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Eagan at the Movies

Reviewing movies because we care.

Reviews for Current Films: 

In Theaters: Dear Evan Hansen, Cry Macho, The Eyes of Tammy Faye, Copshop, Malignant, Cinderella, Shang-Chi and the Legend of the Ten Rings, Candyman, Reminiscence, PAW Patrol: The Movie, The Night House, The Protégé, Don't Breathe 2, Free Guy, Respect, The Suicide Squad, Jungle Cruise, The Green Knight, Old, Snake Eyes: G.I. Joe Origins

Coming Soon: The Many Saints of Newark, Venom 2, The Addams Family 2, No Time to Die, Halloween Kills, The Last Duel, Dune, Ron's Gone Wrong, The French Dispatch, Last Night in Soho, Eternals, Ghostbusters: Afterlife, Red Notice, King Richard, Encanto

Rating system:

★★★★: Classic  

★★★½: Very Good   

★★★: Good  

★★½ : Eh

★★: Could've Been Worse, Could've Been Better  

★½: Is It Too Late To Get A Refund?  

: Hope You Have A Good Date  

½: Little To No Redeeming Value

No Stars: Rethink Your Life Choices

Dear Evan Hansen                                by James Eagan                                   ★★ out of ★★★★

Image: Can't you see this 27 year old high school student is in pain?


We have a film here that has been causing a little bit of controversy. Now there are some criticisms and some complaints that I totally agree with (I mean, the two star rating should be enough to establish that I didn’t exactly care for it), but some of it has been a little too harsh. The mental health debate is kind of the big one, and while I can’t exactly say that I’m someone who knows enough to form a competent opinion on the subject, I think for what the film is trying to say it does a solid job of it. It’s probably best up to the viewer to decide, but I thought the filmmakers at least had good intentions, were willing to make things more complex, and handled it in a mature fashion. For all the film’s flaws, I feel calling it the worst musical ever (Which either way, come on! We’ve all experienced worse), is a step too far. I felt like we needed to get that out of the way early. 


Based on the stage musical, “Dear Evan Hansen” follows a socially awkward, and emotionally distressed young man, “Evan Hansen” (Ben Platt), who suffers from severe anxiety and depression, with an always busy mother, “Heidi” (Julianne Moore), and a cast on his arm (He apparently broke it climbing a tree). He also writes letters to himself, instructed by his therapist, as a way of coping with his own personal issues. Evan’s only sort of friend is a family friend, “Jared” (Nik Dodani), who only hangs out with him out of obligation, and has a big crush on the more popular “Zoe Murphy” (Kaitlyn Dever). Evan finds himself having a semi-moment with Zoe’s equally friendless, but more mentally disturbed brother, “Connor” (Colton Ryan), who signs Evan’s cast, though he takes one of Evan’s letters to himself in a moment of unprovoked rage. Evan dreads what Connor might do with the letter, only to get called into the Principal’s office, where he meets Connor’s parents, “Cynthia” (Amy Adams) and “Larry” (Danny Pino), who explain that Connor committed suicide, believing that Evan and he must have been the best of friends. 


Backed into a corner and not wanting to further distress the grieving parents, Evan goes along with it, fabricating an entire friendship that never existed. Soon though, the lie starts to grow, with Evan’s fellow classmate/activist, “Alana” (Amandla Stenberg), who creates a student group to honor Connor’s memory and further inspire those suffering from their own mental illnesses, with Evan essentially becoming part of the Murphy family, while also becoming more close to Zoe. Of course, the lies are going to pile up, get bigger and bigger, all until the truth will need to come out. By this point though, some of these things are going to be a little difficult to walk back. 


 Directed by Stephen  Chbosky (“The Perks of Being a Wallflower”, “Wonder”), with a screenplay by Steven Levenson (Who wrote the book to the musical), “Dear Evan Hansen”, is the kind of story that needs to be told right, risking the possibility of offending or alienating. Like I said before, the film to me does good work with the heavy subject matter, and there are plenty of aspects of the film that really work. It’s that what doesn't work, ends up bringing much of the film down. While the musical score shines, the actual dialogue and story aren’t without its cloying moments, going for overly sentimental when it should be played more naturally. The charm is there at times (Like some light moments of humor, or when the film decides to be more subtle about its emotions), though it tends to get lost in the melodrama. The film also has a feeling that something was lost in the adaptation, with most of the musical numbers being downplayed by the uninspired direction. Most of the songs, while well sung, consist of people sitting down, in bland rooms, and constant reaction shots (Generally of people smiling. A lot) in an attempt to liven things up. I know this isn’t the kind of musical like say “In The Heights”, where everything is more ecstatic and choreographed, but then maybe it was best left on the stage instead of as a feature film to be seen in theaters.


Ben Platt’s role in the film is the kind of distraction that can make or break the film for some, and yeah, it’s a little more awkward than it should be. Having portrayed the character in the original musical, he doesn’t exactly look like a teenager anymore. The make-up applied to him doesn’t always mesh (Sometimes looking like Play-Doh), and during a couple emotional moments, he appears to be melting. (Honestly, I thought he was supposed to be sickly when I first saw the trailer, not knowing that it was just the feeble attempts at hiding his age). He still gives a fine enough performance and obviously has one Hell of a voice, being able to belt out a few of the numbers in spectacular fashion. (To give a little leeway though, nobody in the movie quite looks the age they’re supposed to be) We get some excellent work out of Kaitlyn Dever (Who is proving to be a really talented actress, with more range than people give her credit for), Amandla Stenberg, Nik Dodani (Who gets several funny sarcastic quips) and an especially wonderful Julianne Moore. Amy Adams and Danny Pino, who have one of the harder jobs in the film and though I'm not sure the screenplay does it quite enough justice (Adams character at times comes off as a little crazy in a couple scenes), there is a reason to some of their actions. They also get one of the more effectively warmhearted moments in the film. 


"Dear Evan Hansen" has a good soundtrack, with the songs clearly resonating, though the direction and screenplay are more lackluster. It struggles with its own tone at times, retains a TV movie-like aesthetic, and can't a few too many cumbersome moments, which more or less would be the fault of the source material itself. The film isn't without heart, and I appreciate that the film never quite sugarcoats things (Such as how people react to those who've died, ranging from only wanting to remember the good or just remember the bad). I can also see fans of the original stage show feeling it was exactly how it should have been. To bash it relentlessly is a bit too far, though with everything being available through streaming services or on demand, it really has no business being in a theater. Good intentions and all. 2 Stars. Rated PG-13 For Adult Subject Matter, Fraudulent Backstories, And Teenage Adults. (Or Is It Adult Teenagers?)

Cry Macho                                              by James Eagan                               ★ ½ out of ★★★★

Image: Clint even cries more macho than me.


I have an immense amount of respect for Clint Eastwood. The dude is over ninety years old, and while he certainly looks aged, he's spry as Hell, always working, and still at times can pop out a good film or two. (We don't talk about "The 15:17 to Paris". Nobody does) For what it's worth, I had some high hopes for this movie. Yeah, problematic stuff aside, I consider myself a lenient guy with a soft spot for this kind of simple, humanized filmmaking. Depressingly though, once it ended, I was left questioning if I actually liked it. Then I thought about it some more. Now I really don't like it. 


Released in theaters and through HBO Max, "Cry Macho" follows a retired, completely worn and wither Texas rodeo cowboy, "Mike Milo" (Clint Eastwood), who loses his job and now doesn't do much of anything these days. He's approached by his old boss, "Howard Polk" (Dwight Yoakam), who needs someone to cross the Mexican border to find his estranged son, "Rafael" (Eduardo Minett), or "Rafo" for short. Rafo has been living with his rather unhinged mother, "Leta" (Fernanda Urrejola), and she has no intention of letting him go, despite the fact that she doesn't really even like her son too much. Rafo is always getting into trouble, carrying about his rooster, named "Macho", to participate in cock fights. So Mike is told to leave and return across the border, only to find out Rafo, along with Macho, have stowed away in his car. While avoiding people that Leta has sent after them, Mike and Rafo must make their way across the border, while discovering that their seemingly simple journey is about to take a lot longer than expected. At least it kind of feels that way to me. 


Directed by Clint Eastwood, and based on the book of the same name by the late N. Richard Nash (Retaining a long delayed screenplay credit with Nick Schenk), "Cry Macho" is disappointing not just due to the wanting for Clint Eastwood's success (Personal issues some might have aside, I never like to see legends fail), but also because there is potential for something poignant that could have been done here. The film is slow, like a frail old man, meandering around, searching for a point and only at times ringing true. Sadly for the most part, it's more of a depressingly unfinished and worst of all, completely unfocused. Eastwood's eye for beautiful cinematography is given its due, but the film's pacing takes its sweet time moving forward. The screenplay lacks enough character to make the deliberate pace necessary, and the film's apparent message of ignoring in your face masculinity and machismo (And how more sensitivity and humanity is what really wins people over), doesn't actually go anywhere. Maybe that in the end wasn't the point, yet the film doesn't do a good enough job establishing anything else. Some of that fault also lies with the film's editing, which includes quite a few moments that could have been cut out (Such as an unnecessary prologue and awkward flash forward in the film's opening), or at least would have served better happening in the same scene instead of being drawn out. It's unevenly made, which makes for an offputting tone (That has some kind of comedy and some kind of drama, mixed with something that's just existing), and a culmination that never comes.  


Clint Eastwood, who appears to have accepted his age and wisely has been utulizing that into his more recent films, still has plenty of star power. He's charismatic enough to carry the film, even with the weak dialogue. I give credit to Eduardo Minett, although he's not exactly experienced enough, for still being able to hold his own with Eastwood. Minett still could use a little more work, but isn't without talent. Dwight Yoakam mostly just remains in the same room, not getting much to do. He's good in the film for what little an onscreen role he's given. Fernanda Urrejola and Horacio Garcia Rojas (as "Aurellio", Leta's henchman) are caricature-like villains, who a degree, could have had much of their scenes left out. (I guess it's to add more urgency, though they're so pathetic that they never resonate) Natalie Traven (as "Marta", a widow that Mike and Rafo meet while trying to hide out, becoming Mike's love interest), is a warm presence, though her romantic subplot with Eastwood isn't particularly earned, and everything involving that plotline stops the film in place for a good chunk of the second half. I suppose the most memorable character would be Macho, who is one badass rooster. (Thanos wouldn't have stood a chance. Just saying) On a side note, I only just now read up that at one point, the main star would have been Arnold Schwarzenegger (His involvement being one of the many reasons the novel took so long to get adapted), and I think that would have made more sense. In a way, it might have possibly brought more pathos to the story's themes. 


It's the kind of film that doesn't make one mad, but rather just makes you upset that it doesn't work. It kind of makes you wanna cry actually. I really wanted to like "Cry Macho", and despite some sprinkles of charm every once in a while, the film looks lost and unsure about what exactly it wants to be. It becomes especially frustrating once the film limps towards a mostly nonexistent climax and ends without much resolution. I honestly surprised that the film was even over, turning away for such a moment and turning back to the screen to see credits already rolling. Those worried that the film might have its own more social or political agenda really have themselves bent out of shape over nothing. If it's there, I couldn't see it, and the film isn't good enough to worry about anyway. I'm a bit shocked at how little I found myself caring, and even after thinking about it some more, it's hard to truly grasp what went wrong. A lack of story, personality, or you know, an actual point? I'm not sure. It could just be a bad movie, and I'm struggling to find reasons as to why it isn't. 1 1/2 Stars. Rated PG-13 Adult Content And Macho Cocks. 

The Eyes of Tammy Faye                                                                                              by James Eagan                                                              ★★★ out of ★★★★

Image: Is it strange that now I have even more of a crush on Jessica Chastain?


One thing that I've learned about faith and religion as I've gotten older, is that people both salvage and ruin it. The ideals and messages of any religion can be interpreted in a variety of ways, for better or for worse. It can create some of the best kind of people, with the biggest hearts. Then there are others who use it to hate or instead profit from, which is the biggest thing that turns everyone off of it. Regardless of my person thoughts on whatever form of faith you take, if it contributes to making you into a good person, that's great. I would never blame one though because of how someone acts, especially since it's all about how they see it. Now the weirdos? Those just make for the best stories. 


Based on true events (And mostly inspired by the 2000 documentary of the same name by Fenton Bailey and Randy Barbato), "The Eyes of Tammy Faye" follows the life of "Tammy Faye Bakker" (Jessica Chastain), a somewhat weird (Well, more than somewhat), but overall kind hearted evangelist and singer, as we see her marriage to the charismatic (And rather flamboyant....Just saying) "Jim Bakker" (Andrew Garfield). Despite Tammy's strict mother, "Rachel" (Cherry Jones), not exactly seeing eye to eye with her future plans, Tammy and Jim become famous televangelists, creating their own television network, known as "PTL" (Praise The Lord), which allows Jim to preach, Tammy to sing, among other Christian based charity work, which required lots of donations. So yeah, something is definitely up here, despite the possibly best of intentions. Tammy and Jim's relationship is thrown into turmoil, with rumors of fraud, loads of debt, some adultery, and even some ire from other political Christian groups, threatening to tear their entire empire down.


Directed by Michael Showalter ("The Lovebirds", "The Big Sick"), with a screenplay by Abe Sylvia, "The Eyes of Tammy Faye", is a cleverly made, though somewhat off in terms of execution, but still very thoughtful biopic, that remembers where the focus of the story should be regardless of what sadly doesn't get quite enough attention to resonate. The film at first plays out, much like the main focus of the real life story, as preppy, quirky, and colorfully offbeat, with an overly wide eyed sense of optimism and sugary sweetness. It's an inspired creative choice, especially once we reach the second act, where the hard realism oozes its way in, completely derailing what at first looked like the rise to stardom, before plummeting to the very bottom. The film's happy tone crashed rather violently, and takes a hammer to the blindly naive sense of faith. It makes the lead focus sympathetic and you could say, easy to at least forgive, despite the clear flaws. A lot of things really hinge on the lead performance, and if you can get that right, it will be the glue that holds everything together in spite of a few important missing pieces. 


Jessica Chastain, who even here just remains my number one celebrity crush (What? I'd like to think that I'd make it work with a Tammy Faye type! Love conquers all right?), is the kind of spectacular that instantly guarantees an early Oscar hopeful. It's for good reason too. She doesn't underplay it, and for a character like this, you need to go all out, even if you have to steal the limelight in the process. From encompassing the real life inspiration's mannerisms, wide eyed demeanor, and regardless of problematic choices, overall sense of kindness, Chastain refrains from falling into caricature, even for a character that almost could border on it if not for the fact that's apparently what Tammy Faye Bakker was. Andrew Garfield, and those puffy cheeks, is also rather well cast, adding some humanity to someone that quite frankly to me, was a total piece of sh*t (And a godawful husband too! Some of the stuff he does in the movie just really pissed me off). Cherry Jones also brings a softer side to a character that at first appears harsh (Although she was probably the most logical person in the entire movie). Vincent D'Onofrio (as "Jerry Falwell", the renowned and rather repulsive pastor), chews some scenery, though only gets a handful of scenes. 


"The Eyes of Tammy Faye" falters when it comes to a few details (So, did their kids just exist purely offscreen? They're there for small bits, but vanish into thin air) and feels like it's somewhat lacking when compared to other far superior Oscar hopefuls (I wouldn't be surprised if this finds itself a Best Picture nomination, somehow beating out other better films). For all it's faults, it remains an occasionally funny, morally thought provoking, and still very touching look into the life of sympathetic person, though possibly out of slight manipulation. The film boasts some good make-up (Though it takes a lot of work to make Jessica Chastain not look world shatteringly beautiful), a suitably eccentric style, and Chastain's winning performance, elevating what's mostly just solid enough, to something more worthy. 3 Stars. Rated PG-13 For Adult Content, Lots Of Accents, And Eye Popping Mascara. 

Copshop                                            by James Eagan                                ★★ ½ out of ★★★★

Image: All right, I'll give you a good review!


I've been doing this for over eleven years now, and by this point, it's hard to truly surprise me with much. It rarely ruins the filmgoing experience, and sometimes a good twist can get me. What I mean though is that it's rare for a film to completely come out of the blue, with little warning or fanfare, and catch me off guard from start to finish.  


"Copshop" opens with a fleeing, man-bun wearing con artist, "Teddy Murretto" (Frank Grillo), punching a rookie cop, "Valerie Young" (Alexis Louder), before getting tossed in a small town Nevada police station lock-up. During that same night, a random drunk driver (Gerard Butler) is also tossed into the same lock-up, revealed to be a skilled hitman named "Bob Viddick". It turns out Teddy has pissed off the wrong people and Viddick is the guy whose been sent to take him out. Valerie starts to become suspicious, Viddick is waiting for the right moment to get his hands around Teddy's throat, another cop, "Huber" (Ryan O'Nan) appears to be hiding something from his fellow officers, and before long, the night gets a lot of chaotic. The precinct is assaulted by a bizarrely deranged assassin, "Anthony Lamb" (Toby Huss), resulting in a wounded Valerie being stuck in lock-up with Viddick and Teddy, forced to seal the entrance shut. Valerie now has to make some deals with some devils if she's going to survive this deadly situation.  


Directed (and Co-written) by Joe Carnahan ("Smokin' Aces", "the A-Team", "The Grey") with producing credits from Gerard Butler and Frank Grillo, "Copshop" pays homage to 70s style close quarter action films, with a darkly comedic edge, unrelenting levels of blood and violence, and characters that can be just repulsive to be around. It's not exactly insightful, too deep, or something that I can logically recommend to everyone. It's the kind of psychotic, self-aware, and refreshingly original breath of blood soaked fresh air that I have found myself thoroughly fascinated by the more I expand what kind of films that I see. It's a gorgeously shot film, with a grainy, saturated color palette that pops off the screen and is thoroughly appealing to look out, despite how rather filthy everything looks. It's certainly not glamorous, and that fits the tone perfectly. Carnahan does a bang-up job building tension, keeping you guessing constantly about what's going to happen next, and what exactly is it going to be that sets everything ablaze.When the action does happen, it can be a little haunting at times, with the bloody violence almost blinding you with just how red it is. (Not to mention, dirt as well) It's carefully crafted, without being exploitative (Okay, maybe a little bit, but I think that's what they're going for in a homage sort of way). The rather sadistic screenplay doesn't hold back, filled with eccentric, though still captivating characters, each with their own secrets and motivations that aren't always fully clear. 


 It's more or less a character driven film. Alexis Louder, being essentially the main character, is a realistically vulnerable, charismatic, and suitably deadpan action heroine. Her character's lack of experience shows (Whether it be in a gunfight, or having to deal with the manipulations of those she's forced to ally with), but her own natural abilities also shine through, especially as the film progresses. She's a breakout, and holds her own with the veterans. Frank Grillo, and his wild hairdo, is relishing his weasily role, though giving him just enough slight moments of humanity to where you are questioning if he can be trusted in some capacity. Gerard Butler gives his best performance, clearly showing a lot of great enjoyment playing the ultimate smartass, who at least knows exactly what he is and doesn't appear to be too ashamed about it. Toby Huss meanwhile appears to be having a little too much fun here, and doesn't remotely reel himself in (It sure as Hell makes for quite a few hilariously twisted sequences of out of control villainy). 


"Copshop" is the definition of sleazy, madcap, always grinning ear to ear fun. Never taking itself too seriously, whether it comes to the intentionally in your face tough guy (Or tough girl) dialogue, and a sincere appreciation for something a little more old school, if not somewhat forgotten. It makes the kind of colorfully charismatic chaos that's missing from the modern action flick. When the filmmakers are having a riotous time, with characters completely having a ball, you end up caught up in the bewildering bombast, that your inner sicko won't be able to help himself and break free. 3 1/2 Stars. Rated R For Very Strong And Very Red Violence, Lots Of Language, Clear Mental Issues, And Bloody Balloon-O-Grams.   

Malignant                                             by James Eagan                                  ★★★ out of ★★★★

Image: No wonder she can't sleep. She just watched this film.


You know, I don't think pizza was the best thing to eat during this movie. I mean, it's certainly not a doctor recommended breakfast choice, but how was I supposed to know that just as I started chowing down, I was going to be introduced to some of the best body horror I've ever seen on film? It didn't help that it looked kind of like the pizza too. Still kept eating though. 


"Malignant" follows a traumatized woman, "Madison "Maddie" Mitchell" (Annabelle Wallis), trapped in an abusive relationship with her husband, "Derek" (Jake Abel), and also just so happens to be pregnant (Though has suffered a couple of tragic miscarriages). After Derek hits her again, Maddie locks herself in her bedroom one night, and during that time, Derek is suddenly gruesomely murdered by some kind of black clad, bone twisting entity, who also attacks Maddie, resulting in the loss of her baby. Some time later, Maddie, with some support from her sister, "Sydney" (Maddie Hasson), attempts to move on. However, Maddie starts to be plagued by nightmares, witnessing that same being from before, brutally murdering more people, with each death more violent than the last. Believing herself to have some kind of twisted psychic connection to this bloodthirsty killer, this leads to the involvement of detectives, "Kekoa Shaw" (George Young) and "Regina Moss" (Michole Briana White), who investigate the killings further. Maddie soon discovers that her connection to the killer, or "Gabriel" (Voiced by Ray Chase) as he's referred to as, is much deeper, going all the way back to when she was a child (An imaginary friend brought to life perhaps?). Gabriel has some demented plans of his own, leaving Maddie trapped in one Hell of a nightmare that doesn't seem to have an end. 


Directed by James Wan ("Saw", "The Conjuring", "Aquaman"), with a screenplay by Akela Cooper ("Hellfest"), "Malignant" is a film that regardless of how you feel about its various twists and turns, seemingly intentionally campy tone, and vile sense of blood lust, it's certainly one of the more original and unique films to be marketed as a mainstream horror movie. For better or for worse. I'd actually consider it more of a action thriller in places, that just so happens to have some very macabre elements. It's a wildly unpredictable, and at times, just plain messed up, thrill ride, that at times feels a bit more off than probably intended. Wan is a talented director, and his way of building up tension, framing grisly violence, and creating an unrelenting state of dread, is as usual a sight to behold (Not to mention, his ability to go back and forth from superhero action epics and small scale scary stories, shows a lot of range). He also does create a few elaborate set pieces, that are entirely his own. The film does feel a bit uneven though when it comes to the execution of its story, which is very serious and quite depressing, but still features occasionally out of place creative choices and the way some early reveals are explained, don't quite mesh. There's a major character twist early on that gets dropped on the audience without much build up and is just sort of accepted without question, or a mini-subplot where Maddie herself is suspected of being the killer, though by that point, it becomes obvious that there is most likely something less explainable at work. (I know that supernatural things can be hard for some to buy, but at some point logic goes out the window) I'm not always sure that it has anything to do with the direction or even the screenplay, though rather just something either cut out in editing or just in need of a little more polish. These kind of things are a little on the distracting side, though thankfully aren't enough to ruin what is actually a suspenseful, fairly heart racing tale, which also offers quite a few unexpected surprises and incredible imagery. 


Annabelle Wallis, who has been someone that I wasn't exactly sure ever showed much range, is more than excellent here, really selling the heart wrenching dramatic turmoil that her character is going through, even during what could easily go down a silly route. In a way, when things get more out there, she really sells it. There are also some good supporting parts for Maddie Hasson (Serving as the film's soul), and Susanna Thompson (as "Jeanne", Maddie and Sydney's mother), while the little moments of levity are provided by George Young and Michole Briana White. Also a quick shout out to Mckenna Grace (Who plays young Maddie in a couple integral scenes), who wonderfully delivers one of the film's most shocking moments in a truly terrifying fashion. Then there's our monstrous villain, Gabriel, making for a menacing villain, with a mesmerizing design, and a deranged personality that's just as fun to watch as it is unsettling. I dare not spoil anything else about this character, and where his completely out there story goes. 


"Malignant" doesn't always work, isn't traditionally frightening, and goes places that might leave some audiences perplexed, but the film makes up for the lack of scares with plenty of unrelenting, at times cruel sense of macabre fun. This is especially prevalent once we reach the absolutely nuts final act, where the entire film is busted wide open (Kind of talking about that in a literal sense), revealing just exactly whats going on and doing so in one of the most shocking ways I've seen in a while. The film can seem a little messy in parts, and yet, it all comes together, resulting in some grotesque images, a couple unhinged killing sprees (A sequence involving a police precinct is especially memorable, even with the lackluster CGI), and even adds some extra depth that you don't fully think about the first time. This movie is James Wan embracing his more nihilistic roots, going for some unapologetically crazy, gory thrills. It may be too unique for its own good. However, it's also got the makings of a future cult favorite, with a twist that I'm never gonna forget about. 3 Stars. Rated R For Disturbing Images, Gore Galore, And Head Cracking Craziness. 

Cinderella                                           by James Eagan                                        ★ ½ out of ★★★★

Image: Looks like she's having a ball.


I have questions. Who exactly was this made for? Who wanted this in the first place? Who had yet another, supposedly more modernized "Cinderella" adaptation, on their must see of 2021? This movie might possibly know who its audience is, but I sure as Hell don't. Maybe I'm just old. I am almost 30 after all.....And I've seen a lot of versions of "Cinderella".


Released through "Amazon Prime", this new "Cinderella", as usual, follows "Ella" (Camila Cabello), who lives with her wicked (But not really), stepmother, "Vivian" (Idina Menzel), and wicked (But again, not really), stepsisters, "Malvolia" (Maddie Baillio) and "Narissa" (Charlotte Spencer). Ella, given the nickname "Cinderella", is generally forced to work and isn't exactly treated as an equal among her stepfamily, though they never actually do anything to her this time around aside from being catty. Really catty. Ella doesn't have a friend in the world, with the exception of her mice buddies/CGI abominations (Voiced by James Acaster, Romesh Ranganathan, and James Corden). While Ella dreams of changing the system and designing her own dresses for a shop she hopes to run, the prince, "Robert" (Nicholas Galitzine), is being forced by his parents, "King Rowan" (Pierce Brosnan) and "Queen Beatrice" (Minnie Driver), to seek out a future queen, though Robert's early feminist sister, "Gwen" (Tallulah Greive), seems to have more interest and competence when it comes to one day ruling the kingdom. Robert is immediately smitten to Ella, convincing his father to arrange for a ball, open to all kinds of royalty and commoners, so that he can meet Ella there. Ella is denied a chance to go to the ball, but her wishes are granted by the arrival of the magical "Fabulous Godmother" (Billy Porter), who gifts Ella with a dress, a carriage, her mice friends turned into their respective voice actors, and some glass slippers. Ella has only until midnight to enjoy the ball before the magic wears off and.....What am I doing? You know this story already! It's just "Cinderella"! Except it's a jukebox musical! Cinema! 


Written and directed by Kay Cannon ("Blockers"), "Cinderella" is a movie that only has an idea. It's an idea with the best of intentions to flip the script, add in some more diversity, and convert a classic story for the ever changing times. It's just a shame that it not only falls flat, but it does so in a tragically ill-conceived and annoyingly bland fashion. The film never finds a way to justify itself, with an uninspired screenplay, with jokes that never land, and song choices that range from unnecessary to just plain lazy. Songs like "Rhythm Nation", "Somebody to Love", and "Whatta Man", just don't work and waste solid set and costume design. The better renditions would be "Shining Star" (Sung by Billy Porter, along with Camila Cabello), and "Material Girl" (Done by Idina Menzel. Probably the best number in the movie by default), but most of the others don't leave much of an impression. When the songs don't liven up the musical, it makes the overstretched nearly two hour runtime see padded out, with a few noticeable moments of drawn out silence and scenes that are meant to be funny, yet go nowhere. There is a lot of that actually. It's like it's trying to be quirky, stumbling on itself intentionally on a few occasions. It kind of feels like a sitcom, without the laugh track, pausing to get a reaction that never comes. However, I think I only chuckled once or twice, and even then, it was just barely. You just sit there, waiting for the movie to just get to the point before you consider cancelling that Amazon Prime subscription out of spite. (I mean, you'd never dare. You need that subscription, but you'd at least think about it)


It's too bad since the actors are all trying their best regardless. Camila Cabello isn't much of an actress and it shows to a degree, but she has some onscreen presence. The same goes for Nicholas Galitzine, with neither of them given a screenplay with much to offer. The film makes a change for our love interests to have scenes together unlike previous adaptations, and yet, there is even less romance between them. You somehow care less. Billy Porter isn't in the movie near enough, while Idina Menzel isn't a bad choice to play the evil stepmother, she's not particularly villainous. She's tone down to the point she comes across as a slightly jerkish stepmother. Nothing wicked about her. Minnie Driver and Pierce Brosnan are also trapped with the mediocre writing, but I just can't ever find myself getting mad at them. I love seeing them, and they deserve so much better. The same goes for the charming Tallulah Greive, who just gets to pop up for a couple punchlines. Also, the less said about the horrifically ugly mice, the better. I know this movie didn't cost much, but that doesn't excuse how grotesquely ugly the almost unfinished CGI is here. (James Corden's big head appearing on a tiny mouse body. Not as nightmarish as his role in "Cats".....But that bar is as low as you can go)


Unfunny, unimaginative, and lacking in any kind of magic, "Cinderella" wants to reinvent the old tale, but feels dated already and unnecessary. We've already seen this before, and we've seen it done better. (We got both of Disney's animated and live-action versions. We honestly already peaked right there) Nothing worth revisiting, especially when it's much worse now. I didn't want it. You didn't want it. Nobody wanted it. Sadly, I don't think Amazon will let you return it afterwards. 1 1/2 Stars. Rated PG For Very Slight Adult Content, And Lots Of Awkward Silence. 

Shang-Chi and the Legend of the Ten Rings                                                            by James Eagan                                                             ★★★★ out of ★★★★

Image: This man is a Marvel.


We are continuing to enter this fourth phase of the "Marvel Cinematic Universe" (For those of you who on the off chance don't know, they're the series of films and shows based on the characters and stories from "Marvel Comics". It's been going on for over thirteen years, with some of the most successful films of all time, but I feel that some still don't know). We've had iron men, captains of America, Hulks that are pretty incredible, along with an ant man and a spider man. So many new worlds and characters upon characters, and we're still asking the questions, where else can they possible go? What new hero is going to play a part in this brand new era? 


"Shang-Chi and the Legend of the Ten Rings" follows a valet in San Francisco named "Shaun" (Simu Liu), who leads a mostly uneventful life with his longtime best friend, "Katy Chen" (Awkwafina), with neither having an intention of doing anything of significance. Then suddenly one day, Shaun and Katy are attacked on a bus by a one armed, steel blade wearing assassin, "Razor Fist" (Florian Munteanu). Shaun reveals to Katy that his real name is "Shang-Chi", and he is the son of a thousand year old conqueror "Wenwu" (Tony Leung), known to some as the "Mandarin" (The real one this time). Wenwu, armed with ten magical rings of immense power, is the leader of an international terrorist group called "The Ten Rings", and Shang-Chi has spent his life attempting to break free from his father's cycle of violence after the tragic death of his mother, "Ying Li" (Fala Chen). 


To escape the Ten Rings, Shang-Chi and Katy, search for his missing sister, "Xialing" (Meng'er Zhang), who also isn't particularly happy with Shang-Chi's purposeful disappearance and is now running her own underground fight club. Wenwu's forces though, are persistent and eventually Shang-Chi is brought face to face with his father. Wenwu is still is despair after the death of his wife, having made misguided plans to find a path to an ancient, mystical village known as "Ta Lo", home to all kinds of creatures and unknown power. Wenwu's actions could result in the release of an evil force of mindless destruction, which threatens the entire world. Now it's up to Shang-Chi to confront his past, to defend the hidden village's secrets, and in time, possibly become one of Earth's newest mightiest heroes. 


Directed by Destin Daniel Cretton ("Just Mercy", "The Glass House"), who also wrote the screenplay along with David Callaham ("Wonder Woman 1984", "Mortal Kombat") and Andrew Lanham (A frequent collaborator with Cretton), "Shang-Chi and the Legend of the Ten Rings" is the first straight forward origin story we've gotten in some time from the MCU (Even more than "Captain Marvel", which had already found itself rooted in the rest of the film universe). This film is almost a complete blank slate, serving as a starting point of sorts for newcomers, though with plenty of already established aspects already integrated for longtime fans. All of this shows that the franchise has the continued potential of staying power, but can stand on its own just as something truly special. The film takes a little time before connecting into the larger MCU, instead deciding to direct most of its focus on where it should be. It's a classic heroic origin story, with that usual superhero flair, that takes a more grounded look at it. Even when things get more fantastical, it always feels as if we're seeing this through new, more relatable eyes. 


One complaint, no matter how much I do love these films, I can see how some critics could ponder how much of these films are truly the work of the directors or just calculated studio decisions. This is clearly Destin Daniel Cretton's film, and it makes for one of the Marvel Cinematic Universe's best looking films. The action is fast paced, well choreographed, and astonishingly elaborate. Whether its close quarters between fighters, or filled with beautifully rendered CGI monsters, they aren't just up to par with what we expect for the long running franchise, they've actually surpassed what they've already done and set a completely new standard. Plus, everything is clear to the eye, so you can appreciate how much hard work actually went into all of this (Even the most basic action films struggle with that). Underneath all of the superheroics is a deeper story, with complex characters that look and react like, well, people, even though pretty much most of these characters are still remembering the fact that half the universe was wiped out and just recently brought back. Something I love about the film is how it establishes itself within the larger grand scheme of things. It's no longer the same world we're used to. There are superpowered beings and mutated creatures everywhere, and that's apparently normal now. It lends itself to a lot of humor for sure, and a lot of creativity, especially with the film's later developments. It's the first time that we've really gotten into the new status quo.


The film really gets down and personal with its characters, which shows positive representation of Asian culture without feeling as if it's being exploited. Similar with "Black Panther", the film doesn't need to tone anything down or pander to American audiences. (It's especially noticeable early on, when the film's opening backstory is completely subtitled. No need to have people talk in English when it wouldn't be logical for them to do so). At the heart and soul of the film is both our main hero and main villain. Simu Liu has the chops and obvious skill to pull off a realistic action hero, with plenty of charisma and loads of chemistry with Awkwafina, who also serves as great comic relief as well as someone who has much more to contribute than they normally would. Tony Leung is more than just the main antagonist, because he too serves as emotional center of the film. He's subtle, at times charming as Hell, undeniably sympathetic, but always retaining this certain sense of menace, showing that this may be a villain, he's very much a human one. The relationship between Liu and Leung puts an even more complicated spin on the battle between our hero and the big bad, and it never makes it remotely simple. You actually find yourself actually liking the both of them. Meng'er Zheng gets a breakout performance, getting her own little side origin that I'm hoping will get more development in future films. Fala Chen, mostly appearing in flashbacks, is quite wonderful, serving as a graceful presence, while Michelle Yeoh (as "Ying Nan", a protector of Ta Lo), gets to class things up, while she's kicking all kinds of ass. There are also some surprise appearances from the larger MCU, such as the always great Benedict Wong (as "Wong", partner to "Doctor Strange", who is participating in Xialing's fight club), and a certain high profile actor, returning from a previous film to once again steal the show. (How the film ties into one of the more controversial entries in the Marvel Cinematic Universe is quite clever and hilarious, which should appease both those who didn't mind and those who did) Also, you will remember "Morris". I won't tell you who or what that is, but you'll fall in love instantly. 


When we reach the final act, "Shang-Chi and the Legend of the Ten Rings" becomes one Hell of a surreal, visually incredible extravaganza, that may turn off some viewers, though by this point, a grand final CGI heavy battle is basically the norm. Luckily for me, the effects are excellent, the artistry behind the action is mesmerizing, and there's a freakin dragon! I'm sorry, but there is a small list of things that will always win me over, and that's one of them. It's a tale that opens small, then builds to an epic finale, that thankfully, never forgets the heart and humor that's meant to help elevate past the more generic blockbusters. Everything from Destin Daniel Cretton's expert direction, flawless performances, a score (And soundtrack) worth repeat listenings, unforgettable imagery, and characters that you'll find yourself equally invested in and in love with. The film takes what should be basic, and makes it feel brand new again. It shows that the now old school formula still has soul, similar to 2008's "Iron Man", and doesn't show any signs of wearing thin. Also, Dragons! One of Marvel's best for sure, but also, one of their most accessible. It's as if while this universe has been going on for some time, there's still so much more that we're yet to experience. 4 Stars. Rated PG-13 For Martial Arts Style Violence, Family Problems, Soul Sucking, And Faceless, Winged Piggies. 

Candyman                                       by James Eagan                                  ★★★★ out of ★★★★

Image: So, he doesn't take a sunrise, and sprinkle it with dew?


Can we give Producer and Co-Writer Jordan Peele ("Get Out", "Us"), an honorary award for saving this franchise before it makes one of horror cinema's most horrifying sins. Despite the success of the 1992 low budget (To some, considered a classic), "Candyman", the series of course had a series of forgotten sequels, with the threat of a crossover with the "Leprechaun" series at some point (The idea that it almost became a reality is scarier than anything in this movie), and what was once meant to mean something at one point, would just become the kind of schlock that snobs like me would use to generalize other horror movies. Eventually, all of those ideas were cancelled and resulted in a newer, shinier, and more relevant straight up sequel (Though also reboot. It's all the rage nowadays) to the first film.   


"Candyman" follows a frustrated artist, "Anthony" (Yahya Abdul-Mateen II), is living with his art director girlfriend, "Brianna" (Teyonah Parris), in a nice looking condo within Cabrini, which now bears no resemblance to the Cabrini Green neighborhood from the first film due to excessive gentrification. Anthony hasn't been able to create a new piece to display at Brianna's upcoming gallery, so he ventures into the remnants of the old, forgotten neighborhood, to study some of the old urban legends to serve as a subject. One of those legends revolves around "Helen Lyle" (Previously played by Viriginia Madsen in the first movie), who seemingly went mad one day while doing something similar, nearly killed a baby after committing a few other grisly murders, eventually being set on fire by the citizens of the neighborhood (However, those who saw the original know there is more to that little story). 


Anthony's investigation leads him to a local, rather eccentric resident, "William Burke" (Colman Domingo), who explains how this connects to the legend of the "Candyman" (Previously played by Tony Todd in the first film), a man in a coat with a hook for a hand, surrounded by bees, that only appears when you say his name in a mirror five times. This then results in the Candyman proceeding to brutally murder you after. Anthony becomes enamored with the tale, expressing his fascination through his art, which in the end, has resurrected the legend once more. Soon, people begin to meet gruesome fates, while Anthony himself beginning to lose his mind, as he sees the Candyman everywhere he goes. As bodies begin to pile up and Anthony continues to lose control of his mental state, the dark history behind the Candyman starts to come to light, along with Anthony's own personal connection to it, leading to a horrifying, yet inevitable future that's about to unfold.  


Directed and co-written by Nia DaCosta ("Little Woods", along with the upcoming "Marvel Cinematic Universe" film, "The Marvels"), with a screenplay she also wrote with Jordan Peele and Win Rosenfeld ("The Twilight Zone", "BlacKkKlansman"), "Candyman" takes the best aspects that worked from the previous film and either expands further on them, or even just deconstructs them further to the point your perspective on the original gets kind of thrown out the window. It's a sequel for sure, but like "Blade Runner 2049", it definitely feels like something that stands on its own, even with the references to the first movie. The original felt like a movie with a social message of appropriation and how society will seek to intentionally overlook poorer communities in favor of self gain. It also just so happened to have Tony Todd appearing in mirrors to mercilessly gore people to death with a hook. This movie on the other hand has a lot more to say and its going to make sure you get that point even if it has to brutally jab it into your skull. Honestly, the word "Brutal" would be the best way to describe the film. Nia DaCosta's direction, despite being set in as real a world as you can make, has the feeling of a scary story that's being told to you, with some brilliant sequences of backstory and lore being explained via shadow puppets. 


This isn't exactly the kind of horror that makes you jump out of your seat (In fact, there aren't really any jump scares at all), it's a calmer, slower paced kind of uneasiness that makes your skin crawl and makes you feel a sort of emotional pain. Speaking of pain, the kills and body horror in this movie is remarkably done. Nobody dies peacefully, with the scenes being framed around mirrors, where we only see things from a certain angle, and an invisible force ripping someone to shreds (Though the entity responsible still appears in the mirrors performing the kill). There's also a running theme involving a grotesque bee sting that proceeds to basically rot Anthony's entire arm, and it only gets worse the longer the film goes. Its a fantastic make-up job where this goes, and pays homage to older horror films that didn't hold back in the gross out imagery. How the film integrates bigger themes, referencing what came before, and also creating somewhat of a grander history behind it, is all ingeniously done. The screenplay doesn't hold back in not just talking about the current racial divide, it goes further back, detailing how long this kind of thing dates back and how it's only just taken a different form over time. Contrary to belief, racism just doesn't go away, and it takes all kinds of shapes and forms. As dark and as frightening as things get, there are great moments of macabre humor to balance this out. What's refreshing about this is that the characters react just how you would expect them to. People are smart about the situations that they're in and even the dumber characters, destined to die badly, are portrayed as such. There are quite a few big laughs here, and they are intelligently injected into the overall tone. A twisted film needs a twisted sense of humor after all.  


Yahya Abdul-Mateen II, who has started to show a lot of promise considering his variety of performances (From "Aquaman" to "The Trial of the Chicago 7"), is exemplary, going from charismatic and halfway likable, to flawed and a little pretentious, and eventually, completely mad and all kinds of unhinged, in a natural feeling way. Teyonah Parris is equally terrific, while Colman Domingo may be too great of an actor for our minds to handle (That man can literally play anything, and you'll be compelled every minute he's on screen). Nathan Stewart-Jarrett (as "Troy", Brianna's very open and expressive brother), has some well timed humor, and even he too, feels like an actual person with legit reactions to what's going on around him. Vanessa Williams (as "Anne-Marie McCoy", from the first film), makes a brief, but greatly important appearance, while other aspects from the first film are worked into this one in an unpredictable, though incredibly clever fashion. One thing that's going to be rather controversial, though I found it to be very bold, is how the film kind of switches around the races in how they are generally expected to act. (Especially considering horror was known for offing the minorities quickly and without mercy) Lets just say the dumbass white people body count is going to piss off the easily pissed off and whiny, and I love this movie for just going for it. Considering all of the black people that horror films have killed over the past few decades, I think it's only fair. 


With memorable characters, hypnotizing direction, socially significant and important, along with a level of savagery that horror films today are too afraid to go for, "Candyman" is not just superior to the original, it's also miles ahead of its own genre. You want to go back and see what else you could have possibly missed, while also enjoying the suspense and unrelenting terror, that doesn't always affect you at first. Unsubtle in the best way possible (Who needs subtlety these days? Have you seen how intentionally oblivious people are?) and downright depressing in parts, you leave the film in a state of shock. A future horror classic, and just plain a damn good scary story. And like all the best scary stories, it will only transcend over time. Also, stick around during the end credits (It includes a little something to ponder before you go). 4 Stars. Rated R For Bloody Bodies, Hooks Being Ranked Through Flesh In Vomit Inducing Ways, And Bad Bee-Havior.  

Reminiscence                                           by James Eagan                                  ★★ out of ★★★★

Image: Wow, the new Jessica Rabbit is even prettier.


Even I could have told you that this movie, no matter the quality, was not destined for box office greatness. It's odd how much that we want noir-esque, Science Fiction thrillers, but generally ignore them whenever a new one is released. The pandemic also sure as Hell wasn't going to help this time. We all want another "Inception", "Blade Runner", or "The Matrix", and yet, we just can't seem to get this right. 


Set in the near-ish future, where Miami is now partially submerged by water due to climate change, "Reminiscence", where now people prefer to go out at night, and the shady stuff happens during the day since the coastline cities now become ghost towns during this time. We follow "Nick Bannister" (Hugh Jackman), who works with his assistant "Emily Sanders" (Thandiwe Newton), also known as "Watts", administering people a drug, that combined with a aquatic machine thingamajig, that helps people return to their memories. Considering how crappy everything is for everyone at the moment, nostalgia has become the only way to escape, and Nick also uses it as a means of assisting the District Attorney's Office with various cases. Nick gets a surprise visit from a beautiful singer, "Mae" (Rebecca Ferguson), and he's immediately smitten with her. They appear to fall in love over the course of a couple months, before Mae just vanishes out of nowhere. Nick starts to become obsessed with finding her, and his personal investigation leads him down some dark paths, coming across some questionable characters, such as drug lord, "Saint Joe" (Daniel Wu), a shady land baron, "Walter Sylvan" (Brett Cullen), and a disfigured corrupt cop, "Cyrus Booth" (Cliff Curtis). Nick slowly starts to uncover secrets that maybe he was better off not knowing, calling into question how real his relationship with Mae really was.


Written and directed by Lisa Joy ("Westworld"), who produced the film alongside her husband, Jonathan Nolan (Brother of Christopher Nolan), "Reminiscence" shows a lot of promise, and much of that promise doesn't leave the film early on. Every now and then, a new, fascinating idea is introduced, or Lisa Joy shows off her eye for stunning visuals. It's also impressive that despite a more modest budget by today's standards (It only cost $68 million), the effects work is beautiful, like a haunting painting of a perceived future, brought to life before our very eyes. I just wish it was better written, had more originality, and was, well, actually remotely cohesive in any way. The film has the aspirations for a new wave, future cult classic, intending to resurrect the classic noir storylines of old, mixed in with a dystopian feel. The dialogue sadly almost borders on parody in places, with everyone talking as if they just stepped out of the most pretentious detective novel, with poetic metaphors just dropped into what are meant to be every day conversations. All of this is taken way too seriously, and there is hardly any sense of levity to the bleak tone. The story itself is all jumbled, and while it feels intentional, the mystery is more confusing than interesting. Every few minutes, something of interest is introduced, which continues to further over complicate a plot that's meant to be a somewhat tangled web to be unraveled. You start to wonder what else could possibly happen or what other possible twist could be tossed in, even when the film stumbles to its final act (And at that point, you don't quite realize that the movie is almost over, considering how much still needs to be explained or pieced together). I was honestly caught off guard when I realized that we were at the climax. 


The potential is always there, and when such good actors come in to give really good performances anyway, it makes you a little more depressed that the film couldn't have been better. Hugh Jackman is great as you would expect him to be, while the big star of the show is Rebecca Ferguson. Aside from being, well, absolutely smoking hot beyond human imagination, this is one of those flawlessly cast performances that make up for little screentime with a certain graceful and mysterious presence, that's both alluring as it's meant to be, but also hiding something a bit more complex beneath the surface. Ferguson is far too subtle for the screenplay's tendency to go for the more overstated developments. Thandiwe Newton is underdeveloped, yet still has some good comradery with Jackman, Cliff Curtis is menacing (Though the accent given is a little distracting), while an entertainingly sneering Daniel Wu is underused. 


 "Reminiscence" has moments of excitement and intrigue to go with all that flash and flair, but a lot of it comes crashing down towards the end. Once we get down to what's really going on, and what led up to it, I it began to lose me. Then once we reach the very end, it completely lost me. It concludes on such a pretentious note, that just doesn't add up. It feels like the movie wants to say something deep and meaningful, but it's nothing that so many better movies, shows, books, or even video games, have already done and done in a much smarter manner. There just isn't all that much worth remembering, aside from what a waste it was. 2 Stars. Rated PG-13 For Adult Content, Violence, Monotonous Monologues, And Dangerous Levels Of Rebecca Ferguson Attractiveness. 

PAW Patrol: The Movie                         by James Eagan                             ★★ out of ★★★★

Image: "Can I lick various parts of your body?"


I certainly missed this part of the job. With kids movies such as this, my time in the movie theater is going to go one of two ways. The first will consist of me awkwardly going into a completely empty theater with the theater staff silently mocking me the entire time, or I will be in a thoroughly crowded theater, with families all over the place, and as usual, being the only adult all by himself. It was the second one this time, and sadly I couldn't even hide in the back like I generally try to. Still pretty sure the staff was mocking me too.  


Based on the popular children's show (And the toyline) of the same name, "PAW Patrol: The Movie", follows the titular "PAW Patrol", made up of the child leader, "Ryder" (Will Brisbin), along with his adorable puppy companions, German Shepherd cop, "Chase" (Ian Armitage), Bulldog construction worker, "Rubble" (Keegan Hedley), Cockapoo aviator, "Skye" (Lilly Bartlam), Dalmation firefighter, "Marshall" (Kingsley Marshall), Mixed-breed recycling dog, "Rocky" (Callum Shoniker), and aquatic rescue Labrador, "Zuma" (Shayle Simons). Stationed outside of "Adventure City", which has just elected the up to no good (And totally fabulous!), "Mayor Humdinger" (Ron Pardo) via rigged election. The top hat wearing, mustache twirling mayor has big villainous plans for the city, most of which at the expense of the canine community (He's more of a cat person). The PAW Patrol is called into the big city and is given a brand spanking new base of operations, though Chase is the most uneasy due to memories of his abandonment when he was an even smaller pup. 


With some help from a local, fast talking Dachshund (And PAW Patrol fangirl), "Liberty" (Marsai Martin), the PAW Patrol are able to prevent some of Humdinger's incompetent schemes, which repeatedly endanger the lives of the citizens. Meanwhile, poor Chase has begun to question his bravery due to a string of recent failures and moments of inescapable fear. After Humdinger gets control of an experimental weather studying device, developed by the always ignored scientist, "Kendra Wilson" (Yara Shahidi), and instead tries to use it to make Adventure City always sunny, without caring about the dangerous ramifications. As you would expect, the device malfunctions and now threatens to basically cause an apocalyptic level hurricane. Now it's up to the PAW Patrol to save the day, sell some colorful toys, liberate some poor pooches, and teach the little kiddies a nice life lesson or two.    


To state the obvious, "PAW Patrol: The Movie", is something that no person my age would have any interest in. It's aimed at a young, single digit demographic, and unlike say something from "Disney", has no intention of including much that any adult (Parent or otherwise), would find themselves enthralled by. You gotta get that through your head as early as possible, and once you do, the fact that this ends up being a charming little adventure just on its own, makes it worth it if you just so happen to get dragged to it. From "Nickelodeon Movies", the film doesn't try to overextend its simple plot, keeps it straight forward and right to the point. Director and co-writer Cal Brunker ("Escape From Planet Earth", "The Nut Job 2: Nutty by Nature"), seems to know what the target audience is meant to be, what obligations are necessary (Gotta sell those toys!), but wisely avoids going for anything loud or obnoxious. There isn't excessive amount of noise, and absolutely nothing low brow. (Not a fart joke to be seen. Or heard) The animation, while nothing on par with say "Pixar" or Sony's "The Mitchells vs. The Machines", is still just appealing to look at, with bright, flashing colors and expressive characters. It sure feels cinematic, even if it's not as detailed or unique. The film is also actually relatively well paced and well, just very calm. The stakes are rather low, though never to the point where it talks down to the kids, and the humor, while nothing that will get too big of a laugh out of adults, is worth quite a few more chuckles than you might expect. (I never got anything more than decent sized chuckles, but still, this was not the kind of movie I thought I would get much of anything out of) 


The voice cast and characters are all likable, though the PAW Patrol members themselves are the least memorable. They're cute and all, but unless you're a fan of the series, the movie doesn't get too in depth with them. The only exception being Ian Armitage, who gets the biggest character arc, and it's leads to a good message about conquering doubt and fear, even when you're at your most fragile. Marsai Martin is the one who steals most of the scenes, having her own little sweet side story. Ron Pardo is an amusingly buffoonish baddie (He's basically playing a questionably flamboyant Donald Trump. I know I'm not the only one who sees that!), while there's some good laughs from Randall Park and an unrecognizable Dax Shepard (as "Butch" and "Ruben", Humdinger's bumbling henchmen). Other fun celebrity voices come from Tyler Perry (as "Gus", a perplexed truck driver that the PAW Patrol saves early on) and Jimmy Kimmel (as "Marty Muckracker", a news anchor with amazingly poofy hair). Also, Kim Kardashian West shows up as a shallow poodle. She's only in it for a like a minute and I honestly didn't even realize it was her until the end credits. Being unfamiliar with the franchise because I'm you know, twenty seven years old, a few things I just kind of hand to go with. Like, is Ryder an orphan or something? And does actual law enforcement not exist here? Why do these people rely on little puppies to do all the work? Is that legal? You'll hurt your brain if you get too into it. 


As inoffensive as they come, "PAW Patrol: The Movie", never overstays its welcome and does its job much better than it really even needed to. It's a quick watch for the family, which never gets too heavy, but also never feels like it's jiggling keys at the kiddies. It features some solid animation, a decent amount of charm, and also builds up to a fun, even fairly exciting finale (Well, as exciting as a G rated movie for six year-olds can possibly be). It's just a pleasant movie, and I'm not sure how anyone can walk out of it in exactly a bad mood. We all remember what it was like to have our own hour and twenty minute, theatrical toy commercials posing as children friendly fare. This one just so happens to have genuine effort and an earnest personality to make it worth recommending. I had no real reason to be here other than to write a review for it, but at least I wasn't too embarrassed to admit that I actually liked it. I'm mature enough for that. 3 Stars. Rated G, Despite Some Puppy PTSD. It's Actually Nice To See Some G Ratings Making A Bit Of A Comeback.  

The Protégé                                       by James Eagan                                   ★★ out of ★★★★

Image: "Maybe we should be sitting outside on a patio to practice proper Covid safety."


So are trained assassin movies the new spy movies? Of course they're glamorized and Hollywoodized to Hell, with there being a pretty good chance that the adventures of the real life, every day assassin is not near as exciting or as sexy as this. There's probably a lot of sitting around, waiting, lots and lots of surveying, and after a head shot or two, results in a quick trip back to a smelly hotel, where the process begins again, with not a Maggie Q in sight. Not exactly what you wanna see for an hour and forty minutes. 


"The Protégé" follows a skilled, highly intelligent assassin, "Anna Dutton" (Maggie Q), who was found at a young age by another longtime assassin, "Moody" (Samuel L. Jackson), who served as both her mentor and father figure. The two have been fulfilling various contracts for years, taking out bad people, though it's clear that age is starting to catch up to Moody. However, it turns out natural causes are the last thing to be concerned about as Moody is murdered, along with anyone connected to him and Anna, leaving her to find out who is responsible. Anna's mission takes her back home to Vietnam, where she becomes entangled in a web of conspiracies and assassination attempts, along with a game of cat and mouse against a rather charismatic henchmen, "Rembrandt" (Michael Keaton).

Directed by Martin Campbell ("The Mask of Zorro", "GoldenEye", "Casino Royale", "The Foreigner"), with a screenplay by Richard Wenk ("The Mechanic", along with both "The Equalizer" films), "The Protégé" is a movie that suffers from a generic feel for a good chunk of the first act, before settling down and figuring just what it wants to be. It's not that there's anything wrong with something more typical, so long as it's well made, and this film is certainly professionally handled. Campbell is a good director, and knows how to film a good action scene (I've noticed he's especially good with building up the tension to one). The film just doesn't quite grab you at first, giving off that feeling that it's a little on auto-pilot for the for a while before the actual premise of the film becomes apparent. Now I'm not saying that it's particularly original, but it feels like the film finds its momentum here and from that point on veers into a rather violent, somewhat quirky action thriller, that has enough personality to make up for some tough to follow plot points. 

Maggie Q is a registered badass, and she definitely has the charisma to carry the film. She's the kind of character that's flawed and vulnerable, but nonetheless capable and it's always entertaining watching an awesome lady go through some bad guys. Michael Keaton however, almost steals the entire movie away. He's clearly not exactly a character to root for, and yet, he's oddly likable. It doesn't help that he has some great back and forth with Maggie Q. It's one of those antagonistically friendly relationships that only work if the actors can pull it off, and boy do they. The film comes to life beautifully when they're on screen, and even more so when they're together. Samuel L. Jackson brings everything he has despite his limited presence, while David Rintoul (as Rembrandt's boss) and Ori Pfeffer (as "Athens", Rembrandt's rival, who makes an enemy out of Anna) are alright villains. Robert Patrick (as "Billy Boy", a leader of a biker gang, who also happens to be an ally to Anna and Moody), pops up to remind that he's old. 

Despite some narrative woes, "The Protégé" is a fun time that benefits from the remarkable chemistry between Maggie Q and Michael Keaton, who I could have watched banter for two hours straight. They make the wild, occasionally nonsensical ride more worth it, and even elevate to something more of substance, especially once we reach the admittedly tense final moments. I'm not sure how much everything adds up and how successfully it does so, but for what the film gets right, it's just enough to accept those missteps. 3 Stars. Rated R For Some Shocking Violence, Language, And Chronic Backstabbing. 

The Night House                                  by James Eagan                            ★★ ½ out of ★★★★

Image: "I've seen enough horror movies to know I probably should leave this place....But I'm not going to." 


The biggest takeaway anyone should get from this movie is that secluded lake houses (Or any kind of home that just so happens to be located in a concealed area by itself) is a bad idea. Whether or not there's something actually there, the entire time you'll feel like something is. If you hear a noise outside, you'll automatically drop everything and take up arms against what's either a intruder with nefarious intent.....or a squirrel (Though it too might still have nefarious intent). It could be something, or it could nothing. With that said, this movie showed me that nothing is pretty damn terrifying. 


"The Night House" follows a recently widowed teacher, "Beth" (Rebecca Hall), who's husband of fifteen years, "Owen" (Evan Jonigkeit), just out of nowhere, took a boat out onto the river near their lakeside home, and shot himself. There were no apparent signs, with Owen not even talking to Beth about it, only leaving a note that reads "You were right. There is nothing, nothing is after you. You are safe.". Beth is distraught, unsure of what to do with herself, and is in an emotionally unstable (And unhealthy) place. While in her now empty home in the middle of the night, Beth starts to hear a mysterious voice that sounds similar to her husband, as well as strange, impossible to explain images, which may pose a threatening presence. However, Beth wakes up, not knowing if what she is experiencing is real or just a dream brought on by her current trauma. Despite others advising her not to, Beth starts to look into some of Owen's secret projects, such as his extensive and articulate work on their lake house. As Beth goes further down the rabbit hole, she starts to uncover secrets that she might wish remained buried, as well as possibly something much darker just waiting to unleashed. 


Directed by David Bruckner ("V/H/S", "The Ritual"), "The Night House" is a seemingly run of the mill ghost story, that instead could be listed more as a drama and psychological thriller, rather than an actual horror movie. Don't get me wrong. There's some genuine terror and unnerving themes, but when you get down to it, the film is actually showing us a woman, filled with all of the stages of grief, ranging from sad, terrified, mad, and desperate for closure of any kind (Even if there doesn't appear to be any), as she slowly may be losing herself to something that may or may not even be there. Under all the spooks and scares, is actually something really sad and probably might hit really close to home for some people. Bruckner focuses on atmospheric dread, preying on our fears of worry and anxiety, leaving us to wonder if we're truly alone in the room or not. The film intentionally uses perplexing imagery, that only slowly starts to come together, though in a way that's thoroughly unpredictable. Yeah, there's a couple jump scares, but even a lot of those are effective. (There's an especially brilliant one where the shot is focused purely on Rebecca Hall's face during what should be a calming moment, only to make you jump at what can only be described as the worst kind of sudden panic attack imaginable) The way the film plays with its always changing imagery, the well timed score, and the visually alluring cinematography is where most of the scares come from, messing with your mind just as much as our protagonist's. You're constantly on edge, and not just because of the worry of an unanticipated fright. You feel like you too are not in the right state of mind, especially thanks to the upsetting subject matter, which is handled in a less glamorous manner. The film never sugarcoats it, and never relents from what effect that kind of grief and mourning can have one someone, who may already be in a questionable mental state. 


This entire movie is a showcase for Rebecca Hall's incredible talent, with little focus given to anyone else, and at times, just placing the camera squarely on her face. We see every intricate emotion (Or sometimes, a mix of various emotions), and Hall beautifully, though also tragically, conveys it, without ever needing to overstate. She can be at times humorous, although uncomfortably so, realistically using a macabre sense of humor to cover her turmoil (There's an especially memorable and awkwardly funny scene involving Beth having to deal with an unbearable parent, who is too enamored with her own, less important frustration than you know, the fact that the woman's husband just committed suicide) These little scenes add hints of levity to the gloomy tone, and feel necessary. Similar to Elizabeth Moss from last year's "The Invisible Man", Rebecca Hall gives a brutally honest performance that shows us the different layers of despair and fear, where the supposed spirit or entity is the least scary thing to worry about. There are some solid supporting work worth mentioning, from Sarah Goldberg (as "Claire", Beth's supportive best friend) and Vondie Curtis-Hall (as "Mel", Beth's helpful neighbor, with a couple secrets of his own). 


A mind bending mystery, with an emotionally resonate core, "The Night House" has some excellent twists and turns, with the surreal nature of the film leaving much in question. Even once we reach the last act, you still are left pondering where it's all going to go. It's the kind of movie that might leave some confused and those looking for a more traditional horror flick with a good body count will definitely be turned off. I can't see myself recommending it to those people. Even with some more overt scares, where the real horror comes from is more on a level that gets into your head. You've got to have felt this kind of fear before, where your worry or even your current sadness, gets the better of you, and you can't help but let those emotions manifest themselves into some kind of dark presence. A presence that isn't there. You may jump once or twice, but you might even find yourself with a couple tears in your eyes. You might also leave that light on in the closet the following night. Just in case. You never know what's there. Probably those damn squirrels. 3 1/2 Stars. Rated R For Language, Unsettling Content, And Depression That Seeps Into Your Soul.  

Don't Breathe 2                                   by James Eagan                                      ★★ out of ★★★★

Image: Stop! Hammer Time! 


2016's surprisingly successful "Don't Breathe" (Directed and co-written by Fede Álvarez), was one of the first horror films in some time to remind me that they were capable of so much more than just a lot of gore and jump scares. Sometimes fear didn't come from what overly frightened you, but instead came from what you could never anticipate, and stuck with you long after you left the theater. And grossed you out with some sensitive subject material the film probably glossed over just a little bit.


Set over eight years after the first film, "Don't Breathe 2" sees the return of "Norman Nordstrom" (Stephen Lang), a.k.a. "The Blind Man", who was previously the former Navy Seal, turned victim of burglary, and then turned mentally unhinged kidnapper and killer (And also rapist....That's basically what happened with the whole turkey baster thing). Now he's on the path to decency, by taking care of a young girl, "Phoenix" (Madelyn Grace), who Norman claims is his daughter. Norman cares deeply for Phoenix, teaching her to be self-sufficient through survival training, though he has closed her off from the rest of the world in an attempt to hide his dark past. When a group of armed methhead thugs, led by "Raylan" (Brandon Sexton III), storm Norman's hope, with a mission to kidnap Phoenix, Norman has to utilize all of his training and bloodlust to protect her. However, there is something more to the intentions of the violent intruders, and it threatens to unravel the world that Norman has established for Phoenix. 


Directed and co-written by first time director (And co-writer of the previous film and 2013's "Evil Dead"), Rodo Sayagues, with Fede Álvarez also returning as also a co-writer for the screenplay, "Don't Breathe 2" has decided to take up quite the challenge. It's a difficult one that many screenwriters, no matter how good, could fail miserably at. I'm not just talking about making a sequel that last I checked, not many people asked for, felt relevant, or necessary (It doesn't). The real, much harder task, is to see if you can you find a way to redeem someone that we all know has horrific things. In a way, it's completely going to be up to the viewer to decide if this character is truly redeemed, even with his admittedly complicated and tragic backstory. For me, It's fairly close to making this work, or at least making his humanity win out. At least as well as you probably can. (Though I wouldn't say that it's necessarily because of the script) There's something ambitious here, but sadly, the film lacks the genuine terror, the cleverness, and most importantly, the uniqueness of the original. It's not a badly directed film. There's a few well done sequences, such as with Phoenix avoiding her captives by using her wits to stay quiet and stay hidden. Not to mention, the gory kills are impressively detailed, and you gotta kind of commend the film for not holding back in that department, especially since you don't see this level of violence in movies these days. (Never thought eyes could go squish like that) However, the first was brilliant in it's execution of its concept, with sequences that have still stuck with me even though I only saw the original film once back when I reviewed it five years ago. The dialogue is uneven, and leaves too many questions that the film doesn't have the time (Or money) to answer. I mean, did nobody notice the many burning houses in this one area? I know it's supposed to be set in a small suburb in Detroit, but there's got to be some kind of civilian life somewhere. 


The film is ruthlessly dragged down by the filmmakers' inability to justify its existence, and what makes that even more frustrating is that all that ends doing is waste (And I'm not joking here), Stephen Lang's mesmerizing performance. He's giving it everything and selling it wonderfully. He's terrifying when the film calls for it, and yet also, he shows the character's clear pain and regret of what he's been through and even more about what he's done. Everything that works about this film is because of Lang, and he's captivating throughout. Madelyn Grace is also a good young actress, being a real character with justified reasons for some of her actions, though also still really smart and kind of a little badass. They're awesome, and their performances are too good for this movie, especially when everyone else is godawful. Brendan Sexton III is a total cartoon, with no other real personality trait other than he's just greasy and does evil stuff because he's evil. With that said, he's subtle compared to everyone else. Every single one of these villains, with most of them just being here to meet grisly deaths, are all horrible characters, played by horrible actors, trying to overly portray horrible people. It just ends up being horrible.  


"Don't Breathe 2" is a silly little low budget slasher flick, that has aspirations to want to bring some more layers to a dark character, and maybe even a glimpse to if he has a soul to save. Whether that works is up to you. Stephen Lang and Madelyn Grace are both terrific, though the script fails them, and by the end, if this movie never existed, nothing would have changed about the much better first film. It's a sequel that doesn't need to be, and despite spots of something worth it, I doubt anyone is going to be talking about it in the following week. 2 Stars. Rated R For Poor Parenting And Gruesome Gratuitous Gory Grossness.

Free Guy                                            by James Eagan                                ★★ ½ out of ★★★★

Image: Super....Uh....Guy.


It's time that many of us atone for our sins. All of those countless lives that we've taken or at least ruined beyond repair. We truly are monsters. I mean, if we tally up how many video game characters we've ruthlessly murdered over the years, I'm pretty sure we could be labeled by any psychologist as homicidal maniacs by this point. 


"Free Guy" follows a guy named "Guy" (Ryan Reynolds), who is an NPC (Non Player Character), in an immersive open-world video game, known as "Free City", from "Soonami Games". In Free City, it's basically "Grand Theft Auto", where players spend their time robbing banks, blowing up cars, causing collateral damage, and torturing all of the other NPCs on a daily basis to the point where they have just accepted it. Guy, who works at a bank with his best buddy named "Buddy" (Lil Rel Howery), which is consistently robbed, though Guy always retains a smile on his face. However, after meeting the girl of his dreams, a player named "Molotov Girl" (Jodie Comer), Guy gets the courage to try something different and gets his hands on a pair of sunglasses, which the other players use within the game to level up. Determined to prove himself to Molotov Girl, Guy slowly becomes an instant sensation, being just an all around lovable person, helping others and being the hero he's always wanted to be. 


With that said, Guy's actions are noticed in the real world, with former game developer, "Millie Rusk" (Also Jodie Comer), who uses Molotov Girl as her avatar, is in a struggle against the bro-tastic boss at Soonami Games, "Antwan" (Taika Waititi). Antwan apparently stole much of the ideas for Free City from Millie to create Free City, while her former partner, "Walter "Keys" McKey" (Joe Keery), who now begrudgingly works for him. Keys assists Millie in attempting to find proof of Antwan's misdeeds, which leads to the revelation that Guy (Who has been dubbed "Blue Shirt Guy" by the gaming community), is not like any NPC. He's becoming something more and could be the key to saving Free City before Antwan releases his much anticipated (And much lazier) sequel, which will result in the deletion of everything Guy knows and loves. 


Directed by Shawn Levy (The "Night at the Museum" trilogy), with a screenplay by Matt Lieberman ("Scoob!") and Zak Penn ("Ready Player One"), "Free Guy" is when you get down to it, probably not quite as original if you consider other films with similar ideas. It really is a quirky mixture of "Wreck-it Ralph" with existential ideas like from "The Truman Show", with the sense of humor of "Deadpool". It's the creativity behind the concept that make it more unique, and most importantly, just how freakin funny it is, to make the whole thing come together. Levy balances the real world with the one within the game, crafting more than a few elaborate sequences that are both exciting and more intricate than you usually find in a straight up comedy. The screenplay is clearly knowledgeable about its subject, poking fun at at various gaming tropes and everyday glitches, with some of those ideas weaved into the story rather brilliantly. There are details all over, and the film knows when to keep them in focus or just leave it as an amusing Easter Egg for eagle-eyed viewers. The fast paced (And rather quotable) dialogue never let up, and makes for one of this year's best comedies, ranging from weirdly charming to surreal and oddly inspiring in some places. Of course there's some obvious shade at certain aspects of this culture. Such as how we all know that there's a good chance that hardly any of the gamers look remotely like they do in the game. (There still are a few big laughs to be had here, such as a couple of young girls, who are taking a little too much glee in the bank robbing mission). The film isn't remotely cynical about it however. It understands why people love these kinds of games, and how a character like Guy would be someone to gravitate towards. 


The very busy Ryan Reynolds is one of the movie's biggest selling points, and boy does he give it everything he's got. Always grinning in an optimistic fashion, and just oozing pure, almost innocently whimsical likability. Reynolds is so damn charming in this that it just puts you in a good mood while watching. Jodie Comer is another one of the film's most shining stars, wonderfully playing essentially two parts of the same role, and just being naturally appealing. (Also, I think I might have a crush now. What? Cute, funny gamer girl? How can a geeky guy like me resist?) An endearing Joe Keery, Utkarsh Ambudkar (as "Mouser", Keys' friend, who for some reason uses a pink rabbit suit as a game avatar), and a hysterically lovable Lil Rel Howery, make for great supporting players. Meanwhile, Taika Waititi goes for inhuman levels of over the top, though still serving  as probably an accurate portrayal of modern gaming CEOs.  


"Free Guy" doesn't take it's concept into any dark places, and in the last act, decides it's better to go into full crowdpleaser territory. Then again though, what's wrong with that? We need to be uplifted, and believe it or not, the film does a rather astounding job of that. Inspired with its references, visually creative, funny as Hell, and so genuinely sweet natured that I would consider it to be the most adorable movie that 2021 has to offer. The movie is full of surprises, and I wouldn't dare to spoil any of them. What I can say is that an overly enthusiastic Ryan Reynolds may be just the thing we need to get us through the rest of the still uncertain year. 3 1/2 Stars. Rated PG-13 For Adult Content And The Horrible Ways That We Treat Our Innocent NPCs. 

Respect                                             by James Eagan                                      ★★ ½ out of ★★★★

Image: I wonder what it means to her. Let's find out.


For such an iconic figure, with an incredible life story, you have to under no circumstances make sure that you get it right. You can't half-ass it, pull back when you should push further, and most importantly, give the audience what they came here for. Now getting all three of those objectives right tends to be the issue with Hollywood. 


Based on the life of a legend, "Respect" follows the story of the Queen of Soul herself, "Aretha Franklin" (Played by Skye Dakota Turner as a child, then by Jennifer Hudson as an adult). We see Aretha's already amazing voice as a child, as she sings in her church choir, before setting out for something more professional, though always under the overbearing watchful eyes of her father, "C L. Franklin" (Forest Whitaker). Aretha eventually sets out to break out on her own, after getting into an abusive marriage to "Ted White" (Marlon Wayans), her involvement in social justice, and her inner demons that she has to overcome as she reaches a level of stardom that few could ever hope to achieve. 


Directed by Liesl Tommy (Known mostly for Broadway work), with a screenplay by Tracey Scott Wilson (Known for television work, such as "The Americans"), "Respect" plays out like a Wikipedia page, brought to life in cinematic form. It tells you what you may or may not already know, as quickly as possible, without dwelling too much on some of the more disturbing material. For a movie that's nearly two and a half hours, it's certainly odd to admit that there feels like something important is missing. Aretha Franklin's story is a long and complicated one. It's also a story that's not only impacted by many important African American figures, but also has had such an noticeable impact on race and the music industry. The issue is not so much that the film doesn't actually say anything new to those who already know a decent amount about her life. (I mean, a good story is a good story. It's all about how it's told) It's just not particularly well paced, with some fairly cookie cutter dialogue, and not near enough time given to certain aspects of Miss Franklin's life, which are either trimmed down to adhere to a safe PG-13 rating or just left out due to a lack of time. Granted, I'm not sure how you can just leave stuff out in an already overly stretched out runtime. I don't think Liesl Tommy is a bad director by any means, considering that the film looks solid, and certainly knows how to stage the music based sequences (There are quite a few excellent setpieces, matched to some of Aretha's most iconic songs). It just feels lacking in important ways that prevent the film from reaching the high standards that it has little choice but attempt to reach for. 


You can see the makings of something better, and most of that is due to some terrific performances, which are chock full of impressive little details. Jennifer Hudson is pretty much the best choice we could ever ask for, matching Aretha Franklin's vocals (As you would expect she would), but also her mannerisms to pitch perfection. Forest Whitaker is great, as anyone would expect him to be, while Marlon Wayans is shockingly good, playing a realistically detestable human being. Audra McDonald (as "Barbara Siggers Franklin", Aretha's mother), makes the most of her rather brief appearance, while Marc Maron (as "Jerry Wexler", Aretha's producer), gets the film's moments of humor right. The film falters with some of the supporting players, though it's no fault of the actors. Albert Jones (as "Ken Cunningham", Aretha's road manager and later lover), along with Saycon Sengbloh and Hailey Kilgore (as "Erma" and "Carolyn", Aretha's sisters), aren't bad in the film, but don't have actual roles, only making appearances when the story demands it. Mary J. Blige (as "Dinah Washington", who was a source of inspiration for Aretha), also appears and disappears much too quickly. Other important facts such as Aretha's children, her traumatic experiences as a child, and even her contribution to the civil rights movement, don't feel as important due to a overall lack of attention given. 


When "Respect" gets it right, it's wonderful. The film ends on a heartfelt high note, though it's truly hard to tell if that note feels earned or not. With that said, the film is exactly what those who Aretha inspired wanted. Nothing too sad, dark, or complicated, though addresses what needs to be addressed, while also making for a sentimental watch. It's obligatory in the execution of what is meant to be the more inspirational scenes, but you can't fault the film for doing that. In fact, stuff like that is kind of hard to dislike, even when the movie just doesn't do near good enough a job with them. Fans might love it, and there's nothing wrong with that. It's just missing too much of what matters if they were going for anything award worthy. Or even anything worth your time when you could get the same feeling from a documentary. 2 1/2 Stars. Rated PG-13 For Adult Content, Abuse, And Uncomfortable Topics That May Be Somewhat Glosses Over, Though Still Warrant A Word Of Warning. 

The Suicide Squad                              by James Eagan                             ★★ out of ★★★★

Image: The good guys always win, right?


The story of how this little masterpiece of madness came together has got to be the only smart thing "Warner Bros." has ever done in regards to the "DC Extended Universe". The moment of former director from "Troma Entertainment" (Known for small budget, independent parodies and horror films, which some would consider exploitative), James Gunn, getting temporarily fired by Disney and Marvel for controversial/problematic comedic comments (That he had already apologized for), WB swooped in without hesitation and hired him on the spot. Sure, Gunn is now back at Disney, but after getting free reign to do whatever the f*ck he wanted, I wouldn't be surprised if he had plans to go back and forth between the studios. After all, he's already gotten the taste for blood. Lots of blood. Lots and lots of blood. 


A sort of sequel, but not really (It has absolutely nothing to do with it really) to 2016's "Suicide Squad", "The Suicide Squad" (With a "The" at the beginning) opens with morally questionable government official, "Amanda Waller" (Viola Davis), gathering her collection of supervillains, placing miniature bombs into their skulls, and forcing them into her high-risk black ops team, "Task Force X", or as it's also called, "The Suicide Squad". This newest team, led by soldier, "Col. Rick Flag" (Joel Kinnaman), consisting of a wild, vile, and rather bizarre group of baddies. There's the psychiatrist turned fan favorite clown criminal, "Harleen Quinzel/Harley Quinn" (Margot Robbie), Ben Shapiro's favorite "Superhero", "Christopher Smith/Peacemaker" (John Cena), the hilariously disturbing, "Abner Krill/Polka-Dot Man" (David Dastmalchian), dimwitted man-eating half man, half shark, "Nanaue/King Shark" (Voiced by Sylvester Stallone), and the daughter of a villain with a power over rats, "Cleo Cazo/Ratcatcher 2" (Daniela Melchior), along with her pet rat, "Sebastian". There's also even more weirdos, such as an intense hacker, "Brian Durlin/Savant" (Michael Rooker), the boomerang throwing wacko, "George "Digger" Harkness/Captain Boomerang" (Jai Courtney), a villain with the ability to detach his arms, "Cory Pitzner/T.D.K." (Nathan Fillion), the javelin wielding "Gunter Braun/Javelin" (Flula Borg), the obviously in over his head "Richard "Dick" Hertz/Blackguard" (Pete Davidson), an alien warrior, "Mongal" (Mayling Ng), and "Weasel" (Sean Gunn, in motion capture), who is just a human sized weasel. Last, but certainly not least, is the heavily armed mercenary responsible for putting "Superman" in the ICU, "Robert DuBois/Bloodsport" (Idris Elba), who is blackmailed by Waller into joining the Suicide Squad, by threatening to have his estranged teen daughter, "Tyla" (Storm Reid) arrested for petty theft. 


The squad is being sent to South American island nation, "Corto Maltese", which is currently in a violent political power struggle, consisting of the new tyrannical dictator, "Silvio Luna" (Juan Diego Botto) and his even more ruthless general, "Mateo Suárez" (Joaquín Cosío), against a group of rebels, led by "Sol Soria" (Alice Braga). The mission is to infiltrate an old Nazi-era laboratory, known as "Jötunheim", which houses a mysterious and deadly experiment called "Project: Starfish", with Luna planning to unleash the frightening creature that hides within. The plan is to track down Luna's head scientist, the intelligent supervillain, "Dr. Gaius Grieves/The Thinker" (Peter Capaldi), and force him to get the squad into Jötunheim, before Project: Starfish is unleashed onto the world. The Suicide Squad must put their many differences aside, their need to back stab each other, and their own dark histories, if they're going to save the world, and you know, do so while keeping their heads perfectly intact. 


Written and directed by James Gunn ("Slither", "Super", and both "Guardians of the Galaxy" films, along with the upcoming third one), "The Suicide Squad", is Gunn unleashed, in the most gleefully violent, outrageously insane, and horrifically hilarious comic book movie to ever grace the silver screen (Or on whatever device you're streaming this via HBO Max. If you feel safer watching it from home). The first ten minutes result in a gruesome sequence that needs to be seen to be believed, and even then, I'm not entirely sure that it happened. It's like a mad fever dream, with the most twisted sense of humor and some memorable carnage. A lot of the action is like that, going for gritty and gory, but also surreal and psychedelic. It's a beautifully directed film, which somehow finds a way to make the most bizarre of images feel natural. Whether it's meant to look cool, scary, or even a little endearing, somehow the film finds a way to make it all work and appear to be real in its own demented way. (We have a fat shark, a guy covered in polka dots, and a clown girl fighting a giant Starfish. Nothing about this movie is normal) It toys with time and structure, to ensure that the audience gets in every little detail, and it does so in clever ways. In some parts, it can almost feel that the film is trolling you to a degree, snarkily subverting any expectations you can possibly have, and it's something that you not only don't see in your average comic book movie, but you just don't see that in mainstream movies in general. You can see the inspirations from old fashioned exploitation films, in terms of the violence, humor, and the overall cruelty behind the absurdity. The film gets down and dirty with it's characters, with a lot of them being truly despicable, and James Gunn truly embraces the Hell out of it. 


There are so many people in this movie, with some getting larger roles than others, but every single one of them, whether they be major or otherwise, leaves an impression. Gunn's skilled and integrate writing gives the smallest of appearances a lot of personality, so that you know just enough about them before they most likely march into the face of death, resulting in a glorious (Or pathetic) demise. I always laugh when the DC fanboys rave about Superman's character arc in the DCEU (Because he has no character! How can there be an arc if there's no character?) In reality, the best character in the entire film universe is Harley Quinn, and Margot Robbie has just perfected this character. It actually feels like she's progressed over the course of her film appearances, while also retaining that unhinged, yet oddly adorable, repertoire of mental insanity. (Harley Quinn has become DC's version of "Deadpool", and the world is better for it) Idris Elba, who by this point is just showing off when it comes to the kind of range he has in terms of his film roles, is the essential possibly redeemable, but still likely a cruddy person, that fits what would realistically be considered the anti-hero. He's not exactly heroic. He's just not quite as bad as some of the others, and even then, you care about him. 


Speaking of caring, Daniela Melchior serves as the heart of the film, along with a hilariously out there David Dastmalchian (In the biggest role I've ever seen him in), and Joel Kinnaman, who makes for an excellent straight man to all the weirdness. John Cena is a riot, playing a violence loving, yet overly passionate about liberty and patriotism, dude bro who has been described as a "Douchey Captain America" by James Gunn himself. Sylvester Stallone is flawlessly cast, and the effects work on King Shark himself is not only impressive and kind of frightening, but also really lovable. Michael Rooker gets one of the most memorable moments, Jai Courtney looks to be having a blast, Nathan Fillion is suitably useless, and Pete Davidson is well, Pete Davidson. Joaquín Cosío is a solidly nasty villain, while Peter Capaldi just embraces pure, unapologetic scum-baggery. Also, everyone give a shout out to our boy, "Milton" (Played by Julio Ruiz), an ally to the squad, who does absolutely nothing, but we love him anyways. Viola Davis meanwhile returns to once again be terrifying as f*ck, portraying someone who could almost be considered the true main villain of the entire film, with no redeeming qualities and yet, you almost kind of respect her for it. You're kind of in awe of her heartlessness. The film also features a certain one eyed, kaiju-esque monstrosity that goes from appearing cartoonishly silly at first, before turning into the stuff of Lovecraftian nightmares. Some actors and characters appear in smaller capacities than others, with some getting even a small amount of character development before a sudden death. However, while yeah, it's a little for shock value, it ends up working more than you would expect. Every single person in this movie,  


This movie has the biggest balls you've ever seen, and I'm only kind of referring to that in a metaphorical sense. With a terrific score, an even better soundtrack, along with top of the line visual effects, and so many unpredictable turns, "The Suicide Squad", doesn't hold back on the occasional cruelty, but somehow underneath it all, finds something actually fairly sweet and heartwarming. There are moments that find a strange sense of pathos that even many more sane films appear to struggle with. There is a man with a polka dot rash in this movie, and I give a crap! There's more humanity in this movie than most Oscar contenders. (Now most of those humans are fairly crappy, but that's what makes it more genuine) Full of cynical carnage, pitch black hilarity, and believe it or not, characters you not only care about, but might even get a little misty eyed when they die. The DCEU finally has its first great movie, and I really hope that this is the start of something monstrously beautiful. More like this, please! 4 Stars. Rated R For Gloriously Grisly Gore, Unspeakable Swears, Starfish Induced Nightmare Fuel, Mommy Issues, John Cena's In Your Face Bugle (Which You Can See. All Of It!), And Dead Eyed, Humanoid Vermin. 

Jungle Cruise                                           by James Eagan                              ★★ out of ★★★★

Image: "Wait....This isn't the Tiki room?"


It's the simple pleasures in life that make getting through this whole pandemic worth it. Something that reminds me of a simpler time, where you could just enjoy a pleasant theme park ride, much like "Pirates of the Caribbean", and most importantly, get some damn good puns out of it. That's the thing I miss the most.  


Based on the pun-tastic Disney World (And Disney Land) theme park attraction of the same name and set in 1916, "Jungle Cruise" follows eccentric, but brilliant explorer, "Lily Houghton" (Emily Blunt), who is determined to get assistance from a royal association of explorers, by tracking down the fabled "Tree of Life", where mystical illness curing petals, known as the "Tears of the Moon". Since the group denies Lily's offer (Due to not believing in the legends.....and because they're sexist like everyone one else was back in the day), she steals an ancient arrowhead (Which is said to be the key to finding the tree), and brings along her reluctant brother, "MacGregor" (Jack Whitehall), to mount their own expedition to the rivers of South America. That's where we meet sarcastic steamboat captain, "Frank Wolff" (Dwayne "Is He Still The Rock?" Johnson), who knows the river and jungle by heart, taking tourists on river cruises, where he generally cons them out of money with fake dangers and makes the worst (But also BEST!) jokes imaginable.


 However, Frank owes money to the harbormaster, "Nilo Nemolato" (Paul Giamatti), and in his desperation, he takes up Lily's job offer to venture into the jungle river. Turns out though, Lily isn't the only one searching for the tree, such as a deranged German aristocrat, "Prince Joachim" (Jesse Plemons), and as it turns out, Frank may have his own interests in finding the tree. Frank, Lily, MacGregor, along with Frank's pet jaguar, "Proxima", embark on a wild journey into the dangerous jungle, avoiding all kinds of threats, such as Joachim's forces, the many things that wanna eat you, and cursed, undead conquistadors, led by the no longer human "Don Aguirre" (Édgar Ramírez), who also have their reasons for finding the tree. 


Directed by Jaume Collet-Serra ("The Shallows", "Run All Night", "The Commuter"), "Jungle Cruise" is rather derivative of some of those late 90s to early 2000s, family oriented action-adventure films, that all in of themselves feel like cinematic theme park rides. That's what the film's intent clearly is, and Collet-Serra does a great job of encompassing that. Once you get past the films lack of ambition when it comes to original storytelling, one can't help but find themselves sincerely immersed within a movie that just intends to give its audience some of those good old fashioned tropes of Hollywood escapism that we're too cynical to appreciate these days. Sure, it does that right up to a fault, but it's too genuine to dislike. It's very CGI heavy, and not a whole lot of it looks particularly real. It looks good, with a sort of colorful and flourishing appeal. You an just tell though that everyone is acting around a big greenscreen during a lot of sequences. However, I kind of feel that the lack of realism is a bit intentional, with the film's screenplay, by Michael Green ("Murder on the Orient Express"), Glenn Ficarra ("Focus"), and John Requa ("Cats & Dogs"), retaining a fantastical tone and a quirky sense of humor.    


A enjoyably snarky Dwayne Johnson and the ever charming Emily Blunt (And also ridiculously attractive too. Blonde hair. Just works for me), are two of those actors who can carry a movie simply by the will on their natural onscreen charisma. Their comedic banter is flawless done, and even when things get more romantic (As you would predictably expect), I'd be lying if I didn't admit that it really worked. It almost pisses you off how well Johnson and Blunt play off each other, and you'll gladly follow them anywhere. Jack Whitehall might appear to be somewhat stereotypical at first, but proves himself to be a good character, getting quite a bit of the film's laughs, and even participates more than what's defined as the comic relief would normally do. Paul Giamatti makes the most of his really brief appearance, while Jesse Plemons is an absolute villainous riot. Édgar Ramírez is also a frightening baddie, with a nightmare inducing design (Complete with snakes coming out of his face for attack), along with some cleverly put together henchmen (Such as one that grows out of the trees, or another that's basically a living bee hive). 


"Jungle Cruise" is the kind of movie where the plot is serviceable enough for one to follow, though really doesn't matter much in the grand scheme of things. It's all about the rapid paced, creatively whimsical journey, rather than the destination. Aside from a couple unexpected twists here and there, it doesn't lead to any conclusions that you wouldn't expect it it. But you know what? That's perfectly okay. For families looking for a little extra edge to their light hearted trip to the movies (Or a at home movie night, if you instead decide to stream it on "Disney+" via Premiere Access), it offers a delightfully trope heavy trip back to the kind of basics that if done jut right, never get old. 3 Stars. Rated PG-13 For Perilous Peril, Surprisingly Scary Images, And The Kind Of Punmanship That I Would Shamelessly Break Out On A First Date.  

Transformers: War for Cybertron Trilogy - Kingdom                                              by James Eagan                                                                    ★★ out of ★★★★

Image: The saga never ends....Seriously, it never will.


Well, I've already reviewed the first two parts. All that money I've spent collecting robots that change in vehicles, along with an excessive amount of lore and the hours I suffered watching the Michael Bay film, has brought me here. To the end.....Of this series before Hasbro decides to reboot it for another one. 


In the epic conclusion to the trilogy, "Transformers: War for Cybertron Trilogy - Kingdom", brings everything to a head. The heroic "Autobots", led by the still struggling in his position "Optimus Prime" (Jake Foushee), and the villainous "Decepticons", led by the now slightly more insane "Megatron" (Jason Marnocha), have crash landed on Earth, long before humanity has begun to thrive. Their quest to find the missing "AllSpark", and resurrect their dying homeworld, "Cybertron", has taken an unexpected turn, with the Autobots more defeated than ever and Megatron having gotten his clutches on the mystical "Matrix of Leadership", haunted by a vision of an unknown time traveler, "Galvatron" (Also Jason Marnocha for obvious reasons). The Autobots end up meeting their animal-hybrid descendants, the "Maximals", led by the big bot ape himself, "Optimus Primal" (Justin Pierce), who are on a time displaced mission of their own. The Decepticons meanwhile, meet their own descendants, the "Predacons", led by a tyrannosaurus fanboy of old Megsy, having taken the name "Megatron" (Marqus Bobesich) in his honor. The Autobots and Maximals, who are distrustful of the Autobots since the dark future that they're from is essentially Optimus' fault, are forced to band together to track down the AllSpark, before both Megatrons do, who intend to alter their own future, but making things worse for everyone else. Others take sides during the conflict, such as the remorseful Predacon, "Dinobot" (Krizz Kaliko) just wanting to see an end to the conflict, Megatron's traitorous second in command, "Starscream" (Frank Todaro) seeking to take power for himself, and the arachnid Predacon "Blackarachnia" (Jeanne Carr), plays all sides to ensure her own survival. Little does anyone realize that their eons of endless conflict have been part of something larger, and the vile planet sized being responsible (Wink Wink Fans!) isn't going to let hero or villain change what's supposedly meant to come. 


From "Rooster Teeth" and "Polygon Pictures", "Transformers: War for Cybertron Trilogy - Kingdom" is a flawed, though still a plenty satisfying, if not uniquely bold, end to the trilogy, forgoing a lot of tradition once we reach the final episode. The controversial series may not convert any new fans (Critics may have praised the series, but a good portion of the fanbase wants nothing to do with it), continuing the darker, more detached and bleak tone of the first two seasons, but ends on a high note. However, I would consider it the weakest entry in the trilogy. One aspect that the final season suffers from is trying to get a lot done in a relatively short six episodes, along with a decent sized exposition dump. Unless you're familiar with the lore, I can see someone being a little lost. For longtime fans though, it's all based around a good amount of fanservice, and speaking of which, there is a lot for fans to still love about this finale. More importantly, there's something truly mature about how it comes to a close, which I have loads of respect for. The animation continues to shine, continuing the series' knack for accuracy (They look so much like their toy counterparts, it's almost freaky) and making for some gorgeous imagery. Just seeing the classic "Generation 1" era characters, with the "Beast Wars" era ones, also are worth a recommendation alone, considering it's something that fans have very much longed for. It makes for some great character interactions, such as the classic Megatron being more annoyed by his descendant's fanaticism than anything, the clear difference in the forms of leadership between the two generations of Optimus, and of course, Starscream being Starscream as he fails miserably to play both sides, especially compared to the much more capable Blackarachnia. The characters, even though some have somewhat different personalities than what we're used to ("Bumblebee" is still more of a hot-head, though has the best of intentions), still ring true.   


I think Jake Foushee has come into his own as a more complicated, less competent Optimus, who also appears to have grown towards the end. The real scene stealer is Jason Marnocha, who makes for an amazing Megatron, making the transformation from misguided savior to deranged tyrant. Some of the "Beast Wars" era characters have voices that don't quite match, such as Marqus Bobesich, who doesn't have near the right amount of villainous gravitas the original had. Granted, I think that's meant to be intentional, but it's still fairly distracting. Krizz Kaliko, while once again having a voice that's vastly different from the original Dinobot, still gets the character's jaded side down, making for one of the season's best character arcs. Some characters like "Rattrap" (Voiced by Andy Barnett) and "Rhinox" (Voiced by Frank Todaro) get pushed to the side (Blink and you'll miss "Scorponok"), while other major players get less of a role this time. There are still some that make their brief appearances memorable, such as the return of "Elita-1" (Voiced by Linsay Rousseau), who was one of the best characters throughout the entire series and her story's conclusion is actually quite heartbreaking. It was actually quite cool to see the female characters, like "Arcee" (Voiced by Sophia Isabella) and "Airazor" (Voiced by Erin Ebers), getting much more to do than they normally would have. 


"Transformers: War for Cybertron Trilogy - Kingdom" comes to a bittersweet end, with a shocking twist in the final two episodes, that completely changes what we generally perceive as a traditional "Transformers" story. It's not something I can get too into due to spoilers, but I found it to be refreshingly unique and actually very poetic. It makes for some great character moments and maybe even sets up something much more different in the future. Overall, the "War for Cybertron" trilogy has been a flawed, though thoroughly exciting venture, that at least had ambitions to go for something just a little more. Even when the series didn't quite reach the heights of what it was shooting for, I appreciate just how much it tried, while also giving fans some sights that we never thought we'd ever see. Divisive till the very end, and yet, something I can see any "Transformers" fan deciphering for years to come. Not bad for a franchise that originally only existed to sell us some toys. Now they do that, and get us to think a little more. 3 Stars. Rated TV-Y7, Despite Once Again Featuring Some Gruesome Demises. Just Because They're Robots, Doesn't Mean It's Not Violent.  

The Green Knight                                                                                                            by James Eagan                                                                     ★★ ½ out of ★★★★

Image: When the Black Night isn't available.


So this is what A24, with a budget bigger than a turkey sandwich and a couple of perverse favors, must look like? Don't let the grander than usual scale fool those of you who aren't into artsy fartsy movies. There is a good chance that you might leave this movie thoroughly confused, and as usual, I'm pretty sure that was more than intentional. Oh I'm sure there is a deeper meaning behind every single frame in the film, but it takes a real manly man to admit that when he just may not have fully understood everything. 


Based on the six hundred year old Arthurian poem "Sir Gawain and the Green Knight", written by an unknown author lost to time, "The Green Knight" follows "Gawain" (Dev Patel), the nephew of "King Arthur" (Sean Harris), who is invited to be a part of the Knights of the Round Table's Christmas time celebrating and merriment. However, the part is interrupted by the arrival of a frightening, towering, tree-like humanoid, known only as the "Green Knight" (Ralph Ineson). The Green Knight offers a challenge to whoever can strike a blow to him, will have one year before he strikes the same blow back. Gawain, wanting desperately to prove himself, accepts the challenge and in a moment of brashness, decapitates the Green Knight, who immediately lifts up his head and rides off into the night, laughing and preparing for his and Gawain's future confrontation. A year passes, and Gawain's journey is about to begin, though some such as his lover, "Essel" (Alicia Vikander), tries to convince him not to, Gawain is determined to make a legend out of himself and prove himself as a true knight. Armed with Arthur's sword along with green girdle given to him by his mother (Sarita Choudhury), Gawain ventures into the harsh, cold, extremly lonely world, where he encounters bandits, strange apparitions, horny ass nobles, and a lovable fox companion. 


Written and directed by David Lowery ("A Ghost Story", "Pete's Dragon", "The Old Man & the Gun", proving that he has a decent amount of range), "The Green Knight" Is probably what a more realistic version of a Arthurian legend you'll ever see. Gone are all those colorful sights, romanticized stories, and clear cut characters, who are easy to determine which is good and which is evil. This is not a glamorous adventure. It's brutal, unforgiving, and difficult to decipher in places. It's one of those films that may be entirely left open to interpretation, as little is explained and due to the various amounts of imagery (Ranging from beautiful to nightmarish to just plain puzzling), you're left just like Gawain, questioning what's real or what's meant just to be a metaphorical illusion. Is there a deeper meaning that you need to read between the lines to understand? Is the meaning that you have found the one that the director intended? Is it all just a bunch of arthouse mumbo jumbo that's just odd simply because movies such as this like to be odd? I have my theories, but regardless, it's an immensely enthralling cinematic experience unlike anything you might see in theaters right now. It's also in a way, not like anything A24 has quite given us before. The budget this time looks much bigger, and the scope of the film deserves nothing better than the biggest screen you can possibly find. 


Lowery uses some old fashioned, but very welcome (And refreshing to those who miss this kind of style) techniques, such as a storybook-like set design and an unthinkable amount of detail put into every costume or prop. There is so much to appreciate in the foreground and background, and you're left wondering what certain things could possibly mean, whether it's in the background or foreground. It all fits well into Lowery's intimate and beautifully ghoulish, yet drearily epic direction. Not to mention images that will find their way into your soul, leaving a haunting, though fantastical impression. There's a jaw dropping sequence with some larger than life giants (The sense of scale during this scene is frightening), that's especially memorable, along with some quiet moments involving Gawain's own fears and doubts getting to him, resulting bits of existential horror. Lowery's screenplay is also open to interpretation at times, such as with poem-like dialogue, though I get the idea that everyone is going to have their own version of what they believe everything means. If I had a theory or two, I could see the film as a showcase of what we perceive as traditionally manly. We fight for honor, never show our fear, or more importantly, never let anyone see our shame. The film does an excellent, if not occasionally uncomfortable, job of showing that. 


This is Dev Patel's movie, who continues to shy as both a terrific actor and an always appealing movie star. Much like his character, he goes through Hell, showing his character's inner chagrin and fear, very much going against image of the heroic, chivalrous knight that he desperately wishes to be. A point that the film may appear to be making is about over the top masculinity and the overall horny attitude for well, everything. It's not just entirely about sexual desire, but also the lead character's need to become that honorable warrior worthy of timely tales. However, he repeatedly fails, finds himself outmatched by his surroundings, and outwitted, making mistake after mistake. Even when he has the best of intentions, Gawain isn't without selfishness and the worst part being that it's like he doesn't even realize it. With that said, he's not an unlikable character. These flaws and insecurities feel more natural, and Patel does a great job at portraying those emotions, sometimes just with the slightest expression. There are various appearances from other great performers, like Joel Edgerton (as a Lord that welcome Gawain into his home rather too nicely), Barry Keoghan (as a scavenger who doesn't waste time attempting to steal Gawain's stuff), Eric Kellyman (as a ghost-like young woman named "Winifred", who wants Gawain to find her missing head), an intense, yet warm Sean Harris, and a mesmerizing dual role for Alicia Vikander (Playing both Gawain's love interest, as well as a wealthy lady that attempts to seduce him). Ralph Ineson, though he only appears twice in the entire movie, makes for a towering, truly menacing, and awe-inspiring presence. (That make-up job alone is Oscar worthy!)


"The Green Knight" is the kind of film with great staying power, whether it be because you find yourself wanting to know what it all means out of joyful curiosity, or headache induced frustration. It's nonetheless something that keeps your attention, to the point you find yourself immersed in the world that's being brought to life on that giant cinematic screen, witnessing a classic tale of knightly virtue, except this time, with all the bullcrap cut out of it. It's portrayed as something more human now. It accomplishes what a good legend should do. It's unforgettable, and love it or hate it, you'll be passing that legend off to someone else, who will then pass it on to another. Kind of hard not to appreciate that, even when the confusion sets in.. 3 1/2 Stars. Rated R For Disturbing Images, Shameful Sexual Desire, People Getting A "Head", And Dev Patel's Excitable Human Goo. 

Old                                                        by James Eagan                                   ★★ out of ★★★★

Image: They all look great for their age.


I have grown to kind of respect M. Night Shyamalan. From a decent sized filmography, consisting of "The Sixth Sense", "Unbreakable", "Signs", "The Village", "The Happening", "The Last Airbender", "After Earth", "Split", and "Glass", everyone has a varying opinion on them (Maybe except "The Last Airbender". That one is kind of despised all over), with no in between. The guy is a little nuts, and yet he truly is in a league of his own. I do feel that especially in recent years, he's started to realize what kind of filmmaker he is and play to his strengths. Can't exactly figure out what is yet myself, but it's sure fun to talk about. 


"Old" follows a family vacation to a tropical resort.....from Hell! Protective parents, "Guy Cappa" (Gael García Bernal), and his wife, "Prisca" (Vicky Krieps), are going through a few issues at the moment, but want to remain together for the sake of their charming children, "Trent" (Nolan River) and "Maddox" (Luca Faustino Rodriguez). Guy, Prisca, Trent, and Maddox, are taken to a secluded beach as part of their vacation program, joined with another family, a bigoted doctor, "Charles" (Rufus Sewell), his younger wife, "Chrystal" (Abby Lee), their daughter, "Kara" (Kyle Bailey), and his mother, "Agnes" (Kathleen Chalfant). While on the beach, the vacationers also meet a rapper by the name of "Mid-Sized Sedan" (Aaron Pierce), that Charles is immediately suspicious of, along with another couple, "Jarin" (Ken Leung) and "Patricia" (Nikki Amuka-Bird). When the corpse of Mid-Sized Sedan's girlfriend winds up on the beach (And rapidly decomposes after a couple hours), things start to get even weirder as Trent, Maddox, and Kara, all suddenly start to physically mature (Their older forms being portrayed by Alex Wolff, Thomasin McKenzie, and Eliza Scanlan). Other physical and mental changes start to occur with everyone else, such as wounds healing at a fast rate and underlying diseases getting much worse. It becomes apparent that nobody can also leave the beach, with anyone blacking out before they can escape, trapping our unlucky vacationers in an unimaginable nightmare that appears to only end in death.


Both written and directed (Also produced) by M. Night Shyamalan, and based on a graphic novel called "Sandcastle" by Pierre Oscar Levy and Frederik Peeters, "Old" is a Shyamalan joint through and through. It all comes down if you're willing to accept that or not, and to be honest, when the film is awkward, it's pure narm in the most cinematic way possible. However, when the film works, it's kind of brilliant and makes for an unsettling, rather memorable family drama. It's got a great setup, taking it's time to build up some tension and slowly explain what's going on in an atmospheric fashion. It also helps that the film is gorgeously shot, with some excellent cinematography. Shyamalan sure can frame an amazing shot, and I'd go as far as to say this may be one of his best looking films. It's the tone where things get a little weird, and by this point, I've come to learn that the shifts are intentional. It's just how M. Night Shyamalan writes his movies apparently. Sometimes I think the movie is awkward and weird for the sake of being awkward and weird. There are moments where one can be left baffled by what's on the screen, whether it be little moments of out of place dialogue or just the overall strangeness of the premise. It will also shift suddenly without warning. Such as a rather detailed incision scene, that both features an intense amount of body horror as well as a character breaking out into a random thought that doesn't have anything to do with anything. The same goes for a sudden impregnation that's almost creepily comedic, until it goes down an uncomfortable and depressing route. The thing about these moments though is that they're meant to be like this. There are reasons for why characters react certain ways, and the twists that happen later, are built up rather well. Shyamalan also toys with how many of the characters experience the aging process, from demented visions, along a loss of sight or hearing, which makes for both frightening and disheartening sequences. 


These are some good actors, giving very committed performances, and even when the screenplay kind of has to cut corners (Maybe for time, budget constraints, or to adhere to a PG-13 rating), I do at least buy them in their roles. Gael García Bernal and Vicky Krieps are very good in the movie, and get some well earned, heartfelt moments that make them characters to care about. Rufus Sewell is perfectly scummy and actually gets a couple frightening moments, seeing that his character appears early on to be suffering from a form of dementia (And when a mentally unwell man with the intense stare of Rufus Sewell comes running at you with a knife, you had better flee in terror). There are some excellent casting choices between the kids and as they get older, with Alex Wolff and Thomasin McKenzie being standouts. These characters go through a few actor changes, and it looks uncanny throughout. Some characters don't quite serve much purpose (Why is Aaron Pierre a rapper again? Or what was the point of Kathleen Chalfant's incredibly minor appearance?), but when the focus is shifted on who really matters, there is a good, bittersweet story there. 


"Old" doesn't exactly lead to a typical Shyamalany twist. It instead slowly hints at what's going on, and once it's all fully explained, it not only makes a weird amount of sense, but it's also something that still feels totally unexpected. I thought the ending was very clever, and it leads to solid conclusion. The movie isn't for everyone. It's needlessly strange in parts, could generate laughs that may or may not be intentional, and just might be too offputting in odd places. It's also original in execution, with some excellent performances, disturbing in the best way possible, and regardless of how you react to it, memorable to say the least. M. Night Shyamalan does what M. Night Shyamalan wants to do, and for better or worse, you really have to respect the man for standing out. 3 Stars. Rated PG-13 For Disturbing Images, Horny Teens, Pretzel Limbs, And A Seriously Bad Infection. 

Snake Eyes: G.I. Joe Origins                                                                                          by James Eagan                                                                     ★★ out of ★★★★

Image: But his eyes don't look like a Snake at all.


Has anyone noticed that the "G.I. Joe" franchise has kind of vanished in recent years? A popular Hasbro made toyline/cartoon/multi-media franchise with many incarnations , much like "Transformers", there hasn't been much new material from it in a long time. There was that god awful "G.I. Joe: The Rise of Cobra" movie, followed by a sort of sequel with the more enjoyable (But still quite silly) "G.I. Joe: Retaliation" a few years later, before everything just stopped. Even my geeky self hadn't really thought much about this series I grew up with. So a reboot was inevitable at some point, with hopes of reigniting that spark to bring in some new kids along with the adults who grew up with the franchise, as well as start a new cinematic universe. Unlike others though (Remember the "Dark Universe"?), this one at least may just have the right idea. And, nerd alert, we might get some new collectibles out of it 


"Snake Eyes: G.I. Joe Origins" follows the titular masked ninja (Henry Golding), who after witnessing his father's death as a child, has taken the name "Snake Eyes", as he searches for his father's killer. Snake Eyes is roped into the gangster life by Yakuza member, "Kenta" (Takehiro Hira), who promises him that they will find the man who murdered his father.....Eventually. Some time later, Snake Eyes befriends "Thomas "Tommy" Arashikage" (Andrew Koji), who is in reality the heir to Clan Arashikage, a secret group of ninjas who assist special military unit (And big time PSA provider), known as the "G.I. Joe", in the protection of the world. Tommy, having found a kindred spirit in Snake Eyes, brings him to Tokyo, to partake in the three "Challenges of the Warrior", so that he can become part of the Clan Arashikage, which is led by Tommy's grandmother, "Sen" (Eri Ishida), the "Hard Master" (Iko Uwais), and the "Blind Master" (Peter Mensah) . Tommy sees the potential of greatness for Snake Eyes, though a fellow clan member, "Akiko" (Haruka Abe), is more suspicious of the questionable loner.


Turns out though, Snake Eyes isn't quite ready to become that hero we all know him to be, as he continues to work for Kenta, a former member of Clan Arashikage, with plans to get his hands on the clan's mysterious secrets, such as a powerful jewel that can basically just blow things up real good. The Arashikage soon learn that Kenta is connected to the sinister and seductive, "Baroness" (Úrsula Corberó), an operative of the evil organization known as "Cobra". With Cobra's role in the war between Clan Arashikage and Kenta's gang revealed, this leads to the involvement of Joe member, "Scarlett" (Samara Weaving). Snake Eyes continues to face the challenges, dealing with his inability to let go of the past, facing his own demons, and eventually, becoming the honorable ninja/cartoon character/badass action figure, that a certain film critic looked up to back when he was just a little twerp. 


Serving as a starting point for a hopeful "G.I. Joe" cinematic universe, "Snake Eyes: G.I. Joe Origins" doesn't exactly have a high bar to meet and sadly doesn't reach the gold standard "Marvel" heights that have already been set. However, it doesn't fall into the same trappings as others have by taking a good bit of advice from Marvel. Play the long game. Now I'm not saying that success is assured, but the potential is there and at times, the film realizes it. Directed by Robert Schwentke ("Red", "R.I.P.D.", and the last two "Divergent" movies. Ew), this is a more grounded approach to the Saturday morning-esque source material. There are still some fantastical elements (Giant snakes, exploding jewels, all Japanese people speaking mostly English despite being in Japan), and yet, the execution is fairly smart. For what it is anyway. There is a good story here, with a couple decent character arcs, and a solid amount of adrenaline fueled excitement. It's also very clever how they incorporate many of the classic elements from the source material in unique ways (I especially like what they do with "Cobra" here, with the group being this unknown organization, offering their resources to lesser criminal empires to eventually grow into something more deadly) Where the film falters is with the serviceable though unremarkable screenplay by Evan Spiliotopoulos ("The Unholy", "Charlie's Angels", "Beauty and the Beast"), Joe Shrapnel, and Amy Waterhouse, along with Director Schwentke's obsession with allowing the camera to be shook around every few action scenes. The thing is that it's not necessary and doesn't quite match the kind of movie this is. It's a slick looking film, with an obvious amount of effort put into the well staged action setpieces. However, the shaky cam just serves as a distraction that didn't need to be there. To give Schwentke some credit though, the film gets away from it later on, and wisely does allow for some slower paced character moments. In fact, it's those moments that give the film a little extra sense of quality than one would expect from it. 

 

Henry Golding, despite some slight slipping of the American accent (It's very slight actually), is such a charismatic actor, and in the end, it becomes too perfect of a choice for the character. He gives Snake Eyes a bit more of a complex motivation, does some questionable acts, and attempts to hide a lot of misery behind a harsh facade. Aside from the fact that the original character has normally been portrayed as silent and always masked, it's a departure from what fans might be expecting, but a welcome one. Golding also shares some great brother-like chemistry with the equally excellent Andrew Koji, who conveys a lot of emotion even with simple stares, while also hiding his own dark side (Any fan of the franchise is bound to know where his story is definitely going to go, and it's a fine arc). Haruka Abe is a charming presence, while Eri Ishida, Peter Mensah, and Iko Uwais, all get their memorable, fairly badass moments. Takehiro Hira is a smug, though rather forgettable villain, while Úrsula Corberó looks like she's absolutely relishing her part. (She honestly has the character down perfectly) Samara Weaving sadly is very underused, not being given much to do except partake in a couple action scenes, get a few one-liners, and just serve as setup for future films if there are any. It's disappointing due to being such a well known character in the franchise, and she's a good choice for it.  


With flaws visible all over, "Snake Eyes: G.I. Joe Origins" has something that sets it above say, the "Transformers" films, or really any other non-Marvel, Disney, or DC franchise, trying to get off the ground these days. It feels very genuine and most of all, earnest. There was effort to put into this, and it's smart enough to know what kind of risks are necessary if you're going to make this work. It's still a fun action flick, with a few surprises mixed in there, and just enough depth to elevate it above the less remarkable. Not sure if the hard work will pay off, but for what the film gives us, which is a fairly complex, less by the numbers origin story, it gives you just enough to at least be curious about where they could possibly go with it. There's something with potential for something truly great here, or at least something that doesn't feel too similar to other popular properties, and the still excitable young geek in me wants to see it succeed. 3 Stars. Rated PG-13 For Ninja Violence, Scary Serpents, And Jewelry That Makes You Go Boom. 

Pig                                                             by James Eagan                          ★★★★ out of ★★★★

Image: It's both a pet, AND an emergency meal plan.


Okay, bear with me on this one guys. This is going to be a rather short, very vague review. It has to be, because the less you know, the better. You'll thank me later.


"Pig" follows a hermit named, "Robin "Rob" Feld" (Nicolas Cage), who lives outside of Portland, Oregon, deep within the woods, looking for truffles with his beloved (And very adorable) pet foraging pig. Rob supplies his truffles to a very inexperienced and at times irritable dealer, "Amir" (Alex Wolff), but has absolutely no contact with anyone else outside of the woods. One night though, some unknown intruders break into Rob's little cabin, beat him up, and steal his poor piggy, leaving Rob broken. Rob contacts Amir and the two head into the city to find the pig, leading the many revelations about who Rob was before his solitude and how he truly affected the people around him. 


Written and directed by first timer, Michael Sarnoski, "Pig" is a movie that is definitely not what anyone expected. When you hear the premise of the film, with a crazy hobo Nicolas Cage going into the big city to hunt down the evil bastards that stole his lovable piggy, you think a dumb popcorn filled, future meme maker. The turn off your brain and watch an Oscar winning actor once again go nuts on screen, like how we've grown accustomed to. I hate to break it to you guys, but this isn't an action movie. It's not a thriller. It's a slow moving, very arthouse, and melancholy drama. And it's really quite mesmerizing. This has got to be one of the most bizarrely effective films I've seen in years, reaching an emotional level that you don't actually notice is there at first. It's because you are immersed in what's actually a profound, yet subtle character study, that never fully explains everything, but leaves just enough crumbs to where you can piece things together. 


Sarnoski's direction is understated, with a hushed tone that never plays too heavy on overly sentimental. There's no need for an over the top score, or even dialogue to explain to the audience what they can plainly see with their own eyes. Sometimes, just watching a man's blank reaction to what may appear to be either unsettling or even just plain odd, says so much more than any words can ever convey. It's a lot thanks to Nicolas Cage (Who also served as a producer), and from what I've seen from him, I consider this to be his greatest performance. He's not crazy. He's a little eccentric, but in no way does he ever go off like a babbling cartoon character in the way we've seen him at times. This is Cage acting, playing into the character's quiet turmoil, generating poignancy and even a little humor in some aspects. There are small moments of levity, sometimes due to how odd the film can be at times. He does a brilliant job with it, and dare I say, the man broke my heart more than once during this movie. It's the kind of performance that gets the praise it rightfully deserves and shines a brand new light on an actor that we know can truly be great, only will likely get ignored come award season because, well, it's just not marketable enough. Alex Wolff shows his range, being a great foil to Cage both some semi-comedic scenes and the serious ones. There is some great chemistry between the two. There are sporadic appearances throughout, with a standout scene between Cage and David Knell (As a cocky chef, who has clearly sold out), that really needs to be witnessed and deconstructed. 


 "Pig" is like a comedy of errors. It's road trip movie into a city where everything either goes wrong or feels made up on the fly. I mean, one character is basically following a likely smelly guy who lives in the woods all across town, not knowing what's even going on half of the time. That's what's so charming about it. Underneath all the weirdness, is something affectionate, that moves you when you least expect it to, and boy, at times just feels like a hard punch to the gut. There is a lot more to this that I can't get into. You need to see it for yourself. The more you know, the less surprised you will be. Even when things don't quite make much sense in your head at first, you're fascinated by what's going on and the way the film explains it (Or in some cases, doesn't explain it). It's a tale that you find yourself invested in, and will leave with a lump in your throat. This is the biggest surprise I've seen in a theater for quite some time, and I hope people give it the time of day. It's a poetic, quirky, yet moving tale that should touch the heart of anybody. Especially if you're a swine lover. That sure is one cute pig right there. 4 Stars. Rated R For Harsh Content And Subtle Human Suffering. 

Space Jam: A New Legacy                             by James Eagan                     ★★ ½ out of ★★★★

Image: The Looney bin.


Alright guys, lets rip off that band-aid now. It's time a lot of us admitted to one of those many things you learn as you get older. "Space Jam" is not really a good movie. Blasphemy, right? Just look back at it without the nostalgia goggles. It's very dated, is very forced, doesn't do near enough justice to its beloved characters, and is nothing but one giant ass commercial for anything and everything "Warner Bros." can possibly get their grubby fingers on. It doesn't help that since its release, we've seen much better versions of such a concept with movies like "The LEGO Movie" or "Ralph Breaks the Internet". (Not to mention, we also got "Who Framed Roger Rabbit?". The magnum opus of the mixing of animation with live-action, along with the inclusion of many aspects of the childhoods we hold near and dear). It's not to say that "Space Jam" isn't a fun movie. It certainly is, and I got fond memories of it. Just wanted to get that out of the way, so I don't have to repeat the phrase "Well.....So was the first movie...." over and over again. 


"Space Jam: A New Legacy" follows global Basketball star and living embodiment of human likability, "LeBron James" (Played by LeBron James, obviously), who really wants his son, "Dominic "Dom" James" (Cedric Joe), to follow in his Basketball playing footsteps, despite Dom being kind of a child prodigy, having developed his own video game. LeBron is advised by his supportive wife, "Kamiyah" (Sonequa Martin-Green), to find a way of understanding with Dom, leading to LeBron taking his son with him to the Warner Bros. studio. They're shown an experimental form of software, known as the "Serververse", where basically everything Warner Bros. owns has been compiled by the self-aware, and totally not evil, artificial intelligence, "Al-G Rhythm" (Don Cheadle). LeBron shows zero interest in it, insulting Al-G, who has plans of his own to become all powerful. So Al-G teleports LeBron and Dom into the Serververse, where Al-G challenges LeBron to a game of basketball, agreeing to release Dom from his clutches if LeBron wins. However, LeBron will be forced to stay in the Serververse forever if Al-G wins, sending LeBron to "Tune World", home of the "Looney Tunes", which is now only inhabited by "Bugs Bunny" (Voiced by Jeff Bergman). With all of the other Tunes having abandoned Bugs for bigger and better things (Mostly be forcefully integrating themselves into other Warner Bros. properties), Bugs himself has kind of gone loonier than usual. 


With time running out to save his son, LeBron and Bugs set out to gather a team of their own players, which Bugs uses as an excuse to get the old gang back together, such as "Daffy Duck" (Voiced by Eric Bauza), "Porky Pig" (Also voiced by Eric Bauza), "Lola Bunny" (Voiced by Zendaya), "Speedy Gonzales" (Voiced by Gabriel Inglesias), "Tweety" (Voiced by Bob Bergen), "Sylvester" (Also voiced by Jeff Bergman), "Wile E. Coyote" (Played by himself as he should be), and all the others that the filmmakers can fit into this movie. (Except "Pepe Le Pew" because he's a rapist.....I mean, he's pretty borderline. Be honest) With the "Tune Squad" reunited, LeBron enters the game against Al-G, Dom (Who Al-G has been manipulating to joining his side), and with a team of villainous avatars based around real life Basketball players, known as the "Goon Squad", made up of "Chronos" (Voiced by Damian Lillard), "Wet-Fire" (Voiced by Klay Thomas), "Arachnneka" (Voiced by Nneka Ogwumike), "White Mamba" (Voiced by Diana Taurasi), and "The Brow" (Voiced by Anthony Davis).  


Directed by Malcolm D. Lee ("The Best Man Holiday", "Girls Trip"), with producing credits by Ryan Coogler and LeBron James, and a screenplay written by six people (How do both this and the first movie require so many people to write them?), "Space Jam: A New Legacy" has aspects that actually work better than the original film, with some that really don't, and in most ways, is just the same movie. One thing that this movie does better is that the actual plot, while still plenty silly, is a lot less forced and actually has a reason to be there. The story has a sweet side to it, and is paced rather well. If you weren't a fan of the overabundance of product placement in the first movie, you're not going to be able to handle this one. Warner Bros. flexes almost everything it has in its library, which make up a good portion of the gags. Some of them are quite funny  or even clever (Such as Wile E. Coyote chasing the Roadrunner in "Mad: Max Fury Road"), while others are just perplexing (Why was Granny in "The Matrix"?), feeling like a reference is being made just for the sake of making a reference. There are also lots of visual cameos from all kinds of copyrighted characters, who don't actually do much, though some get a chuckle or even a small belly laugh (I rather appreciate the use of the Schwarzenegger "Mr. Freeze"). There are a lot of groaners though and when they fall flat, you can feel the physical pain from the face plant. (The Porky Pig rapping as the "Notorious P.I.G." sequence isn't as bad as everyone wants to hype it up to be, but it serves no purpose and feels very much like it was made up by a bunch of old white board members) Even when things aren't quite gelling, the film is visually gorgeous all over. A decent portion of it is completely in 2D animation, which is something that's been sorely missing from theaters over the last decade. The animation in those moments just pop off of the screen and is just plain charming to look at. Even when we enter the more 3D CGI second half, it looks amazing. Dare I say it, the Looney Tunes make the transfer to CGI really well and I kind of want to see more of it in the future. The animation was done by "WAG", or "Warner Animation Group", the people behind "The LEGO Movie" and "Storks", so it looks old fashioned, yet refined for the modern day. 


LeBron James isn't exactly the best actor in the world, but then again neither was Michael Jordan. Regardless, just like Jordan, he's still naturally endearing enough to make up for it. Cedric Joe isn't bad, though he's also not great, while Sonequa Martin-Green is just there to play the role of wife and nothing more. Don Cheadle makes for a fun villain and looks like he's having one Hell of a time playing one. (He ends up being more animated than the actual cartoon characters, and the movie is better for it) Ernie Johnson Jr. and Lil Rel Howery get a few chuckles as themselves, being forced to fill in the roles of the announcers for the big game. The voices are top notch, with Jeff Bergman giving Bugs Bunny a cute little subplot, Eric Bauza getting a lot of laughs as Daffy, and I wouldn't mind Gabriel Inglesias being the new permanent voice actor for Speedy Gonzales (He doesn't get to do much, but it's an inspired choice). Lola actually has a bit more of a character than the original movie, though the casting of Zendaya is almost completely for marketing purposes. Some other beloved Looney Tunes make for small roles, such as "Yosemite Sam", "Foghorn Leghorn", "Marvin the Martian" (Always one of my personal favorites next to Daffy), and Taz, though it's just amusing to see them. There's also a cameo in the last act that actually got a big laugh out of me. It's one of those jokes that I honestly didn't even think of them doing. 


When "Space Jam: A New Legacy" doesn't work, it really doesn't. It's also essentially a nearly two hour commercial for whatever Warner Bros. needs to advertise at the moment (It doesn't help that there are actually much better movies that have done similar things). I also can't stress enough that I'm still waiting on that grand scale Looney Tunes movie of my dreams ("Looney Tunes: Back in Action" had the right idea, but even that couldn't quite crack the code). With all that said though, like I said at the beginning of this review, so was the original. It's already dated, pretty preposterous, and doesn't hold back on the cringe. It's also perfectly harmless, sporadically funny, and is at least affable. We live in a post "Emoji Movie" world. This is a freakin masterpiece by comparison. There's a soul in here somewhere, wrapped up in the excessive product placement. Just like the original. For kids, who I see growing up with this one similar to how we did with the first one, it's not gonna hurt them. 2 1/2 Stars. Rated PG For Crude Humor (Though I can't recall a single fart joke), Pig Rap, And Disregard For The Rules Of Basketball. Granted, I Know Nothing About Sports Anyway, So Maybe That's How It's Supposed To Be Played. 

Escape Room: Tournament of Champions                                                                by James Eagan                                                           ★★ ½ out of ★★★★

Image: This "Cards Against Humanity" game is gettiing out of hand.


Back when the first "Escape Room" came out in 2019, it was a surprise success. While I found it to be a rather unremarkable, though solidly entertaining distraction, there was a part of me that wondered if I was just being nice since it came out in January (Home of the last second Oscar hopefuls, along the front runners for every critic's worst of the year lists). It kind of worked, all things considered. I'm glad to report that the sequel, while itself nothing remarkable and flawed all over, has something about it that also just kind of works. Just enough to pass to fill the gap till the next Summer blockbuster. Or I'm just getting generous in my old age. 


"Escape Room: Tournament of Champions" catches us up with "Zoey" (Taylor Russell) and "Ben" (Logan Miller), the only survivors of the previous Escape Room turned death trap, constructed by evil organization, "Minos", who believes that humanity craves watching people fight for their lives in an elaborate fashion (Whats funny is that I can see businessmen standing around a boardroom actually considering that idea. It's the most realistic part of this movie). Sadly, nobody believes Zoey and Ben, and Zoey is now determined to make Minos pay for the many lives that they have claimed over the years with their sick games. Zoey is able to convince Ben to go with her back to New York City, in hopes of finding Minos' secret headquarters, only to end up stuck on a train with a group of strangers, such as "Brianna" (Indya Moore), "Nate" (Thomas Cocquerel), "Theo" (Carlito Olivero), and "Rachel" (Holland Roden). It turns out that this is another one of Minos' escape rooms (Except on a grander level), and the other people that Zoey and Ben are trapped with are also survivors of previous rooms. Now thus begins this epic tournament of champions, as our heroes must face even more perplexing puzzles and deadly obstacles, as they hope to finally expose Minos to the world, or die horribly. 


A sort of PG-13 version of the "Saw" franchise (Honestly, it's even structured the same way), "Escape Room: Tournament of Champions" is a nonsensical, somewhat predictable, and not particularly something worth seeing opening night, considering movie ticket prices these days. With that said, as far a quick distraction best suited for a matinee, especially if you need to kill less than ninety minutes.......by watching people get killed, but in a safe, blood-free way. None of the plot really gels, and while the escape scenarios look cool (And visually impressive for the modest by comparison budget), I don't see how they could remotely exist in the real world, except via magic. There are a couple rooms that basically have small worlds created, with their own rules and physics, and the film gives up pretty quickly trying to explain it. It's illogical, and yet, the sequences are regardless pretty intense and at times even suspenseful (Actually a sequence involving acid rain is the most memorable and ends on a rather gruesome note). The puzzles are clever (Though you can figure out the answers yourself without too much trouble) and Director Adam Robitel (Returning from the first one) wisely knows how to keep things constantly going at a fast pace, adding a sense of urgency. 


It also helps that Taylor Russell and Logan Miller are both very likable, and you really don't want anything bad to happen to them. Indya Moore, Holland Roden, Carlito Olivero, and Thomas Cocquerel, don't really have much to work with, being there to either die at some point if the plot demands or just have supporting parts to fill, but they're not bad at all. Something I really have to commend this movie for is that none of these characters are douchebags, like they normally would be with a movie like this. They do try to work as a cohesive team, and don't have any real intention of letting anyone die. While we never actually see the people behind Minos, you can feel the presence of whoever this shadowy group of untouchable beings, and it shows in the traps within the movie. There is a creditable threat to them, making for solidly frightening villains with twisted minds and a dark sense of, uh, humor.       


"Escape Room: Tournament of Champions" goes through a couple obvious motions, even with a few surprise twists or reveals sprinkled in the second half. It's still plenty fun and has just enough smarts to set it above some of the more nihilistic entertainment that it's emulating. Just like the first film, it's an enjoyable, short, and safe watch........and also like the first film, it ends on a really stupid finale note. Maybe setting up for sequels in a sloppy fashion are going to be a trademark for this franchise. Oh well, guess it comes with the territory. Flaws and all (And unless "Space Jam 2" is not your cup of tea), it's something brisk to see with your friends in the middle of the day. 2 1/2 Stars. Rated PG-13 For Bloodless Deaths, Corporate Villainy, And Terrible Therapists.  

Black Widow                                          by James Eagan                           ★★ ½ out of ★★★★

Image: Uh, ladies....I think I need saving.


Can we all agree that it's about damn time? I'm not referring to this movie's long delayed release due to last year's (And still this year's) pandemic. I'm also not referring to the major Marvel withdrawal that we've been suffering (I'm loving the shows, but there's no topping the big screen cinematic experience). No, it's the fact that Black Widow is finally getting her own movie. It's been over a decade and the character, who previously made her first appearance in "Iron Man 2", before becoming one of the most recurring major characters in several other films, though sadly never as the main star. Then she tragically made the ultimate sacrifice in "Avengers: Endgame". When a beloved character needs to die to get her own movie, that's how you know it's way overdue. 


Set right after the events of "Captain America: Civil War", "Black Widow" opens with the "Sokovia Accords" now in full effect, leaving former trained assassin, turned spy, turned "Avenger", "Natasha Romanoff/Black Widow" (Scarlett Johansson), to flee from the authorities, led by United States Secretary of State, "Thaddeus Ross" (William Hurt, in what's essentially just a cameo). Natasha attempts to go into hiding, only be attacked by the highly skilled, masked assassin known only as "Taskmaster". This leads to Natasha to reunite with her semi-sister, "Yelena Belova" (Florence Pugh), who has recently defected from "The Red Room", the Russian brainwashing and training program that turns young girls into compliant, remorseless killers against their will. The Red Room, along with the sinister mastermind, "General Dreykov" (Ray Winstone), were previously thought to be dead and buried, but has in reality been waiting for the right moment to come out of the shadows to accomplish that age old goal of world domination. 


Yelena has discovered the creation of a dustlike substance, which can cure the other Black Widows of their forced conditioning. However, if Natasha and Yelena want to finally bring down Dreykov, they'll need to find the already impossible to find Red Room. This means Natasha and Yelena are going to have to reunite with the rest of their old spy family, including scientist mother-figure, "Melina Vostokoff" (Rachel Weisz), and their father-figure, "Alexei Shostakov/Red Guardian" (David Harbour), who is Russia's less successful, more washed up answer to "Captain America". With Taskmaster, and the rest of the Black Widows hot on their trail, Natasha has to confront her mistakes of the past and bring her family back together if they're going to put an end to the Red Room once and for all.


Directed by Cate Shortland (With this being her first American film), with a screenplay by Eric Pearson ("Thor: Ragnarok", "Godzilla vs. Kong"), "Black Widow" is not as grand as the Marvel Cinematic Universe's most recent entries, nor is it as unique in the grand scheme of things. It's a smaller scale story, that could be seen as a couple episode arc of a television series, serving as a palette cleanser in between bigger films. Marvel has done that before, so it's nothing new. And yeah, it's still really quite excellent regardless. Much like Pixar, what can be seen as middle of the road, still blows others like it out of the water, making for an exciting, action packed tine at the movies, that at least remembers to include the necessary depth to its story and give you a reason to care. There's no end of the world event, or even that much of a connection to the future plans for the cinematic universe (Except for the obligatory post credits scene). It's very much standalone in that regard, but the film wisely uses that to its advantage to make something more personal. It's probably one of Marvel's darker films, with some twisted implications and heavy emotional resonance, which is conveyed through Shortland's smooth-looking, fairly grounded direction. It's filmed like a spy thriller, with more close combat action scenes, only escalating once we reach the more CGI-heavy climax. However, even that looks really spectacular, making for some much needed big screen spectacle that's top notch as usual. Even though things can get quite grim at times, the trademark sense of humor remains in tact, which also further plays into the thing this seemingly never-ending franchise has done best (And something that further proves nobody will likely ever quite reach the same heights). The character work is perfect, and you're on board with every single one of them. 


Scarlett Johansson, finally getting the spotlight to herself after resigned to supporting whichever hero is the lead at the time, gives her character a more restrained sendoff (If this is truly her final appearance). We could tell that there was enough there to make for a movie, with Johansson retaining that Marvel charm, while also implying the inner turmoil that she tries to keep hidden. Florence Pugh continues to shine as an actress with an impeccable amount of range, and her chemistry with Johansson serves as the heart of the film. They're both total badasses, funny, and realistically vulnerable just like any other down-to-earth hero should be. A lof of the humor comes from a terrific David Harbour (I especially adore a running gag with how he sees himself as a rival to "Captain America", while there's a 100% chance that Cap never even knew he existed), while Rachel Weisz brings in some of the film's sweetest moments, going full mama bear. There's also a likable smaller role for O-T Fagbenle (as "Rick Mason", a friend to Natasha, who like most of us guys, clearly has the hots for her). One of the film's weaker elements would be the villains, though most of that is due to a limited screentime and regardless they still get the job done. Ray Winstone is suitably vile and easy to hate (Think a Russian Harvey Weinstein), with there being an intentional point to the offputting way the character acts. Meanwhile, Taskmaster is plenty scary, making for an intense adversary, though I can bet that there are aspects about where the film goes with the character that will be controversial, knowing male nerds with YouTube Channels. (A very predictable species) In the end though, the villains aren't what matter. It's the family dynamic, adding a new layer to a character that we've already seen so much of and know so little about, and even makes you look back on other films with a little bittersweetness. I also appreciate that this is a very female heavy action film, without anyone actually needing to address it, with the sense of empowerment feeling natural and most importantly, earned. 


 "Black Widow" isn't a game changer and could be seen as a more by the book venture for the MCU....and it is. With that said, that's an already well put together playbook. What can be seen as more general by the standards of previous films, still succeeds better than anyone else in the game, thanks to expert direction, memorable performances, a cast of characters that you want to see more of, and a deeper context that feels intimate thanks to the controlled approach. It's still full of all that humor, heart, and sense of quality that really only Marvel can bring, even if to some it could feel as generic (Funny how a film franchise that's given us a talking raccoon, the god of Thunder, magical suburban witches, and an infinite number of Lokis, can now be called generic). It's a warm feeling that I'm so relieved to finally have back. 3 1/2 Stars. Rated PG-13 For Heavy Action And Violence, Twisted Russian Experiments, And Thick Accents All Over. 

The Tomorrow War                              by James Eagan                               ★★ ½ out of ★★★★

Image: Going back to the future....Tomorrow.


I get the idea that what's wanted here more than anything is another "Edge of Tomorrow"-like form of success. While that film wasn't exactly a gigantic financial favorite, it's become one of those major summer surprises that won over a lot of critics and audiences, being something that as time as gone along to become a cult favorite. It helped that despite the plot itself not being anything too different, it was the clever idea that was injected into the middle of it, making the execution unique in its own right and even making others want to emulate it instead. That's what I think what was going through the filmmakers' minds during this, and while I wouldn't call it a 100% success, I did see something more special hidden within what could have been a generic Science-Fiction, alien shoot em up, that normally would just be tossed to the side at the last second to fill in a timeslot. As you should know by now, I think a LOT about these kinds of things at the movies.


"The Tomorrow War" opens in the not so distant future, where people from the actually pretty distant future, arrive to warn humanity about an upcoming war against a deadly alien species, known as the "Whitespikes". The world is at the moment completely doomed, so the future has come to recruit soldiers to travel to the future to fight in the at the moment, losing battle. Former Green Beret turned lame biology teacher, "Dan Forester" (Chris Pratt), is drafted into the future war, being taken away from his wife, "Emmy" (Betty Gilpin) and daughter, "Muri" (Ryan Kiera Armstrong), to take part in the battle, that many know very little about. Partnered up with a team of either supporting characters or red-shirts, including our comic relief, "Charlie" (Sam Richardson) and the cancer-stricken, no longer giving a crap, "Dorian" (Edwin Hodge), Dan is dropped right in the middle of the future war, coming face to face with the mindless, very hungry Whitespikes, resulting in heavy casualties. Dan and his remaining team are placed under the command of the codenamed, "Romeo Command" (Yvonne Strahvski), with a mission to find a way to kill the Whitespikes on a larger scale by specifically targeting the rarer (And much stronger) females, in order to prevent the apocalyptic possible future from becoming a reality, while also confronting the inevitable questions that arise when time travel is brought into the equation. 


Directed by Chris McKay ("The LEGO Batman Movie") in his first live-action project, along with a screenplay by Zach Dean, "The Tomorrow War", is a movie with moments that feel too good for something of its stature. It has some ambitions, but suffers from the weak script and a lack of memorability. When you get down to the nitty-gritty of it all, this is just a standard alien invasion, that just so happens to have actual thought behind it. Such as the concept itself, with there being some specific rules to the time travel and a sense of urgency in how desperate the draft ends up becoming (It's apparent that they already lost the best, so they need to scrape the bottom of the barrel). Not to mention, despite the futuristic setting, the technology feels more real and refreshingly flawed (A major malfunction in the first act makes for a clever action sequence). It's grounded and I appreciate that. McKay also shows a lot of promise as a more high budget director, utulizing some solid special effects, a few stunning and even scary sequences, and one Hell of a monster design. (These things are pretty nightmarish). The film's biggest faults happen to come with the story, and most of its execution. A lot of the dialogue isn't all that strong, with some noticeable pacing issues, and too many plot points that don't really make much sense. In fact, it ends up being kind of stupid. There are some twists and turns that sort of work, but others that fall flat and feel much too forced. It feels like that some of these are meant to amp up the apparent derivativeness.    


Where the screenplay crumbles, the actors remain top notch regardless. In fact, this may be one of the best acted mostly mediocre films I've seen in some time. Everybody is really good here. Chris Pratt keeps the film balanced, playing a more human hero, with some flaws, a likable personality, and something that I also commend the film for, actually showing his fear. Yvonne Strahovski is excellent, making the second act twist work, with the emotional payoff only coming together due to her own commitment to it. Sam Richardson gets some good moments of humor, without making him feel overly like a goofball, while Edwin Hodge is plenty intense. Even the more underused, though always welcome actors like Betty Gilpin, and an incredibly swole J.K. Simmons (as "James", Dan's estranged father), leave their mark. There are things that don't really make much sense, especially once we reach the rather rushed final act. With what happens, you're left wondering why nobody thought of this in the first place and why apparent cost seems to be called into question only now. (On a side note though, there is a nice little deviation from a little trope I tend to find a bit annoying. There is more to the so called alien invasion than what we're shown. You always wonder why or even how such mindless, destruction loving beasts would just storm in to take over the world by just killing or blowing stuff up. There is an explanation as to what's going on, and it's different in an inventive way). 


"The Tomorrow War" has merit, better than necessary acting, and blockbuster level visuals, that are brought down by the pedestrian plot, poor script, and an unjustifiable length of nearly two hours and twenty minutes. The pace is felt by the end, and if not for the amiable talent on display, it would feel more like a slog. It's certainly a lot better than I would have expected, though its best qualities make the lesser ingredients a bit more frustrating. 2 1/2 Stars. Rated PG-13 For Some Futuristic Violence, Illegal Aliens, And J. K. Simmons' Distracting Biceps.   

The Forever Purge                             by James Eagan                                  ★★ out of ★★★★

Image: Dude, If you've been vaccinated, you can take off the mask."


One thing I can say about the "Purge" franchise, it's that no matter what, it never held back. Things too crazy for ya? Lets redefine the phrase "Over the Top"! Too violent? Lets paint the entire screen red! Overly excessive and borderline exploitation? Why not? This has been a series that just went for it, and if this is truly a finale, the filmmakers were prepared to go out in a blaze of glory (And maybe, take all of America with them).  


The final entry in the "Purge" saga, "The Forever Purge" takes place sometime after the third film ("The Purge: Election Year"), where it seems the abolishment of "The Purge" (The one night given to the United States, where all crime is legalized for twelve hours, usually resulting in loads of murder and served as an excuse for the government to do away with poor minorities), didn't stick. The "New Founding Fathers of America", are now once again in power and don't waste any time bringing it back to the people. We now follow a Mexican immigrant wife and husband, "Adela" (Ana de la Reguera) and "Juan" (Tenoch Huerta), who try to prepare for their first Purge, going with a friend, "T.T." (Alejandro Edda), to find a place to hide with other immigrants for the upcoming twelve hours. Juan and T.T.'s rich, though pretty nice boss, "Caleb Tucker" (Will Patton), also prepares to take shelter for the night with the rest of his family, such as his fairly bigoted son, "Dylan" (Josh Lucas) and more open minded daughter, "Harper" (Leven Rambin), along with Dylan's pregnant wife, "Cassie" (Cassidy Freeman). The Purge happens, some people are slaughtered, and some do unspeakable acts, with all to hopefully be forgotten the next day. However, it turns out that a lot of people don't wanna go back to the old ways, and just plain love them some killing. A group of wackos and insurrectionists form a group called the "Ever After Purgers", declaring that they are now in a neverending Purge, or "The Forever Purge", targeting whoever they want, whenever they want. (Of course they're going to go after any non-white person first). Adela and Juan partner up with Dylan and his family, to escape across the Mexican border to safety, as complete chaos erupts around them. With the NFFA now unable to control the Ever After Purgers, America becomes Hell on Earth, and the fate of land of the free, home of the brave, being called into question. 


By this point, you're either on board with the eight year old series or you're not (Or offended. That's possible too), and I don't see "The Forever Purge" being the one to convert any newcomers. It's the apparent final film, so even the filmmakers know that doing so would be a lost cause. So I give this film credit for understanding that and sticking to what it knows, which is to be a gruesomely violent, horror-thriller, with a not so subtle political edge. They've been consistently alright so far, so don't break what isn't really broken. What I think makes this final entry to be the best in the series (Aside from actually being a solid hour and forty minutes of suspense and scares), is that the filmmakers not only escalate things further than ever before, they also make the satire razor sharp to the point it could cut the throat of any insurrectionist watching. Director Everado Valerio Gout (In his first theatrical feature), who is clearly inspired by westerns more than your typical escape from the city or country thrillers, doesn't hold back in the point that' trying to be made. While it's still wrapped up in a rather implausible, occasionally trashy outer exterior, you can appreciate how the films have in a way led up to this moment. 


Ana de la Reguera and Tenoch Huerta a serviceable heroes, while there is a fairly cute (If not entirely predictable) subplot involving Leven Rambin and Alejandro Edda. Cassidy Freeman and Will Patton (Despite his obviously brief appearance), give better than required performances. Josh Lucas ends up being the most interesting character in the film, and while it's not exactly as profound as the movie may be going for, there is something fascinating about a character who is a decent person, though does harbor a different form of bigotry (One of those guys who doesn't necessarily look down on anyone, but just doesn't seem to get it and wants various cultures separated because of it). There is a decent redemption story in there. We get a lot of fun, completely cartoonish villains (No killer is freakin normal in these movies. They're always foaming at the mouth and cackling maniacally), though Jeffrey Doornbos (as the gung-ho leader of the Ever After Purgers), doesn't really come into play till the last act and leaves hardly an impression. An interesting scene-stealer ends up being Zahn McClarnon (as "Chiago", a tribal leader who sees all of this coming a mile away), who gets quite a few significant moments. It's always been hard to actually label these films as scary (They generally go for easy jump scares), but the film has it's at least at times rather intense. Such as showing the aftermath of a Purge, where cleanup crews come in to take care of all the bloody corpses littering streets and people attempt to get to their normal lives (All of which is cut short by the out of nowhere arrival of more madness), which is certainly clever and effective, especially considering it's just supposed to be shock value. Sometimes that kind of thing works. 


"The Forever Purge" makes for the best "Purge" movie, despite continuing the franchise's in your face, overly violent attitude. It's still too much for its own good, and it's also definitely not the best written movie in the world. With that said, it's a solidly intense, well put together, and yes, actually political poignant, bit of trashy though relevant political satire. It all comes together once we reach the very fitting (And somewhat scary), grand finale, where the point isn't just driven home, it's shoved right through your skull. Even I was a little surprised they even bothered to go there. We always say that nothing will ever get like "The Purge" or that it's just too unrealistic to exist. Considering recent events, sometimes I wonder though how far off we might actually be. 3 Stars. Rated R For Grotesque Violence, Lots Of Swears, Sweat, And Good People On Both Sides. Or So I'm Told.   

The Boss Baby: Family Business                                                                                  by James Eagan                                                                   ★★ out of ★★★★

Image: "Which one of you is changing my diaper this time?"


For a movie that many were ready to blast as the most uninspired and laziest of ideas, "The Boss Baby" was not only a surprise financial success (And one that "DreamWorks Animation" really needed at the time), but it was also very, very strange. It wasn't great or anything. However, if you think about the plot in any way, uninspired and lazy aren't the adjectives that come to mind. 


"The Boss Baby: Family Business" opens up years after the first, with "Tim Templeton" (James Mardsen), having grown apart from his former boss baby brother, "Ted" (Alec Baldwin), who has become unnaturally wealthy. Tim now has a wife, "Carol" (Eva Longoria), a smart daughter, "Tabitha" (Ariana Greenblatt), and a baby, "Tina" (Amy Sedaris), who as it turns out has joined "BabyCorp" (Where all babies come from, run also by babies in suits), like her uncle before her. Tina tells Tim that she's on a secret mission for BabyCorp, involving Tabitha's advanced learning school, run by the eccentric Jeff Golblum.....I mean, the eccentric "Dr. Erwin Armstrong" (Jeff Goldblum), and a possible evil scheme that threatens all of babykind. This mission brings Ted back into Tim's life, who feels that Tabitha might like his brother more than him. With the help of a magical formula that de-ages you for a limited time, Tim is turned back into a kid, while Ted is turned back into a baby. Tim and Ted are sent on a madcap adventure into Tabitha's school to find out what Armstrong is up to, rekindling their lost brotherly relationship, and uncovering an even more nefarious conspiracy at the center of it all. 


Directed by the returning Tom McGrath ("Megamind", along with the "Madagascar" films), "The Boss Baby: Family Business" follows the frenetic, bizarrely outlandish footsteps of the first film, though it seems this time the filmmakers have just done a better job balancing that out with a few good laughs for the adults, enough cuteness for the kiddies, and some truly spectacular (And visually unique) animation. Unlike the ironically tame "Spirit Untamed", the animators at DreamWorks seem to have saved up all their creativity for this, making up for a lack of character detail with a fast paced, cartoonishly over the top mix between both 3D and occasional 2D. This makes the slapstick humor very exaggerated (And for some reason, makes almost all of the characters really jiggly). It's a very colorful looking movie that's fun to look at. Maybe it's more of a budget since the first film made so much money, but this one feels more grand this time around. The screenplay by Michael McCullers (The first "The Boss Baby", "Mr. Peabody & Sherman", along with the second and third "Austin Powers" movies), isn't exactly deep or offers too much in terms of intellectual humor. It's still full of some solid jokes, especially plenty for the adults to appreciate more than the kids. The plot is once again one of those "Maybe it's best you don't think about it" sort of things. It's very much out there, with implications that don't make a whole lot of sense. (Babies making apps. Evil world domination schemes. All babies coming from an office building in the sky. Pretty wild)


Alec Baldwin's voice does quite match the look, and gets more than a few chuckles, along with a solid James Mardsen. Amy Sedaris is the scene-stealer here, and sounds like she's having a lot of fun (Already seeing talks about a third movie, and would be totally on board if she's made the focus). Eva Longoria is there to be the mom, while Ariana Greenblatt has a sweet subplot. Jimmy Kimmel and Lisa Kudrow (as Tim and Ted's parents, who didn't really have much to do in the first film), return to more expanded, much funnier roles. Meanwhile, Jeff Goldblum gives one of his strangest performances (And that's saying a lot), but it's actually really amazing in a entertainingly peculiar fashion. The movie also has a few hilarious side or background characters (Such as a chubby baby obsessed with glue, a talking Wizard alarm clock, and a creepy little girl, who may or may not be demonic). 


Available in theaters (And in 3D. Probably would have looked pretty good too) and through streaming on "Peacock", "The Boss Baby: Family Business" won't exactly convert any new fans, and when you get past the weirdness of the plot, it's not something on par with anything from Disney, Pixar, or even some of DreamWorks' best. This candy coated family friendly drug trip is the kind of movie that plenty will get more annoyed by than anything, and the frantic pace can get a little tiring. Although, it's not pedestrian in any way. It's also certainly not dull in any way. There's some cleverness to the silly humor, some genuine charm, and by the end, an actually heartwarming message about maturity. It even ends on a moment that makes you go "Awwww", and darn it, it won me over. Something all over the place and colorful for the kids, and hey, it's never a bad thing to see it through their eyes. 3 Stars. Rated PG For Some Not So Kid-Friendly Jokes To Go Over Their Heads, And Lots Of Jiggling Baby Fat.    

F9: The Fast Saga                                     by James Eagan                            ★★ ½ out of ★★★★

Image: "So....Why didn't anyone mention you had a brother in any of the first eight films?"


Can anybody really get mad at these franchise anymore? I find it funny that now that I've grown to accept them for the brainless, yet shockingly well made and solidly entertaining fun that they are (Mostly after being brutally beaten down into submission by them), everyone else is like, "Well now it's just gone too far". I mean, they have, but that was actually about five or six movies ago. I'll honestly be disappointed if they didn't go further. Just go with it and take it for what it is. That's this franchise in a nutshell. 


The ninth entry in the long running franchise (Tenth if you count "Hobbs & Shaw", considering it's a spin-off) and plight on everything we associate with the laws of physics, "F9: The Fast Saga" once again follows everyone's favorite family of street racers, turned outlaws, then turned secret agents. "Dominic "Dom" Toretto" (Vin Diesel), has been living a calm and relaxing life with his wife, "Letty Ortiz" (Michelle Rodriguez) and son, "Brian" (Named after the late Paul Walker's character). However, their peaceful retirement is ruined by a message from intelligence operative, "Mr. Nobody" (Kurt Russell), who reveals that he had captured international cyber-terrorist, "Cipher" (Charlize Theron), before a plane he was on went crashing down. Dom, Letty, along with their buddies, "Tej Parker" (Chris "Ludacris" Bridges), "Roman Pearce" (Tyrese Gibson), and "Ramsey" (Nathalie Emmauel), go to investigate, only to discover the return of Dom's forgotten brother turned criminal, "Jakob" (John Cena). Jakon, along with his sniveling associate, "Otto" (Thue Ersted Rasmussen), having taken Cipher captive for themselves, are trying to get their hands on a powerful weapons system known as "Aries", which is separated into two pieces. With only Mr. Nobody's mysterious message to go on, the team splits up, with Dom focusing on tracking down Jakob, while Letty and Dom's sister, "Mia" (Jordana Brewster) looking for a strange connection that leads them to a thought to be deceased friend, "Han Lue" (Sung Kang). Through the use of fast cars, magnets, and rockets, Dom is forced to confront Jakob, in their most destructive, incredibly over the top mission yet.... I know, ridiculous, right? 


Directed by Justin Lin (Who directed the third, fourth, fifth, and six films, along with "Star Trek Beyond"), "F9" continues the series' need to go as crazy as it legally can, doing the things we most likely did with our toy cars when we were children, except with millions upon millions of dollars at its disposal. Regardless of what makes logical sense (Which is about only 2% of it), it looks as good as usual. The money is on the screen, and while the big CGI setpieces are certainly impressive, the stuntwork is actually even more impressive. As amusing as it is to see a car swing from a vine like freakin Tarzan or have indestructible people get tossed around explosions like ragdolls without a single scratch on them, it's the simple stuff like a car chase in the middle of the street against a giant military truck that stick with you. It's mostly because these crazy action sequences are quite original. Lin is really good director, who has taken a "Why the Hell not?" kind of approach to what you can do, but is capable enough to make it look as plausible as one can do really do with a big budget blockbuster like this. 


The plot here is probably the weakest part of the film, with the basic doomsday device as a MacGuffin, a lot of running around and tracking (Not to mention, backtracking), and it doesn't make all that much sense. The plots have been known to be secondary for most of this franchise, but they at least weren't this complicated. It's weird how that most outlandish aspects of the film are, believe it or not, the best explained aspects in the entire thing. Dom having a long lost brother that's never been mentioned before? There is a lot of build up to why things are the way they are, and sure, it's contrived, and yet, there is a reason and it serves as the heart of the movie. Han's unexpected resurrection is explained (Though how it plays into the rest of the movie feels a little forced) and of course, the moment everyone has been waiting for (Space time? Are we getting space time?), is actually the most memorable and well done scene in the film. Even though it's shown in detail as to why this would supposedly work, it's still fairly illogical. Just in a clever way. Something that the filmmakers never even attempted to explain is everything with the magnetic cars. It causes an unprecedented amount of destruction and chaos, and yet, unless you're a villain, nobody gets hurt. None of the heroes. None of the civilians. Apparently everyone just leaves their empty cars around for an occasional pileup, and all sharp objects just conveniently miss anyone that happen to be standing around. Sure it looks cool and all, but it pushes the idea of suspending your disbelief, even by movie standards. It's easily the most nonsensical part of the movie. (Aside from Jordana Brewster being able to lift up John Cena. Yyyyeah that's just asking for too much right there)


 The constantly growing and well, surprisingly well rounded and diversified cast, are still welcome to see, playing characters that are still pleasant to follow (You also gotta give credit to this franchise for actually creating a diverse cast long before Hollywood realized it was profitable, and never felt the need to play it safe like others have) Vin Diesel can still carry these movies on his meaty shoulders, and hey, he does in alright job in the more serious scenes. Michelle Rodriguez and Jordana Brewster have decent parts, and get time to be badasses as well (Another thing this series did well was improve upon the female characters). Ludacris, the very cute Nathalie Emmanuel, and especially Tyrese Gibson (Who gets the best intentionally cruddy one-liners, and even a few poignant moments), make for some good comic relief. Sung Kang's return is welcome, though doesn't really standout much (Though maybe we can assume they're playing the long game with this one considering the post-credits scene. Yes. There will be more), and his subplot with Anna Sawai (as "Elle", a young girl, with an important connection to "Aries"), feels underdeveloped.


 The movie does give us some good villains, with John Cena making for an intimidating presence (And not to mention, totally outscowls Vin Diesel), Thue Ersted Rasmussen is enjoyably slimy, and Charlize Theron returns in a small capacity, though still retains a sinister recurring baddie (Her dialogue alone, along with her refined delivery of it, feels like the most intelligent aspect o the entire movie). There are some other familiar faces, such as an underused Kurt Russell (Who is basically just a glorified cameo), a much more appealing Lucas Black (as "Sean Boswell", the bland hero from "Tokyo Drift", who now works on rocket cars....I guess), and Helen Mirren (as "Magdalene "Queenie" Shaw", the criminal mother of Jason Statham's "Deckard Shaw"), who got an applause from the audience when she appeared (As she should!). There's also a brief part for Michael Rooker (as an old friend of Dom's family), who despite the corny dialogue, actually gives a pretty compelling performance all things considered. It's honestly better than needed. Cardi B is also in it. Probably the strangest cameo I've seen in a while.     


Just as silly as ever, and it only gets more wacky as it goes along, "F9" is a wild ride that's only a good time if you're on board with it or not. For the fans, they love it no matter how preposterous it is, and for some, that's part of the fun. As for me, they've grown on me despite the clear flaws (More of a "Mission: Impossible" fan personally. Those are just smarter and more artistically done), I see them as solidly made, not too demanding, action packed blockbusters, that also are at least endearing in their own way. I can admit though, this movie does show signs of wearing thin. Maybe it's just a little too long, or maybe it's some slight fatigue. It's an enjoyable entry, with moments that further develop this bizarre world, but with talks about the franchise nearing an end, I feel that maybe the filmmakers might need to get to that sooner rather than later. End on an grand "Avengers"-level high note before it's just too late.....Or just bring in the dinosaurs already. You laugh, and yet, you also know you kind of want to see that. 2 1/2 Stars. Rated PG-13 For Lots Of Destructive Action, Reckless Driving, Ruthless Decimation Of Everything We Consider Logical, And For Family!