Sunday, September 16, 2018

The Predator (2018) review

The Predator (2018)

When it comes to classic 80’s action films, one of the most widely praised of that era is Predator. While initially receiving a mixed reaction upon its release, director John McTiernan’s sci-fi action flick, which follows a bunch of commandos who find themselves hunted by a mysterious alien creature who hunts for sport, has gone on to become one of the definitive films of both the action and sci-fi genres. And after undergoing a pivotal change in design halfway through shooting, the Predator now stands as one of the most iconic alien creatures of all-time up there with the Xenomorphs from Alien. However, unlike the Alien films, the Predator series hasn’t seen as many appearances on the big screen. It got a sequel, Predator 2, in 1990, but outside of the poorly-received crossovers that it did with the Alien franchise in the early 2000’s, it didn’t see an official sequel until 2010’s Predators. And even then, neither film was as well-regarded as the original. But now the Predator series is back with the fourth installment of the main series, simply titled The Predator. The film serves as the latest directorial outing for Shane Black, whose career in the film industry needs no introduction having penned classics like Lethal Weapon and directing critically-acclaimed films such as Kiss Kiss Bang Bang and The Nice Guys along with the criminally underrated Iron Man 3. And in the case of The Predator, Black’s had quite a history with this franchise as he had played the character of Hawkins in the original film. This new film also sees a reunion between Black and co-writer Fred Dekker, who had previously worked together on the 1987 cult classic The Monster Squad. But as for their newest collaboration, they deliver an entertaining sci-fi action flick that isn’t quite as good as the original film but is still easily the best follow-up that the franchise has gotten up to this point.

When a mysterious ship crash-lands in the middle of a Mexican jungle, a team of Army Rangers led by Quinn McKenna (Boyd Holbrook) investigates the crash site and come across one of the terrifying creatures known as ‘Predators’. Quinn ends up being the only survivor of the group but manages to find some of the creature’s technology, which he sends back home to his ex-wife Emily (Yvonne Strahovski) and their autistic son Rory (Jacob Tremblay) in Georgia to keep it hidden from the government. However, Quinn soon ends up getting apprehended by the government and deemed ‘crazy’ due to most people not believing his story of his run-in with the Predator. Meanwhile, Rory ends up opening his father’s package when it arrives and starts to fiddle with its contents, unintentionally sending out a signal that attracts the attention of a much larger ‘Super Predator’ that had been hunting the smaller Predator that Quinn and his team had encountered. At the same time, that Predator, which has since been detained by the government at a secret facility, breaks out of its confinement and heads off to collect its gear by any means necessary. Thus, with two different Predators heading towards his family, Quinn teams up with a bunch of fellow ‘crazy’ soldiers, including ex-Marine Nebraska Williams (Trevante Rhodes) and the wise-cracking Coyle (Keegan-Michael Key), plus biologist Casey Bracket (Olivia Munn), to stop the two alien creatures before they can cause some major damage.       

The first thing to note about this film is that being a Shane Black film, it, of course, features his most definitive trait as a filmmaker, his knack for snappy dialogue. This dialogue is all throughout the film and results in consistent humor throughout, especially whenever the main characters interact with each other. The film also benefits from having some solid pacing, at least when in contrast to the slower build-up of some of the franchise’s previous installments. In other words, this film gets going right out the gate and is non-stop with its action. However, that doesn’t mean that this is entirely a good thing. Because the film goes by so fast, it doesn’t really have much time to stop and take a breather, and because of this, it does result in some pivotal plot lines (e.g. the demise of certain characters) and even a few bits of the humorous dialogue being glossed over. This ends up being the case all the way through to the ending, culminating in a finale that hasn’t been received very well by a lot of critics. And to make this situation even more ironic, that ending was the one major thing that Black and his crew reshot after the original ending didn’t go over very well with test audiences. In other words, it does kind of feel like a few problems emerged during the editing process. It was reported that some parts of the film were trimmed down (to the point where a character played by Edward James Olmos was cut out entirely) so that it wouldn’t be negatively affected by a hefty run-time. And yet, in this instance, it probably would’ve helped the film to have a longer run-time, even if it meant that this would’ve been the first Predator film to be over two hours long, because it ends up sporting a rather bare-bones plot due in part to its frenetic pacing.  

Admittedly character development has never really been the Predator franchise’s strongest suit. Even the original 1987 film, when it was first released, was criticized for not spending a lot of time developing its characters. This trend does continue with the new film, but at the very least, it does benefit from having the best ensemble cast since the original film (and yes, I know I just said that about the Predators cast a few days back in the Predator series retrospective…). Not only do all the main stars do a great job with Black’s trademark dialogue, but they also have phenomenal camaraderie together. The film does admittedly go the same route as Predators by giving us a bunch of characters who aren’t exactly the most likable in the world, but they’re a lot more entertaining to watch by comparison. Boyd Holbrook is solid in the lead role of Quinn as is Jacob Tremblay as his son Rory. The team that Quinn ‘assembles’ in the film also has some notable standouts as well, like Keegan-Michael Key and Thomas Jane as Coyle and the PTSD-ridden Baxley, respectively, who bicker constantly throughout the film (e.g. Coyle hurls a lot of ‘your mama’ jokes at Baxley). Some are a bit underutilized, however, like Alfie Allen as ex-marine Lynch and even Olivia Munn as main female protagonist Casey Bracket. But arguably the one who gets it the worst is Sterling K. Brown as Will Traeger, the agent who runs the government facility that the smaller Predator is initially held at and then leads the operation to hunt both Predators down. Without spoiling anything major, the screenplay decides to have him serve as an antagonist towards Quinn and company for no real reason. Brown is great in the role, but he’s ultimately just as waylaid by the erratic editing/pacing as everyone else.

Now to be clear, I’m not saying that this film is ‘as good’ as the original Predator… but what I can say is that, despite everything that I’ve said in this review, it’s easily the best of the series’ sequels. Under the direction of someone who is clearly quite familiar with the franchise (i.e. one of the original film’s cast members), The Predator is a thrilling sci-fi B-movie thanks to its decent (albeit extremely frenetic) pacing and a strong ensemble cast that works phenomenally with Shane Black and Fred Dekker’s dialogue. With that said, though, that doesn’t mean that this film is flawless. While its rapid-fire pace is welcome after the tepid pacing of 2010’s Predators, it also means that the film basically rushes through everything, and this does really affect things in the long run, resulting in a film that doesn’t have much of a plot to it and characters that, despite being entertaining to watch, don’t have a lot to work with in terms of character development. From the looks of it, something must’ve happened during the editing process that led to all these issues, apparently due to the necessity to not have the film be overlong. Ultimately, though, I’d say that your enjoyment of this film will depend on whether you’re okay with it not really spending a lot of time with things like plot and characters. In other words, I do agree with everyone else in stating that this film is quite a big mess from both a narrative and technical perspective and that it is far from being Shane Black’s best film as a director. But at the same time, that doesn’t mean that it isn’t an entertaining big mess.


Rating: 3.5/5

Thursday, September 13, 2018

Predator: Series Retrospective


Last year, I did a retrospective on the classic sci-fi horror franchise, Alien, in time for the release of its latest installment, Alien: Covenant. In that post, I noted that I wasn’t going to be covering the franchise’s two crossover films that it was a part of because I’d have to cover the other franchise that was involved in them, and I was planning on saving that for the release of that franchise’s latest installment. Well, as you might have guessed, the time has finally come for that new installment, so today we’re covering another classic sci-fi horror franchise, Predator. Beginning with the 1987 classic of the same name starring Arnold Schwarzenegger, this series introduced audiences to a ferocious alien creature who hunted other species for sport. The original went on to spawn a sequel in 1990, which notably featured an Alien Easter egg. This, of course, then paved the way for a big crossover franchise between the two classic sci-fi antagonists that was headlined by two feature films in the early 2000’s. The Predator series then saw a return to the big screen in 2010 with the franchise’s first solo installment in two decades. And now the series is back again this year with a new film, simply titled The Predator. The film is the latest outing from director Shane Black, which is a notably fitting choice as Black had played a supporting role in the original film, which happened to come out the same year as the film that launched his career as a writer, Lethal Weapon. Thus, without further ado, it’s time to ‘GET TO THE CHOPPA!’ as we look at the three films in the Predator franchise and the two crossover films that it appeared in alongside the Xenomorphs from Alien.

(Disclaimer: For today’s retrospective, I’ll be going over these five films in the order of their release instead of just focusing on the solo films first and then the Alien vs Predator films)

PREDATOR (1987)

Arnold Schwarzenegger in Predator (1987)

It all begins, of course, with the original Predator, which served as the first studio project for director John McTiernan, who would later go on to direct a few other classic action films like Die Hard and The Hunt for Red October. And while critics weren’t initially big on the film when it first came out, it has since been regarded as one of the greatest action films of all-time, which is easy to see why when watching it. Predator boasts a lot of great build-up when it comes to introducing its title character. For starters, the film doesn’t even start out as a science-fiction film, instead opting for a more straight-forward action film complete with one of the most adrenaline-pumping shootouts to ever come out of the 80’s. But after that, the film then effectively transitions into sci-fi horror and does a great job of establishing the imposing threat that is the titular Predator, which ended up undergoing a major cosmetic change during production. Originally, the creature had a more lobster-like design with movements provided by none other than Jean-Claude Van Damme. However, when it became apparent that this design was far from being a legitimate threat to a bunch of characters who were played by bodybuilders like Arnold Schwarzenegger and Jesse Ventura, the creature got a redesign from legendary effects artist Stan Winston. Winston even got a little help from frequent collaborator James Cameron, who suggested mandibles on the creature. What comes out of it is one of the most iconic alien creatures of all-time who helps to make this film a highly compelling ‘cat and mouse’ story. Thus, with great action sequences and a solid ensemble cast headlined by Schwarzenegger and Carl Weathers, Predator managed to overcome all its various production issues (e.g. having to change the title character’s design halfway through, filming in intense heat in the jungles of Mexico, etc.) to become a bona fide classic when it comes to 80’s action films.

Rating: 4.5/5

PREDATOR 2 (1990)

Predator 2 (1990)

The Predator returned just three years later in 1990 under the direction of Stephen Hopkins, who was fresh off directing the fifth installment of the Nightmare on Elm Street series, The Dream Child. This time, the focus shifted from the jungles of Central America to the streets of Los Angeles, as a group of police officers investigate a string of killings that have been going on that have been tied to the local gangs. What follows is a decent albeit rather forgettable sci-fi action flick. Sure, the concept of having the title character wreak havoc in a major metropolitan city isn’t a bad idea (remember how one teaser trailer for Alien 3 implied that it would be set on Earth before that idea was scrapped? This is basically that idea, just with Predators instead of Xenomorphs), but in execution, the story is quite generic as are most of the characters. The main protagonist, Lt. Mike Harrigan (Danny Glover, in a role that’s honestly not that far off from old Murtagh), is generally solid, though, partially because he gets one of the only major bits of character development in the film when his best friend ends up being one of the Predator’s victims. And because this is a Predator sequel, the film doesn’t skimp on the Predator action, as the title creature gets into the action right away. This does pave the way for some solid action sequences… save for a rather ill-conceived action sequence in a subway car that ends up being nothing more than an endless array of flashing strobe lights. In short, while I don’t ‘dislike’ Predator 2, it’s still a major step down compared to the first film. I do understand, though, why this film has gotten a fan following despite the middling reception that it got from critics, and if anything, I wouldn’t say that it’s as bad as its 28% rating on Rotten Tomatoes suggests. Still, that’s not really saying much considering the legendary film that came before it.

Rating: 3/5

ALIEN VS. PREDATOR (2004)

AVP: Alien vs. Predator (2004)

(Disclaimer: The following review covers the PG-13 rated theatrical cut of Alien vs. Predator. The unrated cut that was released on home video adds in some extra gore effects and additional bits of plot development, which may or may not satisfy those who were disappointed by the fact that the theatrical cut was given an obviously neutered PG-13 rating)

During the finale of Predator 2, Lt. Harrigan ends up on the Predator’s ship, where he comes across the creature’s trophy room full of the skulls of its victims. One of these skulls was from a Xenomorph, the extraterrestrial creatures featured in the Alien series, thus paving the way for one lucrative crossover franchise that had already started the year before. Since then, these two franchises have crossed paths in various forms of media ranging from comics to video games. But for today’s retrospective, we’re looking at the crossover franchise’s two films, starting with 2004’s Alien vs. Predator, directed by Paul W.S. Anderson. While the film was a decent hit at the box office, critical reception was a different story, as it seems like both critics and fans of the two franchises were not happy with how this crossover turned out. Part of the reason why (for fans, at least) was due to the film having a PG-13 rating, meaning that it would be a heavily toned-down affair compared to the R-rated escapades of its two franchises’ previous installments. But for what its worth, when the title characters do get the chance to spar, it is still awesome to watch even with its more audience-friendly rating. In short, Alien vs. Predator is your basic sci-fi horror film with a collection of stock characters for the two title characters to hunt. That said, though, the main protagonist, guide Alexa Woods (Sanaa Lathan), is a solid female lead, and Lance Henriksen also makes a welcome return to the world of Alien as the owner of the series’ Weyland Corporation, Charles Weyland, after previously playing the android Bishop and his creator, Michael Weyland, in Aliens and Alien 3, respectively. With all this in mind, Alien vs. Predator is admittedly a complicated film to recommend. If you’re a hardcore fan of the Alien and Predator franchises, then you’re probably going to hate this film because it can very well be argued that it doesn’t necessarily do a good job of properly respecting either franchise. However, if you’re just looking for a mindless yet entertaining crossover between these two classic franchises, this one might do you just fine.

Rating: 3.5/5

ALIENS VS. PREDATOR: REQUIEM (2007)

AVPR: Aliens vs Predator - Requiem (2007)

(Disclaimer: As was the case with its predecessor, this review covers the theatrical cut of AvP: Requiem instead of the unrated cut that was released on home video.)

Despite the mediocre reception that it got, Alien vs. Predator ended up getting a sequel three years later, serving as the directorial debut for visual effects artists Greg and Colin Strause. Ultimately, though, it fared about the same as its predecessor upon its release, as it did fine at the box-office but fared terribly with critics… and this time, the critics were right on this one. Aliens vs. Predator: Requiem is a colossal mess. Sure, it returns to its franchises’ R-rated roots, but that doesn’t really matter in the long run when the action sequences in this film are poorly shot, edited, and in some cases, even lit. In other words, this film somehow feels more like a PG-13 rated Alien vs. Predator film than the actual PG-13 rated AvP film. And just like the first AvP film, the story and characters are incredibly flat. The only difference here, though, is that there aren’t any underrated badass characters like Alexa Woods this time around, meaning that you don’t give a crap about any of the characters in this film, most of whom are either unlikable or incredibly stupid. It also doesn’t help that the film sports a surprisingly mean-spirited tone given some of its kills (e.g. a young kid, multiple pregnant women, etc.) and the fact that it ends with the military just straight-up nuking the town where the film is set. In short, Aliens vs. Predator: Requiem is a disastrous follow-up to what was already a problematic first film. It truly is saying something when the best thing about this film is that it’s mercifully short at just 94 minutes long (that and the Alien/Predator hybrid that it introduces, despite its limited screen-time). And because of this, it’s undeniably the lowest point for both the Alien and Predator franchises, thus taking several years for either franchise to recover due to this film being such a train wreck. Granted, the question of whether the Alien franchise managed to rebound is up for debate given the polarizing reaction to both Prometheus and Alien: Covenant, but at least those films did far better with critics than either of the AvP films combined. As for the Predator series…

Rating: 0.5/5

PREDATORS (2010)

Predators (2010)

Outside of its crossovers with Alien, the main Predator series laid dormant for two decades until it returned in 2010 with Predators. This installment was developed under the eye of none other than Robert Rodriguez, though directorial duties ultimately went to Nimród Antal, who would later go on to direct the IMAX concert film Metallica: Through the Never. As for Predators, which focuses on a group of mercenaries, soldiers, and murderers who find themselves put on another planet where they’re hunted by the titular alien creatures, it is easily the closest in both plot and execution to the original film. This is most notable through the film’s slow but steady buildup that first introduces the main characters before they’re hunted by the Predators. The only thing holding this film back, though, is that it’s quite uneven in terms of its narrative, never really delving into why these characters were put on the planet in the first place or the conflict that’s established between the planet’s two primary groups of Predators, the traditional Predators as seen in previous films and the larger and more intimidating ‘Super Predators’. Heck, the Predators aren’t even really in this all that much, meaning that the film’s also rather lacking in terms of action sequences. Given this film’s ending, it seems like a lot of these plot points were meant to be explored further in a sequel, and yet, based on Shane Black’s new film, it doesn’t seem likely that the franchise will be returning to this part of the story anytime soon. But for what it’s worth, once the film overcomes its rather slow start, it manages to coax by with some solid action sequences during the climax (e.g. a fight between a Super Predator and Yakuza member Hanzo (Louis Ozawa Changchien)). Plus, this film sports one of the best ensemble casts in the franchise’s history, with strong performances from the likes of Adrien Brody, Alice Braga, Walton Goggins, and a highly memorable cameo from Laurence Fishburne as a deranged soldier who has been on the planet for several years. Ultimately, though, Predators is just as much of a mixed bag as Predator 2 was. It is arguably the best of the Predator sequels up to this point, but it still suffers quite a bit from a lackluster script that doesn’t live up to its fullest potential.  

Rating: 3/5


And that concludes this retrospective on the Predator franchise. Thanks for following along and be sure to sound off in the comments below with your own thoughts on these films. And really, what better way to conclude this post than with the most epic handshake in cinematic history… 


Wednesday, September 5, 2018

Favorite Films of Summer 2018 - As Voted by You!


If you were to ask me why I started Rhode Island Movie Corner’s annual End of Summer poll, where I ask you folks, the readers, to vote for your favorite summer film of the year, my answer would be that it allows me to celebrate one of the most underappreciated aspects of film, and that is its subjectivity. I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again; film is a subjective medium. Contrary to what some may claim, there is no such thing as a ‘perfect’ film or a ‘correct’ opinion on a film. Sure, there’ll be films that get tons of praise worldwide (or criticism, depending on the film) but there’ll always be someone who doesn’t quite see what everyone else is getting at. And that’s perfectly okay, because in an age where a lot of film fandoms are unfortunately starting to become incredibly hostile (looking at you, Star Wars: The Last Jedi haters/DCEU fanboys), it’s pivotal to remember how vastly different everyone’s mindset is when it comes to the content that they enjoy. With all that said, it is finally time to go over the films that you folks selected in the 5th annual installment of Rhode Island Movie Corner’s End of Summer Fan Vote (which admittedly went on a week longer than anticipated but I’d rather not get into the details about that right now…). This year, there were 44 votes that were given to 16 different films. As always, I want to thank everyone who participated in the poll this year, and I invite you all to join me in looking at the eclectic variety of films that earned your votes. From the big superhero blockbusters to acclaimed indie darlings, these are your favorite films from the summer of 2018.

THE FOLLOWING 8 FILMS RECEIVED 1 VOTE EACH

DEADPOOL 2

Ryan Reynolds and Zazie Beetz in Deadpool 2 (2018)

Deadpool 2 is undoubtedly one of those superhero film sequels that is quite debatable when it comes to comparing its quality to its predecessor. For some, director David Leitch’s sequel takes a lot more chances narratively compared to the 2016 smash hit Deadpool, which was arguably a bit restrained due to it being an untested commodity in a time when R-rated superhero films weren’t quite a lucrative thing just yet. For others, the film somewhat suffers from an inconsistent tone, frequently shifting between the typical raunchy comedic affairs that we got from the first film and an incredibly dramatic emotional arc for the titular Merc with a Mouth. As for me, I lean more towards the former camp. Yes, I’ll agree that the film can be quite erratic sometimes with its tonal shifts, which is mainly brought on by a rather questionable case of the controversial comic book trope known as ‘fridging’, but at the same time, it does somehow manage to give this film more of an emotional drive compared to its predecessor. And at the end of the day, Deadpool 2 did take more risks compared to the first film which, as I’d like to reiterate once again, I did genuinely like. It’s just that I feel that the sequel does a better job at being what the first film was trying to accomplish by being a full-on satire of the superhero genre that doesn’t pull any punches when it comes to poking fun at everything from the X-Men franchise to the MCU to the DC Universe. And it’s all buoyed by a terrific ensemble cast that’s headlined by Ryan Reynolds continuing to be pitch-perfect as the title character, Josh Brolin successfully managing to differentiate the role of time-traveling soldier Cable from his other big superhero film role of 2018 (more on that later…), and Zazie Beetz completely stealing the show as the ‘lucky’ mercenary Domino. Because of this, I’m pleased to say that I did enjoy Deadpool 2 more than I did the first film. It’s still not necessarily one of my all-time favorites from the superhero genre, but it’s certainly one of its most entertaining installments to date.  

BOOK CLUB

Candice Bergen, Jane Fonda, Diane Keaton, and Mary Steenburgen in Book Club (2018)

On the surface, Book Club may seem like your average romantic comedy. However, this one does have a bit of an edge to it given one specific aspect of its plot. Starring a quartet of screen legends (Diane Keaton, Jane Fonda, Candice Bergen, and Mary Steenburgen), the film focuses on four women who have held a monthly book club for three decades. When they decide to go with the infamous Fifty Shades of Grey as their latest read, they find themselves compelled to explore some of their deepest desires. And that’s all that I can say about this film, really, as it’s not necessarily the kind of film that I go to see in the theater. To be perfectly frank, it seemed like the fact that it revolves around its main characters reading a controversial novel like Fifty Shades of Grey was the most noteworthy thing about it. But from the looks of it, it seemed like audiences enjoyed this one just fine, mainly thanks to its dynamic group of lead actresses. And they weren’t the only big names in this film, as Book Club also features several other screen veterans like Craig T. Nelson (AKA Mr. Incredible for you young folks), Don Johnson, and Andy Garcia just to name a few. Upon its release, the film did generally well at the box-office. On its opening weekend, it finished third behind Deadpool 2 and [film to appear later in this list]. And critics seemed to like the film okay, stating that while it was a rather ‘by-the-numbers’ romantic comedy, the film’s ensemble cast managed to make it work, for the most part.

SOLO: A STAR WARS STORY

Woody Harrelson, Thandie Newton, and Alden Ehrenreich in Solo: A Star Wars Story (2018)

It’s genuinely quite sad that Solo: A Star Wars Story didn’t do so well at the box-office. Granted, it did gross nearly $400 million worldwide, but it also sported quite a hefty budget, meaning that it didn’t necessarily ‘break even’. Plus, that gross ultimately pales in comparison to the last three Star Wars films, which all made at least a billion. Now I know that some have said that it was primarily due to Solo getting released just a few months after The Last Jedi, but that didn’t stop Marvel Studios from having two $1 billion-grossing films this year that come out just two months apart from each other now, did it? I know that it’s probably not the main reason why Solo underperformed, but I’m confident that part of the reason why was due to the intensely irate fanboys who were upset about The Last Jedi not conforming to their expectations and took their anger out on Solo by ‘boycotting’ it. Thus, an extremely nasty rift has arisen these past few months that has turned parts of the Star Wars fandom into, well to quote Ben Kenobi from A New Hope, ‘a wretched hive of scum and villainy’. Of course, the whole controversy surrounding the film’s production being upended by the firing of directors Phil Lord and Chris Miller probably played a part as well, but like I said in my review of the film, this thankfully didn’t harm the film that much. To his credit, Ron Howard came in and did a nice job of, from what I assume, emulating what Lord and Miller were going for in making a light-hearted space western. This results in a film that isn’t the best Star Wars film to date, but one that still boasts all the great aspects of the franchise, especially since its recent big-screen revival. And despite all the heavy expectations that were thrust upon him, Alden Ehrenreich does a nice job following in the footsteps of Harrison Ford as the beloved Han Solo in his younger years. In short, I’m still an unabashed defender of this film despite everything that’s happened since The Last Jedi. And believe me, quite a lot of nasty things have happened in the Star Wars fandom ever since that film came out. Contrary to what the haters are saying, though, none of those problems were Lucasfilm, Kathleen Kennedy, Rian Johnson, or J.J. Abrams’ doing.   

ADRIFT

Shailene Woodley and Sam Claflin in Adrift (2018)

Adrift, the latest outing from director Baltasar Kormákur (2 Guns, Everest), tells the story of Tami Oldham (Shailene Woodley) and her fiancé Richard Sharp (Sam Claflin). In 1983, the two accepted a job offer to deliver a luxury yacht to a customer in San Diego. However, in the process of their 4,000-mile trip from Tahiti to California, they ended up getting caught in Hurricane Raymond. This caused severe damages to their boat and Tami getting separated from Richard, forcing her to survive on her own to make it back to dry land. Now despite everything that I just noted in that synopsis, the trailers for this film indicated one major deviation from real-life events. As seen in the trailers, Tami seemingly rescues Richard, who has suffered several serious injuries, and the two then work together to survive. However, in real life, Richard was never seen again after they were hit by the storm. At the very least, though, from what I’ve read, the film does acknowledge what really happened with a twist ending that shows that Tami was suffering from the one thing that Richard warned her about when it came to extended periods of sailing, hallucinations. And ultimately, while Adrift wasn’t exactly a big hit at the box-office, it did do decently with critics. While some felt that the plot was a bit too predictable, Shailene Woodley (who also happens to be one of the film’s producers) got rave reviews for her performance as Tami Oldham, effectively continuing the hot streak that she’s been on recently after her Emmy-nominated turn in the hit HBO series Big Little Lies.     

INCREDIBLES 2

Holly Hunter and Craig T. Nelson in Incredibles 2 (2018)

At the time that I’m writing this, Incredibles 2 has recently set several big records. With a worldwide gross of over $1.142 billion, it is the highest-grossing Pixar film to date and the third Pixar film to join the billion-dollar club after 2010’s Toy Story 3 and 2016’s Finding Dory. It’s also the highest-grossing animated film ever domestically with over $602 million that was kicked off by a $182 million+ weekend, another animated film record. Clearly, the hype for this long-awaited follow-up to Pixar’s 2004 masterpiece The Incredibles was palpable, and for the most part, it seemed like fans were generally satisfied with the sequel. Granted, there have been a few critics who have argued that the film is a bit too derivative of the first film, but I wouldn’t necessarily call it a ‘rehash’. Whereas the first film explored topics such as dealing with a mid-life crisis and the fear of infidelity, the second film sees Mr. Incredible forced to become a stay-at-home dad while Elastigirl is out doing all the superhero work, which ends up being another example of the duo’s strong martial dynamic. Plus, writer/director Brad Bird does manage to maintain The Incredibles’ unique identity in the wake of all the big superhero films that have come out since the first film by continuing to focus more on the family dynamic of the main protagonists than all the superhero action that they partake in. And yet, Incredibles 2 does boast some amazing superhero action with animation that does an even better job than the first film when it comes to capturing that classic comic book aesthetic. Because of all this, Incredibles 2 is easily one of the most satisfying follow-ups in recent memory, resulting in another masterpiece from Pixar and a well-deserved win for Brad Bird after the fiasco surrounding Tomorrowland.  

HOTEL TRANSYLVANIA 3: SUMMER VACATION

Adam Sandler and Selena Gomez in Hotel Transylvania 3: Summer Vacation (2018)

For the past few years, Sony Animation’s most prominent franchise has been the Hotel Transylvania series. It all started with the franchise’s 2012 feature film debut, which was directed by animation legend Genndy Tartakovsky, the creator of hit shows like Dexter’s Laboratory and Samurai Jack. The film followed the infamous Count Dracula (voiced by Adam Sandler) as he tries to protect his daughter Mavis (voiced by Selena Gomez) from the dangers of the human world by building a hotel exclusively for his monster brethren. Things get complicated, however, when a human explorer named Jonathan (voiced by Andy Samberg) arrives at the hotel and, to make matters even worse for Dracula, falls in love with Mavis. While critics weren’t exactly positive towards it, it was a big hit with audiences and is often touted as both a delightfully zany addition to the genre of family-friendly horror films and one of Sandler’s better outings in recent years. This success with audiences continued with the 2015 sequel, Hotel Transylvania 2, and again this year with Hotel Transylvania 3: Summer Vacation which, as the title suggests, sees Dracula and his friends and family go on vacation via a cruise. Along the way, old Drac even manages to find a new love interest in the ship’s captain, Ericka (voiced by Kathryn Hahn); however, as Mavis soon finds out, her father’s new date may have some sinister intentions. Now I’ll admit that I haven’t seen either this or the second film. I’ve only seen the first Hotel Transylvania, and even then, that was a long time ago. But from what I remember, it was an enjoyably madcap animated film with a nice lead performance from Sandler as Dracula. And from what I’ve heard, while Hotel Transylvania 2 apparently wasn’t ‘smooth sailing’ for Tartakovsky due to some creative conflicts that he had with Sandler, it seems like the third film didn’t have as much as a problematic production by comparison. This is, after all, the first entry in the series where Tartakovsky himself is a credited writer. And while most critics seemed to view it as being ‘more of the same’, it was once again a bit hit with audiences.   

CRAZY RICH ASIANS

Constance Wu and Henry Golding in Crazy Rich Asians (2018)

Calling Crazy Rich Asians one of the biggest hits of this summer would be a massive understatement. Ever since it came out a few weeks back, it’s been a massive critical and commercial success that has been touted especially for its cultural significance. For those unaware, this adaptation of author Kevin Kwan’s 2013 novel of the same name is the first major Hollywood production since 1993’s The Joy Luck Club to feature a cast that is predominately made up of Chinese actors and actresses. Granted, there has been some controversy from an international perspective over the film’s authenticity of representing the ethnic diversity of its Singapore setting, but that hasn’t stopped the film from being regarded as a major game-changer for the film industry by highlighting such an underrepresented minority. As for the film itself, which focuses on a woman who learns that her boyfriend is a member of one of the richest families in Singapore, critics have praised it for being an effective romantic comedy that’s made even better by an ensemble cast that features Constance Wu, Michelle Yeoh, and Ocean’s 8 breakout star Awkwafina, just to name a few. As such, at the time that I’m writing this, Crazy Rich Asians still stands at the top of the U.S. box-office, having suffered only minimal box-office drops three weeks into its run. Plus, a sequel based on Kwan’s 2015 book sequel China Rich Girlfriend is already in the works, undeniably making this a well-deserved success story for all involved. This, of course, includes director Jon M. Chu who, prior to what is now the highest-rated film of his career, was known primarily for his work on a few Justin Bieber documentaries, sequels to G.I. Joe and Now You See Me, and the infamous film adaptation of Jem and the Holograms. Just goes to show how you shouldn’t judge directors solely by their lesser films.    

A QUIET PLACE

John Krasinski in A Quiet Place (2018)

Ok, I’m stretching things quite a bit here by including A Quiet Place, which ended up getting mentioned in the ‘write-in’ section, because it’s technically not a ‘summer release’. It came out the first week of April, and while many have argued that the ‘summer film season’ isn’t quite limited to the period of May through August anymore, that still doesn’t necessarily qualify A Quiet Place as a ‘summer film’. Heck, another film that will be appearing later in this post shouldn’t count either given that it was released at the tail-end of April. But in that case, it was meant to be the first big summer release either way and had been pushed back from its original release date, the first weekend of May, just because it was already finished by that point so that one gets a pass. But to its credit, A Quiet Place did manage to maintain a spot in the U.S. box office’s Top 10 list during the entire month of May. Thus, that is the only reason why I decided to include it. Yes, A Quiet Place AKA John Krasinski’s most successful outing to date as a director. I’ve already discussed this film plenty of times these past few months so I won’t repeat myself too much here. Simply put, there’s a good reason why this was touted as being another great horror film in what is arguably a new Renaissance period for the horror genre thanks to other films like Get Out and the 2017 adaptation of Stephen King’s It. While this story about a family trying to hide from a group of aliens who can only detect their prey via sounds certainly has its frightening moments, it’s ultimately more about a family just trying to survive and, more importantly, the parents’ efforts to protect their kids in this frightening world. And just a few weeks back, a sequel was set for a 2020 release with Krasinski still involved, though there hasn’t been any confirmation yet that he’ll be returning as its director.  

THE FOLLOWING 4 FILMS EARNED 2 VOTES EACH

HEREDITARY

Gabriel Byrne, Toni Collette, and Alex Wolff in Hereditary (2018)

Hereditary served as the directorial debut of filmmaker Ari Aster, who had previously directed a bunch of short films including the highly controversial 2011 short, The Strange Thing About the Johnsons. As for this film, it focuses on a family who find themselves dealing with all sorts of bizarre supernatural occurrences following the passing of the matriarch’s mother. And upon its release, the film was a massive hit with critics, many of whom called it one of the scariest horror films in years. Admittedly I have not seen it, but from what I’ve read about it, I can see why many are touting it as one of the most disturbing horror films in recent memory up there with classics like The Exorcist and The Texas Chain Saw Massacre. It also did quite well at the box-office, earning over $79 million worldwide, making it the highest-grossing film for its distributor, A24. Granted, it also seems like this is one of those films that has been a lot more polarizing amongst audiences who may not exactly have been prepared for the kind of film that they were about to watch. But one of the most common things that it seems like most people are agreeing on, regardless of their thoughts on the film, is the phenomenal performance from Toni Collette in the lead role of Annie. Her work on the film has been so well-received that many are hoping that she gets an Oscar nomination for Best Actress. We’ll see in the next few months if that happens but, regardless, Hereditary has undeniably been one of the most talked about horror films in recent memory. And because of this, the hype is already in place for Aster’s next film, Midsommar, which is set to come out in 2019, once again under the A24 banner. 

WON’T YOU BE MY NEIGHBOR

David Newell and Fred Rogers in Won't You Be My Neighbor? (2018)

Won’t You Be My Neighbor (which happens to be the first documentary to appear in one of these posts since the 2014 Roger Ebert documentary Life Itself (not to be confused with the upcoming drama of the same name from This is Us creator Dan Fogelman)) explores the backstory of one of the most beloved faces in the history of television, Fred Rogers. From 1968 to 2001, Rogers hosted his own TV show, Mister Rogers’ Neighborhood, and was widely praised for how he treated his audience, never talking down to children and helping them understand the serious subjects that he addressed on the show, like divorce, racism, and even war. Sure enough, this documentary (named after the iconic final line of the show’s equally iconic theme song) addresses everything that Rogers managed to accomplish with his show, which was noted as being the antithesis of what children’s programming was like at the time. As the trailer points out, what started as a low-budget series hosted by an ‘unlikely star’ now stands as one of the most definitive programs of all-time. And while it has been quite some time since I’ve watched any episodes of it, I certainly remember watching Mister Rogers all the time when I was growing up. However, despite this, I’ll admit that I haven’t gotten around to seeing this documentary yet. But that hasn’t stopped it from being one of the most critically acclaimed documentaries in recent years. With a near-perfect score on Rotten Tomatoes and a worldwide gross of $22 million, making it the highest-grossing biographical documentary of all-time, it’s clear that Won’t You Be My Neighbor is succeeding in giving audiences all sorts of nostalgic emotions.

MISSION IMPOSSIBLE – FALLOUT

Tom Cruise in Mission: Impossible - Fallout (2018)

In the 2015 installment of Rhode Island Movie Corner’s annual End of Summer poll, Mission Impossible – Rogue Nation, the fifth installment of the steadily improving Mission Impossible film series, earned one vote, showing how the series has come a long way ever since Mission Impossible III director J.J. Abrams became involved with the series as one of its producers. Under the direction of frequent Tom Cruise collaborator Christopher McQuarrie, Rogue Nation featured some of the sharpest action sequences that the series has seen to date, which was effectively matched with a solid story that honored the original Mission Impossible TV series by introducing the villainous group known as ‘the Syndicate’. But who would’ve thought that McQuarrie would have been able to top even that with his second entry in the franchise, Mission Impossible – Fallout? Well, that’s exactly what he did, as Fallout features even greater action sequences and an even tighter screenplay. This screenplay even manages to give Tom Cruise’s character Ethan Hunt some of the best character development that he’s ever gotten from this franchise while doing a better job than Rogue Nation when it comes to balancing the roles of his teammates in the plot a la 2011’s Mission Impossible – Ghost Protocol. It all concludes with one of the most intense finales in recent film history, making it easy to see why some have referred to this film as the Mad Max: Fury Road of 2018. And while I’ll admit that I’m part of the crowd that preferred Ghost Protocol over Rogue Nation, I won’t lie when I say that Mission Impossible – Fallout now takes the mantle of being the best installment to date of this legendary franchise.

CHRISTOPHER ROBIN

Ewan McGregor and Jim Cummings in Christopher Robin (2018)

When the first trailer hit for this live-action take on the classic Winnie the Pooh franchise, fans were utterly delighted to hear that Jim Cummings would be returning to voice the beloved bear ‘of very little brain’. And while it was initially reported that a different actor was to voice Cummings’ other major Pooh role, Tigger, the second trailer reassured audiences that Cummings would indeed be portraying the energetic bouncing tiger. This was one of the many reasons why Christopher Robin proved to be heavily anticipated for many people, and although the film didn’t necessarily get ‘great’ reviews from critics, it still did generally well critically. Like I noted in my review, some critics were rather iffy on some of the film’s grimmer moments. But while there are a few dreary moments in the film, it’s not like this applies to the whole film. Ultimately, these sequences help to show how Christopher Robin has become so detached from his past in this emotionally poignant story about the dangers of growing up too fast. But once Christopher Robin (played excellently by Ewan McGregor) regains his childhood spirit, that’s when the film truly shines as it provides us with everything that we’ve come to love from the Winnie the Pooh franchise. And the transition from animation to live-action did not result in these beloved characters losing any of the traits that have made them the icons that they still are today. Because of this, Christopher Robin is another delightful addition to Disney’s new line of live-action adaptations of their classic works (even though this isn’t technically a ‘remake’ like the others) and a neat new way of introducing these timeless characters to a new generation.

IN THIRD PLACE, WITH FOUR VOTES

MAMMA MIA: HERE WE GO AGAIN

Meryl Streep and Amanda Seyfried in Mamma Mia! Here We Go Again (2018)

In 2008, Universal and Tom Hanks’ production company Playtone released an adaptation of the hit musical, Mamma Mia. The musical, which first premiered in London in 1999 before making its debut on Broadway in 2001, focuses on a young woman named Sophie who attempts to figure out the identity of her father by inviting three potential suitors to her wedding. It was also notable for being a jukebox musical featuring music from the legendary Swedish pop band ABBA, who are responsible for classic hits like ‘Dancing Queen’ and the titular song that the musical is named after. The film adaptation was a sizable commercial hit upon its release, to the point where it ended up being the fifth highest-grossing film of the year. Critics, however, were a bit more mixed on it, with the most common criticism being the vocal performances of certain cast members (e.g. Pierce Brosnan, who ended up ‘winning’ a Razzie Award because of his infamously panned singing). Nevertheless, one decade later, its fans were treated to a sequel, Mamma Mia: Here We Go Again, which follows Sophie’s attempts to reopen her mother Donna’s hotel in the wake of her passing. Yes, to the surprise of many, Meryl Streep played a smaller role in the sequel, which also served as a prequel by focusing on her younger self (now played by Lily James) and exploring how she first came to the island of Kalokairi and her encounters with Sophie’s three potential fathers. And as another surprising development, the sequel managed to do quite well with critics. From what I’ve read, while some still felt that it wasn’t necessarily one of the ‘best’ musicals ever made, it seems like critics found this one to be a lot more enjoyable compared to its predecessor, with Lily James, especially, getting rave reviews for her turn as the younger self of Meryl Streep’s character. Thus, to shamelessly reference the classic ABBA song, it seems like fans of the original Mamma Mia were utterly delighted by this unabashedly endearing crowd-pleaser of a sequel where, from the looks of it, everyone in the cast was ‘having the time of their lives’.     

IN THE RUNNER UP SPOT, WE HAVE A TIE WITH TWO FILMS EARNING SIX VOTES EACH

SORRY TO BOTHER YOU

Armie Hammer and Lakeith Stanfield in Sorry to Bother You (2018)

Practically from the moment when its first trailer was released, Sorry to Bother You, the directorial debut of famed hip-hop artist Boots Riley, was one of the most hyped films of the year. As you might have guessed, all that hype was what ultimately convinced me to go see the film. And overall, I will say that I can see why it is one of the most talked about films of the year. Sorry to Bother You is very much its own film. It’s a dark comedy that’s smoothly mixed with sociopolitical drama; a story about an African-American man who gets ahead in life with his ‘white voice’ that delves into themes like the fear of selling out and critiques on corporate America. This all comes together nicely thanks to Riley’s confident direction, an equally game ensemble cast that includes everyone from Lakeith Stanfield and Tessa Thompson to Armie Hammer and Steven Yeun, and solidly consistent humor. But at the same time, though, I wouldn’t necessarily call this one of the ‘best films of the year’. Now don’t get me wrong, Sorry to Bother You is a good film, and unlike, say, Darren Aronofsky’s mother, when the film starts to get into the most surreal parts of its plot, these moments are elaborated upon and aren’t just put in there randomly as a source of shock value. However, the film does also suffer a bit from some erratic pacing by the end of it, even though this is where those weird moments occur. Ultimately, though, Sorry to Bother You does show that Boots Riley has great potential as a filmmaker.

AVENGERS: INFINITY WAR

Robert Downey Jr., Chris Pratt, Dave Bautista, Pom Klementieff, and Tom Holland in Avengers: Infinity War (2018)

As is always the case with these End of Summer polls, MCU films are always major front-runners (though there were surprisingly no votes for Ant-Man and the Wasp… that’s a shame…). And in the case of Avengers: Infinity War, it’s easy to see why this has been one of the most successful MCU films to date. But really, I don’t need to go into this film that much right now because I’ve already done so plenty of times these past few months and will do so again by year’s end (wink wink). That is because Avengers: Infinity War is genuinely one of those films that leaves such a big impact on you after watching it. It has one of the greatest villains in superhero film history thanks to Josh Brolin’s outstanding turn as the imposing Mad Titan, Thanos. It’s a practically perfect representation of everything that’s great about the Marvel Cinematic Universe, from its legendary ensemble cast to its visually stunning action sequences. And, of course, it all culminates in one of the most jaw-dropping endings that the genre has ever seen. Simply put, the main antagonist wins, and he does so in what is easily one of the most emotionally charged installments of a franchise that has always been known for its strong emotional depth. Because of all this, I can safely say that Avengers: Infinity War is now my personal favorite Marvel Cinematic Universe film to date. After ten whole years of build-up through both solo films and Avengers films, Infinity War sets up the stage for the satisfying culmination of one of the most rewarding cinematic experiences in recent years. And considering what Joe and Anthony Russo gave us in this film, I am 100% confident that they’ll surely be sending one hell of an epic finale our way in next year’s fourth Avengers film.  

NOW INFINITY WAR WAS THE BIG FRONT-RUNNER FOR THE FIRST FEW DAYS THAT THIS POLL WAS ACTIVE. HOWEVER, IT WAS QUICKLY OUTPACED, MAKING THIS ONE OF THOSE INSTANCES OF A YEAR WITH AN UNCHALLENGED CHAMPION. THUS, WITHOUT FURTHER ADO, THE MOST POPULAR FILM OF THE SUMMER OF 2018, ACCORDING TO RIMC VOTERS, WITH AN EVENT RECORD 12 VOTES…

BLACKKKLANSMAN

John David Washington and Adam Driver in BlacKkKlansman (2018)

Spike Lee has always been one of the most prominent filmmakers in the industry, having delivered unforgettable works like 1989’s Do the Right Thing and his 1992 biopic on activist Malcolm X. And this year, he directed a film that has become one of the most critically-acclaimed outings of his career, BlacKkKlansman. The film tells the true story of Ron Stallworth (played by John David Washington, the son of Denzel Washington), who became the first African-American police officer in the city of Colorado Springs and led an infiltration operation on the KKK in 1979. During this time, he posed as a white man in phone conversations with KKK leader David Duke (Taylor Grace) and sent a white police officer (Adam Driver) in his place whenever he had to meet Klan members face to face. Lee uses this story to create a film that many have regarded as a sharp commentary on the current political climate by focusing on a unique moment in U.S. history. Political themes have always been the most noteworthy aspect of Lee’s filmography, and Lee himself is a very political person (even when he gets a tad bit too controversial). And in a time where the rhetoric of the KKK is, unfortunately, starting to creep back into the mainstream, this very much makes BlacKkKlansman culturally relevant. As such, it's easy to see why it ended up taking the top spot in this year’s poll.


And that concludes Rhode Island Movie Corner’s 5th annual End of Summer Fan Vote. Once again, I’d like to thank everyone who voted this year. If by some chance you were unable to participate in the vote, just sound off in the comments below with your favorite film from the summer of 2018.

Wednesday, August 29, 2018

Herbie the Love Bug - Series Retrospective


We’ve got a special anniversary retrospective today on Rhode Island Movie Corner as the first entry in today’s series recently celebrated its 50th anniversary a few months back. What franchise am I referring to, you ask? Why none other than the lesser-known Disney franchise about a delightful little white Volkswagen Beetle with a mind of its own. That’s right, folks, today we’re looking at the series of films that Disney produced over the course of a few decades that starred the character of Herbie, the Love Bug AKA #53. Now, this is a franchise that I have a decent bit of history with, though not in the way that you may think. I was never really that familiar with the franchise until 2005 (and that’s even after considering the one time when I went to Disney World with my family in 2002 where we stayed at the All-Star Movies Resort, which has a full section dedicated to Herbie), when it returned to theaters for the first time in nearly three decades with Herbie: Fully Loaded. After watching that film, I then proceeded to rent all the other Herbie films (save for the 1997 made-for-TV ‘remake’) from Blockbuster… and yes, I suddenly felt quite old while writing this sentence. Granted, prior to this retrospective, it’s been quite a long time since I’ve seen any of the Herbie the Love Bug films (late 2005/early 2006, to be exact). But given my current work situation at Walt Disney World and the timeliness of the first film’s 50th anniversary, I figured that it would be fun to look at the five theatrical films, one made-for-TV film, and short-lived TV series from 1982 that make up this classic Disney franchise. With that said, put on your seatbelts and get ready for one wild ride as we honor one of cinema’s most legendary vehicles with a look at the Herbie the Love Bug films.

THE LOVE BUG (1968)

The Love Bug (1968)

The original Love Bug was very much a classic Disney production. It featured Disney regulars like Dean Jones and David Tomlinson, was directed by company mainstay Robert Stevenson (who also directed Mary Poppins… need I say more?) and was reportedly one of the last major live-action Disney films approved by Walt himself. Sure enough, while there are some aspects of the film that are clearly a product of their time, The Love Bug is still a delightfully wacky comedy about down-on-his-luck race car driver Jim Douglas (Jones) and all the hi-jinx that ensues when he becomes the new owner of a seemingly sentient Volkswagen Beetle named Herbie. The film boasts some impressive racing sequences for the time, highlighted by a highly entertaining finale race known as ‘the El Dorado’ that’s full of hilarious moments; everything from the main antagonist getting stuck inside Herbie to him mistaking a bear for his assistant. And these racing sequences are only strengthened further by its excellent cast of leads. Jones and Michele Lee, who plays Douglas’ love interest Carole Bennett, have excellent chemistry with each other while the one and only Buddy Hackett provides plenty of great humor and charm as Jim’s best friend and mechanic Tennessee Steinmetz. Ultimately, though, the biggest standout of the film is Mr. Banks himself, David Tomlinson, who is delightfully over-the-top as the pompous antagonist Peter Thorndyke. And while the film is certainly full of great humor, it still treats the concept of a ‘living car’ seriously, never going too over-the-top with Herbie’s actions. Because of this, it’s easy to see why The Love Bug is such a beloved entry in Disney’s prestigious library of classics. It’s practically the very definition of a ‘feel-good’ film.

Rating: 5/5!

HERBIE RIDES AGAIN (1974)

Herbie Rides Again (1974)

While none of the original cast from The Love Bug returned to reprise their roles in the sequel, Herbie Rides Again, director Robert Stevenson returned to helm it and several aspects of the plot maintain that this is a follow-up to the original (even though these films do tend to differ quite a bit in terms of maintaining continuity). This time, we follow a lawyer named Willoughby Whitfield who ends up working with Herbie, Tennessee’s aunt (his current owner), and her neighbor Nicole to save Tennessee and Jim’s old firehouse apartment from being demolished by his greedy uncle, real estate developer Alonzo Hawk. This results in the plot moving away from focusing on racing like in the first film in favor of a more traditional ‘save the neighborhood’ plot, with the only major racing sequence being a montage/flashback of scenes from The Love Bug. In other words, Herbie films either end up being a ‘racing comedy’ or a ‘car comedy’ and Herbie Rides Again falls into the latter category. However, there are still plenty of great instances of Herbie’s fun shenanigans to go around, and while a lot of moments in this film are far more ludicrous compared to the first (e.g. a scene where Herbie rides up the side of the Golden Gate Bridge), it’s still a delightful comedic romp. The lead trio of Helen Hayes (‘Grandma’ Steinmetz), Stefanie Powers (Nicole), and Ken Berry (Willoughby) are all terrific and prove to just as much of a likable bunch as Jim, Carole, and Tennessee from the first film. But just like the first film, the biggest standout is the villain, Alonzo Hawk, who happens to be a notable recurring villain of live-action Disney films, having also appeared in 1961’s The Absent-Minded Professor and its 1963 sequel, Son of Flubber. Like David Tomlinson in the previous film, Keenan Wynn is delightfully over-the-top, and some of the best humorous moments in the film are all the scenes in which Herbie messes with him, including a delightfully surreal dream sequence involving flying Herbies and man-eating Herbies (don’t ask…). All in all, Herbie Rides Again is a very enjoyable follow-up to The Love Bug. Obviously, I wouldn’t say that it’s ‘as good’ as its predecessor, but with a brisk 88-minute run-time, it’s a charming family flick.

Rating: 4/5

Ken Berry and Stefanie Powers in Herbie Rides Again (1974)

Before we continue, I just want to comment on the odd choice that was made in designing the artwork that was used for the front cover of the film’s home video releases, which depict Herbie as having blue human-like eyes. Herbie, of course, never has eyes like this in the original four films, and even when they did give him ‘eyes’ in Herbie: Fully Loaded, they were formed by his headlights. This is the only film where this design is used for its home video release apart from the original four films’ box set release from 2004. I only bring this up because it is so damn weird (and kind of creepy, to be honest) looking back at it now.

HERBIE GOES TO MONTE CARLO (1977)

Herbie Goes to Monte Carlo (1977)

After being absent for Herbie Rides Again, Dean Jones returned to the role of Jim Douglas for the third film, Herbie Goes to Monte Carlo, now joined by Don Knotts as his new mechanic Wheely. And as the title suggests, this film sees Herbie and the two traveling overseas to partake in the Trans-France race from France to Monte Carlo. Along the way, the trio deal with a pair of thieves who are after a valuable diamond that they stashed in Herbie and the Love Bug even falls in love with a Lancia owned by one of Douglas’ fellow racers. Unlike the previous two films, this film was directed by Vincent McEveety, another regular from Disney who, at the time, was admittedly known for directing some of the studio’s most negatively-received live-action films (e.g. 1971’s The Million Dollar Duck, which was one of only three films that Gene Siskel walked out on; Roger Ebert wasn’t too keen on it either). But as for his first foray with Herbie, he manages to deliver another enjoyable sequel that’s more in line tonally with the original. In other words, this one doesn’t have any major surreal moments (at least when compared to Herbie Rides Again) while still maintaining the franchise’s great sense of humor. It’s also focused more on racing like the original, resulting in some more solid racing sequences that utilize the plot’s European setting to great effect. Dean Jones is likable once again as Jim Douglas while Don Knotts proves to be a worthy successor to Buddy Hackett as Douglas’ new mechanic friend. Other notable members of the supporting cast include Julie Sommars as Diane Darcy, the previously mentioned Lancia driver who often keeps Jim and Wheely on their toes while not quite grasping the idea of Herbie and her car falling in love, and Roy Kinnear and Bernard Fox as the bumbling thieving duo who are after the diamond in Herbie’s fuel tank. Because of all this, Herbie Goes to Monte Carlo is another satisfying follow-up to the titular character’s first cinematic outing, finding a nice mix between the entertaining racing action of The Love Bug and the madcap humor of Herbie Rides Again to produce another classic Herbie adventure.

Rating: 4/5

HERBIE GOES BANANAS (1980)

Herbie Goes Bananas (1980)

McEveety returned to direct the next Herbie film, Herbie Goes Bananas, which followed the same route as Herbie Goes Again by being more of a comedic ‘car adventure’ than a racing film. This time around, Herbie is sent to Central America where he is taken by Jim Douglas’ nephew Pete (Stephen Burns) and ends up going on a crazy trip across the region with a young pickpocket named Paco (Joaquin Garay III). However, this also ended up being Herbie’s last big-screen adventure for several years and is often considered to be the weakest entry of the original quadrilogy… and yeah, it kind of is. Herbie is barely in it for the first third and the plot is a bit of a mess, constantly moving around a bunch of subplots ranging from Pete and his friend D.J. (Charles Martin Smith) trying to get a sponsor for their race by suckering up to a flirtatious aunt and her niece to a trio of gangsters looking to find gold. Still, that’s not to say that the film doesn’t have its standout moments when Herbie is used properly, culminating in a scene where the little car partakes in a bullfight and another where he pursues the gangsters as they try to escape via airplane. Like Herbie Goes to Monte Carlo, this film does benefit from some nice cinematography that does a solid job of highlighting its international setting, in this case, Central America. And while far from being the series’ best main characters, the main leads are a likable bunch with an ensemble cast that notably features Mel Brooks regulars Cloris Leachman and Harvey Korman. Plus, the friendship that forms between Herbie and Paco (who calls Herbie ‘Ocho’ because of his number 53 insignia and ‘five and three are eight… everyone knows that!”) is genuinely sweet… even with that goofy musical montage midway through. In short, in a lot of ways, it’s easy to see why Herbie Goes Bananas is far from being Herbie’s best cinematic outing and why it also kept the franchise grounded for a few years. And yet, maybe it’s just my nostalgic ties to this franchise talking for me, but I’ll admit that I still like this film. Overall, I’d say that it’s a generally harmless family flick (though, with that said, I won’t argue against anyone who says that this one relies on a bit too many South American stereotypes) that has just enough Herbie in it (though not as much as the other films in the series) to satisfy longtime fans.

Rating: 3/5

HERBIE, THE LOVE BUG (TV SERIES – 1982)

Herbie, the Love Bug (1982)

Taking a brief detour from the film series for a moment, we have what is probably the most unique facet of the Love Bug franchise, Herbie the Love Bug (AKA Herbie the Matchmaker), a short-lived TV series that aired on CBS in 1982. And I do mean ‘short-lived’ because this show was ultimately canceled after just five episodes as a mid-season replacement series. As such, there’s not that much to talk about here given that this was just five episodes of a show that’s now been off the air for decades. Still, it is a major part of this franchise, so I’d be remiss if I didn’t at least address it… even though I’ll admit that I never even knew about it until after I started doing this retrospective. The series saw Dean Jones return as Jim Douglas, now retired from racing, as he tries to run a driving school despite various financial difficulties. During this time, he also falls in love with a woman named Susan (Patricia Harty), whom he and Herbie rescue from a bank robbery, despite various attempts made by her ex-fiancé Randy (Larry Linville) to break them up. This is mainly by trying to exploit Jim’s past as a driver, as racing was the reason why Susan broke up with her previous husband. Other characters included Jim’s business partner Bo (Richard Paul) and Susan’s three kids; her rebellious daughter Julie (Claudia Wells AKA the OG Jennifer from Back to the Future) and her impressionable sons Robbie (Douglas Emerson) and Matthew (Nicky Katt). Two episodes were directed by Herbie Goes to Monte Carlo and Herbie Goes Bananas director Vincent McEveety while another two were directed by Bill Bixby AKA David Banner from the iconic Incredible Hulk TV series.

Simply put, this show delivers quite a good dosage of Herbie action to satisfy fans of the franchise. The transition from the big screen to the small screen does not result in the titular beetle losing any of his trademark charms. However, there are quite a few moments in this show where Herbie’s actions often get him and Jim into trouble rather than getting them out of it as usual (e.g. their driving school gets closed because Herbie messes with Randy during an inspection or the whole plot of Episode 5 where Herbie’s anger at Jim and Susan deciding to get a new family car ends up getting him impounded). Overall, the show runs more like Herbie Rides Again and Herbie Goes Bananas, focusing more on the comedic misadventures that Herbie and Jim get into rather than them racing (though with that said, the racing sequences in this show, specifically in Episode 3, are quite good). Dean Jones is charismatic as always in the role of Jim while also having some nice chemistry with Patricia Harty, and everyone else in the cast is generally solid as well. In short, we’ll never know if this would’ve been able to last as a full series instead of just five episodes. While Episode 4 does conclude with Jim and Susan getting married, Episode 5 isn’t necessarily a ‘finale’ type episode. But for what its worth, Herbie the Love Bug is another worthy addition to this classic franchise. Sadly, though, unlike the feature films, this series has not seen an official release on home video. For the record, all five episodes are currently available on YouTube, though those eager to check them out should know in advance that the video/audio isn’t that great given that they were recorded off the TV.
 
Series Rating: 4/5

THE LOVE BUG (1997)

The Love Bug (1997)

The Love Bug franchise stayed dormant for a few years after the cancellation of the titular TV series until 1997, when Herbie returned to the screen, albeit the small screen this time around, in a made-for-TV film that was a combination of a sequel and a remake. It was a sequel by way of it acknowledging the events of the 1968 film but was also basically a retelling of that film’s plot (a down-on-his-luck driver and his goofy best friend come across Herbie and race against a snobby foreign driver), hence the ‘remake’ designation. The film was also notable for being one of the first directorial efforts from Peyton Reed (he also directed a TV remake of another classic Disney film, The Computer Wore Tennis Shoes), several years before he directed Ant-Man and this year’s Ant-Man and the Wasp. What follows is quite arguably the most serious installment of the franchise… which also means that this one is kind of lacking in terms of humor. Thankfully, it does make up for this somewhat by having some genuinely effective emotional moments. Specifically, there’s a scene where Herbie dies (yes, dies!) after getting attacked by his ‘evil twin’, a black Volkswagen Beetle named Horace. It’s all good, though, as Herbie does get brought back to life complete with a pitch-perfect cameo appearance by Dean Jones in what would ultimately be his final appearance as Jim Douglas. As for the rest of the cast, Bruce Campbell is, well, Bruce Campbell as main protagonist Hank Cooper, Kevin J. O’Connor and Alexandra Wentworth are both solid as Hank’s best friend Roddy and love interest Alex, respectively, and John Hannah is delightfully sinister as the main antagonist Simon Moore. In short, while the TV film ‘remake’ of The Love Bug is far from being the best entry in the series (it’s also not winning any awards for its dated 90’s CGI), it’s still a decent addition to the franchise.

Rating: 3.5/5

HERBIE: FULLY LOADED (2005)

Herbie Fully Loaded (2005)

And finally, we conclude with Herbie’s return to the big screen in 2005, Herbie: Fully Loaded. As I noted in the intro, this was the film that properly introduced me to Herbie and his franchise as it was the first entry in the series that I watched. Ignoring the events of the 1997 remake, the film focuses on Maggie Peyton (Lindsay Lohan), the daughter of a struggling race team owner who becomes Herbie’s new owner as the two work together to achieve her dream of becoming a professional NASCAR driver. But alas, upon this film’s release, it wasn’t a big hit with critics, and based on what I’ve seen online, it seems like fans of the Herbie franchise aren’t too fond of this one, either. The downward spiral that Lohan’s career went on immediately afterward may have also impacted the film in the long run. But I don’t know… again, maybe it’s my nostalgia talking here (even though I haven’t seen this film in years), but I think that Fully Loaded is still a decent entry in the series. There’s nothing really in this film that ‘betrays’ the essence of the franchise, and that even includes the controversial decision to give Herbie more expressive facial reactions. At the very least, it has all the classic Herbie moments that we know and love, from Herbie working as a ‘matchmaker’ for the main protagonist to Herbie messing with the main antagonist (in this case, a cocky NASCAR driver named Trip Murphy (Matt Dillon)) to the point where he’s practically driven insane. Plus, it utilizes Herbie a heck of a lot better than Herbie Goes Bananas. Now, granted, it could be argued that this film’s plot is quite predictable; it is sort of another general ‘redo’ of the plot of the original Love Bug. Ultimately, though, it still manages to hit just enough of the right notes as far as this franchise is concerned, and if anything, it shows that prior to her career going down the gutter, Lindsay Lohan was a genuinely charismatic female lead. Just look at films like Mean Girls or the remake of Disney’s The Parent Trap.

Rating: 4/5

And that concludes this retrospective on the five feature films, one made-for-TV film, and short-lived TV series starring one of the most beloved cars in the world of pop culture, Herbie the Love Bug. Thanks for following along and be sure to sound off in the comments below with your own personal memories of this classic Disney franchise.

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Also, Rhode Island Movie Corner’s 5th annual End of Summer Fan Vote has been extended through September 2nd. To vote for your favorite film from the summer of 2018, just check out the link below…