Dora and the Lost City of Gold review

For inSing

DORA AND THE LOST CITY OF GOLD

Director: James Bobin
Cast : Isabela Moner, Eugenio Derbez, Michael Peña, Eva Longoria, Jeff Wahlberg, Nicholas Coombe, Madeleine Madden, Temuera Morrison, Q’orianka Kilcher, Benicio del
Genre : Adventure/Comedy
Run Time : 1 h 42 mins
Opens : 29 August 2019
Rating : PG

           Dora, the beloved bilingual icon of preschool television, makes the leap to the big screen in her first live-action adventure.

Dora (Isabela Moner and Madelyn Miranda at different ages) has spent all her life in the jungle with her researcher parents Cole (Michael Peña) and Elena (Eva Longoria), and her monkey friend Boots. Dora’s cousin Diego (Jeff Wahlberg and Malachi Barton at different ages) left for the city when he was seven, while Dora continued to stay in the jungle.

Now 16, Dora makes the big move to L.A. to join Diego. Having never been exposed to the typical teenage existence, Dora sticks out at school and causes Diego much embarrassment. During a field trip, Dora, Diego and their classmates Sammy (Madeline Madden) and Randy (Nicholas Coombe) are kidnapped. A gang of mercenaries including Powell (Temuera Morrison) and the fox Swiper (Benicio del Toro) are after Dora’s parents, believing they have found the lost Incan city of Parapata. The four meet Alejandro (Eugenio Derbez), a professor who knows Dora’s parents. Drawing on her childhood in the jungle, Dora must protect her friends and stop the villains from plundering the mythical city.

An adaptation of Dora the Explorer is a tricky thing to get right: naturally, many elements from the animated series aimed at two to five-year-olds do not translate well into live-action. Dora and the Lost City of Gold is smarter than it seems, and not just because there are self-reflexive jokes about Dora breaking the fourth wall. Working from a screenplay by Nicholas Stoller and Matthew Robinson, director James Bobin plays with familiar aspects of the TV show and has made a film that is in part about growing up.

Sure, this is ostensibly an adventure movie and has many of the traditional trappings associated with the genre, but at its heart, Dora and the Lost City of Gold is about growing up and adjusting to different circumstances. Dora is a fish out of water, mocked by everyone and unable to fit in at high school. She struggles with being responsible for the survival of others, but through everything, is resolutely optimistic and knows the best thing she can be is herself.

Dora is earnest and positive to a fault, but the film celebrates the character for it. Isabela Moner plays the upbeat Dora with a vibrant can-do energy, but also shades the character in and gives her more dimensions than the deliberately simplistic characterisation of Dora in the TV show did. Moner is a Dora fan, having dressed up as her for Halloween. It’s clear that Moner is having great fun inhabiting this character, and while the film places Dora in a new context, it never loses the essence of who she is and why she’s been such a beloved character.

The dynamic between Dora and Diego is an interesting one with shades of sadness to it, because they used to be close as young children but have drifted apart since Diego moved away. Diego still loves his cousin, but Dora can’t understand why Diego is now embarrassed by her. Over the course of the adventure, they repair their relationship; this is done surprisingly well.

The adult supporting cast have lots of fun, especially Michael Peña as Dora’s father. Eugenio Derbez does his typical goofy schtick but puts a bit of a spin on it as the movie progresses.

Like many family films, Dora and the Lost City of Gold sometimes has trouble calibrating how much of it should be aimed at kids and how much should cater to the accompanying adults. There are a few metafictional jokes and the movie even manages to sneak in a trippy hallucinatory sequence. There is some very juvenile bodily function humour, but perhaps that’s balanced with the film’s comments on the colonisation of Central and South America.

The scenes in which Dora and company solve puzzles and escape lethal traps are reminiscent of Tomb Raider and Indiana Jones. Some of the set pieces feel a little theme park-ish or like something out of Legends of the Hidden Temple – Moner starred in a TV movie based on that gameshow. This movie sometimes trips up on how cartoony to make things, especially when it comes to Boots and Swiper, who are not especially convincing CGI characters.

The musical score by John Debney and Germaine Franco is reminiscent of John Williams while incorporating indigenous Peruvian musical instruments and vocals. Beyond the music, Quechua, the language of the Incas, features in the movie. There is a greater respectfulness of indigenous culture which isn’t often seen in adventure movies, where ancient treasures are just something the good guys and bad guys fight over.

          Dora and the Lost City of Gold is mostly funny and good-natured; it’s charming because it’s uncynical. There are certain aspects of the film that come off as clumsy because of the gulf between the source material and what the filmmakers are going for, but most of it works. With Moner’s unerringly cheery performance at its centre, the Dora movie is an enjoyably silly family film.

RATING: 3.5 out of 5 Stars

Jedd Jong

Geostorm

For inSing

GEOSTORM

Director : Dean Devlin
Cast : Gerard Butler, Jim Sturgess, Abbie Cornish, Alexandra Maria Lara, Amr Waked, Eugenio Derbez, Ed Harris, Andy Garcia
Genre : Sci-Fi, Thriller
Run Time : 109 mins
Opens : 12 October 2017
Rating : PG13

There was a period in the 90s when disaster movies were huge: think TwisterDante’s PeakVolcanoArmageddonDeep Impact, movies like that. Roland Emmerich attempted to revive that subgenre in 2000s with films like The Day After Tomorrow and 2012. Now, Emmerich’s long-time co-writer and co-producer Dean Devlin has made Geostorm, which is like one of those movies on steroids.

            In the near future, Jake Lawson (Gerard Butler) is a scientist and astronaut who supervised the creation of a network of satellites that regulates the earth’s climate, nicknamed ‘Dutch Boy’. Jake’s younger brother Max (Jim Sturgess), who works at the U.S. State Department, calls on Jake when Dutch Boy starts malfunctioning, causing freak weather incidents around the world. Jake travels to the International Space Station, working with an international crew of astronauts led by Commander Ute Fassbinder (Alexandra Maria Lara) from Germany.

            Back on the ground, Cheng Long (Daniel Wu), who supervises the Dutch Boy satellite positioned over Hong Kong, informs Max of a possible conspiracy to sabotage the satellite. At the Democratic National Convention in Orlando, Max convinces his girlfriend Sarah Wilson (Abbie Cornish), a Secret Service agent, to help him kidnap President Andrew Palma (Andy García). The President is the only man with the kill codes to shut down the satellite before more damage is caused. It’s a race against time to stop the ultimate calamity: a Geostorm.

            In many ways, movies like Geostorm are why this writer wanted to become a film critic. It’s definitely not a good movie, but is ludicrously entertaining and might just be the best comedy of the year.

The movie underwent a troubled production, and disastrous test screenings led to Warner Bros. ordering reshoots which reportedly cost $15 million. Because Devlin was unavailable, Danny Cannon was brought in to conduct the reshoots, with Laeta Kalogridis rewriting the screenplay, cutting characters from the film and adding new ones. Presumably, the reshoots added more jokes, giving the movie a semblance of self-awareness. As it stands, Geostorm is halfway between a straight-ahead disaster thriller and a full-on comedy. It ends up hitting the sweet spot, in that it is maximally entertaining, never unwatchable and funnier than it would’ve been had it been an intentionally bad movie akin to Sharknado.

One of the punchlines bandied about when the trailers for Geostorm first came out were that it looked like a SyFy Channel original movie with a $150 million budget. It is glorious that so many resources were spent on something this stupid. It’s a little like the Transformers movies, but Geostorm is never as smug, never as insulting, never as unbearable or self-indulgent as those films can be. The visual effects look great, and the spectacle is grand, especially in IMAX 3D. There’s an action sequence in which two astronauts are on a spacewalk and one of their spacesuits begins malfunctioning. It’s genuinely thrilling and staged quite well.

Naturally, the timing isn’t ideal. 2017 has seen several devastating hurricanes in quick succession, making it harder to accept large-scale global destruction as popcorn escapism. This is mitigated somewhat by the sci-fi context and inherent goofiness of the whole enterprise, but it is a touch tasteless that the film opens with what appears to be actual news footage of natural disasters and the dead left in their aftermath.

The movie is crammed full of stock characters, none of whom even remotely feel like they could be real people. Butler’s filmography is filled with awful movies, and Geostorm feels like the ideal use of his talents. Jake is the  totally reckless but ultimately noble hero, a man of action who’s also a super-genius, and Butler is plenty of fun in the role.

Playing opposite Butler as the brother with whom Jake doesn’t quite get along, Sturgess summons likeable earnestness and tries to take the material as seriously as possible. Cornish gets to do a little more than your average ‘designated girlfriend’ in a film of this genre does, taking the wheel and shooting at pursuers during a car chase. Unlike your average Michael Bay film, Geostorm isn’t misogynistic, and Alexandra Maria Lara’s space station commander character Ute is capable and an equal to Jake Lawson.

For his part, García plays a credible president, getting to yell the line “I am the god***n President of the United States of America!” Zazie Beetz, who is playing Domino in Deadpool 2, makes for a fun comic relief hacker character.

Geostorm is the rare mega-budget movie that’s genuinely so bad it’s good. This reviewer burst into fits of laughter any time a character says the word ‘Geostorm’ out loud, or when the word appears on a screen above a countdown timer. Sure, it’s bad, but it moves briskly and is absurdly enjoyable. If you can somehow get discounted tickets to see this in IMAX 3D, maybe as part of a cinema loyalty card program, do so.

RATING: 2.5 out of 5 Stars

Jedd Jong

Miracles From Heaven

For F*** Magazine

MIRACLES FROM HEAVEN

Director : Patricia Riggen
Cast : Jennifer Garner, Kylie Rogers, Martin Henderson, Eugenio Derbez, Queen Latifah, Brighton Sharbino, Courtney Fansler, John Carroll Lynch
Genre : Drama
Run Time : 109 mins
Opens : 21 April 2016
Rating : PG
Watching a child suffer through a chronic illness is torturous for any parent, and Christy Beam (Garner) knows what the process is like. Christy and her husband Kevin are the parents of three daughters: Abbie (Sharbino), Anna (Rogers) and Adelynn (Fansler). Anna begins having severe stomach pains and doctors are initially unable to diagnose her, causing Christy and Kevin much anguish. Eventually, it is discovered that Anna suffers from an incurable stomach condition known as pseudo-obstruction motility disorder, leaving the 12-year-old girl unable to digest food. Christy and Anna fly out to Boston to seek the help of Dr. Samuel Nurko, a renowned paediatric gastroenterologist. As the expensive treatment and flights out to Boston begin to empty out the family’s bank account, Christy finds her faith wearing thin, and is also troubled by some congregation members in her church who blame Anna’s illness on sin in the lives of Christy and her family. She finds herself asking the age-old question: “where is God in times of crisis?”

            Miracles From Heaven is based on the real-life Christy Beam’s memoirs of the same name, subtitled “A Little Girl, Her Journey to Heaven, and Her Amazing Story of Healing”. It’s no secret that the story has a happy ending, with Anna coming back from a near-death experience in which she meets with God, with her illness completely cured. This is exactly what it says on the tin, packed with inspirational uplift and aimed squarely at evangelical Christians. Director Riggen’s previous film was The 33, based on the true story of the trapped Chilean miners. That film was overly schmaltzy and cheesy, as is Miracles From Heaven. Lest we sound like crusty-hearted monsters, it is affecting whenever one sees a child in discomfort, let alone suffering from as painful an illness as the one that afflicts Anna. However, the treacly gloss, clunky dialogue and multiple moments of unintentional hilarity severely undercut the emotional heft of the story.

            The main production company involved in making Miracles From Heaven is Affirm Films, an imprint of Sony Pictures Worldwide Acquisitions. Now, we’re aware that what we’re about to say will sound very cynical indeed, and yes, most if not all movies are made with the hope that they will turn a profit. However, it’s impossible to ignore that the main reason Miracles From Heaven got made is that faith-based films made on a small budget have become box offices successes in the U.S., with recent examples God’s Not Dead and War Room outpacing more costly films in sales. 2014’s Heaven is For Real, from the same producers as Miracles From Heaven, also turned a significant profit, making $101.3 million on a $12 million budget. Once the commercial impetus becomes clear, one can’t help but find the movie at least a little insincere.

            Garner lends the movie some star power and puts in a competent, if not spectacularly powerful performance as the steadfast, loving mother who puts it all on the line for her daughter’s well-being. The Texas twang comes and goes, but Garner is investing enough of her energy in the part that the performance works. The three daughters do come off as precocious Disney Channel moppets, with the oldest having the sole defining trait of being a soccer player. Rogers is reasonably convincing as a kid in quite the state of misery, and scenes of her in treatment are difficult to watch. Dependable character actor Lynch is fine as the stock cheery pastor, who incorporates prop comedy into his sermons. Derbez goes all Patch Adams as Dr. Nurko – it’s cringe-worthy, but as a performer he does have a warmth and likeability to him. Latifah makes a brief appearance as a kindly Boston waitress who befriends Christy and Anna. It doesn’t make much difference to the story, but it’s worth noting that the real woman on whom Latifah’s character was based is white.

            Leaving aside how difficult it is to get invested in a story knowing exactly how it ends, Miracles From Heaven contains nothing of substance that would make a sceptic even briefly consider turning towards faith. Riggen zeroes in on the tear ducts at every given opportunity, and the undercurrent of unsubtle emotional manipulation means the remarkable true story is never given a chance to speak for itself.

Summary: Heavy-handed and often unintentionally funny, Miracles From Heaven sees a solid turn from Jennifer Garner and some genuinely affecting moments get lost in the predictable, pandering shuffle.

RATING: 2out of 5 Stars

Jedd Jong