Steven Universe decides to spend its final episodes essentially destroying the traditional hero narrative.
Steven Universe (Zach Callison) has succeeded in dismantling the Great Diamond Authority and has created Little Homeschool, a place where Gems can learn to adjust and integrate into humanity. He’s assisted by all of the Crystal Gems: Garnet, Amethyst, Pearl, Peridot, Lapis Lazuli, and Bismuth (Estelle, Michaela Dietz, Deedee Magno Hall, Shelby Rabara, Jennifer Paz, Uzo Aduba). During the first ten episodes, we see him realize that there are a few enemies who will just hate him forever, that some gems resist the dismantling of the empire, and that his mother, prior to knowing our Pearl, had actually been physically abusive towards her former Pearl. After the class of Little Homeschool graduates, we also get hints that Steven is having trouble finding his place in the world now that he doesn’t have to defend against the Diamonds.
In the last ten episodes, we find out how true that is. Steven doesn’t really have a clue what to do with his life now, and the lack of purpose is weighing on him. He thinks that his relationships will all fall to the wayside if they don’t have a shared goal, leading him to try and fill the void by proposing to his longtime girlfriend Connie (Grace Rolek). After she tells him that they’re too young (she handles it super well), he starts to find his powers growing out of control. He finds out that, even though his powers have given him superhuman regeneration and durability, his battle-filled childhood has created a lot of trauma. In response to finding this out, Steven starts to lose control of his powers even further which causes him to do increasingly worse things. Eventually, Steven is forced to accept that this time, he is the one that needs help.
I’ll do a Steven Universe retrospective soon about how this show went from a thing I absolutely couldn’t stand to one of the best shows I’ve ever seen, but today is mostly just going to be about Future. Steven Universe was always focused, as you would expect, on Steven, a boy hero who was trying to live up to the legacy that everyone said his mom left behind. Then, as the show went on, it was slowly revealed that his mother was not the perfect heroine that everyone thought, meaning that Steven was stuck trying to live up to an unrealistic ideal. While Rose Quartz/Pink Diamond had managed to become more heroic over time, she never made any of her numerous bad acts public, nor did she apologize for most of them (she left one person who loved her stranded in a garden for MILLENNIA). Instead, she pretended they didn’t happen, even if they caused suffering. Despite that, he held fast to his principles and ended up being a hero mostly through empathy and understanding rather than violence.
We’ve often seen the story of the child hero, but this is one of the few shows that ever actually addressed the realistic consequences of that. Steven was raised as the only human on a team of alien superheroes and constantly had insecurities about the nature of his powers. Additionally, he regularly fought monsters, evil gems, even the Diamonds themselves, often getting injured or watching his surrogate family hurt or even “poofed,” which is when a gem loses physical form. In this series, we see that there are two major impacts on his emotional development: First, he now responds to any pain as a threat to his life, a common trait of people who have been through traumatic experiences (as a cancer survivor, this is real and can be crippling at times). Second, he has a messiah complex… except that he already did the messiah part. He actually WAS the person who was destined to become the savior of the universe, but now he can’t find anything to do that fulfills him. It’s a much more accurate take on the aftermath of the hero’s journey than “they all lived happily ever after.”
I also like that the show doesn’t just say “this is going to suck” or “this will all work out.” Instead, at the end of the series, Steven is in therapy, he’s working on figuring out his own place in the new world, and the road may be bumpy. The only thing we know for sure is that Steven will always have his family and his friends with him, and that they’ll help him along when he needs it. That’s the best thing about this show, that it always ends up showing us that the real value is in trust and empathy, because that leads to creating friends out of enemies and friends are what we need most.
This was a bold way to end a series, by basically undercutting the very trope that they had been playing into, but it’s exactly what I would expect from a franchise like Steven Universe. I cannot applaud it enough.
We finally get a good reboot of a Universal horror monster and that should be celebrated.
Cecilia “Cee” Kass (Elisabeth “Dear God I’m Talented” Moss) is in an abusive relationship with optics engineer Adrian Griffin (Oliver Jackson-Cohen) and finally manages to leave him by sneaking out of his compound with the help of her sister Emily (Harriet Dyer). She hides out afterwards with her cop friend James (Aldis “Straight Outta” Hodge) and his daughter Sydney (Storm Reid). She soon learns that Adrian has committed suicide. Adrian’s brother Tom (Michael Dorman) informs her that Adrian has left her $5 million dollars which is hers as long as she is found to be of sound mind and commits no crimes. Soon, however, she finds a number of strange things happening around her. She starts to believe that Adrian had figured out how to make himself invisible and is now torturing her for leaving him.
Does everyone remember when Universal had planned their “Dark Universe” series and they announced that Johnny Depp was cast as the Invisible Man? Yeah, me neither, but it did happen and thanks to the colossal screw-up that was The Mummy with Tom Cruise, that idea died harder than the sequel to that one Bruce Willis movie… The Whole Ten Yards. Apparently they decided to try again using the Blumhouse method of cheap production and focusing on interesting storytelling over special effects. Surprisingly, it worked!
In some ways this is one of the more faithful adaptations of the source material. H.G. Wells’s original story of The Invisible Man depicted a greedy, ambitious, and cruel scientific student who figures out the secret of invisibility solely for money and then eventually keeps escalating his bad acts until he decides to go on a “reign of terror.” In most of the prior adaptations, including the 1933 The Invisible Man with Claude Rains and the various sequels, the character is generally depicted as benign or sympathetic until the invisibility drives them insane (usually the serum itself causes madness). In this, Adrian Griffin (the same last name as the character from the original novel) is already a monster before he supposedly becomes invisible. He was already controlling and gaslighting Cee when he was just a rich jerk, and that’s actually thematically appropriate for this film.
One of the inspirations for the original The Invisible Man was the story from Plato’s Republic called “The Ring of Gyges.” In the story, a man finds a ring that makes him invisible (yeah, Tolkien didn’t come up with that) and slowly commits more and more atrocious acts because he realizes he cannot be held accountable. In this film, it’s implied that Adrian’s cruelty is partially derived from his good looks, wealth, and privilege. It’s what allowed him to keep Cee in the abusive relationship to begin with, including having multiple people doubt Cee’s assertions just because Adrian seems so amazing. Eventually, when he gains the ability to become invisible, that just enables him to finally enact the last few acts of cruelty that he hadn’t been able to do so far. Essentially, he shows that it was only the small amount of accountability that he had as a wealthy person that had been holding him back.
The story is also updated a bit by adding a significant aspect of gaslighting and emotionally abusing a significant other. The entire premise of the film is based around Adrian trying to find a way to control Cee after she finally left him, which gives the horror elements a more sinister and grounded aspect. If you’ve been reading this blog for a while, you know that I automatically give bonus points to films that use horror as a way to address real-life issues.
Elisabeth Moss’s performance carries most of the film and is even more impressive when you realize that she’s typically acting against nothing. She really conveys an abused woman who is unable to trust her reality because she’s been so manipulated by Adrian. Also, unlike most protagonists who refuse to believe what’s happening is real, she almost immediately guesses that Adrian has gone invisible, something that everyone else doubts (the way they doubted her abuse).
The cinematography is the other key to this film. The camera often drifts to empty corners and open doors where nothing appears to be happening, which sets the tone of the film so effectively. Similarly, the sound editing and soundtrack are both excellent at giving the feeling of having another presence in the room and of that presence being malicious. Also, I appreciate that they updated how he became invisible to make it more scientifically accurate.
Overall, solid movie. Sad that the Covid-19 may have hurt people seeing it, but if you can afford it, this is actually a movie worth renting on demand. If not… wait a few months for Redbox.
One of the best short series of last year returns with a different lead and a different goal.
After being separated from Season 1 protagonist Tulip (Ashley Johnson), Mirror Tulip or “MT” (also Johnson) is on the run from the Reflection Police or “Flecs” for leaving her mirror world. Pursued throughout the Infinity Train by Agents Mace and Sieve (Ben Mendelsohn and Bradley Whitford), she encounters a young man named Jesse (Robbie Daymond) and a magical deer named Alan Dracula. Together, the three make their way through the train to lower Jesse’s number so he can get out and hopefully so that MT can find her freedom.
So, the last season of Infinity Train contained the revelation that the purpose of the train was to help people work through their issues until they’ve resolved their personal problems, represented by the number that appears on their hands. For example, Tulip, the protagonist of the first season, had to work through her issues involving her parents’ divorce. At the end of the season, having realized that she was not at fault for their problems and that she had been suppressing their fights for years, she finally came to terms with it. The show also revealed that the numbers don’t only go down. If someone, like the first season antagonist Amelia (Lena Headey), fights repeatedly against moving forward on their issues, then their number can grow, to the point that Amelia’s number was literally wrapped all over her body.
In this season, we see that not everyone necessarily believes that getting off of the train is a good thing. We witness people deliberately fighting against self-improvement with a borderline religious fervor, claiming that the train is meant to serve them. It’s basically a perfect picture of one of the fundamental problems with humanity: We will rewrite what is considered right and wrong more often than we will change our behavior to be right. It’s a powerful message that is conveyed really well within the series. It’s not even the focal point, but it’s such an important thing to tell people that I have to applaud the show for it.
I don’t want to spoil the actual primary messages, because in a show like this they’re inherently tied to character development, but let me say that they’re great choices for a show aimed at teens. The creativity of the train from the first season continues, but I have to give them extra props for Alan Dracula, the magical deer. He seems to be a representation of the train itself. He’s unpredictable, he’s hilarious, he’s helpful, but he also is slightly indifferent to the people around him.
Overall, I love this show and I want them to keep it going as long as they can.
Vin Diesel stars in an adaptation of a Valiant Comics superhero, and it deserves more credit.
Ray Garrison (Vin Diesel) is a US Marine who successfully rescued a hostage from terrorists in Mombasa. He goes to Italy with his wife, Gina (Talulah Riley), where they both are abducted by terrorist Martin Axe (Toby Kebbell). Axe asks Ray who leaked the location of the Mombasa cell, but since Ray doesn’t know, Axe kills Gina. Ray vows to kill Axe, so Axe executes him as well.
Ray is resurrected by the company Rising Spirit Tech (RST), a company that develops cybernetic enhancements for people, mostly soldiers. Ray’s blood has been largely filled with a billion nanites, which repaired his dead tissue, effectively bringing him back from the dead. Additionally, any injury to him is fixed by the nanites, as long as they have power. The head of RST, Dr. Emil Harting (Guy Pearce), informs Ray that he is the first successfully resurrected person. Harting introduces Ray to other people at RST who were cybernetically revived: KT (Eiza Gonzales) who breathes through an artificial respirator, Dalton (Sam Heugen) who has artificial legs, and Tibbs (Alex Hernandez) who has cybernetic eyes. Ray realizes that, while his general memory is intact, he cannot remember any details of his life. However, he starts to have flashes of Axe and Gina and, together with a hacker named Wigans (Lamorne Morris), finds out that there may be more to his death than it seems.
This movie got absolutely trashed by critics, so I had not planned on watching it (particularly if I had to pay $12). However, someone advised me that there was actual merit to the movie, so I gave it a shot and I was not disappointed.
The thing that most of the critics complained about is that this movie is largely filled with “generic” superhero/supersoldier tropes and that’s completely fair. The first act of this movie is absolutely a cliche from the dialogue to the characters to the “discovering your powers” scene. It feels like they copied and pasted it from a half-dozen other films, except that it’s got Vin Diesel in the lead. Now, in fairness, Vin Diesel does give a pretty good performance, particularly watching his sly smile when he realizes that the nanites have given him enhanced strength, but it is still nothing new.
However, believe me when I say that the movie does do a decent job of justifying WHY the movie feels so generic at that point. The first act of this movie is intentionally made up of action and superhero film cliches because it sets up for the second act. Basically, once Wigans gets on-screen, the movie starts to progress. While you’re waiting, though, there are a number of solid, albeit a little-too-rapidly-cut, action sequences, and the scenes of Diesel fully embracing his new invincibility are pretty awesome to watch. If you aren’t happy with the ultimate justification, you probably won’t be happy with the movie, but it let me forgive it a bit.
The performances are all solid, although Diesel, Pearce, and Morris are the standouts. The fight scenes get progressively more creative as the film goes along and some of them are really entertaining. The visual effects of the nanites looked pretty great to me, too. Mostly, the movie has a lot of implications that are far heavier than just what’s presented on-screen. The film does handhold some of the reveals a little too much, wasting screen time with duplicated explanations, but they’re still mostly done well.
I do think the backlash against this film is a positive, in some ways. The reason people are against this movie now, though it would have been a revelation in 2005, is because superhero films have just gotten so much better over the last decade. We keep raising the bar, so this film pales in comparison to some of the other fare that has come out.
Overall, I liked this movie. There are a lot of better films to be sure, but I liked Vin Diesel’s characterization and I do hope this is the start of a Valiant Comics shared universe. Given the box office numbers (which were likely tanked by Coronavirus), that may not happen, but it would have been interesting. You may want to wait until this is at Redbox, but give it a try.
For my 500th Review, I’m doing the one movie I swore never to touch.
There are wars! In the stars!
Right after the end of the last film, the First Order attacks the Resistance base. General Leia Organa (Carrie “on, dear wayward space mom” Fisher) orders the base to evacuate. It turns out that the First Order can track them, so the evacuation doesn’t do much more than buy time. Leia gets shot into space, but manages to save herself through Force Pulling in Zero Gravity (any other explanation is terrible). Vice Admiral Holdo (Laura “I Kissed Ellen” Dern) takes over while she recovers. Running out of fuel, the rest of the fleet tries to outrun the First Order.
Meanwhile, Rey (Daisy “Not Peach” Ridley) attempts to talk Luke Skywalker (Hey Kids, It’s Mark Hamill) into helping the Resistance, but he declines to aid and believes that the Jedi Order needs to end. He ends up agreeing to give Rey some lessons in the Force. Rey finds herself communicating with Kylo Ren (Adam “I’m trying harder than everyone else” Driver) using the Force despite not really understanding how. It’s revealed that Kylo Ren betrayed Luke after Luke contemplated killing Kylo after Snoke (Andy “Bread and” Serkis) started speaking with Kylo (how close he actually came is debated). Rey thinks she can save Kylo from the dark side, so she leaves. Luke is counseled by the spirit of Yoda (Frank “Miss Piggy” Oz) to learn from his failure.
Meanwhile to the meanwhile, Poe Dameron (Oscar “The Grouch” Isaac) sends Finn (John “You ship them” Boyega), Rose the mechanic (Be nicer to Kelly Marie Tran, internet), and BB-8 to find a way to deactivate the First Order’s tracking device. They’re told that there is only one person in the Galaxy with the skills. They head to Canto Bight, the space Las Vegas, and don’t find that person, instead meeting a hacker who also has the skills in prison named DJ (Benecio Del Toro). Finn, Rose, and DJ infiltrate the First Order flagship and get captured by Captain Phasma (Gwendoline Christie), the only Stormtrooper with the budget for useful armor. Rey finds Kylo who brings her to Snoke, who claims he connected Rey and Kylo to find Luke.
Vice Admiral Holdo plans to evacuate the Resistance. Poe, thinking that’s the cowardly act, leads a mutiny that ends when Leia shoots him. Holdo stays on the main ship and tries to buy the evacuation time, but DJ betrays the people who he just met while in prison and tells the First Order what’s happening. The First Order blows up a bunch of the small ships that they’re using to evacuate. Snoke orders Kylo to kill Rey, but he kills Snoke instead. Rey and Kylo fight together, then against each other. Holdo sacrifices herself by accelerating to light speed and destroying the flagship, crippling the First Order fleet. Kylo takes over the First Order. Finn, Rose, and BB-8 kill Phasma then rejoin the Resistance survivors on planet Crait. Finn prepares to sacrifice himself to buy time, but Rose stops him.
Luke Skywalker appears before the First Order and confronts them, buying time for the Resistance to escape. Despite an army firing at him, Luke appears to be unscathed. Kylo Ren challenges him to a duel, but discovers that Luke is just a Force projection. Luke then passes away. On Canto Bight, a group of stablehands who helped Finn and Rose escape talk about the Resistance, and one uses the Force to move a broom. It never gets brought up again, but I’m sure the figurine for that kid sells for a lot.
So, I acknowledge that I was poisoned against this movie before I saw it. One of my family members called me after seeing the premiere and said “White. Ford. Bronco. Chase.” I knew it was a reference to the OJ Simpson police chase, but I didn’t understand what he meant at the time. Unfortunately, once I saw it, I couldn’t un-see it, because that’s what a lot of this movie is: a low-speed chase where the parties conveniently always maintain an enforced distance that doesn’t make sense. The focus on this element led me to join a bit of the crowd decrying this as a terrible film. However, I also disliked most of the groups of people that were crapping on the film, so I decided this would forever be the one film I would not give an opinion on.
Then, I had to think of something special to commemorate the 500th review, so congratulations to all of you for getting to hear my opinion about a movie that is now 3 years old and completely out of the zeitgeist. So, let’s get to it:
I once said that the closest thing I could get to my feelings on this film were contained in my review of the Breaking Bad episode “Fly.” That episode, also by Rian Johnson, is amazingly well-shot, contains some of the best interactions between the leads in the show, is perfectly performed, has some of the best dialogue in TV history, and completely destroys a lot of what the rest of the series built up. This movie is the same: It’s a great movie, but a terrible Star Wars film.
First, let’s say why this is a good movie.
Artistically, this is the best-shot Star Wars film. One of Rian Johnson’s strengths is his grasp of quality cinematography and this movie is no exception. Since its inspiration was in the Republic Serials of the 1930s and ‘40s, the franchise often had relied on the same kind of straight-forward camerawork with most of the beauty and art coming from the scenery and matte work. This film, instead, makes use of more dramatic framing and shot progression. Some of the scenes, particularly the fight scene in Snoke’s throne room and the silent shot following Holdo’s maneuver, are nothing short of beautiful. Even the scenes of the speeders on the salt plains are more visually stimulating than most of the settings of Star Wars.
In terms of dialogue, this film has a lot of great exchanges. The style is energetic, like The Force Awakens, but also has more willingness to play with itself. Rey and Kylo Ren’s exchanges are particularly well-done, with each using a linguistic style that represents their position. Rey uses emotional language while Kylo is blunter and more aggressive. It also has a lot of decent jokes that, if I wasn’t so blinded by rage during my first viewing, probably would have elicited a chuckle. Now, does it have any lines as good as The Empire Strikes Back? Well, no, but neither does most of the Criterion Collection and they’re still considered art.
In terms of performances… well, that’s tough. Star Wars is not Shakespeare and it’s not supposed to be (unless you read the Star Wars Shakespeare books). It always is meant to have a pulp feel, with characters who are more wildly expressive, like Han Solo. In that sense, everyone does a great job except for Adam Driver, who unfortunately thought he was in a much, much more sophisticated film. Seriously, he has a level of subtlety that is generally overlooked by these kinds of films, and while it’s impressive, it’s also somewhat jarring. However, that’s what Alec Guinness did for the original trilogy, so there’s precedent and therefore it’s okay.
Really, from a critic’s point of view so far, this movie has all of the basics down solidly. Unfortunately, we have to shift from my position as critic to my position as Star Wars fan.
Interestingly, one of the things that actually makes this a solid film is the exact thing that makes it bad as a franchise movie: Subversion of expectations. This movie thrives on trying to avoid giving the audience what they think they deserve and instead tries to give them something new and challenging. Since The Force Awakens was mostly a retread of something that even the movie pointed out had already been done twice, this really wasn’t a bad idea. The problem is that this film attempted to subvert EVERYTHING and it came off less as challenging the audience and more as profaning the franchise it was supposed to continue.
Some of the things this movie challenged really deserved to be subverted. Star Wars has always been a big example of a cultural submission to the “Great Man” theory of history and societal progress. In all of the original films, and even the prequels, great Galactic conflicts largely boil down to a few personalities that end up doing almost all of the work and they’re almost all from the same family. As opposed to saying “there are chosen ones in this lineage which basically decide the fate of the masses,” this movie takes the opposite position and says that the masses themselves ARE the power and that lineage means nothing. That’s why at the end of the movie they suggest that Force users can come from anywhere and that’s why it was so important for Rey to actually have parents who were nobodies (to be undone in the next film for reasons I’ll cover below). This is a great subversion that is representative of how Western society has shifted since the Republic Serials which inspired the original film and supports the more diverse casting in the film. The movie contains a number of scenes which debate whether the past should be destroyed in order to create something better and whether revering the past as an ideal leads to replicating the mistakes. This is a great theme that challenges the nature of a franchise and, if that were all the movie did, I think it would have made this the equal of every Star Wars film except maybe Empire.
Unfortunately, that’s not the only thing that it did. Instead, Rian Johnson also decided to highlight some things that, while they may have been dumb, were parts of the franchise that everyone had already accepted. A large part of the film is dependent on the fact that the fleet is short on fuel, something that A) makes no sense considering they’re a rebellion that had long been based on the planet and B) has never really been an issue in Star Wars to begin with. This was likely supposed to be a shot at creating arbitrary new rules to heighten tension that seem illogical, like forcing the X-wings to do a trench run rather than just shooting at the Death Star from the outside. Similarly, Finn and Rose run into the single person who is capable of doing the job they need by complete coincidence, a shot at how characters in Star Wars will coincidentally be in the same place as the person they need to find (like Luke landing near Yoda despite only being told to go to the Dagobah System). Most famously, and perhaps insultingly, Holdo accelerates to lightspeed and, using relativistic physics, proves that to be an incredibly powerful attack that devastates larger enemies, something that apparently no one in Star Wars had ever thought of doing. These are all just exaggerations of elements that were already in the series, but they were elements that we had already accepted as part of our suspension of disbelief in this universe. By trying to subvert or attack them, this seemed less like a “commentary,” and instead more like an assault on the people who liked the previous films.
Then there’s how the film treated some of the previous characters. I’m willing to ignore Leia’s flying, because I refuse to acknowledge the difference between that and a Force pull or Force jump in zero gravity. However, I’m less willing to ignore the fact that when Leia awoke to find that Poe Dameron was literally leading a mutiny, that she basically just knocks him out and says “okay, well, lesson learned.” She’s a General and should know better than that how you handle failures to follow chains of command. It undermines her position as leader. Also, not telling Poe the plan in the first place is ridiculous and unnecessary. Luke Skywalker’s self-imposed exile is selfish and born out of his own shame, but that’s not actually crazy given that he spent an entire trilogy overcoming his anger and impulse issues only to falter and give in when facing Kylo’s power. While Luke denies the version of the night where he attacks Kylo first, the fact is that he may be deceiving himself, something that actually explores interesting new paths with the character. Unfortunately, at the end of the film, rather than see Luke actually try to correct his error, we instead see him play an elaborate game to buy time and then die from the effort… somehow. It undercut most of the progress that Luke made in the original trilogy and denied him another opportunity.
If the film had only done a few of these things, this would probably have been an amazing experience, having enough familiarity to feel loyal but also challenging the status quo. However, since it decided to do all of them, it felt like a rejection of the franchise and of the fans who support it. As someone who spent a LOT of their childhood, teen years, adulthood, and probably future on this franchise, that makes me naturally opposed to it. On the other other hand… This didn’t do midichlorians, so let’s not pretend it’s the worse thing.
If you made it all the way to this part of the review, thank you for reading and thank you for supporting me through 500 reviews.
Elijah Wood plays a man who finally gets to meet the father who abandoned him.
Norval Greenwood (Elijah Wood) is a musician who still lives with his wealthy mother. He receives a letter from his estranged father asking him to come for a visit. Norval arrives and is greeted by his father (Stephen McHattie), a gruff older man. While he starts off as warm, Norval’s father quickly breaks Norval’s phone and then begins verbally abusing him and even threatening physical violence. Norval is revealed to be fairly unaccomplished and mostly lives off of his mother’s wealth. When Norval has finally had enough and confronts his father, he’s attacked with a meat cleaver, before his father suddenly drops dead of a heart attack. Unable to have the body stored at the local coroner due to a shortage of space, Norval is forced to keep the embalmed corpse with him in the house. However, he soon discovers another man (Martin Donovan) tied up in the basement and a pair of men (Michael Smiley and Simon Chin) coming for the prisoner. It turns out Norval’s dad wasn’t exactly who he thought he was.
The opening to this film includes a pair of quotes from Shakespeare and Beyonce. That should tell you what kind of movie you’re in for. This film doesn’t take itself too seriously in a lot of ways, including having over-the-top violence and ridiculous characters, but it’s still got enough stakes to keep you invested and enough twists to keep you guessing. I imagine it is going to be extremely divisive, particularly because of the amount of gore in the second half, but if you’re willing to take it in stride, this film can work.
A big plus, naturally, is Elijah Wood’s performance. Playing a kind of douchey failure who is in rehab for alcoholism and lives with his mom doesn’t exactly seem like Wood’s wheelhouse, but he pulls it off really well. You can tell that he’s often full of sh*t, but you also realize that he knows it and that he’s doing it because he isn’t sure what he should do in his current situation. We spend essentially the entire movie with Norval, so it’s really essential that Wood’s performance keeps us invested, and it does.
The dialogue in the movie is solid, containing some very odd, but definitely interesting conversations that would usually not make it to the film. For example, there’s a random line saying that people who are evil have “raisins for eyes,” and it’s just as weird in context. Similarly, the screenplay has a lot of elements in it that many movies would exclude, such as showing failed attempts to undo locked chains or the realistic complications to trying to ambush someone. The fights in the film, too, are more complicated and gritty than one would usually assume for this kind of story.
The best thing the movie has going for it is that it is basically watching a huge catastrophe unfold from smaller origins, like seeing a small crack in a dam lead to a flood. Much like Noval, we’re unable to really fully grasp all of what’s happening because it just keeps coming at us faster and faster until we’re overwhelmed.
Overall, I enjoyed the movie. I’m not saying it’s a must-see, but if you like Elijah Wood as an actor, maybe put it somewhere on your wish-list.
This review is dedicated to the amazing Timothy Omundson, who I first saw here and who almost made this film great.
Kyle Johnson (Ryan Merriman) is a high-schooler who is supernaturally lucky. His love interest Bonnie (Alexis Lopez), the head of the Heritage Committee, asks him about his family lineage. His parents, Bobby and Kathleen (Paul Kiernan, Marita Geraghty) both claim they’re from Cleveland, acting very suspiciously, and refuse to explain anything further. On the way home from basketball practice with his best friend Russell (Glenndon Chatman), he sees the symbol on his lucky coin advertising an Irish festival. He attends, meeting a strange old man (Henry Gibson), and watching a performance by Seamus McTiernan (Timothy Omundson), an irish folk dancer. He gets knocked down at the festival, but thinks nothing of it.
The next morning, Kyle finds his luck has soured, his mom has a pronounced Irish accent, and he’s shorter and uncoordinated. The day goes horribly, including Kyle almost costing his Basketball team the semi-finals. The day after that, he finds that he’s even shorter, is growing red hair, and that his lucky coin has been replaced by a fake. He goes home to find that his mother is now only a few inches tall. It turns out that she’s a leprechaun, making Kyle half leprechaun. As long as they had their coin, then all of his clan, the clan O’Reilly, could appear human.
Kyle’s mom says that the old man he saw at the fair was her father, Reilly O’Reilly, owner of a local factory. Reilly didn’t agree to his daughter marrying a human, so he had cut her off from the rest of the family. Kyle goes to meet with his grandfather, who reveals that the person who stole the coin was likely Seamus McTiernan, a Far darrig, or an evil leprechaun. Reilly, Russell, Bonnie, and the Johnsons all go to find McTiernan, who leads them on a car chase and escapes using corned beef and cabbage (it makes sense in context).
Eventually, they catch up to Seamus and Kyle gets his luck back, but Reilly is captured. Knowing a Far darrig cannot resist a bet, Kyle wagers the coin in a contest, saying he can beat Seamus at “sports.” Using his wording against him, Seamus challenges Kyle to the ancient Tailteann Games, most of which Kyle can’t physically win. Through a combination of luck and the fact that magical judges apparently like breakdancing, Kyle ties, but Seamus points out that since Kyle didn’t “beat” him, Seamus won the bet. Kyle wagers his freedom against the coin and his grandfather, saying that he can beat Seamus at basketball even without luck. Russell and Kyle are transported to the basketball finals and find themselves playing against Seamus and his crew. Kyle manages to win and, through clever wording, banishes Seamus to the shores of Lake Erie. He gets his luck back and performs an Irish dance at the heritage festival, before he and Bonnie lead the crowd in a chorus of “This Land Is Your Land.”
I selected this film, rather than Darby O’Gill and the Little People, mostly because I realized the other day that this was the first movie I saw featuring Timothy Omundson, one of the most underrated actors working today. For years, I have had the image of him shouting “I am the Saint of the Step” in my head whenever I see him, even though I’ve since seen him in better roles, because somehow he really stood out in this film despite his limited screen time and generic villain status. Also, I love his car-chase expressions.
However, what I had apparently forgotten over the years is how very dated this film was. This movie came out in early 2001 and it is an interesting combination of patriotic “rah rah, America!” and globalist “immigrants are all Americans” that didn’t exactly continue after 9/11. Much of the film is about celebrating heritage while also celebrating America as the Land of Opportunity. Both Bonnie and Kyle make speeches about it, and not much is said about some of the downsides of America, aside from that “things used to be rough for immigrants.” At one point, in a moment that I had completely forgotten, Bonnie says that when they got here they Irish were paid far less than their labor is worth, only for Russell, an African-American, to say “AT LEAST THEY GOT PAID,” which is summarily ignored in favor of talking about the beauty of the American Dream. Like I said, it represents the last months of a distinct time period.
I don’t know whether or not this movie is offensive to Irish people, since I’m only of Irish descent, but I admit that it’s a little weird that the film indicates that accents, dancing, and flute playing are genetic. I guess that might only be for Leprechauns, though. That is also among the long list of things that turn out to be quite odd and yet completely accepted by the characters. For example, while Leprechauns exist, we don’t really get an idea that they have any magical powers beyond “lucky” only for us to quickly be shown that at least Seamus is capable of all sorts of insane magics. Despite how sudden the reveal that “oh, hey, Leprechauns have magic” is, not a single character really responds by asking if Kyle has any powers. If the O’Reilly Clan’s sole benefit is that they’re lucky, that’s not bad, but I feel like they only touched the surface of this mythology. They did, however, get that the fae love wordplay and will always honor a deal to the letter, not the spirit.
However, the performances in the movie manage to make it charming despite the seemingly meandering plot. Ryan Merriman gave a solid performance in both this and Smart House, even though his character tends to be a little forgettable. Henry Gibson is just naturally hilarious from his years on Laugh-in and he had previously played a leprechaun on Bewitched. Then there’s Omundson. Despite the fact that his lines are nothing short of terrible at many points, he delivers them so sincerely that they come off as just a megalomaniac who genuinely believes he’s infallible. It helps that when Merriman or Gibson or Chatman says something extremely unusual in response, Omundson genuinely looks confused or annoyed by it. Acting is reacting, people.
Overall, I still have a soft spot for this movie. If you have Disney+, give it a try.