Film Review: DUMBO (USA 2019) ***

Dumbo Poster
A young elephant, whose oversized ears enable him to fly, helps save a struggling circus, but when the circus plans a new venture, Dumbo and his friends discover dark secrets beneath its shiny veneer.


Tim Burton


Helen Aberson (novel), Ehren Kruger (screenplay) |1 more credit »

Everyone loves and remembers Disney’s 1941 favourite animated feel-good fantasy, DUMBO.  Dumbo, the baby elephant is born with huge ears that allow him to fly thus becoming the sensation of the circus.  Don’t expect the same with the live action film DUMBO written by Ehran Kruger and directed by Tim Burton.  Burton’s most famous films were BEETLEJUICE, EDWARD SCISSORHANDS and THE NIGHTMARE BEFORE CHRISTMAS all known for its darkness and nightmarish ideas.  It is not surprising then that Burton’s DUMBO is dark and gloomy. Dumbo rarely smiles, the scenes are mostly dark and the soundtrack is filled with loud and annoying sounds like chimpanzees screening, loud circus music and people yelling rather than talking normally.  Those prone to migraines best stay away from this one.

The films starts on a bleak note where a rundown train carrying the circus that is falling on hard times travel through poverty America.  Holt Farrier (Colin Farrell) is returning by train home to his children after the war.  It is revealed that he has lost one arm.  His wife has also passed away from influenza.  Holt is out of a job because circus owner Max Medici (Danny DeVito) sold his horses).  How more gloomy can the plot get?  

More!  Baby Dumbo is born and separated from his mother.  The circus is sold to a conniving entrepreneur, V.A. Vandevere (Michael Keaton) who is out to make money out of the new sensation of the flying elephant.  Dumbo’s act needs to be polished and creates havoc when Vandevere wants the bank to invest money in his amusement world.

The magic of the original DUMBO emerges only a few times in the movie – mainly when Dumbo soars into the air.  Even then, most of the flight takes place in the enclosed tent and if outside, occurs in the dead of night.

A lighter note is added with the characters of Max Medici and Vandevere’s French girlfriend Colette (Eva Green).  Both have the propensity to do good.  The end up taking Dumbo’s side.  Even the one henchman of Vandevere ordered to kill Dumbo’s mother tells on the deed, and quits his job out of disgust at his boss.  Keaton in full powder-packed make-up, hams up his villainous character to the extreme of being cartoonish.  His love for money ends up his downfall.

Nico Parker as Milly Farrier, Holt’s daughter and Finley Hobbins as Joe, Holt’s son are sufficiently charming reminding audiences that this is supposed to be a family movie.  The other circus performers are just there for show with little much to do except for Miss Atlantis (Sharon Rooney) who does a few mermaid tricks and the snake charmer (Roshan Seth) who gets to utter the magic words “Fly my little one!”

But for whatever is director Burton’s vision for the film, he does effectively capture the gloom of a struggling circus as he does on a world recovery from the war.  His mark is certainly stamped on this movie.

For all that it is worth in terms of gloom vs. feel-good, DUMBO does grab the audience into the adventure of the circus and one does feel sorry for the elephant when his mother is forced to leave him.


Film Review: SPIDER-MAN: HOMECOMING (USA 2017) ***

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spiderman homecomingFollowing the events of Captain America: Civil War (2016), Peter Parker attempts to balance his life in high school with his career as the web-slinging superhero Spider-Man.

Director: Jon Watts
Writers: Jonathan Goldstein (screenplay), John Francis Daley (screenplay)
Stars: Tom Holland, Michael Keaton, Robert Downey Jr., Marisa Tomei, Jon Favreau, Gwyneth Paltrow

Review by Gilbert Seah

The second re-boot of SPIDER-MAN arrives with all the hype and with it fear that the new look would result in a film as disastrous as the D.C. extended universe films MAN OF STEEL, BATMAN V. SUPERMAN or SUICIDE SQUAD. Thankfully, the new Marvel Cinematic Universe SPIDER-MAN HOMECOMING is not so bad and promises a much better sequel in the making.

The film opens with Peter Parker (Tom Holland) arriving with all his super spider powers intact. Instead of learning to control his new found powers, Parker has to learn how to be Spider-Man. He has arrived several months after the events of Captain America: Civil War, and subject to the help of his mentor Tony Stark aka IRONMAN (Robert Downey Jr.), learns to balance his life as an ordinary high school student in Queens, New York City with fighting crime.
The villain of the piece is introduced at the start of the film as an enterprising business man, Adrian Toomes (Michael Keaton). Forced out of his business by the big boys, Toomes ends up taking revenge on the city by turning himself into the Vulture that eventually battles Spidey. Keaton is exceptionally cynical in his role, the only problem arising is that Toomes is so victimized that one cannot help but root for this poor victim. At one point in the film, Toomes is so convincing in naming Stark Enterprises as the villain that one cannot help but almost believe him. The Vulture’s costume looks too much like Keaton’s Birdman’s outfit, as if reminding the audience of his Best Actor Oscar nominated role.

The climatic battle between the Vulture and Spidey looks too one sided, on the side of the Vulture who seems imminent to win the battle but of course wouldn’t. When Toomes finally ends up beaten, it seems quite unbelievable.

Despite being an action film, the film’s best moments are the interrogation scenes – one where Toomes questions Parker in the car and reveals that he is aware of Parker’s secret identity. The other is Spider-Man questioning one of the crooks regarding Toomes’ activities. Both segments expertly balance humour and surprise while displaying good dialogue expected from the team of the film’s 6 writers.

HOMECOMING is the lightest and goofiest of all the SPIDER-MAN films. But one will eventually get annoyed at Spider-Man’s inability to fight his opponents properly before gaining control of his suit. Instead of learning to use his super powers, Spidey has to learn to use Stark Enterprises’ new Spider-Man suit. In one action set-up, Spider-Man is constantly bungling and falling around learning how to use his suit in extended power mode.

The film features an eclectic cast that carries it out a bit too far. Spidey’s love interest Liz is played by African American, Laura Harrier. His school principal is played by Korean Kenneth Choi and his best friend, Ned by Filipino Jacob Batalon. Tony Revolori as Flash Thompson: Peter’s rival and classmate is latino. The script invests a bit too much time in Ned’s character, his repeated remarks on Spider-Man often ending up more annoying than funny. He is at least given something to do (computer hacking) in the story. The film feels like a teen movie with the humour and high school setting. But one can notice that all the high school kids are performed by actors over 21, Holland included (at 22 playing a 15-year old). The film is not without teen dick jokes (Flash’s song as a d.j.) and the ending song with the lyrics sounding like the ‘f’ word.

It is surprising that director Watts has ended up making more an action comedy than an action hero movie. Watts made two serious films, the thriller COP CAR and the horror chiller CLOWN prior to this. But better funny than too serious. Look what happened to the James Bond and the Planet of the Apes films?

With all the goofiness and Spidey’s learning curve out of the way in this re-boot, the sequel should promise a more mature Spider-Man and hopefully a more mature action film as well – with a better balance between action and humour.


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Film Review: THE FOUNDER (USA 2016) ***

the_founder_movie_poster.jpgDirector: John Lee Hancock
Writer: Robert D. Siegel
Stars: Linda Cardellini, Nick Offerman, Michael Keaton

 THE FOUNDER an American biographical drama that tells the story of of Ray Kroc, the self-claimed founder of McDonald’s. Whether he is the true founder or not, it is up to the audience to decide, but the film written by Robert Siegel and directed by John Lee Hanccock tries to reveal the real story, warts and all.

Just as THE FOUNDER could serve as an educational film on business success strategies, it could also be a classroom model for ethical practices.

The film follows the trail of Ray Kroc (Michael Keaton), a salesman for milkshake mixers to restaurants – indeed a hard sell. After receiving word that a small diner is ordering an unusually large number of milkshake makers from his company, Ray decides to go visit the enterprise in question. What he finds is a highly popular diner by the name of McDonald’s. Ray is immediately struck by the fast service, the high-quality food, the novelty of disposable packaging (versus cutlery) and the family-focused customers who regularly consume the food.

Ray meets with the two brothers who own and operate the diner. Maurice “Mac” McDonald (John Carroll Lynch) is elder and more simple-minded but extremely hard-working. Richard “Dick” McDonald (Nick Offerman) is younger and known for being an ideas man. Ray is given a tour of the kitchens and immediately is struck by the strong work ethic displayed by From them, Kroc acquires the fast food chain, growing it to a full state business to much more. His marriage to Ethel Fleming (Laura Dern) eventually lands in divorce with him marrying one of his franchise owners.

The film takes its time to get the audience on the side of Ray Kroc. Ray is depicted as a hard-working salesman with initially good honest practices with solid family values like caring for his loving wife. As greed gains control over Ray with the McDonalds empire expanding, Ray resorts to unethical tactics to take control over the two brothers. His marriage ends as well though the details are not shown on screen. He learns more about the dirt in the business and in his own words, he would drown a competitor by sticking a hose up his mouth. So, director Hancock slowly shifts sides as Ray’s good side eventually erodes when he finally cheats the brothers out of their agreed 1% stake in the business.

Michael delivers another outstanding performance as Ray Kroc, a man that the audience can both admire and despise. Patrick Wilson is largely wasted in a small role as the husband of the girl Ray stole to be his second wife. Offerman and Lynch play the brothers perfectly.

If Ray was depicted totally as a scheming unethical cheat, the film would turn away both its audience and McDonald’s customers. McDonald’s has become an American icon and Hancock is smart enough to treat the material as well as the character of Ray Kroc with respect. Besides Kroc has also demonstrated that the American dream can be achieved from pure persistence.


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Happy Birthday: Michael Keaton

michaelkeaton.jpgMichael Keaton

Born: September 5, 1951 in Coraopolis, Pennsylvania, USA

[After interviewer Michael Parkinson commented on his birth-name being Michael Douglas] Yeah, I had to change my name because there were two other actors registered at Equity with that name. One of them is doing quite well from what I understand, the other is making cheap porn movies… (reasonable pause) like Basic Instinct (1992).

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