relies on cheesy dark comedy regarding the dialogue and kills. However, what lies underneath its kooky 80s-centered surface is a reflection of depression, mental health, and love, mainly from its main characters. For the former two, Lisa is portrayed as a misunderstood teenager who is isolated and distant from others. She uses her unusual behavior to mask her internal sorrow over the loss of her mother. This often leads people to misconstrue her actions and label her as mentally unstable. For the latter, it centers on “The Creature” searching for companionship in a new environment. On paper, these ideas could make for a uniquely outlandish and even heartfelt addition to the multi-genre trend. However, when put together on the screen, it became a mishmash of different body parts that may not impress everyone due to its execution.
That’s not to say that the effort wasn’t there, as “Lisa Frankenstein” offered what’s expected from the marketing. It’s a kooky, darkly humorous love story packed with compelling young talents and a promising directorial style from Zelda Williams. It’s that the movie struggled to balance its ghoulishly dark premise with thought-provoking themes and bold narrative choices to make it stand out from other horror comedies that inspired it. The concept was occasionally fun to witness, which I’ll give it credit for. However, when it slows down to showcase its other elements more often than watching a zombified Cole Sprouse murder people with an axe, its spark surprisingly flickers more than it shines, mainly due to its pacing. To Williams’s credit, though, her narrative approach fits the 80s aesthetics quite nicely regarding the presentation, charm, and humor. But I will also say that she’s got a long way to go to find herself a diamond in the rough.
Like Williams’s direction, the screenplay in “Lisa Frankenstein” was surprisingly hit-and-miss for me. The film was the latest to be written by Diablo Cody, best known by horror fans for her work on “Jennifer’s Body”. However, she’s also known for writing the cinematic gems “Juno” and “Tully”. Regarding its approach to its genre elements, “Lisa Frankenstein” is far from a classic like “Juno”, but it had enough solid moments to counteract most of its shortcomings, mainly its humor. It also had a few narrative choices that may not sit well with the audience it’s aiming for, including the ending, which struggled to justify the themes it introduced. I’m pretty sure some people might not mind its conclusion, but I struggle to jive with it.
Besides the humor, the other element that brought “Lisa Frankenstein” to life was its cast, especially the two leads. Kathryn Newton continues her superb winning streak with another entertaining performance. This time, she honed her skills to portray Lisa’s offbeat and misunderstood persona that’s as amusingly strange as the movie’s tone. Cole Sprouse had a task of manifesting muted acting regarding his role of “The Creature”, in which he expresses his personality and emotion through actions instead of words. The result was another impressive accomplishment from the former Disney star/Sprouse twin, which had him utilizing these techniques to convey the essence of the Victorian zombie with subtlety and nuance. Liza Soberano was also decent as Taffy, Lisa’s kind step-sister, and Carla Gugino did well in making me want to punch Janet in the face regarding her performance.
Overall, “Lisa Frankenstein” puts a suitable jolt into its romantic-horror-comedy vibes but lacks a bright enough spark to maintain its life throughout its runtime. While it’s admirable in combining its gothically uncanny concept with its themes and 80s aesthetics, it doesn’t offer anything else in between those elements to justify this balance. Despite being restricted by its teen rating, its cast, presentation, and dark humor are enjoyable enough to warrant a rewatch. Unfortunately, Diablo Cody’s average screenplay and pacing prevented it from being a surprise hit worth reanimating. If you like the two main leads and want something unique and kooky in the tried-and-true love story, the movie's worth watching on a streaming service. Would I also call it a date night movie? Well, it’ll likely depend on whether your partner is into goths and a lovesick zombie with an axe.
“Orion and the Dark” stars Jacob Tremblay, Paul Walter Hauser, Angela Bassett, Colin Hanks, Natasia Demetriou, Nat Faxon, Ike Barinholtz, Carla Gugino, and Werner Herzog. Released on Netflix on February 2, 2024, the film has a young, anxious boy encountering the embodiment of the dark.
The film featured the directorial debut of Sean Charmatz, known for directing “Pinky Malinky” and “Trolls Holiday in Harmony”. He’s also a story artist for projects like “The SpongeBob SquarePants Movie,” “Penguins of Madagascar,” and “Trolls.” It is based on the children’s book by Emma Yarlett. Everyone has a phobia of something, such as heights, spiders, clowns, and accidentally walking into school without wearing pants. However, if there’s one fear we all remember the most, it’s the dark. There’s just something about being surrounded by nothing but blackness that makes us feel on edge, especially since you can’t see anything. It can often lead to your mind thinking something monstrous or dangerous is hiding within the darkness, waiting for the right moment to strike. But what if that something is actually the dark itself, and it happens to be far from monstrous? The answer to that question resides in the latest animated feature from Netflix and DreamWorks Animation, making this their latest collaboration since the “Tales of Arcadia” finale movie, “Trollhunters: Rise of the Titans,” in 2021. Before we reunite with the world’s favorite martial arts panda for the fourth time next month, we’re starting DreamWorks Animation’s 2024 slate with a straight-to-streaming movie involving everyone’s favorite phobia. Is it an entertaining selection for families to help them conquer the dark, or are we better off sleeping with the lights on? Let’s find out.
The story centers on Orion (Tremblay), a young elementary school boy. Orion is a shy, ordinary kid who’s also highly anxious about many things, including bees, the ocean, and everything you can think of that can make him cower in fear like Courage the Cowardly Dog. However, what terrorizes Orion the most is the dark, especially nighttime, similar to every other kid. One night, Orion gets an unexpected visit from the literal embodiment of his phobia, Dark (Hauser), who plans to show Orion the joys and wonders of the night. As Orion and Dark encounter many different embodiments during their adventure, Orion faces the decision between letting fear control his life or embracing the joy of living.
This film had plenty of potential qualities that immediately captured my attention. Along with its voice cast, “Orion and the Dark” follows DreamWorks Animation’s basic formula of turning simple yet relatable concepts into all-ages entertainment with good to great storytelling. It works for most of its films like “Shrek,” “Kung Fu Panda,” and “How to Train Your Dragon.” Others like “Spirit Untamed” and “Ruby Gillman”? Not so much. The other is its screenwriter, Charlie Kaufman, who’s no stranger to animation after previously written and directed the fantastic “Anomalisa” in 2015. Regarding his track record, it gave me hope that he would deliver something special from its straightforward plot about a kid being paranoid over everything. These elements made “Orion and the Dark” one of my must-see movies of the year, even by Netflix standards. After finally watching it, I’m happy to say that it met almost all of my expectations. While far from perfect, “Orion and the Dark” is undoubtedly DreamWorks at its best for its animation style and storytelling.
What I love about DreamWorks Animation is the company’s awareness of its target audience. They don’t just focus on making full-length cartoons for the younger demographic like Illumination does nowadays. They’re making animated movies for all demographics, including children and adults. While DreamWorks has its share of harmless, kid-friendly entertainment like “Trolls” and “Turbo”, the studio also provides movies that effectively balance their family-friendly scenarios with mature themes and comedy that adults and their children would understand. Some of the best examples that come to mind are “Shrek,” “Kung Fu Panda 2”, and “Puss in Boots: The Last Wish.” Based on my experience with “Orion and the Dark,” I would gladly add this film to the category of movies that are highly suitable for kids and adults. Young audiences would easily bask in the childlike imagination and Studio Ghibli-inspired wonder of its environments and imaginative characters, while older viewers will find a lot more to embrace in its seemingly straightforward plot.
The most crucial person who made “Orion and the Dark” a surprising success in my eyes was Charlie Kaufman. While he didn’t direct the film, as that role went to Sean Charmatz, Kaufman still has his fingerprints all over it through his screenplay. Kaufman has a very bizarre imagination regarding his filmography as a filmmaker and a screenwriter. However, his surrealist mind makes his metaphoric approach to universal themes uniquely intriguing. I’ve only seen three of his films before “Orion”: “Anomalisa,” “Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind,” and “I’m Thinking of Ending Things.” After watching “Orion,” I would put it above “Ending Things” and below “Anomalisa” regarding my favorite movies from Kaufman. This is mainly due to his screenplay, which went beyond its traditional children’s movie narrative to depict its topic of fear faithfully.
“Orion and the Dark” receives credit for providing a family-friendly metaphor of the functions of day and night, but its true selling point is how fear plays a role in our lives. Fear is not something to eliminate but to acknowledge and find the strength to overcome. The movie showcases Orion learning to appreciate the beauty the dark can bring outside of pure blackness, insomnia, and creepy noises. But more importantly, he’s learning to control his fear to live a better life for himself. The only issue I had with the film was that it had a couple of rushed moments that could’ve been expanded more regarding its character relationships, mainly Orion and the Night embodiments. Besides that, Kaufman has crafted a superb screenplay packed with fun and relatable characters, thoughtful themes, and witty humor, with Sleep (Demetriou) being one of the comedy’s highlights.
“Orion and the Dark” also comes packed with remarkable talents, which is expected by DreamWorks Animation standards. Jacob Tremblay takes center stage as the film’s protagonist, Orion, the boy who’s afraid of everything. Tremblay has had a very successful career that started with his tremendous performance in 2015’s “Room,” and his vocal performance in “Orion and the Dark” showed that his future is still looking bright. Tremblay has been involved in voice acting in his previous animated outings like “Luca” and “My Father’s Dragon,” so this movie shows that he’s been improving on bringing his imaginative characters to life. Paul Walter Hauser was also very delightful regarding his performance as the imposing yet charismatic Dark, which makes me happy that he’s still getting more work. Angela Bassett and Natasia Demetriou were also wonderful as Sweet Dreams and Sleep, respectively, especially the latter because Sleep has the best uses of adult humor. You’ll know what I mean when you watch it yourself.
Finally, we have the film’s animation produced by Mikros Animation. Mikros Animation and DreamWorks Animation have previously collaborated on “Captain Underpants: The First Epic Movie,” a movie that offered some of the best uses of stylized cartoon animation. So, it made sense why the companies reunited for “Orion and the Dark.” While it’s not as heavily stylized and comic book-y as “Captain Underpants,” the film easily compensates for them with its character designs and radiant environments. It emphasized the childhood imagination we usually get from bedtime stories through its visual designs and storytelling while balancing them with humor, something that the “Boss Baby” movies struggled to deliver. The animation further showcased DreamWorks Animation not letting fear prevent the company from experimenting with different styles, which resulted in films like “The Bad Guys,” “Trolls,” and “Puss in Boots” becoming financial and critical successes. Hopefully, we’ll see more of this variety from DreamWorks later down the road.
Overall, “Orion and the Dark” conquers its fear of transcending beyond its typical kid-friendly formula by providing a witty and entertaining reflection of one of life’s biggest phobias. Despite some rushed moments, the movie is DreamWorks at its finest regarding its narrative and presentation standards. What seemed like another straightforward cartoon made to distract kids at home is actually a clever, ambitious, and joyous fantasy adventure that everyone of all ages can sit down and enjoy. With its delightful voice cast, great animation, witty humor, and superb script, “Orion and the Dark” is a surprisingly impressive way to kick off DreamWorks Animation’s 2024 slate, with the upcoming “Kung Fu Panda 4” hoping to continue this successful streak. It’s worth checking out on Netflix, especially if you enjoy Charlie Kaufman’s previous works.
“Argylle” stars Henry Cavill, Bryce Dallas Howard, Sam Rockwell, Bryan Cranston, Catherine O’Hara, Dua Lipa, Ariana DeBose, John Cena, and Samuel L. Jackson. Released on February 2, 2024, the film has a novelist getting caught in the espionage world.
The film was directed by Matthew Vaughn, who also directed films such as “Layer Cake,” “Kick-Ass,” “X-Men: First Class,” and “Kingsman: The Secret Service.” Writing novels can bring out endless possibilities in a writer’s mind, especially ones involving spies and secret organizations. However, one book reveals a possibility so real that it’s impossible for anyone to believe. After two weeks of January boredom, we’re finally getting to the good stuff that will hopefully take 2024 by storm. That is if they’re actually good. The streak starts with the latest action-packed film from Matthew Vaughn that introduces audiences to a new spy world that literally jumps right off the pages. It’s no “Kingsman 3,” but anything involving Vaughn and Cavill’s hairstyle is an automatic must-see for me. It’ll keep us occupied until the filmmaker finishes up with the long-awaited continuation of the "Kingsman" franchise, but is it also another bonafide start of a new spy franchise from Vaughn? Let’s find out.
The story centers on Elly Conway (Howard), a reclusive spy novelist. Elly has recently finished her latest book in the eponymous spy series involving its most handsome spy, Agent Argylle (Cavill). However, she eventually gets writer’s block while attempting to finish her next novel. During her train ride to her parents’ house, she encounters a stranger named Aidan (Rockwell), who reveals himself to be an actual spy before saving her from an ambush. Aiden then explains that Elly has become the target of a mysterious organization called the Division, led by Ritter (Cranston), who believes that Elly’s novels can predict the future. Hoping that her creativity can help him defeat the Division, Aiden recruits Elly on a globe-trotting adventure to save the world and provide a happy ending to her larger-than-life book.
“Argylle” had a pretty interesting history leading up to its release that captured my intrigue. It was initially based on an “unpublished” novel written by Elly Conway, who everyone believed existed as a real person and later as Taylor Swift’s pen name. However, those theories were eventually debunked, making the movie completely original. Honestly, that would’ve been as wild as the movie itself if those turned out to be accurate. It can’t hurt to dream. Regardless of its history, it’s enough to be ecstatic for another fun and crazy spy-related ride, especially one from Matthew Vaughn, who’s had a healthy track record since 2010’s “Kick-Ass”. But, of course, as the old saying goes, there’s more to a fun cinematic ride than just the action and visuals.
“Argylle” is a teen-rated version of “Kingsman” regarding its spy action comedy elements, ridiculous fight scenes, and an ordinary person entering the espionage world. However, its story has its own flavor that kept it from being the director’s rip-off of his other spy franchise. One reason is the twists because you can’t have a spy movie without a surprise or two…or three. The best thing I could say about them without giving them away is that they may not impress everyone expecting what the trailers and poster suggested. Personally, I thought they were fine enough to provide more intrigue in its story and characters, even if they were a tad overdone. While I found one of them more predictable than the others, the film’s surprises emphasized Elly’s character arc involving her learning to write her own story in her life. Jason Fuchs’s screenplay may not hit all the bullseyes regarding its story beats and twists. However, it did provide enough entertainment, humor, and energy to rejuvenate its seemingly fundamental plot.
The movie’s energy comes from Matthew Vaughn’s vision. Vaughn is another filmmaker who deserves the credit he’s getting due to his stylistic presentation. His visual creativity in the action scenes and transitions is a smoothie full of vibrancy and slickness that’s delectable enough to consume, and I do love me some smoothies. He’s also not without his approach to the comedic and subtly heartfelt moments involving the characters and over-the-top action. They’re why I enjoyed some of his previous films like “First Class” and “Kingsman: The Secret Service”. Vaughn knew how to make an action movie exhilarating and as stylishly gorgeous as Dua Lipa’s dress, and his direction in “Argylle” is another example of that. The humor was nicely woven together with the action, but I think it would be even better if it focused more on the meta elements involving its tropes. That way, the movie's number of twists would be more forgiving. As for the action scenes, they’re unsurprisingly diverting and expectedly ridiculous despite some of the visual effects looking a tad rough, especially in the first act.
Unfortunately, there’s bound to be a weakness hiding within Vaughn’s strengths, which happens to be the length. Vaughn’s previous two “Kingsman” movies suffered a bit from their overstuffed two-hour-plus runtimes, mainly “The Golden Circle”, which clocked in at a jaw-dropping two hours and 20 minutes. While I still consider them entertaining, they did overstay their welcome with their concepts. Sadly, Vaughn still hasn’t learned that lesson in “Argylle” due to its two-hour-and-19-minute runtime. While the pacing is consistent enough to keep my attention, the movie didn’t have a good reason to be as long as Elly’s novel franchise, especially since it didn’t have many more creative ideas to fill its remaining voids.
But what about its all-star cast, you ask? Were some of its well-known actors charming enough to make “Argylle” more watchable? The simple answer to those questions is a resounding “yes”. Sam Rockwell is the best of the bunch, in my opinion. Rockwell’s charismatic acting skills perfectly fit the role of Aidan, an impatient yet caring spy sent to help Elly. He’s hilarious to watch regarding the dialogue, and his chemistry with Bryce Dallas Howard, who was also good as Elly, was a genuine eye-opener. Henry Cavill and John Cena were also solid additions to the cast as Argylle and Wyatt, respectively, despite not being in the movie as much as Elly and Aidan. Bryan Cranston as Ritter was a mildly diverting antagonist, and Samuel L. Jackson never fails to impress me regarding his performance as Alfred Solomon.
Overall, “Argylle” is a stylistic and mildly entertaining approach to the spy genre that’s as delightful as reading a good book or, in this case, a spy novel. It’s far from refreshing regarding its hit-and-miss screenplay and overdone twists, and its runtime can be excessive. Besides that, this is another spy movie that accomplished its objective of being a fun yet flawed action-packed ride that’s visually impressive and humorously enjoyable. Thanks to its decent cast, Vaughn’s direction, solid humor, and energetic action, the film is another worthy addition to the popular spy genre that’s as well-cut as Argylle’s hair. It’s worth a watch if you’re a fan of the actors and the spy genre, but make sure you lower your expectations just in case.