I love Scooby-Doo. I’m way out of the age range for the show these days and I haven’t regularly watched anything from the series since the mid-2000s, but it still holds a special place in my heart. I grew up on those direct-to-VHS movies and re-runs of the old series (especially A Pup Named Scooby-Doo) on Cartoon Network. So, it’s one of those things that will always be special to me. However, I tend not to be one of those fans who get upset by changes made to the franchise. I really enjoyed the live-action Scooby-Doo films from the early 2000s and when I first saw the trailer for Scoob!, the latest theatrical reboot of the series, I was intrigued. The animation style was neat, it seemed to be teasing a pretty enjoyable story, and I was interested to see what some new talent could bring to the material. Thankfully, even with most movie theaters around the country closed, Scoob! was able to make its initial release date – just on PVOD instead of in theaters. So, having seen Scoob!, how is it? In short: it’s surprisingly solid. It’s a decent-if-predictable story with some good jokes, some beautiful animation, and a lot of heart. (Mild spoilers follow!)
Scoob! (written by Kelly Fremon Craig; directed by Tony Cervone)
“SCOOB!” reveals how lifelong friends Scooby and Shaggy first met and how they joined with young detectives Fred, Velma and Daphne to form the famous Mystery Inc. Now, with hundreds of cases solved and adventures shared, Scooby and the gang face their biggest, most challenging mystery ever: a plot to unleash the ghost dog Cerberus upon the world. As they race to stop this global “dogpocalypse,” the gang discovers that Scooby has a secret legacy and an epic destiny greater than anyone imagined.
Movies that dramatize the events of real crimes are always forced to walk a narrow tight-rope. They have to be careful not to gratuitously show too much of the real violence and potentially glorify real murders while also not focusing too much on the wrong aspects and showing too little of the crimes and accidentally make the real murderer too sympathetic/unfrightening. It’s a tight-rope that Netflix’s newest film, Extremely Wicked, Shocking Evil and Vile, is forced to walk – and it doesn’t do a great job. It’s admirable at how little Ted Bundy’s (Zac Efron) real violence is shown, but it also does a poor job at really showing how terrible he was, instead choosing to ostensibly focus on his relationship with Liz Kendall (Lily Collins). However, it doesn’t do a particularly good job at establishing their relationship and actually developing either of them as characters within the narrative of a film. Instead of feeling like an actual movie, Extremely Wicked, Shockingly Evil and Vile feels more like a Wikipedia article covering Bundy’s crimes and his various relationships. (Spoilers for the film follow!)
Extremely Wicked, Shockingly Evil and Vile (written by Michael Werwie and directed by Joe Berlinger)
Single mother Liz (Lily Collins) thinks she’s found the man of her dreams in Ted (Zac Efron). But their seemingly perfect life is turned upside down when Ted is arrested on suspected kidnapping charges, then linked to murders in multiple states. Adamant that he’s being framed, the former law student theatrically defends himself in America’s first nationally televised trial while Liz struggles to come to terms with the truth. Adapted from the nonfiction memoir by Elizabeth Kendall, EXTREMELY WICKED, SHOCKINGLY EVIL AND VILE recounts how she was manipulated for years by a seemingly adoring boyfriend, yet future death row inmate, Ted Bundy. Directed and produced by Oscar-nominated and Emmy-winning Joe Berlinger.
The truly amazing thing about The Greatest Showman is the utter commitment and dedication the actors show to such mediocre material. And, on that note, it’s kind of a miracle that the music is somehow not the worst part of the film (and I really don’t care for Pasek and Paul’s music; they’re not bad, I just find them utterly mediocre and forgettable). Written by Jenny Bicks and Bill Condon, directed by newcomer Michael Gracey (with reshoots and edits allegedly by James Mangold), and featuring songs from Tony and Academy Award-winning songwriters Benj Pasek and Justin Paul, The Greatest Showman tells the story of P.T. Barnum (Hugh Jackman) and his rise to fame through the advent of his famous circus, Barnum’s Circus. Joined by Zac Efron, Zendaya, Rebecca Ferguson, and more, The Greatest Showman explores the lives of those around Barnum and how he and his circus forever changed the theatrical experience. (Mild spoilers ahead)
It never truly feels like Christmas for me unless there’s some kind of musical event in either the television or film world. Whether it’s a new movie musical for Hollywood or another one of those live musicals on TV (via NBC or FOX), a big part of my Christmas tradition nowadays is a new musical to watch and enjoy right before the big holiday. This year was no exception, bringing two musicals to my eyeballs. FOX just aired A Christmas Story Live! this past weekend (with a book by Robert Cary and Jonathan Tolins and music and lyrics by the songwriting duo Pasek and Paul) and 20th Century Fox is releasing a new movie musical about P.T. Barnum (of Barnum and Bailey Circus fame) directed by Michael Gracey, with a screenplay by Jenny Bicks and Bill Condon and music and lyrics by Pasek and Paul. You might have noticed a theme there with both of this year’s big, new musical offerings: they both feature the music of Benj Pasek and Justin Paul. Fresh off their recent success with Broadway’s Dear Evan Hansen, Pasek and Paul have written original lyrics and music for The Greatest Showman as well as composing a new song for the live telecast of their 2012 Broadway musical A Christmas Story. (Also of note: one of last year’s big musical offerings, La La Land, also featured the lyrics of Pasek and Paul.) So with Pasek and Paul taking over my screens in both of the big new filmed musical offerings, I thought it worthwhile to give my thoughts on the soundtrack for The Greatest Showman (I haven’t seen the movie yet), FOX’s telecast of A Christmas Story Live!, and my general thoughts on the music of Pasek and Paul. (more…)