Review: ‘Onward,’ starring Chris Pratt and Tom Holland

March 6, 2020

by Carla Hay

Ian Lightfoot (voiced by Tom Holland) and Barley Lightfoot (voiced by Chris Pratt) in “Onward” (Image courtesy of Disney/Pixar Animation Studios)

“Onward”

Directed by Dan Scanlon

Culture Representation: Taking place in a magical world (where almost everyone has an American accent), the main characters of the animated film “Onward” are mythical creatures, but there are some human characters with minor supporting roles.

Culture Clash: A recurring theme in the movie is the conflicts between modern customs versus the magical customs.

Culture Audience: “Onward” is a family-friendly movie that will appeal to anyone who likes an adventurous and heart-warming story.

Ian Lightfoot (voiced by Tom Holland) and Barley Lightfoot (voiced by Chris Pratt) in “Onward” (Image courtesy of Disney/Pixar Animation Studios)

“Onward,” the first original film from Disney’s Pixar Animation Studios since 2017’s “Coco,” won’t be winning any Oscars as “Coco” did, but it’s a solid animated film that will be a crowd-pleaser for people of various generations. The movie (directed by Dan Scanlon who wrote the screenplay with Keith Bunin and Jason Headley) spends most of the film as a Pixar version of a video game. The story is simple and straightforward, involving the main characters doing a series of challenges to get to a coveted treasure item. It isn’t until the last 15 minutes that “Onward” packs an emotional punch that shows the movie is a little deeper than a typical animated film.

In the beginning of the movie, which is narrated by teenage elf Ian Lightfoot (voiced by Tom Holland), viewers learn that the world he lives in used to be filled with magic. But then modern technology took over, and magic became a antiquated custom that has been forgotten by numerous people in the world.

Ian lives with his kind and loving mother Laurel Lightfoot voiced by Julia-Louis Dreyfus) and his goofy older brother Barley Lightfoot (voiced by Chris Pratt). Laurel, who is a widow, has a “good guy” boyfriend named Colt Bronco (voiced by Mel Rodriguez), a centaur police officer. Ian and Barley’s father Wilden Lightfoot (voiced by Kyle Bornheimer) died when Ian was a bay and Barley was about three years old. Ian is about to turn 16, while Barley is 18 or 19. (His mother Laurel mentions that Barley is taking a “gap year.”)

Barley isn’t in school and he doesn’t seem to have a job, so he spends a lot of time at home being the kind of brother who often annoys Ian, who is studious and socially awkward. The two things that Barley is passionate about the most are his beat-up purple van that he’s named Guinevere and his encyclopedic knowledge of historical traditions in magic that hardly anyone around him seems to care about.

Barley also seems to be living in a “Bill & Ted’s Excellent Adventure”/”Wayne’s World” time warp, because he dresses and acts like a playful metalhead, just like those movies’ characters of Bill and Ted and Wayne and Garth. Guinevere is also decked out like something out of the late ’80s/ early ’90s, with the bumper stickers to prove it. Ian is often embarrassed by Barley, because he thinks of himself as intellectually superior to Barley, whose behavior is sometimes like a hyper puppy.

In one scene that shows the tension between the two brothers, Ian has worked up the nerve to ask some of his classmates to his upcoming 16th birthday party. He’s delighted when they say yes. But when Barley shows up at Ian’s school, he embarrasses Ian so much that Ian tells his classmates that the party has been cancelled. What Ian doesn’t tell his classmates is he doesn’t want them to be around Barley, who would be at the party.

For Ian’s birthday, he gets a wizard’s staff that his father Wilden had set aside for Ian to get specifically when Ian turned 16. He uses the staff to make a wish to bring his father back to life for 24 hours. But something goes wrong during the spell, and only the lower half of Wilden’s body (from the waist down) has come back to life. The upper half of his body exists but is invisible.

And so begins Ian and Barley’s race against time to find the magical item that will fully transform Wilden Lightfoot back to his normal self. The item that has the power to do that is a rare, mystical gem that’s hidden. For most of the film, Ian and Barley go off on a frantic quest to find the gem in time before their father disappears when the sun comes up. Just like a video game, they have to complete a challenge to get to the next level in the puzzle that will led them to the gem.

Along the way, they meet a lively group of characters, most notably the sassy Manticore (voiced by Octavia Spencer), also known as a restaurateur named Corey. She’s the owner of Manticore’s Tavern, where she has gone to reinvent herself as a “respectable” member of society after having a wild past. Ian and Barley also encounter a biker gang of pixies that clash with the two brothers.

Meanwhile, the story takes on a “Weekend at Bernie’s” vibe when Ian and Barley have to dress the upper half of their father’s body, including making him wear sunglasses, so that they can see him better. Ian and Barley lead him around by a leash-like belt that’s wrapped around his waist. At times it looks a little creepy, but it’s all played for laughs. In his half-body state, Wilden can’t see or talk, but apparently he can hear sometimes. It’s a plot hole that has to be overlooked in order to enjoy this movie.

The visual effects in “Onward” are perfectly fine and much better than most animated films. But compared to other Pixar movies (such as the Oscar-winning “Toy Story” movies, “Up,” “Finding Nemo,” “Inside Out” and “The Incredibles”), “Onward” is on the lower end of the quality scale. And although “Onward” covers a lot of the same ideas that other “race against time” fantasy/adventure stories have done before, near the end of the film, one of the brothers does something slightly unpredictable that affects how he feels about his family. It’s a tear-jerking moment that a lot of viewers won’t see coming. And it wouldn’t be a Pixar movie if there isn’t a scene that’s meant to make people cry.

Disney/Pixar Animation Studios released “Onward” in U.S. cinemas on March 6, 2020.

UPDATE: Because of the widespread coronavirus-related closures of movie theaters worldwide, Disney will make “Onward” available on digital and on Movies Anywhere, as of March 20, 2020, and on the Disney+ streaming service, as of April 3, 2020.

Review: ‘Downhill,’ starring Julia Louis-Dreyfus and Will Ferrell

February 13, 2020

by Carla Hay

Will Ferrell and Julia Louis-Dreyfus in “Downhill” (Photo by Jaap Buitendijk)

“Downhill”

Directed by Nat Faxon and Jim Rash

Culture Representation: Taking place in the Austrian Alps, “Downhill” is the story of a middle-class, middle-aged married American couple who go on a disastrous ski trip with their two teenage sons.

Culture Clash: The bickering spouses not only have conflicts with each other, but they’re also annoyed by a younger couple who wants to tag along, and they experience some uncomfortable moments with the Austrian locals.

Culture Audience: This comedy film that isn’t very funny will appeal mainly to fans of Julia Louis-Dreyfus and Will Ferrell, whose comedic talents are stifled in a story filled with tension and misery.

Zach Woods and Zoë Chao in “Downhill” (Photo by Jaap Buitendijk)

“Downhill” is a perfect word to describe the steep slide into disappointment that your expectations will take when you think about how this movie wastes the talents of Julia Louis-Dreyfus and Will Ferrell. The pacing of this film, which follows an American couple whose marriage has hit a rough patch, is like slogging through the snow-covered Austrian Alps, where the story takes place. Directed by Nat Faxon and Jim Rash from a screenplay by Jesse Armstrong, “Downhill” is supposed to be inspired by the 2014 Swedish avalanche disaster comedy “Force Majeure,” but that film had loads more humorous moments and compelling dialogue than what “Downhill” has to offer.

Ferrell has been in plenty of stinker movies before, but Louis-Dreyfus usually chooses quality over quantity when it comes to the movies that she makes. She’s one of the producers of “Downhill,” so this is a rare misstep for her. Ferrell and Louis-Dreyfus play Pete and Billie Stanton, a long-married couple who’ve reached a point in their relationship where almost everything one of them does gets on the other’s nerves. They’ve taken this ski vacation to Austria with their teenage fraternal-twin sons, Finn and Emerson (played by Julian Grey and Ammon Ford), to have some family bonding time, with a small glimmer of hope that maybe the trip will bring positive feelings back into their marriage.

Hovering somewhere near the Stantons throughout the trip is an American couple in their 20s named Zach (played by Zach Woods) and Rosie (played Zoë Chao), who have an eager-to-impress vibe to them, as they try to latch on to Pete and Billie on awkward double dates. Pete knows Zach because they’re real-estate co-workers. Billie really doesn’t like being around Rosie and Zach, but Pete is more willing to tolerate them, even though the Stantons can’t relate to Rosie and Zach’s penchant for taking psychedelic mushrooms and Instagram selfies. Unbeknownst to Billie at first, Pete has invited Zach and Rosie to hang out with them. Pete will soon find out that the younger couple will wear out their welcome, as Rosie and Zach witness all the tension in the Stantons’ marriage.

One of the first people the Stantons meet upon arriving at the ski resort is the overly effusive Charlotte (played by Miranda Ott), who acts as if she works at the resort as some sort of concierge, but as the story goes on, it’s questionable if she really works there at all. At any rate, Charlotte is the kind of person who shares too much information about her sex life with total strangers, and she expects everyone she first meets to immediately become her confidant.

She fancies herself to be quite the seductress, but she’s so crude and annoying (such as when she brags, “I can catch a dick whenever I want”), that she’s not one of those quirky characters who ends up being endearing. She’s just unpleasant to watch, and Otto (who’s usually a great actress) isn’t helping matters by trying too hard with an unconvincing Austrian accent. This is not a droll comedy with eccentric and fascinating characters, such as in Wes Anderson’s 2014 movie “The Grand Budapest Hotel.”

When the Stantons arrive at the resort, there are sounds of explosive rumblings off in the distance, which are ominous signs of what’s to come. That fateful moment comes when the family is outside on a café patio with several other people, and they notice that a large amount of snow is tumbling down from the mountains. As it quickly turns into an avalanche, there isn’t enough time for the café patrons to take shelter, and the avalanche goes barreling down and engulfs them.

The avalanche scene itself is very unrealistic, because the massive weight and force of all that snow would have injured and possibly killed several people. But the movie just fades to black after the avalanche hits. And then, the next scene is of the people who were on the café patio, looking dazed and getting up and brushing some of the snow off of their clothes. There’s also hardly any damage done to the café and surrounding buildings.

Billie and Pete have very different reactions to the avalanche. Billie is completely unnerved, while Pete takes it in stride and tries to enjoy the rest of the trip. In a meeting that Billie and Pete have with the resort’s manager (played by Kristofer Hivju), Billie demands that the resort make an apology for handling the disaster poorly. The manager points out that there were signs around the resort warning that there was a possibility of an avalanche. “It was handled perfectly,” the manager tells Billie, who ends up leaving the meeting in a huff, while Pete looks embarrassed over her anger.

Later, in attempt to lift Billie’s spirits, Pete arranges for everyone in the family to take a helicopter trip around the Alps. But when the time comes for them to go on the helicopter, one of the kids is missing a glove. Billie then has a mini-meltdown and refuses to get on the helicopter until the son has two gloves to wear. Pete yells that he’s paid $2,000 for the trip and he doesn’t want the money to go to waste. Billie yells back that their son’s comfort is more important and he needs to wear two gloves. The helicopter ends up leaving without them.

Push-and-pull scenes like that keep getting repeated in the movie. Pete tries to take his mind off of the avalanche and have a good time with Billie and the family. Meanwhile, Billie keeps obsessing over the avalanche and sees Pete’s post-avalanche behavior as flippant and uncaring about the family’s safety. Louis-Dreyfus tends to play neurotic characters, but Billie is a shrew who seems hell-bent on making everyone around her as miserable as she is.

One of the problems with “Downhill” (and it’s really noticeable if you see this movie with an audience) is that there are so many times when Ferrell or Louis-Dreyfus utters a line in such a way that viewers will expect it to turn into a joke. There’s a slight pause of anticipation, as if something that will make people laugh is coming next.  But that humorous moment never happens in scenes where people think they’ll happen.

People aren’t expecting this movie to be a slapstick or broad comedy, but during the course of the movie, it becomes very clear that Billie and Pete really are just wretched to watch. There’s no clever satire here, as this movie expects viewers to be stuck in this repetitive hell of arguments and resentment with very unlikable people. It almost makes the tension of “Force Majeure” look like an amusement-park ride compared to the slow-moving train wreck of “Downhill.”

Searchlight Pictures will release “Downhill” in U.S. cinemas on February 14, 2020.

UPDATE: Because of the widespread coronavirus-related closures of movie theaters worldwide, 20th Century Home Entertainment has moved up the digital release of “Downhill” to March 27, 2020.

 

2019 Primetime Emmy Awards: presenters announced

September 11, 2019

The following is a press release from the Academy of Television Arts and Sciences:

The Television Academy and Emmy Awards telecast producers Don Mischer Productions and Done+Dusted announced the first group of talent set to present the iconic Emmy statuettes at the 71st Emmy Awards on Sunday, September 22.

The presenters include:

  • Angela Bassett* (9-1-1 and The Flood)
  • Stephen Colbert* (The Late Show with Stephen Colbert)
  • Viola Davis* (How to Get Away with Murder)
  • Michael Douglas* (The Kominsky Method)
  • Taraji P. Henson (Empire)
  • Terrence Howard (Empire)
  • Jimmy Kimmel* (Jimmy Kimmel Live)
  • Peter Krause (9-1-1)
  • Seth Meyers* (Late Night With Seth Meyers and Documentary Now!)
  • Billy Porter* (Pose)
  • Naomi Watts (The Loudest Voice)
  • Zendaya (Euphoria)
  • The cast of Game of Thrones: Alfie Allen*, Gwendoline Christie*,
    Emilia Clarke*, Peter Dinklage*, Kit Harington*, Lena Headey*, Sophie Turner*, Carice van Houten*, Nikolaj Coster-Waldau*, and Maisie Williams*

September 17, 2019 UPDATE:

More presenters have been announced for the 2019 Primetime Emmy Awards:

  • Anthony Anderson* (black-ish)
  • Ike Barinholtz (Bless the Harts)
  • Cedric the Entertainer (The Neighborhood)
  • Max Greenfield (The Neighborhood)
  • Bill Hader* (Barry)
  • Julia Louis-Dreyfus* (VEEP)
  • Cast of VEEP: Anna Chlumsky, Gary Cole, Kevin Dunn, Clea DuVall, Tony Hale, Sam Richardson, Reid Scott, Timothy Simons, Sarah Sutherland, Matt Walsh
  • Gwyneth Paltrow (The Politician)
  • Amy Poehler* (Duncanville and Russian Doll)
  • Maya Rudolph (Bless the Harts and The Good Place)
  • RuPaul* (RuPaul’s Drag Race)
  • Lilly Singh (A Little Late with Lilly Singh)
  • Ben Stiller* (Escape at Dannemora)
  • Phoebe Waller-Bridge* (Fleabag)
  • Cast of Keeping Up with the Kardashians: Kim Kardashian, Kendall Jenner, Kylie Jenner

The 71st Emmy Awards will air live from the Microsoft Theater in Los Angeles on Sunday, September 22, (8:00-11:00 PM ET/5:00-8:00 PM PT) on FOX.

For more information, please visit Emmys.com. Find out Where to Watch.

*71st Emmy Awards Nominees

 

https://www.emmys.com/news/awards-news/emmy-presenters-190911