Movie review: Pete’s Dragon

Movie reviews

Hello!

Welcome to the last movie review of this summer! We close the blockbusters season with another live-action fairy tale from Disney – Pete’s Dragon!

IMDb summary: The adventures of an orphaned boy named Pete and his best friend Elliot, who just so happens to be a dragon.

Pete’s Dragon is quite an unusual film for Disney because it is quite small – both budget wise and story/scope wise. However, small doesn’t mean bad – it just another type of picture. It is actually quite refreshing to see Disney spending time and money on newer and lesser known projects. Of course, I have to mention that Pete’s Dragon is not an original film but a remake of a musical with the same name from the 70s. I haven’t seen the 1977’s picture and I doubt that I’ll watch it because it is not a timeless Disney classic and it doesn’t have that good of a rating. Moreover, the new Pete’s Dragon more than satisfied all my wishes.

Writing

The film was written by the director of the feature David Lowery and the screenwriter/producer Toby Halbrooks. Halbrooks has written a few shorts and is also writing a script for 2018’s Peter Pan for Disney to be directed by Lowery. In addition to having his next directing gig sorted out, Lowery will also be writing the script for a war film The Yellow Birds. 

I really enjoyed the story that the duo penned for Pete’s Dragon. It was simple, yet well-crafted. The ideas about family and finding a place where you belong were classic Disney themes but they did actually work because of their universality and wide appeal.

The character development was also quite pleasant. I loved how Pete and Bryce Dallas Howard’s character Grace felt connected through nature. I also enjoyed the father-daughter relationship between Grace and her father, played by Robert Redford. The friendship between the main character Pete and his pet dragon Elliot was also cute and reminded me of other great films where children befriend various animals/beings – Max and E.T. are just two of many.  The main antagonist of the film was a cliche character but he served his purpose well in this family adventure picture.

Lastly, I kinda thought that Pete’s Dragon was a spiritual succesor to another live-action fairy tale of 2016 – The Jungle Book. If at the end of Mowgli’s story, he would have been found by humans and Baloo would have gone looking for him, we would most likely have gotten a Pete’s Dragon type of a situation.

Directing

David Lowery, who has only recently started to dip his toes into the blockbuster business, did quite a nice job with the film. The action scenes were entertaining, the mise-en-scene (the forest and the mountains) – gorgeous and the movie’s direction good as well.

The character design of Elliot – the dragon – was a bit weird. He didn’t really look like a dragon, more like a furry dog or a soft teddy bear that could also fly. I heard that a lot of people hated that the dragon was fury and didn’t have any scales. Personally, this change didn’t bother me – I think that it actually helped Elliot to stand out as a different kind of dragon. Also, from the business standpoint, a furry dragon is way more marketable and more merchandise friendly – what kid doesn’t want another soft plushie toy to his/her collection?

I saw the film in 3D but, honestly, it didn’t add anything to it. The effect actually made the whole film darker and, since a lot of scenes were already happening during the night, the 3D only made it harder for me to see the human characters and Elliot.

Music

The 1977’s Pete’s Dragon was a musical, but the studio decided to remake it as a drama/adventure film and drop the songs. However, the 2016’s film still had an interesting soundtrack by Daniel Hart. It seemed to me that the flick had more of a country-music inspired soundtrack and vibe. It was quite refreshing to hear some deep voices and guitar sounds after a lot of EDM and pop music in all of the other films this summer.

Acting

The main character of the film – Pete – was played by Oakes Fegley. When did the child actors have gotten this good? He was excellent in the role – sweet, relatable to children but still able to display acting chops that some adult actors lack. He has a bright future ahead.

Jurrasic World’s Bryce Dallas Howard played the adult-lead Grace and did a nice job. Grace was very different from Dallas Howard’s Jurassic World’s persona – more motherly and way more nature-orientated. Going forward, the actress has a drama thriller Gold coming up. Also, funny fact, I only recently realized that she was the one playing Gwen Stacy in Spider-Man 3. I did not recognize her with the red hair.

Karl Urban played the main antagonist of the film and was okay. Since I’ve only seen him in Star Trek as the caring doctor Bones, it was quite strange to view him as this unlikeable douchebag. He will be one of the villains in Thor 3, so, I guess, I’d better get used to this.

The cast also included Wes Bentley (We Are Your Friends, Interstellar), Oona Laurence (Southpaw, Bad Moms) and Robert Redford (Captain America: The Winter Soldier) among others. Bentley didn’t have much to do – he mostly reacted to stuff that was happening around him. Laurence was good too, while Redford was also believable as loving but a bit weird grandpa/father.

All in all, Pete’s Dragon was a good movie from Disney. It was well-written and nicely crafted. The film was not groundbreaking or the most original but it still made for some pretty good time at the cinema.

Rate: 4/5

Trailer: Pete’s Dragon trailer

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Movie review: The Walk

Movie reviews

Hello!

Sorry for the flood of movie reviews on my blog these past few days, but I promise you will get a break after this review. For now, let’s review The Walk – a film about walking on a high wire a few hundred meters in the air. To me, this seems like a ludicrous idea, since I easily trip and fall while walking on a solid ground.

IMDb summary: In 1974, high-wire artist Philippe Petit recruits a team of people to help him realize his dream: to walk the immense void between the World Trade Center towers.

Directing

The reason why I want to start this review with the director – Robert Zemeckis – is because he is the reason that I went to see this film. As you may know, my country of origin is Lithuania (I’ve moved to the UK a few months ago) and Zemeckis has Lithuanian roots, so I felt obliged to support my fellow Lithuanian or half Lithuanian. Moreover, he is a pioneer of visual effects and has made a lot of amazing films including Back to the Future trilogy, Who Framed Roger Rabbit, Forrest Gump, and Cast Away. However, I do not believe that The Walk is his best film or even close to this.

I have mixed feelings regarding this movie. On one hand, some CGI effects looked really fake (the towers at the beginning and the painfully obvious green screen during the exposition inserts – I wonder how did these scenes looked on IMAX) while other sequences were breathtaking (the actual walk or more accurately the walks). The ending sequence with an imaginary wire and the NY skyline dissolving into the black was my favorite shot. The black and white opening with some colorful details was an interesting choice as well. I just wish that this movie was edited more neatly so that beginning and ending would have had a bit more coherence.

Story

The Walk’s screenplay was based on real life events from 1974 when the real life Philippe Petit performed his dangerous and illegal stunt. Zemeckis himself, with the help of Christopher Browne, wrote the script, which could have benefited from the revision (the same with the visuals). Film’s story was really unfocused during the first half of the film and did not engage the viewer fully. It felt both rushed (characters did not receive any development) and the way too slow (lots of time passed with nothing really happening). There was no indication of the passage of time, so the audience couldn’t really tell how much time has passed between scenes – a day or a year? However, as much as I critic this film, I have to admit that the motion picture really shined during the second half when it found its focus: the preparation for walk sequence was even more interesting than the actual walk(s) scene because it had amazing suspense, which later carried on to the actual performance.

Though, while the 2nd part of the film was very enjoyable, some questionable choices were taking me out of the film throughout the whole run-time. For example, the exposition on top of the Statue of Liberty and the breaking of the 4th wall seemed like unnecessary and distracting additions to the film. Moreover, while I loved the European flavor of the film, their explanation of why the characters should speak English instead of French seemed quite stupid to me. Also, the fact that the character of Petit only did a few walks and trained for a bit and was prepared for the walk between the World Trade Center Towers was a bit unbelievable. However, according to google, World Trade Center Walk was only the 4th walk that Petit did IRL, so the movie stuck to the reality in that case. Lastly, while this film was based on real life events and might have wanted to stay as truthful to the real story as possible, some of the details of the plot were quite weird. For instance, why would you allow a guy who has a fear of heights on your team if you are planning to walk on a wire hundreds of meters in the air? It just seemed to be an unnecessary obstacle for Petit’s purpose and the comedic relief that it added was not worth it.

Acting

  • Joseph Gordon-Levitt as Philippe Petit was the star of this film. I have always been on the fence when it comes to Gordon-Levitt as an actor and I still remain on the fence. He has done some great films but he never really stuck out to me in any of them. I also had quite a lot of issues with his character in this film. I don’t know whether real-life Petit is like this, but the film’s Petit seemed like a very selfish and arrogant man (thief and troublemaker) and just and unlikable character who the viewer had to force himself/herself to like and root for. Furthermore, the way he held himself above the circus artists was not a nice thing to do. Also, why couldn’t they just cast a French actor to play this role? Levitt looks nothing like real life Petit, so it was definitely not the reason why he got the part. Also, I think they CGI-ied his face a bit but that just made it look weird and fake. However, the fakest thing of it all was the Gordon-Levitt’s accent, which took some time to get used to. Lastly, I would be interested to know, how much of the actual wire walking did Gordon-Levitt do and who was his stunt man.
  • Ben Kingsley as Papa Rudy and Charlotte Le Bon as Annie Allix were the two supporting characters, which received some development and I wish we could have spent more time with them since they seemed to be interesting. What mind boggles me the most, is the fact that they managed to cast a French actress in a lead female role but not the male one. Why? Speaking about Kingsley, I mostly remember him as Marvel’s The Mandarin, though he has done some better films than Iron Man 3. The last Le Bon’s film, which I’ve watched, was The Hundred-Foot Journey – I quite liked it. Plus, I have found out that she voiced Joy in the French version of Inside Out.
  • Clément Sibomy, James Badge Dale, César Domboy, Ben Schwartz, Benedict Samuel, and Steve Valentine also had supporting roles in the film. Sadly, they looked like really one-dimensional caricatures of real life people.

To sum up, The Walk was an okay film and so far – my least favorite film of the fall and the least likely candidate for any awards. The plot was messy, the visuals could have been neater and the choices for the actors and their characters – questionable. However, the suspense of the Walk(s) and the CGI of the final sequence made up for the previous shortcomings at least a bit.

Rate: 3.5/5

Trailer: The Walk trailer

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