Well over twenty years later, Toy Story is still a benchmark not just for animated movies, but for film in general. The story is great, the voice-acting is solid with a great cast of actors, and the characters are so relatable. The only thing that doesn't hold up is the animation. Toy Story came out in 1995 and in 1995, Toy Story looked great. In 2019, the character models and locations look fine (not up to 2019 Pixar standards, but better than most Dreamworks and Illumination titles), but quite a few of the movement animations look jerky or just off. There are a few nit-picky little things (like how the RC car works in the last third of the movie and why some characters without mouths can talk but some with mouths can't) that aren't real issues, but I do have a problem with Randy Newman's soundtrack. Everytime we hear him come on, it's like the producers had Randy brought over from his trailer, put him in the sound booth and told him "Buzz just tried to fly and it didn't work. Sing something about flying" and Randy just improvs some ridiculous song off the top of his head. The only song that feels like a real song that was planned and written is "You've Got a Friend in Me". I like Randy Newman and his dopey singing voice, but his songs are too goofy for such a well crafted movie. Toy Story is still one Pixar's top three movies; even though the animation got better in every subsequent Toy Story installment, none have ever match the classic story of the first Toy Story.
Spartacus is a 90 minute story told over 184 minutes by a mixed bag of talent on scenic locations and terrible sets. Just to set the scene, we open with eight minutes of a black screen while the score plays. The score isn't particularly expressive (it's all pretty cheesy) so we just have to sit there until they decide we've waited long enough to see Kirk Douglas pretend to be a man in his thirties while looking like he's pushing mid-sixties against a terribly obvious painted background that makes the whole thing feel like a bad local community play. I haven't seen Kirk Douglas in anything else, so maybe he was off his game, but here he is devoid of charisma and wholly unbelievable. Because of the times, I can forgive things like the terrible fight choreography, and the scene where you can clearly see one of the swords wobble and bend because it is obviously not metal, but I can't forgive how much time it wastes. Beyond the 8 minutes of blank screen (which we get a second time after the intermission) there is a large "epic" battle scene where we spend almost ten minutes watching one of the armies slowly march around in until they get into position. It doesn't work to build tension, only frustration as we watch the troops march and march and march and then stand still for ten minutes. There are far too many scenes where we have to sit through Spartacus and his love interest stare at each other with no chemistry. The side characters are far more interesting. All of the politicians and Batiatus (owner of the gladiator camp Spartacus is from) are acted perfectly and have much more screen presence than any of the actual main characters. The story is fine at its core, but it's far too drawn out and I never felt any connection to Spartacus. Honestly, they only character I actually liked was Batiatus and he is probably a villain. There is no clear timeline, too many terrible performances (Jean Simmons is easily the worst. Gene Simmons could have done better), it's way too long, and it doesn't hold up. Maybe Spartacus is a product of the 60's, but in 2019 it just doesn't work.
The Ring could have easily been a stand alone movie; there is no reason for The Ring Two to exist. The Ring wasn't a perfect film, but its sequel easily qualifies for one of the most disappointing follow-ups. The story is very scaled back, kind of confusing, and honestly, pretty boring. The entire opening scene has no reason to be in the movie and it only gets worse from there. The acting is about the same as the first, with Watts being hit or miss and the kid being a creepy little guy the entire time. They add in some really great actors (Sissy Spacek, Simon Baker, and Elizabeth Perkins) but none of them are around long enough to elevate the film. There are so many stupid little errors and inconsistencies that add up to a drawn out story that feels incredibly lazy and unpolished. They don't seem to know that you have to fill and empty syringe for whatever liquid to get inside and they are definitely not entirely sure how Samara works in their universe. It's a waste of two hours; I wouldn't bother.
If I was compiling a list of things that the first Conjuring movie was missing, I certainly would not have listed melodrama, pointless side characters and a musical number. While I can't exactly say that I liked the first one, at least it was okay. The Conjuring 2 almost seems like a parody of the first one, doubling down on the mythos of the Warrens and amping up the level of pure ridiculousness. Again we get the "Base on a true story" title card, but this time they have the audacity to constantly have skeptics voice their disbelief or want for proof and the Warrens give some snide remark that I guess we are supposed to find funny. One asks which is worse, the "demons" or those that pretend to believe in them to scam gullible people out of their money, to which Lorraine responds quickly and dryly "The Demons. The Demons are worse." They even open with a quick little set of scenes about the investigation of the Amityville House (we don't actually get any stuff in the house, that would have been just too interesting) with a television interview where another skeptic dare to question the Warrens and they lash back asking why anyone would fake paranormal and demonic activity and that they are only trying to help people. If I put aside how ridiculous it is for the movie to try and paint its events as real and not complete fabrications and view it just as a movie with no context, it is a technically fine film filled with unlikable characters, terrible effects, a boring story, and stuffed with unnecessary and distracting story threads that are clearly just openings for future spin-off films. The movie spends way too long on the Warren family and not enough on the actual appeal of the film, the actual horror element. I don't want to see Ed play guitar and sing an entire Elvis song. I don't care about the school bully. The relationship between Ed and Lorraine is not why I am watching a horror movie. There are way too many scenes that only exist to play a sad song to try and manipulate out feelings that the poorly inserted melodrama can't muster. They spend way too much time trying to make secondary villains out of characters who want actual proof and not just the word of two charlatans and a little girl. One of the biggest strengths of the first movie was how simple and streamlined the story was, at least the story of the "haunting". The Conjuring 2 is willing to sacrifice that in order to be a backdoor for new movie franchises, made much worse by the fact that the appearance of these two characters makes no sense. The worse of the two is a hilariously bad CGI monster that has no reason to be involved in the haunting, let alone the movie. Really, the unintentionally hilarious moments outnumber the tense and/or scary ones by a large number. The CGI monster is the absolute worst effect, but there are plenty of others. The acting is fine, I guess, and the lighting, sound, and directing weren't issues, but that's about the breadth of the positives. There is nothing new or innovative. The story is a mess of nonsense smothered over a "haunting" that isn't particularly eventful. Even if I eliminate the entire idea of the claim that it's "based on a true story" we are still left with an underwhelming and uneventful story that is padded with uninteresting family and relationship drama and time-wasting side stories about how tired Lorraine is of people not taking her seriously. If we trimmed out all that, we could have an average 90 minute popcorn horror movie, but The Conjuring 2 is 134 minutes of self-importance and cheese.
Serenity is like if a 13 year-old boy got bored reading Moby Dick and read the cliff notes, which were still to boring, so he "fixed" it to make in more interesting. Avoiding spoilers, I will say that had I not already known about the twist, I could have never seen it coming; mostly because it makes no sense and has so many logistical errors. The acting is fine, I guess. I hate Hathaway and McConaughey has never impressed me, but they do alright. The cinematography is fine and the score is cheesy and indulgent, but no one is going to be talking about anything other than the plot. Before the story goes careening off in a wildly different direction, I guess I was kind of interested, but I wasn't invested in any of the characters; not a single one is likable or realistic. When things begin to go off the rails, it raises a lot of questions that are never answered. They address the big issue, but there are so many things that make no sense. Things are too complicated for their writing to address. I really don't want to spoil anything, but a fair comparison would be like if at the end of ET, we find out that the whole thing is a prank on Elliot by his brother. Okay, interesting, but how did he get all the government tech and employees? What was the space ship? There are far too many simple elements that they just can't tie up. Obviously, this is a hyperbole, but it's the kind of incompatibility within the story. It feels like they really wanted to pack the film with symbolism, but it comes at the expense of coherence and believably.
The Haunting of Hill House is hard for me to rate. On one hand, we have really great performances from almost the entire cast; even the kids did very well and I was never reminded that these are all actors ad none of this is real. The sets were really good too, whether it was the funeral home, the rehab center, or the titular Hill House, everything has well designed and as realistically creepy and unsettling. On the other hand I essentially finished only because of the whole sunk cost fallacy and the blind hope that maybe they can right the ship. Every paranormal movie essentially gets to create its own rules for how ghosts and such work, so I can't really complain about the realism of how they chose to write their rules. I will say, however, that their rule book is bullshit and the stupidest fucking mess I've ever read. I won't spoil anything, because the incredibly slow and arduous unrevealing of the mystery is really the only the story has going for it, but I found it to be purposefully obtuse and cheap. They are trying so hard to create a mind-fuck story with the constant flashbacks and (maybe) dream sequences and we never really know if people are really seeing things, if it's just stories they are replaying in their head, if it's hallucinations or if it is just that the writers are trying to give us a visual while someone is being told a story. 85% of the story is just a family drama. It's a compelling drama and the characters are great, but we were pitched and promised a horror and we barely get that. the other 15% is easily the worst part. They do a fair job creating a sense of unease, but literally every unveiling garnered a response of "Really? Fucking really? That's their explanation?" One of the last one makes sense, but one particular one really made me physically angry; it's just so nonsensical, stupid, and unrealistic even for a movie about ghosts. This did not need to be a 10+ hour series and they certainly didn't deliver on the impression of horror. If we cut out all the bullshit, we could have a solid four episode mini-series about a family dealing with loss. I really wanted to love Hill House and they have all of the pieces to make a great show, but they fucked it all up. The cast was outstanding and aside from child actor with a very minor role, everyone gave Oscar worthy performances. The ghosts and ghouls or whatever they actually were looked pretty bad, but the Hill House set looked great. If they gave the pieces to a different writer and director, Hill House could be a classic, but I hate what Mike Flanagan did with them.