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Reviews for Current Films:
In Theaters (Or streaming): Expend4bles, A Haunting in Venice, The Nun II, My Big Fat Greek Wedding 3, The Equalizer 3, Retribution, Gran Turismo, Strays, Blue Beetle, The Last Voyage of the Demeter, Meg 2: The Trench, Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles: Mutant Mayhem, Haunted Mansion, Oppenheimer, Barbie, Mission: Impossible - Dead Reckoning Part One

Coming Soon: Paw-Patrol 2, The Creator, Killers of the Flower Moon, Five Nights at Freddy's, Saw X, The Marvels, The Hunger Games: The Ballad of Songbirds & Snakes, Trolls 3, Wish, Napoleon


Expen4bles                             by James Eagan                      ½ out of ★★★★     


Image: "How many kills in movies you got? I got over 2,000!"

Let's take a look back at some of the big budget, action heavy blockbusters that we've gotten so far this year. We've witnessed Keanu Reeves fall down a mile's worth of stairs after laying waste to an army of henchmen. An OwlBear beat the absolute crap out of a wicked witch. The Super Mario Bros. live up to their namesake on the big screen. I've had my heart broken by the tragic relationship between a talking raccoon and a talking otter. We've seen one Spider-Man get chased down by millions of other Spider-People of all shapes, sizes, and colors. We've watched as Optimus Prime fought alongside a giant robot gorilla and giant robot Peter Davidson. Tom Cruise literally threw himself off a cliff and totaled a train. Four mutant ninja turtles united humanity against bigotry. The "Blue Beetle" movie somehow beating the odds and making an okay profit despite being sent out to fail. Hell, I even as controversial as they may be, I also loved seeing Michael Keaton's Batman working alongside the Flash, Ant-Man surrounded by a bunch of bonkers looking creatures (And a giant headed Corey Stoll), and having de-aged Indiana Jones punching a bunch of Nazis. (I'll even throw in Jason Momoa embracing brilliant levels of ham in "Fast X") Whether it be original, generic, or just plain good popcorn fun, our action blockbusters have all at least had something resembling the kind of joy that can be had at the movies. At least somebody gave a damn about what they were doing. So there's no excuse for this sh*t! 

"Expend4bles" brings back together (Some of) the mercenary group, referred to as "The Expendables", led by "Barney Ross" (Sylvester Stallone) and his best friend/second in command, "Lee Christmas" (Jason Statham). While Christmas as usual is going through some kind of relationship trouble, this time with an equally tough personality "Gina" (Megan Fox), Barney brings him along on a mission to prevent a rogue mercenary, "Rahmat" (Iko Uwais), from getting his hands on a nuclear warhead for the mysterious villain, called the "Ocelot". The mission goes horribly wrong and Christmas is left to face the consequences, being taken off any future assignments by the Expendables' CIA liaison, "Marsh" (Andy Garcia). The current team, now led by Gina, is sent to track down Rahmat before he starts World War III, consists of returning members "Gunner Jensen" (Dolph Lundgren) and "Toll Road" (Randy Couture), along with newbies "Easy Day" (Curtis "50 Cent" Jackson), "Galan" (Jacob Scipio), and "Lash" (Levy Tran). Meanwhile, Christmas decides to go rogue himself, partnering up with a retired Expendable, "Decha" (Tony Jaa) to complete the mission, which goes about as well as you would expect.

Directed by Scott Waugh (Who isn't having a good year between this and Netflix's "Hidden Strike"), "Expend4bles" is about as insultingly moronic as its stylized title, though that shouldn't be a shocker. What is a shocker though is that it seems everyone involved didn't appear to give a rat's ass about any of it either. This isn't a bad movie due to things just going awry, or even an intentionally bad one. It just seems that nobody appears to care that they're making a bad movie. It feels like an hour and forty minute obligation, that's edited together haphazardly, with a vague plot that literally dances around the details, and an overall sense of ugliness. It's especially noticeable when the entire second half of the runtime takes place on a bland looking cargo ship, with characters just standing around spouting out terrible, overly macho banter, and so much terrible CGI. It's funny how these films once started out as homages to the cheesy, B-Level action movies of the 80s and 90s (Complete with the action stars that made those films into such successes), which most of all relied on well constructed stuntwork, only to now turn everyone into weightless visual effects as if they were superheroes (Except you know, they're not.). I feel like everyone needs to give a firm, sincere apology to "Ant-Man and the Wasp: Quantumania" because while that film overly relied on green screen, it was at least to create a world that wasn't supposed to be real. This movie has characters just talking in a room or outside a building, where it's all just a green screen (Was it too hard to, you know, get a house to shoot at? Or a warehouse?). It's baffling how anyone could think this would fly, unless again, they just plain didn't care.

The argument could be had that story, characters, or even the screenplay by Kurt Wimmer (The remakes for "Total Recall" and "Point Break"), Tad Daggerhart, and Max Adams isn't meant to be important. What's meant to be the focus in the action and the big personalities involved, and normally, I'd almost agree with that. However, when that too lacks passion, the usual fun to be has instead becomes aggressively dull. The film's marketing gleefully has been promoting their return to the R rating (Since the previous movie was PG-13) and certainly does feature a lot of unnamed bad guys getting shot up, sliced up, or just splattered all over the wall, completely with digitized blood and gore. It's nothing you've never seen before and considering we just released the new "Mortal Kombat" game (And a new "Saw" movie coming out next week), you can get so much more over the top with the violence and this is just lame.      

But hey, at least the cast is surely a lot of fun, right? You'd think so, but with half of them seemingly having vanished from the franchise without a trace, the novelty has long worn off. Jason Statham and Sylvester Stallone have friendly chemistry between each other, but the movie does away with that rather quickly (Not to spoil anything, but it's pretty obvious from the beginning where this is going). It's actually quite depressing to see Statham on auto-pilot, and not even appear to take that much joy in delivering his usual snarky one-liners. Returning stars like Dolph Lundgren and Randy Couture look like they're going through the motions, while new additions such as Tony Jaa, Levy Tran, and 50 Cent are all given little to do, leaving you to wonder what was the point of their inclusion in the first place. Megan Fox genuinely does come across as plenty cute and capable, obviously rocking the black leather and has some personality at least (Out of everyone else, she looks like she's having fun, as she should). Jacob Scipio is fairly annoying, rehashing Antonio Banderas' part from the last one, except with an overlong piss joke. Iko Uwais is an amazing martial artist and has the makings of a good villain, but the film completely wastes his talents (He literally left more of an impact getting eaten by a space tentacle monster in "The Force Awakens"), which is especially prevalent when the film has him take on Jason Statham in a throwaway fight. Most upsetting of all though is Andy Garcia, who truly looks like he'd rather be anywhere else. (The man looked more happy in the last "Book Club" movie than this)

Already in the running for this year's ugliest movie (Not just physically) "Expend4bles" has the makings to be the worst movie of the year, though it's definitely the worst action movie I've seen in theaters in the last few years. It's the kind of movie that you just wanna show whenever you see some pretentious dick on Twitter talking about how so and so is the worst, most offensively made movie they've seen and make their brains explode for horrendousness. The bloody violence is nothing special anymore, the tone is all over the place, the humor is 95% dick jokes, the final twists during the last act are both predictable and make absolutely no sense, the visual effects are beyond repulsive to look at, and the action is directed in such a scattershot way that there's nothing remotely appealing about it. The franchise has finally lived up to its namesake, except for some reason has decided to drag the number 4 down with it. 1/2 Star. Rated R For Blood Splattering Violence, Weaponized Stupidity, The Worst Child Actor Direction I've Ever Seen, And The Um "Interesting" Use Of An Innocent Guy's Charred Remains.  

A Haunting in Venice                by James Eagan         ★★★ ½ out of ★★★★


Image: I baptize you in the name of the father, and of the son, and of the holy mustache!  

After getting high praise and award love for his 2021 masterpiece, "Belfast", Kenneth Branagh has decided to continue his work on his one true passion, which is apparently donning a silly mustache and speaking in a French accent while solving mysteries. You really gotta love how he really has so much affection for the character of "Hercule Poirot" and the vast library of novels written by Agatha Christie. He just conveys that onto the screen with such a fiery passion that you don't see near enough in a lot of filmmakers these days. I'd very much love to see him just  bringing this character to life for several more films because, well, I grew up with these kinds of stories. Good mysteries, with an intriguing detective, all star casts, and classic staging. If it's not broke, don't fix it.    

Based on the novel, "Hallowe'en Party" by Agatha Christie, "A Haunting in Venice" brings back our eccentric, yet brilliant detective, "Hercule Poirot" (Kenneth Branagh), who has since retired due to his profession bringing him nothing but misery. Now living in Venice, Poirot enjoys a quiet life, with his more than capable bodyguard, "Vitale Portfoglio" (Riccardo Scamarcio), preventing anyone from approaching him with a future case. Poirot meets up with an old friend, mystery novelist "Ariadne Oliver" (Tina Fey), who invites Poirot to attend a Halloween party with her at a palazzo belonging to former Opera singer, "Rowena Drake" (Kelly Reilly), where a séance will also be conducted by the seemingly legit, "Joyce Reynolds" (Michelle Yeoh), in hopes of reaching out to Rowena's deceased daughter, "Alicia" (Who committed suicide after claiming to be tortured by spirits of the dead). Poirot hopes to discredit Joyce, having no belief in such things as ghosts, despite the rumors of the palazzo being haunted by the dead children of the orphanage that it was built upon. Also attending the séance are Alicia's dickish ex-fiancé, "Maxime Gerard" (Kyle Allen), Rowena's superstitious maid "Olga Seminoff" (Camille Cottin), nervous wreck of a doctor "Leslie Ferrier" (Jamie Dornan) and his genius, though strange son "Leopold" (Jude Hill), along with Joyce's assistants "Desdemona Holland" (Emma Laird) and her brother, "Nicholas" (Ali Khan). Poirot is quick to poke holes in Joyce's act, but when a real death occurs that very night (And a huge storm rages outside, preventing anyone from leaving), he's forced to come out of retirement to solve one final case. However, Poirot soon starts to experience his own phenomena, such as hearing voices, seeing the apparitions of children around the palazzo, and starts to question if there just actually might be a supernatural force at play here. 

Directed once again by Kenneth Branagh (Continuing what he started with "Murder on the Orient Express" and "Death on the Nile"), with a screenplay by Michael Green (Also returning from the first two films), "A Haunting in Venice" has the honor of being the first of these movies based on a book that I haven't read (And for the most part, apparently took some liberties with). Regardless of what's been changed around, Branagh crafts his best entry in the series yet by incorporating the old fashioned sense of Hollywood wonder that we've seen in previous films, while also embracing a few other genres along the way, such as taking a slight dip into horror. It's still a classic Hollywood-ized mystery at its core, but there are some welcome, spooky elements, that add a refreshing change of pace to the usual lists and intellectual deductions. Branagh looks like he's having quite a bit of fun, embracing more macabre imagery, while also making such a beautiful, fairy tale-like place such as Venice, appear unnerving. (The film makes good use of the bottled, claustrophobic setting) While the mystery behind the identity of the supposed killer isn't too hard to figure out (I didn't even read the book and I put it together rather quickly), the how and why is where the fun always comes from. It's thanks to the mature screenplay (Which like the other films, isn't without moments of needed levity), and the captivating cast of characters, all given plenty of life thanks to the brilliant cast.

Kenneth Branagh continues to be an absolute joy to watch on screen, with quirky, semi-egotistical charm, yet an undeniably profound intellect. He proves the character to be entertaining to watch, regardless of what situation he finds himself in, and continues to show to be a force to be reckoned with when things get serious. Branagh gets to show a different side of the character this time around. One that does genuinely have both him (And the audience) wondering what's real and what isn't, trying his best to find a possible logical explanation for the seemingly unexplainable. Tina Fey, while of course serving as a source for humor in the film, also gets to show off a little more of her dramatic acting chops, while we once again get great work from the ever regal Michelle Yeoh (Also, can we all just take a moment to recognize how freakin beautiful she is? She's not even really trying to be and yet she just is). We get a rather unique part for Jamie Dornan (Who appears to really work well with Branagh after "Belfast", which I just remembered he got snubbed an Oscar nomination from), along with his former co-star, Jude Hill, who just steals the movie, particularly in his scenes with Branagh, with the both of them playing off each other magnificently. Kelly Reilly (Who is also just absolutely stunning beyond all reason) and Camille Cottin both really get their moments to shine, and the same goes for everyone, regardless of screentime. Another special standout is Riccardo Scamarcio, getting to show off a subtly humorous side with how stern and stoic his character is before actually playing more of an unexpected role as the film goes on.     

Immensely entertaining in the way that even your grumpy grandfather would leave plenty satisfied, "A Haunting in Venice" is Kenneth Branagh's best Poirot film, and serves as an excellent conclusion to his tenure as the character (Though I wouldn't mind like three or four more of these personally). Old school chills and thrills, some actually effective jumpscares (It's nice to see a horror movie genuinely use those wisely), and a well laid out, even if it's not exactly original, mystery. It makes for a great whodunit for the older crowd, that also has plenty to appeal to even the younger audience who might think about giving it a shot. It certainly feels like an early Halloween treat, getting one into the spirit more than most horror films can do (I enjoyed "The Nun II", but this isn't even a close call when asking which is the more worthwhile ride). It uses many of the old tricks we saw in classic motion pictures, yet also is willing to spice things up with a dash of something sinister, without losing sight of what it's meant to be. 3 1/2 Stars. Rated PG-13 For Dark Adult Content, Spooky Spookiness, Heinous Honey, And Of Course, Marvelous Mustaches.   

The Nun II                              by James Eagan                         ★★½ out of ★★★★ 


Image: Valak may be used to choking people out and setting them on fire, but the demon at least never hit anyone on the hand with a ruler.

The Second Comings The Charm!

Set after the events of the first film (But still before the events of the titular villain's first appearance in "The Conjuring 2"), "The Nun II" opens in 1956, where "Sister Irene" (Taissa Farmiga), has gone to live a quiet, reclusive life, though is still haunted by the previous ordeal with the vile demonic entity, "Valak", who likes to take the form of a twisted looking nun (Bonnie Aarons). When Irene learns that Valak may in fact still be around and could be responsible for several gruesome deaths related to the Catholic Church, she travels across Europe to investigate, with a more rebellious young nun, "Sister Debra" (Storm Reid), joining her on her mission. Meanwhile, Irene's old buddy from the first film, "Maurice" (Jonas Bloquet) aka "Frenchie", now works at a boarding school, where he's befriending a young girl, "Sophie" (Katelyn Rose Downey), and clearly has an interest in her hot mom, "Kate" (Anna Popplewell). However, it seems Frenchie has no idea that Valak has found a way to inhabit his body, scheming to acquire a greater power that might be buried inside the school. Irene and Debra must determine where Valak is hiding and what the demon is planning, before more innocent blood is spilled. 

Directed by Michael Chaves ("The Curse of La Llorona", "The Conjuring: The Devil Made Me Do It"), with a screenplay by Ian Goldberg and Richard Naing ("The Autopsy of Jane Doe", "Fear the Walking Dead"), along with Akela Cooper ("Malignant", "M3GAN"), "The Nun II" more or less continues the same streak that these "Conjuring" spin-offs have become known for, which is not being anywhere near as good as the main films in the franchise. However, while most of the films have ranged from bland, forgettable, or whatever the first "Annabelle" was, this one falls into one of the better categories. The film isn't too original and for a good chunk of it, you are left wondering how necessary it is to the grander story, though Chaves does have more than a few clever, fairly spooky tricks up his sleeve. After a fairly slow start, the film eventually finds its footing by relishing in what the franchise does best, which is allowing for the atmosphere to unsettle the audience just as much as the jump scares do. The film cleverly injects Valak's sinister image throughout various, seemingly inconspicuous places, giving the vibe that this kind of evil could be lurking anywhere at any time. It creates this sense of lingering dread, even when you're supposed to be experiencing a quiet moment. As far as the story goes, it's nothing too original, but it adds in a little extra lore and backstory to its villain, providing hints into the motivations behind some of the the franchise's later events. The film isn't without a few cheap jump scares, though there are even less of those this time, as the filmmakers really did try to let the settings and ambiance speak for itself. 

While none of the characters are particularly deep or original, they are likable and you certainly don't want to see anything bad happen to them. Taissa Farmiga is especially excellent once again (Though the film kind of hilariously works around as to why Demián Bichir's character is nowhere to be seen this time, by simply stating that he just died and nobody reacting to that knowledge). The returning Jonas Bloquet is also very welcome as just a nice guy, with a possible dark future ahead of him, while Storm Reid makes the most of a fairly underwritten role. Bonnie Aarons, who never has to say a single word and simply has to stand there, looking menacing beyond belief, once again makes for quite the frightening presence. Valak itself is remains a good horror villain, shown to be diabolical and cruel, yet eerily sadistic and just plain unnerving to look at, especially when it's just staring at you down a hallway (Only to appear directly next to you seconds later, with scary teeth on display). There are some supporting characters (Like some mean girls) that don't add up to much, but thankfully, the film seems to really savor its haunted house-style last act, where all kinds of freaky imagery comes to life (Such as a satanic goat man that gets one of the film's best scares).

"The Nun II" doesn't do much new, yet at least offers a few good chills, tense atmosphere, and even some interesting hints towards the possible future of the franchise (I mean, they're gonna keep making these anyway, so might as well give us something to look forward to). It's not as scary as some of its better entries (And still feels insignificant compared to the much better horror films that we've been getting), but should offer fans exactly the kind of nightmarish thrill ride they're paying for and at least does so in a capable manner. 2 1/2 Stars. Rated R For Scary Images, Crispy Catholics, And Nihilistic Nuns. 

My Big Fat Greek Wedding 3            by James Eagan             ★½ out of ★★★★ 


Image: Five bucks says this was all an excuse for them to visit Greece. 

Movies like this are like that really, really, genuinely nice person that has nothing but the best and sweetest intentions in the world......that you just can't stand to be around for more than twenty minutes at best. 

Years after the previous two films, "My Big Fat Greek Wedding 3" reunites us with "Toula Portokalos" (Nia Vardalos), along with her husband, "Ian" (John Corbett), and very, VERY big fat Greek family. After the death of her father, "Gus" (Previously played by the late Michael Constantine), Toula promised to deliver his journal to his old friends back in his home in Greece. Toula, along with Ian, their college age daughter, "Paris" (Elena Kampouris), Toula's brother "Nick" (Louis Mandylor), and Theias "Voula" (Andrea Martin) and "Frieda" (Maria Vacratsis), on a vacation to Greece. Along the way, Voula also brings along Paris' ex, "Aristotle" (Elias Kacavas), insisting that the two of them get together (Which is not remotely baffling in any way). Once they arrive, the family meets with the current mayor of Gus' old hometown, "Victory" (Melina Kotselou), who desperately wants this reunion to bring back life into the almost completely abandoned town. Toula meets an old flame of Gus', along with the brother she never knew she had, while Voula and Frieda try to get Paris and Aristotle together, Nick is running around with Gus' ashes, and Ian is wandering around being John Corbett. Then there's a surprise wedding, some conflicts of the rom-com variety, and me sitting in an empty theater wondering how far this once mighty box office monster has fallen. 

Written and directed by Nia Vardalos (Who wrote the previous two films), "My Big Fat Greek Wedding 3" seems to have missed the point as to why the original 2002 film was such a success in the first place. It was the little movie that could. Short, sweet, admittedly cute, and unique despite the conventional story. It was a massive hit, and love it or hate it, everyone respected what it was able to accomplish. Sadly, for some reason, somebody got the idea that this story needed to continue, resulting in the much less well received (And financially weaker) 2016 sequel. Then to bring it back for another go around, it no longer has the small scale charm that the original had. Now it's just another stretched out sitcom premise that replaces chuckles and heart with unfunny running gags and a lot of those usual tropes that just get under my cynical, rom-com hating skin. Vardalos does showcase Greece's beauty well, and presents it as a luxurious, almost otherworldly place worth visiting and respecting. However, most of it's just there to pad out the runtime of barely an hour and a half, and doesn't offer anything that you wouldn't already get out of watching Discovery Channel. The film's script is already awkward enough as it is, and it only results in even more awkward delivery from awkward performances. 

Nia Vardalos and John Corbett both have plenty of charm to spare, and I still like them together, though the movie makes the frustrating decision to push them further and further to the side in favor of the extended family. And yeah, by this point, their quirky antics have very much worn out their welcome. The subplots with Louis Mandylor, Maria Vacratis, and Andrea Martin (Whose character these movies have repeatedly tried to force into becoming the breakout character), are all mostly over and done with before they begin, feeling more and more stereotypical the longer they appear on screen. None of these characters truly have identifiable personalities, but instead just have quirks and catchphrases. This is especially prevalent with Melina Kotselou (Who plays a non-binary character, which is a welcome bit of modernization, though for some reason the character has to basically announce it every other scene they're in). Lainie Kazan (as "Maria", Toula's mother, who is now struggling with dementia) is neglected to an underwritten subplot that deserved way more time to resonate, while I continue to feel sorry for Elena Kampouris' character in how often she's forced into odd, somewhat problematic situations that she really doesn't seem to want to be a part of (Everything about her bland romance tends to get uncomfortable with how much all the other characters are trying to make it happen, and the movie weirdly treats all this like a good thing).

Well meaning, but rather annoying, "My Big Fat Greek Wedding 3" doesn't have much to offer except more of the same, though with little to none of the charm that made the original such a success. The humor falls flat and the heart just isn't there, with the thin story throwing everything it can at the wall to see what sticks. While it was never my kind of movie to watch on my own, I can at least acknowledge its importance and appreciate it for what it was. This one though was just more of what gets on my nerves about this genre, and it does so in such a flimsy, often lazy way. Maybe it's time for an extended vacation away from the family.......and by extended, I mean permanent. 1 1/2 Stars. Rated PG-13 For Shenanigans All Around. Too Much To Handle For Ninety Minutes. 

The Equalizer 3                 by James Eagan              ★★ ½ out of ★★★★


Image: "He's just standing there.......Menacingly!" 

One must give special credit to Antoine Fuqua and Denzel Washington for creating one of the most consistently "Fine" trilogies in recent memory. Never anything bad, nor anything great, but just something that you can watch at a Matinee price in the middle of the week and leave satisfied enough. Their competent collaboration has been just serviceable enough to warrant three moderate successes that, well, don't rank up with the likes of "Mission: Impossible" or "John Wick", but at least have something that very few trilogies (Or even whole franchises) have been able to accomplish. A complete story, with a beginning, middle, and end. Weirdly, all three movies feel as if they genuinely flow into each other in a way that would feel incomplete without the others.


Loosely based on the original 1985 television series (Not the Queen Latifah one), "The Equalizer 3" follows former marine turned vigilante, "Robert McCall" (Denzel Washington) having successfully taken out a group of drug trafficking gangsters in Sicily, only to end up himself wounded. McCall, realizing his age and mortality, finds refuge in a peaceful, friendly little Italian town. Coming to terms with his situation, McCall grows fond of the locals and the beauty of the town, deciding to retire for good there after tipping off CIA agent, "Emma Collins" (Dakota Fanning), about the drug trade he has prevented. However, the Italian Mafia, run by the "Quaranta" brothers (Andrea Scarduzio and Andrea Dodero), seek to force out all of the townsfolk for the purposes of hotels and casinos, wiling to use whatever ruthless methods they deem necessary. Despite wanting to live out the rest of his days in peace, McCall must return to his brutal, violent ways one final time to prevent innocent bloodshed. 

Directed by Antoine Fuqua (The first two "Equalizer" films, "Training Day", "The Magnificent Seven"), with a screenplay by the also returning Richard Wenk ("The Expendables 2"), "The Equalizer 3" brings the franchise to a fittingly grisly, yet oddly quiet finale. Refreshingly, it's not really an action movie anymore, despite what the trailers seemed to imply. There's only a handful of sequences that play out more like something you'd see in a dark thriller (Maybe even a horror movie). The film is more of a drama at times, focusing more on Robert McCall's inner turmoil, as well as his desire for a peaceful life. The film also takes time to address the character's mental state, where his cold reaction to the violence around him has taken a toll after a while (It's a brief, but welcome acknowledgement of the humanity that's behind the killings, regardless of how deserved). It's not to say though that the film is suddenly high art. Nowhere close! It's still preposterous to believe (Even if the film explains how one, clearly aged man can take on a small army by himself via stealth tactics), fairly over complicated, and doesn't have the same amount of depth that you would see from superior films. Luckily, it has a capable director and an equally appealing star to keep it together. 

Denzel Washington, no matter what he's in, always acts like he's here to give an Oscar worthy performance. He commands the screen in a way that can be just as charming and cool, as it is intense and terrifying. It always has been fascinating to see someone who can be the nicest, warmest, and morally right man imaginable, that also has the capabilities to make another, albeit viler man suffer, without even blinking. Washington also has a wonderful rapport with Dakota Fanning (Which makes sense since they previously acted together in 2004's "Man on Fire"), with both actors playing so well off each other, leading to most of the film's best use of humor and heart. Andrea Scarduzio and Andrea Dodero are pretty basic, disposable villains, that are at least so unlikable and cruel that you are just waiting for them to get their violent comeuppances. Some of the supporting characters aren't given much screentime, though I did find myself very much feeling bad for Eugenio Mastrandrea (as the local town cop, who is repeatedly beaten up by the villains for simply doing the right thing) and just how much of a chew toy he is throughout the film. 

"The Equalizer 3" ends on a good, sweet note, which only comes after lots of gruesome, almost slasher movie levels of violence. As usual, the conflicting tone, while intentional, can be a bit much. Still, Washington and Fanning elevate the material, along with Fuqua's skilled direction, which makes it another perfect rainy day movie. A franchise that overall fits that description. The positives of having people who know what they're going, taking something fairly disposable and turning it into something that may not warrant your immediate attention, but seems to have affected enough people to become one of the more consistent franchises out there. Even the best ones still have a couple of blemishes, and these films at least kept the main focus where it's needed. Nothing great, though commendable for what it gets right. 2 1/2 Stars. Rated R For Really Strong, Really Bloody, Really Grisly Violence, And For Some Hardcore Equalizing. 

Retribution                              by James Eagan                       ★ out of ★★★★


Image: the retirement home. 

Look, Liam Neeson is an easy to like guy. He's been doing this for years. He's a veteran actor, who broke out into the action genre with 2008's mega-hit, "Taken", and completely changed the once worn out tropes, showing an older guy can be an action star that everybody wants to see. I'm all for the older crowd getting to prove that action films aren't just for the youngsters. Good for him........However........and I say this the most respect possible.......Dude, you need to stop! This ain't working anymore!

A remake of the 2015 Spanish-French film of the same name, "Retribution" follows a high-ranking financier, "Matt Turner" (Liam Neeson), who has let work take over his life, leading to him neglecting his wife, "Heather" (Embeth Davidtz), and two kids, "Emily" (Lilly Aspell) and "Zach" (Jack Champion). While taking Heather and Emily to school, Matt gets a phone call from a mysterious, distorted voice that warns him of a bomb having been placed under his seat, threatening to detonate it if Matt, or his children, don't follow all of his commands without question (While also revealing the bomb to be connected to a pressure plate, which will cause the bomb to explode if anyone leaves the car). As Matt struggles to complete the caller's tasks, which include money transfers and his fellow co-workers being forced into this sick game, he's also framed for everything by the caller, who seems to want to make Matt in particular suffer for something he's done. Matt now must continue to follow the caller's orders to protect his family, and eventually, discover the reason this is happening in the first place or face, wait for it, Retribution!

Directed by Nimród Antal ("Predators"), with a screenplay by Chris Salmanpour ("FBI: Most Wanted"), "Retribution" might sound like the most generic of action thriller premises you could generate out of ChatGPT, but I assure you, it most likely was. I give some credit to the film working in around Liam Neeson's age, showing that while he's still a spry guy, he's not necessarily up to the task of partaking in the typical beat-em up thrillers he once brought out a rut. However, making him sit in a car for the entire brief runtime is not exactly the best trade-off. In fact, it only makes his age more noticeable, along with how often the film cuts corners in order to save time or hide the budget. There is a lack of professionalism behind the film, with how quickly it's edited together and how often the most simplistic of tricks are used in attempts to boost the excitement. I get the idea that Antal saw this as nothing more than a quick paycheck because there is nothing about it that feels remotely personal, as if everyone was on auto-pilot. From the dialogue, to the action (If you would call it that), and even to much of the acting, there's no life to any of it. 

Liam Neeson, even though he too might just be going through the motions, remains a strong, reliable film presence. It may be trash that he's in, but he's here to get the job done and get out with his dignity, though how with how much this movie flopped at the box office (And the fact that this isn't the first or likely last kind of movie Neeson will be in), you wonder if that was even worth it. Jack Champion and Lilly Aspell's characters are both annoying and grating little twerps, and that has nothing really to do with the actors, but seems to purely be the fault of the writing and direction. Embeth Davitdz is trapped in almost an entirely offscreen subplot (And has to deliver some terrible voice work over the phone), while Noma Dumezweni (as "Angela", an Interpol agent, who believes Matt to be the mastermind of all these events....somehow) makes for a moronic, unnecessary extra obstacle. Others fare even more poorly, with Matthew Modine (as "Anders", Matt's best friend and boss) landing the most predictable role and looks really confused as to what he's exactly supposed to be doing half the time, and Arian Moayed (as one of Matt's co-workers, who finds a bomb in his car too), seemingly being directed like his role was supposed to be comedic despite the disturbing circumstances. 

I recently edited together a short film for my Practicum in Electronic Media class, and of course, I would always find sneaky, lazy ways to get around my mistakes. "Retribution" seemingly had the same thought process. I suppose I should take that as a form of inspiration for myself, seeing that if it's okay that million dollar film studios doesn't give much of a crap about professionalism, then me giving myself a headache over my own project is me just putting in more work than even the so called experts. It's thankfully short, and gets so stupid towards the last fifteen minutes that it offers some mild enjoyment in a "So bad, it's good" sort of way. Sadly though, most of the film is far too dull and soulless that it wouldn't even warrant a middle of the night viewing on TNT, which you know this film will eventually live rent free on for years to come. 1 Star. Rated R For Aggravating Family Dynamics, Vehicular Violence, And The Questions That Arise When A Seventy Year Old Man Has A Teenage Son And Ten Year Old Daughter. 

Gran Turismo                            by James Eagan                    ★★★ out of ★★★★ 


Image: "Look at Jann ride that turbulence!" 

A video game movie, based around a real life story, which revolved around playing said game, has no reason to be this well made. I mean what's gonna be next? I play "Sonic the Hedgehog" and "Super Smash Bros.". Can we get an inspiring story out of a guy playing "Animal Crossing"? "Mortal Kombat"? "Frogger"? "Mario Kart".....Well, actually we kind of already got that one.

Based on a true story, along with the racing games (Or racing simulator) of the same name from PlayStation and Polyphony Digital, "Gran Turismo" follows "GT" gamer, turned future racer, "Jann Mardenborough" (Archie Madekwe), who despite a lack of confidence from his father, "Steve" (Djimon Hounsou), dreams of one day racing cars for real, instead of just in video games. Jann gets his chance when Nissan executive, "Danny Moore" (Orlando Bloom), gets the crazy idea to create "GT Academy", which will bring in the best players of the game and see if they have what it takes to take part in the real thing. Along with former racer turned trainer, "Jack Salter" (David Harbour), who thinks that the chances of this little scheme working are nonexistent, Danny invites many players from all over, including Jann, to take part in a competition to prove that they have the skills. Jann eventually sets himself apart from the rest and becomes Nissan's representative in the upcoming professional races. Jann must now face impossible odds, the content of the other racers and crews, and make his dream of racing into a reality. 

Directed by Neill Blomkamp ("District 9", "Elysium", "Chappie"), with a screenplay from Jason Hall ("Thank You for Your Service") and Zach Baylin ("King Richard", "Creed III"), "Gran Turismo", despite how the trailer constantly reminds you it's based on a true story in a corny fashion (Many of us saw it so many times in the past few months), does at its core succeed when it matters. It genuinely serves as an inspirational drama in a classic underdog sort of way. Granted, the film can't resist the usual sports biopic trappings, but the fact that those are the biggest issues with what's still meant to be a video game adaptation, that's an achievement right there worthy of a PlayStation profile. Much of it is because of Blomkamp's direction, who is a very unconventional choice for a film like this. Usually working around Sci-Fi and political themes, this film is, pun intended, more down to Earth. Slower and more personal, though his eye for solid setpieces are still prevalent, with the racing sequences being visually stunning and full of adrenaline to the point that it's actually a little scary to watch in places. The screenplay isn't unique, but acceptable, even though it might just be the performances of the actors that elevate it. This is especially easy to notice when the film, like most biopics, fudges the facts intentionally. Whether it be for time constraints or dramatic purposes. Such as how the film frames a real life tragedy involving an accident with Mardenborough that results in the death of a bystander as a moment to lead to a later moment of triumph. I mean, it really did happen, but still, a little too Hollywood. (Especially when the real events speak for themselves)

Archie Madekwe, who is all kinds of British (Bruv), is stellar despite acting around people who could easily overwhelm him. Yet, he holds his own well and is definitely easy to root for. Orlando Bloom is charismatic and looks like he's having a good time playing a rather unique role for him, while David Harbour is as expected, the scene-stealer, serving as the grouchy teacher, with a heart of gold (And Harbour just plays that perfectly). Much of the family aspect works, particularly with a sincere performance from Djimon Hounsou, while the more movie-specific elements are weaker, such as the underdeveloped romance plot with Maeve Courtier-Lilley (as "Audrey", a love interest to Jann) and an unneeded antagonist with Josha Stradowski (as "Nicholas Capa", an egotistical rival racer).


While not Oscar worthy (Did anyone actually expect it to be?), "Gran Turismo" is an audience pleasing, more effective than not story that achieves its goal, even with its flaws, completely intact. Serving as a compelling drama, along with intense racing sequences that raise the film about the usual fare, you are more or less forced to go with the filmmakers' need to adhere to the usual tropes, which like them or not, are here to stay. Now with that said, that future "Call of Duty" movie will end the moment the player starts dancing on the battlefield because he was sure he could just respawn afterwards. Again, they got more mileage out of this than they logically should have. 3 Stars. Rated PG-13 For Adult Content, Suspenseful Speeding, And The Correct Way To Pronounce Nissan. We've All Been Saying It Wrong This Whole Time!

Strays            by James Eagan                ★★★ out of ★★★★ 

Image: The Canine Cartel leaves no witnesses


I really need to know what the studio pitch was for this. A raunchy parody of "Homeward Bound"? Mockery of all those 90s to early 2000s talking animal movies? An excuse to follow around some cute doggos and toss in some F-Bombs whenever they felt like it? Maybe it was just more of that post-Covid weirdness. You really have to respect the commitment to what's essentially a movie that's repeatedly trolling its audience with its crudeness, immaturity, and fluffy cuteness all at once.


"Strays" follows a scruffy, naive Border Terrier, "Reggie" (Voiced by Will Ferrell), who thoroughly believes, just like any good natured dog would, that his lazy, selfish owner, "Doug" (Will Forte), loves him with every fiber of his being. Despite being abused constantly (And Doug's numerous attempts to abandon him), Reggie hasn't the slightest clue that his owner doesn't care about him. After getting left in the middle of the city, Reggie tries to find his way back home, where he meets a street smart, bug-eyed Boston Terrier, "Bug" (Voiced by Jamie Foxx), who introduces him to the stray lifestyle. After bonding with Bug's friends, a sweet center Australian Shepherd, "Maggie" (Voiced by Isla Fisher), and a cone-wearing therapy Great Dane, "Hunter" (Voiced by Randall Park), Reggie comes to realize just how terribly Doug has treated. So this prompts Reggie to make a declaration to return home to Doug.....and bite his dick off. Now the four pooches embark on a journey to find their way back to Doug's place to do just that. Bite off a dick. 


Directed by Josh Greenbaum ("Barb and Star Go To Vista Del Mar"), with a screenplay by Dan Perrault ("American Vandal"), along with producers Phil Lord and Christopher Miller ("21 Jump Street", "Cloudy with a Chance of Meatballs", and the "Spider-Verse" films), "Strays" was likely brought into existence on a dare and acts like it too. It's incredibly crude, with some low brow jokes and punchlines that usually revolve around coarse language, poop, pee, humping, and other dog related stuff. It would be pretty much impossible to say though it isn't pretty funny at the same time. For what this is, it gets a lot more mileage than even it should. Much of this is thanks to Greenbaum's surprisingly solid direction, that plays itself up like a kids movie on crack, with the occasional cheapness (Such as the fact that the dogs are clearly unfocused at times or the shoddy CGI) only adding to the humor. Much of the film's funniest aspects come from how the dogs see the world around them (Like how there is a semi-dramatic action scene, that's really just the dogs running away from fireworks) and I'd be lying if I didn't admit that I can appreciate a good immature joke as much as the next guy (Like the film's fascination with Hunter's big dog dick, which even becomes a minor plot point in one scene). 


The film's plot is as simple as they come, and you can tell it's more of an excuse to have the characters take part in comedic setpieces, with the movie stopping to make way for them (Such as the dogs eating some mushrooms and hallucinating random plush rabbits appearing for them to play with or tear apart, leading to a hilariously dark punchline). The voice performances are definitely a highlight, mostly because of how lively everyone is. Will Ferrell and Jamie Foxx are especially excellent, while Isla Fisher (Getting to use her real accent) is all kinds of adorable and Randall Park's straight man delivery makes for some of the funniest lines. They're all great, and it also helps that the dogs themselves are just too freakin cute. Will Forte does a rather too good of a job playing the absolute worst kind of human trash you can imagine, while there are many bizarre, yet very amusing cameos and bit parts from the most baffling of places (Yeah, can't spoil any of them). Not to mention, this is probably the first movie to openly acknowledge and mock the whole narrating dog genre. (There were like a ton of those for like a good couple years straight)


At times more clever than it appears and at times, just about as stupid as it wants to be, "Strays" is fun and furry. The film thankfully is very cute and in the end, really sweet that it kind of wins you over. Despite its brashness, it's actually an inoffensive and heartfelt comedy that knows exactly what it is and doesn't try to be anything more. It makes a mess of things, craps all over the place constantly, yet has a nice heart and makes you laugh more than it doesn't. Just like a good boy. 3 Stars. Rated R For LOTS Of Strong Language, Sh*tting, Doggy Thrusting, And Dick Chomping. 

Blue Beetle          by James Eagan            ★★★ ½ out of ★★★★


Image: "Hi...I'm the Blue Beetle, reminding you children to never stand in the middle of traffic during high congestion-AAAHHH!"


We've reached an interesting point in the "DCEU" (DC Extended Universe), where we don't quite know what's about to happen next. "The Flash" basically ended in a soft rebooted universe, yet that movie bombed so hard you wonder how much that will really affect future movies under James Gunn and Peter Safran. Wherever the future DC movie slate takes us, I just hope that this important piece of much needed representation isn't ignored. Not just because Warner Bros. themselves have seemingly put little effort into marketing this movie. And not just because of the importance of allowing other cultures to have their time in the movie spotlight. It should also have a place in the future DC movie universe because it's just plain really, really good. (Also, being half-Hispanic myself, I do have some slight stake in the game)


Based on the comic book character of the same name from DC, "Blue Beetle" follows college graduate, "Jaime Reyes" (Xolo Maridueña), as he returns home to "Palmera City", where he is reunited with his close family, including his parents, "Alberto" (Damián Alcázar) and "Rocio" (Elpidia Carrillo), sister "Milagro" (Belissa Escobedo), their "Nana" (Adriana Barraza), and their conspiracy theorist uncle "Rudy" (George Lopez). Jaime learns though that their home, just like the rest of the community in the city, is about to be taken over by "Victoria Kord" (Susan Sarandon), head of "Kord Industries" (Once owned by her missing brother, "Ted Kord". Fellow comic readers know who that is). Jaime and Milagro get a job cleaning at Victoria's estate, though after getting involved in an altercation between Victoria and her niece, "Jenny" (Bruna Marquezine), gets themselves immediately fired. Jenny does offer Jaime a chance to meet with her for a new job, but that gets sidelined when Jenny steals an ancient alien artifact called "The Scarab" and is forced to leave in Jaime's hands for safe keeping. Curiosity gets the better of Jaime and his family, resulting in the device getting activated and attaching itself to him, providing him with a powerful exoskeleton armor, weaponry, and an AI interface "Khaji-Da" (Voiced by Becky G). Jaime, becoming the "Blue Beetle", must protect his family and the weapon from ending up in the wrong hands, such as Victoria and her scarred, cybernetically enhanced bodyguard, "Carapax" (Raoul Max Trujillo).


Directed by Ángel Manuel Soto ("Charm City Kings"), with a screenplay by Gareth Dunnet-Alcocer ("Miss Bala"), "Blue Beetle" takes a more old fashioned approach to the superhero genre, where instead of end of the world stakes, big CGI epic battles with loads of unnamed background fodder, and cameos from others within the connected universe, it decides to focus its attention solely on its main character. Well, him and his family. This makes for a film that's following the usual formula and the one that Marvel has pretty much gotten down to a science by this point, except retains a certain freshness that the genre has been lacking as of late. Hell, even Marvel has kind of forgotten some of the reasons why this formula has worked so well in the first place. The film takes some chances, not just in terms of diversity and cultural significance, but also with its own unique visual style, great sense of humor, and incredibly likable cast of characters. It's a superhero film for sure, yet the filmmakers never let that distract from the family dynamic, which is all kinds of charming, to the point I could simply watch their lives for the entire runtime. For a minimum by comparison budget, the film looks great, with some extra reliance on practical work (Such as the fact that our lead is wearing an actual costume most of the time, unless required otherwise), along with some better than solid CGI work (It gets a bit more iffy in the last act, but it's not unexpected). The city itself is almost its own character, with just how vibrant it is and how it just breathes the Latin culture into every frame. (Looks gorgeous on an IMAX screen) The film also gets really clever with its action scenes, providing a showcase of the many, anime inspired abilities that the Blue Beetle suit is capable of (It also leads to a few fun Easter Eggs, considering that the filmmakers also took inspiration from the character's appearance in "Injustice 2"). 


It's a very endearing cast, with Xolo Maridueña being a thoroughly charming and capable lead. It really is a star making role, capturing the character's humor, heart, and relatability, serving as an instantly memorable new addition to the growing lineup in the future DC universe. (I mean, we all know you guys are definitely not keeping Ezra Miller now, so you're gonna need a new starting point for upcoming movies) Bruna Marquezine is lovely and brings more personality to what could have easily just been a generic love interest role (Plus, I could listen to that accent of her's for hours), while Belissa Escobedo basically hi-jacks every scene she's in simply by being delightful. Adriana Barraza, Damián Alcázar, Elpida Carrillo, and George Lopez (Possibly the best role he's ever gotten), are all wonderful and authentic, feeling like a real family, especially one in the Latino and Mexican community. Everything involving them is going to resonate and for good reason, showing that even with all the superhero elements, the humanity in the story is never sidelined. The movie is in a way a celebration of the culture, even featuring a few references only people that are a part of it will actually get. Becky G's voice brings a lot of personality to the Scarab, while Harvey Guillén (as a doctor working for Victoria, that she always refers to as "Sanchez" because she's ungodly racist) gets a few important moments for a secondary part. Susan Sarandon is playing a relatively stock villain, but she hams it up like a pro and makes her into a purely despicable piece of work, while Raoul Max Trujillo is just plain menacing as Hell. 


The culture and the significance of it plays a huge part when ti comes to the characters and story, which gives a little depth in the most unlikely of places (One of the villains is given a genuinely harsh backstory). There is also some unexpected heartbreak, which allows the film to break away from the formula, reminding the audience that these are everyday people in the end. The film finds a great balance between the fun and excitement (As well as many, many comic book references to the past incarnations of the character), the dramatic and most of all, the humor. It's actually probably one of the funniest movies to come out of the DC slate, which only appeals you to characters even more. Again, this is more of the Marvel style of filmmaking and yet, the filmmakers actually make it feel different and entirely their own.


While it's still hard to tell if this is the start of the new regime or something left over from the previous one, "Blue Beetle" feels old school, though never takes a lazy approach to it. It's a beautifully done, more family friendly and novel take on the genre, showing that maybe it's time they went back to their roots. When everything seems to be getting bigger and grander, it sometimes feels that the more humble beginnings of these characters have taken somewhat of a backseat. It's nice to get a reminder why we fell in love with these movies in the first place. 3 1/2 Stars. Rated PG-13 For Some Superhero Action, Though Is All Pretty Light. Perfectly Fine For A Family Movie Night. 

The Last Voyage of the Demeter                                    by James Eagan                                                              ★★ ½ out of ★★★★ 


Image: Maybe a little sun will help? 


I don't know what's more depressing. The fact that Hollywood can't seem to do a good straight forward "Dracula" adaptation (Which is also one of my absolute favorite books of all time), or that this is technically the best we've ever gotten for one simple reason. Dracula is an evil rodent man, who slices and dices living beings regardless of innocence, while savoring every blood moment of it with a slasher smile. He's not some misunderstood bad boy, who just needs him some hot loving to stop him from sucking some precious blood from people. Dracula is a totally malevolent piece of sh*t, and it's nice to see a movie succumb to pro-murderous vampire propaganda. 


Based on a single chapter ("The Captain's Log") from Bram Stoker's "Dracula", "The Last Voyage of the Demeter" follows a doctor, "Clemens" (Corey Hawkins), as he searches for work aboard a merchant ship called "The Demeter", which is on its way from Transylvania to London with a cargo of private crates. After saving, "Toby" (Woody Norman), the grandson of the ship's captain, "Elliot" (Liam Cunningham), during an accident, Clemens becomes the ship's new doctor. Despite some warnings from some of the locals and some antagonism from the captain's first fate, "Wojchek" (David Dastmalchian), everything seems to be sailing along smoothly. That is until a series of strange occurrences start to happen, from a random, traumatized stowaway, "Anna" (Aisling Franciosi), creepy sounds coming from all over the ship, and the later slaughter of all the livestock and animals. Anna warns that the ship actually has another passenger. One that has plagued her country for years, the dreaded, demonic vampire, "Dracula" (Javier Botet). Stuck in a weakened, though more feral and predatory form, Dracula plans to feast on all the crew members, one by one until the ship arrives in London, so he can continue his reign of terror. Trapped on a doomed vessel with no escape in sight, the crew must band together if they are going to prevent Dracula's blood lust to make its way to London, while he proceeds to rapidly reduce the crew's numbers with extreme prejudice and without mercy.  


Directed by André Øvredal ("The Autopsy of Jane Doe", "Scary Stories to Tell in the Dark"), with a screenplay by Bragi F. Schut (The "Escape Room" films) and Zak Olkewicz ("Bullet Train"), "The Last Voyage of the Demeter" has been in production hell for some time now, going through various directors and rewrites before finally coming to fruition. Again, being such a big fan of the source material, I was low-key excited about this one and boy did I want to love it. The good news is that it gets so much right and there is genuinely so much to love about it, though it just barely misses the mark enough to disappoint. It's a gorgeously made film, feeling so authentically Gothic, with so much attention to detail and a refreshing use of practical effects. This is shown with the titular ship, being an actually built set, right down to the film's animistic Dracula (Brought to life with good old fashioned make-up and stuntwork, with solid enough CGI being brought in towards the last act for obvious reasons). This adds to the film's unsettling, claustrophobic atmosphere, along with a slow build to violent kills. It's quite brutal in that department, with some really red looking blood and gore, and the filmmakers showing early on that nobody is safe (Anyone who dies in the film goes out as horrifying and painfully as possible, regardless of how likable they're supposed to be).  


The screenplay is one of the bigger issues. It's not so much that it's a bad script or that there's even anything all that wrong with the dialogue itself, it's just that it's so unremarkable. It's welcome to have something so old fashioned, but it's all to a rather noticeable fault. The film follows the typical slasher route, with characters having some underdeveloped banter, then one gets ripped apart, along with a jumpscare or fake out mixed in there, even though the film is very much more sophisticated about it than others. Regardless of the script's weaker aspects, the performances are quite stellar and elevate the material. Corey Hawkins, proving once again that he really has the acting chops to be a leading man, is a compelling protagonist, along with a wonderful Aisling Franciosi (From 2018's "the Nightingale"), despite how underwritten her character can seem. Liam Cunningham is suitably regal and very committed to classing things up, while Woody Norman (From 2021's "C'mon C'mon", and I had no idea he was British) is charm personified. David Dastmaclhian is also great, as he usually tends to be, and it's just so cool to see him no longer as a background character actor, but instead be one of the major players. Javier Botet is the real star of the show however. Having been cast in creature roles in various horror films, Botet really gets the time to shine as a relentlessly vile version of the iconic vampire, bringing to life the villain's rapid lust for blood and animal-like nature, while also hinting at the methodical mind behind the monster that you can tell savors every second of the fear and carnage he's creating. It features some of the best creature work I can think of from a recent horror movie, and a few memorable moments to make the whole trip worth it, though it sadly doesn't have the strong character development or sense of personality that something like earlier this year's "Evil Dead Rise".


"The Last Voyage of the Demeter" boasts a fantastic premise, with excellent performances, an unrestrained sense of horror brutality, and impressive practical production values, but doesn't quite achieve the possible sense of greatness that you know could have come from this due to its oddly messy, generic structuring. It's still a pretty cool rainy day movie, with plenty to appreciate and enough chills to put you on edge, even though that one true brilliant "Dracula" story we've been waiting for is still somewhere lost at sea. 2 1/2 Stars. Rated R For Scary Imagery, Poor Cruiseline Destinations, And Bloody Demises Of Anyone And Anything.

Meg 2: The Trench                by James Eagan                  ★ ½ out of ★★★★

Image: "Shut up, Meg!"


How do you make Jason Statham kicking a giant shark in the nose boring. You had two objectives! Be stupid and be fun. You got the first one right. Easily, but how did it end up so freakin dull?


Loosely based on the books by Steve Alten, "Meg 2: The Trench" reunites us with the very Jason Stathamy, "Jonas Taylor" (Jason Statham), who after the whole Megalodon situation, has settled for fighting eco-terrorists and taking care of his adopted daughter, "Meiying" (Sophia Cai), after the death of her mother (Meaning, the actress has better things to do than come back to this). Jonas now works with Meiying's excitable uncle, "Jiuming" (Wu Jing) as he continues to fund exploration into the "Trench" (Where all the Megalodons live, among other undiscovered prehistoric creatures). While on a seemingly unimportant dive beneath the ocean, Jonas and his crew discover a mining operation, which results in an explosion that opens a rift in the ocean, allowing creatures from the Trench to be unleashed into the open sea. Discovering a possible betrayal from his team, Jonas must figure out who is responsible for this disaster and prevent many Megs from chowing down on the unsuspecting people. I kind of condensed this the best I could because it's oddly convoluted where all this goes (I didn't even mention the whole thing with the nice, pet Meg, which the movie itself forgets about for a good while).  


Directed by Ben Wheatley ("Free Fire"), with a screenplay from returning writers John Hoeber, Erich Hoeber, and Dean Georgaris, "Meg 2: The Trench" tries to recapture the unremarkable, yet acceptable B movie enjoyment of the first film, though feels completely fresh out of ideas. Maybe because this kind of campy, crazy creature feature filmmaking has been shown to be capable of more than militarized stupidity. It could also be that the film is just lacking in personality this time around, with too many plot points, needless side characters, and taking too long to get to what the audience wants to see, which is a giant shark do giant shark things. There actually isn't near enough of that this time around. The screenplay doesn't make time for characters with depth, but instead relies on tropes or catchphrases to get by. Even then, none of it is all that kitschy in a fun way and just feels lazy. The visual effects are genuinely pretty solid for the most part, with the creatures looking massive and menacing. They don't do much though except an occasional chase sequence, which after a while all blend in together and feel very uninspired in terms of direction. Again, you're supposed to be a big, bonkers, wild ride of a movie, yet I'm too busy thinking about how uninventive and lame all this is. There's a fight between a giant squid and a giant shark, and I couldn't have cared less! 


Jason Statham and Sophia Cai are still a fine, rather cute pair. With Statham once again not taking himself too seriously and not being afraid to make himself look silly, and Cai being not overly precious, while being quite competent. They have some good chemistry, while Wu Jing and Cliff Curtis (as "Mac", one of Jonas' longtime friends) are both charming despite how often the script fails them. Page Kennedy (as "DJ", who serves as the lame comic relief) makes for lame comic relief, the very cute Skyler Samuels (as "Jesse", the tech girl, who obviously has a bigger part than the movie first shows) gets a perplexingly predictable part, and Sergio Peris-Mencheta (as "Montes", a mercenary with a grudge against Jonas) is here to fill out the role of "Bad Guy". Extra characters are there to be eaten or serve as excess baggage, and our villains are all completely ridiculous in a scheme that makes no sense (We got giant sharks, squids, and lizard monsters running around! This whole evil mining operation is kind of meaningless and counterproductive!) 


"Meg 2: The Trench" is proof that everyone was actually a little too hard on "Jurassic World: Dominion". It's not funny enough or crazy enough to make for a fun popcorn movie. It's also too stupid and overly complicated to be taken remotely seriously. Only towards the last act does the movie actually start to embrace its inanity, but by then, it's just a little too late. It misses the mark so badly and commits the worst sin you can possibly do for what's meant to be simple, dumb entertainment. Bore us. I guess after you've seen Jason Statham jump one giant shark, you've seen them all. 1 1/2 Stars. Rated PG-13 For Shark Slaughters, Chinese Film Market Pandering, And Questionable Underwater Science. I Mean, I'm Not Sure Jason Statham Surviving Thousands Of Feet Below Sea Level Without Any Kind Of Pressurized Support Is Logical, But You Never Know Until You Try.   

Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles: Mutant Mayhem                       by James Eagan                                                             ★★★ ½ out of ★★★★

Image: "Uh....Trick or Treat?"


For the last freakin time, and I want everybody in the back to hear this. Animation is cinema! Yeah, it's bizarre that we still gotta get that through some people's brains, but if great films like "Spider-Man: Across the Spider-Verse", any classic Disney and Pixar film, "Puss in Boots: The Last Wish", a good chunk of Aardman's filmography, almost anything from Studio Ghibli, and many others can't seem to prove that, I don't know what will. It's frustrating because you can do so much with animation. Things that never could be done in live-action. It even could give new life to a franchise that's been around for years, has a huge fanbase that grew up with it, but hasn't quite won over the more critical community.....until now. 


Based on the long-running comic/cartoon/toyline franchise, "Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles: Mutant Mayhem" re-imagines the origins and the titular mutated turtle teens, the leader "Leonardo" (Nicolas Cantu), the nerdy "Donatello" (Micah Abbey), the fight loving "Raphael" (Brady Noon), and the comical "Michelangelo" (Shamon Brown Jr.). Mad scientist, "Baxter Stockman" (Giancarlo Esposito), is hunted down by "TCRI" head, "Cynthia Utrom" (Maya Rudolph), where some experimental mutagen is unleashed, leading to the creation of our turtle heroes, their rat father, "Splinter" (Jackie Chan), and a cabal of mutants within the sewers of New York City. Years later, Splinter has trained his adopted sons in the art of the ninja, while also instructing them to stay away from the humans out of fear of them not accepting them. Leo, Donnie, Raph, and Mikey still yearn to be able to mingle about with the human world, and end up using their skills to rescue high school reporter, "April O'Neil" (Ayo Edebiri). The turtles partner up with April to track down the one responsible for a series of TCRI tech thefts across the city, the mysterious and violent "Superfly" (Ice Cube), believing that this will result in them becoming beloved in the eyes of the people. When the turtles find Superfly though, it turns out that he's a literally mutated superfly, who has also gathered a gang of mutants to cause a crime wave across the city. With Superfly plotting to eradicate all human life and allow mutants to rule the planet, the turtles have to step up and become the heroes they were always destined to be. 


From producers Seth Rogen and Evan Goldberg (Who both served as co-writers of the film), along with director Jeff Rowe ("Gravity Falls", "The Mitchells vs. the Machines"), "Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles: Mutant Mayhem" is yet another animated film that took a few notes from the "Spider-Verse" playbook, though never copies that film. Instead, it actually creates something entirely unique and original itself, while also rebooting an old franchise in the best, modernized way possible. A bunch of us grew up with several incarnations of the Ninja Turtles, and of course there are plenty of kids today who will instantly gravitate to the characters right off the bat. This film is very true to the spirit of the characters we know and love, yet completely puts a fresh spin on everything to the point where anyone could come in and find something to love about it, regardless of their knowledge of the source material. Aside from being the best film to feature the turtles (Not that high of a bar, especially if you add in those Michael Bay produced ones), but also serves as a new standard for how these characters should be portrayed and showcased. It's especially evident in the animation, which is stylized like a moving comic panel, complete with exaggerated character designs, speedy motions, and an embracing of darkened colors. It's like the filmmakers found a way to combine the looks of the original 80s comics, the kid friendly tone of the old cartoons, and the current 3D computer generated era that we're not living in, that also at times drifts into an almost 2D looking style. You really gotta love how odd and even kind of ugly some of the characters look, which actually brings out much of their personality, even when actually aren't even saying anything. This all makes for some creative action set-pieces, as well as just time to focus on the likable interactions between the characters. (There's an especially clever montage midway through, that incorporates an action scene continuing over several different locations) 


The casting of actual young actors to portray the turtles is a stroke of genius. Micah Abbey, Shamon Brown Jr., Nicolas Cantu, and Brady Noon are all wonderfully cast, hilarious, and just plain adorable. They feel like genuine kids, who are awkward and excitable, break into random pop culture references, and just at times get caught up in carefree conversations. All of which is something that we do generally associate with the characters, but never taken to such an authentic degree. Each character feels true, though they also have their newly added quirks that feel only natural. The same goes for all of the characters actually. Jackie Chan brings an older sensibility to Splinter, while Ayo Edebiri retains that April O'Neil snark, yet also takes her in a refreshingly different direction. Ice Cube makes for an intense and threatening, yet humorous baddie. The cast is a who's who of weirdness that is so brilliantly bizarre that every single one of them stands out, even when they only have a handful of lines. This includes Seth Rogen and John Cena (as "Bebop" and "Rocksteady", a mutated warthog and rhino duo), an amazingly over the top Rose Byrne (as "Leatherhead", a mutated gator, with a very Australian accent), Natasia Demetriou (as "Wingnut", a cybernetic bat mutant), Post Malone (as "Ray Fillet", a singing mutant manta ray, who mostly just sings his own name), Hannibal Buress (as "Genghis Frog", an angry mutant frog), and a scene-stealing Paul Rudd (as "Mondo Gecko", a skater bro, mutant gecko). An unrecognizable Maya Rudolph appears mostly for sequel set-up, along with a brief (Very brief) appearance from a perfectly cast Giancarlo Esposito. 


Embracing its grungy, proudly weird roots (And I mean, really weird), "Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles: Mutant Mayhem" is really funny, hectic, and full of so much life. It retains a little bit of an edge (Nice to see people actually using the PG rating for once), but is a definite treat for fans, new and old. With memorable characters, an excellent musical score from Trent Reznor and Atticus Ross, strong messages about prejudice and acceptance, and its own brand of animated brilliance that is sure to be a hit with both kids and adults much like the "Spider-Verse" films have. It wisely knows that the action, goofiness, and laughs, would all be meaningless without some heart, and this movie finds that balance in a way that's sure to resonate with anyone who might feel that they're a little peculiar themselves (And the film even states that there's absolutely nothing wrong with that). It's something pretty darn special that just so happens to find itself wrapped in a goofy IP. We definitely need more like it. 3 1/2 Stars. Rated PG For Ninja Violence, Some Language, Malicious Milking, And The Infectious Cuteness Of Baby Turtles (Seriously, Those Designs Were So Adorable!).

Haunted Mansion                   by James Eagan                ★★ ½ out of ★★★★

Image: Welcome to my Haunted Mojo Dojo Casa House.


Can we all take a moment to acknowledge how the "Haunted Mansion" ride at Disney World (And Disney Land) is quite possibly one of the greatest theme park attractions to ever be created. It's a visual, inventive, and all around delightful feast for the senses, which offers a spooky time for the whole family. And much like "Pirates of the Caribbean", they of course had to make a movie about it. Unfortunately, the Eddie Murphy led 2003 adaptation failed critics, fans, and audiences alike. There's so much potential and story already there, but instead the filmmakers chose to go down the most generic route and leave everybody disappointed. So a reboot, in any capacity, seemed like a no brainer, though Disney seemed to have little interest in promoting it yet again (And they were already doing it before the writers/actors strike). 


Based on the beloved Disney ride, "Haunted Mansion" follows a depressed, broken down paranormal tour guide, "Ben" (LaKeith Stanfield), who is brought in by a priest of questionable validity, "Father Kent" (Owen Wilson) to investigate supposed hauntings within an old Louisiana mansion. Ben meets single mother, "Gabbie" (Rosario Dawson) and her son, "Tavis" (Chase W. Dillon), who claim that spirits are inhabiting the manor, though Ben doesn't think much of it.....until one of the spirits follows him home. Ben returns to the mansion, where he partners up with Gabbie, Kent, along with a bizarre psychic, "Harriet" (Tiffany Haddish) and an excitable professor, "Bruce" (Danny DeVito), to figure out why the spirits are preventing them from leaving and what secrets the mansion holds. As they venture further into the mansion's mystery, the group discovers the mansion's twisted history, lots of traps and distressed ghostly beings, and a diabolical scheme involving the murderous "Hatbox Ghost" (Voiced by Jared Leto). 


Directed by Justin Simien ("Dear White People", "Bad Hair"), with a screenplay by Katie Dippold ("The Heat" and the 2016 "Ghostbusters"), "Haunted Mansion" for all its faults, has the right idea. It actually incorporates material from the idea in inventive ways, figuring out how to have them play out in a cinematic form and weave a path into the story. Now, most of these setpieces are staged from the start, but they are fun to watch, at least for nostalgic purposes. The film also has more of an edge, which is evident by its welcome PG-13 rating, which allows for more creepy imagery that actually might even make the kids jump out of their seats. It's still a family friendly romp, yet it also doesn't try to tone itself down when most of the fun comes from being scared. Some of this cleverness unfortunately is hindered by derivative screenplay, Simien's safe direction, and some uneven pacing. All of which clearly was due to some obvious studio input. You can tell there were plenty of times when the studio would pop its head in and make suggestions (or should I say, demands) that don't always gel, making the film feel the need to lesser itself when it really needed to expand past its perceived formula. The story is predictable or needlessly drawn out in places (There is a twist that's almost hilariously telegraphed), and the humor is hit or miss, with an occasional gag getting a big laugh and some just passing by with a slight chuckle at best. 


The cast is definitely up to the task of elevating the material, and all have a good comradery with each other. LaKeith Stanfield, who is always great to see in a starring role, has quite the emotional arc to compliment the character's humorous and warm side, while Rosario Dawson is as charmingly and lovely as ever. There are some laughs to be had from Tiffany Haddish and Danny DeVito, while Owen Wilson very much steals the show (He's actually kind of great in this movie). Chase W. Dillon is a likable young actor, while a perfectly cast Jamie Lee Curtis (as "Madame Leota", the disembodied ghostly head, trapped in a crystal ball) has to compensate for limited screentime. Jared Leto is a terrifying embodiment of pure evil (And his character is kind of spooky too!), while many of the popular characters from the ride appear in both small and larger roles (Again, something that the 2003 film never bothered with). While one wishes the film has embraced more of a practical aesthetic for the effects work, the CGI is very solid, making for good spectacle (Like I said with "Indiana Jones" a few weeks ago, you just gotta deal with it now). The film also has a nice message of dealing with grief and the eventuality of death, especially for loved ones, which is a mature theme to bring up for what's essentially a family film (I'd even go as far as to say that the Hatbox Ghost's plan to obtain souls could be seen as a metaphor for suicide). I do appreciate the attempts to make more out of what purely exists just to be a cash grab, at least in the eyes of the studio. 


Easily better than the 2003 version (Anyone who says otherwise is straight up lying), "Haunted Mansion" is a fun time that gets the spirit of the theme park attraction and even seeks to be more than a throwaway Disney write-off, even if it's still held back by executive meddling and mandates. A little spooky in places, though not too much, with good work from the cast and decent effects, the film is a mix of genuine effort and corporate decisions, which work together about as well as you can possibly ask for. I mean, one still yearns for that perfect adaptation of wonderful source material, but for what this is, there are worse ways to get your kids interested into something a little more ghostly. 2 1/2 Stars. Rated PG-13 For Scary Images, Ghastly Ghosts, And Jared Leto Jumpscares.  

Barbie                                 by James Eagan                       ★★★★ out of ★★★★

Image: "But Barbie...Can Oppenheimer skate his ass off like me?"


One of the few positives to come out of Covid was that it made Hollywood take a moment to take a step back, think outside of the box, and lose their freakin mind. There's no way this movie could have ever existed pre-2020. The film never would have gotten past the basic pitch. Actually, back in 2014 when the idea of a live-action "Barbie" movie was being tossed around, it had Amy Schumer attached (And while I really don't have anything really against her, her ideas would have been a mistake that cost the film dearly), before the involvement of Greta Gerwig. It's still a shock that this movie came into existence, despite the pure absurdity of it all. It's also a shock to say that it's possibly some of the most fun one can have at a movie this year. 


Based on the long running fashion doll toyline from "Mattel", "Barbie" opens with our narrator (Voiced by Helen Mirren) explaining that all of the Barbies that have ever been created (Even the most baffling ones) all live in the matriarchal "Barbieland", which is full of all things pink and feminine, where all the women are brilliant successes that run everything (Basically, where I'm sure Rush Limbaugh went to when he died). The most stereotypical "Barbie" (Margot Robbie), who almost always has the most stereotypical "Ken" (Ryan Rosling) by her side, lives what she assumes is the perfect life and believes that the girls of the real world have been living the same perfect lives. However, Barbie suddenly starts to feel unexpected feelings of death, imperfections, and cellulite. She learns from "Weird Barbie" (Kate McKinnon), that whoever the girl is that is playing with her in the real world is possibly in distress and sends Barbie out into the real world to find her. Taking Ken along with her (Because he's got nowhere else to be), Barbie ventures into the real world, where she discovers that things are definitely far from perfect. While avoiding the employees and the "CEO of Mattel" (Will Ferrell), Barbie meets her previous owner, "Sasha" (Ariana Greenblatt) and her mother, "Gloria" (America Ferrera), whose own insecurities have passed on to Barbie. Meanwhile, Ken learns about how awesome it is to be a dude in the real world (And the "glories" of the patriarchy), taking what he's learned back to Barbieland, with disastrous results. 


 Directed by Greta Gerwig ("Little Women", "Lady Bird"), who co-wrote the film with boyfriend, Noah Baumbach ("Marriage Story"), "Barbie" is a movie that, well, has possibly the biggest set of balls out of any other movie to come out in recent memory. A few years ago, many would have laughed if I told them that a movie about "Barbie" would have been one of the deeper, most brutal pieces of existential, feminist satire to grace our big silver screens. The movie is light years better than any "Barbie" movie has any right to be simply for trying to say something at all, but the fact that it does so in such a hilarious, wildly imaginative and thought provoking manner, only makes it more of something special. Something that will likely become a future female centered classic for some, while obviously pissing off plenty of guys online (And those involved in political media) who are smoother down there than Ken is. Aside from being the pinkest movie in the history of cinema, Gerwig creates a beautifully odd world, that feels like what I imagine a little girl might envision during the most dangerous sugar rush of their life. From intentionally bad effects in places, immaculate set designs, Oscar worthy costume designs, and unforgettably, infectiously girly imagery, this is an achievement in production that I never even considered. It literally looks like a little girl's playset come to life. Even the real world scenes have their own sense of fantastical elements, from how the Mattel company works (Gotta give em credit for allowing the filmmakers to mock them as hard as they do) and how many of the characters seemingly just accept the existence of real living Barbie dolls without much question. 


It leads to a lot of great satire and comedy, and yet, the film isn't without its heavier themes of existence, purpose, and mortality (Along with the negatives and positives that came with the creation of the "Barbie" brand itself). Not to mention, the feminist topics of how modern day women are still forced to struggle, except in different (Intentionally inconsistent) ways, along with this still sense of male dominance, that's sure to have the women in the audience applauding and the men awkwardly shifting in their seats. It's quite relentless, and unfortunately, more accurate than a lot of us would like to admit. All of which just makes it so much funnier. Personally though, I don't see how this should in any way alienate a male audience. I mean, I'm still a guy who can look at Margot Robbie in this movie and say "Dayum! She fine!", yet also admit, yeah, we kind of act that way sometimes. Not even intentionally too. And I'm 100% sure, we annoy the living Hell out of all women when we do so.


It's another movie that has a massive, almost unthinkable ensemble, where every single performer looks like they're having the time of their lives. Margot Robbie, who is as perfectly cast as one can be for such a role, is wonderful as you would expect. She encompasses that cute sense of oblivious innocence, that's forced to come to terms with emotions that many have to endure in real life, and it makes for a surprisingly well rounded, three dimensional character. The various other Barbies, which include the likes of an equally perfectly cast Kate McKinnon, Issa Rae, Emma Mackey, Hari Nef, Alexandra Shipp, Dua Lipa, and others, are all also complimented by the various Kens, which include Simu Liu, Kingsley Ned-Adir, and others. Ryan Gosling though, really steals much of the movie in a role that I have a sneak suspicion that a lot of guys would refuse to play. Gosling is laugh out loud levels of stupid, yet also has a lot of character him, where you can see exactly how he would come to the conclusions that he does, and is a total delight throughout (Especially during his musical and dance numbers towards the film's climax, which is both terrifically done and so bafflingly weird at the same time) There are some great work from America Ferrera (Who gets a damn good monologue in the last act), Ariana Greenblatt (Getting the most memetic line where she straight up calls Barbie a fascist), Rhea Perlman (as "Ruth", a mysterious woman Barbie meets at Mattel), Michael Cera (as "Allan", the lone non-Ken doll in Barbieland, who clearly has no idea why he's even there), and a hilarious Will Ferrell, in one of his best roles in a while. 


Much like "Oppenheimer" (Yes, I did the double feature and yes, it was worth it), "Barbie" is a work of art, based around clear affection for what the filmmakers have for it, which transcends what it could have easily been (I mean, this could have been a disaster in the wrong hands). With an excellent soundtrack (Very catchy), gorgeous visuals, a flawlessly committed cast, and a lot of brains behind the beauty, "Barbie" is the funniest movie of the year, that also hits you right in the heart when it matters (And also culminates in one of the best final lines in movie history). Pure, Pink, Feminist Propaganda. And I mean that as high praise. Who would have thought Barbie would be one of 2023's smartest, bravest, and most important movies? 4 Stars. Rated PG-13 For Some Adult Humor, Toxic Plastic Masculinity, And So Much Margot Robbie Feet, Though Is Still Quite Suitable For The Young Girls Going To See It. If Anything, It Might Be Necessary. 

Oppenheimer                      by James Eagan                  ★★★★ out of ★★★★

Image: "Thank you....Please, no more autographs." 


Christopher Nolan is one of the most unique, prolific, and uncompromising voices in cinema today, who also has somehow found a way to draw in wide audience appeal. It's actually somewhat baffling how he's been able to do that. Sure, he did the "Dark Knight" trilogy, but even then, movies like "Inception", "Dunkirk", and "Interstellar" are films that believe it or not, have won over some fans (And not all off them just being movie buffs). He's found this way of offering the moviegoers big blockbusters, with intricate, unconventional and puzzle-esque, ways of telling its story, without leaving anyone behind. And now, he may have just created something that I'm not sure he'll ever be able to top. His magnum opus if you will.


Based on the book, "American Prometheus: The Triumph and Tragedy of J. Robert Oppenheimer" by Kai Bird and Martin J. Sherwin, "Oppenheimer" follows the life and legacy of the father of the Atomic Bomb, "J. Robert Oppenheimer" (Cillian Murphy). Told sporadically and out of chronological order, we see Oppenheimer from his humble beginnings as a brilliant, yet out of place student, then later scientist who more or less brought quantum physics research to the United States. During his time teaching, he forms an unstable relationship with the emotionally damaged "Jean Tatlock" (Florence Pugh), affiliations and sympathies with those in the growing Communist party, his later marriage to his wife, "Kitty" (Emily Blunt), and eventual development of the Atomic Bomb. Brought on board by "Leslie Groves" (Matt Damon), Oppenheimer works, alongside many other scientists from all over, to create the ultimate weapon of mass destruction before the Nazis do and create a peace that will end all wars.....However, we're also treated to another perspective at the same time. After the war, Oppenheimer becomes very much against future development of atomic weapons, and has found himself at odds with relentless government official, "Lewis Strauss" (Robert Downey Jr.), who wants him discredited and taken down. Now at the height of the Cold War, Oppenheimer's actions proceed to cost him and will have everlasting consequences on the world for years to come. 


Written and directed by Christopher Nolan ("Inception", "Insomnia", "Memento", the "Dark Knight" trilogy, "Dunkirk", "Interstellar"), "Oppenheimer" is easily his most ambitious, uncompromising project yet and is very much unlike anything you've ever seen. What's in a way a dramatic series of conversations, mixed in a history lesson and even elements of a psychological horror movie, makes for an epic blockbuster that finds cinematic spectacle that never relents for the three hour runtime. Seriously, the film is three hours exactly, and yet, never drags and is thoroughly engrossing the entire time. Much of that benefits from how Nolan has decided to tell the story, and once again proves that he's a master of his craft as our narrator. From the colorized, deceptively whimsical, and eventually horrific way Oppenheimer's story is presented from his perspective, to the black and white, matter of fact, and always intense sequences of behind the scenes political intrigue, the film is always engaging how it portrays its subject. Never completely perfect, yet undeniably brilliant and with the most human of intentions. 


Nolan's signature eye for surreal imagery is on full display, from how he cuts back and forth between scenes, building tension, through the use of dialogue and sound, right up to a boiling point that leaves the audience near breathless. The cinematography and sound design, along with how well they all compliment each other, is astounding to be a part of, especially in an IMAX theater. (My ears literally popped during the big bomb testing sequence) All of this makes for stunning visual splendor, yet it wouldn't mean that much if the script wasn't cracking with powerful dialogue, which despite being very intellectual and based in, well, physics, it's not difficult to understand. Without ever feeling the need to hold your hand, the film rarely feels like a biopic. It feels as if you're witnessing historical conversations and fantasies in the moment they happened, thanks to how complex every character is, and believe it or not, the little moments of levity sprinkled in sparse places. 


This has easily got to be Nolan's biggest and greatest cast yet. Nolan's good luck charm, Cillian Murphy, at long last gets his time to shine in the spotlight as the leading man, and yeah, it's an Oscar worthy performance. Playing Oppenheimer through a large portion of his life (No de-aging necessary, because you just somehow buy it due to terrific make up work), Murphy is intense and complicated, giving a layered performance that doesn't always show his true emotions, except for when his face is the sole focus of the screen. There are some haunting sequences that we see simply through his expressions, and they're immensely effective. Truly jaw dropping work. We have major standouts, from Emily Blunt (Who says so much while saying so little in places), Matt Damon (Who has been having quite the year), and a show stopping performance from Robert Downey Jr. (Who just commands the screen every time he's front and center).


 So many more people show up in various roles, whether they be major or not (Though each and every single one serves a purpose). A heartbreaking Florence Pugh, Josh Hartnett (as "Ernest Lawrence", a fellow physicist), Benny Safdie (as "Edward Teller", one of the scientists brought onto the project, who clearly doesn't get along with everyone else), Tom Conti (as "Albert Einstein", who needs to introduction), Kenneth Branagh (as "Neils Bohr", Oppenheimer's idols), a suitably creepy Casey Affleck (as "Boris Pash", who I assume was just as creepy as Casey Affleck is), Jason Clarke (as "Roger Robb", who is grilling Oppenheimer through the film's flash forwards), along with Alden Ehrenreich (as an aide to Lewis Strauss), who deserves an apology from the "Star Wars" fandom, and even a really excellent part for Dane DeHaan (as "Kenneth Nicols", personifying slime). There are so many more, and every single performance isn't just good, it's nothing short of brilliant. Just one of the best casts you could ever ask for a film to have.


"Oppenheimer" just might, at least on a technical level, be the greatest movie I've ever seen. I'm literally in awe of how any of this came to be. From the direction, amazing performances, the heart pounding score from Ludwig Göransson, anxiety inducing sound design, epic cinematography, and the best use of editing I've ever seen in a movie, it's a masterpiece that goes past the idea of a traditional biopic. It breaks you emotionally with the questions it asks, but serves as a necessary experience that will remain on your mind long after it ends. Even at three hours, you're almost left wanting more. It also serves as just a riveting, political character study on a man that very well may have doomed us all despite also having saved us as well. Best movie of 2023 and probably even the best movie for years to come. 4 stars. Rated R For Strong Adult Content, Nudity (Nothing Sexy About It. Trust Me), And The Disturbing Consequences Of One's Brilliance (I'm Gonna Have Nightmares About A Specific Sequence Involving The Effects Of The Atomic Blast. You Will Too.)

Mission: Impossible - Dead Reckoning Part One                by James Eagan                                                                 ★★★★ out of ★★★★  


Image: "Don't panic....We're guaranteed another sequel."


Guys! Holy sh*t! That Thomas Cruise guy may be crazy, but he certainly knows how to deliver on what we're all looking for each summer. True cinema that just so happens to be wrapped up in all that big blockbuster packaging. The kind of intensity, adrenaline fueled action that doesn't require all that green screen and CGI (Not that I have anything against that, but you know, mix it up a little). Good, old fashioned, possibly actor or stunt double endangering, IMAX necessary experiences that you're going to have to see at least a second time. 


The seventh (and second to last?) entry in the franchise, which by this point really has nothing to do with the TV series it's based on, "Mission: Impossible - Dead Reckoning Part One" opens with "Ethan Hunt" (Tom Cruise), of the "Impossible Missions Force" (IMF), once again being tasked with a mission, if he chooses to accept it. This time, an all powerful artificial intelligence, with the capabilities to sabotage all digital systems, known simply as "The Entity" has become sentient and is now out of control, seemingly plotting something nefarious all on its own. Everyone wants to get their hands on the Entity, especially government higher ups, and much to the dismay of former IMF director, "Eugene Kittridge" (Henry Czerny), Ethan proceeds to do what he does best, which is have himself and his team go rogue to complete their mission. Ethan and his team, consisting of former MI6 love interest, "Ilsa Faust" (Rebecca Ferguson), along with tech buddies, "Luther Stickell" (Ving Rhames) and "Benji Dunn" (Simon Pegg), are now hunted by everyone who wants to claim the Entity, as well as government enforcers "Jasper Briggs" (Shea Whigham) and "Degas" (Greg Tarzan Davis). 


The mission is to find two halves of a key that supposedly is important to either controlling or even destroying the Entity, though Ethan and his team end up losing it to a random, rather incredibly talented pickpocket, "Grace" (Hayley Atwell), who has absolutely no allegiance to anyone other than herself. Ethan is also forced to confront an old enemy of his, "Gabriel" (Esai Morales), who has fully committed himself to the Entity and its goals, along with interference from international arms dealer, "Alanna Mitsopolis/The White Widow" (Vanessa Kirby). With the Entity seemingly being all knowing and unstoppable, Ethan embarks on his most impossible mission yet, forced to face off against the literal machine itself. 


Directed by the returning Christopher McQuarrie (Director of the previous two entries in the franchise "Rogue Nation" and "Fallout"), who also co-wrote the screenplay with Erik Jendresen, "Mission: Impossible - Dead Reckoning Part One" is yet another amazing, edge of your seat crowdpleaser of an action flick, that continuously finds new and inventive ways to force audiences to the very edge of their seats. There are so many sequences here that induce near threatening levels of anxiety, including an intense series of obstacles in an airport (Involving facial recognition, a bomb threat, and random riddles), an insane car chase across a city in Rome, and a climactic showdown on a doomed train (A sequence that was literally built from scratch). What makes it all even more impressive is how much more practical effects are utulized, to the point where it's shocking that nobody died making this all happen. Christopher McQuarrie once again proves to be one of the most creative action directors working today, while also still making time for genuinely emotional moments between characters, whether they be tense and dramatic or even just humorous and character driven. The screenplay, which is intricate, yet never confusing, has so many well defined characters, whether or not they actually have a big role or not. It really hearkens back to the even the original 1996 film in which the film relies on the buildup and escalation to the crazier moments, complete with all those deliciously stylish Dutch angles.  


Of course, you really do have little choice but to give credit to Tom Cruise himself. The man thoroughly commits to the part like always, while also still retaining the charm that comes from the character. Ethan Hunt truly is one of the most underrated action movie heroes, with his chronic hero syndrome to save every life even at the expense of the mission or himself being the extra added bit of humanity that can be missing from other action protagonists (Plus he literally throws himself off a cliff for our entertainment. You gotta give credit where it's due). The film doesn't just focus on Cruise though, with plenty of screentime dedicated to the beloved supporting cast, from Ving Rhames, great comic relief from Simon Pegg, and the always enchanting Rebecca Ferguson. Hayley Atwell, as charming and lovely as ever, is a wonderful new addition to the cast, working well off of Cruise and serving her own unique, unexpected purpose. Excellent supporting roles include the returning Vanessa Kirby, a sly Cary Elwes (as "Denlinger", the Director of National Intelligence, leading the hunt for the Entity), and Shea Whigham (Who I swear is playing the same character in every movie he's in, yet is great every single time he plays it). And yes, of course we get the return of longtime fan favorite, Henry Czerny (Having appeared all the way back in the first film), who is once again a scene-stealer, just oozing pure bureaucratic smarm. (It's always fascinating to see that the supposed allies can be just as antagonistic to our heroes as the actual villains) 


Speaking of our villains, Esai Morales is smoothly menacing, while Pom Klementieff (as "Paris", Gabriel's violent assassin) is a mesmerizing force of nature. The Entity itself is a terrifying presence throughout the film, never going too far into Science Fiction territory (It's not like "Terminator" where it's sending out killer robots), but feeling more grounded. The concept of governments and behind the scenes agencies relying on algorithms, codes, and numbers to determine who lives and dies, is already scary enough as it is. Not to mention relevant considering how close we are to perfecting such a thing, right down to manipulating the very truth itself (And how intelligent the so called Artificial Intelligence can truly be), leaves one to wonder how far fetched this idea really is.


Serving as a complete story, as well as only the first half of one, "Mission: Impossible - Dead Reckoning Part One" is the ultimate battle between the human element and the possible future of technology based warfare, which has slowly veered into straight up playing God itself. So it's no surprise that Tom Cruise would be the one to do that. Slick and stylishly directed, beautifully choreographed in terms of its massive action setpieces, with well defined characters, a kickass score from Lorn Balfe, and more than a few heart stopping moments. It's the definition of a necessary big screen blockbuster experience, and you'd be crazy not to accept this mission. 4 Stars. Rated PG-13 For Strong Action Violence, Death-Defying Stunts, Tragic Character Fates, And Demonic Blue Computer Eyes of Sauron. Seriously, That Thing Is The Stuff Of Nightmares.    

Insidious: The Red Door                   by James Eagan              ★★ out of ★★★★

Image: "At Last We Will Reveal Ourselves To The Jedi......Our Penises, That Is!"


Created by actor and director Leigh Whannell ("The Invisible Man"), with the first two films directed by James Wan (The "Saw" films, the "Conjuring" films, and "Aquaman"), the "Insidious" franchise has been a steady success, that I see has garnered a fanbase. Though when you get down to it, they're fairly standard jumpscare horror, that even with the twisted nightmare imagery, never go past a PG-13 rating. Think of them as a ride through a haunted house, that also just so happens to have some family drama sprinkled around it. That's fine for the 2010s I guess, especially since Horror had been going through some reinvention around that point. Now though? With as many good to great horror movies we get now? Seems pretty lame.   


Serving as the final installment in the franchise (For now, I'm assuming), "Insidious: The Red Door" returns the story to the "Lambert" family, who were haunted back in the first two films. Years after those events, "Josh" (Patrick Wilson), has separated from his wife, "Renai" (Rose Byrne), and became estranged from his angsty son, "Dalton" (Ty Simpkins), due to the memory wipe that both he and Dalton had due to the traumatic events they experienced. However, the evil that plagued the family before isn't exactly done with them yet. The infamous "Red Door", home to all of the demons and deceased beings of the realm separating them from the living (Known as "The Further"), has once again been opened, with the especially sadistic "Lipstick Face Demon" (Joseph Bishara), wanting to take Dalton once more like he tried before. While Dalton attempts to find his way in college, he starts to experience dark visions, while Josh too starts to experience the same. With evil scheming to find its way back into the world, this broken family must mend itself together if it's going to end the, ahem, insidious threat once and for all. 


Directed by Patrick Wilson (Taking over from James Wan and Leigh Whannell), "Insidious: The Red Door" starts off stronger than expected, focusing on the human turmoil that's been left over from the previous films, allowing the film's atmosphere to sink in before we get to the usual thrills and chills. Unfortunately, that's what we get with the film past the first act. Just the usual thrills and chills, except by this point, it's not very scary anymore. Despite having one of the most successful jumpscares in cinema history back in the 2010 film, the franchise has never been able to replicate the same kind of magical terror, relying on fakeouts or slow paced buildups to the frights. It's become very repetitive and doesn't have the same effect when you can see it coming a mile away. Patrick Wilson's direction has its clever moments, but it's nothing that unique when compared to what more superior horror flicks have been able to accomplish. (Literally "Evil Dead Rise" basically did use the same tactics as previous entries, yet made them feel fresh and genuinely horrifying)


Luckily, Patrick Wilson is still very reliable in front of the camera, being one of those actors that you know is going to give a good performance no matter what he's in. If anything, he'll just elevate the material, which he does here with ease. There is more of a focus on Ty Simpkins, who is fine, though he's basically forced to overplay the whole angry teen trope for too long (You're obviously twenty! You can't pull that crap!). Sinclair Daniel (as "Chris", Dalton's new roommate) is a welcome, very charming and funny addition, while Rose Byrne kind of gets the short end of the stick with a very small part. We do get some brief appearances from others in the series, such as the much needed return of Lin Shaye (as the deceased "Elise Rainer", who assisted the Lamberts in the earlier films, as well as had her own adventures), along with Leigh Whannell and Angus Sampson (as "Specs" and "Tucker", the bumbling comic relief from previous entries). It's also always really cool to see the film's music composer, Joseph Bishara (Who serves as a composer for many horror movies), continuing to make appearances as the main villainous demon, although we frustratingly still aren't allowed to know much more about this creature. The same goes for the Further as a whole, which doesn't play as much into the convoluted plot as you might think except for mostly offscreen.


"Insidious: The Red Door" is more of the same bag of tricks. There are moments that work and it serves as a fitting enough finale (Again, time will tell if this truly will be the final movie. How many times did "Friday the 13th" actually end again?), but I can't say it's exactly a necessary one. Nothing new or that impressive, and feels out of time when there are much scarier, more memorable frights to be had. 2 Stars. Rated PG-13 For Scary Images, Loud Jumpy Scares, Poor College Professors (Seriously, That Woman Was Terrible At Her Job!), And For Nick The Dick.

Joy Ride                      by James Eagan               ★★★ ½ out of ★★★★ 

Image: Crazy, but not exactly rich Asians.


This is the kind of movie that I can definitely see making a lot of white men incredibly uncomfortable, and I absolutely love it for that. Let the ladies be raunchy, horny, and gross. We do it all the time. They deserve this!


"Joy Ride" follows two childhood best friends, "Audrey" (Ashley Park) and "Lolo" (Sherry Cola), as they plan out a trip together in China. Audrey, an adopted American lawyer, is tasked to close a deal with a Chinese businessman, "Chao" (Ronny Chieng), though Lolo suggests that Audrey take time to seek out her birth mother, who gave her up for adoption as a baby. Much to Lolo's dismay, Audrey is also going to see her college roommate bestie turned actress, "Kat" (Stephanie Hsu), and much to Audrey's confusion, Lolo is also bringing along her social awkward cousin, "Deadeye" (Sabrina Wu). When Audrey botches her attempt to close the deal with Chao, Lolo brings back up Audrey's upbringing, suggesting that she's actually close to her birth mother, despite having no idea who she is. So now the four embark on a cross country trip around China to track down Audrey's birth mother, though things go hilariously awry pretty early along the way (Getting passports stolen by a drug dealer, getting coked out of their minds, being horny as sh*t, and even impersonating a K-pop band).


Directed by Adele Lim (Co-Writer for "Raya and the Last Dragon" and "Crazy Rich Asians", the latter's possible sequel she left due to being offered less pay than the white, male screenwriter for that film), with a screenplay by "Family Guy" writers Cherry Chevapravatdumrong and Teresa Hsiao, along with producing credits to Seth Rogen and Evan Goldberg, "Joy Ride" is exactly what should come to mind when you see all of these names gathered together around one film. It also makes for one of the funniest straight up comedies I've seen in some time. I really appreciate how the film is unapologetic in its crudeness and taste for jaw dropping shock value, yet it's much smarter than it appears on the outside. It's never just being lowbrow for the sake of it (Okay, maybe to a degree it kind of is, but again, it's very smart about it). Lim, in her directorial debut, shows much promise in never letting the film look cheap like other lesser comedies tend to be. It gives off a semi-live-action cartoon feel, though with a good heart at its core that thankfully doesn't contradict the film's uproarious sense of humor. What really works about the film, aside from the cast and characters, is how well crafted many of its wild setpieces are, where it sometimes might shock the audience just how far things will go at the most seemingly calm of moments (There's an aggressively, absurdly, and well, hilariously, sexual sequence involving the girls pit stop at a hotel, that leads to insane results).


The chemistry between all of our main characters is the source of the film's heart, as well as a contributor to the comedy. Ashley Park and Sherry Cola are a wonderful pair, with the Oscar nominated (Robbed?) Stephanie Hsu and a scene-stealingly lovable Sabrina Wu, both fitting in perfectly. They're all shown to be flawed in a way, yet so likable regardless. The subplot involving the business deal, as usual, isn't particularly important and to the film's credit, the story itself seems to think so too and it eventually becomes a non-entity towards the last act. The film's main focus takes a turn halfway through in a way that's shocking and more dramatic, though remarkably effective and doesn't at all clash with the film's tone. Under all the laughs and chaos, the film is also really intelligent about its satire, but it's also trying to say something about where exactly one's cultural identity truly comes from (And what it actually says about you as a person). 


Too rude for some? Probably. Then again though, "Joy Ride" seeks out to make the audience nearly falling over with uncomfortable laughter, which it definitely succeeds with flying colors. It's a side splitting riot with memorable characters and a good heart. It gets you right in that sweet spot. Right there. Repeatedly tickles you there. Right up until you burst. With laughter obviously. What did you think I meant? 3 1/2 Stars. Rated R For Strong Sexual Content, Stronger Language, K-Pop Chaos, And Stephanie's Hsu. 

Ruby Gillman, Teenage Kraken                                             by James Eagan                                                                 ★★★ ½ out of ★★★★ 

Image: Release The.....Uh....Her!!!!


"DreamWorks Animation" just had a massive success with last year's "Puss in Boots: The Last Wish". Besides being an instant classic that won over the hearts of both kids and adults everywhere, and being a solid hit at the box office in the end (Despite a slow start), it pushed the studio more forward into the public eye than most of what Disney and Pixar has done as of late. However, for some reason they seem to want to bury this one. Little to no promotion, with trailers that show off more than they should, and an all around lack of interest in general. It's especially too bad because it's actually a really darn good family movie. One that I could have seen really connecting with the younger girl crowd if the studio only had let it. 


"Ruby Gillman, Teenage Kraken" follows the titular teen Kraken masquerading as a human, "Ruby Gillman" (Lana Condor), along with the rest of her Kraken family, including her real estate mother "Agatha" (Toni Collette), her father "Arthur" (Colman Domingo), and little brother "Sam" (Blue Chapman). For years the Gillmans have lived in secret among the humans (Explaining their questionable features away by stating they're just from Canada), though Ruby especially has never quite fit in. Ruby is already awkward enough as it is, keeping her secret from her closest friends, crushing on her fellow classmate "Connor" (Jaboukie Young-White), and having to deal with all kinds of teenage anxiety (Which is further amplified by you know, being a literal Kraken). However, Ruby's life takes a drastic turn when she ends up in the ocean, unlocking another secret ability that her mother has kept from her, being that she can turn into a giant Kraken, with various powers such as laser eyes and super strength. Ruby also meets her warrior queen "Grandmamah" (Jane Fonda), who wants her to hone her skills and eventually take her rightful place on the throne. Unsure who to trust anymore, along with humans automatically fearing her existence, Ruby befriends the popular new girl, "Chelsea Van Der Zee" (Annie Murphy), who is revealed to be a mermaid in disguise, despite Ruby's grandmother warning her that mermaids are actually the real terrifying threats to the ocean sea. Ruby starts to come into her own, stuck between wanting to live a normal life or the life of a Kraken, wondering why she should have to choose between the two. 


Directed by Kirk DeMicco ("The Croods", "Vivo", "Space Chimps"), with a screenplay by Pam Brady (A "South Park veteran), along with Brian C. Brown and Elliott DiGuiseppi ("Lucy in the Sky"), "Ruby Gillman, Teenage Kraken" isn't the deepest or most original work to come out of an animation studio, and to once again state the obvious, it's got nothing on "Across the Spider-Verse" (Seriously, am I just going to keep saying that every week right now?) Much like its main character though, that doesn't mean it deserves to be ignored. It's a sincerely sweet, lovingly animated, and very likable family film that deserves way better than the cards it's been dealt. The animation alone is worth it, with lively bouncy characters (With noodle arm physics), gorgeous art and color design, and eye popping visuals that feel grand despite the film's surprisingly small scale.  It's one of those movies you can stare at the entire time, even with the sound off, admiring the mesmerizing visuals. Still, the script, while again, not anything groundbreaking, is full of good laughs and loads of genuine charm. 


The characters themselves are all so likable, which is most evident with Ruby Gillman herself. Lana Condor is so endearingly adorable, just so full of personality and comic timing. It's not too surprising considering how much she elevated those "To All the Boys I've Loved Before" movies, and I'd be very disappointed to not see her get more work in the future. The likes of Toni Collette and Colman Domingo both are wonderful, along with an equally committed Jane Fonda (Sounding like she's having a ball). It's not secret (Both in terms of the film's marketing and just because you can kind of tell where this story is going to go) that Annie Murphy's character serves as our villain, but she's plenty delightful in doing so, taking the typical mean girl to a whole new level (And it also just cracks me up how she's designed to look literally just like Ariel from "The Little Mermaid"). There are some fun supporting cast members, such as Liza Koshy, Eduardo Franco, and Ramona Young (as Ruby's quirky best friends), along with hilarious work from Sam Richardson (as "Brill", Agatha's very enthusiastic brother) and Will Forte (as "Gordon Lighthouse", the local crazy old sailor, obsessed with catching a Kraken).


"Ruby Gillman, Teenage Kraken" is clearly inspired by coming of age, female centered comedies, and while the story follows all the tropes of those films down to the letter, it's such an appealing film that one can't really complain. Especially when the filmmakers do such a solid job emulating those films. It's very funny, thoroughly sweet, beautiful to look at, and too freakin adorable to dislike. It's too bad that it was essentially tossed out to fail, but at least I can still see it resonating with a young crowd, who just might connect with it more than even the filmmakers realize. 3 1/2 Stars. Rated PG For Some Fishy Business, Though Once Again, It's Another Family Film That's Basically Sporting A PG Rating, But Is Pretty Much A G. 

Indiana Jones and the Dial of Destiny                                        by James Eagan                                                      ★★★ out of ★★★★

Image: Dr. Jones comes to realize that he's nearing the age where he too belongs in a museum.


The "Indiana Jones" films from Steven Spielberg, much like "Star Wars", have been a staple for many a childhood. So yeah, it shouldn't have shocked anyone when the first attempt at furthering the franchise was, um, different. 2008's "Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull" was fine overall, but relied too much on new special effects, attempts to appeal to a younger generation, controversial plot elements, and that thing with the refrigerator. (Personally, "Adventures of Tintin" felt more like an "Indiana Jones" movie that that did) It didn't sit well (And they even did a whole "South Park" episode about it). So with "Lucasfilm" now with Disney, and "Star Wars" finding new life there, it stands to reason that maybe, just maybe, they give old Dr. Jones one more shot to ride off into the sunset, with John Williams blaring in the background.   


"Indiana Jones and the Dial of Destiny" opens near the end of World War II, with famed history professor and archaeologist, "Henry "Indiana" Jones" (Harrison Ford), along with his less capable buddy, "Basil Shaw" (Toby Jones), getting captured by Nazi Colonel, "Weber" (Thomas Kretschmann), while in search of stolen artifacts. It turns out that there's a much more valuable artifact in the hands of the Nazi scum, "The Antikythera" (The dial of the great Greek mathematician, Archemedes), which Nazi physicist, "Jürgen Voller" (Mads Mikkelsen), seems very infatuated with due to the possibility that it can actually locate fissures in time (aka Time Travel!). Of course Indy kicks some ass and prevents the dial from ending up in Nazi hands. Cut to 1969, Indy is now a grouchy old fart, having separated from his wife, "Marion" (Karen Allen), and is pushed into retirement. Indy is reunited with the now deceased Basil's daughter/his godchild, "Helena" (Phoebe Waller-Bridge), who is searching for the missing dial, which has been split into two pieces. It turns out though that Voller, having been working for NASA under a new name, hasn't given up his obsession with the dial, plotting to use whatever resources he can to finally get a hold of it. Helena meanwhile, has her own goals in mind, planning to sell the dial to the highest bidder. Now Indy, framed for murder, is forced to collect his old hat, jacket, and whip, so he can find the dial and relive his glory days, eventually having to form an uneasy alliance with Helena, while avoiding Voller and his men. Indy's final adventure will take him to unexpected places that he's only ever imagined as he comes to terms with his current state in the ever changing world. 


Directed by James Mangold ("Logan", "Ford v Ferrari", "3:10 to Yuma"), who co-wrote the film with the returning David Koepp ("Zathura", "Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull"), along with Jez and John-Henry Butterworth ("Edge of Tomorrow"), "Indiana Jones and the Dial of Destiny" has a bit of bad news, though a lot of good news to compensate. The bad news is that it's never quite the same as the original three films, in terms of style and grit. Unlike "Star Wars", which tone-wise, felt right at home at Disney, this does somewhat blur the line between an "Indiana Jones" film and just another Disney movie. James Mangold replicates the Spielberg charm the best he can, but due to brighter colors, more CGI, and a more modernized sense of restraint, it does feel a little different. Thankfully, not too much and when the film hits its target, it's a direct one. Mangold is still a really good director, so the film is certainly up to blockbuster level, with elaborately designed action sequences that while might rely on more special effects than one would want, they aren't bad effects by any means and are certainly exciting (Look, movies are mostly done this way now. It's not worth complaining about anymore) The film still has that old fashioned sense of adventure that we all grew up with, along with humor, likable heroes, and good old fashioned Nazi punching. The story and script are pretty safe stuff (And some elements don't get the expected payoff), but in a way, it's really giving the audience what it wants. 


What really brings the entire film together is Harrison Ford himself, who puts his entire heart and soul into the film. You can tell just how personal this is to him, with the film getting some good mileage out of the character's age coming into play. Indy is clearly beaten down from his crazy life and where he is now, just isn't quite as exciting anymore. Ford has charisma to spare, but with an extra layer of mortality that starts to show, which genuinely justifies the film serving as a true conclusion to his story. While there are moments where I'm not completely sure an old man like that could really endure certain moments of action, Ford is committed regardless and remains a cinematic hero to watch and root for. (There's also the film's prologue, which uses de-aging effects, which aren't always convincing, though work more than you'd expect. Again though, what were they supposed to do in a flashback sequence like that?) Phoebe Waller-Bridge continues the franchise's tradition of unconventional female characters ("Temple of Doom" excluded), where she's allowed to be her charmingly snarky self, who is at times just as much an obstacle to a degree at times than the actual villains. Of course you know she's gonna prove to be a redemptive character by the end, but it's nice to see women get to play these parts without the film ever feeling the need to tone such flaws down just because she's a woman. 


Speaking of villains, Mads Mikkelsen obviously does a good job playing our big bad, veering between threatening, yet oddly pathetic and dorky to add a little extra depth of character, along with an underutulized, though still great Boyd Holbrook (as "Klaber", Voller's smarmy, trigger happy right hand man. One will always find joy in Nazis getting what's coming to them). Other appearances include a delightful Toby Jones, Ethann Isidore (as "Teddy", Helena's young partner in crime), a sneering Thomas Kretschmann, a brief yet welcome part for Antonio Banderas (as "Renaldo", an old friend of Indy/expert diver), and a regal John Rhys-Davies (as "Sallah", one of Indy's closest friends, who has been there since the very first film). And even if the film had been complete garbage, you just know the great John Williams' score would be Oscar worthy. I will never tire of hearing that man's epic work blaring out in an IMAX theater, making the entire theater shake with excitement. 


A blend of old school adventure films, mixed with the tamer Disney whimsy, "Indiana Jones and the Dial of Destiny" isn't perfect. It unfortunately doesn't quite have the same spark of what came before it, even though there are plenty of moments of greatness throughout. Towards the end, the film does take a semi-outlandish turn, though it's not like it's unexpected (And it's got nothing on the freakin spaceship we saw in the last one) and I personally think it works well enough. The film does reach perfection in its final twenty minutes or so, where the emotions shine through and concludes Indy's story on a fitting, very human note. It's the epilogue that fans could have hoped for, and the rest of the film is totally worth it simply for that. Action. Adventure. Humor. Heart. It's a solid sendoff for one of Cinema's greatest icons. 3 Stars. Rated PG-13 For Strong Violence, Whip Cracking, And Grouchy Old Harrison Ford Basically Playing Grouchy Old Harrison Ford. 

Asteroid City                  by James Eagan                ★★★ ½ out of ★★★★ 

Image: "Wow, look at all the yellow."


I truly do love how Wes Anderson has officially decided that maybe it's best NOT to try to win over new converts. Why compromise your own style of filmmaking for those who just aren't fans of it? Just be you. Be your usual Wes Andersony self. Embrace it! What I'm basically saying is that if you're not a fan of Mr. Anderson's work, don't bother with this movie. Just don't. If you are though, you're gonna have a great time! 


Framed through a television host (Bryan Cranston) of a televised play by playwright, "Conrad Earp" (Edward Norton), "Asteroid City" opens in a small desert town (Appropriately named "Asteroid City", due to the tiny meteor that landed there thousands of years prior), where a young astronomy convention is about to be held. A variety of colorful characters show up, with most focus being on the now widowed, "Augie Steenbeck" (Jason Schwarzman), his genius son "Woodrow" (Jake Ryan), and three bizarre little daughters (Ella, Gracie, & Willan Faris), along with a troubled actress, "Midge Campbell" (Scarlett Johansson) and her daughter, "Dinah" (Grace Edwards). The plan for Augie is to have his father in law, "Stanley" (Tom Hanks), to come pick up the kids, while he struggles to come to terms with his wife's passing. During the convention, which is run by the five-star "General Grif Gibson" (Jeffrey Wright) and "Dr. Hickenlooper" (Tilda Swinton), gets a surprise visit from an alien, who pops up, takes the meteor, and leaves, without saying a word or offering any hint as to its intentions. This results in the entire town being quarantined by the government, meaning everyone is now stuck in Asteroid City until further notice, leaving the true purpose and consequences of this world changing event up in the air. 


Written, produced, and directed by Wes Anderson ("The Grand Budapest Hotel", "Fantastic Mr. Fox", "The French Dispatch", "The Royal Tenenbaums", "Moonrise Kingdom"), "Asteroid City" is yet another quirky, vivid, and surreal tale, full of storybook-like weirdness and imagery that at its center, also just makes for a delightful little tale at the same time. Anderson's love for the color yellow has never been more realized on the big screen, with every gorgeous set and location popping off the screen. Even when the film switches back and forth between the main story and its black and white framing story, Wes Anderson's various trademarks are all they. The dry sense of humor, kooky characters, intentionally cheap and old fashioned special effects, and lots of long wide shots. There's also even a whimsical score from his frequent collaborator Alexandre Desplat. 


Another staple of Wes Anderson's work is the massive all star cast of recognizable faces, popping up as major, supporting, and even bit parts, all throughout. Jason Schwartzman and Scarlett Johansson are wonderfully droll together, while Tom Hanks (Who I don't recall ever having been in a Wes Anderson movie) feels right at home. The ensemble includes some standouts such as a very charming Jake Ryan, a hilarious Jeffrey Wright, Tilda Swinton, Bryan Cranston, Adrien Brody (as "Schubert Green", the emotionally tortured director of the play), Edward Norton, and an adorable Maya Hawke (as "June Douglas", a school teacher, trying to keep her class focused on anything other than the alien). Other appearances include Liev Schreiber (as one of the fathers at the convention), Steve Carell (as the hotel manager, who finds a way to turn a profit even with the quarantine), Rupert Friend (as "Montana", a singing cowboy, repeatedly taking part in some of June's classes), Tony Revolori (as General Gibson's right hand), Matt Dillon (as the local mechanic), along with quite a few extra surprises. Everything involving the alien is quick, yet so wonderfully, weirdly memorable, that it's sure to be something people are going to be constantly talking about. (Seriously, I'm going to be immensely disappointed if I don't see a Halloween costume of that)


"Asteroid City" is purely for the Wes Anderson fans, though it might leave others more perplexed than anything. It's funny, sweet, filled with unforgettably off-kilter imagery, and a variety of peculiar characters. All of this just as advertised. It's like a delightful diorama of dramedy, which finds a way to get the audience to laugh, feel something personal, and just leave completely charmed by it. 3 1/2 Stars. Rated PG-13 For Some Adult Content, Brief Artistic Nudity, And Narrative Nuttiness. 

No Hard Feelings                  by James Eagan            ★★★ out of ★★★★  

Image: Mother.....Wait, what were we talking about? 


Okay, who searched out my erotic, self-insert celebrity fan fiction that I made at the end of high school? First of all, how DARE you! Second, I'm so sorry you actually read all that. And then made a movie about it!


"No Hard Feelings" follows "Maddie" (Jennifer Lawrence), a bartender and Uber driver, who is swimming in debt due to property taxes, losing her car and is on the verge of losing her family home. Maddie also seems to have hit a wall in terms of her maturity. Desperate for a new car, Maddie accepts an offer from a couple of rich parents, "Laird" (Matthew Broderick) and "Allison" (Laura Benanti). These helicopter parents hire Maddie to "date" (Something that's intentionally put in quotations) their socially awkward, closed off nineteen year old son, "Percy" (Andrew Barth Feldman), in exchange for a new car. The plan is mostly to get Percy to finally open up to others before he leaves for college at the end of the summer. Maddie sees it as a simple task to seduce Percy and get this over with quickly, only to see that Percy himself is a lot more complicated than he at first appears. Throughout the summer, Maddie and Percy begin to bond over time and form a genuine friendship, with both of them proving to be in dire need of growing.


Directed by Gene Stupnitsky ("Good Boys", along with several fan favorite episodes of "The Office"), who also co-wrote the film with his collaborator, John Phillips, "No Hard Feelings" at first appears and acts like a raunchy, intentionally risque sex comedy, which does fall well into the director's criteria. That's only about half of it. Actually, it's only about the first half of it. It soon reveals itself to be a smart, fairly deep, and overall heartfelt film that only on occasion relishes in something more crude. It's a little disjointed at times because of how quick the shifts can be in places, though the film is funny and legitimately sweet enough to compensate. Basically, it works just as it should. The movie doesn't seem to rely on ad-libbing, running gags, or even gross out humor, but instead of a solid script and the charm of its actors. (And yeah, even with the semi-problematic premise, it's all played for laughs and isn't meant to be taken particularly seriously)


Jennifer Lawrence, who has shown to have remarkable range as an actress, decides to come back and show just how much more she has. This particularly shows in how she handles the film's comedy, especially the more physical side of it. (And um, yeah, she's also really, really hot in this. Come on! It's basically part of the plot. I have to mention it) Andrew Barth Feldman is outstanding, giving a layered breakout performance with a character that's certainly socially inept, though there is reasoning behind it and he does have more depth to his personality. Lawrence and Feldman also just have such a great rapport with each other, which goes past anything sexual or romantic, but instead becomes just one where these two people do need to learn from each other and become better people because of it. The rest of the supporting cast is very likable, such as Matthew Broderick and Laura Benanti (Being well intentioned, but over the top parents), Natalie Morales and Scott MacArthur (as "Sarah" and "Jim", Maddie's friends), and Ebon Moss-Bachrach (as "Gary", an ex lover of Maddie, who still hasn't quite gotten over her). 


Often very funny and overall sweet, "No Hard Feelings" treads a fine line between too far and sentimental. Does it always get it completely right? Not exactly. However, it works when it matters, much in part thanks to the performances of Lawrence and Feldman. A solid, somewhat raunchy comedy that also works as a feel good movie. And I was able to get through this entire review without making a single penis joke. See? It's not that hard. Hehe. 3 Stars. Rated R For Strong Language, Sexual Content, And Hardcore Nude Beatdowns.  

Elemental                            by James Eagan                   ★★★ out of ★★★★

Image: "Baby, you can light my fire."


Disney and Pixar has been in kind of a rut as of late. Whether it be little to no promotion of their main films (Such as "Encanto" or "Strange World", both underperforming), releasing a few acclaimed Pixar films only on "Disney+" (Such as "Soul", "Luca", and "Turning Red"), and then the ones actually released in theaters ("Lightyear", and now this) not making the big numbers like they normally would. It's depressing to see a studio that has been responsible for the literal creation of many childhoods struggle to keep up with the new guys (If you had told me ten years ago that freakin "Sony" would have been responsible for this year's best animated film, I wouldn't have believed you!) What's sad though is that the ones that haven't been doing the business you would expect, aren't necessarily doing anything wrong. They're just not on par with what we expect.


After a wonderful "Up" short called "Carl's Date" (Featuring the late Ed Asner's final performance), "Elemental" takes place in a world where the various elements (Earth, Air, Fire, and Water) are actual beings, having an entire society set up in "Element City". Immigrant fire shop owners, ""Bernie Lumen" (Ronnie del Carmen), and his wife, "Cinder" (Shila Ommi), raise their daughter, "Ember" (Leah Lewis), to one day take over the shop. However, Ember does seem to be struggling with her temper and finding her own place in the world. An accident in the shop results in some pipes bursting, which causes a watery city inspector, "Wade Ripple" (Mamoudou Athie), to literally get sucked into Ember's life. Of course, Wade does his job, reporting the major leakage to his higher ups, though feels guilty knowing that Ember's struggling father will lose everything if the shop is shut down. Wade's boss, the air element "Gale Cumulus" (Wendi McLendon-Covey), allows Ember and Wade time to save her father's shop, so long as they can discover the source of the water leak and find a solution to plug it up. Along the way though, Wade and Ember start to get closer, forming a love that's completely unheard of due to the accepted idea that the elements don't mix. 


From Pixar, and directed by Peter Sohn ("The Good Dinosaur"), "Elemental" feels like lesser storytelling, playing out more like a family friendly romance, with a little bit of tame, almost G-Rated comedy tossed in. It doesn't quite measure up to what we know Pixar can provide moviegoers of all ages, yet despite this, it's in no way a bad film. It's a solid, sweet, and infectiously cute story that seems to embrace its simplicity and enhance it with, as usual with Pixar, gorgeous visual wonder. The screenplay by John Hoberg, Kat Likkel, and Brenda Hsueh takes tired tropes and doesn't reinvent them, but rather simply uses them to their best abilities. It's got its heart in the right place, and while there aren't many big laughs, it's charming enough to compensate. Animation-wise, you can't look away from it. The world created is so creative and full of bizarre looking characters, being fully realized in a way that you could simply stare at the movie the entire time and be satisfied (And yes, there are some puns, and yes, they got me to laugh). Just watching how these characters go about their days in their own unique sectors, all based around whatever their element is, makes for a fascinating trip that one wouldn't mind taking again. 


The film's central focus is the romance itself, which is standard, yet undeniably charming, especially since all the characters are so likable. Leah Lewis and Mamoudou Athie, both inhabiting their characters perfectly, have wonderful chemistry (Ha!) with each other. I appreciate how it doesn't immediately start off as a full blown romance, but instead takes a little time to grow over time. There's also some great voice work from Ronnie del Carmen, Shila Omni, an energetic Wendi McLendon-Covey, a hilarious Catherine O'Hara (as "Brook", Wade's equally emotional mother), and Joe Pera (as "Fern Grouchwood", an almost emotional-free Earth based bureaucrat). No villain here because it's not necessary. It's not that kind of movie. Even the conflict itself, involving the mystery leak in the pipes doesn't come into play until the last act. The focus is on the characters and they're just strong enough to tug at the heartstrings. 


"Elemental" is a quick, safe, and warm sit, which might not always get its allegories completely right ("Zootopia" did it better!), but serves as a solid flick for the family or the romantics inside all of us (Or most of us anyways). Lesser on the Pixar scale (And doomed to disappoint at the box office), yet thankfully slouches in the animation and heart department. It succeeds where it counts, and that's because Pixar just always has the right elements in place to make it work. 3 Stars. Rated PG For Excessive Crying, Light Pruning, But Is Really Just Another G Rated Animated Flick Disguised As A PG Rated One. 

The Flash                   by James Eagan            ★★★ ½ out of ★★★★

Image: The Flash prepares to elude the police yet again.


Like I said a couple weeks ago with "Spider-Man: Across the Spider-Verse", I rarely get predictions right. I have noticed though when I predict something terrible happening, it ends up being just as horrific as I imagined. Maybe even worse. Who called the story of a beloved superhero attempting to save a loved one being the thing to completely decimate the minds of everyone on Film Twitter? Me! Let's do this recap as quickly as possible. The most controversial aspect of "The Flash" (In a sea of setbacks that have plagued this film's production) is the star, Ezra Miller. Over the course of a couple years, the actor has been seen choking someone out, going on some kind of rampage across Hawaii, been accused of kidnapping, grooming, and all kinds of violent outbursts, telling the KKK to just kill themselves (Ok, that one was pretty cool), and continuously evaded police custody while sending out bizarre messages about how they're on another plane of existence. In the end, Warner Brothers basically gave them a slap on the wrist and Miller is still out there promoting the film (To a lessened degree). I won't even get into the constant shifts in DC plans, the outright cancelling of the "Batgirl" film, director James Gunn and Peter Safran being named heads of the DC studios, the odd marketing campaign of relying on big names to talk about how great the movie was, and the fact that the entire franchise was somehow almost completely hi-jacked by Dwayne Johnson (That one literally came out of left field). This movie, like a lot of DC movies come to think of it, existing at all is already some kind of confusing miracle. Of course though, the courts of the public (aka people on the internet), aren't quite willing to forgive and forget. For good reason too. Regardless of how the final product is, celebrities need to be held accountable for their actions and while I do feel that Ezra Miller is indeed a troubled individual in need of help (And clearly Warner Brothers wasn't going to do jack sh*t for them unless they were forced to), their actions are certainly appalling. Criminal actually. Sadly, like usual, Film Twitter has determined that if you like, watch, or are in any way associated with this movie, you're worse than Satan if he was Hitler's puppy kicking lover. Throw in leaking scenes online via captured phone footage, full reviews being posted based entirely just on these select leaks, and the entire ordeal becoming a massive moral debate. Total Chaos. Now into the actual movie. You know, the thing that itself none of these people are actually talking about. 


Serving as the thirteenth (And more or less, the final) entry in the "DC Extended Universe", "The Flash" follows the titular Scarlet Speedster and fastest man alive, "Barry Allen/The Flash" (Ezra Miller), who despite his abilities, finds himself serving as a janitor of sorts to the rest of the "Justice League". Barry, who serves as a forensics analyst while he's not doing his super-heroics, is still haunted by the murder of his mother, "Nora" (Maribel Verdú) and his father, "Henry" (Ron Livingston, replacing Billy Crudup), being blamed for it despite being innocent. Barry knows that if he runs fast enough, he can actually go back and time, thinking he can use this as a way to save his family, though "Bruce Wayne/Batman" (Ben Affleck) suggests that this is a bad idea, that can only lead to disaster. Barry doesn't listen to these warnings and goes through with his plan anyways, successfully changing the circumstances that lead to his mother's death. However, before Barry can return to his own time, he's attacked by a mysterious entity and ends up in 2013. Barry is delighted to find his mother alive, his father not in prison, and his family reunited at last.....though also meets another, younger (And more excitable) version of himself (Also played by Ezra Miller). 


Barry's attempts to return home only get further complicated when he loses his powers to his 2013 version and the untimely arrival of rogue, villainous Kryptonian, "General Zod" (Michael Shannon) to destroy Earth. Barry then makes the shocking discovery that his actions have made the timeline worse, such as there being no Justice League or superheroes to stop Zod's invasion. Both Barrys seek out the only possible ally they can find, Bruce Wayne....except not the Bruce Wayne that Barry knows. This one is a more aged, retired Batman (Michael Keaton, reprising his role from the Tim Burton films). With the fate of the world hanging in the balance, our heroes also search for another ally, "Superman", though they end up discovering in his place "Kara Zor-El/Supergirl" (Sasha Calle). Little does Barry realize, the more he messes with the timelines, the more damage that's being done and everything is on the verge of total collapse. 


Directed by Andy Muschietti (The "It" movies), with a screenplay by Christina Hodson ("Birds of Prey", "Bumblebee"), "The Flash" has got to be one of the most conflicting experiences I've ever had at a movie. Based on the DC comics (And one of my all time favorite characters), the film has generated much acclaim from early fan screenings, along with several known names (Such as Tom Cruise, Stephen King, Edgar Wright, James Gunn, etc.), but has also gained the ire of those wanting it to fail (For both understandable reasons or otherwise). Going in with an open mind, wanting to see it because of me being a fan while understanding the importance of the behind the scenes controversy, what shocked me was how great it was for a while. Quite a while. The film right off the bat is different from most to come out of the DCEU, arguably cracking the code in terms of tone, humor, and an emotional core, that we weren't really getting enough of in the past films. Despite what much of the advertising might imply, this is still the Flash's story from beginning to end. It's full of creativity, genuine charm, and a lot of laughs, to the point the film could almost be considered a full blown comedy. Muschietti really captures this "Back to the Future"-like tone wonderfully during these parts, seeing fantastical superhero elements in rather mundane situations as well as on a grander scale. The screenplay is actually very good, with lots of character and wisely doesn't forget the main appeal of the story, which is the character of Barry Allen himself. (Somewhat. We'll get to that later) Even with all the wild timeline altering, multiversesal insanity, the film's humanity always shines through. 


It's something that makes Ezra Miller's many, many actions all the more depressing and shameful considering how excellent they are in the film. Playing two completely different parts, Miller is outstanding, with one character still coming into his own and struggling with his own awkwardness, while another is more comically immature and doesn't quite understand the severity of the situation. Both characters are insanely lovable, the special effects work incorporating the two together in the same scenes is legitimately amazing, and it really shows how great of an actor Ezra Miller could actually be (I mean, you almost forget that in real life they have been a danger to themselves and those around them). From a fan's perspective, seeing Michael Keaton return as Batman is already something that's going to get a big smile out of me (He is the best Batman after all!), and he's a scene-stealer. Keaton still has that same stoic charm as before, looking like he's having a damn good time giving his iconic portrayal a worthy sendoff. Ron Livingston and Maribel Verdú are terrific in more relatable parts, where much of the heart of the film rests. 


Sasha Calle, despite a fairly limited appearance, is basically what the Henry Caville version of Superman was likely meant to be. There's an actual explanation for why the character acts the way she does, being frighteningly powerful, though she is still not without the character's sense of justice (I really hope a way is found for her to show up elsewhere in the future reboot). We get appearances from other characters in the DCEU, from a perfectly cast Kiersey Clemons (as "Iris West", a journalist and Barry's love interest), a fitting final bow from Ben Affleck's Batman (Who sadly never quite got his due in any of these films), Jeremy Irons (as "Alfred", Batman's loyal butler), and a few unexpected/very expected surprises. Michael Shannon is theatrically menacing, though is more of a long cameo in his limited role. The film really doesn't have a main villain per se. Aside from a few antagonistic obstacles, the main threat is basically time itself and the consequences that come from attempting to force changes to it. 


The film boasts some excellent effects in places, though seems hindered by it in others, which is especially noticeable once we reach the obligatory CGI heavy final battle. It's not the worst effects work we've ever seen like some have been implying, but it's just a lot of it (And I'm not kidding when I say A LOT). Granted, I don't know how you can make a guy running fast, or someone punching another person across a field to look good without CGI. It just looks like a video game you can't play, which is par for the course with a good chunk of superhero films during their climaxes. Even in spite of that, the characters, the humor, the story, and the effective emotions had me loving this throughout, but then we reach a sequence that while it's barely even a minute long, as stirred up even more controversy that the film can't afford to gain. It's a big cameo-fest that while not exactly unexpected to see, feels so unneeded, uncomfortable, and kind of wrong. The effects during these sequences are already offputting (Intentionally? Maybe. It's genuinely hard to tell), but yeah, they are distractingly odd here. To make it worse, I legit can come up with better ways to achieve such a Easter Egg filled scene (Were Grant Gustin and Robert Pattinson really that hard to get on the phone?), and while I understand the reasoning behind it (And that the filmmakers are not in any way trying to be disrespectful), it's a black stain on what's a very well done movie. (It thankfully goes by fast and leaves the film to end on a good, warm note, that also tosses in one final, applaud worthy surprise)


"The Flash" gets so much right, even though there is so much wrong behind the scenes (And even with what's on screen). The characters are memorable, even with how many things are thrown at the screen. Ezra Miller's performances are commendable, yet they should NOT be allowed to return for any future appearances (Seek help instead!). It's a great standalone film, though it still has to work as the DC equivalent of "Avengers Endgame". It's an epic crowdpleaser, that is still plagued by the many usual mistakes that the DCEU has become known for by this point. I can see why so many were so quick to gravitate towards it, and why maybe some wouldn't be a fan. (Although to call it the worst, most offensive thing ever is pretty absurd. I saw Winnie the Pooh kill women in sexually fetishist fashion early this year. Now THAT was offensive) It's exciting, fast paced, funny, and sweet, making for easily one of DC's best. I loved it. I probably shouldn't have, but I loved it regardless. 3 1/2 Stars. Rated PG-13 For Speedy Action, Microwaved Babies, Intense Flashing, And The Glossing Over Of An Actor's Manic Madness. 

Transformers: Rise of the Beasts                                 by James Eagan                                                               ★★★ out of ★★★★

Image: Trukk not Munky!


Haven't I been through enough? Whether it be financially, spiritually, my lack of a successful love life, and five Michael Bay directed "Transformers" movies, haven't I had enough disappointment in my life? Just let me have this!


Based on the long running Hasbro toy/cartoon franchise and set after the events of "Bumblebee", "Transformers: Rise of the Beasts" opens in 1994 Brooklyn, right in the middle of the ongoing conflict between two warring factions of alien, transforming robots, the evil "Decepticons" and the noble "Autobots", led by the heroic "Optimus Prime" (Voiced by Peter Cullen). However, their war is about to take an unexpected detour. Former military technical expert, "Noah Diaz" (Anthony Ramos), is struggling to support his mother, "Breanna" (Luna Lauren Vélez) and "Kris" (Dean Scott Vasquez), and resorts to stealing cars with his friend, "Reek" (Tobe Nwigwe), only to end up in a Porshe that just so happens to be the very talkative Autobot, "Mirage" (Voiced by Pete Davidson). Noah is then introduced to the untrusting Optimus and his fellow Autobots, the radio speaking "Bumblebee" and the lone female, "Arcee" (Voiced by Liza Koshy). Meanwhile, an underappreciated museum intern, "Elena Wallace" (Dominique Fishback) accidentally discovers an ancient device known as the "Transwarp Key" (Which can bend time and space, allowing for intergalactic transportation). 


This not only attracts the Autobots to her location (Wanting to use the key to return to their home planet), but also a new, more deadly faction, known as the "Terrorcons", commanded by the ruthless "Scourge" (Voiced by Peter Dinklage). The Terrorcons have been sent by the massive ball of planet eating, pure evil, "Unicron" (Voiced by Colman Domingo), to get the key and make way for his arrival. Turns out though, the key has been split into two parts, with Noah and Elena joining the Autobots on a globe trotting journey to find it before Scourge does. Along the way, our heroes meet yet another faction of transforming robots, the "Maximals" (Who can become animals instead of vehicles), such as their ape leader, "Optimus Primal" (Voiced by Ron Perlman) and the falcon "Airazor" (Voiced by Michelle Yeoh), who have traveled space and time to protect the key from Unicorn. All factions, including the humans, must put aside their differences and work together to save all life from Unicron's path of destruction.


Directed by Steven Caple Jr. ("Creed II", "The Land"), with a screenplay by Joby Harold ("Army of the Dead", "Obi-Wan: Kenobi"), Darnell Metayer, Josh Peters, Erich Hoeber, and Jon Hoeber, "Transformers: Rise of the Beasts" doesn't have to really do much to be an improvement over the Michael Bay films. The standard is already so low, though thankfully 2018's more acclaimed "Bumblebee" (Liked by both fans, non fans, and even critics) showed that it's possible to appeal to the general audience in the same way say Marvel has. While sadly the movie isn't quite on par with "Bumblebee" for a few reasons, what it gets right is quite commendable and regardless of where the franchise leads after this, this is definitely a step in the right direction. Caple Jr. seems to have a lot of love for the franchise, dedicating more time to allowing for the Transformers themselves remain in the forefront than previous films and it doesn't have the usual bombastic, overly saturated and explosive identity that they used to be known for. It also means there's no immature adult humor, disturbing sexualization of women, and offensive racial stereotypes. It's actually quite a diverse, relatively kid friendly bit of popcorn entertainment, that, unfortunately, never quite aspires to be much more than that.


 The visual effects and character designs aren't near as detailed this time, yet that's genuinely for the better. The animated characters are very lively and at times, blend in so seamlessly that you do genuinely forget that none of them are even there. It's almost enough to make up for what's a rather by the book "Find the McGuffin" story, with not much complication to the characters and somewhat endearingly corny dialogue (Look, if "Avatar: The Way of Water" can get away with having a straight face with a silly script and still get a Best Picture nomination, you really can't fault this movie for just being what it is) It's not taking itself too seriously, without ever feeling the need to mock itself in any way. And don't even bother to ask if this is truly a reboot to the Bay films or not, because the film never clarifies, though feels so detached that it in no way could ever lead up to the events of those movies.  


Anthony Ramos and Dominique Fishback stand out from the usually unbearably annoying human casts that these films have been known for. They both have their reasons for being a part of the story, contribute in a meaningful way, and are both just very likable, with easy to relate to problems. There are some other human characters, though they don't end up doing anything, with the exception from Tobe Nwigwe (Who gets a funny line or two before getting left behind). The voice cast is pretty unique and all around excellent, even if some Transformers get more to do than others. The great Peter Cullen returns once again to lend his epic voice to the beloved hero, all while Bumblebee (Despite limited screentime) is as lovable as ever. Pete Davidson is perfectly cast, delivering fast and funny wisecracks with an insane amount of his Pete Davidson energy. The rest of the Autobots, consisting of Liza Koshy, an amusing Cristo Fernández (as the voice of "Wheeljack", a nerdy Autobot mechanic), and John DiMaggio (as the voice of "Stratosphere", a big, aged Autobot cargo plane), mostly serve as supporting players. 


Our villains are simple, yet effectively evil, with Peter Dinklage's voice generating plenty of casual menace, along with Michaela Jaé Rodriguez (as the voice of "Nightbird", a sadistic Terrorcon) and David Sobolov (as the voice of "Battletrap", a hulking Terrorcon, who likes to smash things). The beasts themselves (Inspired by the classic animated series, "Beast Wars"), don't appear quite as much as you would think, though leave a mighty impression, with Ron Perlman being perfectly cast, Michelle Yeoh being her usual regal and majestic self, and not much given to Tongayi Chirisa (as the voice of "Cheetor", a Maximal that turns into a Cheetah). "Rhinox" (Who becomes a Rhino. Duh!) is also in it, but I'm almost 100% sure he never said anything, though he did bash some baddies real good. Colman Domingo only gets a few lines, though his awesome voice nearly explodes out of the IMAX surround sound. The sound design in general is quite brilliant (I'll literally never get tired of hearing that transforming sound effect), along with a fitting soundtrack that cleverly utulizes the 90s setting with loads of well known, iconic hip hop. Not to mention the best use of "Mama Said Knock You Out" in any form of media. 


"Transformers: Rise of the Beasts" starts very strong, looking like it's going to be something to resonate with any audience, regardless if they're a fan of the franchise or not. It does take a dip into less original, possibly hard to follow territory and I can see it leaving the unitiated behind. It becomes clear eventually that Steven Caple Jr. is more interested in giving a "Transformers" movie that the fans will likely love, though not much for everyone else. Luckily, it all culminates in a spectacular finale, full of fanservice and applause-worthy moments that had me almost cheering in the theater. It's a lot of CGI thrown at the screen, but it looks good and most of all, you can actually tell what in the living Hell is going on (Especially when you compare to the shaky, bafflingly incomprehensible to follow Bay films). This is worth the price of admission alone and God, I really hope if we get any future installments they keep moving forward with what's been set up here (And it also features a rather weird, possibly stupid, yet oddly pretty cool tease for a future crossover that adult me and child me are already arguing at each other about). Sure, it's not on par with say, "Spider-Man: Across the Spider-Verse" (Granted, how could you expect to top cinematic perfection? Let alone so quickly?), but it still makes for a solid summer blockbuster to take the kids to, and especially if you're a long time fan like myself, find yourself smiling just as much as they are. There's humor, heart, big special effects, and giant robots. Basically what a "Transformers" movie should be. 3 Stars. Rated PG-13 For Some Sci-Fi Violence, Though Is So Tame That It Barely Classifies As A PG-13. If This Had Actually Come Out In The 90s It Would Have Been PG. 

The Boogeyman              by James Eagan             ★★ ½ out of ★★★★  


Image: Happy Birthday! Make your last wish!


After last year's bombardment of terrific horror films, from "Barbarian", "Smile", "The Black Phone", among others (And not to mention the very terrifying "Evil Dead Rise" just a couple months ago), the standard for horror flicks has gone up for me, and sure, I'm okay with something just being fine or okay. Still, it's never a bad thing to ask for a little better, especially when you know it's possible. 


Based on the short story from Stephen King (In a way, this movie serves as a continuation of the story), "The Boogeyman" follows "Sadie Harper" (Sophie Thatcher), who has recently lost her mother to a car accident and is struggling to process her grief and trauma over the ordeal, while her therapist father, "Will" (Chris Messina), would rather throw himself into his work rather than think about it. After a visit from a mysterious (And clearly emotionally unstable) man, "Lester Billings" (David Dastmalchian), claiming to have lost his children to some sort of frightening creature that attacks from the closet, Sadie's little sister, "Sawyer" (Vivien Lyra Blair), starts to see the exact same creature in her room at night. At first, nobody believes her, thinking that this is just something she's made up in her head to cope with her mother's death. However, this monster, referred to as "The Boogeyman", is very much real and very much loves to torture its prey before brutally killing them. Soon, Sadie starts to see the creature too and sets out to discover what it is, along with how to stop it before she loses what family she has left. 


Directed by Rob Savage ("Dashcam"), with a screenplay by Scott Beck and Bryan Woods ("A Quiet Place", "65"), along with Mark Heyman ("Black Swan"), "The Boogeyman" is an alright PG-13 centered, spooky story that goes for the easy, serviceable scares, though on occasion does genuinely show potential for something more. The film opens strong, with enough creepy atmosphere, as well as some well done human drama. The concept alone is worth something, focusing on how people can process tragic, unexplainable events in life, as well as how parental neglect (Even when it's unintentional) can only lead to more lasting negative side effects. That kind of horror hits on a personal level and the film does a damn good job at showing it. The story doesn't end up living up to its beginning though, before it eventually starts to rely on simple jump scares, a few noticeable plot holes, and a few questionable actions. I suppose the inability of the characters to realize how the creature hates light can be chalked up to the filmmakers wanting to make way for scary setpieces (Which do get a little repetitive after a while, with someone thinking they see something, only for it to be nothing, followed by scary face popping up out of a different angle). Plus, nobody apparently knows how to turn on their lamps in this movie, or just to leave a light on just for the heck of it (Literally after the first incident, I would have left all of my lights on and sent my electric bill through the roof!). 


The performances from our main cast are excellent though, from Sophie Thatcher and an especially awesome Vivien Lyra Blair (Previously seen last year in "Obi-Wan Kenobi") carrying most of the film, and Chris Messina playing a different type of role than what I've seen from him. David Dastmalchian only appears briefly for one long scene, but he's terrific (And it's always just a pleasure to see him in movies whenever he pops up). There's a subplot with Marin Ireland (as "Rita", Lester's wife, who has also gone insane from the Boogeyman's reign of terror) that feels undercooked, and some focus given to some mean girls that doesn't make any sense (Seriously, why would Sadie hang out with these teenage sociopaths?). The titular Boogeyman himself is a twisted creation (Despite some inconsistent CGI effects), especially when we are given hints into where it might have come from and what it's capable of. (It's actually pretty refreshing how the film implies that it might not be supernatural) It's got nothing on the demon from last year's "Smile", but it's a nefarious looking villain, like a bizarre mix between Gollum, one of the aliens from "A Quiet Place", and the Bug from "Men in Black". 


"The Boogeyman" works more than it doesn't, yet doesn't quite stand out like it could have. The dramatic aspects make for the kind of real life scares that anyone can understand and the film isn't without an unnerving scene or two. It just doesn't quite stick the landing, especially past the halfway point when everything rushes to a fairly quick and predictable climax. Serviceable, but not exactly a memorable Stephen King work. 2 1/2 Stars. Rated PG-13 For Frightening Faces, Lingering Darkness, And Brutal Boogeying. 

Spider-Man: Across the Spider-Verse                               by James Eagan                                                                     ★★★★ out of ★★★★     

Image: It's abstract....No, It's surrealism....No, It's trying to kill me!


2018's "Spider-Man: Into the Spiver-Verse" was the kind of anomaly that nobody saw coming......That is except for me! Okay, maybe I didn't quite expect it to be the absolute game changing masterpiece of animation, that would go on to garner love and respect from superhero fans and just your average film lover, but I could tell from the very first teaser trailer that it was going to be something special. It was so unique, taking a popular character and concept, completely smashing through the barriers of what we think we can do with animation. It was a brilliant achievement that went on to become a modest financial success, win over critics, gathering a fanbase of nerds, animation lovers, and families alike, and even win an Oscar. And, as it should be, the long awaited sequel is no different. 


Set over a year after the first film, "Spider-Man: Across the Spider-Verse" catches up with "Miles Morales" (Shameik Moore), the one and not only "Spider-Man". Miles currently struggles to balance out his superhero work, with his family life, keeping it a secret from his parents, "Jefferson" (Brian Tyree Henry) and "Rio" (Luna Lauren Vélez). Miles also misses his fellow dimension hopping Spider-People from the first film, especially "Gwen Stacey/Spider-Woman" (Hailee Steinfeld). After an incident with a goofy villain of the week, "The Spot" (Jason Schwartzman), a seemingly inept interdimensional portal creating wannabe criminal, Miles is given a surprise visit from Gwen. While the two reconnect, Gwen explains that after a falling out with her police captain father (Shea Whigham), she was inducted into "The Spider-Society", an elite group of Spider-People from all over the multiverse with a mission to protect it, led by the very serious, "Miguel O'Hara/Spider-Man 2099" (Oscar Isaac).


However, it seems Miles isn't exactly wanted in the society for unknown reasons. When the Spot enacts a plan to become more powerful in hopes of taking down Miles (As well as being taken more seriously as a villain), Miles follows Gwen across the multiverse, only to discover an even greater danger about to be unleashed. After he comes face to face with O'Hara, Miles discovers that there is much about the multiverse, both good and very bad. Soon Miles' actions, as well as his very existence put him at odds with the rest of the Spider-Society and what they stand for. 


From Sony Pictures Animation, along with producers Phil Lord and Christopher Miller ("Cloudy with a Chance of Meatballs", the "21 Jump Street Films", and "The LEGO Movie"), who co-wrote the screenplay with David Callaham ("Shang-Chi and the Legend of the Ten Rings", "Wonder Woman 1984"), "Spider-Man: Across the Spider-Verse" just might be one of the most impressive animated films of all time, and if this doesn't get the American public to truly appreciate it as a cinematic art form worthy of recognition (And not just as kid's stuff), then I don't know what will. Directed by Joaquim Dos Santos ("Avatar: The Last  Airbender", "G. I. Joe: Resolute"), Kemp Powers ("One Night in Miami", "Soul"), and Justin K. Thompson ("Cloudy with a Chance of Meatballs 2"), the film's very life itself is owed to the hard work of hundreds of animators and artists, to give the film not just one unique look, but many. Every character, every world, and every frame has its own voice. The styles of animation change throughout the film to match the setting and mood, from the stylized comic book panel style of Miles' world, to the colorful brush stroked look of Gwen's, and many others (Specific characters themselves are also animated differently, yet never feel out of place with the rest of the established world). These crazy visuals make way for out of control action setpieces that leaves one unable to comprehend how in the Hell it was all done, particularly when we reach the climactic showdown between all of the Spider-People from all across the multiverse. 


Of course though, this also leads to a lot of great comedy (It's always nice to see comic book movies just embrace the sheer weirdness of its source material), making for a lot of laugh out loud moments. However, the smart and mature screenplay also never forgets the human side of the story. Much time is dedicated to the familial dilemmas of our main characters, in which they continue to have every day struggles and how they deal with them. There's also a moral question asked in the second half of the film that's isn't given a remotely easy answer, adds extra layers of complexity to characters that you like, and ties into the larger Spider-Man mythology that by this point, many of us know by heart. 


The characters are brought to expressive life through the stunning craftsmanship of the talented animators, as well as the brilliant, Oscar worthy voice work behind them. Shameik Moore IS Miles Morales, having captured the character's youthful naivety and sense of hope, along with further coming into his own as the web slinging hero (There's a reason why this character has become just as known as the original Peter Parker). Hailee Steinfeld is just as much a main character this time around, with her being the one to open and close the story (And good lord, the amount of emotion she gets out of the role leads to a few heartbreaking moments). Returning cast members like Brian Tyree Henry (Always great), Luna Lauren Vélez (Given a much more prominent role), and a once again great Jake Johnson (as "Peter B. Parker/Spider-Man", Miles' old mentor, who has become a dad since they last saw each other), make appearances in different capacities. 


There are also some new additions from an intense and intimidating Oscar Isaac, Issa Rae (as "Jessica Drew", a pregnant Spider-Woman, who serves as Gwen's teacher), Karan Soni (as "Pavitr Prabhakar/Spider-Man India", an energetic Spider-Man from "Mumbattan" aka Manhattan meets Mumbai), and an awesome Daniel Kaluuya (as "Hobie Brown/Spider-Punk", an anti-establishment, anti-fascist, anti-everything Spider-Man). Jason Schwartzman steals many scenes as a villain that's totally hilarious and pathetic, yet not entirely incapable of being a dangerous, menacing threat despite some limited screentime. There are loads of supporting players, such as Amandla Stenberg (as "Spider-Byte", a virtual reality Spider-Woman), Andy Samberg (as "Ben Reilly", the edgiest Spider-Man), Jorma Taccone (as an Italian, Renaissance version of the "Vulture"), among other great surprises that you'll never see coming. And before you ask, yes, that soundtrack, just like the last movie, is totally badass.


"Spider-Man: Across the Spider-Verse" is epic for sure, yet deep and complex in ways that not only you don't expect from a family movie, but also from movies in general. It truly is a film that treats its audience, regardless of age, like adults, while remembering to have fun at the same time. A stunning achievement in visuals, storytelling, action, and genuine heartfelt effort to craft something worthy of placement among the greatest of Spider-Man movies, comic book movies, animated movies, and just plain movies in general. It keeps getting bigger and bigger, leading to uncharted territory, and culminates in an ending that's literally been designed to leave you wanting more. Nine months? We have to wait nine whole months for the final part? Is this what it's like to give birth? I can only assume? 4 Stars. Rated PG For Chaotic Action, Dark Themes, Spider-Cat, All the Squeeing Fans, And The Best Cliffhanger Since "Avengers: Infinity War". 

About My Father                          by James Eagan              ★★ out of ★★★★  

Image: Lets-a-Go!


Wow! This is literally the definition of one joke stretched out too long. That's an achievement right there.


Loosely based on the life and comedy standups of Sebastian Maniscalco, "About My Father" features Maniscalco as himself, planning to marry the love of his life, "Ellie" (Leslie Bibb). However, Sebastian finds himself in a bit of a pickle, since his very Italian and Robert De Niro-like father, "Salvo" (Robert De Niro), won't give him his grandmother's wedding ring to do so. When Sebastian is invited to Ellie's family estate for the Fourth of July weekend (And has every intention of proposing there), he brings along Salvo, resulting in some hi-jinks, culture clashes, and family oriented awkwardness. 


Directed by Laura Terruso (Known for mostly TV work), with a screenplay by Austen Earl and Sebastian Maniscalco, "About My Father" is a fairly safe, typical story of familial generational divide, that offers little to no surprises. Maybe a good laugh sprinkled in and a likable enough cast, but something that, due to the new streaming age, would have been much better suited watching at home instead of the theater. Sebastian Maniscalco is funny, particularly when he's relying on fast paced sight comedy (Mostly at De Niro's expense), and Robert De Niro can play a part like this in his sleep. Leslie Bibb is super cute, while others in the cast, such as David Rasche and Kim Cattrall (as Ellie's wealthy parents), Anders Holm (as "Lucky", Ellie's cocky, somewhat obnoxious older brother), and Brett Dier (as "Doug", the weird hippie black sheep of the family), are all good, but just aren't exactly given much to work with outside of the quirks of their characters. 


Directed like a CBS sitcom, "About My Father" is a tame, family comedy that I can see finding an audience looking for something lighter, inoffensive, a little corny, and thankfully really short (Not even making it to an hour and a half). While there is some charm there, it's nothing that you need to run to the theater for, and would be better suited waiting till DVD or streaming if you really must see it. 2 Stars. Rated PG-13 For Italian Italianess And Peacock Parricide. 

The Little Mermaid              by James Eagan            ★★★ out of ★★★★ 

Image: Whoah! Halle Berry looks great! Wait.....


We're at the point with the live-action Disney remakes when we have to come to a decision. We are going to have to accept that they are not going to stop. Why would they? They're making money all over, and when one doesn't, they pop out another that's sure to be a success in some capacity. Is it further diminishing the impact of the art of animation in the eyes of the film buff public, intentionally or not? Well, yeah. Pretty much. Still, you just know they got more on the way. And more than enough of them will make enough money to convince the studio to keep em coming. The live-action remakes aren't going away, and if so long as they're like this, I think we just might be able to get through this.


Based on the 1989 animated classic of the same name (And kind of based on the 1837 fairy tale, but not really at all), "The Little Mermaid" follows our titular little mermaid, "Ariel" (Halle Bailey), who yearns to explore outside the seas to the surface world, despite the warning of her overbearing king of the sea father, "King Triton" (Javier Bardem) that everyone on land is dangerous (Especially humans). While collecting human artifacts with her fishy friend, "Flounder" (Voiced by Jacob Tremblay), Ariel ends up rescuing a dashing young prince, "Eric" (Jonah Hauer-King) from drowning, falling madly in love with him. And luckily, Eric appears to have done the same with her, despite not knowing who or what she even is. Triton has his majordomo, the crab "Sebastian" (Voiced by Daveed Diggs) to keep an eye on Ariel's actions, discovering her secret infatuation, resulting in Triton destroying everything she's collected from the human world. 


This leads Ariel into the vile tentacles of the fabulous sea witch/Triton's estranged sister, "Ursula" (Melissa McCarthy). Ursula offers Ariel a deal, in which she will become human and be given three days to receive the kiss of true love from Eric, or else, her life will belong to Ursula. Also, the witch makes sure to liberate Ariel of her beautiful voice, making her unable to speak to her beloved. Ariel agrees to Ursula's conditions and is turned into a human, and with some help from Sebastian, Flounder, and dimwitted, Northern Gannet, "Scuttle" (Voiced by Awkwafina), finds herself welcomed into Eric's family castle. Since Eric's mother, "Queen Selina" (Noma Dumeweni), is very eager to see Eric married (And hopefully forget about magical singing girls from the ocean), Eric and Ariel are soon on the path to romance, in spite of Ursula's many schemes. 


Directed by Rob Marshall ("Chicago", "Into the Woods", "Memoirs of a Geisha"), with a screenplay by David Magee ("Finding Neverland", "Life of Pi"), this 2023 version of "The Little Mermaid" is a pretty straightforward remake of an animated film that really does still hold up. To those who question if its existence is completely necessary, it really isn't. Thankfully, the positives outweigh the negatives, making it easily one of the best remakes we've had yet and does genuinely stand as a solid fairy tale romance, that's only slightly updated in a refreshing way. There aren't many changes, especially in the first half, with minor tweaks here and there (Such as extra screentime for some of the supporting characters and the inclusion of background elements that were merely mentioned in passing with the original). It's a fishy fun time though, seeing some impressive visual wonder on full display, with Rob Marshall obviously being one to know exactly how to set the stage for a good musical number. 


Now the CGI isn't always flawless, with some distracting moments, though it's much more colorful and lively than the trailers would suggest. I mean, it's no "Avatar: The Way of Water", but it's not supposed to be (And plus, I doubt they wanted to nearly drown their actors and require over $1 billion dollars to break even). It's flawed, but looks good when it matters. The musical numbers themselves are still pretty great, despite the movie deciding to make room for some pretty forgettable new additions, courtesy of Lin-Manuel Miranda, feeling more obligatory than anything else (The only real exception is one extra song given to Halle Bailley, and any excuse to hear her sing some more is a good excuse if you ask me). The original songs thankfully are plenty showstopping, from Halle Bailley's powerhouse rendition of "Part of Your World", a badass rendition of "Poor Unfortunate Souls" (Because the villains always gotta have one of the best numbers), and of course, "Under the Sea" is as toe-tapping as ever. 


What makes the film completely necessary and worthy of existing are many of the performances, with the big highlight being the star, Halle Bailley in her first major film role. I'm hoping whoever in the casting department brought her in got a raise, because she's a true find and an instant star. Of course, Bailley's singing voice is excellent, though even then it still just comes to life off the screen in such a captivating way, but also has such a beautiful, expressive doe-eyed face, that there is so much emotion conveyed when she spends more than half the film not speaking at all. There is a lot more time dedicated to the human world in this version and the film benefits from it, particularly in how wonderful the chemistry is between Bailley and Jonah Hauer-King (Who is also just plain likable in the part). For what was already a pretty good romance in the original, there is some added depth here to make one at least justify this film being made. Another reason is Melissa McCarthy, who is having the time of her life as one of Disney's all time greatest villains, filled with menace, humor, and such infectious love of just being dastardly. It serves as a reminder that Disney really needs to remember how much their villains added to some of their old classics, and maybe they start embracing that a little more from now on (I don't think we had a standout Disney villain in over a decade, or sometimes just haven't even had a baddie at all). Javier Bardem is intimidating, yet compelling, though he's such a professional that it would have been more shocking if he wasn't, while I like extra amount of depth given to "Grimsby" (Played by Art Malik), Eric's loyal confidant. Jacob Tremblay and Awkwafina are both good, though are kind of let down by how overtly realistic their characters look (Awkwafina's voice work is more animated than the actual  animated character). However, Daveed Diggs is hilarious as Sebastian, and does match the character's new design (Plus I always loved Sebastian, so if they got that wrong, I would have let you know). 


"The Little Mermaid" isn't perfect, but it is shockingly solid, with true greatness in places and makes for a worthy companion to an already great movie. Thanks to some terrific work from a breakout role for Halle Bailley and a deliciously devious Melissa McCarthy, along with a well told romantic tale that is just too good to get wrong, the film makes up for brief missteps with just enough of that Disney magic we all love and haven't quite been feeling as of late. Not a classic, yet good enough to be part of your world. (Not to mention, it's never a bad thing to let young girls of color get to see themselves as princesses) 3 Stars. Rated PG For Watery Wetness, Scary Moments, The Consensual Kissing Of Da Girl, And The Outrage Of Fragile White Dudes About The Existence Of A Black Mermaid. 

Fast X                  by James Eagan                ★★★ out of ★★★★

Image: I'm assuming they all went through gun background checks.


Love or hate the "Fast & Furious" franchise, we all know that when they eventually come to their conclusion, they're going to go out with a bang. A big bang. A big bang that's gonna throw every car, plane, helicopter, maybe a boat or two, bicycle, scooter, or whatever else that has wheels, at the the screen in one gravity defying explosion of popcorn munching dumbness. It's what the fans want, and really, what more do you even expect by this point? It'd be more upsetting if they didn't. 


Following the events of 2021's "F9", "Fast X" returns us to family barbecue with everyone's favorite street racers turned spies (I mean, how many others are there?), led by the patriarchal "Dominic Toretto" (Vin Diesel), who has settled down with his wife, "Letty" (Michelle Rodriguez) and son, "Brian" (Leo Abelo Perry), named after the late Paul Walker's character from the previous films. While some of Dom's family, tech guy "Tej Parker" (Chris "Ludacris" Bridges), hacker "Ramsey" (Nathalie Emmanuel), ex-criminal "Roman Pearce" (Tyrese Gibson), and the once dead, but not anymore "Han Lue" (Sung Kang), depart on their own mission to Rome, Dom and Letty get a surprise visit from arch-nemesis, "Cipher" (Charlize Theron). Cipher has just had her entire criminal organization taken over by the maniacal "Dante Reyes" (Jason Momoa), the son of the deceased "Hernan Reyes" (Joaquim de Almeida), and has set his sights on claiming revenge by destroying everything and everyone Dom loves.


Dante's plan results in the entire family being framed for a terrorist attack, leading to "Aimes" (Alan Ritchson), the new head of "The Agency", to brand them all as the world's most wanted, despite the protests of "Tess" (Brie Larson), daughter of the still possibly dead (But probably not) former Agency head "Mr. Nobody" (Kurt Russell). With Letty locked up, Brian under the protection of Dom's redeemed brother, "Jakob" (John Cena), and the rest of the family all separated, Dom must evade the Agency, as well as track down Dante before he furthers his path of destruction of suffering.                


Directed by Louis Leterrier ("The Incredible Hulk", the first two "Transporter" films, and "The Dark Crystal: Age of Resistance"), with a screenplay by series veteran Justin Lin (Previously director of the last film, along with "Star Trek Beyond") and Dan Mazeau ("Wrath of the Titans"), "Fast X" is the tenth (Eleventh if you add in "Hobbs & Shaw") in the twenty year old franchise. From the very start, these films haven't been known for logic and intelligence, but instead got by on fast cars, big names, exotic locations, and adrenaline fueled action, though the previous entry in the saga was one of the franchise's weaker ones in some time. Feeling more like filler and showed signs of the series wearing thin (At least for me). So I'm actually genuinely happy to say that this film proves that there is just a little more creativity left to make for a solid enough trip to the movies, even though it still can't compete with the much better made blockbusters we've been accustomed to. 


The film has a lot going on at once, with many characters and storylines to juggle around, mixed in with almost intentionally cheesy dialogue and nonsensical action sequences. The effects are fine, though at times don't quite look up to par (Lots of green screen and a lack of practicality due take away from any real grittiness). However, with how nuts the film's use of cars, rolling bombs, and explosions that only kill the characters without plot armor, it's something one can't really get mad at anymore. Plus, I'm pretty sure the film's budget went into locations, vehicles, and just how many well known names appear throughout. Leterrier appears to embrace the film's bombastic, over the top style of action, though also adds in a few unique setpieces or two, along with a seemingly self-aware sense of humor. It's not meta by any means, but is knowing enough to at least address and match the film's silliness. (I mean, who doesn't enjoy a good random fight scene between Michelle Rodriguez and Charlize Theron?)


The still growing ensemble is both ridiculous, yet is so full of personality that it's super easy to see how many of them have become iconic to moviegoers. They're certainly memorable to say the least. Vin Diesel is his usual Vin Diesel self, talking about his family and stuff (God, those memes were something else, weren't they?) Returning cast members, such as Michelle Rodriguez, Tyrese Gibson, Chris "Ludacris" Bridges, Jordana Brewster (as "Mia", Dom's sister), Sung Kang, Scott Eastwood (as "Little Nobody", one of the remaining trustworthy Agency members), a still deliciously villainous Charlize Theron, and the always charmingly adorable Nathalie Emmanuel, somewhat have to compete for screentime, though everyone gets their moment. There are some very welcome new additions, such as a surprisingly compelling Daniela Melchior (as "Isabel", a street racer tied to Dom's past), a hilarious Pete Davidson (as a less than trustworthy underground hacker), Alan Ritchson (Playing up the musclebound dickery perfectly), and a scene-stealing Brie Larson (Who rocks every single outfit she wears, especially the pantsuits). I'll also always have nothing but praise for how this franchise has handled the death of Paul Walker in such a respectful and intelligent manner.


The subplot between an excellent John Cena and Leo Abelo Perry is both funny and heartwarming, while Jason Statham (as "Deckard Shaw", former enemy turned semi-ally and possibly my favorite character in this entire series) sadly only pops up for a few minutes, but is always there to leave an impression. Things also get classed up with brief appearances from Helen Mirren (as "Queenie", Shaw's mother and close friend to Dom) and Rita Moreno (as "Abuelita Toretto", in a quick cameo). The biggest and best new addition is Jason Momoa, who looks to be having the time of his life as a demented piece of work. Momoa injects so much twisted personality into his villain, being funny, terrifying, and overall, just immensely entertaining to watch. He's the definition of a love to hate kind of villain, and the sort of threat that his series has been missing (Think "The Joker" if he was a flamboyant dude bro).       


It wasn't until about halfway into "Fast X" when I realized what the filmmakers were doing, and essentially that's making their own "Avengers: Infinity War", with loads of characters being set up like chess pieces for a grand finale. It's a little messy, though well put together for something so, well, silly. It also results in an admittedly shocking final few minutes that result in quite the cliffhanger (One that I gotta commend them for even doing). It's not the brightest franchise out there, but this entry proves that there's a decent amount of nitro left in the tank for possibly a final ride. A respectable 3 Stars. Rated PG-13 For The Lack Of Gravitational Logistics, Car Door Shields, Jason Momoa's Fabulous Wardrobe, And Fun Muffins.

Fool's Paradise                     by James Eagan                 ½ out of ★★★★ 

Image: There are NO words.


Guys, I'm just going to say right off the bat....This one hurt. A lot. Like painfully, on both a physical and emotional level. Usually when I give a movie such a low rating, it's because a movie made me so frustratingly mad that I have to take out that anger in the form of one of my lowest scores. However, that's not the case this time. Right now? I'm just really, really sad. 


"Fool's Paradise" follows a psychologically impaired, always silent, and oblivious to the world around him guy with no name (Charlie Day), as he's dumped off from a mental institution into the streets of L.A., where he happens to get randomly picked up by an agitated movie producer (Ray Liotta). The producer has the guy serve as a stand-in for an over the top, method actor (Also played by Charlie Day), who refuses to cooperate for some deranged reason. The no name guy, given the name "Latte Pronto" (Due to some contrived coincidences), becomes an instant sensation, especially after the actor winds up dead. Latte's popularity begins to soar towards stardom, finding himself partnered with a down on his luck (And energy drink addicted) wannabe publicist, "Lenny" (Ken Jeong), becoming married to demanding starlet "Christiana Dior" (Kate Beckinsale), getting a stern agent (Edie Falco), and landing a gig in an upcoming mosquito-based superhero film from bro of a director, "Lex Tanner" (Jason Sudeikis). Despite still not knowing what exactly is going on in his life, Latte Pronto endures the typical rise and fall from stardom, becoming wrapped up in all kinds of controversy, political stupidity, incidents with maniacal method actor, "Chad Luxt" (Adrien Brody) and the now homeless, former superhero star "The Dagger" (Common), all while poor Charlie Day himself is likely being forced to come to terms with his big passion project is itself going to lead to nowhere but disaster.   


Written and directed by Charlie Day (In his directorial debut), "Fool's Paradise" sounds like something that I would have normally had a lot of fun with, because it endeared in a way to some of the classic comedies that I grew up with (And still love). An old fashioned satire on the Hollywood system, filled with actors in both big and small parts, wrapped up in a series of mean spirited comical events, where our lead character, in a Charlie Chapiln-esque fashion, just happens to bumble around like a confused kitten, not fully knowing a single thing that's going on in the movie he just so happens to be in. Not to mention, I like Charlie Day. He's a funny guy, with a lot of potential and talent, getting the chance to show off more of what he's capable of in an unexpected fashion. I wanted to like this movie. I truly did......but dear God, almost everything in this disastrous, gut-wrenchingly unfunny butchering of what we know as humor, goes so very, very wrong. 


It's hard to tell if it's due to the directing, the screenplay, the editing, or just something about the timing, none of it works in the way it should, and what makes it so distressing is that you can see how it was likely meant to. Much of the satire, while not exactly original, is ripe for the making, and no matter how much Hollywood claims to change, it still keeps making the same mistakes. (The money, the scandals, the poor work choices, drugs, corporate greed and sleaziness, and how fake it can be. It's all there and likely always will be) It just never clicks, with zero real laughs, and despite such a short runtime of barely an hour and a half, it feels about as long as "Babylon" did (Which literally did the same themes on just a grander, more crude of a scale) There's so much screwball nonsense going on at once that it's a headache to keep up with, and because you're not laughing, you're left irritated rather than amused. And not just the kind of irritated where you just want to leave, then forget about it. The kind where you feel like you need to do something irrational to the screen and possibly even yourself, because you're trapped inside a metaphorical Hell of outlandish predicaments, dull satire, and characters not shutting the f*ck up. 


It's not really meant to be the most likable movie with the most likable of characters, but God, you want to make everyone on screen suffer for what they're putting you through. Charlie Day himself is probably the closest thing to a saving grace, because in spite of how so much of the film doesn't work, his performance is quite spot on. Known for his recognizable voice, it's quite interesting to see him utulize something more physically demanding and looks very committed to the part. It's the only thing that's remotely charming about the film, and I hope he doesn't let this failure stop him from trying again elsewhere in the future. Others don't fare quite as well and it's really hard to tell exactly who is the one to blame for how badly the mark is missed. Ken Jeong, Kate Becksale, Common, Adrien Brody, Jason Sudeikis, Edie Falco, Jason Bateman (as a SFX artist), Jimmi Simpson (as your typical over the top talk show host), Jillian Bell (as a celeb shaman), John Malkovich (as a corrupt politician), and the late Ray Liotta (Who just yells at everyone around him, all look like they're having a blast and in theory, should all be funny in these parts. Sadly though, they're all so damn annoying. They're like monsters in a horror movie in how they randomly pop up just to terrorize our main character in a way that's never funny, and leaves you with the feeling that you're being tortured with him. 


"Fool's Paradise" is such a hodgepodge of ideas, antics, and detestability, which we've all seen work before, though this serves as a reminder of what happens when it doesn't come together. It's not so much a misfire as it instead just straight up shoots you in the face. It led me down a couple stages of grief, where I went from just shifting around awkwardly in my seat, to being really bothered by how agitating everyone was, to being angry that I was even there, and then eventually depressed at seeing what looks like genuine passion fall like, well, Charlie Day falling off a roof and crashing on top of a car (Oddly metaphorical scene). Poorly paced, almost impossible to follow in places, and like I've already pointed out, just grossly unfunny. It's got to be the worst comedy I've seen in a while, and possibly even the worst movie of the year. Sorry Charlie. This was all kinds of painful. 1/2 Star. Rated R For Strong Language And For Being A Horrendously Heinous Homicide On Humor Itself. 

Book Club: The Next Chapter            by James Eagan            ★★ out of ★★★★

Image: Can they get all of their Emmy's and Oscars through customs?


Alright! Let's get this one over and done with quickly. Old people movie! Go!


"Book Club: The Next Chapter" returns us to the titular book clubbers, "Diane" (Diane Keaton), "Vivian" (Jane Fonda), "Sharon" (Candice Bergen), and "Carol" (Mary Steenburgen), as they are able to keep their friendship alive during COVID. Once things get back to normal, the women learn that Vivian is marrying her longtime love interest, "Arthur" (Don Johnson), despite Vivian's reputation as a free spirit. Carol suggests a trip to Italy as a both a bachelorette vacation and an excuse to take the trip they all always wanted. Obviously, things go off the rails quickly, from having their luggage stolen, reunions with old flames, ashes of deceased loved ones going missing, and some other Sitcom-esque shenanigans, which all prove to our lovely ladies that despite their ages, they still have plenty of life left in them.


Directed by the returning Bill Holderman, who co-wrote the screenplay with the also returning Erin Simms, "Book Club: The Next Chapter" is in a way, exactly what you expect it to be. It's a collection of likable actresses, engaging in silly antics, where the screenplay mostly only requires them to be charming and not much more. Easy stuff, and one that works enough for the target audience, though unlike the first one, it's a bit more strained this time. There are some mild laughs to be had on occasion, but due to the film's needlessly drawn out runtime of almost two hours, it's fairly exhausting stuff. One can only find so much joy in these kinds of undemanding fluff, especially when it wears thin after the hour mark. 


It's not a terribly made film by any means. Just nothing special, with Diane Keaton, Jane Fond, Candice Bergen, and Mary Steenburgen making for a likable crew, with great chemistry. They pretty much make the film with it, while there are some moments given to supporting players like Don Johnson, Andy Garcia (as "Mitchell", Diane's love interest), and Craig T. Nelson (as "Bruce", Carol's husband, who she is in constant fear of dying), who gets a laugh or two. Some of the antics and decision making is cartoonish at worst, and just plain unlikely at best, which is fine if you're not going in for realism. Still, it's hard to tell how much of a fantasy this movie wants to be. Aside from some crude jokes, "Book Club: The Next Chapter" is unlikely to offend the older crowd, will bore younger audiences, and will easily fade from memory of anyone else. Don't really need to dedicate a five to six paragraph review telling you that. 2 Stars. Rated PG-13 For Adult Humor, Geriatric Sexual Desires, And The Possibly Illegal Dumping Of Human Ashes (We're Just Gonna Gloss Over That One, Aren't We?)   

Love Again                         by James Eagan               ★ ½ out of ★★★★

Image: We all yearn to find that special someone to press our Cheeseburger meat together with. 


This....THIS right here! This was the moment where I realized that cinema had finally, truly come back. We've still been in recovery since 2020, and despite all the massive hits and cinematic epics, I've only now fully accepted the return of the movie going experience that I'm used to. It wasn't "Spider-Man: No Way Home". Not "Avatar: The Way of Water" or "Top Gun: Maverick". "The Batman"? "Puss in Boots: The Last Wish"? "Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 3"? Nah! Screw all that! This is cinema right here. Me, alone, going to see a terrible romantic comedy that has no business playing in a theater, indulging in every cringe-tastic trope it can and even embracing a sense of problematic awkwardness, while under the guise of it pretending to be charming and so full of love. This is what Scorsese was talking about! 


An American remake of the 2016 German film, "SMS für Dich" (My immature mind read that as message for dick), "Love Again" opens with children's book writer, "Mira Ray" (Priyanka Chopra Jonas) being all lovey-dovey with her charming boyfriend, "John" (Arinzé Kene), only for him to get kind of hilariously hit by a car literally moments later (We're less than five minutes in and I know I'm already laughing at the wrong thing). Two years later, Mira hasn't been able to move on with her romantic life, starting to text John's old number as a form of therapy for herself. Meanwhile, a recently dumped, now very romantically cynical journalist, "Roy Burns" (Sam Heughan), just so happens to have the same phone number as the one that Mira is texting. Roy, despite being tasked with writing a story for his publicist on "Celine Dion" (Played by Celine Dion, because who else is gonna play her?), becomes smitten to the texts and forms a connection with Mira, though he doesn't even know who she is yet. Celine suggests that Rob pursue this new found connection, resulting in him and Mira finally meeting and finding that sense of romance that they thought was long gone. At least until the inevitable lies are found out, with the usual overreactions and forced conflict, only to be salvaged by a sappy declaration of love and all that. That's not a spoiler. You know how this goes.


Written and directed by James C. Strouse ("Grace Is Gone", "The Winning Season"), "Love Again" is just about as corny and disgustingly overly sentimental as you would expect. Sure that may be what the target audience is looking for, but you know what? If they say that we need to demand more from our big budget superhero movies, then these people should demand more from this kind of rehashed schlock. Even when one ignores the somewhat creepy implications behind the overall premise, the whole situation is so far fetched to be believed and oddly takes nearly half its runtime to get going before quickly running out of steam. It also has this weird aura of cheapness, that often gets distracting in what should just be a plain old romantic comedy (Such as bizarre lighting and production design). It also doesn't help that it's not funny really at all. Granted, movies like this are meant to be more cute than funny. However, that cutesy nature has a tendency to come across as more annoying than charming. 


Priyanka Chopra Jonas and Sam Heughan aren't really to blame for the script's shortcomings, but I never bought this relationship in the slightest. It's both too rushed and too thin. It never quite connects on the emotional level it's supposed to. There are the usual quirky side characters, though the likes of Russell Tovey (as the gay best friend stereotype), Steve Oram (as Rob's grouchy boss) and Sofia Barclay (as Mira's sister, who is actually just as gorgeous, yet very much attempted to be dressed down), who barely have much character outside of our romantic leads. Everything involving Celine Dion is very weird and I'm not exactly sure what she had on the studio to get so much screentime and praise for her own work, though she's also one of the film's most enjoyable parts (She's really charming in spite of the fact that I never understood what was going on with her massive role in the film). There is also a quick cameo from Priyanka Chopra's real life husband, Nick Jonas (as a workout obsessed date of Mira's, that goes very wrong), who gets a few funny lines in his quick appearance. 


Predictable, poorly paced, and rubs its cheese covered clichés right in your face, "Love Again" has everything I hate from the usual rom-com fare. Sure, it's not the absolute worst, but that doesn't stop it from being an absolute chore for me to sit through. Alone or otherwise. Maybe those who frequently watch the "Hallmark" channel will have a good time, while others such as myself will be left rolling their eyes, nursing a headache. And I'm not just saying that because of my own romantic cynicism. Ok, maybe a little bit. Didn't pass the "Love Actually" test (Not enough likability to get through the bad stuff, and too cloying to make it worth the time). 1 1/2 Stars. Rated PG-13 For Adult Content, Slight Stalker Syndrome, And Too Much Dion For One Day. 

Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 3                                            by James Eagan                                                           ★★★★ out of ★★★★ 

Image: Here to save the MCU!


James Gunn has had an interesting few years. After successfully adapting and bringing a beloved group of characters into the mainstream through the "Marvel Cinematic Universe", and preparing to wrap up the story he'd long set up, he was fired from Disney from admittedly problematic, though old and previously apologized for tweets, resulting in Gunn being swept up almost instantly by "DC", and proceeded to give us "The Suicide Squad" (The best movie in the "DC Extended Universe". Easily!) and then the also really great "Peacemaker". Then also went on to become one of the co-heads of DC Studios, vowing to save the studios' upcoming rebooted franchises. (And also got himself a really attractive and talented wife, who seems really cool too!). Luckily, we still got James Gunn back to finally give the Guardians the finale they deserve, and you know, also maybe give Marvel the little boost it kind of needs at the moment. 


Following the events of the previous two films, both "Avengers: Infinity War" and "Avengers: Endgame" (And the "Holiday Special. Watch it if you haven't. It's adorable), "Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 3" reunites us with the titular team of former outlaws turned galactic heroes. There's the human rogue "Peter Quill/Star-Lord" (Chris Pratt), the simple-minded warrior "Drax the Destroyer" (Dave Bautista), the cybernetic "Nebula" (Karen Gillan), the adorable emphatic bug girl "Mantis" (Pom Klementieff), the now swole living tree "Groot" (Voiced by Vin Diesel), and the gun toting raccoon "Rocket" (Voiced by Bradley Cooper), along with honorary members, the space redneck "Kraglin Obfonteri" (Sean Gunn) and Russian test subject "Cosmo the Spacedog" (Voiced by Maria Bakalova). Sadly though, things aren't still quite the same since Quill lost the love of his life, "Gamora" (Zoe Saldaña), only for her to be replaced by another, much less friendly version of her (See "Infinity War" and "Endgame" for all the tragic details). 


The Guardians face a new threat in the form of the superpowered "Adam Warlock" (Will Poulter), who specifically targets Rocket on orders of Rocket's vile creator, "The High Evolutionary" (Chukwudi Iwuji). After Adam mortally wounds Rocket, the Guardians are now in danger of losing yet another one of their own, with poor Rocket on the verge of death and seemingly no way of saving him due to cybernetic fail safes implanted by the High Evolutionary. Realizing that the only way to possibly rescue Rocket means having to go up against the High Evolutionary and his forces, the Guardians form an uneasy alliance with the new Gamora. Our heroes soon discover that nothing great truly lasts forever and that this just may be their final ride together. 


Written and directed by James Gunn (The first two films, along with "The Suicide Squad" and "Slither"), "Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 3"  has a lot riding on it. Aside from being the climax to what's become a fan favorite in the MCU (Even to those who really aren't fans of the modern superhero movies), it's also coming out right in the middle of a divisive time for the long running franchise. So much has happened since the last film in the last six years, interest in the newest saga is starting the waver, and quality hasn't quite been the same despite some exceptions ("Spider-Man: No Way Home", "Black Panther: Wakanda Forever" and such). I'm happy, and I mean very happy, to report that the film is everything that we might need right now. Sure, I had a good time with "Ant-Man & the Wasp: Quantumania", but this really does make you realize the difference between doing your best with what you got and doing what you love simply because you just love it so much. Gunn proves that nobody else could have possibly done these characters the same kind of justice he can, and has such a unique vision that will be sorely missed in future MCU installments.


It's a stunningly constructed visual wonder, where you can gaze upon every intricate attention to detail and embrace that usual Marvel sense of elaborate colors and weirdness. (One has to wonder if this is where all the visual effects budget went from "Quantumania") There are so many sequences that feel ripped straight from a Marvel comic (And one that you swear would have come out of the 80s), from a setpiece involving an entire building made up of flesh and a drawn out hallway battle that's sure to make summer blockbuster history. The series' trademark sense of humor is very well intact, from catchy one-liners to moments of just characters talking (Sometimes about nothing of importance), though that never prevents the film from getting dark. And boy, does it get dark. This is arguably one of the MCU's most brutal films, with an extra amount of violence and a body count that's taken very seriously. All of this only works best because of how great the cast and characters are. 


The chemistry between our heroes continues to shine through, reminding us that even though we haven't seen them in a while, they're still some of the MCU's most lovable groups. From Chris Pratt to Karen Gillan (Who has had so much character development throughout this series) and a hilariously scene-stealing pair between Dave Bautista and Pom Klementieff, there are so many laughs and so much heart to these characters that you can't imagine their existence without them. The same can be said with Vin Diesel, who still repeats the words "I Am Groot" repeatedly, yet oddly conveys so much while doing so, while Zoe Saldaña, playing a pre-character development version of her character, is perfect. Bradley Cooper's Rocket really gets the spotlight this time, in an emotional story arc that comes full circle, with flashbacks centered around him and another group of experimented on, talking animals an otter "Lyla" (Voiced by Linda Cardellini), a walrus "Teefs" (Voiced by Asim Chaudhry), and a spider-ized rabbit "Floor" (Voiced by Mikaela Hoover), that are both heartwarming and as depressing as you'd expect. (Trigger warning to those who just can't see animals being tortured, because it's heartbreaking stuff to watch). 


Chukwudi Iwuji (Great in "Peacemaker") is a villain to despise, being one of the most evil baddies to come out of the entire MCU, and honestly makes Kang the Conqueror feel like small potatoes. (Beneath the science fiction fantasy is the kind of cruelty and disregard for life that feels all too real) We get some returning additions, such as Sean Gunn, Elizabeth Debicki (as "Ayesha", Adam's "mother") still looking stunning even in all gold, and Sylvester Stallone (as "Stakar Ogord", one of the high ranking "Ravagers"), while new additions such as the super endearing Maria Bakalova (Her cute voice coming out of a dog is so soothing to me) and Will Poulter (Playing it amusingly straight), who I can see making some appearances in the future MCU. There's also a few Gunn vets popping up, like Nathan Fillion (as "Master Karja", a puffy costumed security guard) and Daniela Melchior (as "Ura", a receptionist that the Guardians take hostage). There's actually a lot of time dedicated to supporting, bit parts that leave quite the impression.


Action packed, hilarious, and bittersweet in the most warming of ways, "Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 3" may have had some setbacks (Such as delays and working around the other Marvel properties), yet it all still feels as if it were always meant to end this way. From wild music cues as usual, epic IMAX needed setpieces, and a goofy sense of humor, you can tell James Gunn's heart was completely in this. You can feel it both in front of the camera and behind it. It ends in just the right way it needs to and just might even bring a few tears to your eyes. It feels like the end of an era in a way. It shows that even now when Marvel hits its target, it completely blows it to pieces and lets out a triumphant yell afterwards. 4 Stars. Rated PG-13 For Violence, Adult Humor, Animal Abuse, Peeled Off Faces, And Marvel's (And Disney's too) First Ever F Bomb!

Big George Foreman: The Miraculous Story of the Once and Future Champion of the World                by James Eagan                                                                   ★★ out of ★★★★

Image: Take a look at that grill.


Sometimes two ideas and themes can mix together perfectly, especially if they're based around a true story that encompasses both subjects. Sadly, when those subjects are constantly at odds with each other, like a metaphorical boxing match of sorts, it never clicks in the way it should. 


Based on the true story, "Big George Foreman: The Miraculous Story of the Once and Future Heavyweight Champion of the World" tells the life of future professional boxer, preacher, and grill enthusiast, "George Foreman" (Kris Davis). Growing up in poverty and struggling to land a job, George joins a Job Corps, where despite still getting into fights due to rage issues, he finds a mentor in "Doc Broadus" (Forest Whitaker). Against the wishes of his very religious mother, "Nancy" (Sonja Sohn), George is trained as a heavyweight boxer, and quickly becomes a rising star. We follow George throughout his first marriage, his further rise to fame, as well as his mistakes, the rivalry with "Muhammed Ali" (Sullivan Jones), and his failure to escape his inner rage. After losing to Ali, George's life starts to hit an all time low, resulting in a near-death experience that brings him closer to God. After retiring, George decides to dedicate his life to God, becoming a Baptist preacher, finding a later chance at love with his future wife, "Mary Joan Martelly" (Jasmine Mathews), and hoping to reshape his entire life. However, when financial troubles rear their ugly head, George soon realizes that he just might need to, against all odds, return to boxing in spite of being out of the game for so long.  


From "Affirm Films" ("Soul Surfer", "Miracles from Heaven") and director/co-screenwriter, George Tillman Jr. ("The Hate U Give"), "Big George Foreman" (And no, I'm not typing that entire ridiculous title over and over) is a fairly safe and standard biopic. It's one that certainly deserves to be told, being the kind of story that can resonate with anyone, regardless of their faith, simply because we all love to see a man find redemption, becoming genuinely better while inspiring the world around him. The film, like a lot of biopics have a tendency to do with a lesser screenplay, feels like a Wikipedia entry, guiding us through life event to life event, without much emotional depth behind it. It should be there, but frustratingly isn't and at such a long runtime (Over two hours and ten minutes), you really feel that another go around at the script could have done some real good. It's not an incompetently made film by any means. Just unremarkable, especially compared to how interesting its subject is.


Khris Davis is quite good in the film, playing the titular George Foreman throughout his adult life and capturing that unique personality (And not to mention, the make up work on him, going from youthful, to muscular, and eventually to bald and heftier, is shockingly excellent). We get some excellent supporting work from Forest Whitaker, Sonja Sohn, and a scene-stealing Sullivan Jones (Who truly brings to life how larger than life Muhammed Ali was). Some parts feel underwritten, with Jasmine Matthews (Despite being the main love interest) and John Magaro (as "Desmond", an old friend of George, who claims that he doesn't remotely have any financial troubles), in roles that you know are supposed to leave more of an impact but are brought down by either poor writing or just not enough time being given. 


"Big George Foreman" loses steam during its final act, serving as a film that would be better suited for streaming or as something you'd only watch in one of your High School classes. It never really tells you anything new, and can't seem to mesh the tropes of the sports biopic with the faith based sermon in a cohesive way. It's just fine, which quite frankly, isn't near enough for something that's meant to get you out of your seat to start an applause. 2 Stars. Rated PG-13 For Adult Content, Brutal Boxing, And The Revelation That More Kids Under Twenty Only Know George Foreman Because Of His Grill.   

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