In Theaters: Ad Astra, The Goldfinch, Hustlers, It: Chapter Two, Angel Has Fallen, Ready or Not, 47 Meters Down: Uncaged, Good Boys, The Angry Birds Movie 2, Scary Stories to Tell in the Dark, The Kitchen, The Art of Racing in the Rain, Dora and the Lost City of Gold, Fast & Furious Presents: Hobbs & Shaw
Coming Soon: Rambo: Last Blood, Downton Abbey, Abominable, Joker, The Addams Family, Gemini Man, Jexi, Maleficent 2, Zombieland 2, Black and Blue, Countdown, Terminator: Dark Fate, Arctic Dogs, Doctor Sleep, Midway, Last Christmas, Playing with Fire
★★★½: Very Good
★★½ : Eh
★★: Could've Been Worse, Could've Been Better
★½: Is It Too Late To Get A Refund?
★: Hope You Have A Good Date
½: Little To No Redeeming Value
No Stars: Rethink Your Life Choices
Image: "More smolder, Brad....We need more Smolder!"
Well this is going to polarize the crap out of its audience. It's that kind of film.
Taking place in the near future, "Ad Astra" (A Latin phrase meaning "To the Stars") follows astronaut, "Roy McBride" (Brad Pitt). McBride survives an accident while working on a space antennae, which was caused by a mysterious power surge. Known as "The Surge", it has begun to cause some havoc across the planet and could end up threatening all life. Roy learns that the Surge appears to have originated from a space station near Neptune, where it just so happens Roy's thought to be dead father, "Clifford McBride" (Tommy Lee Jones) was stationed, as part of an experiment called "The Lima Project". Having been sent to search for life beyond the stars, Earth lost contact with the Lima Project years ago, and Roy is instructed to journey to Neptune to attempt to contact his missing father, who Space Command fears has gone full mad scientist. Along with an old friend of Clifford, "Colonel Pruitt" (Donald Sutherland), Roy heads into a long, cold, and unforgiving quest into the far reaches of space in hopes of finding out what's become of his father, and put a stop to the surges that continue to threaten humanity.
Directed by James Gray ("The Lost City of Z"), "Ad Astra" is one of the most unique, thoroughly original films to come out in 2019. That makes for an unpredictable, and in a way, hard to truly decipher. It's science fiction that feels structured in reality, and the film never stops to explain how exactly the future has changed. It's mostly left in the background or just isn't drawn attention to. Space travel is treated as an casual plane ride and the moon space port includes everyday fast food restaurants. It's all just presented to us and left open for the audience to figure out. It's an interesting form of world building that you don't see much of. And It's a fascinating tactic from James Gray, whose artful direction style may not be for everyone.
"Ad Astra" is actually a very slow and quiet journey, focusing more as a study on the lead character than anything else. The actual destination, while important and not without impact, is secondary to the internal struggle going on in Roy's head. Brad Pitt conveys this characters emotional and psychological turmoil beautifully. Pitt nails his character's somber expressions and detached way of speaking, and yet, you can tell that every moment he's on the verge of completely breaking down. It's a similar performance to Ryan Gosling in last year's "First Man", though this film gets into the mental issues that would come with a job requiring one to be alone in the endless nothingness of space. Other actors generally just appear sporadically, such as an excellent (And suitably mysterious) Tommy Lee Jones, Donald Sutherland, Ruth Negga (as "Helen", a Mars born woman with a personal connection to the Lima Project), and an underutulized, though still important Liv Tyler (as "Eve", Roy's ex wife). The characters are interesting, though we don't get much time with them (Which may or may not be a metaphor in a way. Not sure.). The focus is strictly on Brad Pitt's performance, which is captivating enough to carry the film.
I can already see future Oscar nominations for both cinematography and visual effects. "Ad Astra" is a movie made for IMAX screen. It's majestic in scope, and damn near frightening in how space itself can entirely envelop the screen. (Being someone who has a fear of heights myself, my anxiety continuously spiked throughout this entire movie.) In terms of effects, you are sucked into the mesmerizing beauty and occasional horror that comes with survival in space. Despite all of this, this is not the kind of film that can be a challenge to some people, and I can clearly see why. The film itself is in a way just as disconnected as its lead character, and even when there is some action, everything is muted and slowed down to the point some might just end up bored by it all.
"Ad Astra" is a film about obsession, the bond between father and son, and our want to better understand what's out there in the universe, despite the fact that we really have no business away from Earth. The intentionally closed off characterizations, measured pacing, and very quiet approach to its story, make for a challenging experience. I was actually leaning towards a lower rating because I honestly started to feel a bit put off by how little of an attachment we were given to everything that was happening. However, I find myself thinking about it more and more, with the themes, messages, and of course, my immense appreciation for the brilliant filmmaking that came with it, I feel I appreciate it more than I actually enjoyed it. Like I said, it's that kind of film. 3 ½ Stars. Rated PG-13 Despite A Shocking Amount Of Violence And Bloody Images. (Space Is Not Our Friend, And It Doesn't Need Aliens To Show That.)
Image: What is the most boring film of them all?
It's striking when there is something so obviously missing from certain films. A sense of heart, depth, or any kind of way of becoming emotionally invested in their characters and stories. That's not exactly the case with "The Goldfinch". When I say there's something missing, I mean there are literally pieces of it missing. It's the only explanation I can get for all of these puzzle pieces that just wont go together. No matter how much the filmmakers appear to be forcing them to.
Based on the best selling novel by Donna Tartt, "The Goldfinch" follows the life of "Theo Decker" (Oakes Fegley as a child, then Ansel Elgort as an adult), after he witnesses his mother die in an art museum. But in the chaos, Theo ends up taking a beloved painting known as "The Goldfinch", which everyone then believes was destroyed in the bombing. We follow Theo throughout his complicated and depressing life. First he is sent to live with a wealthy couple, "Samantha" (Nicole Kidman) and "Chance Barbour" (Boyd Gaines), and their family, along with befriending an antique shop owner, "James Hobart" (Jeffrey Wright) and the niece of his deceased partner (Who also died in the bombing), "Pippa" (Aimee Laurence as a child, then Ashleigh Cummings as an adult). Then Theo is taken back by his scummy, deadbeat father, "Larry" (Luke Wilson) and his new girlfriend, "Xandra" (Sarah Paulson), being whisked away from his new, more caring family, and being forced to live in a crappy home outside Las Vegas. Though he does make friends with a cynical Russian immigrant, "Boris" (Finn Wolfhard as a teen, then Aneurin Barnard as an adult), Theo 's life is still haunted by his mother's death and the painting that he stole. We then cut to Theo's adult life as he reunites with people from his past, works as Hobart's new protege, deals with substance abuse, and has to confront the consequences of his actions.
What in the world went wrong here? Directed by John Crowley ("Brooklyn"), "The Goldfinch" has all of the Oscar baity tropes wrapped up in a nice, neat bow. It's certainly a nice looking film, with solid cinematography and it's not without an excellent, star-studded cast. However, the whole film is a complete jumbled mess of various minor plot points and conveniences that get more and more preposterous the longer the film goes on. Not sure if it's an issue with the original novel, but the film's non-linear format (Which feels unnecessary and momentarily stops the movie dead) ruins the film's pacing, and for a nearly two and a half hour long movie, you're constantly fighting the urge to check out and take a nap in a nice, cool movie theater. (Those new luxury lounges are this movie's greatest enemy.)
Any faults with the performances I see more as faults with the screenplay by Peter Straughan (Who may of wrote "Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy", but also had a credit for "The Snowman".), which is made up of nothing but pretentious monologues. Ansel Elgort, previously seen as someone full of natural charisma in movies like "Baby Driver", is oddly given so little to work with and ends up coming across as boringly bland. Especially compared to Oakes Fegley ("Pete's Dragon"), who carries the film quite well, and shows a lot of signs of potential as an actor. Nicole Kidman ends up sidelined to the background as the film progresses, but she at least remains her usual lovely, charming self. There are some solid enough performances from Jeffrey Wright, Ryan Foust (as "Andy", the younger Barbour son, who Theo befriends), along with Luke Wilson and Sarah Paulson, who overcome characters that teeter on the edge of cartoonish. A subplot involving Denis O'Hare (as an antagonistic art collector), doesn't actually go anywhere like many of the poorly developed secondary plotlines. Luckily Finn Wolfhard, showing how incredibly versatile he is an actor, provides some much needed humor and memorability within all of the forced drama.
"The Goldfinch" gives the feeling that the movie was edited together with a chainsaw and crazy glue. There are hints of an interesting concept there, though even then, what the film is presenting is nowhere near as interesting as it thinks. Worst of all, it's just so damn slow. The point becomes obvious very quickly and the film takes its sweet time getting to it. It doesn't amount to much, and ends with a whimper. A frustrating slog of a misfire that feels like the cut up remains of a complete story. They've ruined the book for me, and I haven't even read it! 1 ½ Stars. Rated R For Strong Language, Poor Parenting, Drug Use, And Other Illegal Activities Such As Murder.
Image: Uh...I'm sorry....What were we talking about?
Is it wrong not to feel too bad for people who make a living going out of their way to screw over or get a higher advantage over other less fortunate people for profit? Especially when they immediately afterward go to spend their living on drugs, alcohol, and strippers? In a way, it's fitting karma that all this ended up happening.
Inspired by true events (The fact that any of this is remotely true shouldn't surprise you at all), "Hustlers" follows single mother and former New York City stripper, "Dorothy/Destiny" (Constance Wu), as she tells her story to a journalist, "Elizabeth" (Julia Styles). Dorothy talks about her friendship with her mentor, "Ramona Vega" (Jennifer Lopez) during the financial crash in the late 2000s. (Remember? It's that thing "The Big Short" was about.) After being out of a job for some time, Dorothy would later reunite with Ramona, who along with other fellow dancers, "Mercedes" (Keke Palmer) and "Annabelle" (Lili Reinhart), decide to work a side hustle. The hustle mostly revolves around them picking up Wall Street CEOs, stcok traders, and scumbags at bars, drugging them, and getting them to spend all of their money at the strip club. As you would expect, things will eventually (and inevitably) go very, very wrong.
Both directed and written by Lorene Scafaria ("Seeking a Friend for the End of the World") and based on the 2015 New York Magazine article, "The Hustlers at Scores", "Hustlers" may or may not get all of the facts right (Again. They did only say "Inspired"), though it's more about the point the film is trying to get across. In fact, it may not at first appear this way, but the film is smartly satirical, sweet and thoughtful, and deceptively complex. Stylish and slick, Scafaria avoids relying on typical Hollywoodized clichés by injecting some humor into the situation and by developing the film's characters. The film works as an interesting study into how someone, if the circumstances were bad enough, would stoop to desperate means to make money in an already somewhat scummy and overtly dirty business. The film doesn't condone the actions of our main characters (I mean, people did still get hurt during all of this. Maybe one or two didn't deserve it.), it just presents their story in a relatable way that helps understand why and how everything went the way it did.
Constance Wu, who is quickly proving to be an instant star, is nothing short of amazing in the film. She shows a remarkable amount of range (From being funny and naive to commanding and emotionally hurt), and I hope after people see her in this movie, she'll be a front runner come Oscar season. Jennifer Lopez gives possibly the best performance I've ever seen from her. She makes for such an interesting character, whose motivations are never quite completely clear and you immediately understand why someone would gravitate towards her. (You know, aside from the fact that Jennifer Lopez is quite on attractive side.) Julia Styles (Someone who rarely gets a chance to show off her acting potential) is excellent, along with strong supporting work from Keke Palmer and Lili Reinhart (Who provides most of the humor in the movie.) One of the more distracting elements would be Cardi B (as a fellow stripper, in a role that's mostly just stunt casting due to the um, truth to the story.), who does a fine enough job, though doesn't feel all that natural. (Granted, she's barely in the movie despite what all of the advertising implies.)
"Hustlers" occasionally skims over a few plot points, though it's very tightly edited and well paced enough to get through those minor inconsistencies. The characters are well written, the film isn't without some uncomfortable laughs, and hard to describe sense of fun. It's about excess, bad decisions, and desperation, while also giving a very in depth and respectful representation of the stripper lifestyle. (It takes work and intelligence to do this job, especially considering the people these women have to deal with.) It's a very different sort of true crime drama that's nonetheless engrossing and maybe even a little empowering. Don't drug people for money though. I'm not endorsing that. 3 ½ Stars. Rated R For Drug Use, Slight Nudity, And The Camera's Inability To Not Direct Attention To Jennifer Lopez's Derriere. (This Movie Is Directed By A Woman, And Yet It Still Can't Avoid That.)
Image: "Krusty the Clown" finally snaps, as we all knew he would eventually.
The idea to adapt Stephen King's thousand page, fan favorite horror novel, "It", into two separate films was the best move the filmmakers could possibly make. First off, it avoids becoming the cluttered the mess that the original 1990 miniseries (Thank God for Tim Curry with that one.), and it separates both past and present storylines into their own individual films. Both are given time to develop a better connection and develop enough scares to traumatize anyone with a phobia of clowns (Who also just so happen to have sharp teeth and an appetite for feasting on the fear of the young and innocent.) Not to mention the money. That was probably a big part of the decision.
Set Twenty-seven years after the events of the first chapter, "It: Chapter Two" opens with the return of vicious, fear loving entity, referred to as "It", which prefers to take the form of the playful, yet terrifying "Pennywise the Dancing Clown" (Bill Skarsgård). It was seemingly defeated by "The Losers' Club", who have all since gone their separate ways from the horrible town of Derry, Maine. The stuttering leader of the group, "Bill Denbrough" (James McAvoy. Formerly Jaeden Martell), is a novelist who has issues coming up with good endings. The lone female, "Beverly Marsh" (Jessica Chastain. Formerly Sophia Lillis), finds herself in an abusive relationship. "Ben Hanscom" (Jay Ryan. Formerly Jeremy Ray Taylor), is no longer chubby, and is now super rich. The sh*ttalking, "Richie Tozier" (Bill Hader. Formerly Finn Wolfhard), is now a stand-up comedian. The hypochondriac "Eddie Kasbrak" (James Ransone. Formerly Jack Dylan Grazer), still suffers from mommy issues. "Stanley Uris" (Andy Bean. Formerly Wyatt Oleff) has settled down happily, while "Mike Hanlon" (Isaiah Mustafa. Formerly Chosen Jacobs), has remained in Derry.
Nobody seems to have memories of what transpired all of those years ago, but get an instant reminder when Mike learns that "It" has returned, and has begun to feast on the denizens of the town. So he calls in the rest of the Losers' Club to return home and face the evil creature once more. After tragedy strikes, the Losers set out to perform a mystical ritual that should put an end to It's reign of terror once and for all. The group must face their old fears, repressed memories, the return of town bully turned homicidal maniac, "Henry Bowers" (Teach Grant. Formerly Nicholas Hamilton), and their hidden secrets, as they battle against the evil, sharp toothed demon clown once last time.
Director Andy Muschietti ("Mama", and the first "It") returns with "It: Chapter Two", which has a lot of ground to cover despite the already nearly three hour runtime. Stating the obvious, the second chapter doesn't get close to reaching the surprising greatness of the first film, with many plot points going on all at once, some minor clutter, and oddly, fewer scares than before. Not that the film isn't without fright (Most of them, more of the jump scare variety.), but it seems the film is more focused on character development and supernatural/psychological drama that comes with it. On the bright side, it's excellently done and while I didn't find myself near as frightened this time around, the emotional impact that the film offers, is still strong. Both Muschietti and returning screenwriter Gary Dauberman (The "Annabelle" series) have to juggle quite a few plot points. The film occasionally has to make up for the repetitive nature of the somewhat messy story (A chunk of the movie involves a character searching for something, getting terrorized by Pennywise, then escaping. Rinse. Repeat.), with beautiful cinematography and some stunning visual work. For such a small setting, the scope of the film feels grand and epic, giving the film a dark fantasy look, rather than a traditional horror movie. (Apparently it cost less than a $100 million, and it still looks better than most of our big budget blockbusters.)
The film is also elevated by the fantastic ensemble cast, and the filmmakers do deserve some recognition for the fact that all of the adults are so perfectly picked. Each one is a dead ringer for their younger counterpart, particularly the wonderful Jessica Chastain and a brilliant James Ransone (Who even flawlessly matches Jack Dylan Grazer's facial expressions). James McAvoy continues to be an underappreciated talent, along with some great performances from Jay Ryan and Isaiah "The Man Your Man Could Smell Like" Mustafa. Andy Bean gets a heartfelt scene, while Teach Grant is all kinds of bonkers, though it's one of the aspects you do sort of wonder if it would of been better off being cut out of the film. Bill Hader has been getting a lot of praise, and I think they've been underselling it. He's phenomenal in the film, adding some great comedy obviously, and even gets the most heartbreaking character arc. It's a very subtle performance that's hidden under a loud mouthed character, and it's deserving of praise. The cast from the original appears sporadically in flashbacks, and they're once again terrific young performers (Especially Sophia Lillis and Finn Wolfhard). Meanwhile, Bill Skarsgård once again creates a mesmerizing villain, making him a horrifying presence, a source of demented humor, and even injects a little depth to the character.
"It: Chapter Two" is not without its flaws, and some of them might of been unavoidable. (For such a long movie based on an even longer book, it feels like the filmmakers couldn't tell what to leave out) It can be seen as a bit too ambitious for its own good, and due to film not really focusing on being as scary this time, I can see someone seeing it as false advertising. I can also admit that, aside from plenty of nightmarish imagery, I didn't find myself jumping like I did the first film. There are some glaring issues that bring the film down despite its aspirations, but I would say that its the last act where the film truly shines. It truly is a spectacular finale, not because of the crazy visuals or the creepy images. It works in the same way the first film did, and that's because of the genuine heart at the center of the story. In the end, its the emotional connection to our main characters that brings everything together, and even with the film's flaws, it ends on a strong enough note to make up for it. The film doesn't quite reach the heights it longs for, yet it makes up for it with a great payoff. Maybe not exactly what you would expect (And the more I think about it, the talk of how difficult it would be to adapt the original book does start to show a bit more), but still a worthy conclusion to a good scary story. Still not afraid of clowns, though. Even though we all should be. A low 3 ½ Stars. Rated R For The Bloodiest Of Images, Scary Clown Faces, And Upsetting Situations.
Image: Gerard Butler is stalked by a wild Nick Nolte in his natural habitat.
I may be a committed, professional, unpaid film critic, who has been writing on the same site for over nine years, but even I let things slip past me from time to time. Even if I do, I make it my duty to take some time to go back and check out certain films, especially if they have a sequel coming out. With that said, "Olympus Has Fallen" and "London Has Fallen"? Completely forgot about them. Come on, none of you even thought about those two movies until you saw the TV spot for this movie a couple weeks ago.
You've probably hear a story like this before. "Angel Has Fallen" opens with United States Secret Service Agent/Scottish-American John McClane, "Mike Banning" (Gerard Butler), considering retirement despite the possibility of him being given the job of Secret Service Director. While on a fishing trip with the President of the United States, "Allan Trumbull" (Morgan Freeman), Banning and the rest of the secret service is violently attacked by remotely controlled drones, which kill everyone with the exception of Banning and the now comatose Trumbull. FBI agent, "Helen Thompson" (Jada Pinkett Smith), sees this as suspicious, and it becomes apparent that Banning is being framed for the attack. After eluding capture from the FBI, as well as the paid contractors who set him up in the first place, Banning must set out to clear his name. Along the way, Banning discovers a connection to an old army friend, "Wade Jennings" (Danny Huston), a high profile conspiracy, and eventually, finds time for a reunion with his off the grid, grizzly Nick Nolte-like father, "Clay" (Nick Nolte. Obviously.)
The third and possible final installment in a trilogy that I never took the time to realize was a trilogy at all, "Angel Has Fallen" is exactly what I described when detailing the plot. A generic, safe (But violent), bullet riddled action movie. Director Ric Roman Waugh ("Snitch") might be adding a little flair and even some attempted nuance to the film, but it can't exactly hide what it is. It's all up to if it's your cup of tea or not. The film is well shot, and the action, while overly reliant on shaky cam, is serviceable enough to compensate for a bland script and an incredibly predictable storyline. There are no surprises that you don't see coming, and the film doesn't even really try to cover it up. It instead just hopes an undemanding audience will forgive the film's lack of originality in favor of slightly over the top, though pretty basic by this point, action and violence.
Gerard Butler does still thankfully have enough onscreen charisma to carry the film, and actually even does a pretty solid job when it comes to the film's dramatic scenes. Danny Huston snarls and growls throughout, and does a reliably professional job at the same time. He showed up to do his job, no matter how lacklusterly written.. Morgan Freeman gets quite possibly his easiest paycheck ever, spending most of his screentime in a coma (For all we know he was just sleeping the entire time.), while others like Jada Pinkett Smith, Piper Perabo (as "Leah", Mike's wife), and Tim Blake Nelson (as "Martin Kirby", the Vice President, who takes command while Trumbull is hospitalized) are all underutulized. The biggest scene stealer would be Nick Nolte, who at least livens up the film with humor, empathy, and a memorably insane action setpiece involving an onslaught of landmines.
You can tell the filmmakers were trying to give "Angel Has Fallen" a little extra something to set it apart from the average, run of the mill action sequel. However, while not bad by any means, it doesn't elevate itself anywhere past a certain level of mediocrity that's better viewed as a rental, rather than in theaters. The next sequel will probably head straight to Pay-Per-View. 2 Stars. Rated R For Bloody Violence, Strong Language, And The Lack Of Subtitles To Fully Understand The Native Tongue Of The Nick Nolte.
Image: Meet the family
It's funny how something completely original, not being based on any kind of property, and thoroughly unpredictable from start to finish, came from the most random of places and minds. And that mind is obviously pretty f*cked up.
"Ready or Not" follows the newlywed, "Grace" (Samara Weaving), who is celebrating her marriage to "Alex Le Domas" (Mark O'Brien). Alex is part of a grand, extremely wealthy gaming family, which Alex is wary of introducing Grace to. After the wedding at his family's estate, Alex tells Grace that she will have to take part in a traditional game of sorts that the family plays every time someone gets married. The players include Alex's father, "Tony" (Henry Czerny) and "Becky" (Andie MacDowell), the snarky brother, "Daniel" (Adam Brody) and his wife, "Charity" (Elyse Levesque), the creepy aunt, "Helene" (Nicky Guadagni), along with the coked up niece "Emilie" (Melanie Scrofano) and her buffoonish husband, "Fitch" (Kristian Bruun). Turns out Alex's family acquired their wealth through "Interesting" means, and they believe that if they play a certain game with every new family member, it will prevent something horrible from happening. Turns out the game this time is "Hide and Seek", which Grace plays along with at first, but soon discovers that the game usually ends with the whole family coming together to hunt down and kill the one hiding in a satanic ritual. Now Grace must survive her new in-laws and find a way of escape, all while the family relentlessly hunts her down, bickering to each other the entire like families do during big get togethers.
Leave it to the little movie, that nobody was thinking or talking about, to spice up the end of the summer movie season. Directed by frequent collaborators Matt Bettinelli-Olphin and Tyler Gillett, "Ready or Not" ends up being one of the more original films to come out this year. A tense, brutally violent thriller, that could also almost be classified as a slapstick comedy of sorts. The film takes time to set up some mood and a chilling atmosphere to go with the closed off, claustrophobic setting. Once the actual game starts, it's constantly moving, and boy, it doesn't hold back in how gruesomely (And hilariously) people can die. It's not all about the gore though, with the film offering some funny satire as it pokes fun at the institution of marriage, family traditions, and the all around dick-ish nature of the rich elite.
Samara Weaving (Who I had no idea was Australian) is a mesmerizing and badass heroine, with oodles of charm to spare. Henry Czerny is a delight as the tired patriarch, and Andie MacDowell brings her usual A game. Adam Brody has some great deadpan delivery, while Kristian Bruun and Melanie Scrofano get some of the funniest moments. Others like Mark O'Brien, Elyse Levesque, and John Ralston (as the creepy butler) are all excellent, along with the biggest scene stealer Nicky Guadagni, who is awesomely wicked. Lots of the humor comes from how casual the killers are about the horrible acts they end up committing, some of which by accident due to their own incompetence.
While the film's somewhat nasty nature might not be for everyone (Especially once we reach the big payoff), "Ready or Not" is an outrageously gorey, yet smart pitch black comedy. It's original, clever in its execution, and just plain an immense amount of fun. Another one of those unexpected, twisted little surprises that bring the summer movie season to a solid close. Then again, I do have "Angel Has Fallen" tomorrow......3 ½ Stars. Rated R For Strong Violence, Poor Use Of A Crossbow, And Child Punching. (Kid Had It Coming Though.)
Image: "Smile you son of a-OH MY GOD!!!!"
Another day, another shark attack movie. What do you want me to say? Some insightful discussion into why we associate enough fear with giant carnivorous fish that really don't set out to eat people? No! People are just scared of sharks and like seeing people get eaten by them. We're a sick species, and I have nothing new to say. Let's just dive right in.
A sequel-ish to 2017's "47 Meters Down" (Did that really do all that well?), "47 Meters Down: Uncaged" follows a shy protagonist, "Mia" (Sophie Nélisse). Mia is bullied at school, and doesn't quite have a good relationship with her step-sister, "Sasha" (Corinne Foxx, daughter of Jamie Foxx). Mia's architect dad, "Grant" (John Corbett) and step-mother, "Jennifer" (Nia Long), arrange for Mia and Sasha to spend some quality time together on a Shark Viewing boat trip, but Sasha instead has plans to hang out with her friends, "Alexa" (Brianne Tju) and "Nicole" (Sistine Stallone, daughter of Sylvester Stallone). Taking Mia along for the ride, the girls decide to go swimming at a secret location, which leads into an ancient underwater city. The girls scuba dive into the city, where an accident ends up causing the caves to collapse, trapping them. To make things worse, some hungry sharks are roaming the area, and delicious teenage girls are on their menu. Insert obligatory "Jaws" reference here.
Directed (And Co-Written) once again by Johannes Roberts ("The Strangers: Prey at Night" and the original "47 Meters Down"), "47 Meters Down: Uncaged" is a shark monster movie through and through, with little deviation from the formula. Granted, it's hard to fault someone for not messing with something that, whether it always ends up good or not, apparently works. (I mean, someone is going to see these movies.) It does help that Roberts is a bit more ambitious a director than his cheap budget would imply. (Not to mention some meh looking CGI, which for a movie like this, is better than it has an reason to be.) He goes for a few inventive shots, some creepy atmosphere, and some creative kills, which despite the PG-13 rating, are still plenty horrifying to witness.
Not exactly a film where you would find yourself examining insightful dialogue and complex characterizations, but the acting is fine enough for what it is. Sophie Nélisse in particular is a standout, and is a likable lead to give you someone to care about throughout the underwater carnage. Nia Long is a glorified cameo, and John Corbett shows up to do his job as professionally as possible. Others end up being shark fodder or just spend most of the film screaming in terror. With that said, that's kind of the point and nobody does a bad job of it. It's just nothing to write home about (Or even take time to mention in detail in this review.)
"47 Meters Down: Uncaged" is just like the first film, in which it's nothing more than a by the numbers shark attack movie, but has capable enough people making sure it turns out as safely, if not solidly, mediocre as possible. Things pick up a bit during the final act, and I'll admit the finale is pretty exciting in an undemanding sort of way. A quick sit for anyone just looking for an age old battle between scary sharks and stupid teenagers. The cinematic definition of "Okay". 2 ½ Stars. Rated PG-13 For Bloody Enough Images And Fishy Jump Scares.
Image: So how many time-outs is drug dealing worth?
Cringe, that's what this movie represents. An hour and a half of profane, cartoonishly silly, unfiltered cringe. It's the kind of movie that, if you're not ready or willing to accept that, then it's best to pretend it doesn't exist. I for one, love me some good old fashioned cringe. So I'm right at home.
Produced by Seth Rogen and Evan Goldberg, "Good Boys" follows a trio of foul mouthed, but overall pretty good kids, "Max" (Jacob Tremblay), "Thor" (Brady Noon), and "Lucas" (Keith L. Williams), or as they liked to be referred to as, "The Bean Bag Boys". Max is madly in love with a girl he's never even talked to, "Brixlee" (Millie Davis), Thor wants so desperately to be seen as cool that he would rather hide his talent for singing, and Lucas, who is unable to lie properly, discovers that his parents (Lil Rel Howery and Retta) are getting divorced. The boys are invited to a so called "Kissing Party", but have little to no clue what kissing actually is. So they "borrow" a drone from Max's dad (Will Forte), and use it to attempt to spy on their neighbors, "Hannah" (Molly Gordon) and "Lily" (Midori Francis), but end up losing it to them in the process. Through a series of ridiculous events, the boys wind up with drugs, having to avoid the pursuing girls, and set out to get a new drone before Max's dad gets home. The boys risk serious grounding as they skip school, steal beer, run through incoming traffic, and engaging in violent spats with college guys, all in hopes of securing the drone and going to the party.
Directed by Gene Stupnitsky (Who has co-written several episodes of "The Office", such as the now infamous "Scott's Tots". That explains a lot actually.), "Good Boys" doesn't give a f*ck about what offends you and what shouldn't be poked fun of, despite the heavy presence of children. The screenplay, also written be Stupnitsky and his frequent collaborator, Lee Eisenberg, doesn't hold back on the crudeness in the slightest. While it at times can feel a bit too much, it's made up for with an uncontainable amount of laughs, which just keep coming without rest. Despite the profane nature, the film is played out like a light hearted, kiddie comedy, with the best moments of comedy coming from the boys' inability to truly understand what exactly is going on around them and at times, what they're even saying. (They swear, talk about sex, and arm themselves with dildos, yet don't have a clue as to what any of it actually is.) As for a plot, it's more of a random assortment of misadventures that end up culminating on a single theme, but that works to the film's advantage. It's funny because of how all over the place it is, and the situation, while over the top, is shown through a seemingly innocent and childlike point of view.
Jacob Tremblay (Still think he deserved an Oscar nomination for "Room"), Brady Noon, and Keith L. Williams have wonderfully chemistry and pitch perfect comedic timing. They're game for whatever silly situation, no matter how uncomfortable it makes the audience feel. Molly Gordon and Midori Francis are a lot of fun, while a lot of laughs come from the supporting cast in their small roles, like Will Forte, Lil Rel Howery, Sam Richardson (as an officer, who is too exhausted to deal with the boys' nonsense), and Stephen Merchant (as a creepy card collector). People mostly appear sporadically, keeping the focus on our leads, who remain likable, despite their actions.
Basically the same premise as the slightly more superior, "Booksmart" (And you know, a million other movies about young people going on raunchy misadventures), "Good Boys" offers just as much heart as it does laughs. It ends up going down a much deeper, somewhat bittersweet route, with a conclusion that might actually find you getting more emotional than expected. (It actually got to me!) Maybe a little too indulgent when it comes to the novelty of tweens swearing, the movie is laugh out loud hilarious, thoroughly uncomfortable, and by the end, oddly adorable. It's the kind of fun we all wish we could of had when we were kids......Minus the drugs and sex toys. 3 ½ Stars. Rated R For........Do You Even Need Me To Say Why By This Point?
Image: Every reaction to the "Cats" trailer in one image.
So what it took was "Detective Pikachu" and both "Angry Birds" movies to find a way to overcome the dreaded video game movie curse. To have just one is a miracle, but to have two solid ones in the same year, my mind is having trouble processing it. Maybe if "Sonic the Hedgehog" hadn't been delayed, it too could of joined in the fun and avoid the curse.......But probably not.
Based on the delightfully time wasting mobile game, "The Angry Birds Movie 2" picks up where the first movie left off, with the citizens of "Bird Island" still in an endless prank war with the destructive pigs of "Piggy Island". Local hero/former loner, "Red" (Jason Sudeikis), along with his friends, the speedy "Chuck" (Josh Gad) and the explosively simple minded, "Bomb" (Danny McBride), are tasked with defending the island from the pig leader, "Leonard" (Bill Hader). However, Leonard discovers a third island known as "Eagle Island", where the insane ruler, "Zeta" (Leslie Jones), is threatening to destroy both islands with giant ice cannonballs, resulting in Leonard asking for a truce. Red, fearing that he may lose all of the admiration he's made, doesn't want to believe it, but sees that saving his friends from Zeta should keep his status as the hero of the island. Creating a team of goofballs, which includes Chuck, Bomb, Chuck's smart sister, "Silver" (Rachel Bloom), Leonard's texting assistant, "Courtney" (Awkwafina), Leonard's tech guy, "Garry" (Sterling K. Brown), and the not so mighty, "Mighty Eagle" (Peter Dinklage), Red and Leonard must put aside their differences for the greater good to save their homes from Zeta's madness.
Distributed by Sony Pictures Animation (Who just won an Oscar with last year's "Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse"), "The Angry Birds Movie 2" continues the first film's blend of wacky freneticism and mile a minute humor, and does so with enthusiastic and wondrous glee. Directed by Thurop Van Orman (Creator of "The Marvelous Misadventures of Flapjack"), the animation is the ultimate selling point. It's crazy and occasionally too much, but also insanely creative and generates plenty of laughs for both the kids and their parents. (Actually, there are quite a few jokes that seem specifically aimed directly at the parents.) The laughs are unrelenting at times and the expressiveness of the animation makes for a thoroughly entertaining, if not physically exhausting experience.
Where the lovely animation is delightful enough as it is, the hodge podge of voices is actually pretty incredible, especially when you end up spending most of the credits finding out who's who. Jason Sudeikis is perfectly cast once again, while Josh Gad and Danny McBride make for lovable supporting characters. Rachel Bloom is a great addition, while Leslie Jones and Bill Hader are both total riots. There's also a lot of fun with Awkwafina, an unrecognizable Sterling K. Brown, Tiffany Haddish (as "Debbie", Zeta's second in command), Eugenio Derbez (as "Glenn", Zeta's abused head scientist), and the scene stealing Peter Dinklage. There are also a decent amount of surprises throughout, with some actors and celebrities just popping up just so they can say they were in the movie. There ends up being a mini-subplot involving a trio of baby birds going on their own adventure to save some endangered eggs, which doesn't actually have much to do with the main story, but still gets a few laughs to justify its existence. (It's unnecessary, yet too amusing to cut out.)
The plot may be nonsensical and at times the film can rely a little too much on crudeness (Though there is a scene involving a poorly tailored disguise and a urinal that ends up becoming one of the most uncomfortably hilarious moments in any movie this year), "The Angry Birds Movie 2" is a good video game movie that also ends up being just a good comedy for the family. Compared to most animated films this year, it doesn't get too deep or emotional, but to be honest, it doesn't have to. Nothing wrong with a movie just going for laughs and weirdness, while at least being visually pleasing at the same time. Not bad for something based on a game that was just about throwing agitated fowl at overweight swine. 3 Stars. Rated PG For Plenty Of Jokes That The Kids Won't (Or At Least Shouldn't) Understand.
Image: If only he had a heart.
You may not of read the book series, "Scary Stories to Tell in the Dark", written by Alvin Schwartz, but you sure as Hell remember the infamously nightmarish illustrations by Stephen Gammell. Those images are pure terror presented in page form. This series may of been aimed at kids, but it certainly didn't hold back. Kids like to be scared just as much as the rest of us. If anything, maybe we should let the kids join in the fun early. Let them enjoy a little terror every once in a while.
Produced by Guillermo del Toro (Who also gets a story credit as well.), "Scary Stories to Tell in the Dark" takes place in a small town during 1968. "Stella Nicholls" (Zoe Colleti) is a teenage, aspiring writer living with her father, "Roy" (Dean Norris). On Halloween night, Stella, along with her buddies "Chuck" (Austin Zajur) and "Auggie" (Gabriel Rush), prank local bully, "Tommy" (Austin Abrams), who takes the joke poorly and chases after them. After meeting a drifter, "Ramón" (Michael Garza), the group hides in an old, supposedly haunted house, where Stella discovers a book of scary stories belonging to a deceased woman named "Sarah Bellows" (Kathleen Pollard). Stella decides to take the book with her, unknowingly unleashing a deadly curse where the book begins to write itself. The stories that appear in the book each focus on Stella and one of her friends, releasing a horrifying monstrosity with every intention to kill them. Now Stella must find a way to end the curse before everyone she knows becomes a victim in their own scary story.
Think "Goosebumps", except with more casualties and genuinely unnerving monsters, "Scary Stories to Tell in the Dark" is the definition of good old fashioned terror that just so happens to be aimed at a young audience. Directed by André Øvredal ("Trollhunter"), the film embraces classic horror elements and themes, complete with the occasional use of practical effects, subtle attention to little details and foreshadowing, and a creepy atmosphere which makes the terrifying payoffs even better. While the story goes for the more simplistic approach, it ends up mostly working to the film's benefit, especially with the setting. (Øvredal actually beautifully captures the look and feel of the time period.) The fact that it is also aimed at older kids makes it the perfect way to get them into riskier horror films. It's a rare occasion where the PG-13 rating is most fitting. However, it's not exactly tame, with the film having quite a few moments that should unsettle and disturb.
Zoe Colleti is a wonderfully nerdy lead, handling herself well carrying the film. Michael Garza, Austin Zajur, and Gabriel Rush are likable enough to make up for the fact that they are basically just playing certain character types (Love interest, funny guy, geeky guy). Dean Norris is just a side character, but is allowed to have some good emotional moments, while Austin Abrams plays the stereotypical bully that also gets to take part in one of the film's most horrifying moments. (That scarecrow sequence pushes the PG-13 rating quite a bit.) The monsters and stories themselves, while used sparingly and loosely, do still leave an impact. We get a grotesque zombified monster searching for its lost toe (Played by horror icon, Javier Botet in amazing makeup), a contorting, mishmash of limbs known as the "Jangly Man", and then a pale, blob like woman that really unsettled me more than I'd like to admit.
While not exactly bringing anything new to the horror genre (And probably didn't need to take an extra couple minutes to set up a sequel), "Scary Stories to Tell in the Dark" instead just does a skillful job giving classic era-esque scares to a younger audience, and even possibly terrifying the older crowd while it's at it. It's a quick, creepy tale that is sure both send a chill down the spines of both fans of the books and newcomers alike. 3 Stars. Rated PG-13 For Toe Gobbling, Straw Vomiting, And Something That Will Keep Anyone With Arachnophobia Up At Night.
Image: Married to the Mob.
Allow me to help you save about six to twelve bucks. Did you see last year's "Widows"? Even better, have you seen any basic crime, mobster, or drug dealer movie of any kind? Then you've likely seen a better version of "The Kitchen".
Based on comic miniseries from "DC Vertigo" (May it rest in peace), "The Kitchen" takes place during the late 70s in "Hell's Kitchen". Three women, "Kathy" (Melissa McCarthy), "Ruby" (Tiffany Haddish), and "Claire" (Elizabeth Moss) are forced to deal with the imprisonment of their respective Irish mobster husbands, "Jimmy" (Brian d'Arcy James), "Kevin" (James Badge Dale), and "Rob" (Jeremy Bobb). Mob boss/Ruby's mother in law, "Helen" (Margo Martindale) arranges for the wives to be taken care of, though the money given is not near enough to live off of. So Kathy, Ruby, and Claire, along with help from violent hitman, "Gabriel" (Domhnall Gleeson), decide to take over Hell's Kitchen and run the mob their way. Of course things turn out to be a little more complicated than expected and quite a few people are going to be, "Sleeping with the Fishes" as they say, by the end of it all.
Both written and directed by first time director, Andrea Berloff (who co-wrote "Straight Outta Compton"), "The Kitchen" has the makings of a pretty cool crime drama, with an excellent ensemble cast and a beautiful 70s aesthetic. Sadly, what we get is the most bare bones of every generic gangster movie, following every predictable beat and speeding through them at a fast, unrelenting pace. You can tell Berloff isn't quite used to the director's chair yet, when plot points and characters aren't given enough time to sink in, and the tone is all over the place. The humor is injected at the wrong moments, and a lot of serious moments end up coming across as more humorous.
Melissa McCarthy is trying her absolute best, and she does elevate the material as much as she can. Tiffany Haddish ends up feeling the most out of place out of everyone, while Elizabeth Moss gets the best character arc and probably gives the best performance. (Though it's as predictable as everything else.) Domhnall Gleeson is pretty fun, though he ends up out of focus for most of the film. Other actors like Brian d'Arcy James, James Badge Dale, Bill Camp (as "Alfonso Coretti", boss of the Italian crime family), and Common (as an FBI agent, who gets a seemingly interesting reveal before vanishing entirely.), are doing what they can despite the script's failings. Also, poor Margo Martindale. You're a great actress, and this movie did you wrong.
Oddly cartoonish, uneven, and feels a lot longer than it actually is, "The Kitchen" has maybe a moment or two where you can see what possibly could of been. However, the film's lack of originality and failure to professionally execute it make it feel too amateurish to be seen in a theater. Not to mention, the film's attempts at having a strong, female empowered message feels a little disconcerting, considering all of our lead characters are corrupt, vile, unlikable killers. It's a mess of mobster clichés that you've seen done better many, many times before. 1 ½ Stars. Rated R For Strong Language, Violence, And Ridiculous Accents.
Image: "I'm just driving him around until he gets his license back."
So can the phrase "Dog-Sploitation", finally be a thing? Not saying that it's always a bad thing, but we really need a term to describe this movies by this point.
Based on the book of the same name by Garth Stein, "The Art of Racing in the Rain" tells the story of a dog named "Enzo" (Whose thoughts are voiced by Kevin Costner), who is under the belief that when he dies, he's be reincarnated as a human. The film follows Enzo's life as he's adopted by "Danny" (Milo Ventimiglia), a race car driver, that inspires Enzo's love of the sport. Eventually Danny marries a woman, "Eve" (Amanda Seyfried), leading to the birth of a daughter, "Zoe" (Ryan Kiera Armstrong). Enzo witnesses the many wonderful moments of life, as well as several moments of sadness and confusion. When tragedy strikes (As it always does), Enzo's life changes drastically as he tries to understand the world around him, and how he can play his part in it.
Much like the movie itself, lets get through this one nice and quick, but competently and effectively. Directed by Simon Curtis ("My Week with Marilyn"), "The Art of Racing in the Rain" follows the crowd-pleasing, life affirming, talking dog movie playbook to the letter. No detail and cliché is left unchecked, sentimentality and melodrama embody every frame, and if you are somehow surprised on how it all ends, you've clearly never watched a movie (Or read a book....or had any concept of typical storytelling) in your entire life. However, when I say that this is by far the best of the bunch, I say that not just because the emotional impact is actually fairly effectively done, but also because humans feel like actual humans this time. (For the most part anyways.) Curtis is a slick director, and the film looks lovely, with the screenplay by Mark Bomback ("War for the Planet of the Apes") injecting humor and genuine insight to go with the film's necessity to appeal to genre tropes. They're not avoided so much as they are just well utulized.
Probably the film's saving grace, as well as the main focus, is Enzo himself. The dog is cute and easy to get emotionally attached to. Kevin Costner's voice is rather perfect for the part, making him into a very smart and loyal dog, who just wants to understand the human world better. He's honestly terrific, with his voice matching Enzo's expressive eyes and effectively carries most of the movie. Milo Ventimiglia and Amanda Seyfriend have excellent chemistry, and their relationship is portrayed realistically, as both are very understanding of each other's issues and react to them in a way that people would naturally react. It's where the film's heart is, and even when the inevitable tragedy shows up, it's well handled. At least until the focus shifts to Eve's parents (Played by Kathy Baker and Martin Donovan), who commandeer the story away in the second half. These characters end up becoming so needlessly despicable and damn near heartless that it take away a bit from how strongly the film started. It's hard to get mad at it considering it's par for the course with these kinds of movies, but it's more distracting when there are actually some good aspects to the movie.
"The Art of Racing in the Rain" offers some good humor and of course plenty of heart to go with the predictable story. When the film isn't bogged down by forced conflict and actually allows the natural emotions to ring true, it's hard not to find yourself a little misty eyed. For dog lovers, they'll eat it up no matter how unnecessarily melodramatic it gets. As a film, you wish it could of avoided such things a little more, but you can't get mad at something for appealing to its audience and at least doing a capable job of it. It's a form of art. 3 Stars. Rated PG For Adult Content, Sadness, And The Obligatory Guest Appearance Of Cancer.
Image: Boots is adorable when he's not throwing his poo.
In a year overwhelmed by strange and surreal film ideas, such as Deadpool voicing Pikachu, a guy completely shattering the space time continuum with music from the Beatles, and....whatever in God's name "Cats" is supposed to be, this movie doesn't really seem that out of place anymore.
Based on the family favorite Nick Jr. series, "Dora the Explorer", "Dora and the Lost City of Gold" follows the now teenage explorer, "Dora" (Isabela Moner), with it turning out that most of her previous animated adventures were basically just her imagination running wild. When her parents, "Cole" (Michael Peña) and "Elena" (Eva Longoria) set out to search for the fabled Inca city, "Parapata" (aka The Lost City of Gold), Dora is sent to live in the city with her cousin, "Diego" (Jeff Wahlberg). Diego has become quite the cynic during his high school years, and Dora's overly upbeat personality isn't helping. While on a school trip, Dora, Diego, along with mean girl, "Sammy" (Madeleine Madden) and nerdy guy, "Randy" (Nicholas Coombe) are kidnapped by a mercenary, "Powell" (Temuera Morrison), who wants Dora to lead him to her parents and the lost city. They end up rescued by "Alejandro" (Eugenio Derbez), a friend of Dora's parents, who offers to help her find the city of gold before the villains do. Dora, reunited with her boot wearing monkey sidekick, "Boots" (Voiced by Danny Trejo), leads her poorly put together group on a quest into the deep jungle, while Powell and his henchmen, which includes a certain kleptomaniac fox, "Swiper" (Voiced by Benicio del Toro), are hot on their trail.
"Dora and the Lost City of Gold" is one of those films that makes you really curious to see just what went on in the minds of every studio executive who formulated the idea of this movie in the first place. It's an even bigger shock to see how surprisingly charming the final product ends up being. Directed by James Bobin ("The Muppets", "Alice Through the Looking Glass"), with a screenplay by Nicholas Stoller ("Neighbors", "Storks") and Matthew Robinson ("Monster Trucks"), what we have is more of a strange, but affectionate parody of the long running, educational children's show than a direct adaptation. The film seems geared to the older kids with nostalgic memories of the series, and while the film is certainly goofy, there is a certain charm to it. The humor works better early on, when the film pokes fun at some of the sillier moments from the show (There is a great gag involving Dora speaking to the camera, despite there being nobody there.). The laughs do sadly become a bit less frequent as the movie goes along, but remains endearing in a sort of surreal way. It helps that the film, despite a fairly by the numbers storyline, embraces the weird. There are cartoonish antics that come out of nowhere without explanation (Is nobody gonna question the talking fox?), and a few bizarre little sequences, such as one scene where the characters hallucinate themselves as animated characters.
The kooky charm mostly resonates from Isabela Moner, who has got to be the most energetic young actress I've ever seen. She's just as odd as everything else, but completely lovable and comically capable. Not to mention, she proves that she has an incredible amount of range as an actress. (She played a completely different character in last year's "Sicario: Day of the Soldado") Jeff Wahlberg, Nicholas Coombe, and Madeleine Madden are all fine despite mostly just playing character types. Eugenio Derbez feels a bit unnecessary at first, though ends up getting a more enjoyable role in the film during the last act. Eva Longoria and Michael Peña are fun in their limited roles, while Temuera Morrison gets nothing to do other than scowl and look evil. The CGI effects are subpar, though it actually works to the film's benefit, especially when it comes to Boots and Swiper (Although, the latter sadly doesn't actually appear much.). They're very expressively animated enough to make them fun to watch, and get some of the film's funniest moments. (The payoff with Danny Trejo was unexpectedly hilarious.)
Formulaic in plotting and not without a few groaner jokes, "Dora and the Lost City of Gold" is more amusing and likable than it has any right to be. It's all silly kid stuff, but actually fairly smart in execution and not to mention, charmingly weird. It's certainly something the kids will get more of a kick out of than the parents. (It's no "Toy Story 4") However, both the film's and the lead character's cute and offbeat personality are rather hard to resist. We're in 2019, we have a live-action "Dora the Explorer" movie, and it's actually good. What a strange time we live in. 3 Stars. Rated PG For Some Occasional Not So Kid Friendly Jokes.
Image: Dwayne Johnson and Jason Statham, arguing over who had the better giant monster movie.
Evolution is a major aspect of the film industry, especially in long running franchises. The "Marvel Cinematic Universe" became more than just a superhero franchise. "Mission: Impossible" has gone from a simple television adaptation to a major critical and financial success. "Jurassic Park" has gone from family oriented creature feature to....something. (Was that little girl a raptor hybrid?) Then there's "The Fast & the Furious", which went from a nonsensical street racing live-action cartoon to a nonsensical spy/heist/slightly superhero-eque live-action cartoon. And the world is a better place because of it.
"Fast & Furious Presents: Hobbs & Shaw" takes a detour from the family of characters that we've gotten to know in the "Fast & Furious" series. This time we instead focus on federal agent, "Luke Hobbs" (Dwayne Johnson) and former assassin, "Deckard Shaw" (Jason Statham), who has gone from villain to kind of good guy. (Sure he killed the Asian guy, but he did save Dom's baby. So he's an okay dude now.) Hobbs and Shaw are called in to work together when Shaw's sister, "Hattie" (Vanessa Kirby) is framed for stealing a deadly virus, cutely named "Snowflake". In reality, Hattie was forced to inject herself with the virus while on the run from genetically enhanced, self proclaimed "Black Superman", "Brixton" (Idris Elba). Brixton is part of a global spanning, evil organization that wants to get their hands on the virus to cause some end of the world sh*t. Tasked to protect Hattie and find a way to safely extract the virus from her, Hobbs and Shaw are going to need to stop bickering for five minutes to save the world from imminent destruction.
A spinoff of a series that's been known to decimate the laws of physics and gravity on a casual basis, "Hobbs & Shaw" ups the ante in the over the top department. Directed by David Leitch ("John Wick", "Atomic Blonde", "Deadpool"), the franchise dips its toe into science-fiction territory (Or more like jabs its foot in there.), but does so with a self aware sense of humor and dedication to going full blown crazy in gleeful fashion. Leitch has proven himself as a slick, stylish director, and knows how to make gonzo action look good. With solid special effects, some stuntwork, and a whole lot of destruction, this has some of the most memorable setpieces in the series. From a chase down a tall building, an explosive battle throughout an abandoned factory, and a finale that essentially becomes the game barrel of monkeys except with several cars and a helicopter, it may not make logical sense, but it's pretty damn cool. The script by Chris Morgan (Who has been with the series from the start) and Drew Pearce ("Hotel Artemis", "Mission: Impossible - Rogue Nation), doesn't exactly have any intention for focusing on plot. Luckily, they provide plenty of good humor, with quips and jabs being delivered by the film's incredibly charismatic leads.
Dwayne Johnson and Jason Statham (Who were so good together in the last two films that this spinoff was inevitable), have actually been my favorite characters in this franchise. Their back and forth, as well as their ability to deliver cheesy one-liners, bring a certain overly macho personality to the film, that's utterly delightful. You just love seeing them, and it's clear how much they get along in real life that it really brings the whole film together. However, the film also gives time to the supporting cast. Vanessa Kirby is a badass addition to the series' long roster of characters, and holds her own against the leads in expert fashion. Idris Elba can play a good, menacing baddie in his sleep, and looks to be having a lot of fun. We get fun appearances from Cliff Curtis (as "Jonah", Hobbs' mechanic brother), Eiza González (as "Madame M", an old ally to Shaw), and Eddie Marsan (as the scientist responsible for "Snowflake"). Not to mention it's always welcome to see Helen Mirren (Returning as Shaw's criminal mother. What a family this series has created.) There are also a few unexpected, and surprisingly hilarious extended cameos that I will not spoil for anyone.
Looking for logic and cohesive story? "Hobbs & Shaw" won't exactly provide what you're looking for. While a bit longer than necessary, it does continue the franchise's trend of making up for narrative and intellectual shortcomings with a great sense of humor, oddly likable characters, and a commitment to truly insane and original action. The movie does also have a certain heart to it that at least shows that there is some kind of point to all of this. It's dumb muscle that knows it's dumb muscle, and embraces itself with the biggest, happiest grin you'll ever see. You know, I can see them going into space next time. It feels strangely natural. 3 Stars. Rated PG-13 For Violence And Fragile Masculinity.
Image:Wait....Is this "Starsky and Hutch"?
Quentin Tarantino ("Django Unchained", "Inglorious Basterds", "Kill Bill" Vol. 1 and 2) is the definition of a director having no equal. Sure some directors try their best to imitate his signature style and knack for providing complex, character driven dialogue. However, Tarantino's work, whether you're a fan or not, is something entirely his own. Take his ninth film for example. There is no way anybody else could possibly make a film quite like this. Ohhhhh boy, this was something.
How to describe this plot? Lets make it as basic as possible. "Once Upon a Time in Hollywood" takes place in Las Angelas during 1969, after the "Golden Age of Hollywood". The film follows insecure actor, "Rick Dalton" (Leonardo DiCaprio) and longtime stunt double/best buddy, "Cliff Booth" (Brad Pitt). After a meeting with his agent, "Marvin Schwarzs" (Al Pacino), Rick begins to see that his career is starting to take a nosedive, though Cliff assures him that his career is far from over. Rick gets a major role on a new, cowboy TV series that will hopefully lead to newfound success, while Cliff serves as his driver and voice of reason (Despite the fact that there is a rumor that Cliff might have killed his own wife). While our two protagonists set out to better their careers, Rick's actress neighbor, "Sharon Tate" (Margot Robbie), is soon to become a possible target of the "Manson Family", and their murderous plans. It sounds simple, but none of this is quite what you expect.
Written and directed by Quentin Tarantino, "Once Upon a Time in Hollywood" is a surreal, comedic, and often, very loving look back into old Hollywood. Tarantino is clearly in heaven with the setting and late 60's aestetic. There are so many great lines and dialogues between characters, filled with his usual sense of humor and occasionally thought provoking themes. It's all on full display on usual, but this time, the violence is almost nowhere to be found. There are less moments that will likely offend, and most shockingly, something is just kind of heartwarming about the film. (That's right. Quentin Tarantino made a heartwarming movie!) One of the reasons is because it's obvious that Tarantino is absolutely obsessed with the time period, the look, and the way Hollywood was at the time.
The almost whimsical world of old Hollywood is captured beautifully, and the cinematography is some of the best I've seen from the director. The way he weaves a web of seemingly unconnected storylines together simply through his direction is nothing short of brilliant. It's also where the film might lose some people. The film is almost plot free to a certain degree. There's a basic main story going on, but as usual with Quentin Tarantino's work, the film stops dead in its tracks to focus on something else. This one especially does that, and I would even say that the point of moments like this end up being intentionally kind of pointless. At over two hours and forty minutes, it might get a little grating for some, and I'll admit that even being a big fan of Tarantino's work, I'm not quite sure how I feel about where all this ends up going.
The casting here is a dream come true. Leonardo DiCaprio and Brad Pitt together at last on the big screen. It's what many have been wanting to see, and the movie delivers. First, DiCaprio is hilarious and complex. He gives a very layered performance that's equally funny and actually a little bittersweet as an actor struggling with his fading career. Brad Pitt is quietly cool, with small moments sprinkled throughout that add a little mystery to his character. (We never actually do find out is the rumors about him are true or not.) Their chemistry together is movie magic, and come Oscar time, I would consider just making up an award for best duo, simply to give both of these great actors the appreciation they deserve. We have a large ensemble of actors, ranging from bit parts to um, slightly less bit parts. It includes a delightful Al Pacino, Bruce Dern (as "George Spahn", the owner of Spahn Ranch, who has let the "Manson Family" stay at his ranch), Austin Butler, Margaret Qualley, and Dakota Fanning (as members of the "Manson Family"), Kurt Russell (as "Randy", a stunt coordinator), a scarily uncanny Mike Moh (as "Bruce Lee"), and a few more surprises. Not to mention a terrific scene stealing part from newcomer Julia Butters (as a young method actress that Rick has a philosophical conversation with. Won't reveal who she's supposed to be.) Then we have Margot Robbie and her role in the film that might be somewhat of a turning point for most audiences. I can't really get into what the issue with her role might be, but I can say she's perfectly cast. She wonderfully serves as a sweet, cute, and some sense of hopefulness that I wouldn't expect from a Tarantino film. It just doesn't go where you would expect, and what one might perceive as artistic and brilliant, someone would just call sloppy and disjointed.
"Once Upon a Time in Hollywood" is incredibly smart, fascinatingly detailed, and an immense amount of fun, especially for cinephiles, with extensive knowledge of this classic era. Then Tarantino does what I can only describe as the equivalent of cinematic trolling. The ending of this movie is completely insane, nonsensical, and will turn this into one of the year's most divisive films. It's also where some of the most memorable moments happen. I'm puzzled by this finale, though also astounded and mesmerized by it. Regardless of how you feel about it, there is no way you could of seen it coming. It's both the least and most Quentin Tarantino-like movie he's made yet. 3 ½ Stars. Rated R For Very Strong Language, Violence, And Those Late 60s/Early 70s Clothing Styles That Hipsters Still Think Are Cool.
Image: "Here, try some Chinese food."
There needs to be balance in the world. Yeah, I love me those big budget blockbusters and all the good major mainstream releases deserve more credit than they're generally given. But where would we be without the little independent film? Working at a theater that shows these low budget movies has given me the opportunity I never would have had otherwise. They obviously won't make the big bucks the other films will. You never know when one of those little movies might just come in and earn a shot at possible award consideration. It's the reason why I started reviewing movies in the first place. Well, that, plus my future interview with Jennifer Lawrence.
Based on what's described in the film as "An Actual Lie", "The Farewell" follows young Chinese-American woman, "Billi" (Awkwafina) and her close relationship with her loving grandmother, nicknamed "Nai Nai" (Zhao Shuzhen). Billi has had a rather complicated relationship with her parents, "Haiyan" (Tzi Ma) and "Jian" (Diana Lin), ever since they chose to move to America, leaving Nai Nai behind. However, the family gets news that Nai Nai has been diagnosed with terminal lung cancer, and keeping with Chinese traditions, the family will not allow Nai Nai to find out. Using a wedding between Billi's cousin, "Hao Hao" (Chen Han) and his soon be be bride, "Aiko" (Aoi Mizuhara) as an excuse to visit Nai Nai, the whole family must go out of their way to make sure Nai Nai doesn't learn about her own illness, despite the fact that the knowledge is emotionally destroying them.
Directed by Lulu Wang (Mostly known for short films and music videos), "The Farewell" is a very quiet, simple film that has aspects of a screwball comedy, except with very dark subject matter and a realistic approach to the situation. It's directed in a semi-quirky, rather surreal manner, which is meant to make you just as uncomfortable as the characters. A lot of the humor comes from that discomfort, which to be honest, is exactly what families would feel during such a forced gathering, especially considering the real reason behind it. The film also really gets into different cultural traditions, and presenting them in a fair way that doesn't in the end, quite show one as completely wrong. You are left with the reasoning behind keeping such dire news a secret, especially when it's been something that many people have been doing for generations. However, it's obvious to see why one would question it, and constantly be at odds with the decision. The screenplay, which was also written by Wang, is smart enough to know how to present these themes, and finds the humor it it all. (A sequence during a wedding reception makes for some of the film's best uses of combing both drama and comedy.) The tone is perfectly balanced together, and should serve as an example to other filmmakers on how to do this right.
Awkwafina (Who has become quite the scene stealer in a comedic sense as of late, such as in last year's "Crazy Rich Asians"), gives a very moving, and unexpectedly reserved performance that I believe deserves some serious recognition. It would be so easy to overplay a role like this, except she instead chooses to keep the character subdued. She gets to deliver a great quip every now and then, but it's the hidden sadness behind those moments that make her performance stronger. Zhao Shuzhen (In her first acting performance) is wonderfully nurturing and humorously oblivious to her family's secret. (The tender moments between her and Awkwafina are the most heartfelt.) Other cast members include Tzi Ma, Diana Lin, Jiang Yongbo (as "Haibin", Billi's uncle), and Lu Hong (as "Little Nai Nai", Nai Nai's younger sister, who has been taking care of her), and they're all excellent together.
Heartbreakingly hilarious, or hilariously heartbreaking, "The Farewell" is the most human movie you'll see in 2019. It may not be the biggest movie out there, but it doesn't have to be to pack a powerful punch. Full of charm and thought provoking themes, the film's straightforward and soft approach are what make it so strong. Not all crowd pleasers have to be as great and big as "Avengers: Endgame". 4 Stars. Rated PG For Human Subject Matter And More Subtitles Than Your Average Moviegoer Might Be Used To.
Image: "One day, all of this will be your's Kimba....er, I mean, Simba."
This is a weird time at Disney. Known for changing the game with animation, and producing some of the most original and beloved instant classics that basically shaped all of our childhoods. Now they're just remaking them, and not really doing anything all that different with them. ("The Jungle Book" and "Cinderella" aside.) With that said, what we do get is just as noticeably flawed as the other remakes, except with something that might just still influence filmmaking for years to come. In its own way of course. Disney can do what it damn well pleases.
A "Live-Action" (Or is at least meant to give the appearance of it being live-action) remake of the 1994 masterpiece that everybody knows, "The Lion King" once again takes place in Africa, where the animal kingdom lives in harmony in the "Pride Lands". The much loved king, "Mufasa" (James Earl Jones, returning from the original) and his queen, "Sarabi" (Alfre Woodard), have just given birth to the next king, "Simba" (Played as a child by JD McCrary, and as an adult by Donald Glover). Mufasa's resentful brother, "Scar" (Chiwetel Ejiofor) is not happy that his chance at the throne has slipped away, and plots to kill Mufasa. Simba yearns to become a great king like his father, though doesn't quite understand how big of a responsibility that will end up being. After Mufasa rescues Simba and his friend, "Nala" (Played as a child by Shahadi Wright Joseph, then as a adult by Beyoncé Knowles-Carter) from some deadly hyenas, Scar decides to finally put his evil plan into motion.
A tragedy happens (I mean, everyone should know what it is. But we'll avoid them for those few who don't know.), and Simba is forced out of the Pride Lands, leaving Scar to take over and do what he pleases. Simba is found by worry-free pair, skittish meerkat, "Timon" (Billy Eichner) and always flatulent warthog, "Pumbaa" (Seth Rogen), who take Simba in and raise him to eat grubs. But when Nala eventually reunites with Simba, he must now remember who he is and return home to save his home from Scar's tyranny.
With Jon Favreau returning to the director's chair after hitting it out of the ball park financially and critically with "The Jungle Book", "The Lion King" appears at first sight to be the most corporate of cash grabs.....and it is. It's clear that these movies are gold at the box office right now, and it's probably the easiest of concepts to come up with. This movie's existence is no different. Everything the light touches is fueled by pure, corporate greed, and there is no escaping that. However, Favreau is too good of a director and he's given enough free reign to make this big budget experiment a reality. What we end up getting is nothing short of incredible. The visual effects on display here are going to put all future films to shame. Every frame looks real, from the animals themselves, to the backgrounds, which is all completely photo-realistically animated. Everything its rendered in flawless CGI, which is incredibly and lovingly detailed down to the smallest spec of fur.
The visual effects look amazing, and perhaps a little too amazing. It's all almost too real to the point that it's hard for the mind to both comprehend and connect with it. It's most distracting because certain characters can't provide a certain level of expressiveness that we've become accustomed to with Disney animation. (Granted, when it's advertised as making them as realistic as possible, it shouldn't be too surprising.) Not to mention the screenplay by Jeff Nathanson mostly copies and pastes dialogue from the original, while only occasionally adding something new. It's not bad writing at all, but it's just something you've seen before. Like many of the remakes, they're just lesser versions of classics that we all recognize. It's when Jon Favreau decides to let the visuals tell the story and it leads to the film's most inspired moments. Whether it be letting the world speak for itself, or focusing on the admittedly expressive eyes of the animals (Which are at times just enough), that's when the film is most moving.
To make up for what we perceive as a lack of emotion behind the characters, we have a terrific ensemble voice cast. Childish Gambino himself, Donald Glover, is an excellent casting choice, and makes for a compelling lead. (Also credit to JD McCrary for delivering on the film's most emotional scene.) To hear Beyoncé's voice coming out of a majestic lion makes for a mesmerizing experience (It just seems fitting for some reason.), while the wonderful James Earl Jones returns to play his iconic character because it would of been physically impossible to recast him. Chiwetel Ejiofor brings a quieter, darker element to an already menacing villain, and even gives him a sense of desperation that makes him much more dangerous than in the original animated movie. The same goes for the hyenas, which are voiced by Florence Kasumba (as "Shenzi", the leader of the pack), along with the more comical Keegan-Michael Key and Eric Andre (as "Kamari" and "Azizi", replacing "Banzai" and "Ed" from the original.) Some of the most perfect casting choices include Alfre Woodard (Who is given a bigger role in this version), John Kani (as "Rafiki", a shaman mandrill), and a delightful John Oliver (as "Zazu", the king's majordomo.). They're all good in the film, and bring to life creatures that can't emote the way that we as an audience would normally see in an animated film. But then we have the hilarious duo of Billy Eichner and Seth Rogen, who not just steal the show, but they completely enliven the second half of the film all on their own. Their voices are matched up with the natural personalities of their characters, and are a quintessential example of great comic relief to balance out the drama.
The original "The Lion King" has some of the most memorable songs in entire Disney lineup. Once again written by Elton John and Tim Rice, with a little help from Beyoncé, the songs still sound amazing. (Who out there doesn't want to hear Donald Glover and Beyoncé' singing "Can You Feel the Love Tonight"?) The best musical moments being "I Just Can't Wait to be King" and of course, "Hakuna Matata", while others like the villain song, "Be Prepared", are either shortened or simply skimmed through. The score itself by Hans Zimmer (Who also did the score for the original and won the Oscar for it.), is once again beautiful and epic.
"The Lion King" is essentially a moment for moment remake, with little added to truly separate itself from its already perfect source material. (And I'm not just saying that because the original was the first movie I ever saw in theaters.) It's a cash grab to be sure, but not one I would call lazy. (The hard work is all on display.) For what it lacks in originality, the film makes up for in stunning visual splendor and a commitment to every detail, making something that could be a real game changer. Jon Favreau's skillful direction (And the scene stealing antics of Timon and Pumbaa) are what add to incredible effects on display. It truly is unlike anything you've ever seen before, and there are moments of brilliance sprinkled throughout. A masterpiece of visuals, but nothing much different from the original classic it's based on (And even then, it's nowhere on par with it.). Still, I'd be lying if I told you not to see it on the biggest screen possible. Lets hope with what Disney has accomplished here, flaws and all, will be used towards something even greater in the future.... Be prepared.3 Stars. Rated PG For Animalistic Violence And Meerkat/Warthog Lovers.
Image: Where's Florida Man when you need him?
To be perfectly honest, I'm just glad it's not another shark attack movie. We have so many of those these days, and I think we give the other terrifying, man eating creatures of the world their time in the spotlight. Alligators, bears, your cat when it realizes you're edible, everyone deserves a shot at stardom.
"Crawl" follows "Haley Keller" (Kaya Scodelario), a young swimmer, who learns that her estranged father, "Dave" (Barry Pepper), is nowhere to be found when a dangerous, category 5 level hurricane hits Florida. Haley decides to head over to his old house to find him, along with his loyal dog, "Sugar". Haley investigates down into the crawl space under the house, where she discovers her wounded father, as well as a couple of killer alligators, with every intention of devouring anything that moves. When the weather starts to get worse and the water starts to rise, Haley must work together with Dave to find a way to safety before they either drown or become gator grub. That's the most straight forward plotline I've seen in a while.
"Crawl" has easily got to be the best movie to not be screened for critics. That's usually saved for the worst of films (And mostly anything from Tyler Perry.). The film isn't exactly something that sets out to change the game when it comes to survival horror genre in any way. It just does a solid job of providing a claustrophobic, anxiety filled, and fairly creepy creature feature. Directed by Alexandre Aja ("The Hills Have Eyes", "Piranha 3D"......Admittedly, not the most quality of filmographies), he knows how to utulize dark, cramped spaces, which makes for some solid scares and the suitably disturbing violence that comes from meeting an terrifying, agony filled fate from a hungry gator. (Although, it's still somehow notably less violent that "Stuber".) The setup is quick and to the point, and the plotting doesn't deviate from the designated route that's expected. It's just capably made, and at least injects a little new life into what can be seen as a tired idea.
It also helps that Kaya Scodelario (The "Maze Runner" series) has proven herself to be a compelling actress, and she gives it her all, elevating the seemingly by the number material. She has a relatable character arc and becomes increasingly badass as the movie goes on. Barry Pepper gives a pretty heartfelt performance, and Sugar is too adorably scruffy not to love. As for the killer reptiles themselves, they are fairly scary despite the mostly unconvincing CGI work. (There are times you can tell that they're just not there.) The film makes excellent use of their bone chilling hisses and monstrous roars. Other characters, who are mostly unnamed, are just here to be chomped. Luckily, the film mostly remains focused on the father-daughter relationship, which is surprisingly well done and sweet.
"Crawl" isn't anything all that original, and for the most part, is just a short, spine tingling survival movie. It's effectively creepy, well acted, and you'll find yourself shockingly more invested in its main characters than expected. It knows what kind of film it wants to be, but also knows how to liven things up with good scares and a certain sense of fun that this genre has really been missing lately. A nice summer surprise, though not exactly a positive traveling ad for anyone to visit Florida anytime soon. 3 Stars. Rated R For Bloody Images And Ravenous Reptiles.