Matt’s New Release Breakdown: Holiday Edition

Matt's New Release Breakdown: Holiday Edition

Matt’s New Release Breakdown: Holiday Edition – 2020 is (finally) almost over. While the traditional theatrical calendar has been thrown out the window given our COVID-19 landscape, there are still some marquee titles for audiences to enjoy over the holiday weekend. Matt’s lazy ass is still too stuffed from Christmas dinner to write elongated reviews, so it’s time for another new release breakdown!

WE CAN BE HEROES – Directed by Robert Rodriguez

Synopsis: When alien invaders kidnap Earth’s superheroes, their children must team up and learn to work together if they want to save their parents and the world. 

Robert Rodriguez’s auteur verve has dwindled in the eyes of mainstream audiences. After the success of spirited low-budget offerings like Desperados, Rodriguez made a surprisingly effective transition into family fare with Spy Kids. That film’s success spawned a franchise with diminishing results per entry, including a fourth film All the Time in the World that was rejected for its bizarrely-integrated smell-o-vision.

Whether it was his absence from his familial aesthetics or the blah normalization of 3D animation, Rodriguez’s latest We Can Be Heroes feels like a refreshing change of pace. Fans of his old efforts will be delighted to see Rodriguez’s low-budget, yet creatively-drawn imagery still intact. The sets are packed to the gills with alluringly bizarre creations. It feels like he’s a kid in the sandbox, concocting a level of wistful dreaminess that’s often entertaining to witness.

Where most family films present heroes for younger kids to aspire to become, We Can Be Heroes acts as an endearing roll-call for its target audience. Rodriguez’s script imbues power and agency into its adolescent characters, with the inclusive cast representing well-meaning parables about perseverance and teamwork. When the film finds its comfort zone, there’s an affable positivity that radiates throughout.

Not all of We Can Be Heroes lands as intended, as the kids’ limited acting abilities are made more apparent by Rodriguez’s ham-fisted dialogue (some messages are spelled out with a lack of dramatic grace). Even with some misgivings, I was delighted to see Rodriguez rediscover his spark as a family film visionary. I hope this is the start of a promising new franchise for Netflix and the company.

We Can Be Heroes is now available on Netflix.

Matt’s New Release Breakdown: Holiday Edition

SOUL – Directed by Pete Docter and Kemp Powers

Synopsis: Joe Gardner is a middle school teacher with a love for jazz music. After a successful gig at the Half Note Club, he suddenly gets into an accident that separates his soul from his body and is transported to the You Seminar, where Joe must learn the true meaning of life to regain his livelihood.

Pixar’s recent track record has been relatively hit (Incredibles 2) or miss (Brave) of late. Soul thankfully marks a return to form for the animated giant, tapping into the finite motifs and imaginative imagery that morphed Pixar into a household staple.

I am not exaggerating when crowning Soul as one of the best crafted animated films to date. Doctor utilizes the high-concept premise to envision a vibrantly drawn vision of the spectral reality. He intelligently taps into our natural curiosity and fears regarding the great beyond, navigating a potentially dour premise with sparks of humor and life. One Night in Miami scribe Kemp Powers also deserves recognition as co-director, ensuring the earth frames register with a rare sense of authenticity. The lively frames are well-acompanied by Trent Reznor and Atticus Ross’ boisterous score, with the duo tapping into Joe’s music-driven world with an infectious playfulness.

Like many of Pixar’s best efforts, Soul‘s busy frames aren’t without purpose. Joe’s journey connects to deeply human sentiments, meaningfully exploring the ways we let our lives be consumed aspirations. This obsession often drives people to miss the simple wonderments of the world around them, as Joe’s journey devolves a simple drive for connection and purpose. While delivered with some narrative handholding (I wish Doctor and company let the immersive imagery speak for itself), these are well-defined ideas that will speak to younger and older viewers alike.

After years of mixed results, it’s a joy to see Soul reconnect with Pixar’s apex form.

Matt’s New Release Breakdown: Holiday Edition

WONDER WOMAN 1984 – Directed by Patty Jenkins

Synopsis: Diana Prince lives quietly among mortals in the vibrant, sleek 1980s — an era of excess driven by the pursuit of having it all. Though she’s come into her full powers, she maintains a low profile by curating ancient artifacts and only performing heroic acts incognito. But soon, Diana will have to muster all of her strength as she finds herself squaring off against Maxwell Lord and the Cheetah.

I adored Wonder Woman, a vibrant superhero endeavor with more emotional impact and enriched character dynamics than its formidable peers. Gal Gadot and Chris Pine’s romantic chemistry imbued refreshingly human steaks into the genre’s bombast-driven formula, with Patty Jenkins keen eye morphing big-budget setpieces into truly heroic moments (the no man’s land scene is still an iconic superhero moment).

Everything that propelled Jenkins’ previous effort feels notably absent from the long-awaited sequel Wonder Woman 1984. The down-to-earth humanistic frames are subbed out for a bloated narrative, one that stuffs itself full of tired superhero contrivances ripped from a bygone era. In its place, Jenkins presents several action setpieces with noisily disintersted results. Their mere competence isn’t enough to generate much excitement, with the pervasive emptiness permeating throughout most frames.

Like a lot of doomed superhero follow-ups, 1984 gives far too much attention to its one-note antagonists. Kristen Wiig and Pedro Pascal infuse energy into their personas, but the character’s predictable journey rarely presents dimension. Their empathetic backgrounds lack humanity as the script spoon-feeds flat developments for audiences to attach to. Jenkins and company’s attempts to connect to the glutenous trends of the 1980s are too inert to carry much weight, as the film constantly fumbles attempts to say anything of note (Wiig’s character could have been a pronounced reflection of women’s unfair societal expectations, but those frames are desperately lacking agency or nuance).

There are glimmers where Wonder Woman 1984 resembles its accomplished predecessor, particularly with the Gadot/Pine connection that worked so well in the first one. This sequel though feels more driven by studio mandates than any personal purpose, with the talented Patty Jenkins operating in auto pilot through most of the big-budget frame. I hope the third film can redeem this effort’s misgivings.

Wonder Woman 1984 is now in theaters and available on HBO Max.

You can also check out Matt’s reviews for other holiday releases like The Midnight Sky and Fatale.

Matt’s New Release Breakdown: Holiday Edition

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Matt is an American who has grown up for passion for film and its empathetic powers to tell unique stories (especially in the science fiction sphere). Some of his favorites include Inside Llewyn Davis, Her, Goodfellas, Frances Ha and Moonlight.


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