Eagan at the Movies

Reviewing movies because we care.

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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