I have a heap of movies to talk about, including a much anticipated sequel to a sci-fi classic.

So without further ado, let’s get straight to the reviews.

***

Victoria and Abdul

First up is “Victoria and Abdul.”

Set in the late 19th century during the height of the British Empire, this film tells the true story of the unlikely friendship between Queen Victoria (Judi Dench) and a young clerk from India, Abdul Karim (Ali Fazal). A relationship that irritates her son (Eddie Izzard) and makes waves in the Queen’s entire household.

One of the great things I love most about going to the movies all the time is seeing historical events and interesting people I know very little about, or in some cases never even heard of, brought to life on the big screen.

Abdul Karim definitely falls into the “never even heard of” category.

The tale of an Indian man who, despite low birth, somehow curries favor with the ruler of the most powerful country on Earth at the time is certainly an interesting one.

And while the film makes for a charming and pleasant watch for the most part, it lacks teeth and the movie handles some of the heavier issues of the time with kid gloves.

But let’s start with what I think is the best aspect of this film, Judi Dench.

It’s no wonder this is her third time playing British royalty and second outing as Queen Victoria herself.

Dench is marvelous in this role. She’s powerful and cantankerous, yet sympathetic and kind.  

Most of all though, she’s lonely. Isolated from the rest of the world thanks to her position and practically a prisoner of her own rule.

At times you forget she’s the ruler of an entire empire and you just see a lonesome old woman who needs a friend. Something she finds in Ali Fazal’s character.

As you’d expect from the title, the relationship between Victoria and Abdul is the film’s focus  and Dench and Fazal do a wonderful job bringing their friendship to life.

The two of them are just plain adorable together. It’s almost infectious how happy they make each other in the movie.

The other main focus of the film is the intolerance Abdul receives at the hands of the queen’s household.

At first the household’s dislike for Abdul is played up for humor, but as the movie progresses they become hateful and actively go out of their way to actively sabotage him.

Their animosity for Abdul seems to stem from his lower class, religious beliefs and his favoritism with the queen, leaving the film to gloss over the more uncomfortable topic of racism for the most part.

An odd omission after reading up on the actual history. Abdul’s dark skin and native country was a huge reason he was hated so much.

I’m sure the filmmakers wanted to keep the movie’s tone lighthearted, and to their credit the story does work okay without delving into racism. I think it takes away some of the film’s potential substance though.

There’s also a couple other things I wish the movie would have explored a little more, and a few things I wish the film would have gone a little more in depth with, but honestly that’s just a personal nitpick.

At the end of the day this film sets out to tell the story of an unlikely friendship and I think it does it pretty well.

It doesn’t take many risks, but it’s charming and well performed. If you enjoy historical dramas I say go check it out.

“Victoria & Abdul” is rated PG-13.

***

My Little Pony: The Movie

Next up is “My Little Pony: The Movie.”

When an evil force lead by a dark unicorn (Emily Blunt) invades Canterlot, it’s up to Twilight Sparkle (Tara Strong) and her friends to stop it.

Seeking aid, the ponies embark on a quest beyond their home of Equestria, and along the way meet a host of colorful characters that help and hinder them on their journey to destinations unknown.

Frequent readers of this column will probably notice I’ve been incredibly harsh on most of the animated movies I’ve reviewed so far. Three of them in fact are currently on my top 10 least favorite films of the year so far.

You’d think with how disparaging I’ve been that I hate animation or something, but that couldn’t be further from the truth.

I love animation, heck I love cartoons.

There’s something about this genre that really connects with me. Which believe me, feels a little weird saying as a 28-year-old guy.

What’s even weirder though is enjoying a movie filled with pastel colored ponies who like to sing about friendship. Yet here I am.

This movie is far from perfect though and I do have a fair amount of minor gripes, but before that I’ll start with what I enjoyed about this movie the most. The music.

There’s more songs here than you can shake a stick at and the music here is something straight out of a musical.

Just when I thought a song was about to end, they just keep going, adding flair and becoming even more bombastic.

Joining the musical extravaganza is Sia. The music artist not only lends her voice to one of the film’s songs, but also has a brief cameo as Sia pony lookalike.

Speaking of celebrity voices, this movie includes an interesting collection of Hollywood talent. I already mentioned Emily Blunt, but Zoe Saldana, Michael Peña and Kristin Chenoweth also lend their voices to the film.

To be honest though, with the exception of Kristin Chenoweth, their performances feel a bit overshadowed by the more experienced voice talent from the main characters.

I suppose Emily Blunt’s monotone and cold performance works okay for the chilling villain she portrays, but the same doesn’t quite work for Zoe Saldana’s swashbuckling parrot pirate.

Not only that, but the actors’ flat performances aren’t helped at all by the film’s animation.

Don’t get me wrong, the movie’s mixed 2D/3D animation style is quite beautiful at times and is especially gorgeous during action scenes and dance numbers.

Where it falls short though is with facial expressions.

I’m not exactly sure what it is, but the character’s faces just aren’t as expressive compared to something from Disney or Illumination or heck even the TV show this movie borrows its main characters from.

I don’t know if it’s a limitation of the animation style or if the animators just decided to play it a bit more reserved. Either way it’s a little disappointing.

I know I just listed a bunch of negatives there, but at the end of the day I really did enjoy this movie.

Sure the writing is chock full of silly puns and one liners, and the story is fairly simple, lacking the depth you’d see in some of the better Pixar films, but the main characters are really likeable, the music is fantastic, and at the end of the day there’s something about these pastel colored equines that I can’t help but love.

“My Little Pony: The Movie” is rated PG.

***

The Mountain Between Us

Third this week is “The Mountain Between Us.”

Stranded after a horrible plane crash, two strangers (Idris Elba and Kate Winslet) stuck in the middle of a desolate mountain range must work together if they have any hope of surviving the harsh wilderness.

Oh hey, it’s this plot.

Two people stranded and forced to depend on each other for survival.

I’ve seen this same basic story I don’t know how many times. Heck, it’s the plot for at least four Star Trek episodes. One of those episodes even has the characters stranded on a mountainside, exactly like this movie.

But while not particularly original, this storyline can definitely be an engaging, entertaining and highly personal exploration of two people.

To pull it off though you really need a couple of intriguing characters. Characters with a dynamic that can make an entire feature length film interesting all on their own.

Sadly, that’s where this movie fails.

The characters are just kind of dull here. Winslet is a photojournalist who likes to pry into Elba’s personal life and Elba is a surgeon with marital issues.

Nothing about their dynamic together is interesting.

What’s made worse is it’s also supposed to be a romance. Why do they fall in love? Heck if I know.

I guess because they’re trapped in the wilderness together and Elba is forced to rescue Winslet’s character over and over again.

This is made even more tedious by several long stretches of scenic mountain shots that seem to exist only to pad out the film’s runtime.

Shots showing off the location is great, but after a while it just makes the movie drag on and on. I get it, they’re on the side of a mountain, you don’t have to keep showing the dang mountain.

Not only that, but just when I thought the movie was finally over, it just keeps going.

For goodness sake just end already. I don’t need all this melodramatic and over emotional crap. 

The filmmakers had a perfectly fine spot to wrap up the movie, but nope, I guess they just had to explore this boring romance for another 20 minutes.

If you want to see this exact story, but done well and minus the dumb love story, go watch the episode of ”Star Trek: Deep Space Nine” called The Ascent. 

If you want romance, skip this movie and go rent “The Big Sick.”

“The Mountain Between Us” is rated PG-13.

***

Blade Runner 2049

Last, but certainly not least, I saw “Blade Runner 2049.”

Set thirty years after the events of the first film, this movie follows K (Ryan Gosling), a blade runner for the LAPD whose job is to hunt down rogue replicants, bioengineered androids who look virtually identical to humans.

But when K unearths a long-buried secret, his discoveries lead to revelations that have the potential to plunge what’s left of society into chaos.

Never have I been so anxious before going into a movie.

I’d like to think I’m a pretty big fan of science fiction in general. If it wasn’t apparent from my last review I basically grew up on Star Trek, and sci-fi films always seemed to click with me for the most part while growing up.

But then there’s the original 1982 “Blade Runner.”

I just can’t help but fall asleep every time it’s on. I spent the better part of the last couple weeks trying to rewatch that film, only to finally finish it the same evening its sequel premiered.

Don’t get me wrong, it’s a beautiful film with amazing music and interesting sci-fi concepts, but some scenes feel ridiculously drawn out and mind numbingly dull. I know it’s a classic, but I just have a hard time getting into it.

So even though I saw “Blade Runner 2049” was receiving overwhelmingly high praise, I couldn’t help but worry I’d be bored to death by another beloved sci-fi movie.

Fortunately though, this movie was different for me.

I completely lost myself in this film and was engaged from start to finish despite it’s nearly three hour runtime.

It all begins with some amazing world building.

This future that the film creates is breathtakingly gorgeous, if not incredibly depressing.

On this Earth plants don’t grow, the sun never peeks from the clouds, and nearly every creature on the planet besides humans are extinct.

It’s so well constructed though. Even the smallest details are fleshed out, making the world feel dynamic and lived in.

And then there’s the sound.

The audio here is practically its own character and there are many moments where it demands your complete attention.

The sound here adds an immeasurable amount to the emotional impact of the story and it’s a huge reason why this film resonated with me so much.

The narrative itself is fascinating and the movie explores a number of interesting concepts similar to the original, but in a way I found much more engaging this time around.

Gosling is fantastic, no surprise there. And Harrison Ford, while not in the movie until practically the end of the film, is entertaining as always.

But beyond the stars, I just got to mention Carla Juri. I just loved the way they introduce her character and her performance carries so much emotional weight. For someone with only a couple scenes in the entire movie, she leaves a massive impact on it.

That all said though, this film, much like the original “Blade Runner,” is still incredibly slow.

There’s very little action throughout, especially during the first half, and the film takes its time exploring the world and the story behind it.

I could definitely see people getting bored, especially if they go into this expecting an action movie or something. Honestly, if I wasn’t stuck watching it in a theater I could easily see myself getting distracted by something else.

Overall though, this film is a worthwhile experience and an absolute must see for sci-fi fans. They don’t make giant high concept science fiction like this much anymore.

“Blade Runner 2049” is rated R.

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