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Movie Review: ‘Cars 3’ Burns Out What Little Gas It Had

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Cars 3 Movie Review MovieSpoon.com

[dropcap]I[/dropcap] find myself with questions I shouldn’t be asking for the premise of Cars 3, but could you blame me? This surprisingly somber and sentimental entry of the saga focuses on when the automotive citizens of this cars-only universe get old. There are now newer, flashier and younger (?) racers that are replacing the old guard. What happens when the older cars are too old to compete? Do they sellout to get new parts and drive faster?

Cars 3 Movie Review MovieSpoon.com

Lightning McQueen creeps up on the lead.

Apparently not as this is rarely brought up, leading me to believe that part replacement in this world is either a sign of shame or not possible. Older cars seem to retire from racing, but what awaits them in old age? The cars can apparently die, but do they end up in junkyards? For that matter, how are cars created/born into this world? One could go mad trying to figure this out, so I’ll switch gears before I blow a gasket.

Lightning McQueen (Owen Wilson) is not the same hotshot racer he once was. His glory days are behind him as the sport becomes dominated by the next wave of speedsters, looking down with pity and contempt on the older models. The new champion on the racing circuit is Jackson Storm (Armie Hammer), enhanced with neon lights, the latest in high-tech automotive materials and expert training on a state-of-the-art simulator.

With all of McQueen’s familiar racing pals having retired, and part replacement some unspoken taboo, the only option for the aged racer is to train. He’s already done that before, but now he has teamed up with a spiffy new sponsor (Nathan Fillion) who will offer him the latest in car training that doesn’t even require leaving a building. Teamed up with the eccentric trainer Cruz (Cristela Alonzo), McQueen is subjected to car treadmills, car exercises and car Zen-like meditation. A car is apparently not one with himself unless he names his tires.

Cars 3 Movie Review MovieSpoon.com

Trouble on the raceway.

If this was intended as a grand send-off for the series, it’s a little underwhelming that it plays as an atypical sports drama of a former champion making one last leap for the gold. It sticks so close to this formula that it seems to forget that this story takes place in a world of cars. What if McQueen has some problems with his engine? There’s mention that leaking motor oil is a sign of being elderly, with drip pans akin to diapers. It never seems like McQueen actually has a real issue with age so much as he has a loss of confidence and focus on the track. Wasn’t this his problem in the first movie? Returning to such familiar means of training and concentration gives the film a sense of deja vu and likens it more to a sports picture about returning to your roots. The first film that comes to mind is Rocky V, a film that even Stallone thinks is the worst of the series.

Related: Movie Review: ‘The Mummy’ Shuffles and stumbles with Monsters and Adventure

McQueen’s training begins indoors with Cruz, but he takes the initiative to abandon technology and get his tires dirty for real racing. All these young cars and their fancy phones and video games are no substitute for the actual thing, a mindset that attempts to paint McQueen as an older fella. He brings along Cruz for his runs, but ends up teaching her more about how to drive on sand and how to drift. They form a solid mentor relationship, even if Cruz’s bubbly personality appears as a replication of other Pixar pixies. I doubt that Cruz’s mantra of “I am a fluffy cloud” will be as catchy or memorable as Dory’s “just keep swimming.”

One stop on McQueen’s outdoor adventure is a demolition derby. Cars are locked in a cage of a track where muddy and dirty cars assault one another. This seems like it would be an intense action sequence, especially with biggest opponent being a horned school bus that collects license plates as keepsakes. And, yet, this scene is treated more like a silly hootenanny…where cars smash into each other.

Cars 3 Movie Review MovieSpoon.com

This actually looks kind of terrifying.

But, wait, wasn’t McQueen in a horrific crash at the beginning of the film? How is it now funny that cars are smashed, dinged, toppled, crumpled, scraped and lodged into one another? This could have been a thrilling Mad Max style battle, but perhaps that’s too intense for a G-rated movie about cars. I guess there needs to be some fun in this rather somber tale of nostalgia, considering McQueen’s comic relief bucktoothed pal Mater (Larry the Cable Guy) is kicked to the sidelines for this picture, most likely a result of his piggish screen time in Cars 2.

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“Bumblebee” Swaps Insulting Action For Lighter Adventure

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As the first spin-off of Michael Bay’s Transformers saga, BumbleBee is a huge shift from the usual gears. It’s as though Travis Knight took a good, hard look at the clunky and sloppy nature of the series and decided to give it an overhaul. Gone are the mounting and confusing story arcs that seemed to needlessly double with each sequel. The cynical nature has been removed, replacing the human and robot heroes with more quirky and heartfelt ones, albeit within the cartoonish realm of a 1980s adventure fit for kids. All of these changes don’t exactly make the film a stellar Transformers movie but it at least earns the title of being the best of the lot for the rather low bar it had to cross.

It helps that the Transformers lore is kept to a simpler story. As a prequel, we learn how BumbleBee was the first of the heroic Autobots to land on Earth after losing the battle for Cybertron against the evil Decepticons. His mission is to ensure that Earth is safe and free of Decepticon interference until the other Autobots arrive. But during a scuffle with one following evil robot, BumbleBee has his memory wiped and his voice taken, just in case you were wondering why the transforming robot only speaks through the radio.

Helping him to communicate is Charlie (Hailee Steinfeld), a teenage mechanic prodigy with a life in need of a tune-up. And unlike previous Transformers human tagalongs, she deserves it. She’s a smart kid, great with a wrench, has good taste in music, and is naturally depressed by her dad passing. Charlie feels that nobody can understand her so, naturally, the confused BumbleBee takes a liking to her easily as she teaches him about human life and music, something that the robot from another planet has opinions about. Who knew that Cybertronians have an instant disliking for Rick Astley?

Of course, it wouldn’t be a Transformers movie without some evil Decepticons trying to take over the planet. Similar to everything else in the film, this plot has been pruned down to be less messy as only two Decepticons of Shatter (Angela Bassett) and Dropkick (Justin Theroux) come to Earth for the invasion. Their mission is less convoluted; kill BumbleBee and kill all the humans. And you better believe they kill the gullible American government stooges that place their trust in these robots that pretend to be working with them. Don’t worry, parents; the robots will only zap the humans into liquid goo as opposed to bloody slop, for whatever that tweak may be worth.

Much of the junk has been scraped off the Bay-formers saga to be a more thoughtful and sympathetic film but some of the lameness remains. I don’t know why the film bothered to mention that the story takes place in 1987; the setting goes out of its way to prove this point, from ALF on the television to a VHS copy of The Breakfast Club to posters of The Thing on room walls. John Cena plays a cocky military agent who never quite crosses over into Wahlberg craziness with his meatheaded nature but still occupies the tired trope of the series with the military blindly trusting robots from space. Charlie has a neighborhood friend Memo (Jorge Lendeborg Jr.) who wants to be her boyfriend but he thinks he’s too nerdy to ever have a girlfriend. I find it hard to believe a teenager with a rather trimmed body, which he does show off while shirtless, could have that much trouble finding a girl in a community of divers and beach lovers. But perhaps it’s a subversion of such a person, as the film blatantly tries to toss out the suggestion that Charlie and Memo will kiss by the end, as if nudging the audience to say, “See? We’re not THAT predictable.”

BumbleBee is Diet Transformers; all the robot action and adventure, none of the Michael Bay insanity, but loaded with artificial sweeteners. While I’d like to applaud the film for trying to take a sweeter and gentler route to its tale of giant robots that turn people into slime, it doesn’t feel like enough to carry the film past being a passive special effects adventure for the kids. Still, that may be the best part of the film with how it finally feels better targeted at its key demographic of kids, even inspiring for little girls that love the Transformers brand. Worth noting are the simplified designs of the robots that look more like the original cartoon than junkyard explosions. But if the spin-offs want to play more in the field of E.T. and The Iron Giant, they’ve got to tune up the heart to make me care more about a mute robot who can transform into a car. I was almost there but I need more character out of him than his innocent means of pranks and exploring a house he’s too big for. For a Transformers film, those scenes are cute moments. For stories of a kid and their alien pal, it’s par for the course.


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“Aquaman” Washes Out Christmas, “Bumblebee” and “Poppins” Close Behind

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Christmas weekend was a savage one. All manner of genre films came out to play, eager to be the biggest blockbuster of holidays. But there could only be one winner and it was the king of the oceans. Aquaman, the Jason Momoa starring superhero epic based on the DC Comics character, arrived at #1 for the weekend with a domestic gross of $67 million. Though it has a ways to go as such an epic to make its money back, the film is off to an enthusiastic start.

Following closely behind Disney’s Mary Poppins Returns, the sequel to the Disney musical classic now starring Emily Blunt, earning a weekend debut of $23.5 million. Despite opening early on Wednesday, the film still only made about $32 million which isn’t looking especially strong for Disney during the holidays. This is especially concerning given that the film is a close call for the #2 slot as Bumblebee, the Transformers spin-off of the titular heroic transforming robot, came up with a $21 million gross. That being said, Bumblebee’s opening is concerning given the big opening grosses of the previous Transformers film that were usually massive.

But that’s nothing compared to the low debuts of the films that were not intended as genre blockbusters. Second Act, a romantic comedy starring Jennifer Lopez, would debut at #7 with a domestic gross of $6.4 million. Even further down the list is Welcome to Marwen, the new Robert Zemeckis directed drama starring Steve Carell, came in at #9 with a box office of $2.3 million. Brutal.

View the full top 10 box office results below:
Aquaman ($67,400,000)
Mary Poppins Returns ($23,523,121)
Bumblebee ($21,610,000)
Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse ($16,635,000)
The Mule ($9,727,000)
Dr. Seuss’ The Grinch ($8,548,370)
Second Act ($6,480,000)
Ralph Breaks the Internet ($4,702,425)
Welcome to Marwen ($2,366,560)
Mary Queen of Scots ($2,277,820)

Next weekend may be a bit of quiet one as we shall see how the films released on Christmas Day will fair. Holmes and Watson, the new Sherlock Holmes comedy starring Will Ferrell and John C. Reilly, opens to 2,700 theaters. Vice, Adam McKay’s new biopic dramedy about Dick Cheney with Christian Bale playing the character, is opening to 2,300 theaters. Stan & Ollie, a biopic on Laurel & Hardy starring Steve Coogan and John C. Reilly, will be in a limited number of theaters on December 28th.


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First Box Office Weekend of 2019 Finds “Aquaman” King (Again)

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It’s a new year and so we enter into the chilly month of January, usually reserved for Oscar nominations to strut their stuff and mediocre-to-decent films to swoop in and make a mint. Similar to last year, the first big new film a lukewarm horror picture. Escape Room, the horror film based on the party activity craze of escape rooms, debuted at #2 with a decent January take of $18 million. Not a terrible opening at all for such a horror film but most of its bigger gross was eaten up by Aquaman, the DC superhero epic that continues to make waves. Even though the film took a 41% dip from last weekend, the movie has currently $259 domestic with a worldwide gross total of $940 million. It’s a big success for DC Comics trying to catch up with Marvel Comics at the box office and Aquaman is still looking good coming into a slow January.

With Escape Room being the only major release, there are no big surprises for the shifting of placement. Mary Poppins Returns holds firm as a family film for winter, the domestic total now sitting at $138 million. Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse, having recently won the Golden Globe for Best Animated Feature, is still just below with a domestic gross of $133 million. Still struggling to crack $100 million is Bumblebee, the Transformers spin-off. Despite being the highest-rated Transformers movie by miles, the film has only made $97 million after three weekends.

Miles Morales in Sony Pictures Animation’s SPIDER-MAN: INTO THE SPIDER-VERSE.

The longest holdout in the top 10 box office is Ralph Breaks The Internet, Disney’s cyberspace adventure sequel. Released during Thanksgiving, the Disney animated film has to date made $187 million domestic after seven weekends. Just below it, however, is a film that has been in theaters for two weekends but has already seen a massive drop, Holmes and Watson, making headlines for being one of the worst films of the year with a descending box office.

View the full top 10 box office for the weekend below:

Aquaman ($30,700,000)
Escape Room ($18,000,000)
Mary Poppins Returns ($15,773,000)
Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse ($13,010,000)
Bumblebee ($12,775,000)
The Mule ($9,040,000)
Vice ($5,803,490)
Second Act ($4,910,000)
Ralph Breaks the Internet ($4,685,000)
Holmes and Watson ($3,400,000)

Next weekend will feature some bigger competition of dogs, clones, and soft human drama. A Dog’s Way Home, a spiritual sequel to A Dog’s Purpose, will debut in 3,000 theaters. Replicas, a sci-fi thriller starring Keanu Reeves, will hit 2,500 theaters. The Upside, a dramedy where Bryan Cranston plays a paraplegic and Kevin Hart is an inept assistant, will premiere to 3,000 theaters. The battle is ultimately between A Dog’s Way Home and The Upside but I’m willing to bet a PG dog movie will take the top spot or about as high a spot it can muster with Aquaman still in play.


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