“The Art of Racing in the Rain” stars Milo Ventimiglia, Amanda Seyfried, Kathy Baker, Martin Donovan, Gary Cole, and Kevin Costner. Released on August 9, 2019, the film chronicles a dog and his relationship with his human family.
The film is directed by Simon Curtis, who also directed films such as “My Week with Marilyn”, “Woman in Gold”, and “Goodbye Christopher Robin”. It is based on the 2008 novel of the same name by Garth Stein. 2019 has been a pretty solid year for dog lovers when it comes to film. We had a film back in January about a dog attempting to find its way home, and then later on, we had a film that continues the adventures of a reincarnating canine. Now, we have another dog-related film that’s a bit more dramatic than the ones I mentioned. Despite the fact that most of the films that involve dog-and-human relationships aren’t exactly critical darlings, they always have the tendency to impress a ton of people who have strong connections to their four-legged companions. From the looks of the marketing, it appears that this latest family drama could be another suitable addition to the list of sentimental dog films. Since I already reviewed the last two talking dog films this year, it wouldn’t make sense to me if I didn’t give this one a shot as well. Knowing that my mother and I are passionate dog people (in case you forgot), it’s just something that I refuse to avoid.
Told from the perspective of a dog named Enzo (voiced by award winner Kevin Costner), the story showcases the ups and downs of race car driver Denny Swift (Ventimiglia), from adopting Enzo to raising his family with his wife Eve (Seyfried). Enzo’s mission is to make sure that his human family stays strong during their rough times. You know, like any other dog would do for their owners. I can already tell that this film is similar to “A Dog’s Purpose”, “A Dog’s Way Home”, and "A Dog's Journey" for a couple of reasons. It has a dog narrating his thoughts and feelings towards its human owners along with plenty of moments that were as emotional as the ones from “This is Us”. You know, I’m surprised that they haven’t made an anthology series based on this concept yet. It obviously followed the same pattern as the film adaptations of W. Bruce Cameron’s novels in terms of its concept and emotional beats, and I was OK with it. When it comes to the story, it had a difficult time preventing itself from being a bit too sappy in some cases. There were a couple of times where I got teary-eyed by its thought-provoking and heartfelt bond between Enzo and Denny’s family, but everything else was shoehorned down my throat instead of allowing these things to flow like the wind. The film also had some trouble with its pacing. It’s an hour and 50 minutes long, but it felt like it was over two hours long, which may make young kids feel a bit uneasy. Luckily, it didn’t impact Simon Curtis’ passionate storytelling in a bad way. I was really invested in this story because these things could happen to just about everybody, whether they’re good or bad. It’s far from perfect, but it had the right amount of charm and heart to make any dog lover feel proud of their doggie friends. Milo Ventimiglia and Amanda Seyfried were both great together as Denny and Eve, respectively. Their chemistry was one of the elements that held the film together for me because…well, it’s just so darn cute. If I have a relationship like that, that would be awesome. Kevin Costner was a hit-and-miss as the voice of Enzo. On the one hand, he did a nice job at narrating the story. On the other hand, there were some moments where he sounded like he got up at three in the morning to record his lines. No offense to Mr. Costner, but I prefer Josh Gad’s narration from “A Dog’s Purpose” and “A Dog’s Journey” since he brought plenty of fun and energy into voicing the dog’s inner thoughts.
Overall, “The Art of Racing in the Rain” is exactly what you would expect from a dog-related family drama: Overly sentimental, but admittedly touching. It’s not going to win any awards due to its flawed emotional beats, but it’s heartwarming enough for me to recommend it to those who are in a mood for something that’ll make them both happy and sad. This is another film that represents one of the reasons why dogs exist with us. They bring us together during the good days and even the bad days. They comfort us whether we’re glad, upset, or even depressed. They can be a handful, no doubt about that, but in times of need, they’re always there to support you, no matter what. It’s not a groundbreaking portrayal of the concept, but it does show that a dog’s love is one of the things that make a family bond stronger than steel.
“Scary Stories to Tell in the Dark” stars Zoe Colletti, Michael Garza, Austin Abrams, Gabriel Rush, Austin Zajur, Natalie Ganzhorn, and Dean Norris. Released on August 9, 2019, the film is about a group of teens who discover a series of sinister events in their hometown.
The film is directed by André Øvredal, who also directed “Trollhunter” and “The Autopsy of Jane Doe”, and it is based on the children’s book series of the same name by Alvin Schwartz. Remember the glory days when people used to sit around the campfire and make each other pee their pants with their scary stories? Well, what if those scary stories were actually more than just myths? Now that would’ve make people pee and poop their pants. Since its debut in 1981, the “Scary Stories” book series has terrified (and impressed) readers for years with its series of disturbing tales and images even though they are considered to be inappropriate for young kids. If there’s one thing I know about Hollywood nowadays, it’s that whenever there’s something in the past that’s popular and nostalgic, whether it’s a show or a book, they translate it onto the big screen for a new generation of fans. “Scary Stories” unsurprisingly fits into that category. I personally haven’t read the books myself because I’m more of a “Goosebumps” type of guy, but from what I heard, it’s probably for the best. Because of this, I will be reviewing it as its own without comparing it to the source material.
Instead of taking the anthology route like the source material, the film goes for the traditional narrative route by having the main characters encounter the creatures that originated from the book series. This is a similar strategy that the film adaptation of "Goosebumps" used less than four years ago. The only difference is that "Scary Stories" is actually a bit more scarier than funny. Even though the film is rated PG-13, it has plenty of frightening moments that might haunt the young kids in their dreams. If you read the books yourself, you'll know exactly what I'm talking about. Aside from that, is it any good? As a newcomer, I would say that it's a respectable introduction in terms of the style, while everything else is anything but nerve-wrecking. Like I mentioned before, the film’s plot is reminiscent to the 2015 film adaptation of “Goosebumps”, with some differences, of course. If you’ve seen “Goosebumps”, you might be able to point out a couple of similarities in “Scary Stories”. Thankfully, unlike the creepy scarecrow, it didn’t take a nasty beating from this minor setback. The only issue I had with the story was the lack of balance between fright and substance. It’s a standard horror film that relied a bit too much on its formula rather than representing something that strongly illustrates the power of stories to go along with the scares. If you don’t care that much about the story, you might enjoy it for its creepy, yet enjoyable, moments. Otherwise, the plot is nothing too special. The main cast in the film did what they could to provide some likability into their characters, which is one of the problematic issues that the current horror films have been facing today. For the most part, they were pretty decent, especially Zoe Colletti and Michael Garza as Stella and Ramon, respectively. However, that doesn’t mean that their characters are worth remembering. As usual, the main characters (Stella and Ramon) were the only ones that are worth caring about, while the supporting characters serve as horror bait with little to no character development. It’s Horror Film 101. There’s also a plot element involving Stella’s strained relationship with her father (played by Dean Norris) that didn’t exactly go anywhere for me. I think if they expand on that a bit more in the midst of the film’s ghoulish shenanigans, it would’ve provide some more depth into Stella as well as her father rather than have him in the film with nothing to do. There were also some scenes where some of the characters attempt to inject some humor into the film’s dark tone. The humor kind of helped in terms of preventing the film from being 100% grim, but like its characters, it’s not worth remembering. To give credit where credit is due, the style that was represented in the film was actually quite impressive. From its spooky atmospheric settings to the surprisingly terrifying creature designs, André Øvredal successfully honored the qualities that made the book series disturbing in the first place. As someone who hasn’t read the books, I was honestly pleased at how scary the film looked. The other issues I had with “Scary Stories” is the pacing and its overuse of dimly-lighted environments. This is the type of horror film that took its time to move things along and explore some of its characters a bit more rather than zooming right along like the Flash. While it’s not as painfully slow as “Midsommar”, it could test some people’s patience with its amount of non-scary filler, especially its first act. The film also had a few scenes that have darkly-lit environments, which might make things hard to see what’s going on. My personal advice for something like this? Don’t watch it in the daylight.
Overall, “Scary Stories to Tell in the Dark” offers plenty of creeps and thrills that might satisfy fans of the source material, but its story failed to be as terrifying as the source material's iconic creatures themselves. André Øvredal’s filmmaking style worked very well with the film’s concept even though its formulaic plot and weak characters prevented it from reaching out towards newcomers. It’s a teen-rated version of “Goosebumps” that knows what it’s supposed to be for the fans, no more, no less.
“Dora and the Lost City of Gold” stars Isabela Moner, Eugenio Derbez, Michael Peña, Eva Longoria, Danny Trejo, and Benicio del Toro. Releasing on August 9, 2019, the film is about a teenager who sets out to rescue her family and solve the mystery behind a lost Inca civilization.
The film is directed by James Bobin, who also directed “The Muppets” and “Alice Through the Looking Glass”. It is based on the Nickelodeon show, “Dora the Explorer”, created by Chris Gifford, Valerie Walsh Valdes, and Eric Weiner. It’s pretty common nowadays that our favorite cartoons get their chance to shine on the big screen, especially the ones that were shown on the Nickelodeon channel. Similar to their journey on television, Nickelodeon has its share of hits and misses in the film industry since it founded Nickelodeon Movies in 1996. In addition to other adaptations and original projects, Nickelodeon has produced several film adaptations of their popular cartoons such as “Rugrats”, “Hey Arnold!”, “The Wild Thornberrys”, and “Spongebob Squarepants”. While some of them were mildly successful in terms of box office and/or critical reception, others were pretty much the opposite, with the live-action adaptation of “Avatar: The Last Airbender” being the prime example. That one still caused a great amount of pain to the “Avatar” fanbase, even to this day. This year, Nickelodeon is taking another crack at turning another animated cartoon from their library into a live-action film. The one I’m talking about is “Dora the Explorer”. I’m not joking. Instead of choosing something like “Ren & Stimpy” or “CatDog” or even “Danny Phantom” out of all things, they decided to turn a preschool show from the early 2000s into a feature-length theatrical film. Better late than never, I guess. For those who haven’t heard of the source material, “Dora the Explorer” is an educational program for preschoolers that premiered on Nickelodeon in August 2000 and chronicles the magical misadventures of a young Latina girl and her monkey companion who likes to wear red boots. Along the way, they enlist the help of the viewing audience to solve puzzles that involve riddles, Spanish, and counting. It became one of the longest-running shows that aired on its Nick Jr. block, running for a total of eight seasons. Its success lead to the creation of multiple merchandises, like toys and video games, as well as a spin-off series that centered on Dora’s cousin Diego (“Go, Diego, Go!”) and a sequel series that followed a 10-year-old Dora (“Dora and Friends: Into the City”). This is another show that I usually watched during my childhood, whether I’m at home or at a friend’s house. Whenever I’m not watching something that involves cartoon violence and slapstick, I turn on some shows that act as teachers and entertainers, and “Dora the Explorer” is one of them. It inspired me to take Spanish class in high school and taught me how to solve challenges and fend off thieving foxes. Isn’t television great, kids? When I first heard that they’re making a film adaptation of the show, the first thing that came to my mind was this: How are they going to make this work? How are they supposed to turn a harmless educational cartoon that involves the main character breaking the fourth wall and talking to the viewers into a full-length film? Well, based on what I saw from the marketing, it looks like I have the answer, but is it worth watching for the “Dora” fanbase and the newcomers? Let’s find out.
The story serves as a continuation of the Nickelodeon series, in which a teenage Dora (Moner) transitions from being a jungle explorer to being an ordinary teen when her parents (played by Peña and Longoria, respectively) send her off to high school. Dora’s new life outside the jungle cuts extremely short when she discovers that a group of baddies are searching for an ancient civilization. It’s up to her and her monkey friend Boots (Trejo), along with a couple of high school teens and her cousin Diego (Jeff Wahlberg), to find the lost city first and protect it from the bad guys. In other words, it’s “Tomb Raider” for kids. I can already tell that the story is almost similar to the concept of “Tomb Raider” based on the trailers alone. Just give Dora some pistols and remove the CGI animals and boom! Nickelodeon’s “Tomb Raider”, coming this fall to your local television. The film combines several elements from the source material with a fish-out-of-water story that represents its message about being yourself, which is respectable for its target audience. For everybody else, it has its moments, but it isn’t something that’s worth exploring again. The most redeeming quality of “Dora” is Isabela Moner’s portrayal as the title character. Dora is always known as someone who displays a positive influence to her fans with her adventurous attitude and her sense of curiosity, and the film recognized that. When I first saw Moner as Dora in the trailer, I had a good feeling that she’s going to be the best part of the film, whether the storyline is good or not. After seeing it for myself, I’m happy to say that I wasn’t disappointed. She perfectly resembled Dora in terms of her look and her mannerisms. The other actors were pretty decent in their roles, especially Peña and Longoria as Dora’s parents and Jeff Wahlberg as Diego. Eugenio Derbez was a bit of a head-scratcher for me. Not just because of his mediocre performance as Alejandro Gutierrez, but also because of his character. He only served as comic relief for the little ones in the most obnoxious way possible, and his big reveal near the third act wasn’t actually that surprising. Either it’s because I saw it coming a mile away or it’s because I didn’t really care about this character that much. It might be both. The film’s plot is obviously harmless, silly, and full of charm, even though it had some pacing issues during a few scenes. The major issue with the story is how overly cliched, bland, and predictable it can get after the first 10 minutes or so. It’s almost like the film took every single page out of several books that deal with fish-out-of-water films and adventure films and plastered them all over the place. I understand that it’s a film for young kids and if they like how it turns out, that’s entirely fine, but I feel that certain people aren’t going to be too happy with a by-the-numbers family film that relies on gags that are aimed towards small kids. Another issue I had was the film’s use of CGI, particularly for Boots (Trejo) and Swiper the Fox (del Toro). I wouldn’t say that it’s “made-for-television” bad, but there were a couple of times where the CGI rendering was very noticeable. I actually didn’t mind the CGI design for Swiper and Boots since they’re somewhat accurate to their 2D counterparts, although I’m not a big fan of the latter when he smiles. My God, it’s like he was staring into my soul with his creepy smile. I might need to sleep with the lights on tonight.
Overall, “Dora and the Lost City of Gold” may serve as a tolerable diversion for young kids, but it offers nothing new to its by-the-numbers exploration trip other than a backpack full of nostalgia. Isabela Moner did a terrific job as the title character and director James Bobin did a respectable job at keeping the film’s kid-friendly charm consistent. However, they’re not enough to make this journey as exciting as they wanted it to be. From its cliched story to its overabundance of obnoxious kid-friendly humor, this latest Nickelodeon film adaptation may have worked best as a made-for-television film for the channel. On the bright side, it didn’t reach the same level of “terrible” as “The Last Airbender”. If you’re one of the people who grew up watching “Dora the Explorer”, I would say it’s worth watching for the nostalgia and Moner’s performance. Otherwise, it’s more of a “rent it” type of film.
“Fast & Furious Presents: Hobbs & Shaw” stars Dwayne Johnson, Jason Statham, Idris Elba, Vanessa Kirby, and Helen Mirren. Released on August 2, 2019, the film has Luke Hobbs teaming up with Deckard Shaw to take down a cyber-genetically enhanced terrorist.
The film is directed by David Leitch, who also directed “Atomic Blonde” and “Deadpool 2”, and it is a spin-off of the “Fast & Furious” film series. Whenever there’s a franchise that’s as popular as a boy band from the 90s, there’s a strong chance that the folks from Hollywood are going to do what they can to keep that popularity alive, even if it means creating spin-offs that involve scene-stealing side characters. Oddly enough, “The Fast and the Furious” is the latest franchise to get that same treatment, one that focuses on two characters that can get on each other’s nerves in a matter of seconds. No, I’m not talking about Roman Pierce and Tej Parker (although that would be a cool concept to watch), I’m talking about tough-as-nails Luke Hobbs and former mercenary Deckard Shaw. The chemistry between Johnson and Statham marks as one of the main highlights that lead “Furious 7” and “The Fate of the Furious” to box office glory, so it’s no surprise that Hollywood wanted to take advantage of that while it’s still fresh on everybody’s minds. Unfortunately, this caused the ninth main installment of the franchise to be delayed until 2020, which resulted in a feud between Johnson and some of the main cast. While they’re all in good terms now, it doesn’t exactly mean that Johnson will be invited back to their next family outing. You know what they say, it was fun while it lasted. This was on the top of my list of films to see this month for obvious reasons. For those who don’t know, I’ve been a fan of the franchise since I first saw “Fast & Furious” in the theater a decade ago, and so far, I enjoyed the direction that these films are taking right now, more so than others. Another reason is Dwayne Johnson and Jason Statham, enough said. With that said, let’s see if this spin-off is as fast and furious as the main installments.
Taking place two years after the events of “The Fate of the Furious”, the film has Hobbs (Johnson) and Deckard Shaw (Statham) going their separate ways. When they are informed that Shaw’s sister Hattie (Kirby) is on the run with a deadly virus that can wipe out the entire population, the unlikely duo are going to have to team up once again in order to protect her from Brixton Lore (Elba), a rogue MI6 agent with cyber-genetic technology that enhances his physical abilities. If you’ve been following the franchise since the release of “Fast Five”, you’ll immediately know what you’re getting yourself into for “Hobbs & Shaw”. Fast cars, stunts that defy the laws of physics, criminal masterminds, you name it, this film has it. The only difference in this film is that we have a “Black Superman” as the main villain rather than an ordinary human being. It’s the usual formula that made the recent “Fast & Furious” installments idiotically insane, but simply entertaining. If it ain’t broke, don’t fix it, am I right? Like the recent “Fast & Furious” films, the plot in “Hobbs & Shaw” was simple and filled with unimaginable silliness that’ll make your eyes roll a bunch of times, but its attempt at expanding the main characters and staying true to the franchise’s main theme, which is the importance of family, was as satisfying as attending a family reunion. However, its predictability and its average storytelling made this spin-off a small step backwards from the last two “Fast & Furious” installments. Despite that, the film still retained the fun and excitement that I came to expect from something that has “Fast & Furious” in the title. This is mostly due to the irresistible chemistry between Johnson and Statham. These two actors made “Furious 7” and “The Fate of the Furious” what they were in terms of their humorous wordplay. “Hobbs & Shaw” gave them enough playtime to put some more spice into their bickering, and the final result was nothing but pure poetry. There were plenty of hilarious and action-packed moments between the two that could give Roman and Tej a run for their money, which is what made the “Fast & Furious” films work for me. It’s the mixture of comedy and action that made my heart race and my soul laugh with joy. David Leitch is no stranger to this type of stuff since he directed last year’s “Deadpool 2”, another film that mixes comedy with action, and it shows, proving to me once again that he’s the right man for the job when it comes to something like this. As for the rest of the cast, I would say that Vanessa Kirby did a fine job at keeping up with the two main stars as Hattie, and Idris Elba was a delight to watch as Brixton. While Brixton came off as a cliched antagonist that you would see from a superhero film or comic book, I was happy to see that Elba was having a lot of fun playing the bad guy. The next thing I want to talk about is the action. Again, there were a lot of sequences that were nonsensical to a fault, but I can’t help but appreciate the nonsense that was shown in the film, mostly because that they're not meant to be taken seriously. The action sequences were nicely choreographed and very entertaining, especially the Samoa sequence in the third act. That one was definitely a heart-pounder. As for its flaws, I already mentioned that even though the plot is illogical, light-hearted, and fun, its ability to provide heart wasn’t convincing enough compared to the likes of “Furious 7”. Another flaw that I would mention was the film’s length, which clocks in at around two hours and 15 minutes. It’s not entirely boring since the film’s pacing was acceptable in my eyes, but there were a couple of scenes that could’ve been trimmed down a bit in order to prevent itself from overstaying its welcome.
Overall, “Hobbs & Shaw” is exactly what you would expect from a “Fast & Furious” film, for better or for worse. It’s a highly entertaining popcorn flick that combines the physics-defying action with the comedic charms of the main cast. Its narrative fell short of being as compelling and heartfelt as the last two “Fast & Furious” installments, but it understood that it’s the type of film that allows the audience to sit back, relax, and enjoy the ride regardless of how silly it was. It’s made for people who just want to get away from the real world and have a good time at the movies, and I’m okay with that. If you’re already tired of the franchise, this one isn’t going to change your mind. For those who enjoy the franchise for what it is, it’s definitely worth a watch.
“Once Upon a Time in Hollywood” stars Leonardo DiCaprio, Brad Pitt, Margot Robbie, and Al Pacino. Released on July 26, 2019, the film has a television actor and his stunt double attempting to make themselves known in the film industry.
The film is written and directed by Quentin Tarantino, who also directed films such as “Reservoir Dogs”, “Pulp Fiction”, “Kill Bill”, “Django Unchained”, and “The Hateful Eight”. There were a lot of stuff that happened in Hollywood during the 1960s. Stuff that I can’t even describe without making this paragraph as long as the “Lord of the Rings” trilogy. Luckily, we have someone who can describe those events onscreen. For more than 25 years, Quentin Tarantino has been directing masterpiece after masterpiece with his unique ability to provide captivating stories and shower us with bloody violence. Sure, he has his share of controversies during his career, but those things didn’t stop him from being one of the most accomplished filmmakers in Hollywood history. This year, he’s stepping away from the Western genre and heading forward in time to the place where dreams are born, Hollywood. This is another film that I was really looking forward to this month because I was really impressed with his last two films, “Django Unchained” and “The Hateful Eight”, so I was interested in seeing what he can do with a concept like this. Another reason is that I enjoy stuff that involves movies. The film already made its premiere at the Cannes Film Festival back in May, and it is already receiving praise from critics who got a chance to experience it for themselves. So, it looks like that Tarantino has another hit on his hands. Now that it’s made its way to the public, is it as good as they say it was?
The main plot of the film is inspired by the actual people and events that took place during the late 1960s, such as the relationship between Rick Dalton (DiCaprio) and his stunt double Cliff Booth (Pitt), which is based on Burt Reynolds’ relationship with his stunt double, and the Manson Family murders. Much like Tarantino’s other films, “Hollywood” has its share of foul language, sex, and of course, violence, so you might want to leave your kids at home for this one. This is the type of film that focuses less on the usual narrative structure and more on the exploration of the characters and the situations that they face during a certain time period. It’s a film about what life is like in Hollywood during the end of its golden age and how the main characters are adjusting to it. For people who prefer films with actual narrative structures, this could be a big turn-off. For those who are into Tarantino’s absurd, yet unique, style, it’s a passionate and engaging tribute to the filmmaking business in the 60s. Tarantino has crafted a glorified project that tones down its excessive violence in favor of its unusual blend of comedy and drama. One of the main highlights of the film was the outstanding cast, particularly DiCaprio and Pitt as Rick and Cliff, respectively. These two actors made the film shine for me because of the believable chemistry between the two and their abilities to personify their characters as real people even though everything is all fictionalized. Margot Robbie was also terrific as Sharon Tate, an actress who moved into Dalton’s neighborhood. Tate’s role in the film wasn’t nearly as interesting as Dalton’s despite playing an important part in the horrific event that happened at the end of the film. Another main highlight was the production design. Everything about it just screams “1960s Hollywood” from its accurate set designs to the stunning costumes. If you’re someone who grew up in this time period, you’ll find it to be a remarkable trip down memory lane. As I mentioned before, Tarantino has a vision that’s weird, honest, and well-crafted. He understood the qualities that made this time period what it was and put his own spin on them in terms of his witty screenplay, resulting in something that only a Tarantino film can offer, and I got to say, I enjoyed the heck out of what he delivered. However, that doesn’t mean that it’s a perfect masterpiece. The only issue that I had with the film was its pacing. The film is approximately two hours and 40 minutes long (the usual running time for a Tarantino film), which means there are plenty of scenes that are unnecessary drawn-out. They’re good for bathroom breaks, but they’re also pain-inducing for people who want the film to hurry up and move on to the next scene. Tarantino tends to get a bit lost throughout his narrative from time to time, mostly due to him spending too much time on Dalton and his role in the Western show Lancer. The pacing didn’t bother me that much since Tarantino has a way of making his drawn-out scenes appealing, but I can easily understand that it might bore a few audience members who don’t like overlong movies.
Overall, “Once Upon a Time in Hollywood” not only painted a beautiful portrait of Hollywood in the 1960s, but also provided a skillfully gleeful experience that showcases Tarantino’s love for filmmaking. It’s not a perfect film due to its inconsistent pacing and its running time, but the talented filmmaker made up for these mistakes by representing an irresistible cast, the film’s production design, and his sharp screenplay. If this is really Tarantino’s last film, I would say that this is the best way to send him off on a high note. If you’re a fan of Tarantino’s other works and the film industry in general, it’s definitely worth checking out.