Fancy Boys Stay Home With The Movies: Mulan & Bill & Ted Face The Music

While some theaters have opened, studios are still choosing to release some of their films for streaming. I caught up with the newest Disney remake and the third Bill & Ted film.

It seems that when Disney decides to make a big budget live-action remake of one of its films, they usually go one of two routes. The first way they can go is to try and make an identical remake of something they know people enjoy, while the second involves taking more chances. Make no mistake: Disney is not a studio which will usually choose the former, and it is easy to see why: last year, both Guy Ritchie’s Aladdin and Jon Favreau’s The Lion King gave audiences the songs and scenes they wanted and each grossed over a b-b-billion dollars.

And while money keeps the mouse moving, it’s the films that move away from the musical numbers that I’ve found the most fascinating: 2016’s Pete’s Dragon was one of my 20 favorite films of that year, and Mulan, which came to (home) theaters this weekend is a very worthwhile addition to the Disney catalog.

Fans of the 1998 film (like, for example, my wife) will be happy to know that director Niki Caro’s remake stays pretty loyal to the story: to stop an invading army of nomads led by Bori Khan (Jason Scott Lee), the Emperor of China (Jet Li) decrees that every home send one man to join the Imperial Army. Not wanting her frail veteran father (Tzi Ma) to go, Mulan (the wonderful Liu Yifei) goes disguised as a man. Will she be able to fool everyone into thinking that she’s a man and will she be able to survive the rigorous training dished out by Commander Tung (Donnie Yen)?

The script, penned by Rick Jaffa & Amanda Silver, does a nice job staying loyal to the source film. Obviously, Mulan no longer has a trusty dragon sidekick. However, there are a few changes. Included now is Xian Lang (Gong Li), a shape-shifting witch helping the invading army of nomads in the hopes of finally being able to live in a place where she is no longer ostracized. Also included is a sister for Mulan, who is given, literally, nothing to do except to be afraid of spiders for one scene.

The performances are all good, but the real star here is Caro. This is clearly her biggest and most ambitious project, and she is making the most of it with beautiful cinematography and clever and impressive editing. The landscapes she takes us to are all gorgeous, showing that the film’s gigantic $300M budget did not go to waste.

What did surprise me was exactly how intense the action scenes were. For a Disney movie, Mulan  gets rather violent to the point where I don’t think it’s appropriate for younger viewers who might be easily startled. However, I was not only surprised by how mature they were, but also by how fun they are to watch. Veteran stuntman Ben Cooke was the film’s stunt coordinator, but the scenes are so impressive, I first thought they were done by Crouching Tiger’s Yuen Woo-ping. And while I wish Caro would have used less cuts during the action sequences and allowed us to marvel more at the fantastic stuntwork with longer takes, this feels like me nit-picking a film I really enjoyed.

I also give a lot of credit to Harry Gregson-Wagner who created a marvelous score. Knowing that there would be die-hard fans of the animated film, he seamlessly put in lyrical flourishes from some of the original songs while still creating a lush, beautiful sound of his own.

Mulan is a wonder for those who have never seen the animated classic, while not disappointing those who have. Caro made the wise choice to, much like the film’s heroine, find her own path.

If watching Mulan save China isn’t enough for you in terms of stakes, what about two dudes trying to save the universe as we know it?

Bill & Ted Face The Music, the third film to star legendary knuckleheads Bill S. Preston and “Ted” Theodore Logan, is a film no one needs or even knew they wanted, and that is to the detriment of this film. There are times when it just doesn’t feel like a movie, but rather a weird Youtube sketch gone way, way too far. And yet, here we are, over 30 years after the excellent adventure of Bill (Alex Winter) and Ted (Keanu Reeves).

However, these three decades have not been kind to our heroes. After releasing one major hit, we find that the gents have still not written the song that they were prophesized to write- the one that would bring the universe together. When the film starts, we find them washed up musically and personally, struggling to get through marriage counseling. After a visit by the futuristic Kelly (Kristin Schaal) who informs them that if they cannot write this cosmos-binding tune in ninety minutes then everything will end, the boys decided to travel to the future to take the song from themselves, while their daughters (Samara Weaving and Brigette Lundy-Paine) travel back in time to assemble the best possible backing band.

If none of this seems to make sense, you’re not wrong. This film seems to have so many minor, silly subplots and is just throwing any of them to the wall and hoping something sticks. A 91-minute movie should never feel bloated or lost, and yet, Bill & Ted Face The Music never seems to know where it’s going.

Every supporting performance in this film is basically given nothing to do, and because of that, isn’t given any real chance to succeed. There are two exceptions: William Sadler reprises his role as Death and knows how to be cloying and petty and insecure. But the real laughs are delivered by Anthony Carrigan as Dennis McCoy, a time-traveling assassin robot. You cannot blame the other actors; the paper-thin script from Chris Matheson & Ed Solomon are giving them no favors at all.

Which means it all comes down to our leads, and they’re somehow able to pull it off. Winter and Reeves have chemistry together and no how to play these guys as sad, but not so pathetic that we can’t laugh at them. Reeves is especially fascinating; we’ve watched him evolve and grow as an actor for decades, only to watch him regress and play Ted with the same puppy-dog heart and soul we loved in 1989.

This film isn’t good, but it somehow works. It’s stupid, but stupid can be ok sometime. While the grade I’m giving Bill & Ted Face The Music could equate to a “C” as a letter grade, that’s not so bad. Honestly, if Bill & Ted got C’s in school, that would be a reason to celebrate.

Mulan- 8.7/10
Bill & Ted Face The Music-

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