Pikachu, La Llorona and 2 animated feel-goods

By Tom Von Malder | Aug 10, 2019
Photo by: Warner bros. Home Entertainment Justice Smith and Kathryn Newton go into the woods with Pikachu in "Pokémon Detective Pikachu."

Owls Head — Pokémon Detective Pikachu (Warner Bros., Blu-ray or standard DVD, PG, 104 min.). Ryan Reynolds’ buoyant spirit shines through as he voices Pikachu in this big-screen adaptation of the Pokémon phenomenon that has swept the globe. Frankly, I was never into Pokémon and, thus, there are lots of references in this very-stuffed film that escape me. Luckily, watching the film with subtitles identifies some of the other Pokémon characters and, in a throw-back to a decade ago, Warner Bros. offers a “Detective Mode” viewing experience on the Blu-ray disc that has pop-up trivia, Pokémon facts, behind-the-scenes footage, featurettes and Easter eggs.

In the film, 21-year-old Tim Goodman (Justice Smith of “Jurassic World: Fallen Kingdom”), who had wanted to be a Pokémon trainer in his youth, but now is an insurance appraiser, learns his detective father, Harry, has died in Ryme City. Built by billionaire Howard Clifford (Bill Nighty of “Love Actually,” “Pirates of the Caribbean”), Ryme City is a place where Pokémon and humans live together in peace. Tim, who was raised by his grandmother after his mother died when he was 11, goes to Ryme City to clean out his father’s apartment and clear up his affairs.

While at the apartment, Tim finds a vial of blue gas (“R”) that turns Pokémon aggressive, leading a group of Aipom to attack him, and discovers his father’s “partner,” a Pikachu Pokémon who not only talks, but Tim – and only Tim – understands him. This one-on-one ability to communicate serves as fun throughout the film, highlighted by the pair interviewing a Mr. Mime Pokémon, who can create invisible walls. Pikachu, who somehow survived the automobile crash that killed Harry, unfortunately has lost all his memories.

During his investigation of his father’s death, Tim is aided by would-be TV news journalist Lucy Stevens (Kathryn Newton of HBO’s “Big Little Lies”), who currently only serves as a goffer at CNB TV. The trio has to face the evil, human-made Mewtwo, as well as survive the growth-enhanced Torterra Pokémon. In the latter heavily CGI scene, the forest turns out to be on the backs of a herd of giant Torterra Pokémon. It is the standout sequence in the film. Lucy, by the way, has Psyduck, whose anxiety has to be managed or he could explode, as her Pokémon companion.

Technically, the film is an adaptation a 2016 Nintendo DS game and a March 2018 game. Directed by Rob Letterman (“Monsters vs. Aliens,” “Shark Tale”), the early part of the film does a really good job of world-building. I was reminded of “Zootopia,” as we are introduced to the massive skyscrapers with their colorful billboards and the Pokémon-human population mix in Ryme City. As usual, Reynolds is a humorous delight, even though he is resigned to mere vocal work. Even as the visuals delight, the script is a bit of a letdown as there is little character development.

Bonus features, in addition to the excellent watching in Detective Mode, include an alternate opening (1:41); audio commentary by Mr. Mime on his scene (3 min.; of course he does not talk); Smith talking about his love of Pokémon (2:13); a five-part look of creating the Pokémon world in the film, including its neo-noir elements, use of some 60 Pokémon characters and making Ryme City a mix of Tokyo and London in the 1940s and the near future (21:22); Reynolds discussing his acting approach to playing Pikachu (1:32); and the music video “Carry On” by Rita Ora and Kygo (3:51). Also included in a special Pokémon trading card. Grade: film 2.75 stars; extras 3.5 stars

Rating guide: 5 stars = classic; 4 stars = excellent; 3 stars = good; 2 stars = fair; dog = skip it

The Curse of La Llorona (Warner Bros., Blu-ray or standard DVD, R, 93 min.). From the producers of “The Conjuring” universe – and there is one brief visual tie-in to “Annabelle” – this film is based on the iconic Latin American legend, one often used to scare children into behaving, sort of the Latin American bogeyman. As the legend goes, La Llorona is a woman who was abandoned by her husband and left alone to raise her two sons. Deciding to hurt her unfaithful husband by killing what he loved most, she drowned her sons in a river. As a result of her actions, the woman is condemned to wander for all eternity until she finds the bodies of her children, often causing misfortune to those who are near or hear her. In the film, more specifically, she grabs other children to replace her dead sons.

The setting is 1973 Los Angeles, where Anna Tate-Garcia (Linda Cardellini) is a single mother of two young children and a social worker. Because Patricia Alvarez’s (Patricia Velasquez) two boys have not been at school, Anna is sent to their home, where she finds them locked in the closet. Despite Patricia’s plea that they be left there for one more night, the boys are taken into custody, only to be found drowned in the river the next morning. When Anna is called to the scene, she has to bring her two children with her. There, Patricia claims La Llorona took her sons and Chris, Anna’s son, sees a ghostly woman in white – La Llorona (Marisol Ramirez).

The rest of the film is Anna trying to protect her own children. The connection to “The Conjuring” universe comes through Father Perez (Tony Amendola, reprising his role from “Annabelle”). Father Perez redirects Anna to Rafael Olvera (Raymond Cruz), a former priest who is now a curandero or faith healer.

While the film overall does not have enough scares, there is an intense and frightening bathroom scene and the ending is solid as well. Too much of the rest is slow paced, however.

Bonus features include three deleted, two extended and one cross between deleted and extended scenes (11:10 total; one has Chris firing his late father’s handgun); a look at the La Llorona myth (2:29); a making-of featurette with director Michael Chaves (the upcoming “Conjuring 3”) and hands-on producer James Wan (9:43); the special makeup for La Llorona, a three-hour process (5:53); and storyboards with the corresponding film scenes for seven moments in the film (17:38). Grade: movie 2.5 stars; extras 2.75 stars

UglyDolls (Universal, Blu-ray or standard DVD, PG, 87 min.). This film is a delight for the very young and adults will enjoy it too. The UglyDolls themselves are rather cute. They basically are rejects from a doll factory because of one imperfection of another. For example, Mayor Ox of Uglyville is missing an eye and heroine Moxy is a pink doll with some missing teeth and an off-kilter bow or something growing from her head. Plus, the film has seven pretty good original songs.

Moxy (voiced by Kelly Clarkson) still dreams of being chosen for a child that will love her and she convinces some of her friends to climb up the cliff and tube from which all the new residents of Uglyville fall, despite Mayor Ox (Blake Shelton) saying the Big World and Children are just stories. Accompanying Moxy are Uglydog (Pitbull), Babo (Gabriel Iglesias), Wage (Wanda Sykes) and Lucky Bat (Leehom Wang). What they find is the Institute of Perfection, where dolls receive training before enduring the Gauntlet, a final test before being shipped off to toy stores. The institute is tyrannically run by extremely handsome Lou (Nick Jones, who sings the wickedly funny “The Ugly Truth”). Assigned to the new arrivals is Mandy (Janelle Monáe), who has a hidden imperfection of her own in that she needs to wear glasses. Meanwhile, Lou sends three female dolls down to investigate Uglyville.

While the movie is entertaining and features a good message about acceptance and how our differences “make us shine,” my guess is the selling of toy versions of the characters was a big reason for the colorful movie.

The Blu-ray can be watched in a sing-along version, with bouncing ball and lyrics. There also is a five-part making-of featurette (4:59); a five-part fun with the cast (4:43); and a sing-along tease (1:30). Basically, each extra is a promo for the film. Grade: film 3 stars; extras 1 star

Missing Link (20th Century Fox, Blu-ray or standard DVD, PG, 94 min.). This animated film is aimed at teens and adults with a more cynical humor. From Laika, the stop-motion animation studio that made “Caroline” and “Kubo and the Two Strings,” the film looks wonderful with its settings, especially in nature, and 19th Century period look, with the possible exception of the funny-looking character of Mr. Link, who does not look much like a Sasquatch.

Hugh Jackman voices explorer Sir Lionel Frost, who hunts for mystical beasts. One of his goals is to be accepted into London’s Optimates Club, which is headed by aristocratic Lord Piggot-Dunceby – what a perfect name – who is voiced by Stephen Fry (“Gosford Park,” “Wilde”). We first see Sir Lionel and assistant Mr. Lint (David Walliams) trying to capture a photo of Nessie, the Loch Ness Monster. What happens is too rough for Mr. Lint, who resigns his position.

Arriving home, Sir Lionel receives a letter that says he can find proof of Sasquatch in Washington State. After crossing the ocean, Sir Lionel arrives to find a Sasquatch waiting for him. Not only can the Sasquatch speak, but it was he, or she, that wrote the letter. The Sasquatch, who takes the name of Mr. Link (voiced by Zach Galifianakis of “The Hangover” films), feels lonely and wants Sir Lionel to take him to his distant cousins, the Yeti, in the Himalayas. Sir Lionel agrees, but first must obtain a map from widow Adelina Fortnight (Zoe Saldana of the “Guardians of the Galaxy” and “Avatar” franchises), an ex-girlfriend. After some shenanigans – Mr. Link is very literal minded -- Adelina decides to go with them.

For some unknown reason, rather than crossing the Pacific Ocean to India and then the Himalayas, they go all the way across the United States, cross the Atlantic Ocean to London and then go through Europe. Meanwhile, an assassin hired by Lord Piggot-Dunceby is on their trail, as Sir Lionel made a bet with Lord Piggot-Dunceby that he would be admitted to the Optimates Club if he found proof of a Sasquatch. The assassin, Willard Stenk, is voiced by Timothy Olyphant (TV’s “Justified”). One of the action highlights is a bar brawl. Another fight takes place during an ocean storm, which makes for some interesting footing. And the film has a literal cliffhanger near its ending.

The film was written and directed by Chris Butler, who also brought us Laika’s wonderful “ParaNorman.” Butler provides an audio commentary, as well as optional audio commentary on the animation inspiration featurette (3:44). The VFX breakdown reel (6:05) has an introduction by Steve Emerson of Laika. Very good is a behind-the-magic look of how scenes are filmed (2:25). Other extras look at creating the faces (45 secs.); creating Mr. Link (aka “the hairy avocado”) with Butler (1:23); the cast discussing the magic of Laika (2:46); a look at how 3-inch puppets were used for the final battle (1:46); and a photo gallery. While most of the extras are short, they are good and show some of the stop-motion filmmaking. Grade: film 3.5 stars; extras 3 stars

Descendants 3 (Disney DVD, TV-G, 106 min.). This is the weakest of the three “Descendants” films, which star the children of the characters from the main Disney movies. Kenny Ortega has directed all three films and here he also co-writes and co-choreographs with Jamal Sims. By now, the films have a bit of formula to them, each has to open and close with a big number. However, the opening number, which takes place on Isle of the Lost as four new children are chosen to leave the island and attend Auradon Prep, is very uninvolving. It seems just a bunch of people jumping around. The film does get better as it progresses, and the ending ensemble big production number is actually good.

As the four new students are being picked on the island, King Ben (Mitchell Hope), son of the Beast, proposes to ex-islander Mal (Dove Cameron), whom we learn is the daughter of Hades (Cheyenne Jackson), and she accepts, much to the angry dismay of Audrey (Sarah Jeffrey), the daughter of Sleeping Beauty. After doing a rap song, Audrey steals both the queen’s crown and Maleficent’s scepter. She then turns Mal into an old woman, puts most of Auradon’s population to sleep and turns the rest to stone. Those who escape are birthday girl Jane (Brenna D’Amico), who hid, and our heroes, who have headed to the island – via motorbike for some reason – to obtain Hades’ ember for enough magic to counteract Audrey. Along the way, Uma (China Anne McClain) returns from the under the sea and joins forces with the good guys, who include Carlos (Cameron Boyce, who died in July, after the film was made, reportedly from complications of epilepsy), Jay (Booboo Stewart), Evie (Sofia Carson) and Mal. Uma brings along Harry Hook (Thomas Doherty) and Gil (Dylan Playfair).

While the song and dance/fight number with the knights is silly, everything wraps up well and the production number, “Break This Down,” is very good. The film ends with a brief tribute to Boyce, who was 20. Extras include bloopers (1:43); two deleted scenes (2:55); and the short film “Under the Sea” that turns into a music video halfway through (9:17). Grade: film 2.5 stars; extras 1.75 stars

The Intruder (Sony, Blu-ray or standard DVD, PG-13, 101 min.). Dennis Quaid plays against type as Charles Peck, who sells his Napa Valley home to a young married couple, played by Michael Ealy (Scott Howard, an advertising executive) and Meagan Good (Annie Howard, who writes for a magazine). However, Charlie has a hard time letting go of the house and he infiltrates the Howards’ life – not always in a good way. Scott, especially gets upset with Charlie’s frequent, unannounced visits.

Once the basic plot is set in motion, it is easy to see where the film is headed. The three main performances are good and carry the film, which is directed by Deon Taylor (“Meet the Blacks”) and written by David Loughery (“Passenger 57”). Unfortunately, the wife’s role is very old-schooled, with her making numerous mistakes and needing to be rescued by her husband. Scott’s friend Mike is played by Joseph Sikora. Extras include a gag reel (3:08); a making-of featurette (12:24); four deleted and three alternate scenes, including an alternate ending that makes no sense (11:57 total); and audio commentary by Taylor, Loughery, producer Roxanne Avent and actors Good and Ealy. Grade: film 2.5 stars; extras 2 stars

Plus One (RLJE, Blu-ray or standard DVD, NR, 98 min.). Speaking of Dennis Quaid, his son, Jack Quaid, co-stars in this romcom with Maya Erskine. They play longtime friends who have had no luck dating. Suddenly, many of their friends are getting married. Together, they have 10 weddings to attend over a few months, so they decide to be each other’s plus one at each wedding. One knows where the film will end up, but the getting there involves two fine performances.

The film opens with bits of (real life?) wedding toasts. Then Ben (Quaid) gives his toast, while friend Alice (Erskine) gets very drunk and starts dancing crazily. Ben has six more weddings to attend – even his father (Ed Begley Jr.) is going to get married for the third time – and Alice has four more on her schedule. Ben strikes out with a girl he really liked in high school – she’s engaged now – and Alice has just broken up with Nate. It is Alice who suggests they attend all the weddings together. Now comes another montage of bad wedding toasts and even one bad song.

The film is not aimed at people my age. There is a drinking game, apparently called Flip Cup, that I have never heard of. Alice and Ben discuss dating a lot, before they finally get down to actually doing it. Things, of course, do not go smoothly, as Ben is hesitant to commit, probably due to his father’s example. When Quaid flashes his smile, you can see echoes of his dad’s famous grin (plus his mom is Meg Ryan) and he handles comedy quite well. Ben and Alice are at ease talking about a wide range of subjects, including some you probably will wish you had not heard, except when it comes to their own feelings. Both are defensive.

Extras include two deleted scenes (1:26; more of Jeff Ward as Trevor); and two extended scenes (8:04; more of Finn Wittrock as Steve, the hotel clerk). Grade: film 3 stars; extras 1.5 stars

The Good Place: The Complete Third Season (Shout! Factory, 2 DVDs, NR, 6.25 hours). Season one had four humans – Eleanor (Kristen Bell, so good in the recent new season of “Veronica Mars”), Chidi (William Jackson Harper), Tahani (Jameela Jamil) and Jason (Manny Jacinto) – sent to the Good Place after their deaths, only it really turned out to be hell. In season two, they dealt with their reality, while hiding the fact that they know what is really going on from the higher ups. Architect demon Michael (Emmy nominated Ted Danson) helps them, while learning ethics from Chidi with the others.

At the end of season two, Michael and his AI Janet (D’Arcy Carden) appeared in front of the Judge (Maya Rudolph, also Emmy nominated) to argue that the humans may have been judged unfairly and deserve a second chance.  The Judge sends the humans back to Earth in a new timeline in which they never died. As season three starts, Shawn, Michael’s boss, gets wind of what is going on and sends demon Trevor (Adam Scott, whose character adds a lot of humor) to Earth to disrupt Michael’s plan. At one point, Janet has to hide the humans in an endless void. In that episode, “Janet(s),” Carden is marvelous, playing not only two versions of herself, but also versions of the four humans.

The two-DVD set includes all 12 episodes, including extended episodes, plus a gag reel and a visual effects reel. Grade: season 4 stars; extras 2 stars

Poldark: The Complete Collection (1975 + 1977, Acorn TV, 8 DVDs, NR, 25 hours). This is the original “Poldark,” two seasons as presented on the BBC. A subsequent adaptation of the novels by Winston Graham began in 2015 and its fifth and final season began airing in July on PBS.

Here, Capt. Ross Poldark (Robin Ellis of “The Good Soldier”) returns wounded from the American Revolution to his family on England’s Cornwall shore in 1783. He had been thought to have died. While he was away fighting, his father died and the woman he loved became engaged to his cousin. Also, an evil businessman is trying to ruin his family. In the second series, Poldark has to save his marriage, reclaim his fortune and defeat the predatory businessman once and for all.

The series also stars Angharad Rees, Ralph Bates, Jill Townsend, Jane Wymark, Kevin McNally and Judy Geeson. The set comes with historical background on Cornwall and a 16-page viewer’s guide with “Getting the Part” by Ellis, excerpted from his book, “Making Poldark”; articles on the book series that inspired the show and the history of the period; a timeline; and a glossary. The series was highly thought of. Grade: set 3.5 stars

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