Eagan at the Movies

Reviewing movies because we care.

Avengers: Infinity War                        ★★★★ OUT OF ★★★★

Image result for avengers infinity war thanosImage: He'd like to negotiate, with no preconditions. 

 So it's finally here. 10 years and 19 films (All of which both critical and box office successes for the most part), what began in 2008 with the spectacular "Iron Man", which eventually led to the first, epic crossover event, 2012's "The Avengers", which we all thought was the most unbelievable thing at the time. Yet, we never thought we would witness this. The epic finale to everything we've come to get to know and love, and it's more than you could possibly imagine. (#YourFanTheoryMeansNothing). 

 "Avengers: Infinity War" opens with the mother of all baddies, the mad titan, "Thanos" (Josh Brolin), on a search for the mystical and powerful six "Infinity Stones" (Which are those little MacGuffins that have appeared throughout the franchise.), with the help from his sinister "Children", which includes "Ebony Maw" (Tom Vaughan-Lawlor), "Cull Obsidian" (Terry Notary), "Corvus Glaive" (Michael Shaw), and "Proxima Midnight" (Carrie Coon). They are seeking to use the stones to "Balance" the universe by wiping out half the universe, Thanos has already acquired two of them, one of which after defeating the God of Thunder, "Thor" (Chris Hemsworth) and wiping out most of his people. Thanos' schemes have gotten him plenty of enemies, most of which are in the form of our heroes, "The Avengers".

 A series of events lead to various team ups between an assortment of our main characters. Billionaire playboy, "Tony Stark/Iron Man" (Robert Downey Jr.) finds himself out to save the Sorcerer Supreme, "Doctor Stephen Strange" (Benedict Cumberbatch), who has one of the six stones, with the help from the young, "Peter Parker/Spider-Man" (Tom Holland), leading them into space. Back on Earth, the now rogue, "Steve Rogers/Captain America" (Chris Evans, rocking a new beard), highly trained spy, "Natasha Romanoff/Black Widow" (Scarlett Johansson), and the flying, "Sam Wilson/Falcon" (Anthony Mackie) are out to protect star crossed lovers, the gifted, mystical being, "Wanda Maximoff/Scarlett Witch" (Elizabeth Olsen) and the humanoid android, "Vision" (Paul Bettany), who has one of the stones in his head, keeping him alive. The group allies with Stark's buddy, "James Rhodes/War Machine" (Don Cheadle) and the recently returned "Bruce Banner" (Mark Ruffalo), who is having a little trouble transforming into the big green "Hulk" at the moment, along with the king of Wakanda (And the current king of the box office), "T'Challa/Black Panther" (Chadwick Boseman) and Cap's formerly brainwashed friend, "Bucky Barnes" (Sebastian Stan).

 Meanwhile, Thor finds himself meeting "The Guardians of the Galaxy", which includes the cocky, "Peter Quill/Star-Lord" (Chris Pratt), the adopted daughter of Thanos, "Gamora" (Zoe Saldana), the simple minded, "Drax the Destroyer" (Dave Bautista), the cute telepathic, "Mantis" (Pom Klementieff), talking raccoon, "Rocket" (Voiced by Bradley Cooper), and teenage tree person, "Groot" (Voiced by Vin Diesel). Everyone has it out for Thanos and everyone has a stake in what's going to happen, leading to the ultimate battle between good and evil, with the fate of the entire universe (Or in this case, half of it) hanging in the balance. 

 Directed by Anthony and Joe Russo (Who previously gave us "Captain America: The Winter Soldier" and the sequel, "Civil War"), "Avengers: Infinity War" is the ultimate superhero extravaganza, giving that same feeling you get when you read one of those massive comic crossover events, except this time it's not just restricted to the pages in your hand. The film looks incredible on the big screen, with Marvel Studios having perfected their talent for flawless looking special effects, (Which blend in seamlessly), along with some typically spectacular action. However as usual, we still get some excellent character work. With a script by Chrisopher Markus and Stephen McFeely (Who have written a few films in the franchise), balances out many, many characters and of course, a good sense of humor, which is more necessary here than any of the other films due to the immensely high stakes this time around. 

 To talk about the cast, which has got to be one of the largest ensembles in cinematic history, you first need to address the standouts in the entire film, where no single character (With maybe the exception of the real star, who we will get to shortly) is given more to do than anyone else. Some might be reduced to supporting roles, but all have a reason to be here and everyone is as committed as ever. Robert Downey Jr., the original, first Avenger we were introduced to, remains as likably sarcastic as ever, having great back and forth with an equally endearingly snarky Benedict Cumberbatch. Chris Hemsworth gets to show more of both his comedic and dramatic chops, Zoe Saldana giving an emotionally layerd performance, Tom Holland showing once again why he's the best (And most lovable) Spider-Man, some great laughs from Chris Pratt, Bradley Cooper, Dave Bautista, and Mark Ruffalo, an enjoyably slimy Tom Vaughan-Lawlor, and a heartwarming subplot with Elizabeth Olsen and Paul Bettany.

 We still have awesome moments from our main cast, which includes Chris Evans, Scarlett Johansson, Don Cheadle, Chadwick Boseman, Anthony Mackie, Sebastian Stan, Danai Gurira (as "Okoye", T'Challa's loyal guard), Tom Hiddleston (as "Loki", Thor's mischievous brother), Pom Klementieff, Karen Gillan (as "Nebula", Gamora's reformed step-sister), and the hilariously altered voice of Vin Diesel. We also getting memorable brief appearances from Benedict Wong (as "Wong", Strange's partner in the mystic arts), Gwyneth Paltrow (as "Pepper Potts", Tony's longtime love interest, turned fiancée), Idris Elba (as "Heimdall", Thor's most loyal friend), Peter Dinklage (as "Eitri", a giant dwarf who looks like Peter Dinklage), Benicio del Toro (as "Taneleer Tivan/The Collector", who gets to be weird again), Letitia Wright (as "Shuri", T'Challa's little sister/new fan favorite), Winston Duke (as "M'Baku", one of T'Challa's newest allies), and a special appearance from a character we thought died over a dozen films ago. (The whole auditorium let out gaps and "What the f*cks?" all at once.)

 The real star of "Avengers: Infinity War" is the big bad himself, Thanos, with Josh Brolin giving a brilliant, menacing, compelling performance. Serving as almost a villain protagonist of sorts, Brolin is in the movie more than any character, showing the audience why he is such a big deal and why he is such an unstoppable threat. The effects work on him is perfect, and the character is given his own, thought provoking, somewhat sad story arc, which dominates most of the film. Brolin gives it his all, giving an understanding as to who this character is, what his goal is, and what it means to the character. All these dimensions make the villain all the more scary, giving you something to think about once you leave the theater. (And this is a freakin superhero movie. Not even some art house films are able to accomplish that.)

 The only complaint you can bring up about "Avengers: Infinity War" is that it's all almost too much. There are so many characters, so many storylines coming to a possible close, such a large amount of mythology that you'll be lost if you miss something important. Yet, I can't really justify that as an actual flaw. This is essentially the end of an era, and it would of been a cop out not to include everything you possibly could. And the fact that the Russo Brothers were able to keep everything grounded, well paced (At almost three hours, you can barely feel it.), and both funny and emotional is pretty astonishing. It all culminates on one of the most jaw dropping moments you will see in not just a film like this, but really any film. (Okay, I'll admit it. I cried. One moment at the end got me. Even Superheroes cry.)

 "Avengers: Infinity War" is one of the darkest, most bleak films you'll probably see this year (And you are seeing it. The entire country is seeing it.), but still packed full of some humor, heart, unforgettable characters, and a reminder why we idolize these fictional heroes in the first place. The sight of many of our favorite characters charging into battle against a terrifying force, despite the odds that they will likely lose badly, is one of the absolute coolest big screen moments ever. It's a lot to take in, but you wont stop thinking about it once it all ends. Damn, Marvel really had the stones to pull this whole thing off. 4 stars. Rated PG-13 For Violence, Mayhem, And.....Lots Of Heartbreak.

Super Troopers 2                                   ★★½ OUT OF ★★★★

Image result for super troopers 2Image: Well I feel safer.

 Most people, like myself are clamoring for "Avengers: Infinity War" this upcoming weekend. However, there is a select few that saw....This thing....as their most anticipated film of 2018. Now I'm just left confused. What the Hell is this even? What's with the mustaches? Is that Brian Cox? What is he doing here? Where am I? Seriously, what is this and why does it have such a following? I'm confused. Maybe It's second hand pot smoke coming from the screen.

 Set a few years after the first film that I never saw (Which came out about 17 years ago), "Super Troopers 2" starts off after a supposed incident with "Fred Savage", our nicknamed heroes, the veteran of the group, "Thorny" (Jay Chandrasekhar), the prankster, "Mac" (Steve Lemme), the rookie, "Rabbit" (Erik Stolhanske), the annoying fat one, "Rod" (Kevin Heffernan), and the one without a nickname, "Jeff" (Paul Soter), have all been fired from the Vermont State Police Force. They are gathered together by their former captain, "John O'Hagen" (Brian Cox), who has found a way to get them back onto the force.

 It's learned that an area near the American/Canadian border is technically part of the United States, meaning that a new state trooper force will need to be added into the area to replace the previous Canadian one  Too bad those Canadians aren't having any of this, resulting with the team being at odds with the Canadian people. So follows a series of hi-jinks and some incidents involving a former hockey player turned mayor, "Guy Le Franc" (Rob Lowe), Rabbit's romance with the pretty "Genevieve Aubois" (Emmanuelle Chriqui), a rivalry with the previous police force, and a conspiracy that has to deal with a collection of illegal drugs. 

 Even after watching "Super Troopers 2", I still have no idea what in God's name this actually is. From comedic team, "Broken Lizard", the film was mostly crowdfunded by the fans, who demanded a sequel, resulting in the movie finally getting a release so long after the original. The movie doesn't bother with little things such as plot, character development, or even basic justification, but instead just focuses on ridiculous shenanigans and sketches that feel more like an overall sitcom episode than an actual movie. Because of this, the film does seem to drag on due to it's hour and forty minute length. Still, I can't help but admit that I was somewhat intrigued by just how much the filmmakers commit to the insanity.

 Our main cast of characters have been working together for years and obviously have good chemistry, despite the fact none of these characters are particularly memorable. Rob Lowe looks to be having some fun, with Emmanuelle Chriqui getting to be super adorable, and the awe-inspiring luxury of Brian Cox getting some good laughs and even  getting to say the words Brian Cox should never say. (One of the many things I didn't expect to witness during this movie.) The real star of the movie is how many odd, and at times, random situations everyone ends up in. There's some drug use that causes different side effects, Rob Lowe bouncing around a penis, lactating male nipples, gross out fart jokes, out of nowhere cameos, and an onslaught of Canadian jokes that go from obvious to surreal sometimes in the same scene. (There's an argument about Danny Devitto that goes on for like 3 minutes. What?)

 "Super Troopers 2" is pure, unapologetic, borderline bizarre nonsense that's so freakin odd to the point it's somewhat fascinating. It's at times amusing or even a bit funny, but it's the absolute strangeness of the entire film as a whole that kind of makes it almost worth the price. I mean, there's no point to the film whatsoever and when a joke falls flat, it falls with a loud thud. Yet for something so cheap and lacking so little in substance, purpose, or reason, the film finds a way to fill itself with enough nonsensical absurdity that will likely give the fans exactly what they want. If you don't like it, blame Canada. 2 1/2 stars. Rated R For Drug, Dicks, Bodily Functions, Language, And Fred Savage. 

I Feel Pretty                                        ★★½ OUT OF ★★★★

Related imageImage: Wait, I feel funny.

 This is another one of those subjects I don't feel that I'm quite qualified to talk about. I mean, a film aimed at female empowerment that has a message about being comfortable with your looks and body that is generating controversy from the intended audience who claims that the film doesn't "Get it?. Not touching that one, because I'm a dude without such problems. There's also the usual controversy with a bunch of sexist male dicks who just hate Amy Schumer, but that's normal. Hey, if you aren't sexist, you can voice criticism without the use of derogatory language. It's not that hard. 

 "I Feel Pretty" follows "Renee" (Amy Schumer), who struggles with anxiety over her own looks, always comparing herself to others who she considers more beautiful. An accident with a stationary bike results with her bonking her head, which gives her the impression, (At least in her own mind, that she is "Beautiful"), despite nothing about her having changed at all. Due to her supposed new appearance, Renee also gains a newfound sense of confidence, getting the receptionist job she's been wanting at a cosmetics company, run by soft voiced airhead CEO, "Avery LeClaire" (Michelle Williams), and finds herself a nice boyfriend, "Ethan" (Rory Scovel), who just likes her for the person that she is.

 Of course everything starts to go to Renne's head as she lets her new success and popularity take over, ignoring her friends "Jane" (Busy Phillips) and "Vivian" (Aidy Bryant), spending more time flirting with Avery's brother, "Grant" (Tom Hopper), and just becoming a bit of a selfish person in the process. Renee has to learn that the people that matter really never cared about how she looked, but instead appreciated the kind of person she is and the positive impact her confidence should have on her life. 

 The point behind "I Feel Pretty" is a strong one, with the message and the good intentions of the filmmakers being noticeable. The issue is that the film's tone is a bit all over the place, not in the sense that's it overly serious, but more because for a film that occasionally appear to be set in reality, it becomes pretty cartoonish really quickly. Now you still get some laughs here and there regardless of that, though it can feel a little distracting. With that said, there is some genuine charm to the film, with the more heartfelt, sweeter scenes that actually work more often then they don't. 

 Amy Schumer, (Who I get can be a bit of a polarizing figure because of her brand of humor), does show how much better of an actress than we give her credit for. (And to a certain degree, better than even she realizes.) And she is far more toned down here than she usually is (Mostly due to the PG-13 rating), Schumer is very much likable, delivering comedic moments well, and even showing more of her acting chops in the film's more serious moments. She also has great chemistry with Rory Scovel, who also has a lot of likability himself. Their scenes together make for the most enjoyable, because it comes across as sweet and actually pretty adorable. Michelle Williams looks like she's having a lot of fun being weird and getting to act in a comedy for once. (After something as depressing as "Manchester by the Sea", I can see why), while Emily Ratajkowski (As "Mallory", the pretty girl Renee aspires to be) gets to be cute, but not much else. 

 "I Feel Pretty" has been accused of body shaming, being called hypocritical in it's own message. Like I said before, I'm not really the person to talk about this, but I guess I can kind of see the points of both sides to this argument. Amy Schumer has become known for making fun of herself often and does so here, though honestly, there's never been anything wrong with her looks (I always thought she was pretty anyway). Sadly, movie is just far too long,  and it's not quite funny enough to make it all work. (Also, if we're being realistic, her character is basically insane.) However, it's still a sweet film with some heartwarming moments and feels more charming than actually humorous. It's a film that's mostly just be left up to the intended audience to decide if they like it or not.. But it did make me feel better about my own looks. I feel, almost....Pretty? 2 1/2 stars. Rated PG-13 For Adult Humor, Bikini Contests, And Failure To Diagnose A What Clearly Was A Massive Concussion.

Truth or Dare                                               ★½ OUT OF ★★★★

Related imageImage:  Uh....Dare?

 Blumhouse Productions, known for mostly horror flicks and franchises, is really letting that Best Picture nomination for "Get Out" go right to their heads aren't they? I mean, I get wanting to promote that fact as much as possible, but forcing your production studio's name all over the trailer and poster, while also constantly reminding everyone that you guys released "Get Out" is a bit silly. Especially when your film certainly isn't going to be getting any Oscar consideration in the slightest. 

 "Truth or Dare" opens with a disposable group of college character types, with nice girl, "Olivia" (Lucy Hale) going on a Spring Break trip to Mexico with her best friend, "Markie" (Violett Beane), Markie's boyfriend who Olivia also likes, "Lucas" (Tyler Posey),the gay one, "Brad" (Hayden Szeto), the promiscuous one, "Penelope" (Sophia Taylor Ali), and the complete dick, "Tyson" (Nolan Gerard Funk). While there, Olivia meets a guy named "Carter" (Landon Liboiron), who invites the group an old, abandoned mission, along with the annoying comic relief, "Ronnie" (Sam Lerner), who tags along despite nobody wanting him around. Carter invites the group to play a game of Truth or Dare, revealing that the game is real, he lured them all there to force them to play in a desperate attempt to survive, and they will have no choice but to play or die. Everyone mostly shrugs this off, with the exception of Olivia, who starts to hallucinate weird distorted faces and voices. Once the bodies start to pile up, the friends realize they're stuck in an endless game controlled by a demonic entity, "Calax", that really just wants to screw with them. (Honestly, I have no idea what the Hell his goal was). 

 Aside from the tropey characters, who have little to them outside from their archetype,"Truth or Dare" does start off almost promising, with an idea that could of made for a fun little short. The problem is that the premise is stretched out far too long, you begin to poke holes in everything that happens, and eventually realize just how freakin' stupid it actually is. The rules to the demented game our characters are forced to play constantly change and contradict previous moments that it becomes obvious the writers, consisting of four people (Including Director Jeff Wadlow), wrote themselves into several corners and had trouble finding ways around it. (So wait. The demon can just kill people whenever it chooses now? Then what's the damn point with all the games if that's what it's endgame is all along?)

 Lucy Hale is a capable lead, who really just does what she can with what material is given. Tyler Posey is a completely blank slate of nothing, with the rest of the cast serving as cannon fodder for those looking to watch people die in typical PG-13 gruesomeness. (Meaning, you can't really show much of anything.) As for scares, the movie far too generic, relying on the most standard attempts to scare the audience. You mostly just get an onslaught of jump scares, loud noises, and weird faces. (The faces themselves look more silly than actually scary.)

 "Truth or Dare" takes itself way too seriously, with the goofy premise getting old quickly, and the motivations and rules of the game constantly changing to the point it's not any fun anymore. There are moments where you can possibly see what enjoyment could of been hard here, and maybe if it was more of a comedy, it would of worked better. But the movie tries to incorporate talk of suicide, parental issues, sexuality, and other out of place dramatic elements, that it's just going to be lost on the audience who normally would watch a movie like this. Be honest, you guys just want to see as much over the top death as possible. Too bad the movie can't even give you that. You had ONE JOB! 1 1/2 stars. Rated PG-13 For Random Acts Of Violence, Demonic Possession, And Shiny, Happy People. 

Sgt. Stubby: An american Hero                                                                                                                                              ★★★ OUT OF ★★★★

Image result for sgt stubby an american heroImage: "Come on. You know I'm adorable."

 Unless you're Disney, Pixar, DreamWorks, Illumnation, or any of the major animation studios, known for big names, big budgets, and blockbuster hits, it's hard to take anything coming from lesser studios too seriously. Granted, movies like "Spark: A Space Tail", "Norm of the North","Free Birds", "Legends of Oz: Dorothy's Return", the list really does go on. (Oh, remember "Delgo"? Ewww!) So count me as surprised when this little movie aimed at the littlest of the little found a way to thoroughly charm me. 

 Inspired by true events during 1918, "Sgt. Stubby: An American Hero" follows an adorable little Boston Terrier, "Stubby", who wanders into a military camp, where he instantly finds friendship with a young soldier, "Robert Conroy" (Logan Lerman). Stubby ends up becoming a mascot of sorts to the men. When Robert and his fellow soldiers, including the wisecracking "Elmer Olson" (Jordan Beck) and German-American, "Hans Schroeder" (Jim Pharr), end up deploying to France. Stubby, fearing he will lose his best friend, ends up becoming a stowaway, but is allowed to stay simply because he's too darn lovable. Along with Robert, Stubby becomes partnered up with a bushy French infantryman, "Gaston" (Gérard Depardieu), with the three of them becoming close friends during their time in the trenches of battle. Stubby eventually proves himself to be an important part of the battles to come, showing true bravery and courage, even against difficult odds. 

 Not boasting the same level of spectacular animation that we're used to from more well known studios, "Sgt. Stubby: An American Hero" comes to us from "Entertainment Studios" (Still a lazy name) and something called "Fun Academy". Director Richard Lanni makes up for this by simply telling it's story simply, but not insultingly, while incorporating plenty of heart and sensitivity. The true story itself is actually a wonderful one, and while some aspects were likely fabricated for the animated film, you'll be surprised to see what elements actually happened in real life. Apparently this little guy saved many lives during his 18 month deployment, brought comfort to many of the wounded, and even captured a German spy. (Okay, that's pretty awesome right there.)

 The cast is small, but made up of likable characters that get just enough depth to make you care about them. Logan Lerman is good in the film, with Helena Bonham Carter (as Robert's unseen sister, "Margaret", who serves as the narrator) feeling a bit out of place, but serving an educational purpose. Gérard Depardieu makes for one of the most memorable characters, providing a few laughs, mixed in with heartwarming scenes that show the comradery between the soldiers. The real star of the film is Sgt. Stubby himself, who has got to be one of the cutest critters to ever appear in an animated film, with the most adorable design you'll ever see and plenty of spunky personality to boot. You'll fall in love with the small, but big heated hero instantly.

 Even without stellar animation, "Sgt. Stubby: An American Hero" is lively and at least has a pleasant look to it. You root for the characters, and despite going for a tame, kid friendly approach, the film doesn't shy away from the reality of war. It's a small, but gentle kids film that doesn't talk down to them and somehow has more maturity than most films aimed at adults. (How is it that this does a much better job honoring real life heroism than Clint Eastwood's "The 15:17 to Paris"?) You may laugh at the name and wonder why the heck it has a wife theater release, but that lovable dog is definitely worth your time, especially if you want to take your kids to something that won't straight up insult their intelligence. 3 stars. Rated PG For Some War Related Reality, But Perfectly Safe For Kids Of All Ages. 

 Rampage                                            ★★½ OUT OF ★★★★

Related imageImage: The Rock and his hairy friend engage in another late night bar brawl.

 The biggest question, aside from if Dwayne Johnson's muscles are real or if he would make for a valid presidential candidate (By this point, anything is possible.), would be if "Rampage" is the one to break the video game cur....No. It's not. Can't even finish that sentence (Told you guys a few weeks ago with "Tomb Raider. It's never gonna' happen.). But unlike those other failed attempts, at least this musclebound lug of a movie knows exactly what it is, advertises itself as such, and just goes ape sh*t crazy. It's the only way to go.

 "Rampage" starts with the explosion of a satellite in space, that leads to three canisters full of an experimental gas, that messes with one's genetic code, to crash onto Earth. Animal loving primatologist, "Davis Okoye" (Dwayne "Still The Rock Regardless" Johnson), who prefers the company of animals over people, learns that his best friend, a albino silverback gorilla, "George" (Portrayed through motion capture by Jason Liles) has gotten a whiff of the gas, becoming more giant and aggressive with every moment. This is all the work of dastardly villains, "Claire Wyden" (Malin Åkerman) and her dumbass brother, "Brett" (Jake Lacy), whose organization created the gas. They send their military guy, "Burke" (Joe Manganiello) to track down one of the cannisters, only to find a monstrous, giant wolf with wings, nicknamed "Ralph".

 Meanwhile, Davis is met by a former genetic engineer with connections to what's going on, "Kate Caldwell" (Naomie Harris), who comes to help, just in time for George to break loose and cause some havoc. This leads to the arrival of smarmy government agent, "Harvey Russell" (Jeffrey Dean Morgan) to come and attempt to take George, which goes about as well as you would expect. Now George is on the loose and is on his way to Chicago with Ralph and a terrifying, mutated giant crocodile, nicknamed "Lizzie", with the intent of pure destruction and a fun day in the windy city. It's up to Davis to use this bulging muscles, bald head, and powerful smolder to save the day, along with his furry buddy. 

 Like most video game adaptations, "Rampage" doesn't quite resemble it's source material (Though in the original game, the giant, mutated animals were people. So they changed that for the better.). In terms of intelligence, lets just say the film is lacking in that department. Luckily, the film knows that and simply embraces what it is, going for pure, unapologetic insanity, right down to the climax where buildings are destroyed, while giant animals do their absolute  damnedest to kill each other. You get some occasional obvious green screen work, but most of the effects, while at times cartoonish (Which may of been intentional), are rather impressively detailed. The creature designs are clever and the scale of the destruction on screen is massive and explosive, which looks stunning on IMAX screens.

 The busiest man currently working today in Hollywood, Dwayne Johnson is as reliable an actor as you can get for a film like this. He has the look of an action star, with plenty of charm to deliver silly, but also funny dialogue, and his relationship with George is actually fairly sweet, making for some of the film's most endearing moments. Naomie Harris is fine in her dumb role, though it's way less embarrassing than her even more nonsensical role in "Collateral Beauty". (I see a lot of good actors in bad movies, don't I?) Malin Åkerman and Jake Lacey are both pretty terrible, portraying incompetent villains with a plan that makes no sense. On the bright side, they aren't in it much and become pretty much unnecessary as the movie goes along. Then we have Jeffrey Dean Morgan practically devouring the scenery with a fork, hilariously smirking his way throughout the entire film, and stealing every scene he's in. 

 "Rampage" lives up to it's title and gives you exactly what it promises. The plot is a little jumbled and is undeniably dumber than a pile of smashed buildings, but you already expected that going in. It's a crazy, monster sized blockbuster that doesn't try to be something it;s not and thankfully doesn't have the intention of insulting it's audience's intelligence in the process. While others are still probably waiting for that first great video game movie, I'm sure we'll all be fine settling for a giant crocodile leaping into the air to catch a fighter plane with it's mouth, a giant wolf unleashing a barrage of projectile spines from it's tail, and a giant gorilla taking on the both of them, while Dwayne Johnson blows crap up. We get what we pay for sometimes.  2 1/2 stars. Rated PG-13 For Violence, Constant Destruction Of Property, And The Senseless Annihilation Of A Perfectly Good Dave & Buster's.   

The Miracle Season                              ★★½ OUT OF ★★★★

Image result for the miracle season movieImage: "Boy I'm really going to...Uh...Volley that ball this time....I guess."

 Just going to throw this out there, this is gonna be a short review. Sometimes there just isn't much to say when your movie isn't so much bad at all as its kind of unnecessary to pay modern ticket prices for. Think of it more as a TV Movie Of The Week.

 Based on a True Story, "The Miracle Season" takes place in 2011, at the West High School in Iowa City (In Iowa obviously), where the town celebrates the chance of their high school girls volleyball team getting a chance at state and possibly winning for the second year in a row. The film follows best friends "Kelley Fliehler" (Erin Moriarty) and the beloved star player, "Caroline "Line" Found" (Danika Yarosh). After a party, Line ends up tragically being killed in a motorcycle accident, which affects the whole town, especially Line's father, "Ernie" (William Hurt), who also ends up losing his wife, "Ellyn" (Jillian Fargey) not too long later. The whole town seems to struggle with moving on, in particular Kelley and the rest of the volleyball team, who can't even bring themselves to play anymore. It's up to the uptight, but eventually well intentioned coach, "Kathy Bresnahan" (Helen Hunt) to get the girls back together, hoping to pull off a nearly impossible, but spectacular comeback for team, while also honoring their deceased friend and player. 

 "The Miracle Season" takes the easiest route you can possibly take with the whole inspiring family drama genre, but there's nothing particularly wrong with that as it does it's job as well as a glorified TV movie possible could. It's a very small, simple story, which I feel is basically the point. It lacks any real ambition to be anything more than what it is, thanks mostly to cheesy writing, flat characters, and slow pacing. Despite this, it's hard to fully dislike due to the film's heart being the right place and for at times working effectively. Though I think it's more of a credit to the cast, rather than the direction. (The film was Directed by Sean McNamara, who previously made "Soul Surfer" and um, "Bratz") Erin Moriarty is a cute, likable lead, whose relationship with the personality filled Danika Yarosh in the opening scenes ends up working quite well and makes the devastating outcome all the more sad. William Hurt does some fine work with the generic script, along with Helen Hunt, who gives it her all regardless of the material.

 "The Miracle Season" is one of those movies where you do get more inspiration from simply reading or hearing about it's real life events, rather than watching an overall mediocre kids film. With that said, there's nothing outright wrong with it. It is a sweet story, that will probably find an audience, such as with young girls who will certainly enjoy the female empowerment. Not much else to really add because there's not much there. Hey, they can't all be long, descriptively written rants like "Acrimony". I only have so much energy and rage. 2 1/2 stars. Rated PG For Tearjerky Moments And The CGI Volleyball.

Blockers                                                ★★★½ OUT OF ★★★★

Image result for blockers movieImage: John Cena, about to give a teenage boy an attitude adjustment.

 We seem to be going through somewhat of a rejuvenation of the comedy genre right now. Granted, it's still pretty early in the year, so for all we know it could all go downhill in a fiery blaze. But with recent releases such as the dark comedy, "Game Night", the political satire, "The Death of Stalin" (The movie set in Russia, where nobody is Russian), and now "Blockers", a genre that always seems hit or miss (Or even in some cases, just constant misses.), it seems studios appear to be succeeding in what comedies should aspire to do. Make people laugh. So somebody call John Cena.

 "Blockers" starts with three best friends deciding to make a sex pact on Prom Night with "Julie" (Kathryn Newton) hoping to go all the way with her boyfriend, "Kayla" (Geraldine Viswanathan) mostly doing it because it sounds fun, and "Sam" (Gideon Aldon) going along with it despite the fact she is secretly a lesbian.The parents, Julie's single mom, "Lisa" (Leslie Mann), Kayla's protective, musclebound dad, "Mitchell" (John Cena), and Sam's neglectful dad, "Hunter" (Ike Barinholtz), who used to be friends, but have grown apart over the years, come back together once they learn of their daughters' pact. So the parents proceed to go against better judgement and common sense to stop their daughters from going through with the act, all while getting into all kinds of crazy situations, such as getting into car wrecks, breaking into places, and getting things put up your butt that shouldn't go there, 

 "Blockers", which has a picture of a rooster on it's poster because it's obvious what that means, does not have the most original of premises. It's sort of your typical sex comedy, with the kids wanting to go through with it, without knowing much about what they're doing and the parents wanting to stop it, without knowing much about why they're doing. However, the film seems to put a more modernized spin on it (Making it for the more woke generation I suppose), which makes for a bit more intelligence than you would expect from the average raunchy comedy. Because the film is smart about it's characters and the writing, that makes the film much funnier and certainly more lovable. 

 Aside from some excellent gags, which vary from gross out to just plain bizarre, "Blockers" has an excellent cast, who all work well off of each other. The adorable Leslie Mann is always reliable in these roles, while actually being allowed to be just as funny as the guys. Ike Barinholtz steals most scenes he's in with his smarmy attitude, who attempts to be the voice of reason despite being the most unstable of the trio. John Cena (Who just continues to show an immense amount of personality as an actor) commits to being as absurdly dweebish as possible, while being as hulkingly buff as John Cena. The real stars here are the three girls, Kathrun Newton, Geraldine Viswanathan, and Gideon Aldon, who all have great chemistry with each other and have a certain level of charm and likability, while also getting plenty of vulgar laughs. 

 Directed by Kay Cannon (Known for serving as a writer on the "Pitch Perfect" movies), "Blockers" has more of a woman's touch, giving the film more to say. The jokes are crass and crude, but inoffensive and undeniably laugh out loud funny, thanks in part to the cast. The film also has a sweet story that gets sentimental where necessary and avoids becoming cheesy. It's one of the more adorable comedies you'll see, yet still packed with plenty of dick jokes and butt chugging. It takes an idea that should be tired and puts a whole new outlook on it. So parents, be sure to watch it with your teenage daughters. Or not. Your call. 3 1/2 stars. Rated R For Reckless Behavior, Unsettling Sex Games, And John Cena Nudity. 

A Quiet Place                                             ★★★½ OUT OF ★★★★

Related imageImage:QUIET!!!! CAN"T YOU SEE SHE's TRYING TO HIDE!!!!! 

 Imagine a big, fat guy, with a large tub of popcorn, sitting right behind you, slowly and steadily munching on popcorn throughout the entire quiet hour and a half. For the longest time I thought that was movie until I heard him cough some of the popcorn back up.  I know one thing for sure. That guy wouldn't of survived in this movie for more than a minute. I would have been rooting for the monster.

 "A Quiet Place" starts at some point in the future, where the world is in shambles due to the arrival of some strange, horrifying, and bloodthirsty creatures who attack and slaughter anything that makes any sound of any kind. A family, whose name is never provided within the movie (But is available in promotional material), is struggling to survive in this quiet, desolate world. The pregnant mother, "Evelyn" (Emily Blunt) and father, "Lee" (John Krasinski) are still grieving over the loss of their youngest son at the hands of the monsters, while still trying to protect their son, "Marcus" (Noah Jupe) and their deaf daughter, "Regan" (Millicent Simmonds), who feels responsible for the younger son's death. Eventually, the battle to survive becomes more difficult, and once sh*t hits the fan, the family is forced to rely on each other to defeat the monsters attacking their home. 

 Just as much as thriller, mixed with a family drama, as well as a horror film, "A Quiet Place" takes some concepts that you've likely seen before and brilliantly executes it, making the film feel more original. The film is mostly silent throughout, with little music, dialogue which is mostly done through sign language, or at times, little to no sound at all, adding to the atmosphere of the film and practically putting you in these deadly situation. (Be honest, we're inherently loud beings. We would all die horribly.) Director/co-writer/actor John Krasinski (Who has previously made a couple other films that never got much critical attention) shows real promise and a real eye for real suspense. (Such as the birthing scene, that literally had everyone on edge) It's a slow, silent buildup to more terrifying things to come, escalating till the last act, which is essentially nonstop terror. 

 Emily Blunt (aka Mrs. John Krasinski) is terrific here, giving a strong (And somewhat painful) performance, along with John Krasinski, reminding everyone how good he can be in front of the camera, while also proving to be good behind it as well. Even the kids are giving excellent performances with Noah Jupe and especially Millicent Simmons (Who is actually deaf in real life), acting like children probably would if put in a condition such as this. What makes the performances so wonderful is that due to the lack of actual talking, the film is carried by their expressions and movements, which is full of terror and dread, yet somehow adding in a heartfelt story about a family. The creatures themselves, who only appear in glimpses until necessary, are the stuff of nightmares, looking like a frightening hybrid of the monsters from "Stranger Things", large spiders, and um, giant ears. (Trust me. They'll make you void your bowels in fear.)

 "A Quiet Place" makes old new again, incorporating chilling horror thrills and combining it with compelling drama in a way that feels natural. It's smart, filled with constant tension, with a few set pieces that will stick with you once you leave the movie. Next time you're alone at night, you'll likely be watching how much noise you make just out of sheer instinct. I mean, you should do that anyway in a movie theater, but if you want to get yourself ripped to shreds, be my guest. Hope the popcorn was worth it. 3 1/2 stars. Rated PG-13 For Scary Images, Parental Fear, And Child Birth. 

Acrimony                                No Stars out of ★★★★

Related image

Image: James said WHAT about my movie!

 Tyler Perry, I want you to know something. I don't hate you as a person. You seem like a pretty decent guy actually, with some actual talent. You were great in "Gone Girl", and I've seen you be both funny in more comedic roles and solid in dramatic ones. You're not a bad actor, and with a little more work, you could be a okay director and writer. But.....How do you keep finding new and creative ways to piss me off? 

 Lets see if I can do this without spoiling everything. (Either way, don't see this movie. Take my word for it, you don't need it in your life.) "Acrimony" starts with "Melinda" (Taraji P. Henson) being forced to have therapy after losing her sh*t at the mere sight of her ex husband, "Robert" (Lyriq Bent). She tells her story, resulting in flashbacks showing younger Melinda (Ajiona Alexus) meeting and falling in love instantly with younger Robert (Antonio Madison), despite the fact he clearly didn't have much to his name in terms of money. Going against the advice of her sisters, Melinda continues to date Robert, while providing money for his get rich quick schemes. He ends up cheating on her, resulting in Melinda driving a car into Robert's trailer, which injures her to the point she can no longer have children. However, Robert says he's sorry and she takes him back. What follows is several years of misery, with Melinda working constantly while Robert tries to perfect his new battery power source or whatever.

 Eventually, it seems that this isn't going anywhere (Much like this movie in general), which makes Melinda force Robert to actually get a job. Thanks to bumping into the girl he previously cheated on Melinda with, "Diana" (Crystle Stewart), who just so happens to work at the Prescott company, which is where Robert has been intending to sell his battery to....Ugh. So anyway, Melinda thinks Robert is cheating, when it turns out he's just being a dumbass, which ends in failure and her kicking him out after going a little crazy. But wait! That's just the first half or so of the movie. It keeps on going, with Melinda still being miserable and Robert getting some help from Diana, who sees how depressing he is now after divorcing Melinda.

 Luck finally changes in Robert's favor with him getting a good offer for his battery, making him instantly rich. Robert decides to make amends for what he did to Melinda, giving her a big check of moolah and a genuine apology. Redemption and forgiveness, with the two of them going their separate ways. The end.....But wait!!! There's more! Melinda is pissed that Robert is marrying Diana, believing that she was the one destined to live this luxurious life and goes even more crazy than before. Stalking, and sending threats, that somehow end up with Melinda trying to kill people. How did we get here? Why are we here? What is wrong with this movie?  

 As you can tell from that attempt at a plot description, "Acrimony"is as sloppily directed as they come, with a story that keeps going when it should be moving to an end. Director, Producer, Writer, and founder of "Tyler Perry Studios", Tyler Perry, who mostly focuses his time on his irritating "Madea" films and self righteous dramas, doesn't seem to know what kind of movie he's making or what exactly it's trying to say. The film is dull and slow, with soapy dialogue and characterization, moving from one predictable plot to the next. At least, for the first two acts anyway. It's your standard, in your face melodrama that veers into comedy, mostly by accident. The third act is when everything comes crashing down in a way that can only be described as "Nonsensically, disastrous". If the film had ended before this, it still wouldn't of been good. But I could of just shrugged it off as another boring, overly dramatic, poorly constructed Tyler Perry film. However, its these last thirty to forty minutes where you see the worst that shoddy filmmaking has to offer. 

 Taraji P. Henson, who is an excellent and very underatted actress, is not too bad in these first opening minutes before we enter the flashback. While she's forced to deliver horrible and awkward voice over throughout, she at first appears to be rising over the material. Then like the rest of the movie, it all goes down the crapper. During this last act, she is absolutely awful. It's so over the top, stupid, and out of character, making for an embarrassing experience. Not sure if I can blame her exactly, putting the full blame on the direction and script. However, it seems to not understand the point it's seemingly trying to get across. Lyriq Bent gives a bland, thoroughly uninteresting performance, though he fares better than his younger counterpart in terms of screen presence. The rest of the supporting characters are all awful people, not fully realizing how dangerous a situation this actually is. (She's insane. Not just emotional, she's flat out crazy. Get her help! Don't just shrug it off!)

 Pretentiously taking time to have a title card explain definitions because Tyler Perry doesn't think the audience knows what words mean, "Acrimony" is disjointed, painfully monotonous, and incredibly indecisive of itself. The film opens with Melinda stating about how unfair it is when a black woman gets mad that it automatically makes her a stereotype. But then the movie ends with that happening exactly. It becomes a living stereotype in of itself. (I feel like I'm not the person to talk about this kind of thing, so I'm really just doing my best to understand) It feels wrong and in a time that heavily involves women's rights, particularly involving being wronged by men, this movie has no place here. Tyler Perry's filmmaking style can't possibly sink any lower, but sadly this time takes down poor Taraji P. Henson with him. That alone just makes me mad. Great! Now I have acrimony! Thanks Tyler! No Stars. Rated R For Language, Violence, Sexual Content, And A Green Screen Of A Park. (Why?)

God's Not Dead: A Light in Darkness                                                                                                                                     ★½ OUT OF ★★★★

Related imageImage: A Trilogy of crap.

 Not sure if this double feature was an Easter penance or some sick April Fool's Day joke. Either way, saying the third and hopefully final entry into the "God's Not Dead" trilogy is not the worst movie I saw today by a long shot is pretty awkward. I'm not sure if anyone would believe me if I told them.

 "God's Not Dead: A Light in Darkness" starts with recurring comic relief character, turned protagonist, "Reverend Dave" (David A. R. White) being released from prison during a time of constant bickering and division, especially involving the church still being allowed to remain on a college campus. Dave returns to the church with his buddy, "Reverend Jude" (Benjamin Onyango), ready to get some waffles. Meanwhile, a young couple is going through their own problems, with confused Christian "Keaton" (Samantha Boscarino) deciding to take a break from her atheist boyfriend, "Adam" (Mike C. Manning). Adam, who has had some personal, tragic issues with the church (Because of course he does) loses his temper and throws a brick into one of the windows.

 Sheer bad luck results in the brick causing a gas leak, followed by an explosion that blows up poor Jude (And he didn't even get to have his waffles) and pretty much of the inside of the church. The snooty college superiors decide to use this as a chance to remove the church from school grounds, resulting in Dave turning to the only person who can possibly help him right now, which is his non-believing lawyer brother, "Pearce" (John Corbett). Dave must work with Pearce despite their differences to save the church from being torn down, while Adam, wracked with guilt with what he's done, turns to Keaton for help. 

 "God's Not Dead: A Light in Darkness" is not good. But you already knew that. Pure Flix, who has been showing at least some signs of improvement lately, still can't help but produce cheaply made, badly written religious exploitation that continues to lack any form of subtly whatsoever. What I can say this time around, this newest film doesn't seem as angry or as hateful as the others in the past have been. In fact, some of the morals, which are admittedly good morals, seem to contradict what the first two seemed to be trying to say. There aren't any evil liberals this time around (In fact, a returning protagonist is revealed to be one), or big bad atheists who just want to destroy Christianity. (This time, they are shown to be decent people, who just disagree with the religion.) I'll even say that the film shows that there can be some crappy or hypocritical Christians out there too. Granted, the movie is kind of hypocritical of itself too, but I chalk that up to the filmmakers just showing that despite some improvement, still aren't exactly pros at what they do. 

 Some of the acting has also improved for the third installment. David A. R. White is not a bad actor with surprisingamount of charm, and thankfully gets promoted to the main character instead of being stuck as comic relief. He has some pretty solid chemistry with John Corbett, who gets a few funny lines and gets the most human portrayal of any non-believer in any of these movies. The younger actors are kind of weak, with Shane Harper (as "Josh", the Christian hero from the first movie) remaining bland and boring. I also deduct half a star because of the brief, but pointless appearance by Newsboys (Who are responsible for the song that plays in all of these movies.) but only. mostly, because they suck. 

 "God's Not Dead: A Light in Darkness" seems to have better intentions, with less offensive moments. The film's message isn't a bad one, and it even admits that some Christians should probably take time to actually practice what they preach. However, it's still full of crap, with nonsensical situations, dumb arguments, and most importantly, a slow, boring pace that doesn't have much to offer for the non-converted. Still, I give the film credit for not being irritating. That's faint praise, but it's still praise. It's a miracle! 1 1/2 stars. Rated PG For Adult Content And For Jude Going Boom.

Ready Player One                                      ★★★½ OUT OF ★★★★

Image result for ready player one movie imagesImage: Use the Force, Luke...Sorry, wrong film.

 Nostalgia. It's everywhere lately. We have "Star Wars" making a big comeback, along with the return of "Jurassic Park", "Power Rangers", "Ghostbusters", "Jumanji", "Transformers", etc. The list goes on with the many continuations or reboots of beloved childhood properties that usually result in grown men throwing hissy fits about them that for some reason always end up having underlying themes of sexism and racism. (We can't have nice things.) But it's not just in the return of franchises, there seems to be just this love for everything old, or at least in terms of the 80s and 90s. Many of us grew up at that time and remember it fondly, which is why Hollywood of course would try to capitalize on that. Now you can make the argument that maybe this whole nostalgia train should probably stop at some point......And then you see the Iron Giant fighting Mechagodzilla. That was awesome!!!

 "Ready Player One" takes place in the year 2045, where everything pretty much just sucks. (Pollution, overpopulation, all that good stuff.) The only way to escape from the harshness of reality is in the form of an incredibly detailed, virtual reality world known as "OASIS", which was created by the geek worshiped developer, "James Halliday" (Mark Rylance). Halliday eventually dies, leaving behind a special, final game for the players, which is to find a trio of keys, which will unlock an "Easter Egg", which will hand over complete control of the OASIS to whoever finds it. Our hero, "Wade Watts" (Tye Sheridan), who lives in a jenga style trailer park, is a total nerd and a complete fanboy of Halliday. Wade uses his avatar, "Parzival", takes part in the race to find the keys, along with his friend who he has never met in real life, "Aech" (Voiced by Lena Waithe).

 Wade meets a well known player, known as "Art3mis" (Olivia Cooke), who he is immediately smitten with, and ends up teaming up with her to find the keys. Meanwhile, the evil corporation known as "IOI", led by the slimy "Nolan Sorrento" (Ben Mendelsohn), is determined to find the Easter Egg and takes over the OASIS by any means necessary, even if it means killing whoever gets in their way. Avoiding Sorrento's army of henchman, known as "Sixers", in both the OASIS and in the real world, Wade and his new friends, which includes brothers "Daito" (Win Morisaki) and "Sho" (Phillip Zhao), search for the clues and participate in the puzzles that will reveal the locations of the missing keys, and hopefully save the OASIS from landing in the hands of a bunch of money grubbers, who will essentially control the world if they succeed. 

 Based on the both beloved and hated nostalgia fueled novel by Ernest Cline (Who was also a co-writer to the film), "Ready Player One" has the luxury of being directed by the great Steven Spielberg, who was known for revolutionizing what we consider grand, but heartfelt Hollywood escapism. The film embraces it's unapologetically cheesy nature with a big smile, filling the screen with an onslaught of references and imagery that nobody could of ever imagined seeing on the big screen all at once. In terms of it's visuals, the film is a treat to look at, nearly exploding off the screen in a literal manner. Despite the focus on the special effects, which are present throughout most of the film, there is still a sweet story with a solid message underneath that makes up for some fairly standard character development. 

 The cast of characters aren't exactly deep, but they are easy to root for and are memorable. Tye Sheridan is suitably awkward, but endearing. (And apparently less creepy here than in the book) Olivia Cooke is absolutely adorable and continues to prove to be a talented young actress. Ben Mendelsohn is perfectly villainous, playing up the smarmy corporate dick role wonderfully, along with Hannah John-Kamen (as "F'Nale", Sorrento's ruthless enforcer) and a hilarious T.J. Miller (Voicing "i-R0k", a powerful, menacing weapons trader within the OASIS, who sounds just like T.J. Miller), essentially playing Comic Book Guy from "The Simpsons". Lena Waithe provides some humor, with a fun small part for Simon Pegg (as "Ogden Morrow", Halliday's former best friend/OASIS co-creator) and the always wonderful Mark Rylance, who gets a rather brilliant role to play here. 

 Ludicrously packed full of pop cultures references and Easter eggs, "Ready Player One" knows what it intends to be, and with Spielberg's knowledge and love for this style of filmmaking being a perfect fit. It's corny as Hell, but in such a lovable way that just makes you smile uncontrollably, even in the most predictable of moments. You gets some genuine laughs, a well told story, with crazy amounts of visual chaos, and an overall message of separating reality from fantasy, while also saying that there is nothing wrong with a little escapism every now and then. Which is also the best way to describe this film. And the best way to describe my reviews....No? I'm not the Spielberg of film reviews? 3 1/2 stars. Rated PG-13 For Language, Chaotic Violence, And The Shining.  

Paul, Apostle of Christ                       ★★½ OUT OF ★★★★

Image result for paul apostle of christImage:Mission Apostle-ble.

 You know the best thing that makes up for seeing a movie late on a weekday? You get to lay down in the empty theater. That was really nice and relaxing, especially after a long day of work. Got nothing else to add. Just wanted people to know I got to lay down during this movie. Just chillin', with no one else in the theater. 

 "Paul, Apostle of Christ" follows the last days in the life of "Saint Paul" (James Faulkner) formerly known as "Saul of Tarsus", who himself once maliciously persecuted Christians, before eventually seeing the light and becoming one himself. After spending years redeeming himself and helping the world, he ends up persecuted himself. Paul is thrown in prison, awaiting execution. His old friend, "Luke" (Jim Caviezel), arrives to help his persecuted followers, who are all struggling to survive. Luke visits Paul in prison, and begins to write his gospel, with Paul detailing his life before converting and his eventual redemption, while his jailer, "Mauritius" (Oliver Martinez), struggles to understand who Paul is and how he has accomplished what he has.  

 As you can tell already, "Paul, Apostle of Christ" in terms of plotting is fairly slight. It's an interesting idea to focus on on the aged Paul, seeking the truth to if he has truly found his redemption, while incorporating the persecution of the Christian people during it. (To the makers of "God's Not Dead", this is what real persecution looks like.) However, there really isn't enough story to quite make it to the hour and forty minute runtime and it shows. The film is slow and drags along in some scenes, particularly when it takes time to deal with a few subplots that mostly feel like padding while other aspects happen offscreen or are simply sped through. (Granted, the film did only cost $5 Million. So you can tell they had little to work with.)

 Unlike other films in the faith based genre, "Paul, Apostle of Christ" finds a few unexpectedly good performances. Jim Caviezel is a bit on the wooden side (From what I've been told, he always has been), but you can see he's trying and does manage to inject some personality here and there. The real star is James Faulkner (An actor mostly known for bit parts and character roles) is excellent, giving a strong, human performance, along with Oliver Martinez, who is more complex than your average faith based villain. John Lynch and Joanne Whalley (as "Aquilla" and "Priscilla", husband and wife/allies to Paul and Luke) are both good, even with their bland, exposition based dialogue. 

 "Paul, Apostle of Christ" doesn't have too much too offer for the nonconverted and is too slow paced to keep one's attention. (Hey, I was laying down the whole time. Of course I was tired.) With that said, the film accomplishes it's goal of teaching a good moral, which is something that's been lacking in most modern faith based films. The message of rejecting hatred and violence in favor of peace, love, and the hope of redemption is a powerful one that is told genuinely. Nothing but good intentions here, and I can't hate on the movie for that. 2 1/2 stars. Rated PG-13 For Some Violence And Harshness. (Most Bible Stories Are Pretty Messed Up!)

Midnight Sun                                      ★★ OUT OF ★★★★

Image result for midnight sun movieImage: Not another happy teen movie.
 
 What is it with filmmakers and ruining perfectly good, dramatic storylines that could affect people in emotional ways, but instead deciding to turn it into a teen-centric romance? "The Fault in Our Stars" was great, but that was because of it's excellent cast, respect towards the reality of the situation, and humor to balance out the seriousness. It seems you can't have your teen romance without a little bit of death, regardless of it's place in the movie. I know it's a remake of a Japanese movie from 2006, it still just feels out of place and just plain odd. Bums me out
 
 "Midnight Sun" follows "Katie" (Bella Thorne), who from an early age was diagnosed with a rare genetic condition called "Xeroderma pigmentosum" (or XP), which means it is life threatening for her to go out in the sun due to severe sensitivity. (Granted, she still looks like Bella Thorne despite this, but that's besides the point.) She mostly spends her time in her home, with her widowed father, "Jack" (Rob Riggle) and her best friend, "Morgan" (Quinn Shepherd), while crushing on the popular guy, "Charlie" (Patrick Schwarzenegger), who Katie mostly just watches pass by her window. Only allowed to go out at night, Katie accidentally bumps into Charlie, panicking and returning home, leaving her notebook of songs behind. With some pushing from Morgan, Katie ends up meeting up with Charlie once again, and a relationship starts to form. Deciding to keep her condition a secret for plot contrived reasons, Katie and Charlie go out at night throughout the summer, getting closer and closer over time. Sadly, this movie can only end one of two ways, with a forced, overly watered down happy ending that doesn't belong in this movie ,or a needlessly dark, unpleasantly depressing ending that doesn't belong in this movie.  
 
 From the director of "Step Up: Revolution" (Well at least it's a bit of a step up....Get it?), "Midnight Sun" has some potential some aspects, and I'm sure the filmmakers had the best of intentions in terms of it's subject matter. However, this isn't the kind of film to showcase such a thing,because every time a poignant or strong emotional moment, the film reverts back to a cheesy romance that lacks the depth necessary to make it work. The film also seemingly introduces a couple extra subplots, that either mostly happen offscreen or are straight up dropped from the film entirely. 
 
 The most surprising aspect of the film is that it somehow gets far more superior performances out of some of the cast than this movie truly deserves. Bella Thorne is a charming lead, coming across as a very likable character, and her father-daughter relationship with Rob Riggle, (Who is shockingly wonderful here), is actually very cute. The film's most dramatic moments work best here and the whole time you're wondering why the film keeps instead focusing on the relationship with Patrick Schwarzenegger, (Who is ungodly boring and mostly does nothing other than smile and look pretty for the girls watching). Quinn Shepherd provides some much needed humor, with a small subplot with an awkward geeky guy (Nicholas Coombe) that just sort of happens without reason.. (Most unrealistic part of the movie for me right there.) 
 
  The romance in "Midnight Sun" fails due to a lack of chemistry and detracts from the relationships in the film that actually work. The film's ending also shows one of the major problems I have with this genre. (The whole dying teenage romance genre.) The film's attempts at being a tearjerker feels more manipulative and so in your face with how melodramatic it is, that it complicates and further misunderstands the point it's seemingly trying to make. The film clearly doesn't have the intent to offend anyone who actually suffers from Xeroderma pigmentosum, but this is definitely not the film to tell that kind of story. People and families afflicted with this disease deserve better. And, gosh darn it, so does Rob Riggle.  2 stars. Rated PG-13 For Adult Content And Depressing Teen Romance. 

Sherlock Gnomes                                   ★½ OUT OF ★★★★

Image result for sherlock gnomes

Image: Gnome Man's Land. 

 I've pretty much seen the trailer for this film once a week (If I'm lucky) since November. Not a new trailer. The same exact one. The one that ends with a little mankini gnome coming out and shaking it's porcelain, yet for some reason still jiggly derriere at the screen. I could pretty much quote that entire trailer considering how many times I saw it. I even saw it during movies where it didn't even belong. (Why did it play before "The Post" and "The 15:17 to Paris"?) What I'm trying to say is that the fact that the scene with the little gnome's rump isn't in the movie pretty much warrants at least half a star. Hey, I like to think I'm a fair critic who rewards credit where it's due. (Still doesn't excuse those lazy parody posters though. Shame.)

 "Sherlock Gnomes" opens with the titular, vain detective, "Sherlock Gnomes" (Johnny Depp), along with his neglected partner, "Watson" (Chiwetel Ejiofor), taking on the evil pie mascot, "Moriarty" (Jamie Demetriou), which results in Moriarty's apparent demise. Some time later, "Gnomeo" (James McAvoy), "Juliet" (Emily Blunt), and um, the rest, move into a brand new garden. With Juliet getting new responsibilities, she starts to ignore Gnomeo, making him feel unwanted. After a misunderstanding, the couple returns home to find all their friends and family gone. Meanwhile Sherlock and Watson just so happen to be investigating a case involving many garden gnomes vanishing throughout the city, leading them to running into Gnomeo and Juliet. Suspecting Moriarty has returned, Sherlock is determined the solve the case, with Gnomeo and Juliet mostly coming along for the ride. 

 The long delayed sequel to the 2011 somewhat hit, "Gnomeo and Juliet", "Sherlock Gnomes" never finds much reason to justify it's own existence, tell it's lackluster story in the simplest, most predictable way it possibly can, with a bland script that hardly has anything particularly funny in it. While never too annoying, the film comes across as more boring than anything, and seems only geared to the littlest of kids. (Even more so than the first one) The Elton John music doesn't add much and the characters aren't exactly interesting. That animation itself isn't anything too bad, with plenty of colors and lively character expressions. The film is directed by John Stevenson, who directed the first "Kung Fu Panda", which probably explains why there are a handful of decent looking set pieces. (Even if the film hardly does anything clever or original with them.)

 James McAvoy, Emily Blunt, and Chiwetel Ejiofor are all doing solid enough jobs with the voice work, at least sounding as if they're not just reading lines off a script. Michael Caine (as "Lord Redbrick", Juliet's father) and Maggie Smith (as "Lady Blueberry", Gnomeo's mother) don't get anything to do, and mostly feel like they're only just here because they're legends, and because they were in the first one. (On a side note, was the movie implying that those two characters were a couple now? But they're Gnomeo and Juliet's parents? Doesn't that make them step siblings now?.......Should I just stop thinking about it?) We get a brief appearance from Mary J. Blige (as "Irene", a plastic doll who used to be Sherlock's girlfriend), who does get one of the film's most memorable sequences. (A musical number of course) and Jamie Demetriou only gets a handful of scenes, but does bring out a couple laughs with his over the top villainy. The best part of the film is surprisingly Johnny Depp, who is actually playing a character this time around, instead of just doing a silly voice. He's a bit of a jerk, who does have some likability to him, and even some amusing moments. (There's a couple of entertaining moments involving his inner thoughts, which are shown in hand drawn animation.)

 While it does feature Johnny Depp's most enjoyable performance in some time, "Sherlock Gnomes", which really doesn't have much to it to begin with, just meanders around toward it's ending. It feels chopped up and cobbled together, with no surprises or justification to make you realize the necessity of this sequel. Maybe the youngest of the young may enjoy it, but with the much better family fare out today ("Paddington 2", "Peter Rabbit", and even "Isle of Dogs", despite it's PG-13 rating), all it does is take up time and space that could of been diverted somewhere else. Like puttering around in your garden with some actual Gnomes. 1 1/2 stars. Rated PG For Crude Humor And Well, The Mankini Gnome. (Destroy that thing. Now!)

Pacific Rim: Uprising                           ★★★ OUT OF ★★★★

Image result for pacific rim uprisingImage: "So, you feel lucky, punk".

 Anyone who knows me or has actually been following my site since 2013 (Or some even longer. I have been doing this for officially 8 years now), you should recall I gave the original "Pacific Rim", Directed by Guillermo del Toro, a 4 star rating. I stand by that as unironically as possible. I still think it's a great film. It's the definition of what a big summer blockbuster should be, complete with stunning effects, a variety of characters, big crowdpleasing moments, and freakin giant robots fighting even more giant monsters. There is a reason we geeks were excited for this one. Even with the long delay.

 "Pacific Rim: Uprising" picks up 10 years after the first one, where the humans, used their two pilot giant mechs, known as "Jaegers" to combat the giant monsters known as "Kaiju", who were unleashed by an evil alien race using a portal at the bottom of the ocean. Long story short, the good guys won, the Alien overlords were defeated, and the portal was shut. Now we are introduced to "Jake Pentecost" (John Boyega), the son of the deceased war hero, "Stacker Pentecost" (Played in the last film by Idris Elba), lives his life stealing Kaiju and Jaeger parts to the highest bidder. Jake ends up arrested with a young girl, "Amara Namani" (Cailee Spaeny), who was illegally using her own personal mini-Jaeger, nicknamed "Scrapper".

 Jake's adopted sister/fan favorite from the first film, "Mako Mori" (Rinko Kikuchi) arranges for Jake and Amara to be released, with the exception that they join Jaeger training program, with Jake serving as an instructor. While Jake is forced to work with his old partner, "Nate" (Scott Eastwood), with Mako revealing that the program is in danger of being shut down in favor of a new drone program run by "Liwen Shao" (Jing Tian), with help from manic, former Kaiju fanboy, "Dr. Newt Geiszler" (Charlie Day). When the arrival of a rogue Jaeger ends in tragedy, the new heroes must rise to the task of finding out who is manipulating events from behind the scenes, resulting in the return of the Kaiju to Earth. 

 Directed by Stephen S. DeKnight (Who is mostly just known for TV work, such as that "Spartacus" show), "Pacific Rim: Uprising" feels like a much lesser version of the first that at times can't seem to avoid a couple annoying sequel tropes. (Such as doing away with a character from the first movie for no reason or repeating a few popular moments that people liked in the original) The film does still deliver on all the mechanized chaos and fun that everyone loved about the first one, while doing what a good sequel should do, which is expanding on the world that's already been established. With a smaller budget, the film's effects don't look quite as real as the first, but still have a lively look to them, that shows in the action scenes, which are clear, exciting, and thoroughly original. From what the film borrows from other franchises (Such as "Transformers" and maybe a little from "Independence Day"), it does a much better job with what it takes, still making for plenty of excitement. 

 John Boyega is a strong, charismatic lead who dominates the film, and he gives it some heart. Boyega has great chemistry with Cailee Spaeny, who works well off of him, especially when it comes to the playful banter. Scott Eastwood looks to be enjoying himself for once, and gets to show some actual personality. (Granted, "Suicide Squad" really wasn't his fault) Jing Tian gets a bit more to her character than you at first think, and it's great to see Rinko Kikuchi back, even if she only gets a handful of scenes. There is some great comic relief from Burn Gorman (as "Hermann Gottlieb", Newt's buddy returning from the first film) and Charlie Day, who looks like he's having the time of his life. Much of the supporting cast mostly just serves their purpose to the story, and doesn't get much development outside of that. The real stars this time around are the Jaegers themselves. While we only get a couple of Kaiju, (Who are cool and menacing looking, but only appear towards the last act) the machines all seem to have their own distinctive personalities, getting more time in the limelight than in the first film, where aside from the main one, "Gypsy Danger", were all just glorified cameos. 

 Lacking most of the charm from the original, and most of the stakes, "Pacific Rim: Uprising" appears more lighthearted and dare I say, kid friendly compared to the first film. However, the film is still plenty of good, old fashioned popcorn munching fun, complete with a plot reveal so bizarrely hilarious, that goes to show that the film isn't taking itself too seriously. It still sets up for more to come, which if this is weaker by comparison, I'm totally down for some more Jaeger vs. Kaiju action. You know, if it makes enough money this time. (We were lucky to even get this movie the more I think about it.)  3 stars. Rated PG-13 For Sci-Fi Violence, Constant Destructive Of Property, And The Most Erotic Scene Involving A Kaiju Brain. 

Isle of Dogs                                    ★★★★ OUT OF ★★★★

Image result for isle of dogsImage: My nightmares, they're coming true!

 There's something about Wes Anderson's world that's utterly spellbinding. It's so unlike anything that it defies basic explanation. But I'm gonna try to do it anyway. It's like a candy coated doll house of quirky weirdness that mixes offbeat comedy, some pretty serious drama, a genuine heart, and in the case of his newest, stop motion animated epic, complete and utter insanity. 

 "Isle of Dogs" begins 20 years in the future in Japan, where there has been an apparent outbreak of a canine flu. Thedog hating/cat loving "Mayor Kobayashi" (Kunichi Nomura) arranges for all dogs, including "Spots" (Liev Schrieber), the dog belonging to his own nephew, "Atari" (Koyu Rankin), to be taken away and quarantined to "Trash Island". Some time later, a group of dogs on the island, which includes "Rex" (Edward Norton), "King" (Bob Balaban), "Duke" (Jeff Goldblum), "Boss" (Bill Murray), and their stray leader, "Chief" (Bryan Cranston) live their days eating garbage and getting into fights.

 One day, Atari, having hijacked a plane, ends up crash landing on Trash Island. Atari is determined to track down his missing dog, and against Chief's wishes, the others vow to help him. The group begins an adventure throughout the island to find Spots, all while the Mayor, along with his scary "Major Domo" (Akira Takayama) send out their squads of robot dogs to track down Atari. Meanwhile back in Japan, a plucky foreign exchange student, "Tracy" (Greta Gerwig) is determined to crack open the conspiracy involving the Mayor, his hatred of dogs, the Mayor's political rival, "Professor Watanabe" (Akira Ito), who is attempting to find a cure for the canine flu, and an evil scheme to wipe out all the dogs on the island. 

 From Director Wes Anderson (Known for his critically acclaimed filmography consisting of "Fantastic Mr. Fox", "Moonrise Kingdom, "The Grand Budapest Hotel", etc.), "Isle of Dogs" could possibly be one of his grandest, craziest film yet. And in his typical (Not so typical) style, you get some awkward laughs, a ton of creativity, and underneath it all, a sweet, heartwarming story about man's best friend and their importance to us. The film's visuals are simple, but stunning, with an extraordinary amount of attention to detail. The characters are lively, with their distinctive personalities visible simply from their designs and movements. The beautiful backgrounds and the sheer scope of the film that give it an epic feel that you wouldn't expect. 

 Also written by Wes Anderson, his trademark sense of humor is apparent along with the usual deadpan delivery of an incredible ensemble of actors, with this film having the biggest collection of great actors you'll likely see in any movie this year. Bryan Cranston is perfectly growly, with a heartwarming story arc, and we get plenty of laughs out of the collection of Edward Norton, Bob Balaban, Jeff Goldblum, and Bill Murray, who all have their quirks. (How can that group of actors possibly not be funny?) We also get quick appearances from Liev Schreiber, Greta Gerwig, Scarlett Johansson (as "Nutmeg", Chief's love interest), F. Murray Abraham (as "Jupiter", an older dog who helps the heroes out on their journey), Tilda Swinton (as "Oracle", a pug that gets visions from watching TV), among surprise appearances from others. The Japanese cast, who all mostly speak Japanese without subtitles (With some minor translation from an interpreter voiced by Frances McDormand), and are all excellent, which is credit to the filmmakers for going in that direction. 

 Aside from a surprising amount of darkness and even a few tearjerky moments, "Isle of Dogs" is at it's heart, a tale about a boy and his dog (And his dog friends). The one complaint (If you would call it that), is that the film is so unlike anything you've seen before that you have trouble really figuring out how to rank it. (That explains another 4 star rating). There is a sense of wonder to the film, even with it's oddness, and a positive message of how we treat those who have nothing but loyalty and love to offer. (It might even be a little political. Granted, everything about shunning a specific group of people reminds me of politics these days.) The film has a bit of a bittersweet edge to it, but plenty of cute, lovable characters and whimsy, that you can only find in a Wes Anderson movie. Sometimes it pays to be a weirdo. 4 stars. Rated PG-13 For Some Violence And A Little Language. 

I Can Only Imagine                          ★★ OUT OF ★★★★

Image result for i can only imagine movieImage: He can only imagine a large audience.

 The critical dissonance between film critics and religious filmgoers (Particularly Christian filmgoers) is obviously pretty large. Look,to be fair to us critics, it's not our fault that they're mostly terrible. Some are okay to decent at best, while most are, well, "God's Not Dead" (Personally, I believe that a kind, benevolent God would have given it no more than 1 star.) We aren't looking to bash you guys (Okay, maybe some are. But screw those guys.), most of us want these films to succeed. I certainly do. There's nothing wrong with a little innocent, good natured faith film once in a while. It's just when you see lame, cheap, made for TV movies like this, all I can think of the whole time is "Can't I just go see "Black Panther" again?" In fact, let Marvel make a religious super hero film. I guarantee it would be great.

 "I Can Only Imagine" tells the story of  "Bart Millard" (J. Michael Finley) and his hit Christian song by the same name, detailing what happened in his life that led to him writing the song. The film follows Bart from his childhood, living with his abusive father "Arthur" (Dennis Quaid), his relationship with his childhood sweetheart "Shannon" (Madeline Carroll), and his eventual calling to music and singing. This leads Bart to leaving his hometown, becoming part of a band, "MercyMe", and with help from their manager, "Scott Brickell" (Trace Adkins), trying to hit it big with the other, more popular bands, despite constantly being told that they'll never make it. At some point, Bart returns home to find his father dying, and seeking to form some kind of relationship with his son. These final days with his father lead Bart to writing his song, which would go on to be one of the most celebrated faith based songs of all time.

 "I Can Only Imagine" not being made by a lesser studio like "Pure Flix" does at least work out in it's favor in the sense that the film actually looks like something you would see in theaters, while not containing the horrendous acting and occasionally hidden bigotry that those movies have. It's a sweet, admittedly heartwarming story that I can understand resonating with people, especially of the Christian faith. The problem is that it's so dang lame, with a blandly by the numbers story, cheesy dialogue, and in your face attempts at uplift. It doesn't do anything new, or even that important, which is fine for the audience it's designated for. But that doesn't make the movie actually good. It just shows more reasons why these films don't get much larger of an audience. (It also explains why these films are rarely screened for critics.) 

 I don't buy J. Michael Finley in high school in the absolute slightest (Seriously, you guys couldn't hire a younger actor?), but he does at least have a certain level of charm to carry the film, and even does well in some of the emotional scenes. I think Dennis Quaid will forever be stuck playing grizzled, grouchy characters, but he is doing it well. The relationship with Madeline Carroll is mostly secondary (And somewhat feels tacked on), while Trace Adkins gets a funny line or two every now and then. The rest of the band members just sort of blend together, and I don't even remember who was who and what their purpose was. Cloris Leachman (as "Meemaw", Bart's loving grandma) is underused to the point it feels like the movie straight up forgets about her. 

 "I Can Only Imagine" will only resonate with a certain, specific group of people, and that's okay if you're part of that group. The film means well, and the message of forgiveness and redemption through faith is much better done here than others. (Such as last years unpleasantly misguided "The Shack") Being someone who doesn't really have much of a connection to the actual song compared to others, (To be perfectly honest, this review is the most I've ever thought about it) the film doesn't have much purpose or reason to be here. It just preaches to the choir, while not exactly bringing in anyone new. Its sweet natured schlock that at the very least has only the intention of teaching a good moral, despite being instantly forgettable. Maybe if Disney took a shot at the genre. And if they added lightsabres! Maybe I've gone too far. 2 stars. Rated PG For Realistic Content And Dennis Quaid's Growl. 

Tomb Raider                                     ★★½ OUT OF ★★★★

Image result for tomb raider movie 2018Image: Alicia takes aim...For my heart.

 I swear to God, if I hear someone say "Maybe this will be the one to break the video game movie curse" one more time! Just stop! It ain't happening. I know I'm sounding like a cynic (And I am), but by this point we've said that so many times that it's lost all meaning. "The Angry Birds Movie" is as good as we're likely ever going to get. It's time we accepted that, or at least accepted that it will be no more than okay at best. And then we can finally move on with our lives

 "Tomb Raider" follows "Lara Croft" (Alicia Vikander), who after her archaeologist father, "Richard" (Dominic West) vanished seven years prior, has kind of let it ruin her life and just finds herself desperate for money and in stupid situations. Her father's business partner, "Ana Miller" (Kristin Scott Thomas) approaches Lara and convinces her to claim her father's inheritance since it's likely he's dead. Lara ends up receiving not just her missing father's estate, but also a mysterious puzzle box with a message. The message sends her on a quest to discover what's happened to her father, discovering that he was involved in a battle with a mysterious organization known as "Trinity", who was searching for the remains of "Himoko", a mythical queen who seemingly had power to kill people simply by touching them.

 Richard feared what Trinity would do with this knowledge, which led to his disappearance. Lara heads off to search for him, with help from a drunk ship captain, "Lu Ren" (Daniel Wu), sailing into the obviously dangerous Devil's sea. Of course they end up crashing, resulting in the both of them being captured by "Mathias Vogel" (Walton Goggins), who leads an expedition to find Himiko's body no matter the cost. Lara eventually escapes and is now the only one who can stop Vogel from unearthing Himiko's remains and possibly endangering the world.  

 Directed by a guy with a sound effect for a name, Roar Uthaug, "Tomb Raider" seems to be trying to make something more than a stupid cash grab at something popular. Based on the beloved video game series, or more likely, based on the current rebooted stage of the franchise, (The one where she has more realistic breasts instead of giant triangle ones. We all noticed) the film takes it's time to develop it's story and main character, while attempting to ground it in reality. Occasionally it kind of works, with Lara Croft coming across as a likable, very strong character, who you can see handling herself in these dangerous situations. However, despite a grounded feel, the plot is basically pure nonsense, with the mystical elements feeling out of place and a little stupid really. 

 Oscar Winner Alicia Vikander certainly doesn't sleepwalk through the film, and even with the script's occasional failings, still gives an excellent, vulnerable performance making for a good heroine to root for. Walton Goggins also seems to be giving a bit more, remaining menacing, while injecting a slight amount of sympathy to at least make you understand where he's coming from. While Daniel Wu and Dominic West don't really get much to really do (And quite frankly, have to spout out some pretty silly dialogue), the two of them give it their very best and appear committed. Also, Nick Frost (as a pawn shop owner) appears for a minute, and vanishes far too quickly. In terms of action, the CGI is decent enough, but despite the PG-13 (And the fact that the game itself is M rated), the film still has this harsh, gritty feel that does show that there are stakes in this world. A particularly good moment is Lara getting her first kill and not knowing how to react to doing such a thing. (Granted, she later goes through bad guys like nothing, but it was still a nice moment.)

 "Tomb Raider" is what you would consider a step in the right direction, but still can't seem to avoid the same flaws that plague these video game adaptations (Being that what can work on a different medium, doesn't always work on another). The film has effort and maybe even a little more depth than you would expect. It sadly also has ridiculous plot points, dumb explanations for certain scenes (Why is there a random puzzle in the middle of an actions scene), and overall has the feel that you could find more enjoyment just playing the game, then just watching a lesser version of it. Overall, the movie just being "Okay" is probably the best anyone (Especially the fans) could of asked for. And we'll have to take what we can get. 2 1/2 stars. Rated PG-13 For Gritty Violence And Untrained Use Of Bows And Arrows. 

Love, Simon                                            ★★★★ OUT OF ★★★★

Image result for love simonImage:  Life can feel like it's upside down.

 I remember when I had to come out to my parents about who I was. Don't get me wrong, I was scared. I wasn't sure if they would accept me. But I did it. I sat the both of them down and without hesitation, I said "Mom. Dad..... I'm a film critic". Sure they told me that the job of a film critic wouldn't pay the bills (And boy were they right on that one), but I feel much, much happier now that everyone knows who I am. Alright, seriously, I hope that my lame joke illustrates how difficult it must be for anyone to come out to their family and friends (Especially in terms of their sexuality) and to hope that this wonderful film might somehow, in it's own way, make it easier

 "Love, Simon" follows "Simon Spier" (Nick Robinson), who is a closeted homosexual in high school. He is a pretty average guy, well liked, with plenty of friends, all of which have no idea that he's gay, including his best friend "Leah" (Katherine Langford), along with "Nick" (Jorge Lendeborg Jr.) and "Abby" (Alexandra Shipp). Simon has also kept his sexuality hidden from his parents, "Jack" (Josh Duhamel) and "Emily" (Jennifer Garner), and younger sister, "Nora" (Talitha Bateman). Simon eventually comes across the revelation that there is another closeted gay kid at school, who goes by the pseudonym "Blue", meaning that he is no longer alone in his predicament.

 Simon decides to e-mail Blue, going by the pseudonym "Jacques" and the two seem to have a connection, leading to Simon finally having someone to talk to about who he is and possibly someone he might be romantically attracted to. But Simon is forced to deal with one of his classmates, "Martin" (Logan Miller) finding out about his secret and threatens to let the entire school about it unless Simon can hook him up with Abby. Simon tries to keep his family and friends in the dark about the whole situation, all while trying to find out who Blue actually is, with his main suspects being several of his classmates, including "Bram" (Keiynan Lonsdale) and "Cal" (Miles Heizer)

 Based on the book "Simon vs. the Homo Sapiens Agenda" by Becky Albertalli and Directed by Gred Berlanti, "Love, Simon" is probably one of the most honest (And less depressing) films to focus to focus on a gay romance, and it does so in a way that's heartfelt, old fashioned, and often very funny. With obvious inspirations coming from old John Hughes films, the movie takes a coming of age story and tell it in the most simplest of ways possible, but does so expertly. The fact that the film remembers to pack itself with memorable characters, plenty of good laughs, and a story that will definitely serve as an inspiration to those in the gay community doesn't make the film feel unoriginal. Instead, it gives the film more of a timely feel. Its more of a throwback to those films, rather than a movie just relying on clichés, much like other previous additions to the teen coming of age genre, (Such as "The Edge of Seventeen" and the Oscar-nominated "Lady Bird".). 

 Nick Robinson (Who was previously one of the better parts in last year's "Everything, Everything"), gives a winning performance that carries the film. He feels like a natural, every day person that unlike many films that seem to try to want to tell this same type of story, doesn't change his personality due to his sexuality. (People are still normal people, even when they come out.) Jennifer Garner and Josh Duhamel get more roles than parents often do in these kinds of films, getting chances to inject some humor and warmth to their characters. Katherine Langford has great chemistry with Nick Robinson, along with the rest of the cast portraying his friends, including Talitha Bateman (Previously showed a lot of talent in last year's "Annabelle: Creation"), Alexandra Shipp and Jorge Lendebord Jr. Logan Miller is a suitably obnoxious antagonist, while we get some laugh out loud moments from Tony Hale (as "Mr. Worth", the Vice Principal, who tries way to hard to be cool) and Natasha Rothwell (as "Ms. Albright", the drama teacher who doesn't intend to put up with anyone's crap.) It's a wonderful cast of characters that are instantly recognizable and each serve a purpose. (I'll also admit, I didn't see the reveal of Blue's identity coming. It's a pretty solid mystery.)

 "Love, Simon", much like lat year's underrated "The Big Sick", is a romantic comedy that doesn't need to fake charm, but instead just naturally has it. It takes tropes that we should be tired of and makes them new again, while throwing in a few surprises. It's the kind of movie that has lasting appeal, with the smart script that balances out comedy, drama, and to be perfectly honest, all around adorableness that makes for a true crowd pleaser. Sure to be an instant favorite within the teen genre, and downright one of the best movies already this year. I'm even betting it changes minds, and even some lives. What an accomplishment. 4 stars. Rated PG-13 For Adult Content And Proud Gayness. 

Gringo                                                       ★★ OUT OF ★★★★

Related imageImage: Maybe all of this was a really bad idea. The movie, I mean.

 27th worst mainstream film opening of all time. Making $2.6 million in over 2,000 theaters. They keep track of these things. Ouch. Just ouch. 

 "Gringo" follows nicest, good guy with the worst luck, "Harold Soyinka" (David Oyelowo), while working on a business trip to Mexico to check on the development on a "Weed Pill" that is essentially medical marijuana in pill form. He learns that the company will possibly going into a merger (Which means he's likely screwed.), along with the realization that he's losing money, his wife "Bonnie" (Thandie Newton) is cheating on him, and his bosses "Richard" (Joel Edgerton) and "Elaine" (Charlize Theron) are both horrible people, who don't care about him in the slightest. Harold decides he's had enough and fakes a kidnapping in hopes of getting his bosses to pay the ransom to get him back. Again, they really don't care about him.

 To make matters worse, it turns out the Cartel actually does intend to kidnap Harold, with their leader known as "The Black Panther" (Carlos Corona), (Apparently taking time away from ruling Wakanda), sending all of his men to track down Harold to get their hands on the pill for themselves. What follows is a series of silly situations with Harold being at the center of it all. Everyone is looking to either capture or kill Harold, as nice girl "Sunny" (Amanda Seyfried) is on vacation with her drug trafficking boyfriend "Miles" (Harry Treadaway), while and Richard sending in his former mercenary brother turned activist "Mitch" (Sharlto Copley) to find Harold.  

 Directed by Nash Edgerton (Brother of Joel Edgerton) in his directorial debut, "Gringo" has an idea of what it wants to be (Think Cohen Brothers with a hint of Steven Soderbergh), but it's all over the place in it's execution. The plot is a jumbled mess, with too many supporting characters and subplots that really don't affect the main story, which feels out of focus in places. The film takes too long to get going in it's first act due to the distractingly slow pace, with sadly not near enough laughs to really make it particularly worth it. Once the film finally gets to the point, there are a fair share of moments that actually work, along with a few decent laughs. 

 One of the best parts of the film (While also being the strangest, due to the fact you wonder how the hell they all ended up here) would be the cast, who each give it their all regardless of the material. David Oyelowo shows more of his range as an actor, from being able to do serious, Oscar caliber roles to more goofy, comedic ones, remaining a likable character that you want to see succeed. Joel Edgerton and Charlize Theron (Who is also one of the film's Producers) look like they're having a ball being slimy dirtbags, and Sharlto Copley's zaniness is always welcome whether or not the movie is good. Most of the subplots add little, or even just plain should of been left out, such as the one involving Amanda Seyfried, who is cute, but serves no purpose to anything that happens. 

 "Gringo" is too messy, and not funny enough to compensate the for it's pacing issues and lack of focus on what's best about the film, in favor unimportant plotlines that don't come together once the movie ends. With the talent involved, you expect something better, especially when it feels like they're the ones doing all of the heavy lifting. 2 stars. Rated R For Violence, Language, And Weed Pills. 

A Wrinkle in Time                                    ★★½ OUT OF ★★★★

Image result for a wrinkle in time movie imagesImage: If you touch the Oprah, it brings eternal life.

 From Director Ava DuVernay (2014's Oscar nominated "Selma"), "A Wrinkle in Time" has been considered a bit of a big deal for numerous reasons aside from it being the first live action film to be directed by a woman of color with such a high budget. It has been meant to promote more of a sense of diversity, with mature themes of female empowerment. As overdue as that all is, the final product is...well.....something. Lets just say I wasn't expecting to see a giant floating Oprah today. It's one of those things you just never expect yourself to see.

 "A Wrinkle in Time" starts with the vanishing of astrophysicist, "Alex Murry" (Chris Pine), leaving behind his wife "Kate" (Gugu Mbatha-Raw), daughter "Meg" (Storm Reid), and prodigy son "Charles Wallace" (Deric McCabe). Meg is constantly in trouble at school, dealing with mean girl "Veronica" (Rowan Blanchard), and just lacking much self confidence in herself. Charles Wallace on the other hand, starts to befriend a few strange characters, from a weird hippie, "Mrs. Whatsit" (Reese Witherspoon) and another strange woman who speaks in famous sayings, "Mrs. Who" (Mindy Kaling), and eventually the giant, magical, "Mrs. Which" (Future President/World Leader, Oprah Winfrey).

 These three beings reveal that their father is alive and is being held hostage by a evil entity of pure darkness, known as Pennywi....."The IT" (Stephen King will likely be seeing you in court for that one). The beings send Meg, Charles Wallace, and random kid from school, "Calvin" (Levi Miller) on an adventure through time and space. This kids proceed to explore strange new worlds, encounter bizarre creatures, face dangerous threats, and experience lots and lots of psychedelic imagery.  It's essentially an acid trip brought to you by the Wonderful World of Disney. 

 Based on the beloved 1962 book by Madeleine L'Endle, "A Wrinkle in Time" was considered unfilmable (Though that didn't stop Disney from making a made for TV versionn in 2003, that's been labeled as a complete disaster by many). It shows in how the story itself appears to have so much to tell with such a limited amount of time. The film feels rushed early on, with some slightly awkward set up in how our characters wind up on their magical adventure, with so many terms and mythology that you feel like you need a special dictionary to understand what's going on. Maybe some scenes were cut out (A couple are missing that were in the trailers) or maybe the book's complex story was just a little too much for a family friendly studio to successfully adapt to the big screen. 

 Storm Reid is the real star of the film, and handles herself very well, especially with the film's most emotional moments. President Oprah Winfrey, Mindy Kaling, and especially Reese Witherspoon seem to be having a lot of fun being weird and quirky, even if the set up to their characters is surprisingly lacking. Gugu Mbatha Raw (Who sadly doesn't get too much to do here) and Chris Pine are both excellent in their small roles, while Deric McCabe is a charming little kid, but doesn't have the chop for where his character goes and I think the filmmakers relied to heavily on him towards the film's climax. (What they end up doing looks more silly than scary.) We also get some amusing and fairly memorable small bits from Zach Galifianakis (as "The Happy Medium", an awkward Yoga/Yoda-esque seer) and Michael Peña (as "Red", a creepy, possibly untrustworthy guy that the kids meet on their adventure) Our main villain itself, "The It" (Who's briefly voiced by David Oyelowo for some reason) is more of a fascinating concept than a solid threat. But what it represents is nonetheless effective. 

 Ambitious to a fault, "A Wrinkle in Time" has so much to tell, and little time to explain. Despite it's faults, the imagination (And borderline insanity) of the film are at times fairly enchanting, and even while the visual effects don't look particularly real, it's still a stunning experience (Saw it in IMAX, and everything just sort of pops off screen). There is a good heart to the film, that does lead to a few emotionally powerful moments that I can see resonating with some families. (The film touches upon some heavy themes that feel important right now, especially to young girls) It feels that the film had too much to say, but didn't have the confidence (Or more likely, the studio support) to make it all come together properly. With that said, I'll take this at least trying to be something important (And in a way, still is), rather than a film like "The Hurricane Heist", which didn't even bother trying. Here, at least the effort is beautiful. 2 1/2 stars. Rated PG For Scary Images And Demonic Possession. 

The Strangers: PRey at Night                  ★★ OUT OF ★★★★

Image result for the strangers: prey at nightImage: "Are we too late for 'The Purge'"?

 We've got a sequel to a horror flick that's about 10 years old, that I never saw, that only got a mixed critical reception, and is mostly remembered for the big "Twist" at the end, revealing that the killers really don't have any real motivations to do what they do. Doesn't sound that original or exciting to me.They just like killing and go from house to house to do it. Hell, if you look it up, film scholars have apparently taken time to interpret their own meanings behind the film and what it's trying to say. If you ask me, it just looks like your typical slice and dice. But this time with 80s music for some reason. So that's enough reason to make a sequel.

 "The Strangers: Prey at Night" opens with a dysfunctional family, consisting of the parents, "Cindy" (Christina Hendricks) and "Mike" (Martin Henderson), along with their son "Luke" (Lewis Pullman) and their angsty daughter "Kinsey" (Bailee Madison) heading off to spend some time together at their aunt and uncle's trailer park before Kinsey is sent away to boarding school for being a little twerp. They arrive to find the entire place to be empty and just plain creepy, along with a mysterious girl, dubbed "Dollface" (Emma Bellomy) constantly appearing and knocking on their door before running off into the night.

 The family is soon forced to fight for their survival as it turns out Dollface is part of a trio of masked killers, which includes "Pin-Up Girl" (Lea Enslin) and the ax wielding "Man in the Mask" (Damian Maffei), who intend to slaughter the family just like they slaughtered everyone else. Soon the fight to survive becomes even more deadly as the victims start retaliating, resulting in typical stupid decisions and the occasional "Why don't you just keep hitting/stabbing them while they're down?" (Really, they just should of left the second the creepy girl showed up.)  

 "The Strangers: Prey at Night" does utilize it's set up well, with flawed characters that do feel easy to root for, along with a solid sense of suspense and dread meant to build up to the scares to come. Too bad once the killers start well, killing, the film reveals itself to be as generic as they come. Director Johannes Roberts ("47 Meters Down") delivers on a couple cool set pieces, such as a fight scene at a pool and a chase involving a car that's on fire. But most of the film, particular at the halfway point, is just people running around, screaming, and constantly making poor decisions that would end the movie if they were smart enough to actually do what anyone else would normally do. (You had a gun! For 3 minutes and you set it down!)

 As far as the acting goes, nobody here is particularly bad. The lovely Christina Hendricks is plenty adorable and does have some solid warmth to her, which does play into the parental fear aspect of the film. Bailee Madison is arguably the main character here and she is the one who gets the most character development, with a few good emotional moments and some solid terrified shrieks. Lewis Pullman and Martin Henderson also do solid jobs, considering the bland script they're dealing with. Our villains are suitably creepy, but not much for character and at some point, they pretty much become supervillains who somehow keep surviving things that no normal human being would be capable of doing (Also not sure what all that 80s music was about. It was just odd, and I'm not sure if it was meant to be creepy or funny.)

 Never particularly scary and almost absurdly violent, "The Strangers: Prey at Night" is just your average slasher that doesn't have much else to offer outside of gore and silliness, despite seemingly having moments of levity and cleverness which are mostly minor. The movie doesn't do anything with the slasher genre that you haven't already seen done before and leads to an ending that doesn't feel like much of a conclusion. (Its more of a "I guess that's it then. Go home.") Considering how good horror films have been as of late, (I mean, freakin' "Get Out" got a Best Picture nomination) this movie lacks any real ambition and doesn't leave much of an actual impact. That's never sequel worthy. 2 stars. Rated R For Bloody Stabbings And Dumb People Acting Dumb. 

The Hurricane Heist                                  ½ OUT OF ★★★★

Image result for the hurricane heistImage: "So we have to stop both a hurricane, AND a heist?"

 And now we get a movie opening with a kid looking up at the sky, during an intense hurricane, and hallucinates as giant, CGI skull roaring at the camera in a way that's played as seriously as possible.....Sometimes there are certain movies that seem to made, solely to make my end of the year "Worst Lists"....Thank you?

 "The Hurricane Heist" starts with a meteorologist, "Will" (Toby Kebbell), who after along with his brother "Breeze" (Ryan Kwanten) witnessed their dad get killed by a monstrous hurricane at a young age, has dedicated his life to studying hurricanes to find a way to prevent future tragedies. A Category 5 hurricane is about to strike, which is pretty much going to be the biggest, most destructive storm in the history of hurricanes. While this is going on, a team of hackers plot to steal $600 Million from a U.S. mint facility, with their man inside, "Perkins" (Ralph Ineson) acting as the team's leader. A Treasury agent, "Casey" (Maggie Grace) also happens to be in the town, with Breeze acting as a repairman in the facility. Breeze ends up getting captured, and Casey is left with no choice but to turn to Will, who is apparently the only non evil person in town. Will and Casey team up to take down the criminals, save Breeze and the other hostages, while battling the monster hurricane that's about to annihilate the entire town. 

 Directed by famed shlock director, the one and only Rob Cohen, (Known for such masterpieces such as  "The Boy Next Door", "Stealth", Alex Cross", among others), He now brings us a movie as stupid as it sounds. "The Hurricane Heist" feels like something that we would of seen being released straight to video sometime in the early 2000s. Not even going to bother with logic on this one and just stick to judging it on a filmmaking scale, and what we get is cheap, tonally all over the place, and consisting of the worst CGI effects you'll see in a mainstream film released in over 2,000 theaters. (Who's bright idea was that?) 

 The characters aren't as cool as the movie desperately tries to convey them to be, along with an excessive amount of "Extreme" action and dialogue (Which I've noticed is a bit of a staple in many of Cohen's action movies), which leaves the actors with nothing to work with. Toby Kebbell (Who is one of those really good actors that keeps getting stuck in crap) and Maggie Grace are trying their absolute best, while Ralph Ineson comes across pretty villainous in spite of the script's failings in terms of character development. Ryan Kwanten looks like he's been tossed into a role that was probably imagined to be played by Ben Foster. (He kind of starts to look a little like him too in some scenes), while the other baddies who appear are mostly caricatures, with Ben Cross (as "Dixon", a corrupt sheriff who conspires with the villains) being the most cartoonish of the bunch. 

 Saying "The Hurricane Heist" is terrible is really too obvious a statement to the point you could almost give it a pass, considering it basically meets all of your expectations. But the film lacks any of the "So bad, it's good" qualities you want from complete travesties like this, and drags out its hour and forty minute runtime for as much as it possibly can. You aren't left with much fun. Just poorly directed, lazily written, horrible edited nonsense that feels cheaply made and should probably never be seen in theaters. (Or really even on DVD for that matter) 1/2 star. Rated PG-13 For Violence, Southern Accents, And The "Attempt" To Make The Movie About Climate Change. (Seriously.) 

Death Wish                                                    ★ OUT OF ★★★★

Related imageImage: Bruce Willis uses his Constitutional right to bear fingers.

 Originally meant to get released in November of last year, the decision to push the new "Death Wish" back all the way to now, considering the most recent tragedy involving gun violence that sparked another gun debate (If you would even call it that), seems pretty stupid and makes everything more uncomfortable than it already was. But from a critical standpoint, bad timing is the least of this movie's problems. 

 "Death Wish" starts with emergency surgeon, "Paul Kersey" (Bruce Willis) and his wife, "Lucy" (Elizabeth Shue) celebrating their daughter "Jordan" (Camila Morrone) getting accepted into college.However, when Paul is called into work late, he leaves the two of them alone, resulting in a break in that leaves many valuable items stole, Jordan beaten and in a coma, and Lucy dead. Despite goofy detective "Kevin Raines" (Dean Norris) insisting that the police will be able to find the ones responsible for Lucy's murder, weeks pass with no suspects being caught. Overall the police are apparently stupid and useless, so Paul decides to take matters into his own hands. Getting himself a gun and a hoodie, Paul starts to stalk the city, taking out bad guys, turning into a vigilante that the media calls "The Grim Reaper" (Think Batman, without any of that annoying nuisance we call morality and rules.) 

 Directed by Eli Roth ("Hostel", "Cabin Fever", and all kinds of gorey films), "Death Wish" is one of those movies that doesn't seem to have any clue what kind of movie it actually wants to be. It's a dark, brutally violent movie that wants to have serious dramatic moments of realism, yet wants to be as exploitative bloody and grotesque at the same time while having goofy attempts at humor, turning it more into a comedy than anything. With the tone veering into comedy out of nowhere, it makes the unnecessary brutality all the more uncomfortable, and the serious scenes out of place and awkward. 

 I'm having trouble determining what kind of performance Bruce Willis is actually giving here. There are moments where he looks to be trying and showing his usual charming personality, but then there are other times he looks bored and appears to be just phoning it in for a paycheck. (Maybe it's just the poorly written character motivation. I just can't tell.)  While Vincent D'Onofrio (as "Frank", Paul's brother) and Elizabeth Shue (Despite her limited screentime) are both fine for what they are given, while Dean Norris and Kimberly Elise (as "Detective Jackson", Raines' partner) play characters so incompetent and useless, it only provides uneeded (and unfunny) comedy, that it could border on offensive. (Just what is this movie saying about the police exactly?) Speaking of trying to say something topical, the scenes involving the gunplay, gun shops, and anything to do with guns does almost seem so over the top it could be seen as satirical. With that said, it's hard to tell if it's intentional, since the film plays it up so much (And lets be honest, there are plenty of people who get off on this stuff anyway.)

 Absurdly violent, tonally uneven, and painfully stupid, "Death Wish" is misguided at best and possibly offensive at worst. (Depending on where you fall on the morality spectrum) But even worse than any of that though, it's just a nonsensical waste of time, that has no idea what it's trying to say and feels like it's been chopped up into a million pieces that don't fit together in the first place. Then again, the audience I saw it with found it to be a hysterical good time. So what do I know? consequences be damned. 1 star. Rated R For Blood, Gore, Guts, And That Weird Puckering Lips Thing Bruce Willis Does When He Fires A Gun. 

Red Sparrow                                             ★★½ OUT OF ★★★★

Image result for red sparrow movieImage: I would collude with this Russian.

 So I take it this is the more realistic version of the spy genre. Not all the glamorous gadgets, stylized confrontations, and the seduction of women. It's more....uncomfortable than that. Full of torture, seduction of gross old dudes, and the inability to trust anyone at any moment. Just because it's got a pretty, Russian Jennifer Lawrence in it doesn't automatically make it pleasant to watch. 

 "Red Sparrow" follows former famous Russian ballerina, "Dominika Egorova" (Jennifer Lawrence) who, after suffering a career ending injury months prior, is approached by her creepy uncle, "Ivan" (Matthias Schoenaerts), who works for Russian intelligence. Dominika is having trouble caring for her ill mother, "Nina" (Joely Richardson), Ivan offers Dominika a job of sorts, sending her out to seduce a Russian politician (Kristof Konrad). Before the politician can have his way with her, Dominika is rescued, witnessing the politician's gruesome assassination. This forces Dominika to work for Russian intelligence, just as her uncle planned from the beginning. Now Dominika is sent to a twisted school to be instructed by the headmistress, "Matron" (Charlotte Rampling) to become a "Sparrow", a trained operative who uses manipulation and their bodies to accomplish their goals.

 While Dominka continues her training, CIA operative "Nate Nash" (Joel Edgerton) is having trouble of his own, finding a way to help his Russian contact, known only as "Marble". The Russian higher ups know of the mole in their government, sending Dominika to Budapest, to find and gain the trust of Nash, in hopes of finding out who Marble is. Dominika learns more of the cruel, unforgiving world of espionage, along with what her country is willing to do to achieve their goals, while growing closer to Nash is a way that should of been expected, leading to a possible alliance with the CIA. 

 Based on a 2013 novel of the same name, "Red Sparrow" is a cold movie, not just because there is snow everywhere, but because the film doesn't hold back in the images that are shown onscreen. It's brutal in it's depiction of violence, sexual content, and violent sexual content that isn't for those sensitive to that kind of material. However, it does feel necessary to the story. Director Francis Lawrence (Who previously directed the last three "Hunger Games" movies) has a talent for presenting this grim material, while filling the audience with suspense as to whats going to happen next. With that said, he can't seem to keep the film properly paced. Sometimes the movie feels like it's taking too much time to get to where it's going, needlessly complicating or drawing out certain scenes. But at times, the film also speeds through other aspects that feel like they should of been important than they were presented. 

 It doesn't help that "Red Sparrow" is such a downer, with very few moments of hope to brighten up it's darkest, bleakest moments. (Not much of a sense of humor here) Granted, the story is very serious, and still very interesting, with the film's constant dread actually adding to the tension that rarely lets up. Not to mention, Jennifer Lawrence once again proves to be one of those actresses who can elevate almost anything. She is excellent here, even with the occasional accent slip, remaining compelling, sympathetic, and absolutely mesmerizing. Joel Edgerton does some great work, along with a super slimy Matthias Schoenaerts, who just gets creepier the longer the movie goes. Charlotte Rampling is suitably stoic and menacing, Mary-Louise Parker (as "Stephanie Boucher", a drunk, weird US Senator's Chief of Staff) pops up to be drunk and weird, and Jeremy Irons (as "General Vladimir Korchnoi", one of Dominika's superiors) doesn't even really bother keeping his accent, but it doesn't matter because he's freakin Jeremy Irons. (His natural voice is too awesome to hide anyway.)

 "Red Sparrow" is not the kind of film that's for everyone, with all the squick-ish content aside. It could be seen as too slow for those looking for more excitement or too fast for those looking for more substance over style. There is a reason for the uncomfortable content, which is handled in a way that does stick with you, whether you want it to or not, along with Jennifer Lawrence's captivating presence to carry it through it's occasional unevenness. The idea that she could seduce any man is certainly the most believable aspect . 2 1/2 stars. Rated R For Gorey Violence, Graphic Sexual Content, And A Torture Device That Turns You Into Deli Meat.  

Annihilation                                        ★★★½ OUT OF ★★★★

Image result for annihilation movieImage: Natalie Portman was not harmed during the making of this film.

 So to describe the last 15 to maybe 20 minutes of this film to someone would be physically impossible. Not just for spoilers sake, but because much like the characters within the film who experience the unnatural situation for themselves, you're left with a blank expression and with little else to say to someone except for the one sentence used within the movie several times, which is "I Don't Know." Even the audience I was with said that. It's that kind of movie. It makes you think, man....And it makes you feel. So you know it's gonna flop. 

 "Annihilation" opens with Scientist, "Lena" (Natalie Portman) being debriefed (Or in this case, grilled) by "Lomax" (Benedict Wong) over a botched expedition into a mysterious location known as "Area X" (Or the Shimmer), which is an unexplainable area where all kinds of twisted stuff appears to be going on. Flashback to Lena's military husband, "Kane" (Oscar Isaac), who was previously sent on a mission into the Shimmer, finally returning after being AWOL for over a year. However, Kane does not appear to be himself, and doesn't seem to have the ability to explain what has happened to him. Lena notices Kane growing more ill, and attempts to take him to the hospital before being abducted by the military and taken to a facility located near the Shimmer. The head psychologist, "Dr. Ventress" (Jennifer Jason Leigh) tells Lena that Kane was part of a military team that previously entered the Shimmer, with Kane being the only one to return dead or alive.

 So Ventress decides this time to lead a team of female scientists to find a lighthouse where the strange phenomenon began, which includes "Anya Thorensen" (Gina Rodriguez), "Josie Radek" (Tess Thompson), "Cass Sheppard" (Tuva Novotny), and eventually Lena herself. The group enters the Shimmer and quickly discover something offputting about the whole area. Time appears to move differently, all plant life is both unique and the same, a lack of working guidance technology, along with scary hybrid animals (Which include alligators with shark teeth and horrific skull bears). As the team progresses, they start to discover what led to the previous team's failed mission, more dangers, and something too amazing and terrifying for description, all while more flashbacks detail more of Lena's personal life, including her marriage, which all comes together by the end. I think.

 Directed by Alex Garland (Who previously directed 2015's "Ex Machina") and loosely (Apparently very loosely) based on a novel written by Jeff VanderMeer, "Annihilation" is an ambitious (and ambiguous) piece of storytelling that uses typical Sci-Fi tropes to it's advantage to create a certain sense of dread unlike anything you've seen before, complete with both horrifying and stunningly beautiful imagery that almost hypnotizes you. (It did it to me. I literally couldn't look away) The visuals and effects are haunting, and much like where the story itself eventually goes, it will leave you asking more questions once you leave the theater. (Which is a good thing, people! Just because it makes you answer the questions yourself means the film has more respect for you!) 

 The performances and characters are all very interesting, and all can be up for interpretation. Natalie Portman is excellent, carrying the film is an emotionally complex performance that makes you question her actions and motives throughout. We get some great performances out of Jennifer Jason Leigh (Who is enjoyably odd), Tessa Thompson, Tuva Novotny, and especially Gina Rodriguez, along with Oscar Isaac, who is always reliable. The film leaves it up to you to figure out what makes the characters tick, leaving clues in the dialogue that lead up to what they eventually do the further the story progresses. On a side note, there is a minor controversy involving some white washing in the cast, with the book, which wasn't apparently too descriptive, did suggest that the main characters were of Asian descent. (Didn't bother me mostly because I didn't know till recently, but maybe I could see the complaint.) 

 "Annihilation" only occasionally drifts into some typical territory (With the whole dwindling one by one of the team, out of nowhere gore and whatnot) and I can see where someone just might not quite get it due to the slow pace and lack of answers. However, I didn't find the film too hard to follow and was thoroughly fascinated by what I was seeing. With a suspenseful score, thought provoking ideas, and some genuinely solid horror (That freakin' bear man!), the film is somewhat brilliant with how it leaves things open to your own understanding. (Though the complex theme of "Self-Annihilation" is hard to ignore) Much like last year's "Mother!" (And honestly to a certain degree, "The Last Jedi" too), it's one of those films that leaves an impact whether or not you think you actually like it, challenging you in  ways you wouldn't expect a mainstream film to do. (Think of it as an artsy, fartsy indie movie, without the fartsy) You're left feeling uncertain, yet smarter at the same time. Sounds good to me. 3 1/2 stars. Rated R For Scary Images, Slimy Organs, And Ideas That Make You Queasy Inside. 

Every Day                                                     ★★½ OUT OF ★★★★

Image result for every day movieImage: The Heimlich Maneuver saves another life.

 So she's dating a ghost? Or an alien? Or an invisible consciousness with an undefinable gender representing the positive and important side of life? Does that make sense? 

 Lets see how well I can describe the plot to this one. "Every Day" starts with high school girl, "Rhiannon" (Angourie Rice), who notices her usually dickish boyfriend, "Justin" (Justice Smith) is acting less dickish than usual. Turns out he was possessed by a spirit, who only goes by "A", that has spent his (or her) entire life jumping from body to body daily, and living a day in that body. However, A has fallen in love with Rhiannon, who herself is going through a few personal problems. Aside from her boyfriend being a jerk, her dad "Nick" (Michael Cram) has suffered a mental breakdown, her mom "Lindsey" (Maria Bello) is not taking it very well, and her sister "Jolene" (Debby Ryan) is...um...weird. Rhiannon starts to bond with A, who meets with her through different bodies every day, eventually forming a strange relationship of sorts. (Sort of like "The Shape of Water", except more wholesome.....I think) As their relationship grows, reality starts to set in, complicating things in ways you would probably expect them to. If you can't make it work with a ghost, who can you make it work with?

 Based on a best selling book by David Levithan, "Every Day" is a bit of an odd one, with some slightly uncomfortable repercussions that thankfully the film seems to address. (For the most part. Is it considered sex without consent if the person is possessed?) The good intentions are obvious to see. The film does deal with some pretty insightful moments based around gender and sexuality, along with other moral dilemmas involving family, suicide, and life itself . The premise leaves things open to discuss around these topics, and it is handled respectfully. It just feels that there is a much better movie trapped inside a pretty mediocre young adult novel romance. The film can't seem to help falling into many of the basic tropes you see with the genre, particularly in the script department, which is fairly generic and cheesy. 

 Angourie Rice (Who previously stole scenes in 2016's "The Nice Guys") carries the film, showing some real acting chops, especially due to the fact she has to have chemistry with several different actors, who are all meant to be the same character. It's not an easy task, and she finds a way to make it work. Few of the actors, who the spirit inhabits leave much of an impression, with Jacob "Ned from Spider-Man: Homecoming" Batalon (as "James", the body who explains everything to Rhiannon) getting probably the best moment. Justice Smith is a bit of a cartoon, but he does get a couple funny jackass lines, while Maria Bello and Debby Ryan don't get to do much. (Although it was interesting to hear the former Disney Channel star swear. Kind of jarring really.)

 "Every Day" just feels a bit sloppy, with some characters and plot lines remaining out of focus despite seeming important. Despite this, I can see the appeal and where it could find an audience. While Michael Sucsy's direction can feel a bit too on the bland and boring side at times, there are moments where some clever techniques are used, along with the film at least acknowledging it's occasional weirdness. The themes behind the film are hard not to find at least a little fascinating, which will likely make the film resonate with some people in a positive way. Its weird, but I think I get it. And hey, at least its still a less harmful romance than "Fifty Shades Freed". 2 1/2 stars. Rated PG-13 For Adult Content And Body Snatching. 

Game Night                                            ★★★½ OUT OF ★★★★

Image result for game night movieImage: They're not playing games here.

 Never been one for a "Game Night" with friends due to my knack for finding new and impressive ways to lose. Not sure if it's just really bad luck that I'm incredibly unskilled, I rarely tend to win. But if the stakes were raised as they are in "Game Night", I'd like to think I would step up to the challenge. 

 "Game Night" starts with the over competitive "Max" (Jason Bateman) meeting the just as competitive "Annie" (Rachel McAdams). Turns out they are perfect for each other, falling in love and eventually marry. Now they have become known for hosting game nights with their friends. While struggling to have a baby, Max's much more successful brother, "Brooks" (Kyle Chandler) comes for a visit, hijacking game night and inviting everyone to a house he just so happened to of rented out.

Max, Annie, along with their friends, which includes married at a young age couple "Kevin" (Lamorne Morris) and "Michelle" (Kylie Bunbury), along with their dummy friend "Ryan" (Billy Magnussen), who brought his much smarter date "Sarah" (Sharon Horgan), arrive at Brooks' place, where he tells them that they are going to be part of a kidnapping mystery of sorts, and have to find all the clues to solve it. Little do the rest of the group know, Brooks ends up actually getting kidnapped and taken. So now the group sets out to see you can win the game, not realizing that it's all the real deal, becoming involved in all kinds of convoluted shenanigans. 

 Spoiling the nonsensical twists and turns of "Game Night" would totally ruin the fun, so I had to keep the plot as vague as possible. The movie is a non stop riot of absurdity and insanity, with a great cast of characters, who are all oblivious to how serious of a situation they're actually in. Somewhat brilliantly, the film is actually treating itself like a real thriller, with the score and even the direction displaying some of the typical beats you would see in one of those films. However, none of the characters seem to realize that, which makes for some of the best laughs in the film and some excellent dark comedy. 

 Jason Bateman is at his most sarcastic here, having great chemistry with Rachel McAdams, who reminds everyone how funny she can be. Their relationship finds a way to be both cute and hilarious, with the rest of the main characters, including Larmorne Morris and Kylie Bunbury (Who have a funny running gag involving a possible affair with a celebrity), along with Sharon Horgan and Billy Magnussen (Who you might remember as Steve from "Birth of the Dragon), getting to show some actual personality. Kyle Chandler gets probably one of his best roles (Especially since everyone by this point should know who he is since he's in everything), and Jesse Plemons (as "Gary", Max and Annie's weird cop neighbor) is so bizarrely strange, that it makes for some of the funniest stuff I've seen in a movie in a while. 

 Directors Jonathan Goldstein  and John Francis Daley pack in some flash and flair (With some knowing board game related sequences), with some clever writing and a lot of big laughs, "Game Night" is a welcome surprise. It goes a little off the rails towards the end, but in a way to does feel like that was probably the only way this movie could possibly go. (It's even addressed how much the film jumps the shark by the end) Much like a good game night with friends (Or at least what I'm assuming game night with friends would be like), it's a ton of fun for everyone involved.  3 1/2 stars. Rated R For Strong Language, Violence, And Jesse Plemons' Frightening Stare. 

Early Man                                                    ★★★ OUT OF ★★★★

Image result for early man movieImage: Sinking their teeth into things.

 By this point, I don't think "Aardman Animations" cares about the money. Having given a variety of instant family classics, such as "Chicken Run", "Wallace and Gromit", "Arthur Christmas", "Shaun the Sheep", etc., they aren't really known for their films being box office smashes. But they are usually critically acclaimed, loved by audiences that actually see them, and are able to garner enough fans who will be excited for their next movie. Here in the U.S., they pretty much flop often, but when you're doing it for the art (And having fun while doing it), who cares if not enough of us silly Americans don't get it?  Rubbish, I say.

 "Early Man" opens at the dawn of time, after the meteor crashed into Earth and killed all the dinosaurs. Cavemen go to the crash site, discovering a round piece of the meteor, and proceed to invent the game of Soccer (I mean, football as the Brits call it) in the process. Years later during the Stone Age, a caveman tribe, led by "Chief Bobnar" (Timothy Spall), spends most of their time hunting rabbits because they're small and easy to catch. However, wide eyed youngest member, "Dug" (Eddie Redmayne) thinks they are capable of more and should move on to hunting for something bigger. But the Stone Age is literally invaded by the Bronze Age, led by the pompous "Lord Nooth" (Tom Hiddleston), who kicks the tribe out of the valley, and takes the land for himself.

 Dug, along with his piggy buddy, "Hognob" (Voiced through a series of grunts by Director Nick Park), end up in the Bronze Age city, where they end up stumbling upon the "Sacred Game" known as Soccer. (Er, I mean Football. Sorry.) Determined to help his friends get their home back, Dug challenges Nooth's champion team to a game, with Nooth accepts on so long as if Dug's tribe loses, they will be forced to work in their Bronze mines forever. Dug returns, and despite Bobnar's protests, has to help the rest of his tribe learn how to play Soccer (Football! I meant Football!), with some help from a spunky girl from the city "Goona" (Maisie Williams) (You know, calling Soccer Football makes a bit more sense if you really think about it.) 

 It's obvious to say, just from describing the plot, that "Early Man" is not one of Aardman's strongest films in the sense that it goes for a simpler, more by the books story, with more jokes aimed at younger audiences than adults. With that said, it's still so damn charming. Just from the beautifully, handmade stop motion animation alone, there is this certain likability to the film that Aardman has become known for. There are still plenty of funny gags, with the best ones being what you see in the background, and some fun characters that are hard to dislike. By this point, their animation has become more than amazing to the point I'm questioning how on Earth they were able to get so much movement out of these little clay puppets. 

 Eddie Redmayne is a likable, funny lead, while Tom Hiddleston hams it up with an over the top French accent, who is just as funny as he is slimy. Maisie Williams has the pretty generic role of "Empowered Female Love Interest", but is at least plenty cute and does serve a purpose. Timothy Spall is always great, as is the hilarious Miriam Margolyes (as "Queen Oofeefa", Nooth's superior). The scene stealer this time around is the Hognob, who gets the most laughs out his physical comedy and reactions to the goofy situations. 

 "Early Man" doesn't have the memorable characters or clever story that Aardman films usually have, but it still makes for a good time for the families. It's still wholesome, yet with enough of an edge to it that should give adults enough to enjoy with their kids. It's just Aardman giving it their all, but remembering to just have a little fun, and at a brisk hour and a half, it's something nice to take your kids to on a weekday afternoon. Also you can explain to them why British people refer to Soccer as Football. (Again. It honestly makes more sense to me.) Rated PG For Some Quirky Humor And Man Boobs. Jiggly Man Boobs.  

Samson                                          ★½ OUT OF ★★★★

Related imageImage: Taylor? Taylor Lautner? is that you? 

 I have to give "Pure Flix" (Previously responsible for the "God's Not Dead" films, among other poorly made religious movies) a little bit of credit here. They tried their best to make a throwback to old fashioned, biblical epics that were released during the Golden Age of Hollywood. With that said, this so called epic clocking in at a rushed hour and forty minutes, pretty much helps you figure out what the heck is wrong with it. Aside from the outrageous casting. And cheap direction. And, well, all the stuff we're used to seeing from this company. But hey, I'll give you a gold star for trying. 

 "Samson" tells the biblical story of the world's strongest man whose name is in the title, "Samson" (Taylor James), a Hebrew hero, who is in a conflict with his people's oppressors, the Philistines, led by "King Balek" (Billy Zane). Samson's reputation becomes more infamous, bringing the attention of Balek's power hungry son, "Rallah" (Jackson Rathbone). When Samson falls in love with a young woman, "Taren" (Frances Sholto-Douglas), Rallah decides to use this as a chance to achieve higher power, escalating the conflict further. Once tragedy strikes in Samson's love life, Samson calls upon God to give him well, superpowers, and he Hulks out on Rallah's men, showing just what he is capable of. While Samson's brother, "Caleb" (Greg Kriek) wants Samson to lead their people into battle, Rallah wants Samson's God given power to himself, arranging for his seductive lover, "Delilah" (Caitlin Leahy) to do the obvious and find out where Samson's power really comes from. Then after that, you pretty much know where this story goes. Honestly, it's all kinds of messed up. 

 "Samson" does have the right idea down at times, and it's too bad that we don't get many movies like this these days. But a reason for that is mostly because they come across as incredibly cheesy and dated  (If the film was a pure cheesefest), it certainly would of been a lot more fun. The film is mostly dully, quickly running through it's plot points in an attempt to get a relatively short runtime, despite the story spanning several years. For such a dark story, full of violence, sexual content, and despicable acts, it feels odd to see how tame the filmmakers seem to be trying to make it. There are moments of action that certainly feel out of place, considering this is a "Pure Flix" movie, but most of the other content is either cut away quickly or just simply implied. Since this story is all kinds of wrong when you really think about it, it would of been better if they went all the way, instead of copping out. 

 Our lead Taylor James is just plain bland. It's not so much he is horrible here, he just has so little screen presence and leaves hardly any impact. (Not to mention, he's just so...odd looking. I thought he was just CGI for most of the movie.) Caitlin Leahy is plenty lovely actually, and you could say she isn't exactly poorly cast in that regard. There's just no chemistry or tension in their relationship, which happens late in the movie and feels skimmed through. Jackson Rathbone decides to go full blown insane for his role, and I'll admit, it's hard not to enjoy him sneering and grinning throughout. (He left no scene unchewed.) While Rutger Hauer (as "Manoah", Samson's father) and Lindsay Wagner (as "Zealphonis", Samson's mother) do nothing but look out of place. Speaking of looking out of place, Billy Zane looks utterly ridiculous, especially when he's wearing that cheap, dollar store crown. Luckily, that's where the best unintended laughs come from, with his performance showing little to no form of caring or commitment whatsoever. 

 "Samson" is pretty silly, and while the filmmakers do seem to be trying to go for a more epic scale, the film's pacing just drags on you, and you don't feel any of the emotions you're meant to feel. I commend them for how unironic it is and for at least, showing some form of competence this time around. ("Pure Flix" is never known for actually showing any of that.) The film still feels cheap and poorly put together. Most importantly, it's nowhere near as unintentionally hilarious as you want it to be. Unintentionally hilarious is always worth at least an extra half star. 1 1/2 stars. Rated PG-13 For Slaughter, Implied Adult Content, And Eye Stabbings. (Seriously, How Do Make This "Tame"?)

Black Panther                                        ★★★★ OUT OF ★★★★

Image result for black panther movieImage: Always bet on Black Panther.

 This is a big deal. You should know why it's a big deal. But on the off chance you really don't understand why this movie (Much like last year's "Wonder Woman"), is such a huge deal to a certain demographic of people for numerous reasons. I hope you'll allow me to give my own explanation in what I hope is an understandable way. While we've had African American superhero films before such as "Blade" or....um...We also have "Catwoman". (We didn't want it, but we got it.) But not one quite like this. This is one that actually bases itself in Africa, where it's not portrayed as a...well, "Sh*thole" country (What? I didn't say it.), and the people are shown to be smart and dignified. The film embraces it's nearly all black cast, which has been a bit of an issue with mainstream releases. It changes the game and opens the door for more diverse filmmaking in the future. Plus, it's really, really, really, really, really freakin' awesome! 

 "Black Panther" opens after the events of "Captain America: Civil War", with "T'Challa" (Chadwick Boseman), who is also the African superhero/warrior known as "The Black Panther", having to ascend to the throne after the death of his father, "T'Chaka" (John Kani). T'Challa is now king of the secret African nation of Wakanda, which is the most technologically advanced country in the world due to the large amount of the world's strongest metal, Vibrainium (Which, for you guys who don't remember, is the same stuff that makes up Captain America's shield and was previously part of the mad robot Ultron's evil scheme previously) T'Challa is desperately trying to keep the peace in his country, which has been isolated from the rest of the world.

 But news arrives of manic, one armed gangster, "Ulysses Klaue" (Andy Serkis) having stolen an old Wakandan Vibrainium artifact, intending to sell it to the highest bidder. So T'Challa with his team made up of his ex "Nakia" (Lupita Nyong'o), head of the all female special forces "Okoye" (Danai Gurira), and his tech genius little sister "Shuri" (Letitia Wright) to track down Klaue and bring him to justice for his crimes. Little do our heroes know though, is that Klaue is just a pawn in a larger plan thought up by bloodthirsty, former U.S. black ops soldier "Erik Stevens" (Michael B. Jordan), also known as "Killmonger", who has a personal vendetta with Wakanda. Killmonger's world changing plot soon comes to fruition as T'Challa is forced to rethink his country's (And his own family's) history, while learning if he can both be a good man and a good king. 

 "Black Panther" is the newest addition to the always expanding, consistently good Marvel Cinematic Universe. It's filled with the usual great action, top notch special effects, solid sense of humor, and heart that you would expect. However there is a bit more to it than you would expect. It's cultural impact, while important, is not the only reason this makes for another excellent addition to the franchise. The film comes across as more mature and set in the real world than most films like it, due to the use of some darker, more poignant themes that are hard to ignore. (But lets just say some people really like to try.) I can't get too into the details because that would ruin the surprises, but Director/Co-Writer Ryan Coogler ("Fruitvale Station" and "Creed") balances the action and superheroics with some powerful social commentary and messages of inclusion, oppression, and morality in a way you're not quite expecting a superhero flick to handle them. 

 The characters in "Black Panther" come across as real people, each with their own time to shine. Chadwick Boseman is one of the best actors out there and he knock it out of the park once again, with charm, likability, and an emotional moral center that makes for a good hero that everyone (Especially those in the Black community) can look up to, much like how people look up to Captain America or Iron Man. Michael B. Jordan is one of the best villains Marvel has given us, being compelling, charismatic, thoroughly menacing, and even sympathetic. Once you discover his motivations and how he ended up where he is, it makes for a complex and memorable villain that (Much like the Joker from "The Dark Knight") sticks with you once the film is over. The always wonderful Lupita Nyong'o is a strong character along with the absolutely badass Danai Gurira and the scene stealing Letitia Wright.

 Everyone has a role to play, from Martin Freeman (as "Everett K. Ross", CIA agent/ally to T'Challa), Daniel Kaluuya (As "W'Kabi", T'Challa's friend who starts to question his leadership), Forrest Whitaker (as "Zuri", T'Challa's mentor, who also hides a dark secret), Angela Bassett (As "Ramonda", T'Challa's widowed mother), and Sterling K. Brown (As an important character that would be considered a spoiler to talk about). We also get some good humor from Winston Duke (as "M'Baku", a rival to T'Challa) and a delightfully bonkers Andy Serkis, who will never get enough credit. It really is a perfect ensemble of actors, who all have great chemistry together, that bring these well written characters to life. Wakanda itself could be considered a character as it's unlike anything you've ever seen before, yet feels like it could actually exist. 

 "Black Panther" is probably the most mature (And times, the most brutal) film Marvel has given us, and is one of those superhero films that even those who aren't exactly fans would even like. With a diverse cast of characters, a smart script that takes on darker and more serious, somewhat political subject matter, but still never loses that Marvel humor and sense of fun. It's one of those movies that you can't stop thinking about once you get home, and only gets better the more you dwell on it. It's also sure to be a hit with people of color, which is a wonderful thing that should alone be praised. But it still makes for a great superhero movie/overall great movie that anyone can enjoy and experience. Yet another instant Marvel classic that shows despite having been going on for 10 years, they can still find ways to keep everything fresh and exciting. The film is an achievement that other movies like it should inspire to be. Did I forget to mention that it has battle Rhinos? That's probably the coolest thing I've seen in a while. 4 stars. Rated PG-13 For A Little More Super Hero Violence Than We're Used To.

The 15:17 to Paris                                ★ OUT OF ★★★★

Image result for 15 17 to paris movieImage: I'm putting my money on the good guys.

 Great! So I need to look like THAT guy again don't I? It's Clint Eastwood. How can I possibly give such a negative review to a film about a real life event, starring the real life heroes who lived it, directed by freakin' Clint Eastwood? How does that even work exactly? I just must be a cynical, crappy person, who doesn't appreciate the story right? I'm just judging the movie as a movie, and as a movie (Along with it being a tribute to actual heroes), it just makes me sad. Very, very sad. 

 I'm going to describe the plot (Or shredded remains of one really) as well as I possibly can. So "The 15:17 to Paris" follows three Americans on a train ride to Paris, "Spencer Stone", "Anthony Sadler", "Alek Skarlatos" (All played by themselves), right at the same time an armed lunatic, "Ayoub El-Khazzani" (Ray Corasani) comes in with the intention of killing as many innocents of possible. But these three heroes (And another guy, who isn't all the important apparently) charge in, risking their lives to take down the terrorist, and save everyone on the train, using their skills to keep everyone calm and save a wounded man. That's all great, inspiring stuff that everyone should agree is heroic and exactly the kind of thing we want to see in a movie......But that's just the last 10 minutes.

 The movie actually follows the lives (The cliff notes version of it) of the real life heroes, from their time growing up in a Christian school, Stone taking center stage with his joining of the military, Skarlatos also joining but not getting to do anything, and Sadler just being along for the ride. Then the three go on a trip to Europe to, um, do things, and stuff happens with them meeting people who don't say much. Um....I can't do this. Nothing happens. There's an occasional flash forward to the train attack (But that stops part way through), but we just see these characters just doing stuff to pad out the already short runtime of 94 minutes....

 "The 15:17 to Paris" is not a movie.. It's an idea, only half thought through, that certainly doesn't feel like it should be seen in theaters, let alone be directed by critically acclaimed actor/director Clint Eastwood. (It just doesn't make sense.) The film seems to be about just that one moment, at least at first it appears to be. But the story is told through flashbacks, with what is meant to be what led up to this point. The problem is that it's mostly just pointless filler. There are large portions of this already short movie, dedicated to the characters just wandering around, and when the film tries to actually tell their story, of their childhood up until this event, it's all so poorly acted, painfully written, and shockingly, horribly edited. 

 The idea behind casting the real life people to play themselves is an interesting concept....on paper. When you see it for real, you can tell they're just not actors and all it does is take you out of the movie. Spencer Stone, who is mostly wooden, gets most (If not almost all) of the screentime to the expense of Alek Skarlatos (Whose line delivery is awkward throughout) and Anthony Sadler (Who probably fares the best out of the three, but gets the least amount of screentime). I have nothing but praise for them as people. They seem like cool guys and are undeniably courageous. It's just uncomfortable, and ruins whatever sense of realism the film was going for. We also get a bizarre cast of supporting actors, with Judy Greer (as "Joyce", Spencer's mother), whose adorableness always overcomes bad dialogue, Jenna Fischer (as "Heidi", Alek's mother), who doesn't get to do or really say anything, along with the strange combination of Tony Hale (as a Gym teacher), Thomas Lennon (as a principal), and "Urkel/Sonic the Hegdehog" himself, Jaleel White (as one of their teachers). On a secondary note, (And, God I hate saying this) the child actors in this film are just some of the worst you'll ever see.

 The biggest problem with "The 15:17 to Paris" lies with Clint Eastwood, whose direction is shockingly unfocused, sloppily put together, and doesn't do the actual story any real justice. Only in the last few minutes, when the actual attack is going down, makes for the film's only shining moment. It's tense, played realistically, and doesn't try to shove it's theatricality in your face. However, its brief and doesn't come till the very end. The buildup to that point almost has nothing to do with it, despite the overly sappy dialogue insisting that everything in their lives led up to it. It's one of those movies that just makes you feel sad once you leave the theater, especially considering the good intentions. Sadly, that doesn't make the movie good. In some ways, it makes it kind of worse. 1 star. Rated PG-13 For Light Action At The End, And Filler, Filler, Along With More Filler. 

Peter Rabbit                                 ★★★ OUT OF ★★★★

Image result for peter rabbit movieImage: "Let's multiply!"

 Gulp! Might get a little flak for this one, considering how hated this movie is, even before it's release. (On a side note, it feels like there are a couple movies a year that makes the internet piss themselves with rage over a trailer) I do get it, the classic stories of "Peter Rabbit", created by Beatrix Potter are beloved by people of all ages. I will also admit, despite the fact I really don't remember much about those stories, I highly doubt this resembles it's source material hardly at all. With that said, and please don't start typing your hate letter when I say this, I....liked it......Don't kill me! I'm just as shocked as you are! 

 "Peter Rabbit" opens with lovable troublemaker bunny with a blue coat, "Peter Rabbit" (James Corden), causing trouble for the sadistic old farmer, "Mr. McGregor" (Sam  Neill), along with his triplet sisters, "Cottontail" (Daisy Ridley), "Flopsy" (Margot Robbie), and "Mopsy" (Elizabeth Debicki), and their goofy cousin, "Benjamin Bunny" (Matt Lucas).They continuously break into McGregor's garden to steal vegetables and just mock the old fart (Mostly out of vengeance for McGregor baking their father into a pie years prior), while hanging out with McGregor's animal lover neighbor, "Bea" (Rose Byrne). Their feud with McGregor comes to an end when he has a hilarious, bad eating habit induced heart attack and dies, resulting in the animals getting free reign of his now empty home. 

 Meanwhile, McGregor's estranged nephew, "Thomas" (Domhnall Gleeson), who gets fired from his toy store job for being a slightly unhinged control freak, ends up inheriting the deceased McGregor's estate. Planning to sell the house, Thomas arrives to find Peter and his friends trashing the place. Thus begins a new feud between Peter and Thomas, which escalates further when sparks surprisingly start to fly between Thomas and Bea. To quote another famous rabbit, "Of course you realize, this means war."

 "Peter Rabbit" is one of those movies that I can certainly tell won't sit right with people. It barely resembles it's source material, with a more modern sense of humor. What you really need to understand is that the movie is a live action Looney Tunes cartoon, and if you're okay with that, it's hard not to have a good amount of fun with this. The film is surprisingly quite funny, with some well timed slapstick, and even some better than you would expect special effects. From Sony Pictures Animation (Previously responsible for the "Smurfs" movies and of course, "The Emoji Movie"), the animation on the furry characters blends seamlessly into the live action setting, without coming across as creepy, or distracting. 

 James Corden is not a bad choice for the role, and does a solid job, even if his character can come across as a bit too mean at times. Luckily, the movie itself seems to know this and addresses it, using it to have his character grow by the end. There are some good laughs with Margot Robbie, Daisy Ridley, and Elizabeth Debicki, who all get their time to shine, along with Matt Lucas. It's pretty shocking how all these characters actually have a role to play in the movie. Our live action actors are also good, with the adorably charming Rose Byrne, and the absolutely terrific Domhnall Gleeson, who just steals the entire movie. He commits to every absurd action and is clearly loving every second of it. Yet somehow, he does feel like an actual person (A bit of a crazy one, but still.) and has great chemistry with Byrne. (The romance here even feels more realistic than "Fifty Shades Freed", and this is supposed to be the more cartoonish movie) Sia (as the voice of "Mrs. Tiggy-Winkle", a sightly senile old hedgehog) gets a few laughs, and Sam Neill appears briefly for about five minutes, but still gets to do more than he's been able to do in any other recent movie I've seen him in. 

 "Peter Rabbit" isn't without it's obvious flaws, such as a predictable story, a few kiddie movie clichés (Such as a few too many song cues and the occasional cheap joke). And while there is a good heart and message to it all (Of eventually putting aside difference for ones you love, and bettering yourself), it doesn't quite have the impact of more superior family fair. (Its not "Coco" or "Paddington 2") Regardless, the film is still a lot of wacky fun, with a few more big laughs than you would expect. It works as a solid kids movie, and really, it works as a solid comedy. It may not be the Peter Rabbit you know and love, but it doesn't overstay it's welcome. Bugs Bunny never made any sense either. 3 stars. Rated PG For Cartoonish Violence And Rabbit Nudity.  

Fifty Shades Freed                                        ½ OUT OF ★★★★

Image result for fifty shades freedImage: "Annulment!" 

 Alright lets just get these out of the way now. Ahem, this movie can't get it up. It's limp and flaccid, with an unsatisfying climax that doesn't come soon enough, making for an experience shameful for both parties. We're those puns good for you? And, I'm spent.

 "Fifty Shades Freed" continues the captivating "Fifty Shades" saga, bringing it to it's conclusion with shy girl, "Anastasia Steele" (Dakota Johnson) finally marrying the creepy, stalker, rich buff boyfriend, "Christian Grey" (Jamie Dornan). Anastasia starts her new life, as an annoying, wealthy person with too much money and privilege, getting to give orders to servants, taking expensive trips, and engaging in constant intercourse with Christian when he isn't busy with his uh, business stuff. (Wait, I forgot again. What does he do actually? And does he actually do it?)

 But all is not perfect in paradise, mostly due to the overabundance of subplots and bad situations that are supposed to represent conflict, which come in the form of Anastasia's former sleazy boss/future supervillain, "Jack Hyde" (Eric Johnson) who has a nefarious scheme to destroy Christian, along with Anastasia having to deal with Christian's dominating and controlling nature that just won't go away no matter how hard she tries. There's also something about Christian's brother "Elliot" (Luke Grimes) possibly cheating on Anastasia's best friend, "Katherine" (Eloise Mumford) with an ample bosomed architect (Arielle Kebbel), a kidnapping and hostage situation, and the reveal that Anastasia is pregnant, which Christian doesn't take well because he doesn't want kids. (Should of talked that over before you got married. Like real people who weren't always really, really horny would do.) Stuff happens, people bump uglies to terrible music, and this film critic gives up on trying to understand why this series is a thing, simply accepting that some people just like terrible, unpleasant movies.

 I'll give it this, the "Fifty Shades" franchise is one of the more consistent film series, considering they never got any worse. They just remained poorly executed, boringly and sloppily put together trash, that never even bothered to try to get any better. It's almost not even worth talking about by this point, but being a responsible and committed film critic, who has watched this series from start to finish, I got a job to do. "Fifty Shades Freed" when you think about it, is almost pointless, where we just go through the same plot points that we've gone through before, once again showing the idea that this woman can change this clearly unhinged, possessive, damn near abusive man is not something that usually works. It just makes you think that he should of just done it on his own in the first place. You shouldn't have to do all the work yourself. Weird how some people find this empowering to women, considering that there are a suspicious amount of similarities to recent events, which just make you feel uneasy and uncomfortable. (Rich man, having his way with a woman, and involving a lot of kinky stuff. Anyone else feel queasy?)

 The only thing this entry has over the previous ones, is that stuff actually happens in this movie. However, there are so many things going on at once, it doesn't feel like much was accomplished. The plot just wanders around, going through various plot points and solves them either in a matter of minutes (Or sometimes offscreen.) "Fifty Shades Freed" continues the series trend of painful dialogue, predictable screenwriting, and constant filler to make up that surprisingly short runtime. (Even at 105 minutes, the film still feels frustrating long.) There may be more sex scenes this time around, but they are constant and directly in your face, (Along with an obnoxious soundtrack), stopping the movie dead. It doesn't help that none of these scenes are memorable, particularly sexy, or worth the overpriced ticket. (I may get in for free, but I still feel like I paid too much.) The movie even makes a few attempts at action, which come across as pathetic and just plain sad. (The green screen car chase is going to be mocked for years to come.) 

 The only saving grace is Dakota Johnson herself. The film tries once again to make sure she doesn't give a good performance, but she powers through it and shows actual emotion, unlike Jamie Dornan, who is as unlikable than ever. They have zero chemistry with each other, whether it be romantically, sexually, or even just as human beings. (Honestly, they look like they hate each other's guts, which I thought was supposed to happen after YEARS of marriage, not right after.) Eric Johnson does get to ham it up and be as crazily slimy as he wants, but even that just feels secondary and really stays in the background for the most part. The rest of the cast of inconsequential actors playing inconsequential characters are forgettable, and Kim Basinger (as the woman who seduced an underaged Christian years before, and is responsible for what he became) appears in a minor plotline that happens offscreen. Meaning she actually isn't even in the movie. (Good on ya' Kim. You don't need this crap.)

 A few nice shots don't warrant the IMAX screening I went to, just making everything look more fake and shallow than it already is. "Fifty Shades Freed" confuses obsession for love, obedience for empowerment, and resolves most of it's plot in the last 10 minutes with exposition explaining everything away as quickly as possible. Nothing more to say except to make one final statement, especially when the film ends with Anastasia giving an explanation as to why Christian Grey is a good person, because he's caring and treats people well. I would like to remind everyone that he broke a woman in the last movie (Mentally and maybe a little physically). Someone capable of that just doesn't change because you love him bad enough, especially when he has revenge sex with you because you disobeyed him. If that's considered normal, I guess I just don't know what love is apparently. If you ask me this movie is a butt plug, because it contains nothing but sh*t. 1/2 star. Rated R For Repetitive Sexual Content, Sex Puns Galore, And Very Confusing Mixed Messages. 

The Cloverfield Paradox                                                                                                                                                    ★★½ OUT OF ★★★★

Image result for the cloverfield paradoxImage: "Whoah! That Super Bowl commercial says we're available on Netflix right now!"

 You gotta give these "Cloverfield" movies one thing, and it's that they have the most unique, clever, and at times, just plain strange marketing team ever assembled. Despite the release date being pushed around constantly, along with a couple title changes, the newest entry into the J.J. Abrams produced Science Fiction Anthology series had it's first teaser released as a Super Bowl TV spot, followed by an actual release just hours later. That's....That's just something I never would of thought of. Now if only it couldn't of disappointed all those fans who were so excited about it, despite not knowing it even existed. How can you be so disappointed by something you didn't know even existed until two days ago?

 "The Cloverfield Paradox" takes place in the near-ish future, where Earth is going through an energy crisis. So a plan is made to send a crew into space aboard the "Cloverfield Station" to test a particle accelerator, which should in theory give Earth the infinite power source it desperately needs, despite conspiracy theorists, (Which includes a Donal Logue cameo), warns that this could create "The Cloverfield Paradox" and all kinds of crazy ass stuff will happen. Two years later, the crew, which includes "Ava Hamilton" (Gugu Mbatha-Raw), the captain "Kiel" (David Oyelowo), "Schmidt" (Daniel Brühl), "Monk" (John Ortiz), "Mundy" (Chris O'Dowd), "Volkov" (Aksel Hennie), and "Tam" (Zhang Ziyi), has been unsuccessful in their mission. They decide to give it one more go, activating the particle accelerator, and this time, it seemingly works.

 However to their surprise, Earth has apparently vanished. Things get stranger when the crew discovers a woman named "Mina" (Elizabeth Debicki) lodged within the station's walls, claiming to be a member of the crew, along with other off circumstances that leads to limbs getting cut off and coming to life, worms exploding out of stomachs, and the body count rising quickly as the crew tries to figure out what the hell is going on. Meanwhile back on Earth, Ava's husband, "Michael" (Roger Davies), has his own little adventure, due to the arrival of a possibly familiar looking giant monster.  

 "The Cloverfield Paradox" follows the same vagueness in terms of it's marketing, much like 2008's found footage monster movie, "Cloverfield" and 2016's critically acclaimed psychological thriller, "10 Cloverfield Lane". The movie's unexpected release is undeniably cool. You can however see why the film appeared to have so much production trouble, mostly because it's just kind of all over the place. Not bad per se (I honestly think that really low Rotten Tomatoes score is unfair), but there are decisions in the movie that only overly complicate and leave more questions than answers. While the other films have been known for creating more theories than actually revealing what they mean, this one unnecessarily adds in a few subplots and doesn't really follow through with some of the ideas it presents. 

 One of the film's saving graces isn't the characters themselves, because most of them aren't as developed as they are clearly meant to be, it's the great collection of actors, who are all giving it their very best. Gugu Mbatha-Raw is actually terrific here, giving a touching and passionate performance, along with some good work from the supporting cast of Elizabeth Debicki (Whose character arc doesn't make much sense, but she sells where it goes with her presence alone), Daniel Brühl, Chris O'Dowd (Who gets a few funny lines here and there that don't feel out of place), along with the rest do give more than what was probably expected and definitely make up for the incredibly weak, and occasionally silly script. The secondary plot with Roger Davies, trying to survive the destruction caused by the monster from the first film has little to do with anything, and just feels like it's been crammed in unnecessarily.

 It's sad because "10 Cloverfield Lane" didn't have the need to tie it in so obviously, simply doing it with a possible nod at the very end. "The Cloverfield Paradox" tries way too hard, cramming so much story and various ideas into a pretty short runtime, to the point when characters act a certain way, you're left wondering how we got to this position in the first place. The film certainly looks good, and in fact it looks too good to be something you can only watch on Netflix. There are some cool visuals and beautiful cinematography that would of worked very well on the big screen (or even an IMAX screen). The film isn't without it's suspenseful moments, and the film's end would of been more effective if not for the pointless subplot on Earth. (Really, that's where the film should of been more vague)

 "The Cloverfield Paradox" is a bit of a mess, but it's not something I would tell someone not to see. It follows basic Sci-Fi Horror tropes, while trying to add in some complicated messages and tie itself into the rest of the "Cloverfield" franchise. Even if it is a little shoehorned in. I think the smart people may have just outsmarted themselves. 2 1/2 stars. Rated TV-MA (Which Is Basically Rated R) For Gorey Violence and Science Mumbo Jumbo.

Winchester                                          ★★ OUT OF ★★★★

Image result for winchester movieImage: There's nothing like a Dame Helen Mirren.

 Guys, I got nothing here for this one. Like you, I'm just biding time until "Black Panther:" comes out. Anything else till then feels just so inconsequential. Not to mention, there's nothing else really out right now worth mentioning,so lets just jump right into the "Scary" Helen Mirren.movie. What? They can't all be classics. 

 Inspired by sort of actual events, "Winchester" tells the story of the "Winchester Mystery House", owned by "Sarah Winchester" (Helen Mirren), the widow of the famous gun manufacturer. Since the death of her husband and baby, Sarah has claimed to be seeing ghosts, and keeps the house under constant construction, adding and removing rooms often. The company fears she might be insane (And you know, it wouldn't hurt if someone could legally prove it), so they call in a washed up (And drugged up), alcoholic doctor, "Eric Price" (Jason Clarke) to make the assessment. Price is invited to stay at the Wincester house, soon discovering nothing is as it first appears, with strange noises being heard, the son of Sarah's widowed niece, "Marian" (Sarah Snook) is acting weird, and the fact that scary faces keep popping out of nowhere and going "Boo!". Price now finds himself involved in a mysterious, uh, mystery, learning about Sarah's grief, and the deadly, vengeful spirits who plot to destroy her and her family. 

 Directed by the Spierig Brothers (Who gave us "Jigsaw" last year), "Winchester" does in fact have an interesting story to tell, with the truth behind it, mixed in with fiction, making for a cool sounding and even tragic ghost story. The set design, and the house itself, are eerie and do have a sense of atmosphere to it. The film just ends up going for the simplest of stories, with the laziest of scares (All of them jumpy), and some cheesy dialogue that only makes everything feel silly. We do get a few twists and turns, but they all in the end lead to a pretty predictable conclusion.

 Everyone involved is giving it their all, and nobody really gives a bad performance. Helen Mirren, (Who can pretty much sell any material), is dignified and finds a way to give an emotionally powerful performance, even with the clunky exposition she is forced to deliver. You still can't help but be invested in her character and her backstory, which is undeniably sad. Jason Clarke is also giving it his best, with a little humor and humanity, giving you reason to root for his redemption. While the supporting characters are bland, there are times you get a clever look to one of the few ghosts that appear throughout, but most of them are just here to make a scary face, followed by a loud noise. (Or sometimes its just a fake out. This movie loves their fake outs.)

 "Winchester" isn't without it's moments and has an interesting story behind it that could make for a spooky film. Sadly, not only does it not leave much of an impression, it doesn't leave me with much to really write about. All I can say is rent it if you want, but there isn't much reason to see it in theaters. Now if you'll excuse me, I need to prepare my body and mind for "Fifty Shades Freed" next week. Odds are that it will leave more of an impact than this movie. Granted, it will be on my psyche, but at least there will be plenty to talk about. 2 stars. Rated PG-13 For Scary Faces and Loud Music. 

Maze Runner: The Death Cure                                                                                                                                            ★★½ OUT OF ★★★★

Related imageImage: "I thought we already finished this maze".

 I'm gonna' level with you guys. I had a little trouble following this one, simply because I couldn't for the life of me remember what happened in the previous movies. Not so much that they were so forgettable or anything like that. I remember some cool ideas, some silly bad organization, the really pretty girls, and Aidan Gillan stealing the show with his smarm. I just couldn't remember where we left off. Not so much the fault of the movies, because this one was pushed back too long due to the fact it nearly killed poor Dylan O'Brien. I just got too used to these moves coming out every year instead of every year, then waiting three years before just jumping right back into it. An opening crawl would of be nice at least.  So, maybe I did remember enough of it.

 "Maze Runner: The Death Cure" begins where I assume the last one left off. In a post apocalyptic world, where a deadly virus has infected and destroyed civilization, only a select few immune, known as "The Gladers" stand in the way of the obviously evil organization, "WCKD". The leader of the resistance, "Thomas" (Dylan O'Brien) works with his friends "Newt" (Thomas Brodie-Sangster), "Frypan" (Dexter Darden), "Brenda" (Rosa Salazr), and her daddy, "Jorge" (Giancarlo Esposito), and have set out on a mission to save their captured buddy, "Minho" (Ki Hong Lee) from WCKD's er, wicked clutches. Having finally located WCKD's base of operations, within a giant sealed off city, Thomas and his friends seek the aid of another rebellious group, led by the deformed "Lawrence" (Walton Goggins) to sneak into WCKD's lab to save their friend.

 Meanwhile, WCKD's leader, "Ava Paige" (Patricia Clarkson) and her scumbag second in command, "Janson" (Aidan Gillen) continue their morally dubious experiments on children to find a cure to the weird zombie virus by any means necessary, with Thomas' former pretty love interest turned pretty traitor, "Teresa" (Kaya Scodelario) serving as one of their scientists. Thomas and his friends sneak into the city, targeting Teresa and hope to use her as a way to sneak into WCKD's lab and shut them down for good. (And because, well, Thomas still has a thing for her. Wouldn't you?) This all culminates in an epic final battle that thankfully, unlike other YA novel adaptations, doesn't split the last part into two separate movies. 

 Aside from having trouble getting back up to date on the franchise, "Maze Runner: The Death Cure" is pretty much more of the same. Not that it's bad by any means. In fact, much like the previous entries (2014's "The Maze Runner" and 2015's "Maze Runner: The Scorch Trials"), the film is just a bit better made with some occasional moments that come across as clever or deep. Still, it can't help but steer itself into stupid territory, that many movies like it always seem to intentionally jump right into. There are a few too many characters, most of which are left in the background, with a few supposed emotional moments not working as well as they should. (Although admittedly, some of that might of been because I couldn't remember much about the first two.)

 We do get a very competent cast, who give it their all and elevate the material. Credit to Dylan O'Brien, who makes for a good hero to root for, and does well in the emotional scenes, along with Kaya Scodelario, who is the most complex character and is the most compelling. Patricia Clarkson once again gives a better performance than you'd expect from a movie like this, and Aidan Gillen still has this slimy charm to him, making for a entertainingly despicable villain. Giancarlo Esposito returns for some comic relief and Walton Goggins pops up to be weird, (Which is never a bad thing if you ask me). The rest of the cast is fine, but none of their characters really stand out. Also, Will Poulter (as "Gally", the guy who went crazy in the first movie) returns with little explanation whatsoever. (I recall him being kind of dead last time.)

 "Maze Runner: The Death Cure" is fairly predictable, borrowing (Or stealing) from other movies, and it isn't without it's dumb moments. With how some bits that need explaining being glossed over, the goofyiness of the villains' motivations not mixing well with their name (WCKD? And you think you're the good guys? Was that the best you could do?), and possibly the worst example of henchmen marksmanship you will ever see. With all that said, there are some undeniably cool moments, a few solid twists and turns towards the end, and every once in a while, the message behind what your own humanity is worth when trying to save others is delivered in a way that's original and gripping.

 Generic as hell, but "Maze Runner 3" will certainly please it's fanbase and thankfully doesn't outstay it's welcome. It's nearly two and a half hours, yet third time returning director Wes Ball paces the film well enough to where you don't notice. I will also give credit to the rather dark, somewhat ambiguous ending that is at least something different from what you would see in a conventional film like this. Although I might just be going a little easy on it because of my lack of remembrance for the last two. But really, who cares though? It's "Maze Runner". It's a dumb, but fun popcorn movie and I'll certainly take it over "Divergent" and "Twilight" any day. I remember them even less. 2 1/2 stars. Rated PG-13 For Some Scary Moments And A Surprising Amount Of Violence. (Gets away with a bit more than you would expect from a PG-13).  

13 Strong                                         ★★★ OUT OF ★★★★

Related imageImage: Admit it, we all want to see ourselves this way. 

 A patriotic true events film, based on underdog American soldiers responding to the 9/11 attacks in a fairly secret mission to band together with Islamic allies, that was so secret that most people didn't even know the incredible story behind it. Including myself. Please don't let this suck. Please!

 "!2 Strong" tells the true story of how after the September 11th attacks, a special task force, known as Task Force Dagger, is deployed to Afghanistan for an important mission. A task force of 12, made up of a mix of CIA and Green Berets, includes "Captain Mitch Nelson" (Chris Hemsworth), "Chief Warrant Officer Cal Spencer" (Michael Shannon), "Sergeant First Class Sam Diller" (Michael Peña), "Sergeant First Class Ben Milo" (Trevante Rhodes), and well, um, the rest....(Okay, the others don't get much screentime.) The team are under orders to join forces with "General Abdul Rashid Dostum" (Navid Negahban) of the Northern Alliance to combat the Taliban forces with bombings, despite the alliance between them beings uneasy to say the least. With horseback as the only way to travel the harsh, mountainous environment, everyone must work together to complete the mission before their deadline or before the Taliban, who is armed to the teeth, is able to wipe them all out. 

 If you're looking for a complex war film, with deep character development, "12 Strong" isn't exactly that. But the film has good intentions and enough general competence from the filmmakers are enough to recommend it. It's a beautifully shot film, with some stunning action scenes that just burst off the screen, in part thanks to the excellent sound design that makes you literally feel the gunfire and explosions. (The IMAX screening I saw it in probably helped too.)

 The lack of detail put into the characters is distracting, but the actors are all giving their best and come across as genuine. With Chris Hemsworth making for a charismatic lead and Michael Shannon calming down and actually giving a very strong and human performance. (Not that crazy Michael Shannon isn't fun and all, but this isn't the movie for that.) Navid Negahban is excellent, with his character given the most profundity, and he delivers the most powerful moments. We also get solid work out of Michael Peña, William Fichtner (as "Colonel John Mulholland", one of Nelson's superiors), and even Rob Riggle (as "Lieutenant Colonel Max Bowers", another one of Nelson's superiors). On the downside, we get some pretty generic bad guys, especially from out big bad (Played by Numan Acar), who just sneers and does bad things while giving menacing glares. 

 "12 Strong" is a pretty basic war drama, with not a lot of depth given to supporting characters, and to a certain degree the story itself is told in a simplistic manner. But to give the film and Director Nicolai Fuglsig (In his directorial debut) credit, there is still this heart to movie that regardless should be able to inspire the audience. It's still a good and well told story that deserves some recognition. A touching tribute to real life heroes whose story wasn't as well known as it should of been. 3 stars. Rated R For Brutal War Violence.

Forever My Girl                                   ★½ OUT OF ★★★★

Related image

Image: Aww, isn't that swee.......I mean, ador.......Isn't it nauseating?

 Sometimes your audience can perfectly identify the basic mood of your theater going experience. In a slightly busier than expected showing, full of women mostly probably shown up for a girls night out, I was once again seemingly the only guy in the theater. It's awkward, weird, and just plain looks wrong. Luckily, another girl and her boyfriend arrived just before the movie started. Cue the boyfriend standing still for a brief moment and letting out the loudest, longest, and most exasperated sigh you'll ever hear before going to find his seat, with a defeated look on his face. Sums it all up nicely don't you think? 

  "Forever My Girl" opens with Southern lovebirds, "Liam Paige" (Alex Roe) and "Josie" (Jessica Rothe) about to get married. Too bad Liam decides to be a jackass and runs off to become another generic country singer. Cut to 8 years later when the one black guy in town dies, Liam returns to his home for his funeral, taking a break from his big tour. Josie understandably isn't too happy to see Liam, and in fact, nobody in town really is, including Liam's estranged pastor father, "Brian" (John Benjamin Hickey). However, Liam soon realizes that Josie was also pregnant when he abandoned her before, meeting her (And well, his) daughter, "Billy" (Abby Ryder Fortson). Liam decides to stick around in hopes of getting to know Billy, reconciling with Josie, and reconnecting with his Southern, good old fashioned, all American roots.  

 Comparing "Forever My Girl" to the yearly Nicholas Sparks adaptions (Though they have basically vanished in the recent years) like most critics have been doing doesn't seem particularly fair. I've seen the worst those films have to offer and this one is nowhere on par with how bad they can get. With that said, much like those films, there is this lack of understanding of how people work and react in terms of reality. The sappy dialogue doesn't mesh well with the attempts to be cute and funny, mostly because of how heavy the emotional drama would be realistically. The way the film explains why Liam did what he did is so basic and simplistic, and the way the film treats other dramatic moments (Most of which happen off-screen) just feel odd and sloppy. It doesn't help that Liam is not a very likable character in the slightest, and since we are forced to focus on him more than anyone in the film, it ruins the actual romance, which weirdly feels secondary. 

  Alex Roe can't seem to keep his accent in check, and doesn't have the charisma to carry the film, especially considering how much of a dick he comes across as. (Also, is it wrong to say I don't trust his face? Not sure what it is, but I just don't....Look, I don't like his face.) Jessica Rothe (Who easily carried last year's underatted "Happy Death Day") is plenty cute and shows a great deal amount of personality. But their relationship is just off, mostly due to how poorly the film handles their story, resulting in me not buying the relationship's obvious outcome in the slightest. Abby Ryder Fortson gets some overly precious dialogue, but makes up for it with the fact that she's an undeniably talented little actress. (Although, is her character a bit too overly gifted? Sounds like it would be the plot of a separate movie) Probably the best performance comes from John Benjamin Hickey, who does sell his heartfelt moments, even if most of his story happens off-screen like many arcs in the film. The unlucky ones are seemingly abandoned, such as the dead friend's grieving widow. (Eh, She was unimportant anyway I guess.)

 Directed by Bethany Ashton Wolf, "Forever My Girl" is too safe, blandly boring, and choppily cobbled together (And boy, I have heard enough country music to last me a lifetime), but on the bright side, it never reaches that offensiveness that I'm used to compared to other early in the year romances. It certainly overstays it's welcome quickly, and the film's more overly dramatic moments do get more laughs than the actual moments of humor. (Hot Dogs are the biggest conflict the movie has to offer) However, if your girlfriend decides to drag you to it.....well, actually, you'll still be pretty miserable  But you could still be more miserable elsewhere. Maybe she wants to see "Paddington 2" or "Star Wars" instead. If she does, I suggest you marry that girl immediately. 1 1/2 stars. Rated PG For Adult Content, Killer Hot Dogs, And Alex Roe's Inability To Keep His Shirt On. 

Den of Thieves                                     ★★ OUT OF ★★★★

Related imageImage: Gerard Butler's beard has his own agent and trailer.

 You know, for a January film season, this hasn't been all that bad. (With the exception of "Paddington 2", that was great. You guys should have gone to see it.) But there is at least more of a sense of effort put into the few movies I've seen this month already. And when the worst thing you can say about your movies are that it's just sort of forgettable, that's at least better than....well, "Fifty Shades of Black", "Mortdecai", or "Norm of the North". It's the small victories in life that count.

 "Den of Thieves" starts Las Angeles with a truck robbery resulting in the deaths of a couple cops. This brings in corrupt L.A.P.D. cop, "Nick O'Brien" (Gerard Butler) aka "Big Nick" (Because he's uh, big), who knows that this is the work of a elite gang of criminals, led by "Ray Merrimen" (Pablo Schreiber), who has been pulling off the most successful bank robbery heists in the state for years. Nick's crew manages to capture the gang's newest member, "Donnie" (O'Shea Jackson Jr.), with the intention of getting him to give Nick's crew information on what Merrimen's gang's next big heist is. Donnie can only provide so much (Mostly because he knows so little as it is), and he is forced to work for Nick in exchange for leniency. As the day of the heist draws near, Merrimen finally reveals that this last big heist is going to be their greatest and most difficult yet, planning to rob the Federal Reserve Bank, which is said to be impossible. 

 I may have a bit of a difficult time explaining the plot to "Den of Thieves", mostly because the more I think about it, it's actually a pretty simple yet overly complicated at the same time (Does that make sense?) It's the kind of story you've seen before, but despite some failings particularly when it's all meant to come together towards the end, there is this sense of suspense to the film that does keep your attention for the most part. First time Director Christian Gudegast knows how to build some tension, but can't seem to find the right sense of pacing and doesn't seem to understand the meaning of the word running time. (It clocks in at 140 minutes for no apparent reason).

 One of the film's strongest aspects is Gerard Butler, giving the best performance I've seen from him for some time. He plays up the scumbag aspect with charismatic sliminess and dominates the screen, devouring the scenery every chance he gets. He easily steals the film from Pablo Schreiber, who is much more boring by comparison. O'Shea Jackson Jr. does a solid job in the movie, with a few moments to shine, even with a weird moment at the very end. While Curtis "50 Cent" Jackson (as "Levi", one of Merrimen's gang members) is here as well, that's really it, in terms of developed characters. Most of them are left in the background, leaving their family lives as afterthoughts, especially with a subplot involving Nick's wife, "Debbie" ( Dawn Oliveri), who is divorcing him for obvious reasons. 

 "Den of Thieves" has some cool technical aspects, with some excellent utilization of sound (Especially during the shootouts), and Gerard Butler's enjoyably sleazy performance elevates it further. But the film drags along, with an overly drawn out length, and a final twist that feels somewhat clever, but just makes you question the necessity of certain scenes and plot points. It's got it's moments, but it feels like a more forgettable version of a cop/robber thriller you've likely seen before. Just a really, really long version of it. 2 stars. Rated R For Very Strong Language, Brutal Violence, And Pure Gerard Butler Sleaze. 

The Commuter                                     ★★½ OUT OF ★★★★

Related imageImage: "I'm getting too old for this sh*t."

 I know this is pretty late. I'm playing catch up due to the weather seemingly going out of it' way to destroy us all. I witnessed the weather change and the temperature drop right before my eyes. It was kind of amazing, but I decided to weigh the risks and decided against braving the elements. I  know Liam Neeson would handle it like a man and physically fight the freezing cold personally. You know that movie is gonna get made. 

 "The Commuter" follows "Michael MacCauley" (Liam Neeson), a former Cop living through the same routine day by day, just trying to get by, and provide for his wife, "Karen" (Elizabeth McGovern) and son, "Danny" (Dean-Charles Chapman). Michael ends up getting fired from his job as an insurance salesman simply for being old, and he dreads telling his family. While on the way home during his daily train ride home, he meets a mysterious woman, "Joanna" (Vera Farmiga), who gives Michael a supposed hypothetical question about what he would do if offered money to point out a random person.

 Turns out the question isn't hypothetical as Joanna explains that he has a certain amount of time to locate a person using the alias "Prynne", and point them out to her "People". Michael decides to take the money and at first go along with it, but as he progresses in his search, he begins to realize that this is bigger than he could possibly imagine. Michael's family is targeted, people start dying, and Michael is seemingly being set up to take the fall. Michael is left to find Prynne and uncover the bizarre conspiracy before something even more terrible happens.  

 "The Commuter" is exactly what you would expect it to find in a preposterous action film. However, it does at least have competent people behind and in front of the camera to carry it, and does what it sets out to do, which is make for an entertaining, briskly paced thriller. The premise is certainly interesting, and the setup is surprisingly solid, showing our main character's family life before the plot finally happens to develop his character and further the theme of what kind of you could be if put in a deadly situation. It's clever, but nonetheless stupid, especially once we finally learn what exactly is going on. The villains' scheme feels way too overly convoluted for no apparent reason other than to make it overly convoluted, making less and less sense as it goes. 

 Liam Neeson thankfully doesn't sleepwalk even through the silliest of movies. He still gives it his all, with his charisma alone making you invested in what's happening. And to his credit, he doesn't fight his way through some baddies without taking a few good punches. (Aside from CGI Neeson jumping onto CGI train. That was....bad.) Vera Farmiga only appears briefly, but her presence throughout, (With a cute, innocent look and sound to her that makes her particularly villainous). Patrick Wilson (as "Mruphy", Michael's cop buddy) shows up to do the obvious, but doesn't do a bad job at it either, while Sam Neill (as "Captain Hawthorne", Murphy's superior) unfortunately just kind of shows up to do nothing. 

 "The Commuter" is ridiculous, with some goofy twists and turns, but at least retains some moments of humor and humanity to keep your attention. The film embraces what it is, with even the most outlandish of action scenes remaining enjoyable. Director Jaume Collet-Serra (Who previously directed "The Shallows" and "Non-Stop", which is eerily similar to this movie in plotting) is good at what he does, keeping the pace moving, making for a quick sit. It's dumb, but an action flick that doesn't take too much of your time, and least the most of it's January dumping ground release. Other than some really awesome people with January birthdays, let's just get this month over with. 2 1/2 stars. Rated PG-13 For Violence, Flying Trains, And Liam Neeson's Epic F-Bomb. 

Proud Mary                                     ★★ OUT OF ★★★★

Related imageImage: Proud Taraji keep on burnin'.

 This right here. This is what I expect to come out in January. Not so much that the film is terrible by any means, but January movies are just so....off. When the people involved hear that their film is going to be released in January, they know that it's conformation that the work of art they just finished is probably destined for box office failure and a 20% on "Rotten Tomatoes". So "Proud Mary" is pretty much a perfect January movie.

 "Proud Mary" follows "Mary" (Taraji P. Henson), a well known hitwoman for a Boston crime family, led by the man who took her in "Benny" (Danny Glover). Mary has been a part of the family for years, eventually leading to a fateful day where she kills the deadbeat father of a young boy, "Danny" (Jahi Di'Allo Winston). Feeling guilty, she follows Danny for a year, seeing that he has begun working for a slimy rival mobster, "Uncle" (Xander Berkeley). Mary befriends Danny, and after seeing how much Uncle abuses him, she ends up putting a bullet in Uncle, resulting in the Russian mob growing paranoid. All the criminal gangs are now at each other's throats, with Mary planning to make amends for her bad deeds and maybe give Danny the family she never had. while attempting to get away from her hitwoman life, while avoiding the suspicions of her ex/Benny's son, "Tom" (Billy Brown).

 "Proud Mary" just never quite figures out what the Hell it wants to be. The tongue in cheek tone from the trailer is missing for the most part in the film. Instead, it's more of a thriller, with some pretty heavy drama surrounding it. It doesn't help that occasionally the movie suddenly drifts into goody, more tongue in cheek territory, especially by the end. With a plot that has been done to death, the whole thing doesn't mesh and feels sloppy. It seems the filmmakers were trying to figure out what they wanted to do as the movie went on, but never came to an actual conclusion. 

 It's too bad because Taraji P. Henson is truly trying her absolute best, with her natural charm and ability to look pretty cool while kicking butt. Her relationship with Jahi Di'Allo Winston feels underdeveloped, but the amount of emotion that Henson brings to her role does make it feel somewhat genuine. It's also nice to see Danny Glover actually getting to sink his teeth into a good role for the first time in a while, easily going from nice and caring to villainous and threatening. Billy Brown isn't so much bad, as he can seem a bit intimidating, but his character's arc doesn't feel developed in the slightest and where they go with his character is both predictable and doesn't match how the character started. Neal McDonough (as "Walter", one of Benny's goons) is criminally underused, doing absolutely nothing for his 5 minutes of screentime. 

 "Proud Mary" isn't the worst film I've ever seen in January by any means, as the film does at least look like something I would see in theaters and Taraji P. Henson alone makes it a little worth it (And because Kellan Lutz isn't in it.) The film doesn't leave much of an impact, which is evident by the rushed through finale and an ending that just sort of stops. (The wrap up isn't even a minute long) With this review done, I'll probably never even think about this movie ever again.  Such is the fate of dumped off January releases. Proud Taraji deserved better. 2 stars. Rated R For Strong Language, Strong Violence, And Tight Black Outfits.  

Paddington 2                                ★★★★ OUT OF ★★★★

Related image

Image: Prison changes a Bear. 

 Hello 2018! After taking a week off from reviewing anything ("Insidious: The Last Key"? I don't have time for that.), it's time to get into the usual January dumping ground (Aside from last second 2017 Oscar hopefuls). But instead of the usual run of the mill bad January releases, we get something rather wonderful. It must be my birthday or something.....Well, it was actually. Happy Birthday to me! 

 "Paddington 2" follows that adorable, overly polite, Marmalade loving bear from darkest Peru, "Paddington" (Voiced by Ben Whishaw). Paddington is still living in London with his adopted human family, "The Browns", consisting of the father, "Henry" (Hugh Bonneville) who is going through a bit of a mid-life crisis, the mother "Mary" (Sally Hawkins) who yearns for adventure, the son "Jonathan" (Samuel Joslin) who tries way too hard to be cool, the daughter "Judy" (Madeleine Harris) who starts a feminist newspaper to spite her ex, and their housekeeper "Mrs. Bird" (Julie Walters) who keeps everyone together. Paddington desperately wants to get his only remaining relative, "Aunt Lucy" (Voiced by Imelda Staunton) a birthday present, finding the perfect gift at the antique shop of his friend, "Mr. Gruber" (Jim Broadbent) in the form of a pop-up book of London. The bad news is that the book is one of a kind, and costs a fortune, so Paddington decides to try to make the money to buy it like the good little bear he is. 

 Enter egotistical, washed up actor, "Phoenix Buchanan" (Hugh Grant), who knows that the book contains a hidden secret that leads to a legendary treasure and plots to steal it. Paddington catches Buchanan in the act, but is unable to stop him from taking the book, resulting in Paddington being framed for the crime. Because those Brits take book theft very seriously, Paddington is sent to jail, eventually befriending a few of the inmates, including the prsion cook, "Nuckles McGinty" (Brendan Gleeson). Paddington and his new friends, along with the Browns aiding from the outside, set out to clear his name before Aunt Lucy's birthday and before Buchanan gets away with his crime.

 The sequel to 2015's excellent family feature "Paddington", which was both a critical and box office success, "Paddington 2" really shouldn't be much different, since it's just as wonderful, just as endearing, and just as laugh out loud hilarious. Once again Directed by Paul King, who shoots the film like a colorful storybook made out of candy. The sight on screen is stunning to look at, with so much color changing throughout depending on the mood. The well written script remembers to be charming and funny, while also remaining undeniably sweet natured. The film's strong messages of family, positivity, and just plain treating people with basic compassion are just as inspiring for adults as they are for children, and should warm the heart of the most cynical of cynics (Even prison inmates get respect).. It's somehow grounded in a form of reality, despite all the fantastical and wackiness going on. (Everyone has pretty much just accepted that a talking bear exists in this universe.) 

 Ben Whishaw is once again delightful, with an innocent sense of wonder and optimism that makes for such a lovable character. The family dynamic remaining as strong as the first, with Hugh Bonneville and the adorable Sally Hawkins getting just as many laughs as moments of heart, along with Julie Walters getting some of the best dialogue. Like before, Jim Broadbent is likable in a supporting role, with Peter Capaldi (as "Mr. Curry", The Browns' grouchy neighbor) being suitably snobbish. Brendan Gleeson is an absolute riot, and Hugh Grant simply steals the movie in a wildly entertaining, rather brilliant performance that makes him just as dastardly as he is hysterical. The overall cast, which is also made up of a large ensemble of smaller parts, really brings the film together, and by the end, everything and everyone has a part to play. 

 "Paddington 2" is one of those sequels that somehow manages to be just as great as the first, never losing sight of it's genuine heart and emotion, while remembering to make it's audience laugh and teach good morals at the same time. It's a perfect representation of what a great family movie should be, giving both kids and their parents plenty to admire and enjoy. It's also hands down the most whimsical prison break movie you'll ever see and starts off 2018 in the best way possible. 4 stars. Rated PG For Quirky Shenanigans, The Tugging Of Heartstrings, And Constant Consumption Of Marmalade. 

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