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November 2021 Movie Review Roundup

Alex is a School of Visual Arts graduate with a passion for media, writing and animation. He writes reviews for film, television and games.

Marvels' Eternals

A team of immortal aliens must reunite to save Earth from its evil counterparts and an awakening giant.

Before its release, many were intrigued by the concept, the interesting casting, and more. Of course, I never heard of the Eternals or read any comics but the movie itself still kept me interested. However, once the mixed reviews came in, it was quite a shocker that this movie earned the lowest score on Rotten Tomatoes while others called it one of the "worst" MCU movies ever. ...Really? That's saying much considering that there were certain MCU movies that received backlash for...stupid reasons, such as Iron Man 2 and Captain Marvel. Personally, after watching it myself: it's not that bad but I wouldn't say it's that good either.

This Marvel movie is one of the most ambitious yet. The idea of these aliens with these distinctive powers and protecting the Earth from the dawn of time sounds interesting. It was also fascinating that the evil counterparts have the ability to kill and absorb the Eternals to become more human. Not to mention that is the first MCU movie to have both gay and deaf superheroes. Those historical moments alone shouldn't be ignored. Being an MCU movie, it sometimes lightens the mood with some humor thanks to Kumail Nanjiani and Brian Tyree Henry's performances. Sure, some would find it out of place, but I personally didn't mind. Actually, some of the performances and action sequences are decent as well.

One of the biggest criticisms that the movie received is relying heavily on exposition. Though there is some truth to that statement, I kind of understood what was going on. The only time I would doze off was during the climax, which is sad considering the best thing of any MCU movie is the final fight between the heroes and villains. Speaking of the latter, without spoiling, there is one character that went through a confusing development arc that makes it hard to either like or hate him. While some of the actors did fine, the others sound wooden and should've taken another take. Not personally blaming them; just the direction that was given to them.

Comparing this movie with Black Widow and Shang-Chi, this is the weakest of the three that was released this year. But, I am NOT saying this is a bad movie either. It has a unique premise, some charming acting, and cute humor. But, with some complex writing, underdeveloped characters, and a dull climax, its ambition may rub others the wrong way. As an aspiring artist, I adore others' artistic vision and I heard this director has done some solid work. With all the hard work thrown in, I think it would be difficult to find what this movie is suited for. Overall, the movie is okay to watch if you are curious and interested in MCU taking a different direction. Just keep your expectations low. If not, then wait for a future MCU film where they will return with a couple of mid-credit and end-credit scenes worth watching. Hopefully, the Eternals interacting with other MCU characters would help ease the tension.

RATING: 6/10

Home Sweet Home Alone

In order to save their home, a couple (Ellie Kemper and Rob Delaney) plan to steal a family heirloom from a boy (Archie Yates) who was accidentally left home alone.

I'm not going to lie: this was one of the most complicated movies I had to sit through. Home Alone is one of my personal favorite Christmas movies. It was an emotional and funny movie that not only made Macaulay Culkin a breakthrough star, some inventive slapstick but also taught families that no one should be alone on Christmas. With the sequels, it was quite a difficult journey. Even though Home Alone 2: Lost in New York is a rehash, it has plenty of moments that make it enjoyable on its own merit. Home Alone 3 took a different direction, but the execution makes the tone confusing and some of the slapstick is more precisely dangerous than funny. Home Alone 4 is one of the worst sequels I have ever watched. It's a living example where they take existing characters from the first two films and half-baked them in a cheap and embarrassing manner. Home Alone 5 was an improvement, although the humor was hit-and-miss, it had elements that make it close to the spirit of the original.

When I heard Disney announce there was a reboot announced after buying Fox, I was worried. But then, I kept hearing what the story was and my anticipation was rising since it sounded promising and new. But once the trailer and the movie were released on Disney+ day, I became mostly disappointed. I say "mostly" because there are some elements that were left intact while others felt unnecessary and pointless. To best describe this movie is two kids fighting over the same toy. The first kid represents the writer with a fresh spin and perspective on the franchise while the other kid represents either the Fox or Disney executives that desperately wanted to be a remake of the first film. The toy breaks and the movie becomes a confusing mess. It felt like I was watching two different movies.

The best thing about this movie is the concept itself. To its credit, it mostly kept its focus on the McKenzies, a husband and wife that are secretly struggling to keep their house financially without their kids and relatives knowing. Sure, they would sound like horrible people when the two decide to break into Max's house and miss out on their family activities. But, they, at least, try to be reasonable and talk it out. In fact, this conflict between Max and the McKenzies is a huge misunderstanding and the ending somewhat patches it up. I also like the nods and callbacks to the original, including Dennis Ratray returning as Kevin's older brother Buzz, now as a police officer. But, sadly, I wish the rest of the movie was like this because the story involving Max really sours the mood.

Let me be clear: it is not a shot-for-shot remake. It's more of the by-the-numbers of certain scenes, except they forgot one important ingredient: a reason to care. Whenever a familiar scene is recreated, it feels rushed and doesn't allow enough time to sympathize with Max or his family. Speaking of which, Max and his family are unlikeable where Max is a brat and his family doesn't seem to pay attention to him. Even if he's left home alone, it doesn't feel like a big deal. The mother going back home herself is not as engaging as before. Not even the humor and slapstick balance it out. Okay, maybe a couple of chuckles but the majority of the humor fall flat. The traps range from okay to downright dangerous for the wrong reasons. This is an example of studio interference where the movie doesn't want to be the first film, but it was forced to whether the cast and crew liked it or not.

Criticisms aside, I can confidently say this is not the worst Home Alone movie ever. That still goes with the fourth movie. Outside of that, I still wouldn't recommend this to fans of the original film. It's obvious what you would rather be watching instead. Maybe the concept and a few references alone are worth watching but not enough to save it. I feel bad for the actors and crew involved in this because this movie was so close with this refreshing take. Then again, if there's anything I appreciate from this movie is honesty because Rob Delaney admitted that there are definitely those fans who would hate this movie and did the best what he could. For that, I deeply respect that. It is a massive mixed bag that should be left home alone.

RATING: 5/10


Clifford the Big Red Dog

When a young girl (Darby Camp) adopted a small, red dog, it grew 10-feet tall and she must learn to protect it with all her love.

I am familiar with the Clifford the Big Red Dog illustrated books as a kid and remember watching episodes of the PBS animated series starring the late John Ritter. Coincidentally enough, this isn't the first cinematic adventure for Clifford since there was an animated feature directly based on the PBS show. So, making a live-action adaptation of this character would be challenging and after seeing it, I could say this movie is harmless but definitely has more heart put into it than most live-action adaptations.

The story and some of the characters, as you could guess, are cliched and predictable. Even taking place in New York City is nothing new. But, with that said, there's nothing much to complain about since there are some elements that provide emotion and whimsy for families. For starters, the CGI animation on Clifford is decent. Sure, there are sometimes uncanny. But, at least, this design helps applies to realism without making him look cartoony and out of place. He is appealing and cute enough for kids to reach out to. Some of the actors are also adequate. Darby Camp did a good job as Emily while Jake Whitehall and Tony Hale get a laugh once in a while since a majority of their jokes don't hit their marks. Emily's neighbors are potentially interesting characters but don't have much screen time and have their moments during the climax.

There are two components that really built the emotion and heart of the movie. One is the musical score by John Debney. Something about his music really enchants the mood without oversaturating it. But, the glue that held this film together is the character Mr. Bridwell, played by John Cleese. He is the owner of an animal rescue tent full of extraordinary animals. Though mysterious, he is pure of heart and generous with other people thanks to the delivery by John Cleese. Whatever was written in the screenplay, he literally breathes magic into the movie. I don't know else to describe it, it's best to see it for yourself.

Overall, Clifford the Big Red Dog is a harmless family flick that displays more effort than other live-action adaptations. Yes, the story and characters are unoriginal with stale humor and missed potential. But, the execution helps with cute CGI, acceptable performances, a heartfelt score, and incredible acting by John Cleese. It is a step closer than many would assume it be, but nothing cannot beat the love of a big, red dog.

RATING: 6/10

Ghostbusters Afterlife

When a family moves to an Oklahoma farmhouse, the daughter (Mckenna Grace) discovers her grandfather's past and the Ghostbusters' connections.

Talk about a franchise with a zealous fanbase. While I am not a hardcore fan, Ghostbusters is a comedy classic with an outstanding and creative concept, groundbreaking special effects, and memorable characters. Ghostbusters II, though not as good as the first, has its moments that contribute to the original film. The 2016 reboot was the massive air-quoted "controversial" film that broke the Internet and fanbase in half. Personally, I found that movie to be alright. Yes, the comedy is hit-and-miss, but the actors and the core of the concept still pay respect to the source material. Because of the outcry and it flopped at the box office, Sony decided to give the franchise justice again by creating a new follow-up, directed by Ivan Reitman's son, Jason. After years of waiting, this is a Ghostbusters movie worth watching.

If you saw the trailers, it is evident that this entire movie is a love letter to the late Harold Ramis, who played Egon in the original films. With his family and the town of Oklahoma being the focus, the movie is filled with charm, wonder, atmosphere, and mystery. Mckenna Grace does a phenomenal job as Egon's curious yet brave granddaughter Pheobe. Paul Rudd playing an eccentric science teacher who was a fan of the Ghostbusters is also funny. There are many locations, like a burger drive-in and the farmhouse, that would trigger nostalgic summer memories. Speaking of nostalgic memories, there are many references and callbacks to the previous films as well. Not to mention seeing the surviving original actors reunite in supporting roles. The special effects balance well between practical and CGI with old and new ghosts.

The only issue I have with the sequel, which is honestly kind of debatable amongst fans, is the reveal of the mystery feels too familiar and would find that almost a rehash. But, with that said, the emotional and humorous weight throughout the climax is so powerful that it easily overshadows the flaw. This movie is a definite tearjerker without giving anything away.

Overall, Ghostbusters: Afterlife is a prime example of a sequel that shows love, care, and dedication to a beloved franchise. It understood what made the franchise work and had such a hardworking cast and crew behind it. Plus, it really helps keep Harold Ramis in high spirits, no pun intended. Families and fans who anxiously waited for a true follow-up won't be afraid to skip this film.

RATING: 9/10

Disney's Encanto

When the magic from an extraordinarily gifted family slowly fades, one daughter born without a gift (Stephanie Beatriz) must investigate and save the magic before it's too late.

The year 2021 has been quite a highlight for Lin-Manuel Miranda's movie career since he released the film version of Into the Heights and Sony Pictures Animation's first musical Vivo. So, it makes sense to collaborate with Disney yet again to work on another original musical after Moana. We had a great start with Raya and the Last Dragon and this movie delivered what it promised on the other end of the spectrum. Not to mention, this is historically the 60th Disney animated feature.

The story really centers its focus on the themes and family values while crafting this solid backstory on how the magic was born and how the family uses their gifts to build their community. While it's not complex and can be vague at times, it's simple and highly effective enough to let the emotions and atmosphere sink in. Plus, it's refreshing to see a story had that has no real antagonist or twists and turns; just a simple slice-of-life dilemma that any family could watch and relate to. The animation is colorful and beautiful. The town hidden within the mountains is bustling with optimism while the house has a variety of rooms that are surprisingly bigger on the inside than the outside. The effects animation really enhances the creativity the animators provide while adding Columbian culture. Each member of the Madrigal family is distinctive and memorable with the protagonist Mirabel being the heart and soul of the picture. It's quickly worth noting that this is the first Disney animated movie with a muscular woman. Speaking of which, her sisters Isabela and Luisa have their moments in the spotlight outside their respective gifts. On top of that, the voice acting and singing are well done with John Leguizamo adding some comedic moments. The soundtrack and musical numbers have an interesting blend of musical styles from Columbian to hip-hop to tango. Each number strongly expresses who these characters are while the music is lively enough to tap your toes to.

Overall, Encanto is another great entry in Disney's library with an inventive premise, vibrant and detailed animation, extraordinary characters, and vigorous musical numbers. It is highly recommended for families that will have a fun and bonding time. This movie alone is worth watching for those that miss out on going to the movie theaters during this depressing time...just follow safety guidelines. As the 60th animated feature, movies like this remind us why Disney can still be magical.

P.S. There's an animated short involving a raccoon family and it's 2-D! It's such a rare sight to see 2-D Disney on the big screen just for this occassion.

RATING: 9/10

Conclusion

In conclusion, November was not as heavily competitive as October but there were a couple of movies that helped make this experience smoother. My highest recommendations are Ghostbusters: Afterlife and Disney's Encanto. Both of these movies share a lot of hard work and care in their projects with talented people attached. You can get teary-eyed by either and you will still have a great time. The biggest pass for this month is Home Sweet Home Alone. It may have a neat idea, but it was heavily spoiled by studio interference and desperately reenacting the first film. As for Eternals and Clifford the Big Red Dog, they most likely are rentals, particularly with Eternals for those who are unsure. For the latter, Clifford the Big Red Dog is closer enough to an appetizer for families before dining into Encanto as the main course.

As we reach the final month of this year...boy, this is going to be a wild ride.

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