Eagan at the Movies

Reviewing movies because we care.

Reviews for Current Films, Classics, Video Games and Lots of Other Cool Stuff For Parents and Children

In Theaters: Unbroken: Path to Redemption, A Simple Favor, The Predator, Peppermint, The Nun, Kin, Searching, Operation Finale, The Happytime Murders, A.X.L., Blaze, Mile 22, Alpha, Crazy Rich Asians, BlacKkKlansman, Slender Man, The Meg, The Darkest Minds, The Spy Who Dumped Me

Coming Soon: The House With A Clock In Its Walls, Life Itself, Hell Fest, Little Women, Night School, Smallfoot, Venom, A Star is Born, First Man, Goosebumps 2, Bad Times At The El Royale, Halloween, The Hate U Give, Serenity, Hunter Killer, Johnny English 3, The Nutcracker and the Four Realms

Rating system:

★★★★: Classic  

★★★½: Very Good   

★★★: Good  

★★½ : Eh

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

★½: Is It Too Late To Get A Refund?  

: Hope You Have A Good Date  

½: Little To No Redeeming Value

No Stars: Rethink Your Life Choices

Unbroken: Path to Redemption             by James Eagan                                                ★★ OUT OF ★★★★

Image result for unbroken path to redemptionImage: That will be me in 10....Maybe 20 years.

 I have got to hand it to Pure Flix, they're really trying to expand. I'll even give them credit for moving away from their usual somewhat bigoted, mean spirited, questionable material in favor of actually preaching good, honest Christian values. Movies like "God's Not Dead: A Light in Darkness" and "Samson" do at least show they are trying to improve what they do. Now, "Quality Filmmaking" is a term that still eludes them, but they're not alone I guess. 

 "Unbroken: Path to Redemption" tells the true life story of the captured Olympian runner, "Louis Zamperini" (Samuel Hunt), after his return home when World War II finally came to an end. We follow Zamperini as he tries to get back into his life, with hopes of running again, falling in love with his future wife, "Cynthia" (Merritt Patterson), while still haunted by what he had witnessed while a prisoner in a Japanese prison camp. Zamperini is particularly tormented by visions of the ruthlessly brutal, "Mutsuhiro Watanabe" (David Sakurai), a.k.a. "The Bird", who he wishes to get revenge on, causing him to drink his problems away. Feeling as if his life has no meaning and that God is to blame for it all, Zamperini dives further into despair, threatening to ruin his relationship with Cynthia and the rest of his family. However, through a little pushing from Cynthia and after attending one of the church revivals run by evangelist, "Billy Graham" (Will Graham), Zamperini's renewed faith leads to his eventual forgiving of those who tortured him and himself. 

 Acting as an unofficial sequel to Angelina Jolie's 2013 film "Unbroken", "Unbroken: Path to Redemption" decides to focus more on the religious, faith based aspect of the story of Louis Zamperini, which is something the previous movie sort of skimmed through. It's a heartwarming, wonderful story that deserves some recognition, especially for those in a crisis of faith. It's too bad it's given nothing more than a made for TV movie that somehow found it's way into a nationwide theater release. This movie has no place on a big screen, with everything looking cheap, sloppily made, and the most basic form of direction you can imagine. When the film tries to add a little flair, it looks incredibly cheesy and even a little unintentionally humorous when it's clearly not supposed to be. Directed by Harold Cronk (Responsible for both "God's Not Dead" and "God's Not Dead 2"), the movie is not as mean spirited as his previous movies, with the film's positive message still resonating regardless. However, it's still feels so poorly constructed, as if it was cobbled together as quickly as possible, which is especially noticeable due to how much story is crammed into less than an hour and forty minutes. 

 The original "Unbroken", while not a great film, did have an impressive performance from its lead (Previously played by Jack O'Connell, which this movie doesn't quite have, though nobody is terrible per se. Samuel Hunt is fine, and definitely likable, and his scenes with Merritt Patterson are well done. She is also cute, with a few good emotional scenes. They are giving their all with the simple, clichéd script. Nobody else is given much of a role, or leaves much of an impression, with the exception of David Sakurai, who mostly appears in cartoonish fantasy sequences, and is as over the top evil as you can make him (Though I'm sure he was in real life). There aren't exactly bad performances, but rather just little to quite talk about. It's mostly because the film lacks much focus early on, with the faith based aspect only coming in after the first act. Not to mention because the film needs to play things safe, it never truly gets into the main character's inner demons and troubles. 

 "Unbroken: Path to Redemption" should resonate with a Christian audience, and for good reason, because it's all well intentioned, strong, good messages that are being preached. You just don't have any reason to see this in a theater, especially with today's prices. It's lame and forgettable, but it's not harmful in the slightest, and the story is undeniably powerful stuff, regardless of the fact that it's not very good. It would be far more powerful if it had been genuinely great. 2 stars. Rated PG-13 For Dark Subject Matter, But Not Too Much To Push It's Rating.  

A Simple Favor                                                          by James Eagan                                    ★★★½ OUT OF ★★★★

Image result for a simple favor movieImage: "This is going straight to TMZ."

 Imagine one of those psychotic, outrageously nonsensical, sensual thrillers that you see appearing in marathon form on "Lifetime", except made by competent people, who know how to make a movie, embracing every single moment of insanity it possibly could.....That's this movie, and it's kind of awesome. 

 "A Simple Favor" opens with perky mommy blogger, "Stephanie Smothers" (Anna Kendrick), who is widowed, raising her son, "Miles" (Joshua Satine). Stephanie takes an interest in the beautiful, charismatic, and mysterious, "Emily Nelson" (Blake Lively). Emily's son, "Nicky (Ian Ho) has become friends with Miles, asking for Miles to come over and play, leaving Stephanie to befriend Emily. Stephanie soon sees that Emily is unlike any person she's ever met. She's totally hot and has personality to spare, but also oddly secretive and pessimistic, even with her husband, "Sean" (Henry Golding), despite the fact they are clearly doing it often. One day, Emily calls Stephanie and asks to do her a simple favor of picking up and watching Nicky for her, which Stephanie, eager to please, does without question.

 Things get weird when Emily just up and vanishes for a few days, with nobody able to figure out where she is, including Sean. An investigation into what happened to Emily begins, with Stephanie taking an active role in it. While everything progresses, Stephanie gets more involved into Emily's disappearance, along with her family life, growing closer to Sean in the process. Then that's when everything gets....um.....lets call it, odd. Stephanie begins looking further into Emily and her past, realizing there is more to her supposed "Best Friend" than she at first realizes. Something much darker (And completely bonkers) than she could of possibly imagined.  

 Based on the book of the same name by Darcey Bell and from Director Paul Feig, known for his comedic films such as "Bridesmaids", "Spy", and the lady based "Ghostbusters" reboot that pissed off all those nerds, "A Simple Favor" not exactly what you would expect it to be. With a script by Jessica Sharzer ("American Horror Story") that doesn't quite pick a specific tone, but instead seemingly toys with them all. It's not a comedy per se, though there are comedic undertones. It's also not quite taking itself too seriously, but instead embracing it's crazy, soap opera-ish nature to the point where it could almost be considered a parody, except played completely straight. The movie is stylish and is portrayed as if it were truly this dark, mystery thriller, despite how intentionally nonsensical it gets. That's precisely the point, and it's kind of brilliant because the mystery and the many twists and turns, are all still really good. You're still munching down on your popcorn, sitting on the edge of your seat the entire time. (You have no idea where this movie is gonna go, and when it does, you can't believe it.)

 The film isn't only playful in it's writing and direction, but also in it's performances. Anna Kendrick gets to be her usually quirky adorable self, while also toying with some darker territory. Blake Lively is here to remind us how great an actress she can actually be, getting the role of a lifetime, with a character that's instantly engaging, fascinating, and so unlike anything you imagine she would be. The two of them together have perfect chemistry and some truly spectacular scenes. Henry Golding continues to impress with how much onscreen charisma he has, while we get a few strange moments of comedy from Andrew Rannells (as "Darren", one of the gossipy "mothers", who constantly judge Stephanie) and a bizarre small part from Rupert Friend (as "Dennis Nylon", Emily's boss) that oddly don't feel out of place in the slightest. It's hard to describe what the actual tone of this movie is, yet it finds a way to make it all come together. 

 "A Simple Favor" is unapologetic in it's outrageousness, which might leave more people confused as to what they're actually watching. However, what you have to understand is that it's all meant to be. It's not a parody, yet feels like one. It's not a serious thriller, though it's more thrilling than most I've seen this year. It's not an outright comedy, but you'll find yourself laughing hysterically at points. It's made like an actual movie, with a sinister, darkly humorous tone lurking throughout that all comes to a head by the film's jaw dropping (And just plain deranged) final act that shows you can go even crazier than just crazy. It's all just so much fun. Rated R For Language, Sexual Content, And Um, Brotherly Love..... 

The Predator                                                            by James Eagan                                             ★★½ OUT OF ★★★★

Related imageImage: "Bring me the head of Schwarzenegger!"

  After "Mission: Impossible", I decided to go through actual franchises I've neglected. (We got a new "Halloween" coming out next month, so I'll get to that soon.) One of them being the "Predator" series. You remember right? GET TO THA CHOPPAH! and whatnot? Now granted, I did realize that this series really never followed each other all that much, so I guess it wasn't necessary. But regardless, I did thoroughly enjoy the ultra macho, occasionally really clever first film. Then the second one ("Predator 2"), while having it's moments, was mostly just the same thing, with the third film ("Predators") feeling more like a proper sequel, with some more memorability. Each one has had it's genre, with the first being a war film (With an alien), followed by a cop movie (With an alien), and finally, a survival horror (....With aliens). This one is.....a family movie? ....With aliens? 

 "The Predator" opens with a rogue alien ship crash landing on Earth, right into the sights of trained sniper, "Quinn McKenna" (Boyd Holbrook). McKenna witnesses the driver of the ship, a terrifying, armed, masked creature, dubbed a "Predator", slaughter his entire team. McKenna escapes, taking the Predator's mask and some of his tech while the Predator himself is captured by government agents, run by the somewhat villainous "Will Traeger" (Sterling K. Brown). Before getting captured himself, McKenna sends the Predator technology back home to his ex-wife, "Emily" (Yvonne Strahovski) and his gifted son, "Rory" (Jacob Tremblay), who already decides to start messing with the stuff. While McKenna is sent to be silenced along with a busload of loonies, pretty biologist, "Casey Bracket" (Olivia Munn) is brought in by Traeger to study the Predator, who ends up waking up, causing chaos and escaping.

 Casey, who knows too much about what Traeger is up to, ends up in the company of McKenna, along with his gang of kooky military characters, including "Nebraska" (Trevante Rhodes), "Coyle" (Keegan-Michael Key), "Nettles" (Augusto Aguilera), "Lynch" (Alfie Allen), and "Baxley" (Thomas Jane). They realize the Predator is going after Rory, who is thoroughly enjoying the alien technology he's been playing around with. This team of unlikely heroes band together to save the boy from the killer alien, only to discover there is something more going on here involving another bigger, more monstrous Super Predator, who has come to kill the other Predator, and complete his own dark goal. 

 Directed (And Co-Written) by Shane Black (Known for "Iron Man 3" and "The Nice Guys, as well for being the first guy to die in the original "Predator"), "The Predator" is more of an reinvention of the franchise, going for something different from the rest of the series. Oddly, it's more of a strange hybrid of comedy, horror action, and an 80s family movie. (You know, with tons of swears of course.) In terms of it's plot, it's a convoluted mess of nonsense and silliness, but thankfully, the film is clearly not taking itself too seriously at all. You get onslaughts of goofy one liners and jokes, with even the gratuitously over the top violence feeling a bit comical. Because of the film's dark sense of humor, and nonchalant attitude to it's own stupidity, there's actually a decent amount of fun to be had with it. Still it's almost baffling the decisions the film takes, with the plotline involving the rival Predators not quite making much sense. (So one was a good guy? Somewhat? Then why is he going around killing everyone? Also, you have this whole conspiracy for alien domination that you're doing a poor job keeping a secret!)

 Boyd Holbrook is a solid action hero, playing a likably sarcastic straight man, with Olivia Munn actually getting take part in just as much fun as the guys do. Sterling K. Brown is a delightfully slimy dirtbag, and is clearly having the time of his life being one. Jacob Tremblay is one of those reliable young actors, who still delivers a good performance, even if his abilities are a bit questionable. (Movies will never know how autism works, will they?) Most of our soldier characters fade into the background, but are weirdly endearing in a way, with the standouts being Trevante Rhodes (Previously seen in "Moonlight"), Thomas Jane, and Keegan-Michael Key. The Predator itself (Or at least the original one) is still a cool creature, with it's excellent makeup and costume design. Our new, Mega Predator (And his Predator Doggies) look awesome, even though they're mostly CGI (And not really the best CGI) and don't quite have that same scare factor that the original ones do. 

 "The Predator" is narratively all over the place, with some questionable story decisions, and an ending that I guess sets up a sequel, but I'm not sure what it's supposed to mean. Still, you get the glorious amount of gore you want from the franchise, along with snarky, pitch black humor, and a sense of sense awareness that should make for a good, fast paced time for anyone looking for the cinematic equivalent of junk food.  2 1/2 stars. Rated R For Gruesome, Gorey Violence, Strong Language, And Predator Abs. (Still Got Those Predator Abs.) 

Peppermint                                                                by James Eagan                                                   ★ OUT OF ★★★★

Related imageImage: This Alias movie sucks. 

 Remember that horrible "Death Wish" remake that came out earlier this year? The one with Bruce Willis? Yeah, imagine the same movie, just with Jennifer Garner. It's the same damn movie, complete with questionable morality, an onslaught of gratuitous violence, constant stupidity, and this nonsensical belief that it's just the coolest thing ever. Yeah, I did not need to get out of this movie at 12:30 a.m......

 "Peppermint" follows loving wife and mother, "Riley North" (Jennifer Garner), living a nice, peaceful, non-death filled life with her husband, "Chris" (Jeff Hephner) and young daughter, "Carly" (Cailey Fleming). Chris as it turns out is in need of a little money, but declines a friend's offer to steal from vicious kingpin, "Diego Garcia" (Juan Pablo Raba). Sadly, Garcia is crazy (And stupid), so he doesn't like people even considering stealing from him. While out for Carly's birthday at a carnival, Riley watches in horror as Garcia's henchmen gun down Chris and Carly, while getting wounded in the process. After waking up from a coma, Riley's case is taken up by a pair of detectives, the newbie "Stan Carmichael" (John Gallagher Jr.) and his cynical superior, "Moises Beltran" (John Ortiz), with Riley being able to identify who the killers are.

 But Garcia apparently owns everyone, resulting in a hilariously inept court session that doesn't even remotely try to not look corrupt. Riley doesn't take her family's killers walking free, and vanishes off the grid. Five years later, the deceased bodies of the killers turn up, with FBI agent, "Lisa Inman" (Annie Ilonzeh) concluding that Riley has returned and has become a vigilante, taking the law into her own hands by killing all the violent Mexicans. Carmichael and Beltran work with Inman to track down Riley, all while Garcia, realizing his life is in danger, sends out his army of goons to kill her. 

 Directed by Pierre Morel ("Taken" and that horrifying Sean Penn movie, "The Gunman"), "Peppermint" first seemingly starts off with some possible potential. It's an idea we've seen done before in many revenge action movies. But you know, you got Jennifer Garner, who is a great dramatic actress, as well as someone who can handle herself in an action scene. It's fairly early on when you realize there's something off about the movie. Sequences are cobbled together with shoddy editing and needlessly added flashy, seizure inducing images for no reason. The actual killers are offed in the first few minutes (Mostly off camera), with the film just meandering around, with Jennifer Garner just killing minorities till we get to the dragged out finale. 

 Garner only has moments where she shines, such as in the surprisingly few dramatic moments, but she's oddly not given much of a character once the plot gets going. It's damn near kind of insulting how little of a role she actually has despite being the main character. Juan Pablo Raba, along with the rest of the villainous brown people in the movie, are all so over the top and are simply walking stereotypes that would border on offensive if the film actually knew what the Hell it was doing. John Gallagher Jr., at first, was probably the one character I kind of liked. His part with John Ortiz, while incredibly cheesy and full of every cop cliché out there, but unlike "Death Wish", the cops this time around at least seemed competent and were attempting to do good. However, where this whole arc ends up going is brutally stupid, completely comes out of nowhere, and just doesn't make a whole lot of sense. (In a way, it kind of makes cops look even worse than just simply being dumb and ineffective.)

 "Peppermint" (Which was titled that because the daughter ate peppermint ice cream before she died? I think?) is just a really ugly and unpleasant movie, not just in how it looks, with the sloppy editing, ridiculous amounts of violence, and poor attempts at stylish flair.  But also, in how the film portrays itself, with you questioning if the film just lacks enough basic common sense to realize how dangerous it's vigilante way of thinking really is in today's society. Worst of all, it's just so freakin stupid, while thinking it's actually trying to make a relevant statement. (Such has how people on Twitter would react to someone like this, or the dissonance between the people and the police). It's a gung-ho, rah rah, wannabe vigilante's wet dream, and not even a very good one at that. With vengeance in my heart, I cannot forgive anyone involved. Except Jennifer Garner. 1 star. Rated R For Gruesome Violence And Drug Dealing, Crime Bringing Mexicans. (But Not Rapists, So Some I Assume Are Good People.)

The Nun                   by James Eagan             ★★ OUT OF ★★★★

Image result for the nun movieImage: "Holy sh*t!"

 You know, a demonic nun, with sharp yellow dentures, blue skin, and an obsessive need to kill and torture, while grinning maliciously, is honestly not the scariest thing to come out of the Vatican as of late.....

 "The Nun" takes place over twenty years before the original "Conjuring" films. The film starts in a Catholic monastery in Romania, with some nuns being haunted by am evil satanic presence named "Valak", which takes the form of a corpse like, demon nun with sharp teeth (Bonnie Aarons). This results in a nun hanging herself and her corpse being discovered by "Frenchie" (Jonas Bloquet), a dummy from a nearby village. Word gets out to the Vatican, who decide to send in "Father Burke" (Demián Bichir), a priest with a troubled past, along with the open minded, young nun in training, "Irene" (Taissa Farmiga) to investigate and see if the monastery is still holy despite what's occurred.

 With some aid from Frenchie, Burke and Irene head to the monastery, where they are instructed to stay for weird plot reasons that don't quite add up. (Well, the movie has to happen somehow, right?) Bottom line is, they end up stuck inside, and all start to see and hear weird things in the night, along with various attempts on their lives by jump scares. Burke starts to investigate into what exactly is going on, discovering Valak's origins and goals of escaping into the world. Meanwhile Irene has her faith tested as the demon nun starts to haunt her in hopes of taking her soul. Now our heroes must work together to put a stop to Valak's plot, and restore their own faith in the process. 

 Both "Conjuring" films, which were directed by James Wan (Serving as only a producer this time), are essentially the movies that proved to me that horror films can be great again. They can offer spine chilling scares, memorable characters, and true horror that will stick with you, showing that something scary can come out of the least conventional of places. Directed by Corin Hardy, "The Nun" is certainly well shot, with plenty of dark atmosphere. It's competently made, with a few spooky sequences and nightmarish imagery. Sadly, the film itself, especially the more I think about it, just doesn't give much reason to exist, which makes it shockingly kind of a bore. It doesn't help that the plot is a little hard to follow, with the characters' reason to even be stuck there seeming forced, and following a predictable structure to an obvious twist you see coming a mile away. 

 The film isn't without some good characters, who are easy to root for, despite not leaving much of an impression. Demián Bichir, always an underutilized actor, does solid work, along with Taissaa Farmiga (Sister to Vera Farmiga, who starred in the "Conjuring" movies), who is lovably cute and has a solid character arc. Jonas Bloquet is essentially our out of place comic relief, who does actually start to grow on you the more the film goes on, with his charming personality and a few funny quips. Then we get to our villainous nun, Valak, with Bonnie Aarons not getting as much screen time as she should. It seems they wanted to go for a less is more sort of vibe (Like "Jaws" in a Habit), which ends up kind of hurting the film when this character is who everyone paid to see more of. With that said, when Valak does make an appearance, it's suitably creepy, especially towards the end when we see more of the character's almost gleefully sinister nature. 

 "The Nun" doesn't offer enough scares, but isn't without some admittedly cool (And towards the climax, some pretty badass) moments, thanks in part to some likable characters, and our titular villain. However, the movie only briefly delves into some backstory, which is pretty simple and could of been summed up elsewhere, making the movie not particularly necessary to watch. It's much better (and less lazy) than the first "Annabelle", but its a prequel that doesn't offer anything all that new to the "Conjuring Universe". 2 stars. Rated R For Nightmare Faces And Religious Impurity. 

Kin                  by James Eagan                   ★½ OUT OF ★★★★

Image result for kin movieImage: Those Nerf guns keep getting more elaborate.

 What is it with movies lately and sequel baiting? I'm not talking about franchises, big budget blockbusters, or films with a large amount of source material. Movies like "A-X-L", "Mile 22", and now, "Kin" all seemed to get the idea that their stories and characters were so strong, and we so sure, that they had the balls to add in a little something to make way for a sequel. Next time don't come in 11th at the box office!

 "Kin" opens in Detroit, with young teen, "Elijah" (Myles Truitt), who goes by the nickname "Eli", living with his strict, but loving, widowed stepfather, "Hal" (Dennis Quaid). On his way home from school, Eli comes across a bunch of dead bodies and a strange, high tech, and totally marketable space gun, which he accidentally activates. Eli returns home to find that his stepbrother, "Jimmy" (Jack Reynor) has gotten out of prison and is already looking for more trouble. Jimmy as it turns out owes a crapton of money to evil gangster, "Taylor" (James Franco), who intends to collect.....despite the fact that Jimmy literally just got out of prison and is flat broke. (Seriously, what the Hell do you expect him to do?) So anyways, while Eli goes back to get that gun (Because you gotta pack some heat today), Jimmy decides to allow Taylor to sneak into his dad's office and steal some money from his safe.(Crappy thing Jimmy does #1) Bad luck for Hal, when he decides to walk in right into the office while this is going on, resulting in Taylor shooting him dead and Jimmy, after taking the money and killing Taylor's brother, making a run for it, back to Eli. (Crappy thing Jimmy does #2)

Jimmy decides to continue his horrible streak by lying to Eli about Hal's death and convincing him to go on a trip out of the city. (Crappy things Jimmy does #3 and #4.) Taking the space gun with him, Eli and Jimmy make a pit stop at a strip club (Crappy thing Jimmy....Ah forget it!), where an incident involving a stripper, "Milly" (Zoë Kravitz) and her jackass bosses, causes Eli to fire the gun, blowing a massive hole in the building. So our heroes neglect using the gun for good, in favor of holding up rich guys and abusing the absolute sh*t out of it. Meanwhile, Taylor is out for vengeance, sending his goons to track down Jimmy and Eli, all while a pair of masked, possible alien people are tracking down the gun and intend to get it back.  

 From Directors Jonathan and Josh Baker, and based on a short they also directed, "Kin" seems to be more of an idea movie that might of sounded fun on paper, but when executed, is just all over the place, awkwardly put together, and just plain wacky when it's clearly not supposed to be. Part family drama, part Sci-Fi adventure, and part road trip sex comedy, the movie doesn't seem to figure out what tone it's going for exactly. You can see glimpses of something that could of worked on occasion, with better than average effects, some solid camera work which give a late 80s/early 90s movie vibe, and even a couple decent enough performances. Where it all collapses is because of the lame, somewhat lazy script, lack of actually likable characters, and few story decisions that are just kind of questionable. (If there ever was a movie revealed to of been made on drugs, this is the one.) 

 Myles Truitt does a fine enough job with what's given, along with Jack Reynor (Who has at least improved as an actor since "Transformers: Age of Extinction"), despite the fact he could possibly be one of the more despicable characters in any movie this year. Their chemistry is off because their relationship is so dysfunctional to the point of unpleasantness. Zoë Kravitz really doesn't have much of a role here (She doesn't even become a love interest. She's just there), while Dennis Quaid only appears briefly, but does a shockingly solid job when he could of just phoned it in. James Franco plays slimeball very well, and appears to be having fun, although the longer the movie goes on, you question why he's even there. Also, Carrie Coon (as an FBI agent who appears in the last 20 minutes) is in it. Don't know why, but she's there. 

 "Kin" completely loses it's mind in the last 10 minutes, with a big reveal that's incredibly stupid and had me questioning reality in general. It's baffling where this movie decides to go and where it deems it necessary to end. The ending itself feels like one you would see in a YA novel adaptation, except this movie isn't a novel. (Although bombing big time is a tradition with those kinds of films. So this movie has that in common.) The movie is a hybrid of conflicting storylines, that do have moments of intrigue, but it all just collapses on itself once it's over. You know insanity when you see it. 1 1/2 stars. Rated PG-13 For Adult Content, Violence, And Poor Brotherly Role Models. 

Searching                                                                    by James Eagan                                        ★★★★ OUT OF ★★★★

Related imageImage: "7 to 10 business days? I knew I should have signed up with Amazon Prime!"

 I'm assuming that Producer Timur Bekmambetov really, really wants the whole filmed on a laptop style of storytelling in film? He did after all produce both "Unfriended" films, which utulized the gimmick, If you would call it that. I honestly think it's a cool idea in need of further exploring. I think this movie right here proves that you can definitely do it well, in a way that tells a powerful, cohesive story with depth, twists and turns, and an unexpected amount of emotional strength. 

 "Searching" takes place entirely through the point of view of computer and phone screens, following "David Kim" (John Cho), father to young teen, "Margot" (Michelle La). Having lost her mother, "Pam" (Sara Sohn) a few years prior, David has become more protective, but in some ways more distant from his daughter. One night, Margot leaves to hang out with her study group for a late night session, which David doesn't think twice about, not noticing the many calls he gets from her in the middle of the night. The next morning, Margot is no longer answering her phone, didn't go to school, and has completely vanished. When David discovers that not only Margot has not been attending the piano lessons that David has been paying for, but that Margot has been transferring the funds to a now deactivated Venmo account.

 This sparks David to involve the police, with him working closely with the officer assigned to the case, "Detective Rosemary Vick" (Debra Messing). David is allowed by Vick to help with the case, such as looking into Margot's apparent friends (Who all weirdly know so little about her), where and what she looks up online, and eventually learning that he might not really know as much about his daughter as he at first thought. While the investigation intensifies, David is forced to confront the secrets Margot has hidden from him, while also discovering a few other unexpected surprises.  

 "Searching", which was directed by first time Director Aneesh Chaganty, is one of those films where I'm sure somebody said that it wasn't going to work, claiming there would be nothing more to it than a simple gimmick with little substance. What's amazing about all that is not only is the film extremely effective in utilizing it's style and premise to deliver on nail biting suspense, but it's also able to bring about some compelling and heartfelt drama from it's characters. The film brilliantly takes this idea, and uses it to immerse the audience into the mystery, which unfolds through various videos, phone calls, and articles that appear throughout. The film does this in a way that doesn't feel the need to spoon-feed information to it's audience, and simply letting them figure out for themselves. The limited space makes everything feel tighter, well paced, and more frightening. There is also a bit of a message hidden through the film about how people can use the internet to do whatever they want with little consequences, and how some are not who they appear in real life compared to how they act online, along with a few stating their unnecessary and mean spirited opinions despite having no involvement in what's going on. There is a little humor in that, but not in the "Ha Ha" sense. (Satirical would probably be the best way to describe it.) 

 John Cho, who the film relies on more than anything, has always shown himself to be a reliable actor, but never truly getting his time to shine. He's amazing in this movie, going through many stages of grief and paranoia, and showing his character's humanity and flaws through actions, words, and expressions. Debra Messing is excellent, with her character's complexity playing a large part in the film's narrative, giving a better understanding of who she is and her investment in the case. Michelle La, who does spend much of the film offscreen, gets a lot of range just from the emotional looks on her face, giving you all you need to know about her character without saying much. The rest of the cast of unknown actors, such as Sara Sohn, Joseph Lee (as "Peter", David's brother, who may have a secret of his own), and a few others, all play a role of some sort in the story, further escalating the mystery, keeping you guessing what's going to happen next, and most importantly, if a happy ending is even possible. 

 "Searching" tells it's seemingly straight forward story in an unexpected and relevant way, leaving more of an impact. This movie is a perfect example of understated, yet thoughtful and original filmmaking. You become immersed in it's premise, become enamored with the characters, and feel the sense of dread and heartbreak that they feel, all leading up to a reveal that you'll never see coming. (But looking back, there were clues littered throughout the entire film.) It's smart, unique, and we just plain need more movies like it these days. And, I learned that if I ever have children, i'm implanting tracking devices. 4 stars. Rated PG-13 For Adult Content And Parental Fear. 

Operation Finale                                                  by James Eagan                                        ★★★ OUT OF ★★★★

Related imageImage: "Hey, there were good and bad people on both sides!"

 The summer movie season is official over! We'll be taking time off from the big budget, mostly superhero based blockbusters and franchises that critics will constantly say they're tired of, but will usually be shut up the second they see the films and realize how good they are. (With "Avengers: Infinity War", "Incredibles 2", "Deadpool 2", "Ant-Man and the Wasp", "Mission Impossible: Fallout", etc,) It's been a great year with great movies big and small. Sadly, now you all got school, work, or other previous engagements you can't wiggle out of. Less time to see anything due to so little time. Luckily, that's what movies such as "Operation Finale" are made for.  

 Based on true events, "Operation Finale" follows a plan to track down and capture high ranking Nazi Officer, "Adolf Eichmann" (Ben Kingsley), the only remaining top lieutenants to Adolf Hitler and one of the architects to the so called "Final Solution". Security service director, "Isser Harel" (Lior Raz) arranges a team of Israeli spies, led by "Peter Malkin" (Oscar Isaac), to go into Argentina where Eichmann is in hiding with his family under an alias and sneak him out, bringing Eichmann to Israel to stand trial for his atrocities. The team of spies, which also includes intelligence officer, "Rafi Eitan" (Nick Kroll) and Peter's former love interest, "Hanna" (Mélanie Laurent), go undercover into the country, spying on Eichmann on his daily life before striking, taking him to their safe house.

 However, things don't go so smoothly when Eichmann's son, "Klaus" (Joe Alwyn), who has previously been manipulated into allowing this whole situation to go down by his girlfriend/Jewish refugee, "Sylvia" (Haley Lu Richardson), is able to piece together that his father is missing. Klaus quickly deduces his father has been kidnapped, gathering his Nazi sympathizer allies to find out where he has been taken. Now Peter's team is forced remain hidden with Eichmann, due to the police now searching for them, which would mean if they're caught, they could end up causing an international incident. Things go from bad to worse as they are now also forced to get Eichmann to give his written consent to be taken to Israel to stand trial, which he obviously refuses to do. Now everyone must keep their cool to make it out of this situation alive, with Peter getting the most one on one with Eichmann, who is quite the manipulator. 

 Directed by Chris Weitz ("The Golden Compass"), "Operation Finale" is a tame, simple historical drama, that certainly plays it safe, but not without plenty of suspense and compelling intrigue. It's a movie that never truly gets too into the dark center of it's story (Mostly due to the PG-13 rating), leaving things implied or in the background. Despite this, you still get the idea of what this man did and allowed to happen. You still understand the dread and conflict that our heroes are feeling, with you forgetting the fact that this is a true story and wondering what's going to happen next. (Or in some cases, wondering if anyone is just going to snap and blow the whole mission.) There are some excellent scenes involving our characters discussing the importance of this mission as well as what it means for their people, along with some great parts involving some more complexity with our villains (I mean, Nazis are still evil. Don't let anyone tell you otherwise.) But it's interesting to see how people can say that what they did was justified, and to a certain degree might even genuinely believe it. 

 The ever reliable Oscar Isaac is once again excellent here, along with an equally terrific Ben Kingsley. Their scenes together are some of the most effective, with Isaac conveying his character's inner conflict and Kingsley providing some human elements to his detestable villain. The conversations between them can range from somewhat humorous, to sympathetically heartfelt and suspenseful, as the actors provide their characters with enough to help us understand who they are, and why they became this way, while never truly giving any sympathy to our Nazi villain. (He's still pure evil, but a human sort of evil, proving that people like this do exist.) Mélanie Laurent is fine with what she is given, and Nick Kroll gets to show off some more of his dramatic chops. The whole plotline with Haley Lu Richardson and the bland Joe Alwyn doesn't amount to much, and by the end, serves little purpose. 

 "Operation Finale" has a couple plotlines that don't amount to much, and overall, it isn't exactly one of those films I could tell anyone to drop what they're doing and rush out to see. With that said, it's a well made, terrifically acted, thoroughly fascinating drama that isn't without tension and heartfelt importance. If you find yourself with little choice but to see it, there's nothing to complain about, and considering we're in the after Summer dumping ground, this isn't a bad one in the slightest. A history lesson, even one not incredibly complex, seems right this time of year. 3 stars. Rated PG-13 For Dark Subjects And Nazi Behavior.  

The Happytime Murders                                    by James Eagan                                                ★★ OUT OF ★★★★

Related imageImage: " So Statler finally snapped and killed Waldorf.."

 Nearly 10 years this movie has been in development. It was an idea thought up by the Jim Henson Company, and had been mostly just an idea for the longest time, despite casting rumors, and concept art circling around online for years. It's easy to see why people were so adamant about getting this movie made. It's a hilarious idea that just sounds fantastic on paper, and when you think about it, should make for something pretty awesome. This should work......Why doesn't it work? 

 "The Happytime Murders" takes place in a world where humans and puppets coexist, although the puppets are mostly second-class citizens and are seen as lesser than humans. The story follows a puppet, "Phil Phillips" (Voiced by Bill Barretta), a former cop turned private investigator, working at his own office, with his secretary, "Bubbles" (Maya Rudolph). Phil is cynical towards the world around him, especially since his failure to act under pressure resulted in him being removed from the police force and has prevented any other puppets from signing up. Phil is met by a sex addicted new client, "Sandra" (Voiced by Dorien Davies), who hired him to look into someone demanding money from her. During Phil's investigation, his actor brother "Larry" (Voiced by Victor Yerrid), ends up murdered (Or in this case, ripped to shreds by dogs), along with another former star, a porn addict named "Mr. Bumblypants" (Voiced by Kevin Clash). These murders reunite Phil with his old human partner, "Detective Connie Edwards" (Melissa McCarthy), who Phil previously had a falling out with. 

 The death of Phil's brother and Mr. Bumblypants, who were stars in the beloved 1980s television series, "The Happytime Gang", lead Phil to believe someone is specifically targeting the cast for the show. This prompts "Lieutenant Banning" (Leslie David Baker) to force Edwards and Phil to work together to solve the case, with the rest of the cast now in danger of becoming this serial killer's next victim, including Phil's former lover, "Jenny" (Elizabeth Banks), the only human cast member turned burlesque dancer. The bickering duo investigate further into the case, only for conveniently placed clues making it seem like Phil is the one committing the murders. Now Edwards and Phil must put aside their differences and work together once again to prove Phil's innocence and solve the murders before more cotton filled, sock-like bodies start to pile up. 

 Directed by the son of Jim Henson himself, Brian Henson (Who previously directed "Muppet Treasure Island" and "The Muppet Christmas Carol"), "The Happytime Murders" is one of those ideas that you immediately would assume to be comedy gold. At times, the film realizes that and relishes in it, with raunchy, gross out, adult centered gags, all involving puppets. It's hard not to get a laugh. Sadly, there just isn't all that much of it, which leads to a shockingly minimum amount of laughs, and makes the movie's poorly constructed nature even more noticeable. The plot is all over the place, taking the most predictable route, and mostly just getting by on the novelty of puppets swearing and having sex. And while that's funny as Hell at times, you realize that there isn't much else to it. Compare it to 2016's "Sausage Party", which ended up being much smarter than advertised, with a bit more to say and good characters to go along with the dirty sense of humor. This movie just doesn't have much that's memorable about it. 

 Melissa McCarthy does get a chance to remind people that she can be funny, without just falling over or getting knocked into things. She does a good job, having surprising chemistry with our puppet lead. Bill Barretta is great, playing his character completely straight as if he was in an actual cop movie, despite being you know, a purple, goofy looking puppet. Maya Rudolph is cute and gets a couple fun moments, along with Joel McHale playing Joel McHale. Elizabeth Banks is wasted completely in a storyline that doesn't really need to be there. Our highlights end up being the puppets themselves, with the voices and puppeteering all done by professionals, who know exactly what they're doing, and know exactly how to get some laughs out of it. The most memorable one being Drew Massey (as the voice of "Goofer", a former star turned sugary drug addict). 

 "The Happytime Murders" falters in not truly going all out in what it's been advertising. It's not without funny or even hilarious parts (The puppet sex scene freakin cracked me up), but it feels oddly tame, which is disappointing when you've been advertised as the filthiest, most outrageously shocking comedy of the year. (I've seen "Meet the Feebles". This is nothing by comparison.)  Just having kid friendly looking puppets say "F*ck" over and over isn't enough to compensate for a garbage story, that granted isn't exactly the point, but makes the movie kind of boring. It's been called the worst movie of the year by many critics, and I find that ridiculous, seeing as there isn't much truly offensive or harmful about it. It's nothing that bad, and it's not even the worst Melissa McCarthy movie I've seen this year. ("Life of the Party" was just plain insulting). You just have an idea, one that is rather brilliant and could of been amazing, that doesn't get followed through anywhere near enough. Maybe a filthy "Bert and Ernie" movie will be better. 2 stars. Rated R For Puppet Violence, Puppet Sex, And Puppet Drug Use. 

A.X.L.                  by James Eagan              ★★ OUT OF ★★★★

Image result for axl movieImage: "Nice Doggy...Cute little pooch....Maybe I got a metal milk bone."

 We've had a lot of dog movies this year haven't we? We've had stories about dogs stuck on an island of garbage in Japan, dogs engaging in romantic activity, wolf dogs saving hairy cave people, dogs saving people in World War I, and we've also had them get their balls fondled by Will Arnett. (At least in the uncut version) So why not? Let's toss a robot one in there too. 

 "A.X.L." is about a top secret robotic dog, codenamed "A-X-L" (Standing for Attack, Exploration, Logistics), created by a morally dubious scientist, "Andric" (Dominic Rains), who will be handing it over to the military as part of a new, deadly weapon to use on the battlefield. The dog escapes, running off into the desert to escape his abusive creators. While this is going on, "Miles" (Alex Neustaedter), a young motocross racer, is having his own problems, with his dad, "Chuck" (Thomas Jane) trying to convince him to set his sights on other lines of work, and having to deal with his competition, "Sam" (Alex MacNicoll), the overly privileged rich jerk, who thinks he's the greatest thing in the history of the world. (Think of an even more villainous Logan Paul). After seeing Miles flirt with his not-girlfriend, "Sara" (Becky G), Sam decides to play a prank on him. Sam invites Miles to do some tricks outside of their town, resulting in Miles crashing, mostly due to interference from Sam's minions. Miles is left by himself, discovering A-X-L, who ends up damaged.

 Miles repairs A-X-L, which results in the robot becoming paired with him via the owner pairing tech put inside of him. The two quickly become loyal friends, with A-X-L becoming his protector and evolving further than expected. Andric, who has sent his drones to survey what's going on, allows this to happen as a way of completing the final trials on his experiment. But when Andric's military higher ups demand results immediately, Andric sends in his forces to take back his creation, no matter who gets in the way or ends up getting hurt. Determined to protect his new friend, Miles, along with Sara, who becomes his love interest, work together to help A-X-L escape from his evil former owners. 

 Sort of a bargain bin version of that upcoming "Bumblebee" movie, "A.X.L." is a movie that's easy to write off the minute you see the trailer, due to it's cheap look and cheesy, unoriginal story. However, the filmmakers did appear to be trying to be a bit more, and even has a few moments of charm and heart. The effects are fairly on the cheap side, but are enough for what the movie is, with the dog himself ranging from a decent enough looking CGI effect to an impressive, cool looking animatronic design. (I thought it was kind of adorable actually, even with the dead looking eyes.) As far as plots go, it's as generic as they come, with every trope you would see in every family oriented, boy finds special animal (or robot) film you would of seen in the 90s or early 2000s. It doesn't do anything new, and mostly just drags around it's quick runtime without much identity of it's own.

 The film's basic story can be done well, with last week's underrated "Alpha" doing something similar. Where that movie succeeded because of an excellent lead portraying a likable main character. Alex Neustaedter is neither of those things. He's just a blank slate, with no personality or screen presence in the slightest. It's not entirely his fault though, because the character has even less of a persona. Without a lead that gives a reason for the audience to care, everything else just sort of suffers because of it. Becky G is showing a lot of charm (And is clearly giving more than her love interest), but can't even force any romantic chemistry that just isn't there. Both Thomas Jane and Dominic Rains give better performances than what was likely asked of them, while Alex MacNicoll is that annoying and obnoxious kind of evil that makes you beg for his character's death. Easily the best character is A-X-L himself, who is just a big robotic puppy, who can be scary and intimidating at times, but also sweet and loyal, much like a real dog can be. 

 "A.X.L." is short, simple, and for kids, there's some enjoyment to be had, mostly because of solid pacing, and a tone that knows when to be dark and knows when to pull at the heartstrings. It's just when you have a bland lead, a lack of originality, and a disposable story that you pretty quickly forget about (Not to mention a weird ending that I'm not sure is setting up a sequel or not), it ends up being a movie with no consequence. It's a movie you rent for your kids to keep them busy, while you waste your time doing something else with more meaning. Go outside and play with your real dog. 2 stars. Rated PG For Some Teenage Debauchery And Illegal Use Of ATMs. 

Blaze             by James Eagan                ★★★½ OUT OF ★★★★

Image result for blaze movieImage: Blaze of glory.

 There are a few things I need to talk about first before we really get into this movie. First, I wanna brag...I mean, I met Ethan Hawke at my theater! Shook his hand, mentioned what I do, and he suggested I go for professional. (Trying there. Still trying,) It was pretty freakin awesome. (Although I didn't get to see Richard Linklater, who was also there) Now for the complicated part, I actually did something that in these eight long years as an unpaid film critic that I've never done. I saw a movie twice. Not just because it's a well made, compassionate film, but because I didn't know how to process it and what to say about it. Sometimes you just need a little extra time (And a second viewing) to grasp fully what you watched. (Now that doesn't mean I need to watch "Death of a Nation" again. There is nothing complex about that one.)

 "Blaze" follows the sweet, complicated, and eventually sad life of country music singer and songwriter, "Blaze Foley" (Ben Dickey). He was a good natured ball off joy and life, who didn't have aspirations to become a star, but instead became a legend. The film follows a series of events, along with an interview between a radio DJ (Mostly just the voiceover of Director Ethan Hawke and the back of his head) and a couple of Blaze's friends, country singer, "Townes Van Zandt" (Charlie Sexton) and "Zee" (Josh Hamilton). We also see Blaze's relationship with the love of his life, "Sybil Rosen" (Alia Shawkat), Blaze's personal problems involving drugs and alcohol, and more detail into why he didn't make it bigger. Throughout the film, we also see Blaze's final day, with him going to play at a bar as the opener for Townes, which by the end, results in his tragic death. 

 Based on the true story and novel "Living in the Woods in a Tree: Remembering Blaze" by the real life Sybil Rosen (Who also serves as a co-writer with Ethan Hawke), "Blaze" is a bit of an enigma of a film. It's not structured like your average biopic, nor is it just simply told out of order. It's more of a series of scenes, coming and going, with the interview portion only somewhat telling the story. It's all interspersed with the other parts of the story occasionally making appearances when the film decides it wants to talk about them. None of that I mean in a bad way. In fact, I would even consider it pretty brilliant. It's almost like you're listening to some random guy you just met, who keeps getting distracted while telling you a story, pausing because he remembered something else and decided to focus on that for a second before returning back to the main story he was already telling. Much like the true life Blaze Foley, the film is a bit all over the place, but also larger than life, heartfelt and lovable, and with a bit of a bittersweet, sad edge hidden beneath the surface. 

 Ben Dickey, a country singer giving his first ever film debut performance, is absolutely wonderful. He incorporates the charismatic charm, big heart, and his inner demons perfectly. What's amazing about his performance is that it's nothing overly grand and in your face, but instead is very restrained, subtle, and most importantly, human. It makes for a memorable role. Alia Shawkat is sympathetic, with her role also being subdued. However, it's because these performance are steady and soft that make them so terrific, instead of someone going out of their way to force a powerful Oscar worthy one. Charlie Sexton and Josh Hamilton (Who we previously saw in "Eighth Grade") are both excellent. We also get some memorable small parts from Kris Kristofferson (as Blaze's father), Alynda Lee Segarra (as "Marsha", Blaze's sister), and prolonged trio of cameos from Richard Linklater, Sam Rockwell, and Steve Zahn (as a trio of record label producers). 

 After two viewings, I see "Blaze" as experimental, but still strong in what it sets out to accomplish. Ethan Hawke's direction is beautiful and moving, with the film's occasional distracted nature feeling intentional, and in a way, rather fitting. It's a complicated story about a complicated person, who undeniably was likable and was overall good natured. It's a bit difficult to comprehend and might be seen as too small for some people to truly grasp, but I think that's what makes it so effective. It's not big and explosive. It's subtle, sweet, and it hits you when you least expect it. I'm not just saying that because of my buddy Ethan. Hey, we shook hands! 3 1/2 stars. Rated R For Strong Language And Heavy Alcohol Abuse.  

Mile 22               by James Eagan             ★★ OUT OF ★★★★

Image result for mile 22 movieImage: "You have the right to remain silent, an attorney, blah, blah, blah..."

 Are Peter Berg and Mark Wahlberg like a thing now? They are a team for sure, with four movies in a row, popping out one after the other without delay. (What would their couple name be? Bergberg?)  Either way, with "Lone Survivor", "Deepwater Horizon", and "Patriot's Day", which were all excellent films, it's not shocking that....they had to have a misfire at some point. 

 "Mile 22" follows an elite CIA task force, known as "Overwatch" (Minus the genetically altered gorilla with a jetpack), which is led by "James Silva" (Mark Wahlberg), who is in serious need of an anger management class. Silva's team, which consists of their supervisor, "Bishop" (John Malkovich), along with "Alice Kerr" (Lauren Cohan), "Sam" (Rhonda Rousey), and "Douglas" (Carlo Alban), are based at the time in Southern Asia, tasked with finding out where some shipments of cesium is located to prevent a disaster. Alice's asset, "Li Noor" (Iko Uwais) shows up at the United States embassy, with an encrypted disc revealing information on the cesium. With the information on the disc destroying itself, Li Noor demands that he be escorted out of the country to safety, and he will reveal how to bypass the encryption. Overwatch only has a limited time to do so, with 22 miles between them and an airport, where a plane should be waiting for them. Further complications arise when a government agent, "Axel" (Sam Mendina) shows up, demanding that Li Noor be handed over to him. Realizing there is more to their unlikely "Ally" than it would appear, Silva leads his team in a race to get to the airport and get Li Noor to safety, with Axel's men going after them, guns blazing, not caring who gets caught in the crossfire. 

 Another Berg/Wahlberg collaboration, "Mile 22" once again has plenty of Director Berg's flair for mixing sound and action beautifully on an epic scale that almost literally explodes into the theater. It's just too bad that the movie suffers from an uncontrollable amount of unhinged testosterone and a lack of actual characterization besides people yelling at each other and measuring dick sizes. The problems all lie in the script, which consists of constant uses of the word "F*ck", even when the sentence doesn't require it. (One line of dialogue uses it five or six times within the same sentence.) Hardly any of the characters leave much impact, with their personalities mostly limited to them just being really, really angry. Because of this, it's really hard to have any interest in what's going to happen to them, which is especially weird for a Peter Berg film, who is known for giving you characters to care about. 

 Mark Wahlberg isn't so much giving a bad performance, it's mostly that his character is so annoyingly in your face with his anger and manliness that you almost want the bad guys to win simply to see this guy lose. I get that he's supposed to be a little off, but it's so cartoonish to the point it doesn't even feel real. Lauren Cohan and John Malkovich are trying their best, with Rhonda Rousey getting a few great moments despite limited screentime, while Sam Mendina is a rather lame, throwaway villain. Iko Uwais, (Who actually is a known martial artist,) is hands down the most memorable and complicated character. His action scenes are the ones that leave the most impact. The stuntwork here is impressive, with the kills looks effectively gruesome. The rest of the characters are mostly just cannon fodder, spending their time getting killed in typically violent and explosive fashion. 

 "Mile 22" has plenty of  well made action and even a few moments of intrigue, especially once we reach a big reveal that while doesn't feel particularly earned (And certainly feels as if it only happened to set up a sequel), at least shows that Peter Berg knows how to amp up some suspense, even when the film is lacking everywhere else. The runtime feels padded out (Which is barely over an hour and a half), and by the end, you will likely have trouble remembering much of what happened. It's just a weak, disposable action thriller that runs out of gas long before mile 22., It feels even more forgettable after something such as "Mission Impossible: Fallout" (That's the new action movie standard for me right now). 2 stars. Rated R For Strong, Bloody Violence And Strong, Bloody Language. 

Alpha                                                                               by James Eagan                                       ★★★½ OUT OF ★★★★

Image result for alpha movieImage: "IT'S BACON!!!!"

 I know I wasn't the only one who remembers seeing a trailer for this movie almost a year and a half ago. It seemed interesting, though didn't really show much. I was getting the trailer every few movies, with the poster always being one of the first things I saw when I walked into the theater. Then it mysteriously vanished, only to reappear again with a different date. It's a movie that's been pushed all over the place, tossed around, and cast aside, and after seeing the film, I think I understand why. It's because it might just be too ambitious for any money-grubbing film studio to see much profit in. 

 "Alpha" opens 20,000 years ago in Europe, where a small tribe, led by the chief, "Tau" (Johannes Haukur Johannesson), who will be leading a hunting expedition, which includes his young son, "Keda" (Kodi Smit-McPhee), who does not appear ready for such a task, due to not having the heart to kill to survive. Tracking down some bison, the hunters engage them, which ends up going horribly wrong, resulting in the presumed death of Keda. Tau, heartbroken, is forced to leave with the rest of his team, believing to have lost his only son. However, it turns out Keda has survived, though injured badly, and lost in the middle of nowhere, with little knowledge of how to get back to his tribe. While trying to get back home, Keda ends up attacked by a pack of wolves, wounding one of them (Played by a wolf dog named Chuck), who in turn is abandoned by the rest of the wolf pack. Keda, feeling sympathetic to the wolf, ends up taking care of it, with the two of them slowly growing to trust each other. Naming the wolf "Alpha", Keda now has a companion to join him on his quest to find his home before the harsh Winter comes. The duo become fast friends in an adventure for survival that will test their strength, and eventually lead to the creation of what we would later know as the bond between humans and Man's Best Friend. 

 Directed by one of the Hughes brothers, Albert Hughes ("The Book of Eli", "From Hell"), "Alpha" is not what you expect it to be. When you see a movie like this, you expect it to be cheaply made, poorly and quickly put together, and well, for everyone to speak English for some reason. Amazingly, the film makes up for it's simple, but effective story with stunning cinematography, beautiful imagery, and a commendable amount of attention to detail. The film is actually subtitled, with none of the characters speaking any English. The film even doesn't have much of that either, because there are long stretches of no dialogue, letting the scenery, character reactions, and the simple story tell itself. Visually, the CGI is obvious, but it's filmed in such a lovely, suspenseful manner that you are still invested. (It also helps that this is some of the better 3D I've seen in some time.)

 The film relies on the performances of two stars. First, it's Kodi Smit-McPhee (Nightcrawler in "X-Men: Apocalypse"), who mostly has the carry the film entirely on his own, sometimes with his expressions alone. He gives a terrific performance, that shows his fear and eventual bravery when forced into a live or die situation. Then we have Chuck, who is an adorable creature, that's lovable as Hell. These two characters are compelling to watch, with their fight to survive being brutal at times, but overall heartwarming and emotionally resonating. There are actually some frightening moments throughout where you do wonder if they will truly live through it all. (In this time period, literally everything was trying to kill you. Not like now) You've seen this story before, just not handled so maturely and with enough respect to it's audience to hope that they follow it despite not giving easy answers.

 "Alpha" is one of those movies that comes out of nowhere and probably wont leave much of an impact in terms of it's box office returns, which is definitely too bad because while the film is flawed, it's moments of brilliance show something special. Whether it be the amazing visuals, capable leads, or just simply the emotional payoff, the film aspires to be something different and provide you with an exciting, mesmerizing experience. It's a sweet, wonderful shaggy dog story. 3 1/2 stars. Rated PG-13 For Scary Images And Harsh, Unforgiving Weather. 

Crazy Rich Asians                                                    by James Eagan                                           ★★★½ OUT OF ★★★★

Image result for crazy rich asians movieImage: "I can't believe they didn't cast Matt Damon instead."

 To all future filmmakers trying to get their romantic comedy greenlit (Or those poor, desperate ones forced to do one), this is literally all you have to do. Be charming. Don't force it. Don't fake it. Just let it come out naturally, let your characters and story speak for themselves, getting plenty of laughs, and providing heart. You don't have to reinvent it, just do it with respect for the audience and demographic, especially when they're one who still haven't quite gotten the same deserved amount of attention and respect as the rest. 

 Based on a 2013 book of the same name by Kevin Kwan, "Crazy Rich Asians" follows economics professor, "Rachel Chu" (Constance Wu), being asked by her longtime boyfriend, "Nick Young" (Henry Golding) to come over to Singapore to meet his family and to attend the wedding of his best friend, "Colin" (Chris Pang) and her new fiancée, "Araminta" (Sonoyaa Mizuno). Rachel soon discovers that Nick is actually part of one of the most wealthiest families in the world, with Nick being seen as the one to take charge of it at some point. Turns out Nick doesn't have the best relationship with his family at the moment, with the exception of his beloved cousin, "Astrid" (Gemma Chan), with many of his friends and family members warning him of how his mother, "Eleanor" (Michelle Yeoh) will react. Eleanor sees Rachel as just another American and will never be good enough to be with Nick, due to how she was raised and where she comes from. Rachel needs to overcome the scrutiny and insanity of Nick's family, to prove herself to the rest of them and to herself that she and Nick are meant to be.  

 It's so easy to fall into the played out tropes that plague romantic comedies, and even easier to go down the predictable route. "Crazy Rich Asians" really isn't all that different in that regard, since it's all things you've seen before. However, it seems the filmmakers have decided to create an almost whimsical, fairy tale-like atmosphere and look to the film, which in part is thanks to Director Jon M. Chu (Who gave us um, classics like "G.I. Joe: Retaliation" and "Jem and the Holograms). It's filmed beautifully, with an amazing attention to the production design and the art direction, which I would consider Oscar worthy. (There is one wedding scene that's absolutely stunning) Credit to the screenwriters (Peter Chiarelli and Adele Lim), who don't set out to avoid many of the clichés (Aside from the really bad ones), but instead give us a great, massive cast of characters and smart dialogue with plenty of humor and tons of good natured heart. 

 Constance Wu is wonderful, and has excellent chemistry with Henry Golding, who is charming as Hell. These two are easy to root for and their scenes together are realistic, making for the perfect onscreen couple. Our comic relief is well used and brightens up the screen every time they're one, with Awkwaifina (as "Peik Lin", Rachel's best friend) and Nico Santos (as "Oliver", one of Nick's cousins, who is seen as lesser by the rest of the family) get some laugh out loud moments, but never act cartoonish. Gemma Chan's subplot doesn't really have much of an effect on the main story, but she's still giving a calm, subtle, sympathetic performance that you still welcome it and care about what happens. Michelle Yeoh could seem at first as your typical rom com antagonist, though she does have a certain likability to her as well, which is thanks to both the writers and to her strong performance, showing how human she is. These characters are all just people, and while some are crappy, you do get where a lot of them are coming from. It is also just awesome to see such a huge cast, mostly made up of Asian actors (Or those of Asian descent), without any need to throw in some random white guy because the studio doesn't seem to give it's American audience enough credit. 

 With "Crazy Rich Asians", the comedy lands without being forced, the drama and conflict is realistically portrayed, and there is no need to fake any charm. There is a little extra style and loads of character, making up for the rare moments when the film can't seem to avoid predictable plotting. Even that doesn't drag the film down, because since you care about the people involved, you still can't help but feel invested. Far more than I would watching "Crazy Rich Caucasians". 3 1/ stars. Rated PG-13 For Adult Content And Obviously For Some Crazy Rich Asians. 

BlacKkKlansman                                                     by James Eagan                                   ★★★★ OUT OF ★★★★

Image result for blackkklansmanImage: "Wow....A testimonial from Donald Trump. How about that!"

 After seeing "Death of a Nation" last week, it's appropriate that I see something like this. How else do I counteract the stench of lies, racism, pandering to people who don't realize (Or pretend that they don't) they support Nazism and the KKK, and mean spirited, anger fueled rage at people who happen to not support the political party you've sold out your conscience to willingly? ..........Damn right I needed this.

 Based on true events, "BlacKkKlansman" follows "Ron Stallworth" (John David Washington), who has just been hired as the first black officer in the Colorado Springs, Colorado police department in 1972. Slowly rising up, Stallworth is sent undercover, with help from fellow officers, the Jewish "Flip Zimmerman" (Adam Driver) and "Jimmy Creek" (Michael Buscemi), to go to a local rally run by "Stokely Carmichael/Kwame Ture" (Corey Hawkins), where he meets the pretty activist, "Patrice" (Laura Harrier). This sparks Stallworth's interest and also elevates him up further into the intelligence division, leading to him coming across an advertisement fro the "Klu Klux Klan". Stallworth calls in, pretending to be a white man over the phone, tricking the members into thinking he is just another racist white guy, looking to join their cause.

 Despite making the mistake of using his real name, Stallworth's plan to infiltrate the Klu Klux Klan (Or the "Organization" as they prefer to be called) is approved by the department, with Stallworth recruiting Flip to pretend to be him and find out what exactly the Klan is up to. Flip, pretending to be Stallworth, meets a collection of members, such as the leader of the town's division, "Walter" (Ryan Eggold), the suspicious (And slightly crazy), "Felix" (Jasper Pääkkönen), and the possibly inbred, mouth breathing dumbass, "Ivanhoe" (Paul Walter Hauser). Eventually, Flip is able to become further integrated into the Klan, working with Stallworth, discovering that they're planning an attack of some sort on a group of Black activists, run by Patrice, who has become Stallworth's girlfriend. When the grand wizard of the KKK, "David Duke" (Topher Grace), who Stallworth has also been talking to over the phone, plans to come to town to recruit more to their hateful cause, the case becomes even more important than ever before. 

 Directed (And co-written) by the occasionally controversial, critically lauded, and the thoroughly unapologetic Spike Lee ("Malcolm X", "Do the Right Thing", etc) along with Producer Jordan Peele, "BlacKkKlansman" is exactly what I've been told this director is capable of. Aside from that mostly meh 2013 "Oldboy" remake, I've never actually seen a Spike Lee movie (Or a "Spike Lee Joint" as he prefers it to be called).The film is fantastically crafted and put together, with it's two hour and fifteen minute runtime hardly being noticeable, and the ability to create a suspenseful, edge of your seat crime film that also finds ways to get you to laugh despite the disturbing things you witness. There are actually a lot of very funny, damn near laugh out loud moments, whether it be in the dialogue or simply how our characters react to some of the absurdity. Despite this, the film is very thought provoking and deep, with it's meaningful themes being still plenty relevant despite what some people will say. (Such as corrupt and racist cops, the power that KKK supporters or sympathizers have, and their warped version of America) Lee also provides the film a grainy, old fashioned, 70s era based look to the film, which could be seen as an homage to "Blacksploitation" films of that time. (The film's music could also be a reference as well)

 John David Washington (Son of Denzel) shines in his first starring role, along with Adam "Kylo Ren" Driver once again showing how fantastic an actor he really is. The both of them on screen together makes for one of the best duos in any movie this year. Laura Harrier is great, with a complex arc with Washington, which does not go the way you expect (And even sheds a bit more light on the whole divide between the police and the black community). Topher Grace is terrific and plays a different kind of evil. One that can be charismatic, almost likable to a degree in the simplistic, friendly manner he speaks, but with hidden layers of sinisterness sprinkled throughout. We have a great ensemble of actors, with the rest of our villains, from the crazed Jasper Pääkkönen and the hilarious Paul Walter Hauser (Previously seen in last year's "I'Tonya") being portrayed not sympathetically, but as human. (In the end, it's not monsters that commit these horrible acts. It's just bad, disgusting people, who could be your neighbor for all you know.) We also have a cameo from Harry Belafonte in a effectively strong scene that should get anyone who's ever tried to condone (Or at least rationalize) racism to at least think about it a little differently. (Or maybe not. Some things never get better.)

 Humorous, thrilling, intelligent and brilliantly directed, "BlacKkKlansman" is light on subtlety (Especially once you reach the film's final moments), but with something such as this, you have to shove it in people's faces whether they want it or not. (Some people will just deny it anyway.) It hits you where it hurts and leaves you uncomfortable in a way that you need to experience. It's a cool, exciting movie that will get you to laugh, make you uneasy, and leave you thinking. That is truly how you make a powerful film. It's the one "Joint" I' will definitely recommend. 4 stars. Rated R For Language And Timeless Racism. (It Doesn't Just Reset Itself.) 

Slender Man                                                               by James Eagan                                         ★ OUT OF ★★★★

Related imageImage: "This is 2009 calling....Your movie is WAY outdated."

 Does anyone actually care about the Slender Man anymore? You know, the guy who looks like Jack Skellington with hentai tentacles? This whole character, which was created as a creepypasta internet meme (Basically just scary images you find from weird people online), lost relevance back when I first heard of what it was in 2012. (It was created in 2009) Then there was that whole stabbing in 2014 with those young girls, and then even just talking about it made people uncomfortable. (There was even a documentary some time ago) I know people really wanted to get this made, but it doesn't seem to be something anyone these days actually cares about. All you can really hope for in this case is that it's scary......or at least ends up as a completed film.

 "Slender Man" follows a group of young friends, "Hallie" (Julia Goldani Telles), "Wren" (Joey King), "Chloe" (Jaz Sinclair), and "Katie" (Annalise Basso), hanging out one night. They decide to screw around with dark forces  (Just like I assume all teen girls tend to do.) Hearing about the legend of "The Slender Man" (Javier Botet), a well dressed supernatural being without a face, the girls decided to summon him through the internet by watching some kind of psychedelic video full of weird images. Nothing happens and the girls move on with their lives. However, they all start to experience disturbing dreams, see odd images and hallucinations, and of course, get quick glimpses of the Slender Man. Katie mysteriously vanishes, causing Hallie, Wren, and Chloe to try to investigate her disappearance, discovering more videos of Slender Man sightings on her computer. Hoping to maybe rescue her from the Slender Man's evil clutches, the girls try to bargain with him, only to discover that he wants all of them for his own despicable purposes. Now he proceeds to haunt the girls, drive them insane, and eventually take them to wherever the Hell he takes his victims.  

 Hope you enjoyed a lot of those kooky shots from the trailer to "Slender Man" (Like crazy girl with bloody mouth, people writing weird messages, and girl stabbing herself in the eye), because there are many scenes missing from this movie. It's a complete mess actually, with some bizarrely edited moments and the feeling of missing content, which can be felt throughout the entire movie. Directed with such a gloomy, gray feel, I get the idea of what the filmmakers were going for, trying to add some atmosphere and a little bit of a creep factor to the look of the film. However, the movie itself is so uninteresting and generic, that it all leaves you bored, with absolutely nothing scary in the slightest. (Unless you like that jump scare music blaring every time someone walks by.) The film follows a predictable plotline that you've seen many times before, with the missing sequences making the film confusing as Hell, such as characters just ceasing to exist, subplots getting dropped before they begin, and a lack of information on our actual monster. The movie only briefly gets into the lore behind the Slender Man, barely even referencing the impact he's had on young people and the internet. 

 Some of the acting is solid enough, with Julia Goldani Telles being the one to carry most of the movie, and doing the best she can possibly do with what's given. Joey King, who is way too good an actress for this, plays the one who loses it the most, and does a great job playing crazy. (She needs to stop being in so many bad horror movies lately) Jaz Sinclair also does a fine enough job until she stops being relevant. (Um, what happened to her? Did they ever actually clarify that?) Javier Botet is stuck with lame looking effects, but has this sort of creep factor that leaves a sinister presence. It does feel like a bit of a waste of potential with how little they do with this villain, especially with how much the character has had an effect over the years online. There are moments when they play up his look, such as him simply appearing in the background and just watching people, but it's rare and becomes almost irrelevant when it all goes into typical PG-13 horror movie territory. 

 "Slender Man" is the incomplete, awkwardly constructed, undead remains of an already pretty basic collection of  clichés, that doesn't even appear to have a proper ending. Instead of leaving you scared and traumatized by the horrors you witnessed, once the movie stops, you're left with the urge to yell "That's it?". It feels like they either ran out of ideas, money in the budget, or just plain ran out of time to shoot, because the film ends in such a strange, almost nonchalant manner, you gotta wonder just how much was cut from the film. (And for what purpose? If anything, it ruined the narrative). You get some flashy imagery and moments pf where this possibly could of been salvaged. The movie doesn't seem to want to do much of that though in favor of taking the lazy route, which after something as scary (And memorable) as "Hereditary", just feels even more insulting. Maybe now we can bury "Slender Man" for good. Died from Incompetence, and other natural causes.  1 star. Rated PG-13 For Spooky Images And Sharp Dressed Demons.

The Meg                                                                          by James Eagan                                          ★★½ OUT OF ★★★★

Image result for the meg movieImage: "Shut up, Meg."

 What do people love? What have people always loved? When it comes to movies, there are a couple types of films that audiences will just never truly get tired of. They love their giant monster movies and they love their crazy shark movies. So why don't we just take both of those types of movies, put it in a blender, and give the audience what they paid for? 

 "The Meg" opens with rescue diver, "Jonas Taylor" (Jason Statham) being forced to abandon a few people during a disastrous mission, which appeared to of been caused by some kind of giant, monstrous being. Years later, we cut to a underwater research facility, run by "Dr. Minway Zhang" (Winston Chao) and funded by rich dick, "Jack Morris" (Rainn Wilson), who are on a mission to dive deep into the ocean to explore what's down there. Of course, something terrible happens when their mini-sub vanishes, along with Jonas' ex wife, "Lori" (Jessica McNamee). Due to possibly sighting the same sort of creature that matches the description previously provided by Jonas, Zhang and Jonas' old friend, "Mac" (Cliff Curtis) go off to track him down and bring him to the facility. Jonas, with help from Zhang's pretty (And totally single) daughter, "Suyin" (Li Bingbing), techies "Jaxx" (Ruby Rose) and "DJ" (Page Kennedy), and the rest of their gang of edible characters, proceed with the rescue mission. While down below, they discover the monster Jonas had claimed to of seen before, revealed to be a Megaladon, aka "The Meg". When the Meg finds it's way further up into the ocean, setting it's sights on eating everything and everyone in it's path, it's up to our heroes to track it down and send it Hell. (Look, in a situation like that, screw animals rights. That thing could eat my whole apartment!) 

 Based on an apparent book that exists, "Meg: A Novel of Deep Terror", and took years to finally see the light of day, "The Meg" does exactly what you would expect, but just happens to have competence behind it. From Director Jon Turteltaub, the movie is full of ridiculousness and knows it. It embraces that aspect, while at least dialing it back just enough due to the filmmakers also trying to make an actual movie out of it. Not to say the many times the film slows down for character work always gels with the already insane tone already set up. However, you gotta give credit to the filmmakers for at least trying to make us care, while providing a funny line or two every now and then. The movie itself looks good (Especially in IMAX), with a very slick style and a few cool action scenes. (The film was also made by a Chinese film company, and panders to that audience hilariously.) 

 Jason Statham is pretty perfectly cast here, getting to show a little humanity and even a sense of humor. (Did you see "Spy"? He was hilarious in that.) Li Bingbing is stuck with the basic love interest role, even if they give her a bit more to do. Rainn Wilson is having a ton of fun, getting some of the funnier moments, with the underutilized Cliff Curtis mostly just getting to make some quips. The biggest scene stealer comes from Shuya Sophia Cai (as "Meiying", Suyin's precocious daughter), who is a delightfully, adorable little actress that has a few sweet moments with Jason Statham, and just ends up being charming as Hell. As for the Meg itself, it's a cool design, with the scope of the monstrous creature engulfing the screen, making up for the fact that the effects are fine, but mediocre compared to what you've seen in other films like this. It's not quite scary, but it does have a certain intimidating presence to it. 

 "The Meg" is the goofy monster movie that's been advertised, full of cheesy one liners, dumb science, and some awesomely stupid images that should should draw applause from anyone looking for a big budgeted B-Movie. In terms of other popcorn munching monster flicks this year (Like "Pacific Rim: Uprising" and "Rampage"), it does feel a bit less memorable, though it is certainly better made than say any of the "Sharknado" movies. Came to see Jason Statham growl and take on a giant shark? That's exactly what you get. 2 1/2 stars. Rated PG-13 For Sharky Jump Scares And Delicious Beachgoers Getting Chomped Good. (Though As Bloodlessly As Possible. PG-13 After All.)

Dog Days               by James Eagan           ★★★ OUT OF ★★★★

Image result for dog days 2018 movieImage: Hey! That looks just like my Chihuahua! I better give Vanessa Hudgens my number.

 This should be one of those quick, over and done with reviews. Not that there isn't anything to recommend or anything like that. It's just when you're not really the demographic for something, but still realize that in the end, it's just too cute to dislike. 

 "Dog Days" follows a series of people in Las Angeles, whose stories consist of romance, drama, family values, and of course, dogs. We have talk show host, "Elizabeth" (Nina Dobrev) getting cheated on by her boyfriend and moving out with her dog, only to get into a relationship with her new co-host, "Jimmy" (Tone Bell). There's "Tara" (Vanessa Hudgens) volunteering at a doggie adoption group, pining for dreamy vet, "Mike" (Michael Cassidy), despite the dorky head of the group, "Garrett" (Jon Bass) being actually interested in her. Then we got slacker "Dax" (Adam Pally) being forced to take care of the slobbering dog belonging to his sister, "Ruth" (Jessica St. Clair) and her husband, "Greg" (Thomas Lennon). And last but not least, we also got young teen, "Tyler" (Finn Wolfhard) befriending lonely old man, "Walter" (Ron Cephas Jones), while searching for his chubby Pug, who has ended up in the hands of married couple, "Grace" (Eva Longoria) and "Kurt" (Rob Corddry), trying to connect with their newly adopted daughter. Soon all the stories somewhat intertwine, connecting mostly due to their themes, and just to tug at your heartstrings. I mean, everyone with a soul loves dogs right?  

 Directed by Ken Marino (Who you might recognize from "Children's Hospital"), "Dog Days" is similar to those weird holiday based romantic comedies by the late Garry Marshall ("Valentine's Day", "New Year's Eve", and "Mother's Day"), in which it's just following very sitcom-esque storylines that don't have many real surprises. We get some forced conflict and misunderstandings, along with predictable outcomes you see coming the second you saw the trailer. Luckily, the film makes up for these many tropes in favor of some good laughs, charming actors, and a ton of genuine heart. It's almost an onslaught of heartfelt fluffiness that's damn near too much to handle, with the film shoving cute puppies in your face constantly. 

 The ensemble cast all do well with a script smart enough to know what it is, and capable enough to know when to dial back the schmaltz and let them just be natural. The storyline with Nina Dobrev and Tone Bell is easily the weakest, with little actual interest aside from solid chemistry and the fact she's thoroughly cute. Vanessa Hudgens is wonderfully sweet, with Jon Bass (Previously seen as the annoying chubby guy in "Baywatch) coming across really likable. We get some pretty funny stuff from Adam Pally, Thomas Lennon, and Jessica Lowe (as "Amy", Elizabeth's friend with a cutesy voice). The best storyline comes from Finn Wolfhard and Ron Cephas Jones, along with a lovable Eva Longoria and Rob Corddry. It's a plotline you've seen before, but it's sweet natured, leading to an obvious outcome that's emotional and well done.

 When it comes to emotion, "Dog Days" shockingly works. It's nothing original or exactly something I say you should rush off to the theater to see. The usual romantic comedy trappings are there, though when the film calms down and simply lets the heart (And the dogs) do the talking, it's hard not to find something to like about it. By the end, it's about how these lovable, fluffy animals can bring us together, and how much of an impact they have overall. What can I say? It made me wag my tail a little. Rated PG For Some Suggestive Content. (Honestly, This Got Away With A Bit More Than I Expected.)

Death of a Nation                                                 by James Eagan                                    NO STARS OUT OF ★★★★

Related imageImage: "Show Me What You Got!"

 ...........No.

 "Death of a Nation" is a documentary-ish film, starting with actor portrayals of the suicides of "Adolf Hitler" and "Eva Braun", with Hitler blowing his brains out and Braun taking some pills which make her cough and die. (Although she is still clearly breathing afterwards. Maybe it just made her really sleepy.) After that, esteemed, recently pardoned criminal and filmmaker, Dinesh D'Souza (Best known for his many propaganda films and for making illegal campaign contributions in 2014), sits us down to make a fair, balanced, thoughtful argument about how America as we know it could be on the brink of collapse and the only true savior could be former host of "The Celebrity Apprentice", stereotypical privileged billionaire, and living dried up pumpkin, "Donald Trump" (Also, he's our current president for some reason). You see, D'Souza is going to explain how old Trumpie is actually just like beloved president (And Daniel Day-Lewis lookalike), "Abraham Lincoln". At least, I think that's what the intention was. Really, he just spends the whole movie talking about how Democrats are all actually racist Nazi lovers, how Hitler was a Democrat, and how we should all come together as one America.....except for Democrats.....who are evil. 

 We'll get into politics a bit later because right now I have a job to do. Film critic first, so I'll have to say what's wrong with this movie as an actual movie. To be honest, it's kind of hard to do. Aside from the fact that I rarely review documentaries, it's hard to truly classify this as a movie. It's more of a strange, rage filled fever dream, that has no idea what it's actually mad about and who's only argument is the hour and forty minute equivalent of "I know you are, but what am I?" D'Souza doesn't reveal any counterarguments against people calling Donald Trump racist or how the Republican party seemingly allow bigotry to run the party, but instead just says that Democrats are the racist ones, without actually showing any proof and just telling you to take his word for it. You can't even really even consider it a documentary either because the movie relies on dramatizations to show its so called facts, which are all filled with horrible actors doing silly voices and accents. (When I review a documentary, I never thought I would have to talk about the acting!) 

 Then there's the interviews themselves, which just seem off. Usually a film is meant to provide you with a name and description of who these people are and what they have done. However, D'Souza only gives vague descriptions and talks to them in a way that almost sounds rehearsed. (Complete with dramatic pauses, constant quick cuts, and little actual debate.) The closest the film actually gets to an actual conversation is when he interviews Alt-Right, white supremacist, living cartoon man, "Richard Spencer". Even then, the entire talk just consists of D'Souza trying to convince Spencer that he is actually a Democrat, instead of asking him the first question any person actually trying to get to the bottom of something would ask. ("Why do you gravitate towards Donald Trump?") The proof and facts provided are also vague, with D'Souza saying things are happening instead of showing them, such as saying Hitler's writings are similar to that of major Democrats, or that the Democrats in reality loved them some Hitler, but bailed when public opinion turned against him, then instead pretended that they didn't like him. (Conspiracies. Gotta love them.) 

 Come to think of it, Donald Trump and Abraham Lincoln are barely even in the damn movie. They both vanish for long periods of time, with D'Souza only bringing up Trump to say all allegations (Whether it be criminal or sexual assault) are all fake because he says so, or saying they are like each other because Democrats were the racist, slave owners back during the days of the Civil War. (Which they were, granted. But you all already know this. You learned that when you were like 12.) However, when confronting the accusation that the racists switched sides at some point (Such as the Klan supporting Donald Trump, Republicans defending the Confederate flag, or at least, trying to make the Confederacy not look like they were all horribly in the wrong), all he has to say is that it isn't true. No proof given. Just him saying, "No, you're wrong." (This brings up a good question. If people constantly point out to me that the Democrats were the southern slave owners back in the day, why are Republicans always the ones trying to demonize them less or even defend their actions more than Democrats?)

 As a movie, it's sloppy, unfocused, poorly crafted, and made with little intention to teach. Instead, it's angry, mean spirited, lazy, and thoroughly stupid. Before anyone starts calling me some biased, Kool-Aid drinking Liberal, allow me to explain something. I wasn't raised politically. Yeah, my dad always yelled at the radio, while my mom blissfully couldn't give a crap. But I wasn't told to follow anyone or told to stick to one specific party. I was allowed to simply get invested into politics whenever I chose to. It was around when Donald Trump first made the claim that Obama was a Kenyan Muslim, and the fact that nobody on the right seemed to care about what he was saying, or in some cases, believed it themselves. The whole time I was thinking to myself "Why is this man getting praised for this?, "Why are the Republicans rallying around him?", and "What in God's name is going on here?". Those are the questions that should of been asked, but D'Souza doesn't care. He's just here to tell you about some evil Democrats, the deep state keeping him down, and that it's okay to support racist (Or at least racist sounding things) that normally we should be angry at, but because it's Trump, its ok. Politically, "Death of a Nation" is full of crap, and intentionally so. As a movie, it's scum. No stars. Rated PG-13 For That Horrifying Poster Art. 

The Darkest Minds                                                 by James Eagan                                         ★½ OUT OF ★★★★

Image result for the darkest minds movieImage: Thanos' finger snap claims yet another. 

 Aw, this movie is adorable. It really is. I mean, they set it all up, borrowing from everything else, playing it all as safe as possible, while hinting at something bigger. They leave it all open for more. For the millions of fans who....never showed up. Yeah, you're not getting a sequel. Sorry. That's the business. 

 "The Darkest Minds" opens with a strange, worldwide disease has been kill random children, while the survivors are instead given strange new abilities, ranging from increased intelligence to superhuman powers. "Ruby Daly" (Amanda Stenberg) also has a new ability, which causes her to manipulate the minds of anyone she touches, having discovered this after accidentally erasing her from her parents' memories. Now Ruby is stuck inside a military camp, where "President Gray" (Bradley Whitford) has the children sent to, claiming to cure them like he seemingly did his own son, "Clancy" (Patrick Gibson). In reality, the camp separates the kids by colors (Such as blue, green, and orange), indicating who is labeled as most dangerous (And the ones they want to kill). Ruby as it turns out is an "Orange" (One of the dangerous ones), but is able to hide that from the villains.

 Sometime later, Ruby is later broken out by a doctor, "Cate Connor" (Mandy Moore), who is actually part of a resistance known as "The League", who intends to fight back against the government. Ruby eventually finds out there might be some issues with The League, running away and bumping into a trio of travelers, such as the hunky love interest, "Liam" (Harris Dickinson), the genius comic relief, "Chubs" (Skylan Brooks), and the little, electrical powered "Zu" (Miya Cech). The group lets Ruby join them in searching for another resistance group, that's instead run by other uniquely powered kids, while avoiding the ones after them, including bounty hunter, "Lady Jane" (Gwendoline Christie).

 To be fair, compared to many of the Sci-Fi YA novel turned into films, "The Darkest Minds" doesn't have the same annoyance factor that something such as "Divergent", "The 5th Wave" or "The Host" had. It just does everything you would expect it to do, with ideas that you've seen both better and worse in other franchises, from "The Hunger Games", The Maze Runner", and the most obvious one being "X-Men" (I thought it was one of those straight to DVD ripoffs the first time I saw the trailer). Based on some book your pre-teen daughter has possibly heard of and directed by Jennifer Yuh Nelson (Who did "Kung Fu Panda 2" and "Kung Fu Panda 3"), who does add a moment of flair every once in a while. But the film itself is so basic and cheap looking, with most of the budget going to certain powers. The story follows predictable beats, such as our apocalyptic romance, evil organizations, needlessly complicated details, with obvious reveals and absolutely no originality whatsoever. 

 Amanda Stenberg (Who I instinctively keep wanting to simply call "Rue", from "The Hunger Games"), is continuing her trend of being a much, much better actress than the material she's given. She's trying her absolute best here, as is Harris Dickinson and Skylan Brooks, who all seem like they could turn into solid actors. Everyone is just stuck with a cruddy script, lame characters, and an obligation to go through the typical character moments that are expected of this genre. Meanwhile, Mandy Moore (Only in it briefly at the start and at the end), Gwendoline Christie (Who just stops existing in the movie at some point), and especially poor Bradly Whitford (Who's entire storyline happens offscreen aside from a cameo) have nothing to do aside from attempting to add a bit more recognizability to the cast. 

 "The Darkest Minds" is not as bad as many other movies like it, mostly thanks to actors showing more talent than the movie itself deserves and the fact that you just don't care enough about what's going on. Once we get to the mandatory cliffhanger ending, it comes across as more laughable, because you just don't give a crap about anything that was set up. Not to mention, you know you're never going to see the continuing adventures of these characters on the big screen ever again. (You want your sequel? Read a book) It's just trying to reignite something that to be honest, died out a while ago. R.I.P. "End of the World" YA Novel genre.1 1/2 stars. Rated PG-13 For Dystopian Violence, Rapey Villains, And Terrible Contact Lenses. 

The Spy Who Dumped Me                                     by James Eagan                                            ★½ OUT OF ★★★★

Image result for the spy who dumped meImage: "Don't shoot! I'll change my review!"

 Bad comedies can leave different kinds of impacts on you. You will either be left unfazed, without much recollection of what you just watched. There's the major ones that leave horrific impacts on you, that will leave you pissed, annoyed, and in just a bad mood. And then there's this movie, that just leaves you really, really sad.

 "The Spy Who Dumped Me" follows the wacky antics of best friends, "Aubrey" (Mila Kunis) and "Morgan" (Kate McKinnon). Aubrey has recently been dumped by her boyfriend, "Drew" (Justin Theroux), with Morgan being the one to comfort her. Next thing Aubrey realizes, she's abducted by a couple of spies, such as the future love interest, "Sebastian" (Sam Heughan) and the dickish "Duffer" (Hasan Minhaj), who reveal to Aubrey that Drew is a spy and is being hunted down by a terrorist organization, with evil plans for the world. Aubrey and Morgan bump back into Drew, who gives Aubrey a flash drive with important plot device information before he's killed by the bad guys. Now Aubrey and Morgan are on the run to Europe, avoiding villains and assassins such as the killer ballerina "Nadedja" (Ivanna Sakhno), as well as CIA, MI6, and all those big name agencies who want the flash drive, while retaining their BFF status. 

 Directed and Co-Written by Susanna Fogel, "The Spy Who Dumped Me" is essentially the wrong way to go of what made that hilarious, Paul Feig/Melissa McCarthy collaboration, "Spy" from a few years ago. The movie has the same style of humor, with a shockingly dark, violent edge that can be a very dangerous route to tread with comedies, and when it doesn't work, it ends up just being kind of uncomfortable. The laughs are few, with some of them mostly just hitting their mark because the actors are good. And with how grisly the film is, the tone ends up just being all over the place. It doesn't help that the movie is nearly two hours long, paced poorly, and not funny enough to compensate. It sucks because the whole time you can see where this could of gone right, whether it be with the people involved or the idea itself that, while it's been done before, surely should be able to get a few good laughs out of you.

 Mila Kunis and Kate McKinnon are still giving it their all, even with the weak script. McKinnon in particular is better than the material given, getting a couple weird laughs every now and then. The two of them somehow still are better than what's provided, yet even they can't make it truly work. Justin Theroux tries his absolute best, but doesn't have anything to work with in his rather brief appearance. The romantic subplot with Sam Heughan is pointless, Ivanna Sakhno is odd and creepy and not much else, while Jane Curtin and Paul Reiser (as Morgan's parents) pop up for a second to do nothing funny. The funniest moments come from Hasan Minhaj, who gets a few funny reactions and enjoyably dickish lines, and Gillian Anderson (as "Wendy", Sebastian and Duffer's stern superior), who doesn't get much to do, but at least looks really lovely and has one of those really attractive proper British accents (It's my weakness.)

 "The Spy Who Dumped Me" doesn't do it's pacing problems any favors with how predictable it's plotting is, with every twist and turn being obvious, including a major one towards the end that makes absolutely no sense. If it were funny enough, nobody would care about the predictable plotting. But when your laughs come so rarely and when you can feel how unnecessary much padding there is, it all ends up just becoming a bore, with the audience left wondering when they can just go home. A comedy is supposed to make you laugh till you cry, not just make you cry for it all to just stop. 1 1/2 stars. Rated R For Strong Language, Violence, And Secret Female Hiding Places.