In Theaters: Hillbilly Elegy, The Croods: A New Age, Fatman, Jingle Jangle: A Christmas Journey, Run, Freaky, The Informer, After We Collided, Friendsgiving, The Witches, Borat Subsequent Moviefilm, The Trial of the Chicago 7, The War With Grandpa, Ava, Enola Holmes, Antebellum
Coming Soon: Mank, Superintelligence, Songbird, Ma Rainey's Black Bottom, Greenland, Wonder Woman 1984, Soul, Monster Hunter, Promising Young Woman
★★★½: Very Good
★★½ : Eh
★★: Could've Been Worse, Could've Been Better
★½: Is It Too Late To Get A Refund?
★: Hope You Have A Good Date
½: Little To No Redeeming Value
No Stars: Rethink Your Life Choices
Hillbilly Elegy by James Eagan ★ ½ out of ★★★★
Image: ""I'M supposed to win the Oscar!" "...."No, I'M supposed to win It!"
How does one have Oscar bait when there might not be an Oscars this upcoming year? Granted, it still doesn't help when you really don't deserve to win anything. At all.
Based on the memoir of the same name by "JD Vance" (Portrayed by Owen Asztalos as a child, then by Gabriel Basso as an adult), "Hillbilly Elegy" follows JD as he temporarily leaves Yale Law School and his girlfriend, "Usha" (Frieda Pinto), to return to his Northern Kentucky home after getting a phone call from his sister, "Lindsay" (Haley Bennett). Lindsay informs JD that their mother, "Beverly" (Amy Adams), has overdosed on heroin and is in the hospital. Throughout the film, we see JD during his youth as he struggles with his emotionally abusive mother, troubled living conditions, and his eventual time living with his wise old, "Mamaw" (Glenn Close).
Directed by Ron Howard (THE Ron Howard), with a screenplay by Vanessa Taylor ("The Shape of Water"), "Hillbilly Elegy" has the makings of a good, inspiring melodrama, complete with high caliber actors, an acclaimed director, and an American based story that the Academy usually goes nuts over. All the ingredients are there. Unfortunately though,the final product is not only not up to the task, but it also seems to have the delusional idea that it actually is. It's one thing for a movie to not be very good. It's another for it to feel as if it's great despite not actually doing anything worth much praise. Maybe some mockery perhaps, but nothing praise worthy. For such a good director that Ron Howard can be, the movie feels detached and oddly underwhelming, even with the overly sweeping score and in your face "insightful" screenplay, which can't balance tone to save its own life. Where it mostly falters is how the story is told, with the present being used as a framing device and everything else being told in flashback, though still at times out of order. The story rushes through most of the events, seemingly hoping that either the actors can make it work, but the emotions aren't there. It's more annoying than inspiring, and it shouldn't have to be.
Amy Adams, who has been one of the greatest actresses working today, proves that everyone can have their off days. It's not entirely her fault, due to the inconsistent script. Either way, she overplays her performance, especially when the character is going through a rage-filled explosion. It's too over the top, and it ruins the sincerity of the film's more tender moments. Glenn Close, who in a way might still be overdoing it, at least does so in a more natural way. (Granted, the admittedly solid makeup helps) She gets some good lines to go with the more corny ones, and even though she could be seen as a stereotype, she at least feels real. Owen Asztalos doesn't have much range, while Gabriel Basso fairs a bit better, though Frieda Pinto, while charming (And very pretty), doesn't get much to do. The best performance to me comes from Haley Bennett, who aside from the excellent job done to make her look like a teenager at one point, then again as an adult, feels much more genuine than anyone else.
"Hillbilly Elegy" is a story that warrants telling, with a focus on an aspect of our country that some feel is overlooked. However, the movie when you get down to it, doesn't actually do it any real justice. It's so blandly done, and fails to keep your attention. It's forgettable schlock to say the least, though the possible award recognition it may or may not get (I know I'm not the only who can see the Academy wrongfully finding way to get this movie some nominations) makes it a little bit more infuriating. With the odds of an Oscars show seeming more unlikely than ever, a movie that doesn't really know the meaning of the word "Humble", shouldn't be given a participation trophy. 1 1/2 Stars. Rated R For Strong Language, Mamaws Being Mamaws, And Too Many Accents To Count.
The Croods: A New Age by James Eagan ★★★ ½ out of ★★★★
Image: "Don't make me make any Crood remarks!"
From "DreamWorks Animation", 2013's "The Croods" was a surprise success both financially and critically, being the kind of lighthearted family film for all ages. Despite this, it kind of faded from memory, didn't it? I know there's a little Netflix show, but even then, nobody talks about it. So to see a sequel, even one with many delays, getting an actual theatrical release (During a pandemic too!) was a bit of a surprise. It's also a bit of a welcome one.
"The Croods: A New Age" reunites us with the prehistoric family of cavepeople, "The Croods". Led by the traditional father, "Grug" (Nicolas Cage), the rest of the strange family is made up of his wife, "Ugga" (Catherine Keener), the rebellious daughter, "Eep" (Emma Stone), the dimwitted son, "Thunk" (Clark Duke), the rabid daughter, "Sandy" (Kailey Crawford), the demented grandmother, "Gran" (Cloris Leachman), and Eep's boyfriend, "Guy" (Ryan Reynolds), along with their pets, an alligator-dog, "Douglas", their giant cat creature, "Chunky", and Guy's sloth belt named uh, "Belt". The Croods continue to struggle to survive the harsh landscapes and out of this world animal hybrids. However, Grug fears change is just over the horizon, with Eep and Guy planning to leave the pack to spend their lives together. The Croods end up discovering a mysterious wall that leads to a utopia, filled with food, safety, and a new, more advanced family known as the "Bettermans".
The Bettermans, made up of "Phil" (Peter Dinklage), his wife, "Hope" (Leslie Mann), and daughter, "Dawn" (Kelly Marie Tran), are old family friends of Guy, and welcome the cavepeople into their homes, though make many passive aggressive comments the entire time (And demand that nobody eat their bananas). Turns out the Croods are a little out of place in the newer, so called civilized society, with Phil and Hope determined to get rid of the Croods, believing Guy belongs with them. The two families are slowly pitted against one another, though a looming threat to all of them forces everyone to come together in the end.
"The Croods: A New Age" takes a fairly predictable, sitcom-esque plotline, but both has fun with it, and makes sure to keep the fast pace moving with a great cast, candy-like animation, and some really good humor. The movie doesn't avoid clichés, at all really. However, it's not like it's a bad formula to be honest. It's a classic family dynamic story, and while you don't get make surprises, the message is always going to be relevant. The gorgeous visuals are one of the major selling points. The first film was beautifully crafted, but this one is on an entire different level. The scope is grander, the colors are vibrant, and the world on display feels entirely real. The fast moving animation also makes for some well timed physical comedy, which is mixed with plenty of great visual gags and mile a minute dialogue.
While Nicolas Cage struggles to contain the urge to regress into his caveman-like lifestyle, one can't deny how perfectly cast he is here. Peter Dinklage is also a standout, with his awesome voice fitting his character's noticeably passive and pretentious mannerisms. Ryan Reynolds sounds like he's having a great time, while Emma Stone is charming as ever even when it's just her voice. The rest of the cast, such as Leslie Mann, Catherine Keener, Clarke Duke, and especially the still very lovable Kelly Marie Tran, all do excellent work. However, the funniest moments come from Cloris Leachman, who just shows up to say and do weird stuff, with her randomness repeatedly catching me off guard. Another scene-stealer comes in the form of the dreaded "Punch Monkeys" (Some violent apes, who only communicate by punching things), with the animation's eye for good old fashioned slapstick really shining through. The animators just looked like they were having an absolute blast with these characters.
"The Croods: A New Age" is one of the few films getting a theatrical release at the moment, and while I can't exactly say that families should risk their lives to see it right now (Especially since we're spiking with Covid cases yet again. Remember when we were told that this was all a hoax? In March?), it's still something that has plenty to offer all ages. From gloriously lively animation, the memorable characters, sweet messages, and too many big laughs to count. It's just a good time for the entire family if they're looking for some solid escapism that anyone can connect with. What's more relatable than a caveman Nicolas Cage? 3 1/2 Stars. Rated PG For Cartoon Violence, Kill Circles, And Sadistic Simians.
Fatman by James Eagan ★★ out of ★★★★
Image: Oh well, Jewish people weren't getting Christmas presents anyway.
To say that this is a weird premise is putting things lightly. Completely asinine? Psychologically deranged? In bad taste? Mean spirited? Bad for anyone in a ten mile radius? Just like Mel Gibson!
"Fatman" follows the not so holly, jolly titular fat man himself, "Chris Cringle" (Mel Gibson), a.k.a. "Santa Clause", who has lost some of his Christmas spirit over the years. Chris, along with his wife, "Ruth" (Marianne Jean-Baptiste), have come to realize that children today are naughtier than ever, which leaves the Christmas icon unable to keep his workshop profitable, meaning that he can't pay his bills. So to make more money, Chris decides to outsource to the United States military, building components for their new fighter jets. Meanwhile, after getting a lump of coal as a present due to his ruthless nature, a spoiled rich boy, "Billy Wenan" (Chance Hurstfield), demands vengeance on the fat man. So Billy hires his hitman, known only as the "Skinny Man" (Walton Goggins), who also happens to have a personal vendetta against Chris, to hunt down the man in red and kill him. Following the letters to Santa, the Skinny Man makes his way to the North Pole to fulfill his contract, while Chris tries to keep his elves and his workshop running despite their new objective.
From first time directors, Eshorn and Ian Nelms (Who also wrote the screenplay), "Fatman" is an intentionally stupid premise where the humor of the film is meant to come from said stupidity being taken completely seriously. To make something like this work requires a lot of talent and the ability to expertly balance the clear incompatible genres. It's not impossible to make a really dark comedy like this work. However, it's just very noticeable and more disappointing when it doesn't. The film never does quite figure how to bring everything all together, with the various ideas failing to mesh. It's really all that funny, and much too slow paced (And self serious) to get enough stupid laughs out of. It's also well, too freakin stupid to take seriously.
Mel Gibson, say what you will about him both mentally and morally (Mostly morally), does somehow deliver a pretty solid performance here, He encompasses those traditional Santa mannerisms, along with an action hero gruffness. Chance Hurstfield does a good job playing an evil little sh*t, while Walton Goggins as perfected the art of playing crazy. (He just has that kind of face) Marianne Jean-Baptiste is quite excellent in the film despite all the absurdity. She gives such a heartwarming, strong willed, and most of all, quietly compelling performance. There's also some fun to be had with Eric Woolfe (as "7", the head elf at Chris' workshop), and I feel like there are a few undercooked ideas involving the others elves, the reindeer, or anything else involving the Santa Clause legend that could have been ripe for action movie parody.
While there are a few good one liners here and there, "Fatman" is too tonally jumbled and bizarrely boring (Santa Mel Gibson is being hunted by Walton Goggins. How do you make that boring?). It never goes far enough with the over the top possibilities, and also appears to have too much dedication to trying to make what appears to be an ahem, "legit" movie. It's "Fatman"! Nobody wants you to take this seriously! Maybe something great could have been done with better direction or writing (Probably could have helped if the filmmakers had a bigger budget too), but the end result fails to register. It's a funny idea and sporadically, you can get a dumb laugh. Sadly, the only real comparison I can make for this movie would be a lump of coal in your stocking. That just wrote itself right there. 2 Stars. Rated R For Strong Language, Bloody Violence, And an Anti-Sematic Santa.
Jingle Jangle: A Christmas Journey by James Eagan ★★★ ½ out of ★★★★
Image: "So Megyn Kelly was wrong, Santa really is black?"
You know, when Netflix isn't going around, cancelling all of your favorite shows ("The Dark Crystal: Age of Resistance" was amazing, and you guys should be ashamed of yourselves! And what about "One Day at a Time?...Bastards.), they have been killing it for the most part not only when it comes to Oscar hopefuls, but also, they've been providing some surprisingly excellent family entertainment. With last year's Oscar winning "Klaus", along with this years "The Willoughbys" and "Enola Holmes", we might just have another instant family favorite.
"Jingle Jangle: A Christmas Journey" opens with a woman (Phylicia Rashad), telling her grandchildren a story on Christmas Eve. The tale follows fantastical inventor and toymaker, "Jeronicus Jangles" (Played by Justin Cornwell as a young man, then by Forest Whitaker), who is beloved by everyone and is currently on the verge of releasing his greatest invention yet, a sentient matador doll, "Don Juan Diego" (Voiced by Ricky Martin). However, Diego doesn't like the idea of being replicated due to narcissism, so he convinces Jeronicus' ambitious apprentice, "Gustafson" (Played by Miles Barrow as a young man, then by Keegan-Michael Key), to ahem, "borrow" Jeronicus' book of inventions. Jeronicus, distraught over the loss of his life's work, goes into a deep depression, leading to the loss of his confidence, and after the death of his wife, it also results in the estrangement to his daughter, "Jessica" (Played by Diaana Babnicova as a young girl, then by Anika Noni Rose). Years later, Jessica allows for her daughter, "Journey" (Madalen Mills), who also happens to be a gifted, aspiring inventor, to stay with her father up until Christmas is hopes of mending the broken relationship.
Meanwhile, Jeronicus is now a struggling washed up pawn shop owner, and has found himself unable to keep his shop open due to his lack of new inventions. While staying with Jeronicus, Journey discovers a failed invention from Jeronicus, a little flying robot called "The Buddy 3000", which comes to life through the power of belief. However, Gustafson, having become a renowned toymaker and also having gone through all of Jeronicus' stolen inventions, no longer has anything to present to the public. Working with Don Juan Diego, Gustafson schemes to get his hands on the Buddy, leaving it up to Journey to save the day and return Jeronicus' sense of wonder once more.
Released through Netflix and directed by David E. Talbert ("First Sunday"), "Jingle Jangle: A Christmas Journey" from a distance looks like one of those Netflix holiday movies that most of us just shrug off and ignore, seemingly only existing for the least demanding crowd who just want some kind of Christmas movie. I wasn't even planning to review it and simply starting watching it out of curiosity. However, moments into the film, it becomes apparent that there really is something quite magical about it. For something that doesn't have the biggest budget in the world, the film is beautiful to look at, feeling like one of those colorful miniature Christmas towns brought to life, with the world itself being a mix between fairy tale whimsy and elaborate steampunk (Stunningly created through solid CGI and some occasionally flawless stop motion). The film's vague explanation for exactly what it is or how the world works (Magic is possible, but also appears to be scientific at the same time. Plus Jeronicus basically created sentient life and nobody bats an eye), but that is something that is easy to forgive, especially when the logistics of this fantasy world are really unimportant in the grand scheme of things. It's all made up for how much life the world has to it, along with the obvious care and detail that's been given.
The soundtrack is also very unique and most shocking of all, very memorable. The film is actually a musical, with songs written by Phillip Lawrence, Davy Nathan, Michael Diskint, and John Legend, which is made up of various music styles, such as a "Broadway" inspiration infused with "R&B". Usually modern day musicals, especially those not distributed by a more well known company ("Disney" really has beaten everyone down, haven't they?), don't tend to get me to not only get invested in the music, but also openly seek out the soundtrack afterwards. There are some terrific songs in the movie, such as the showstopping opener, "This Day", the powerfully sung "Make It Work" (Which allows Anika Noni Rose a chance to show off her amazing voice), and my personal favorite, "Magic Man G" (Who doesn't love a good villain song?). It's a great cast, with Forest Whitaker giving a very sincere and heartfelt performance, along with a wonderful Madalen Mills, who just embodies charm. Keegan-Michael Key is both dastardly and villainous, along with Ricky Martin, who sounds like he's having a great time. There are also a couple likable side characters, such as Lisa Davina Phillip (as "Mrs. Johnston", Jeronicus' nosy/very horny for a kids movie neighbor) and Kieron L. Dyer (as "Edison", Jeronicus' biggest, nerdiest fan). Also, the Buddy 3000 is a pretty adorable, instantly marketable little creation (Even if he does look a little like "WALL-E").
Not without its flaws (There is a lot going on throughout this movie all at once), "Jingle Jangle: A Christmas Journey" would honestly be the most wholehearted movie I've seen all year. It embraces holiday cheer with the biggest smile you'll ever lay your eyes on, providing a fast, funny, totally magical possible soon to be family favorite that has plenty of heart to spare. It also making way for a new, more diverse audience to enjoy just so happens to be an added bonus (It's literally for everyone!). Considering we still have another month of 2020 to go, we could all use something that doesn't appear to have a remotely cynical bone in its body. 3 1/2 Stars. Rated PG For Christmassy Chaos And Child Endangerment.
Run by James Eagan ★★★ ½ out of ★★★★
Image: "Mommy already told you, no going to the movie theater until 2021!"
Only now after over seven months have I begun to get a grasp of the current situation at hand. Usually I base what movies are getting released by trailers and by constantly checking the "Box Office Mojo" release date schedule, then plan out what I'll be seeing accordingly, making changes if necessary. This year though, it's been impossible to know anything in advance, especially since movies just get dropped online without any fanfare. This time though, I've become prepared. Just check every streaming service. Odds are I'll find something. After taking a break from watching the "Animaniacs" reboot on "Hulu" (It's great by the way), I stumbled upon this.
"Run" follows teenage girl, "Chloe Sherman" (Kiera Allen) who, aside from being born premature (Which prompts her to use a wheelchair), suffers from a few diseases, and is homeschooled by her doting, but over-protective mother, "Diane" (Sarah Paulson). Recently, Chloe has begun to yearn for a chance to go to college, though her mother is wary of the possibility. However, Chloe only now has begun to question some of Diane's rules and choices. When she discovers some prescription pills seemingly written for her mother, Chloe starts to put together that things are not what they seem. As Chloe starts to unravel the disturbing mystery, Diane's true nature starts to become apparent, leading Chloe to find a way to escape her mother's grasp before she's sucked into and lost within her demented world for good.
Directed and co-written by Aneesh Chaganty (Who did the underappreciated "Searching" back in 2018), "Run" is essentially one of those crazy thrillers that one would normally either shrug off or seek out because of our need for outlandish popcorn entertainment with a hint of insanity. However, this time, there is more substance beneath the surface, and quite frankly, something pretty intense and subtly frightening. Chaganty's direction is close quartered, intentionally slower paced, and always intense. It's unrelenting in its suspense, keeping the audience on the edge of their seat (Or couch, depending on where you're streaming it from), and making what should usually make us feel both loved and safe, instead feel nightmarish and deadly.
The film's main focus is squarely on our leads. Kiera Allen is a compelling heroine that is both vulnerable and beyond tough, feeling capable even when seemingly held back by her current predicament. Sarah Paulson meanwhile makes good use of the scenery, coming across as loving and sincere one moment, then unhinged and terrifying the next without much warning. However, it never feels over the top, and that's the beauty of her performance. It's also what makes it so scary. The smart screenplay, which also adds a little bit of a quirky sense of humor to itself (It's something that would normally feel tonally off, but ends up adding to the anxiety), finds a way to balance what might seem somewhat ludicrous and keep it grounded in reality.
"Run" at times somewhat pushes the logistics, but even so, things never go too far. It still gives the audience the twisted thrills they desire, while also thankfully not feeling the need to go for schlock. It's the kind of movie that you turn on just to waste time and maybe get a good laugh out of it, believing it to be similar to one of those hilarious "Lifetime" movies, but end up shockingly sucked into it. It messes with your head and generates a good, post-Halloween scare. 3 1/2 Stars. Rated PG-13 For Disturbing Content, Pill Popping, And Smotherly Love.
Freaky by James Eagan ★★★ out of ★★★★
Image: It's always the cute ones you have to look out for.
The Slasher film, being a sub-category of the horror genre, is something that I personally never really could get into despite my growing appreciation for horror films, especially lately. Not that there aren't some good ones, but I don't find them particularly scary and see a lot of them as just mostly over the top. I believe that the future of this genre requires more of an understanding of the former and most of all, the embracing of latter in a more humorous fashion.
"Freaky" follows shy high school student, "Millie Kessler" (Kathryn Newton), who struggles after the death of her father, living with her widowed mother, "Paula" (Katie Finneran) and police officer sister, "Char" (Dana Drori). With Homecoming about to happen, a deranged, violent serial killer, known only as "The Blissfield Butcher" (Vince Vaughn) is on the loose, killing teenagers around town, having gotten his hands on an ancient dagger, and targeting Millie. After cornering Millie when she's alone, the Butcher proceeds to attack her and stabs her with the knife, though is prevented from killing her when the stabbing engages a ritual which causes the two to switch bodies. Now Millie, trapped in the body of the Butcher, works alongside her best friends, "Josh" (Misha Osherovich) and "Nyla" (Celeste O'Connor), to find a way to get back into her body. Meanwhile, with the real Butcher now in Millie's body, he can continue his murderous rampage without anyone being none the wiser. (Hey, nobody would suspect a cute little blond girl.) With only twenty-four hours to re-switch bodies, Millie and her friends have to stop the Butcher before it's too late.
Directed by Christopher Landon ("Happy Death Day", "Happy Death Day 2U), "Freaky" shows off more of the director's talents and keen eye for the genre, embracing the silliness that people love while also remembering to have some sick, twisted fun with it so cynical critics like me can also enjoy it. Something that really works about the film is how it never goes for parody. Sure it's more of a comedy and has more than a few sly winks to the audience (By this point, being self-aware of yourself is the only way we can accept certain played out tropes), but it still plays out like a legit horror movie, complete with ridiculous kills and an absurd amount of violence. It's smart enough to know what makes these movies work for hardcore fans, yet also tries to inject just a little more depth to it. The explanations for what causes the entire premise is vague, but that works in the film's favor since in the end, none of that is actually important at all. It's surprisingly character driven, with well written dialogue, and even when it can't escape some mild predictability, the film counteracts that with a little lighthearted sweetness (Something that the "Happy Death Day" movies also had). Underneath the gory body count, the film has heart in the right place.
Vince Vaughn is funnier here than he's been in a long time, in a performance that's first off, absolutely hilarious, but also quite sincere. Essentially having to play Millie for most of the film, the character remains charming and easy to love even in the body of a deranged killer. There's something also weirdly empowering about it as well, which is not something I would have expected going into this movie. Vaughn also shines as a somewhat scary villain to in the few scenes where we actually get to see it on full display. Meanwhile Kathryn Newton herself, who is always endearing and thoroughly adorable, ends up being quite menacing, playing a bloodthirsty maniac in the body of a young girl that also happens to be really small compared to everyone else. The supporting cast are also a joy to watch, with standouts including Celeste O'Connor, Uriah Shelton (as "Booker", Millie's longtime crush), and a scene-stealing Misha Osherovich.
Deconstructing the genre, but never in a mocking fashion,"Freaky" isn't something I would call a game-changer (Though it shows signs of it), and while the film pokes fun at the tropes that many of us have just gotten accustomed to over time, it also can't help but follow them almost to the letter. Then again though, that's what the fans want, and the film thankfully retains its natural charismatic quirkiness, creating a gloriously wild, blood soaked good time. It's the kind of film that laughs with its audience, while also giving them just what they asked for. This is probably what the future of the slasher genre is going to look like, and it's much better for it. 3 Stars. Rated R For Gallons Of Gore, Chainsaw Slaughtered Teenagers, And Why I Always Feared Being Left Alone In Wood Shop Class.
The Informer by James Eagan ★★ ½ out of ★★★★
Image: Fitting in the first day and making new friends is always the hardest
So this week we got what I like to call the perfect "Have it on in the background" movie. I genuinely mean that as a compliment.
"The Informer" follows a former soldier and convict, turned FBI informant, "Pete Koslow" (Joel Kinnaman), who is tasked by his superiors, "Erica Wilox" (Rosamund Pike) and "Montgomery" (Clive Owen), to infiltrate the Polish Mob's drug trade within New York. While trying to bring down the mob's leader, "Ryszard Klimek" (Eugene Lipinski), also known as "The General", a rookie undercover cop (Arturo Castro), ends up dead, resulting in bad business for everyone, and the FBI deciding the abandon Pete. To protect his wife, "Sofia" (Ana de Armas) and daughter, Pete is instructed to take the fall for the murder, being forced to serve jail time for the General, just so he can disrupt his operations from within prison for the FBI, who have every intention of screwing him over if it becomes necessary to do so. While Pete struggles to survive prison, an NYPD cop, "Edward Grens" (Common), begins to do some digging around, uncovering the ongoing federal conspiracy, working with Pete to protect his family from both his enemies and supposed allies long enough for him to get out of prison.
Directed by Andrea Di Stefano, "The Informer" is a predictable thriller, that doesn't exactly warrant a high recommendation, but if you have nothing better going on in your life at the moment (And especially if I compare it to "After We Collided"), this movie at least accomplishes, you know, being an actual movie. The movie looks good, with some solid enough action and genuine suspense despite the lack of actual surprises. It's also just oddly sloppy, with elements that don't mean much later on and focus being pulled in different directions than from where the plot seemed to be intended. The thing is that it's a little hard to figure out if that was intentional or not. I guess it's just a bit of a mess of a movie, that only serves to get the job done as quickly as possible, and yeah, it does actually.
Joel Kinnaman does a good job here, remaining complicated, but sympathetic and of course capable in a well done action scene. There are some actually excellent performances from some of the actors, such as Rosamund Pike (Who is overqualified for this) and Common (Regaining his natural charisma after losing it in "Ava"). Clive Owen can play a scumbag in his sleep, and obviously does a great job doing it. Eugene Lipinski is an intimidating presence, though his role diminishes as the film progresses, to the point he straight up vanishes halfway through. Ana de Armas is criminally underused however, being stuck in the sidelines as a damsel in distress. For the most part, there is just enough depth to most of the lead characters, which make them just barely enough of something worth getting invested in.
"The Informer" isn't a movie that sticks with you. It's also not a bad one by any means. There's enough to it to make for an entertaining distraction, but quite frankly, there just isn't enough to talk about. Watching it, whether it's on TV or rented, simply as a means of wasting a couple hours or while you just need some background noise, you at least get something competently made, though very flawed regardless. I'd say that this was just something to waste a little time before the bigger last minute Winter releases come out, but you know, Covid just won't let us have fun again just quite yet. And fun isn't allowed until 2021....Maybe. 2 1/2 Stars. Rated R For Strong Language, Violence, And Our Corrupt Officials At Work.
After We Collided by James Eagan ½ out of ★★★★
Image: "I promise, we'll never have to stoop so low for film work again."
There are many aspects about 2020 that happened that were completely out of our control. Some of us lost our jobs, financial stability, or others maybe even something more important. So much of what's made this year so bad, causing so much heartache and suffering were things that I'm sure many of us had no way of controlling. However, this right here could have been avoided. I know that. In a desperate move to find more movies to review for this site, I have done things that no man should ever have to do. I sought out the sequel to one of last year's worst movies (Which was based on a book that originated as overtly erotic One Direction fanfiction. I am not remotely joking about that!), and subjected myself to another hour and forty-five minutes of this. I asked for this torture, and now I must pay the price for it. About $6.
Following the events of "After" (Based on the book of the same name by Anna Todd), "After We Collided" opens exactly where we all expected the last film to go moments after it ended, with "Tessa Young" (Josephine Langford) and "Hardin Scott" (Hero Fiennes Tiffin), breaking up. (She's an easily corruptible blank slate looking to piss off mommy, and he's an emotionally unstable douchebag who gives off major homicidal stalker vibes) Tessa has moved on, getting her dream job at a publishing company, and appears to be doing well for herself, while Hardin wallows in self-pity, acts like a dick to everyone around him, and pines for Tessa 24/7. While out with her coworkers, including the oh so nerdy, "Trevor Matthews" (Dylan Sprouse), getting drunk at a nightclub, Tessa drunk dials Hardin, resulting in her ex coming over, and after some jealous rage, the two reconcile and do the wrap around butt grab. With Hardin's mother, "Trish" (Louise Lombard), comes to visit, Hardin has neglected to tell her about the break up, prompting he and Tessa to pretend they're still together, and yadda yadda yadda.....Look! Here's what happens. They pretend, fall back in love, there's stuff about Hardin having psychological issues, Tessa has her own problems, and I beg for the sweet, sweet release of death all throughout. Why did I do this to myself?
Directed by Roger Kumble ("Cruel Intentions", "Just Friends", "Furry Vengeance"....This is a perplexing filmography....), with Anna Todd co-writing the screenplay, "After We Collided" is no less melodramatic, ungodly boring, and as increasingly questionable as the first film, but this time things are much quirkier in the most random of places, more aggressively horny, and much more juvenile than ever before. The film, which has gone from a PG-13 to an R rating without warning (It took about ten F-Bombs, a shockingly detailed though nudity free sex scene, and more detailed sex talk for me to realize that something was off), goes out of its way to force its harsher rating, and the results are more obnoxious than anything. It's funny how the film wants to drive things over that edge, without going too much further than others in hopes of retaining the Young Adult audience, and if you ask me, that's actually kind of sick the more I think about it. It's bad enough already that I'm forced to watch a toxic relationship foolishly and stupidly try to explain itself. I thought we were done with "Fifty Shades of Grey"! We don't need a "Next Generation" version of it! There also seems to be more of a sense of humor this time around (Well, at least it looks like there is at times), with some goofier moments that feel as if they're meant to be intentionally funny, though don't even remotely get any chuckles. (It's actually much funnier when the film tries to be very serious.)
Josephine Langford totally Dakota Johnsons the best she can, looking like someone with possible acting talent, brought down by vile dialogue (Although a scene involving a cat fight at college party is particularly painful to watch). Hero Fiennes Tiffin shows very little signs of improvement, though I contribute most of the issue to his detestable character, who continues to be irritatingly whiny and occasionally creepy. Together, these two don't gel, and the characters themselves have no business being together, despite how much the movie seems to go out of its way to imply otherwise. One of those examples being Louise Lombard's character as a whole, who is meant to serve as the heart (And as a source of exposition), to Hardin's character. While she also seems to be trying, at times the character somewhat feels like she's enabling his character flaws, explaining it all away with a very heavy backstory, that doesn't feel remotely earned. It feels more like an excuse than anything. Candice King (as "Kimberly", a co-worker with Tessa) kind of drops in and out despite having a poorly placed subplot, Shane Paul McGhie (as "Landon", a friend to Tessa and Hardin) does nothing, and both Selma Blair (as "Carol", Tessa's revolting mother) and Dylan Arnold (as "Noah", Tessa's ex who has a little bit of an inappropriate relationship with Tessa's mother) return briefly to be some of the most bizarre movie characters I've seen in a long time. Also, the less said about Inanna Sarkis (as "Molly", the slutty girl who just wants to get into Hardin's pants), the better. The most enjoyable part of the entire film is easily Dylan Sprouse, who despite the film's attempts to turn him into a last second antagonist, still remains the most likable character in the entire movie. He at least gets some amusing lines and is more logical than anyone else here. (I honestly just feel more bad for him than anything)
Tonally off, painfully misguided, and worst of all, pretentiously slow paced, "After We Collided" crashes and burns in a fiery blaze, and not in one that's at least interesting to watch. Roger Kumble's direction is so lame and feels cheap, Anna Todd's screenplay makes a solid argument for one being banned from ever writing anything again, and the film's forced edginess is both laughable and just plain gross. I've also just learned that there are two more books, with the film adaptations being filmed back to back, meaning that we're only at the halfway point here! Halloween may have passed, but the thought alone is scarier than anything I have witnessed this year. Again though, I could have avoided this. In a way, I asked for it. 1/2 Star. Rated R For Excessive Use Of The Word F*ck, Nudity Free Yet Still Gratuitous Sex Scenes, Hardin's Ass, And For Being The Reason That Older People Think We've Lost Our Way.
Friendsgiving by James Eagan ★ ½ out of ★★★★
Image: Oh my God, there's gonna' be SO much COVID!
Is this why we never get Thanksgiving movies? Or why nobody ever actually promotes Thanksgiving? (We seem to go from Halloween to Christmas in less than twenty four hours after the kids stop trick or treating) I am very desperate to review movies lately.....
"Friendsgiving" follows two best friends on Thanksgiving Day, a now single mother "Molly" (Malin Åkerman), who has just had a divorce, and the only semi-recently come out of the closet, "Abby" (Kat Dennings), who went through a bad breakup. Molly and Abby agreed to spend the holiday together, but there end up being a few complications. Actually, there ends being a lot of complications, with some of them not really making much sense. Firstly, Molly neglected to tell Abby about her rebound lover, "Jeff" (Jack Donnelly), along with others starting to invite themselves over as well, including Molly's neglectful mother, "Helen" (Jane Seymour), another friend, "Lauren" (Aisha Tyler) and her husband, "Dan" (Dean Cole), Molly's ex, "Gunnar" (Ryan Hansen), their weird friend, "Claire" (Chelsea Peretti), some lesbians, and other annoying, forgettable characters. Too many people cramped together, some more passive than others, and our leads going through very stressful points in their lives, what could possibly go wrong?
Written and directed by first timer, Nicol Paone, with producing credits from Malin Åkerman and Ben Stiller, "Friendsgiving" is a very low budget, sitcom-esque, and basically plot-free comedy that would be more forgivable if there was, well, actually comedy in the comedy. It's not to say that there aren't humorous moments (Or at least moments that I think were meant to be funny), but most of the time it feels that there really isn't much of a script, with lots of meandering around and too much reliance on ad libbing. For such a short runtime, there are times where nothing is happening, and it slogs through a seemingly endless amount of padding to get the film just over an hour an a half (Every few scenes, the movie stops to show characters dancing or mingling around the party like if there were commercial breaks intended for those moments). The movie also can't seem to figure out what kind of comedy it wants to be, ranging from cartoonishly goofy, comedic with a little drama mixed in, somewhat raunchy, and at times, jarringly surreal.
The best part of the movie easily would be Malin Åkerman and Kat Dennings, especially when they're together. They have good chemistry together, get the funniest lines, and most importantly, unlike most of the cast, at least feel like real people. A lot of the others aren't very interesting or just plain aren't very likable, relying on running jokes that don't amount to anything or having one joke being their only character type. Aisha Tyler and Dean Cole have their moments (Sadly, they get sidelines for a lot of the movie), Chelsea Peretti shows up just to say and do weird things, and Jane Seymour appears to have made a second career out of appearing in bad movies (Ryan Hansen has too, come to think of it). There are also appearances from Wanda Sykes, Fortune Feimster, and Margaret Cho (Who appear as "Fairy Gay Godmothers" to Abby during a hallucinatory, Shroom fueled trip), that got a chuckle out of me just because of how random it is.
A movie like "Friendsgiving" would have at least been a little more fun in a crowded theater, full of drunk women during a Girl's Night Out. However, without the novelty of cackling and hollering women, it's just really boring. It's a movie that feels like someone removed the laugh track (Which would have helped me at least know what was meant to be funny), and serves only as a time waster in more ways than one. I had to review something this weekend, and this was all I could find on such short notice. Hopefully my actual Thanksgiving will be more enjoyable....Although considering the upcoming election, maybe more social distancing wouldn't be a bad idea. 1 1/2 Stars. Rated R For Language, Dirty Sexy Talk, And For Lesbian Terminology.
The Witches by James Eagan ★★ ½ out of ★★★★
Image: I got ninety-nine problems but a Witch ain't one.
Not gonna lie. The 1990 movie, "The Witches". I don't remember any of it. Sure it's something that was well received at the time despite poor box office returns, and has since developed such a strong cult following, especially with my generation, due to how surprisingly frightening it is (Look at those screenshots of the practical effects from that movie. They're still quite amazing.). It struck a cord with people, and while I can see why, it just never stuck with me in the slightest. The only things I remember about it have to do with people on the internet reminding me about it. The positive of this being that despite the quiet, yet still vocal amount of excitement about this HBO Max released remake, I am basically going into the film basically with little attachments. So....Was the original this bizarre? Because even I was shocked by the utter weirdness of this movie.
Based on the book by Roald Dahl and a remake of the 1990 film directed by Nicolas Roeg, "The Witches", follows our lead protagonist, credited only as "Hero Boy" (Played by Jahzir Kadeem Bruno as a kid, and voiced by Chris Rock when narrating the film as an adult), who moves in with his grandmother (Octavia Spencer) after the death of his parents. Hero's grandma, who is a healer of sorts and the sweetest woman you'll ever meet, gifts Hero is a pet mouse named "Daisy" and helps Hero find happiness despite being orphaned. After Hero encounters a scary woman trying to sell him candy, Grandma explains that he just met a witch, saying that they live all across the world, targeting kids to turn into animals simply because they are nothing but embodiments of pure evil. Grandma, who is paranoid due to having an encounter with one as a child, takes Hero to a hotel, managed by "Mr. Stringer" (Stanley Tucci) to hide out. However, while Hero wanders the hotel, he realizes that an entire coven of witches, along with their leader, "The Grand High Witch" (Anne Hathaway), are gathering at the hotel to enact a dastardly plot to end all children around the world by turning all of them into mice. When Hero eventually finds himself mouse-ified, he'll have to team up with his grandma to find a way to become human again and stop the evil witches before they enact their plan.
Directed by Robert Zemeckis ("Back to the Future", "Who Framed Roger Rabbit?", "Forrest Gump", "Romancing the Stone", "Cast Away") with a screenplay also written by Zemeckis, Kenya Barris, and Guillermo del Toro, "The Witches" is the kind of breezy, somewhat twisted, family adventure that I could have really gotten into more if only it figured out what it really wanted to be. It's all kinds of weird (And I only scratched the surface of it all during my plot summary), with some pretty haunting images, intentionally preposterous plot points, and a quirky sense of wickedness, which strangely appears to want to have a bit of an edge to it, though not too much at the same time. There are some freaky imagery, but the very lackluster (And overtly cartoonish) CGI take away most of that edge, giving the film a cheaper feel than most likely intended. Now it's not to say that the film isn't without some spooky moments (The Grand High Witch becoming more monstrous, revealing her claws, and a giant, shark like mouth, certainly looks a bit on the frightening side), but it's all quite tame. Granted, maybe that's all that families could ask for. Where the movie falters when it comes to identity and commitment, it makes up for in some genuine charm, a sweet story underneath all of the macabre, and enough ghoulish material to give the kids enough of a scare, while also not going anywhere too far so that the parents wouldn't need to feel the need to intervene.
Anne Hathaway, complete with the over the top look and silly accent (Still pretty attractive if you ask me.....), rips into the scenery without mercy, and is all the more enjoyable because of it. She makes for a despicable, often hilarious, and even a bit chilling villainess, and feels right at home within the twisted fairy tale-esque setting. Octavia Spencer is quite wonderful as well, bringing a lot of her usual warmth, and even getting a chance to take part in the craziness without feeling underused. Jahzir Kadeem Bruno, while not exactly a young actor with much range yet, can carry the film, while we get some solid supporting work from Codie-Lei Eastick (as "Bruno", an always hungry boy, who ends up turned into a mouse like Hero), Kristin Chenoweth (In a surprise voice role), and Stanley Tucci, who just plain looks like he's here to have a good time. (Oddly, he contributes very little, yet he nonetheless hi-jacks every scene he's in) Chris Rock, only appearing in a voice performance, is an inspired choice for providing narration.
Despite an identity crisis and maybe a little too much weirdness for its own good (Even for Roald Dahl it's a bit much), "The Witches" is a fun, heartfelt family feature that could make for a solid treat for the kids this Halloween. I can't really say that you wouldn't be able to do better (Or that the original might surpass it, despite myself remembering nothing about it), though for what it is, it does it job well enough with enough unpredictability and an unrelentingly bonkers attitude. 2 1/2 Stars. Rated PG For Scary Images, Mice Problems, And The Abuse Of Good Witches.
Borat Subsequent Moviefilm: Delivery of Prodigious Bribe to American Regime for Make Benefit Once Glorious Nation of Kazakhstan by James Eagan ★★★★ out of ★★★★
Image: Let's all make sexy time!
When 2020 needed a hero, one mustached man answered the call. Someone to free us from this evil year's continued sense of monotonousness and unforgiving turmoil. Someone shine a ray of light, return hope to the world, and most importantly, find a way to just get us to freakin laugh at all. No matter how uncomfortable it gets. And trust me, the cringe is only what makes it better.
Following the events of 2006's acclaimed "Borat: Cultural Learnings of America for Make Benefit Glorious Nation of Kazakhstan", the sequel, which is titled, "Borat Subsequent Moviefilm: Delivery of Prodigious Bribe to American Regime for Make Benefit Once Glorious Nation of Kazakhstan", shows the now disgraced Kazakhstan reporter, "Borat Margaret Saggiyev" (Sacha Baron Cohen), as he is now given a chance to win back his country's favor, due to his previous documentary resulting in Kazakhstan becoming a laughing stock to the rest of the world. Borat's mission is deliver the Kazakhstan Minister of Culture (And known porn star), "Johnny the Monkey" (A literal monkey) to American President, "McDonald Trump" (Translation: Donald Trump), but due to an um, previous incident at Trump Tower, Borat has to instead bring the monkey to a man with such incredible sexual magnitude that he just can't dine alone with another woman, "Mike Pence". Having lost everything, with the exception of a fifteen year old daughter, "Tutar" (Maria Bakalova, who is actually twenty four in real life), Borat travels to America once again, though discovers that since everyone here knows who he is now, Borat is going to have to do this undercover.
When going to pick up Johnny the Monkey, who seemingly traveled to America via shipping crate, Borat is shocked to see that Tutar has stowed away within the crate (And has also eaten poor Johnny....). Borat, now under the threat of execution by his home country unless he wins Pence's favor, comes up with a new plan to give Tutar to Pence as a gift. It goes about as well as you would expect, so Borat settles for the next best thing, gifting Tutar to America's mayor (Not anymore after this....), "Rudy Giuliani". The father and daughter proceed to travel across the country, finding themselves in all sorts of crazy situations, confusing (And disturbing) those around them, and learn more about America's weird ways than ever before, all being done so while a major worldwide pandemic also happens to be going on (Ya know, Coronavirus? You heard of it? It's still going on! We've not "Turned the F*cking corner", a**hole!)).
Boy, a lot of changed over the course of fourteen years. Also, very little has changed in the absolute worst of ways. Released through streaming via "Amazon Prime", "Borat Subsequent Moviefilm" (Not going to type the full title more than necessary. I want to get as many words as possible into these things, but that would just be plain silly), once again offers that biting, completely unhinged, and merciless satirical commentary that doesn't so much refuse to pull punches. It more along the lines keeps repeatedly punching until you just can't help but laugh through the pain, and laughing through the pain is exactly what one will do throughout this movie. The original mockumentary showed us some of the occasional worst our country had to offer, portraying bigotry from different angles (Racism, sexism, anti-semitism, homophobia, etc.) Directed by comedy writer, Jason Woliner, the film wisely decides not to just do the same exact thing as the first film (It's physically impossible to do so, and too many, including Sacha Baron Cohen himself have tried and failed), but instead escalate things further. This means, more offensive humor, more in your face displays of the unsightly and repulsive, and the need to do anything and everything to get a laugh, while also being really smart about it. Underneath the gross out humor, is an incredible and oddly careful amount of attention to every tiny detail that brings the movie together, which is even more jarring considering how the movie was made without any of our knowledge. (So remember that guy in the Trump fat suit that crashed the Mike Pence's CPAC speech? Or the guy who got a bunch of people at a right-wing rally to sing about injecting Barack Obama with the "Wuhan Flu"? That was all for this movie!)
What can one say about Sacha Baron Cohen? He is something else. Brilliant, fearless, out of his damn mind, and most likely on the verge of getting himself killed one of these days, but damn it, he really is the current generation's Peter Sellers (I know I can't be the only one thinking that). Aside from his pure, unbridled sense of giddiness to resurrect such a renowned character and inject him into current events, Cohen shows levels of commitment that I once thought were unheard of among even the best actors. He finds the humanity to what would be a somewhat detestable character, making him cringe-inducing, original, and even a little lovable. However, he's not just the focus this time. Maria Bakalova is a star in the making, going even further than Cohen has in terms of crossing the line, and yet, making for plenty of laugh out loud moments. Together, the duo is a comedic force to be reckoned with. As for the people caught in the crossfire of the documentary style, such as trying to get a baby figurine removed from Tutar's stomach at an anti-abortion clinic, Tutar learning about feminism from a babysitter (Who apparently wanted to "Kick Sacha Baron Cohen's Butt", in her own words), and Borat befriending (And temporarily living with) two right wing conspiracy theorists. Even when some of these pranks might be staged (Though it is so hard to tell, and you'd be surprised what people will say and do when their guard is down), they still generate laughs, as well as some much needed insight into the minds of people today. The best though are the ones that are obviously not staged, and the most damning. The biggest out of all of them being the now infamous sequence involving Rudy Giuliani (as he's interviewed by a dressed up Tutar), and while there are those looking to sympathize with him (Okay sure, maybe, just maybe, he really was just tucking in his shirt....the entire situation escalated as much as it did because of his own stupidity), it's still an uncomfortable, creepy, and eventually, hilarious scene that's not going to be going away anytime soon. Plus in the interview, Giuliani states that the Chinese manufactured the virus and intentionally let it get out. So you know, screw him anyway.
Offensive in all the right ways, occasionally painful to watch, but by the end, with much more to say than even the first film, "Borat Subsequent Moviefilm" is hilarious from start to finish, and boy does it finish on a high note. It culminates in probably one of the best plot twists I've seen in a movie in a long time, and only makes one go in for a second viewing simply to see how it all came together so beautifully. All of this may seem somewhat juvenile and mean spirited (And well, it kind of is), but of course there is a point to it that needs to be listened to. Even then, I would say that this one may be a little more accessible than the first film, since despite the harsh jokes and repeated jabs at the unsuspecting, there is something a bit warmer about the film. A hidden sweetness, whether it be the heartwarming and evolving relationship between father and daughter, or the surprise kindness that can be found even in today's world. (Believe it or not, once you get past the racism, Borat does encounter a decent amount of at least halfway amiable people) The film proves that even when a true life virus continues to threaten our way of life, laughter truly is the best medicine. New Borat Movie Very Nice! 4 Stars. Rated R For Lots Of Human Hair, Racist Beliefs, Monkey Business, Rudy's Hands (Ew...), Sexy Time, KKK Cosplay, A Lack Of Face Masks, And Those Who Kind Of Have It Coming Being Caught With Their Pants Down. Almost Literally.
The Trial of the Chicago 7 by James Eagan ★★★★ out of ★★★★
Image: I think I missed this one in the history books.
If there was a movie this year that I really wish I had been able to see in a packed auditorium, with an amped up audience, which I know damn well would have erupted in a grand applause once we reach the film's closing, very inspiring moment of poignancy. Sure, it could be somewhat cheesy, but it's what the audience wants during these troubled times. To see humanity triumph over injustice, political negligence, and those who would abuse what power they hold, I can't think of anything more necessary throughout 2020. Maybe it's all the discourse, the neverending pandemic, the lack of enjoyment to be had in the world, or the upcoming election, which is either going to end with something mostly generic, though much needingly safe, or something, well, absolutely mindbogglingly insane. Whatever it is, the sentimentality works. I really missed this feeling.
Based on the true story "The Trial of the Chicago 7", the film follows the "Chicago Seven", made up of "Abbie Hoffman" (Sacha Baron Cohen), "Tom Hayden" (Eddie Redmayne), "Jerry Rubin" (Jeremy Strong), "David Dellinger" (John Carroll Lynch), "Rennie Davis" (Alex Sharp), "John Froines" (Daniel Flaherty), and "Lee Weiner" (Noah Robbins), as they stand trial (Which is basically just a glorified intimidation tactic) for presumed conspiracy and for initiating a riot, based around anti-Vietnam War sentiment, in Chicago, Illinois, which culminated in an incident at the 1968 Democratic National Convention. Represented by their lawyers, "William Kunstler" (Mark Rylance) and "Leonard Weinglass" (Ben Shenkman), the seven are also, quite confusingly, joined by the co-founder of the Black Panther Party, "Barry Seale" (Yahya Abdul-Mateen II), who is also on trial for a murder charge, though doesn't have a lawyer to represent him and really has nothing to do with anything actually going on. (He's essentially there because of good ol fashioned racism. Luckily, that kind of racial unfairness just up and went away one day. So some say.) With a crotchety old loon, "Julius Hoffman" (Frank Langella), residing as Judge, and with tough prosecutors, "Richard Schultz" (Joseph Gordon-Levitt) and "Tom Foran" (J. C. MacKenzie), the Chicago Seven find themselves in a tough situation, with the chances of walking free seeming unlikely.
Written and directed by Aaron Sorkin (Who wrote the screenplays for "Charlie Wilson's War", "The Social Network", "Moneyball", and "Steve Jobs", while also directing "Molly's Game"), "The Trial of the Chicago 7" is another Oscar contender (Though us having an upcoming Oscars ceremony seems very unlikely at the moment) from Netflix, which has come out at the right time when many of us needed something just like this. A film that's armed with words in both a metaphorical and literal sense, the film is carefully and professionally handled by Sorkin's direction and only enhanced by his unparalleled writing (The man's eyes for dialogue is legendary). Even when things get more politically complicated than what the average filmgoer may be used to, you're sucked in pretty quickly by the smart back and forth, which can range from occasionally humorous, intellectually profound, or just plain fascinating to listen to. His direction is also very tightly packed, with the over two hour runtime feeling well earned and never dull. Also give credit to both the cinematographer, Phedon Papamichael ("Nebraska", "Ford V Ferrari") and editor, Alan Baumgarten ("American Hustle", "Molly's Game"), also add to the film's somewhat speedy, yet intuitive, experience.
The amazing ensemble cast, who all deliver their mile a minute dialogue with scenery chewing glee, is made up of important moments all over whether or not they're a major character or not. Essentially our main characters would be Eddie Redmayne (Doing a startling American accent), a spectacular Sacha Baron Cohen (If there ends up being an Oscar ceremony next year, I can see a possible nomination), and the always very welcome Mark Rylance, who carry most of the film, though don't divert too much attention from others who give standout performances. The cast includes Joseph Gordon-Levitt (Who it's nice to see in more movies lately), an enjoyably loathsome Frank Langella, a brief (But still fantastic) appearance from Michael Keaton (as "Ramsey Clark", the former attorney general, who becomes an important part of the trial), Alex Sharp, an unrecognizable Jeremy Strong, Ben Shenkman, Kelvin Harrison Jr. (as "Fred Hampton", who joins Bobby Seale in court, and later meets an unnecessary fate at the hands of those who are meant to protect and serve), and an outstanding Yahya Abdul-Mateen II. There are some other semi-recognizable faces (Or new ones), who certainly make the most of their short appearances. Something I really love about the movie is how everyone feels very much alive and human, which plays into a central theme of the film and how we can't forget the lives lost while we waste our time on unimportant crap (Cultural bigotry, silencing unique and controversial voices, attempting to save face by toying with people's lives, downplaying the threat of a widespread virus, etc.). People were dying in a war over the course of the events of this movie, and yet, too many people in power didn't really seem to care as much as they said they did.
While the moment in time of the movie's setting may have passed, the topical themes of "The Trial of the Chicago 7" are more than just significant, it's straight up the same exact thing we've seen countless times since. It's one thing to say it's relevant to today's times, but it's also something that will always be poignant, especially when people continuously refuse to learn from past mistakes. People will utulize their legal right to protest for what they believe in. Those who have historically been wronged in the past will continue to face further discourse that some would rather just pretend went away a long ago. We will continue to have these repeated conversations for years to come, and trust me, no election is going to fix that. (It might make it a little better....or worse. But we'll have to wait and see.) Regardless of how much of it we as a species end up taking it to heart, there is something quite timeless about the film. Helped by Sorkin's compelling direction, a terrific screenplay balancing comical satire with relevance, unforgettable performances, and images of cultural significance that might even get someone who hasn't thought enough about to at least reconsider some past decisions. I've become more cynical as of late than ever, and yet, a true, unapologetic, maybe a little corny, but much necessary crowdpleaser like this gives me at least the impression that hope and the goodness of humanity will win out in the end. 4 Stars. Rated R For Language, Grouchy Old White Dudes, Hippie Horseplay, And Levels Of Bigotry, Which Until First Acknowledged, Will Only Continue To Exist.
The War with Grandpa by James Eagan ★ ½ out of ★★★★
Image: "I pray Grandpa De Niro doesn't read the reviews."
We had a good run didn't we? At least we got to see those new trailers for "Wonder Woman 1984", "The Batman", "Dune", and anything else that we now are going to have to wait even longer to see. Theaters (At least the ones that are still open) won't be showing much of anything anytime soon, so one must take the time to make the possible last theater viewing experience (For the time being anyway) memorable. I paid $8 to see Robert De Niro expose his junk.
"The War with Grandpa" follows young, "Peter" (Oakes Fegley), who is distraught to learn that his parents, "Sally" (Uma Thurman) and "Arthur" (Rob Riggle), are allowing for his generationally inept grandpa, "Ed" (Robert De Niro), is moving in with them and taking Peter's room. This means that Peter will have to stay in the attic with the bats (Uh....Were there no other solutions to this dilemma?). So Peter gets the idea from his friends, despite Ed not really doing anything to provoke the situation, declares war on his grandpa (A prank war that is). At first Ed wants nothing to do with it, but when the pranks starts to escalate, Ed starts fighting back. With Ed now backed up by his buddies, "Jerry" (Christopher Walken) and "Danny" (Cheech Marin), the prank war can only get more and more out of hand, and if you ask me, kind of deadly if this were in any way realistic.
A movie that was filmed about three years ago (Or so it claims. It's a little hard to tell if it wasn't more), "The War with Grandpa" isn't quite as horrendously stupid as you would expect it to be. It's just really perplexing. The entire sitcom-esque plot doesn't remotely make sense, feeling like it wants to be a live-action cartoon, and yet, has no intention of committing to that idea. The direction by Tim Hill ("Alvin and the Chipmunks", "Hop") feels cheap and looks like it would look more at home as an ABC TV show that would get cancelled after four episodes (Which is about the length of this movie). The major conflict has no reason to escalate, with Peter coming across as needlessly sadistic and Ed being a complete moron. Most of their pranks seem more cruel and damn near deadly than funny, and what's even worse that the parents apparently couldn't think of a better solution. (There are literally bats and rats in the attic! Why would you put your tween son in there? Was there really no alternative?) Maybe I wouldn't care so much about the lack of logistics in what's meant to be a dumb kids comedy if the comedy was actually funny. As usual, when the humor fails, everything else comes crashing down with it.
Oakes Fegley is someone that I know to be a really good young actor, he's just held back by lazy writing, playing a thoroughly unlikable little brat. Robert De Niro is stuck perpetuating old people stereotypes (Look! He doesn't know how to use a touch screen! And self-checkouts confuse him! Funny!), and while he keeps his dignity in tact, aside from a running joke involving him exposing himself, seeing legendary actors regularly appear in piles of crap always leave a bad taste in your mouth. Uma Thurman (Looking really cute) and Rob Riggle play incredibly incapable parents, while Poppy Gagnon (as "Jennifer", Peter's Christmas obsessed little sister) does get a few moments of amusement. There's a subplot involving Laura Marano (as "Mia", Peter's older sister, who just wants to spend time with her boyfriend, despite her mother's militant stance on "No Boys") that only results in more uneeded chaotic behavior. Other familiar faces include Cheech Marin, Jane Seymour (as "Diane", Ed's love interest, which the movie tacks on at the last second), and Christopher Walken, who thankfully gets the only funny moments in the entire movie (I've said this before, and I'll say it again, we need to protect Christopher Walken from COVID at any cost).
While not as painfully unfunny as it could have been, "The War with Grandpa" is just plain lame and really generic, where the only real credit I can give the film is that it avoids making any jokes about old men sexual potency (Actually kind of surprised by that one). Still though, there are a lot of moments here where I don't think the film's humor is completely age appropriate. Made worse by how immature they are at the same time. With a reliance on predictable running gags, a false sense of sentimentality, and the fact that it's yet another film with no place being on the big screen, it being possibly the last movie I will be seeing in a theater at the moment, feels like a dark metaphor and a bad omen for the future. We still got two months in 2020 left, and it ain't getting any better. Call it a year already. 1 1/2 Stars. Rated PG For Out Of Place Adult Jokes And Multiple Accounts Of Attempted Murder. (It's Really Close!).
Ava by James Eagan ★ ½ out of ★★★★
Image: It's the Jessica Chastain "Hot Assassin" movie. Which is better than the Jennifer Garner "Hot Assassin" movie. But not as good as the Charlize Theron "Hot Assassin" movie. And slightly worse than the Jennifer Lawrence, or Zoe Saldana, or Kate Beckinsdale "Hot Assassin" movie.......
When I used to think of Video on Demand, I mostly thought of it as overpriced straight to DVD. The pandemic kind of changed that around somewhat, with some big screen films having nowhere else to go. I also noticed that maybe there can be more to it if you really try hard enough. Some movies just get bad luck. Then there's this!
Another entry into the "Really Hot Female Assassin" genre", "Ava" follows a really hot female assassin, "Ava Faulkner" (Jessica Chastain), working under fatherly mentor, "Duke" (John Malkovich). A former addict, Ava is instructed to carry out her missions, eliminate her target, and for the love of God, don't talk to any of them. However, she can't seem to help herself, being curious about why they're scheduled to be killed in the first place. After a botched mission, Ava suspects that someone intentionally gave her bad information, though Duke assures her that it isn't possible, telling her to take some time off. Ava then returns home, reuniting with her sick mother, "Bobbi" (Geena Davis) and estranged sister, "Judy" (Jess Weixler), despite being away for some time due to some familial troubles. Meanwhile, Duke talks to his superior, "Simon" (Colin Farrell), knowing that there is most likely something else going on than a simple information flub, with a target being placed on Ava's back. While trying to make amends with her loved ones, Ava also has to confront other assassins trying to kill her, along with her own personal addictions, and the film's crumbling under its own aimlessness.
Directed by Tate Taylor ("The Help", "Get On Up", "The Girl on the Train"), with a screenplay by Matthew Newton (Who was originally meant to direct before stepping down due to countless accusations of assault and domestic violence. Add that layer of uncomfortable to something that's already falling apart as it is.), "Ava" is as unoriginal as they come, and even with all of the recognizable faces and decent production values, the film still feels almost repulsively cheap. One moment it may look like a mainstream, theatrical release, then the next moment it looks like something that would have been shoved immediately within the $5 bin sometime during the early 2000s. I don't know if there were more production troubles than what we already heard about, reshoots, or uncredited rewrites, the movie for the most part, wanders around without direction, poorly trying to shove in as much story as it possibly can to the point much of it doesn't quite add up. It doesn't help that when you really think about it, none of this movie actually needed to happen. If it weren't for the characters constantly being hilariously antagonistic towards each other, there would have been no actual conflict.
Her indescribable levels of attractiveness aside, Jessica Chastain does make a pretty solid argument for a chance at becoming an action star. She's already a compelling enough actress as it is, and does a fine job during the action scenes. (Even when they're lackluster, you do buy that she can take on all of these guys on her own) The strongest point in the film is her relationship with John Malkovich, who is rather excellent despite the occasionally cringy dialogue. There is a certain sweetness and warmth to their relationship, which I can only assume works because of how they're just great enough actors to elevate crappy material. Others don't fare as well sadly. Colin Farrell, who looks fairly bored, is an obnoxiously stupid villain, whose entire master plan has little rhyme or reason to it. (He's outright pathetic, and I'm not sure the movie quite realizes it) Geena Davis is wasted, Diana Silvers (as "Camile", Simon's daughter) gets stuck with a part that's both predictable and stupid. And I don't know what they did to poor Common (as "Michael", Ava's former love interest), but he's stripped of any and all personality and spends most of the movie with the same dejected, confused expression.
With a horrible screenplay (Another one that tosses around the word "F*ck" as if its looking for a way to justify an R rating) and an annoying stock techno soundtrack, "Ava" goes from blandly generic to lazily pedestrian in a blink of an eye. You can see the up to date production values from time to time, but in the film's worst moments, bring everything crashing down, especially when it struggles to explain its own story (Which also makes even less sense the more you think about it). No place in a movie theater, and even on Video on Demand, it barely could fit the criteria, the smallest screen possible is easily the only place a film like this could call home. 1 1/2 Stars. Rated R For Strong Language, Violence, And Jessica Chastain Fanservice (Never A Bad Thing, No Matter How Poor The Movie).
Enola Holmes by James Eagan ★★★ ½ out of ★★★★
Image: Sherlock Holmes' sister? Well, I guess "Stranger Things" have happened
Well, it was fun while it lasted. Theaters are showing nothing once more, due to almost every major release getting delayed to either next year or to an unspecified date. It's like 2020 can't let us have anything fun, can it? What would normally be something completely depressing to me, Netflix provided some slight hope that while we won't be seeing any traditional big theatrical releases anytime soon, it's not completely impossible to find that level of filmmaking quality elsewhere.
Based on the book series by Nancy Springer, "Enola Holmes" follows the titular "Enola Holmes" (Millie Bobbie Brown), the unknown and never talked about younger sister of renowned detective, "Sherlock Holmes" (Henry Cavill), and his less renowned brother, "Mycroft" (Sam Claflin). Unlike her brothers, Enola (Whose named spelled backwards is "Alone"), has been living with her mother, "Eudoria" (Helena Bonham Carter), showing signs of intellectual brilliance like her brother. Trained in defensive arts, along with her traditional teachings, Eudoria is Enola's closest relationship, and is left devastated when Eudoria mysteriously vanishes without a trace. This prompts Sherlock and Mycroft to return home, never having spoken to Enola since their father's death, knowing (Or caring) little about her. While acting as Enola's legal guardian, Mycroft intends to have her enrolled in a finishing school run by the strict, "Miss Harrison" (Fiona Shaw) to be what is considered a proper lady. Enola then decides to run away and sets out to find her missing mother.
While off on her adventure, Enola meets a young lord, "Viscount Tewkesburry" (Louis Partridge), who is also on the run from his family. However, it turns out that Tewkesburry is being pursued by a homicidal man in a brown bowler hat (Burn Gorman), diverting Enola's attention away from her search for her mother. Now caught in the middle of the situation, it's up to Enola to solve a case involving Twkesburry, whoever is trying to kill him, her own mother's possible involvement, and an important Reform Bill that could change the way of the country, which is something some people don't want to happen. While doing so, Enola begins to discover her purpose in the world, becoming her own woman in the process and proving her worth to not only her brothers, but also herself.
Directed Harry Bradbeer ("Killing Eve", "Fleadbag"), with this serving as his first full length film, "Enola Holmes" is an idea that could derail so easily in the wrong hands. Even when telling people about it, it can sound somewhat silly or forced, feeling more like someone's weird fan fiction than an actual movie or book series. Luckily the film not only has its own unique voice, it's also got so much charm to spare, that I can't logically see anybody in their right mind not at least smiling once throughout the film. With a smart screenplay by Jack Thorne, the film feels like it could coexist within the classic "Sherlock Holmes" stories that many of us grew up with or at least have had ingrained in our minds over time (He's too iconic a character not to have), which has a quirky sense of humor to go along with the clear sense of dark subtexts and a sense of relevance that's intentionally never fully explained, though it's easy to figure out what it's meant to symbolize.
The one who carries the entire film with her irresistible charisma is Millie Bobbie Brown, who once again goes out of her way to prove to the world how she could possibly be the best young actress out there. It's especially prevalent when her character stops the film to address the audience (An gimmick that would be annoying if it wasn't for how likable the character is), whether it be to explain exposition in a humorous fashion or even have it used to provide a sense of pathos to the character (She spends most of the film by herself, with the audience seemingly being the only person to vent her personal thoughts and feeling to). This is her movie through and through, though luckily, other well cast players have their moments as well. Such as a rather inspired Henry Cavill and a perfectly smarmy Sam Claflin. Millie Bobbie Brown also has some excellent chemistry with fairly newcomer, Louis Partridge in a cute relationship that doesn't feel forced. There are good small parts for recognizable faces, such as a snooty Fiona Shaw, Susie Wokoma (as "Edith", a martial arts trainer to Enola, who gets one of the film's most memorable and socially poignant moments), Adeel Akhtar (as "Inspector Lestrade", Sherlock's ally and biggest fan), a creepy Burn Gorman (Who brings a shocking level of violence and danger to what appears to be a family movie), and Frances de la Tour (as Tewkesburry's wealthy grandmother). Helena Bonham Carter only appears sparingly, but leaves quite an impact, making for some of the film's sweetest moments.
"Enoa Holmes" utulizes its wonderful lead, aesthetically pleasing direction, and a keen eye for the time period to make up for what's a fairly standard and pretty simple mystery, that does the job enough, though really isn't too shocking when you think about it (I pieced it together just moments before the big reveal). Then again, that's not the main point of the film. Empowering to girls of any age, retaining a timeless feel, and gives us some of that old school sleuthing that's been missing from modern movies. It also feels like something that wouldn't have been out of place serving as a last minute summer blockbuster. Big screen fun is alive and well, and for the time being, it's not impossible to get that level of enjoyment at home. 3 1/2 Stars. Rated PG-13 For Adult Content And For Moments Of Surprise Violence.
Antebellum By James Eagan ★★ out of ★★★★
Image: At least she's not forced to wear a mask. Yep, that's just as bad.
When a film shows a lot of promise, has clear greatness within itself, but seemingly either doesn't quite have the capabilities to follow or even worse, intentionally chooses not to in favor of going for what's easy, makes for an emotionally exhausting experience. However, it ends up being for the exact opposite reasons than intended.
So to get the point across, but to also be as vague as possible, "Antebellum" follows two stories, set in different moments in time. First, we follow a African American slave, "Eden" (Janelle Monáe), as she's trapped on a especially brutal and inhuman plantation in the Antebellum South. Eden is looked to for guidance by the other slaves for reasons yet to be known, with everyone looking for a path to freedom, despite the impossible odds. Cut to the present day, we then follow an accomplish African American journalist, "Veronica Henley" (Also played by Janelle Monáe), attempting to change the still unfair racial divide, while raising her daughter, "Kennedi" (London Boyce), with her loving husband, "Nick" (Marque Richardson). While out with her friends, "Dawn" (Gabourey Sidibe) and "Sarah" (Lily Cowles), Veronica starts to notice something off about the random people she's coming across and dealing with, before having her own nightmarish experience.
Written and directed by first timers, Gerard Bush and Christopher Renz, "Antebellum" is the kind of movie that shows us moments of captivating brilliance and originality, and yet, completely collapses on itself in a fiery explosion once everything is said and done. It's quite tragic because the concept the film appears based on is something to be admired. Turning the real life unjust horrors of slavery into a literal horror movie is not only fitting, but creates a realistic sense of terror that people in the past experienced, with the side effects still being felt today regardless of how many people attempt to ignore it. Sadly, it's a little difficult to figure out what the Hell the movie really wants, with the first act being completely different in tone from the second act. I get that the setting change is meant to be more than just simple symbolism. However, the meshing of the two time periods don't remotely compliment each other like they should, especially when the first act is much stronger. That's not to say it's great (The movie isn't exactly original when it comes to the typical tropes you'd see in a story based around slavery), but there is a sense of suspense and dread, and not to mention, harsh honesty when displaying the evil that humans are capable of. The next act of the film just sort of meanders around, messing with the paces, and resulting in a lot of moments that really don't make any sense. (What was the point of the little ghost looking girl?)
While the movie eventually fails itself, the most consistent aspect out of everything is Janelle Monáe, who is magnificent in every possible way. The tones might not successfully, but she remains a force to be reckoned with regardless. Compelling, lovely, and graceful, Janelle Monáe proves once again, to those who are yet to realize it, that she's an incredible actress just waiting for the perfect role. Eric Lange (Simply credited as "Him", the man in the plantation whose claimed Eden as his own) and Jack Huston (as "Captain Jasper", a sadistic slaver), make for truly despicable monsters in human flesh, while Jena Malone (Whose appearance alone kind of spoils the big reveal), doesn't get near enough screentime to resonate as the big bad. Kiersey Clemons (as "Julia", a fellow slave with Eden) is underutilized and Gabourey Sidibe makes for unnecessary comic relief, while Tongayi Chirisa (as "Eli", another slave who works with Eden to escape) conveys a lot of emotion with simple expressions.
While it's gorgeously and hauntingly filmed (If the movie was better I would have recommended an Oscar nomination for Best Cinematography), "Antebellum" most falters in the final act, which culminates in a really obvious twist you can see coming a mile away, and just throws in everything it can to reach an ending that feels cobbled together. All of this doesn't remotely gel in a movie that's barely an hour and forty minutes (And that's with the credits), and when something that could have been both inspired and culturally significant decides to take the easy way out, it takes a lot out of you. One should have been left disturbed and contemplative. Not just left with a headache brought on by torturous fatigue. It's not the worst movie of 2020, but it's easily the most disappointing. 2 Stars Rated R For Excessive Human Suffering And Evil Southerners.
The Broken Hearts Gallery By James Eagan ★★★ out of ★★★★
Image: Even Antifa protesters need to relax and unwind.
So much as been so crazy the past few weeks, I haven't taken the time to acknowledge the fact that my site got a complete revamp. It was also against my will, too. Didn't have any say in it, and my web provider told me to upgrade since nothing was working at all for almost a week. Now we're much shinier, and while it will take some getting used to, we can look forward to another ten years of this, though hopefully I finally start getting paid to do this by then. I think I'm ready for the big time. The show. The big leagues.
"The Broken Hearts Gallery" follows aspiring art gallery assistant "Lucy" (Geraldine Viswanathan), who is known for not taking her breakups very well, keeping a collection of mostly useless items from previous relationships for somewhat obsessive sentimental value. Lucy ends up being dumped by her boyfriend, "Max" (Utkarsh Ambudkar). After forcing a stranger that she mistook for her Uber driver, "Nick" (Dacre Montgomery), to drive her home, Lucy finds herself a new friend. Lucy, with help from Nick, who owns an under construction hotel, creates an open gallery of the items from her old relationships, calling it "The Broken Hearts Gallery", encouraging others to bring stuff from failed relationships to be a part of it. The idea becomes quickly popular, with Lucy and Nick working together to get the gallery off the ground, while of course, in true Rom-Com fashion, grow closer along the way.
Directed by first timer, Natalie Krinsky (Who also wrote the screenplay), "The Broken Hearts Gallery" isn't the kind of movie that you see warranting a major release theatrically at this moment, though on the bright side despite the film's need for genre obligations, there are moments of something fairly special here. The film is unexpectedly well written, with smart humor and even some deeper, insightful things to say as well. It's also directed in a fairly speedy, quirky fashion, which gives the film its own personality to differentiate itself from others like it. The charm of the movie overcomes rather predictable and generic plot elements that the genre can't seem to get away from no matter how good the movie is or how unique it tries to be. If done right, it can be fine and make for a solid crowdpleaser, but regardless, it leaves slight (Very slight) sense of disappointment when you can tell that there was something even greater in there.
Geraldine Viswanathan ("Blockers"), shows off her comedic range, proving to be an instant star. She and Dacre Montgomery (Who always plays a completely different character in everything I've seen him in), have some wonderful chemistry, with a great mix of both humor and sentimental. The movie makes time for some memorable side characters, such as Arturo Castro (as "Marcus", Nick's quippy friend), along with the funniest material coming from Molly Gordon and Phillipa Soo (as "Amanda" and "Nadine", Lucy's roommates and best friends, who take bets on Lucy's relationships) . There's also an hilarious running joke involving Nathan Dales (as "Jeff", Amanda's longtime boyfriend who never seems to speak, and yet, somehow participates in many conversations). Utkarsh Ambudkar gets a little more depth than your typical antagonist (By the end, he really isn't one), and Bernadette Peters (as "Eva Woolf", Lucy's boss and idol) just shows up to say weird things.
"The Broken Hearts Gallery" goes through the Rom-Com playbook, complete with a last act twist to force a little conflict. It's unnecessary, but what you expect. Luckily, the humor is consistent, the characters are endearing, and the sweet message rings true, especially for those who might need a bit of a pick me up for these troubled times. It's just that there was potential to be something grander. The movie has something to say, whether it be about what relationships can mean to people, how we interpret them, and how they will continue to affect us after they've ended, sometimes without us even knowing it at first. Then again, the filmmakers know to give the audience what they want. Can't fault anyone for that. 3 Stars. Rated PG-13 For Adult Content, Language, And Questionable Artistic Interpretation.
Mulan By James Eagan ★★★ out of ★★★★
Image: "Call it Kung Flu one more time, I dare you!"
Disney has really struck a nerve this time, haven't they? And to a degree, it's hard not to see why. Remaking yet another very recent (And very beloved) animated classic, this time being 1998's "Mulan". However, unlike some of the more recent live-action remakes ("Aladdin", "The Lion King", etc.), this one had the intention of not just making the same movie, but to tell a more mature, completely different story. Sadly, there has been some controversy, such as more than problematic comments made about the recent Hong Kong protests from the main star, even more problematic filming locations, and of course, the fact that instead of a theatrical release, the film is being distributed through "Disney+" for $30 before being made free at the end of the year (Granted, think of the alternative? It's safer than going to a theater and if you have a family, it's essentially the same price). Those aside, I've noticed that the movie is being declared to be the worst remake yet, the worst movie to come out of Disney in years (Um, did we forget "Artemis Fowl" already?), and to be one of the worst things to come out of this year. To add more fuel to the fire......I don't see what the big deal is. In fact, I thought it was, well, pretty solid actually. Aaaand you just clicked off my site, didn't you?
More of a uniting of various versions of the Chinese legend ("The Ballad of Mulan") this new "Mulan", follows the titular "Hua Mulan" (Yifei Liu), a courageous young woman in rural China, who shows signs of adventurous and heroic potential (Also due to how uniquely powerful her Chi appears to be). However, the times do not allow for such things, as a woman is mostly just there to be made a wife, while the men partake in battle. The "Emperor of China" (Jet Li), is alerted that Rouran warriors, led by the vengeful "Bori Khan" (Jason Scott Lee) and his shapeshifting witch ally, "Xian Lang" (Gong Li), have declared war on China, causing the Emperor to make a decree for one man from each family to participate in the coming war. However, while Mulan's father, "Hua Zhou" (Tzi Ma), wishes to fight (Due to not having any sons), Mulan knows he's too frail to do so.
Fearing for her father's safety, Mulan takes it upon herself, stealing her father's armor and sword before leaving to join the Imperial army disguised as a man, named "Hua Jun", with the family's guardian (A mystical Phoenix that only she can apparently see) to watch over her. Immediately, Mulan finds herself out of place, training under "Commander Tung" (Donnie Yen) to get down to business and make a man out of her, while knowing that the consequences will mean execution if she is discovered. With Khan's army nearing closer and closer, Mulan must prove her worth to not only her fellow soldiers, but also herself, becoming one of China's greatest legends in the process.
Directed by Niki Caro ("The Zookeeper's Wife", "McFarland, USA"), "Mulan" is an adaptation of the original animated film in name only, with aside from the occasional similar story beat, along some dialogue and music references, it's very committed to being its own fantasy, war drama. There are no songs, very little comedy, and most noticeably, no "Mushu" (The Phoenix kind of fills in his role, which even then is very limited). Judging the film on its own merits, I found a lot to like about it, though there are a few rather glaring flaws. On the positive side, Caro's direction is gorgeously shot, with incredible cinematography, beautifully crafted fight sequences, and a stunning amount of attention to the littlest of details. The stylistic editing choices, while at times a bit offputting, do lead to a handful of well choreographed moments. (On a side note, the whole Chi aspect, which basically turns people into Jedi, is questionable from a cultural perspective, but still cool to watch) I do also appreciate how much the movie commits to the more mature rating, with the body count being actually onscreen this time, with characters being stabbed left and right. (Seeing a character literally die in front of us is kind of unique for a straightforward Disney movie) The movie is a visual feast for sure, and yet, while it can't reach the heights of the original (Which is one of the top five best Disney movies), there is still an empowering, thoughtful story of courage and heroism against injustice from both evil and even those around you.
Looking past the admittedly questionable to say the least comments (For a company known for silencing people or keeping a ludicrous amount of restraint on what actors say, surprised they let that one slip by), Yifei Liu is still quite a capable and engrossing lead, who pulls off the character's much cherished arc with grace, beauty, and determination. Donnie Yen is his usual electric self, while Tzi Ma is rather wonderful in a slightly more expanded role. Jason Scott Lee is intimidating, though doesn't have the terror the original villain had, while Gong Li makes for a worthy change in the story, becoming the most fascinating of the two villains having a few well done scenes with Liu. Jimmy Wong, Chen Tang, and Doua Mousa (as "Ling", "Yao", and "Chien-Po", fellow soldiers in the army) provide some humor, while Yoson An (as "Chen Honghui", a solider who Mulan forms a connection with), does a fine enough job, but I'm not sure how much I buy the romantic aspect of the relationship. (To be honest, Yifei Liu has more chemistry with Gong Li than him. Take that any way you wish to internet!) Also, just the presence of Jet Li alone is too awesome to not enjoy. (He, while completely stone faced, catches an arrow with his hand. So silly, yet so freakin badass!) There's also a cameo towards the end that I'll admit, kind of got to me in an emotional way.
To be honest, I was a bit confused to the outrage surrounding "Mulan", considering our biggest complaints with these remakes have been how unoriginal and almost shot for shot similar they've been to the originals, without adding much to better liven up the experience. Overall, they've been fine, though mostly pointless. This one on the other hand, barely resembles the original. In a way, maybe that's the problem. The original didn't need improvement, and while the film is vastly different, it still lacks a certain charm that the original had. This remake is pleasing to the eye, makes for one of the better ones, and is plenty likable, but in the end, really isn't all that memorable (However, with the pandemic STILL going on, your family could do so much worse). It boasts plenty of great qualities and inspiration (And certainly doesn't deserve the hate), though doesn't really stand out from Disney's best, animated or not. I get the idea that for these to work better, we need to remake something that actually could use a possible revamp (It's why "Cinderella", "The Jungle Book", and "Pete's Dragon" all worked so well). Even though they seemingly have the right idea to no longer just do the same thing, to make these remakes work, since there's likely going to be many more of them, they should instead focus on something that actually needs it. 3 Stars. Rated PG-13 For War Violence, Impalements, And Mulan's Nude Silhouette. Kind Of Surprised Disney Left That In There.
Tenet By James Eagan ★★★ ½ out of ★★★★
Image: "But Christopher Nolan....I STILL don't understand ANY of this!".
Cinema is officially back, people! Our filmmaking lord and savior, Christopher Nolan (“Inception”, “Dunkirk”, The “Dark Knight” Trilogy), has returned with the first big movie in months, and one meant to be seen on the biggest screen imaginable. Now sure, we may still be doomed to endure this never ending pandemic, our leaders don’t seem to have a good idea how to stop it (Remember when it was apparently a hoax? So much has happened I feel like people forgot about that!), and if this movie doesn’t turn a profit, we most likely will have to go back to the way things were up until a couple weeks ago. However, so long as you wear your mask (It’s seriously not that hard), keep your distance, and maybe we can finally get back to the joy that only the cinema can truly bring us.
“Tenet” follows an unnamed CIA agent, simply known only as “The Protagonist” (John David Washington), because he's, well, the Protagonist. Our protagonist ends up captured while on a mission and after being tortured, takes a cyanide pill. He awakens and is greeted by his handler, “Victor” (Martin Donovan), revealing that the pill was fake and was part of a test , which our protagonist passes. He’s then brought into a secret organization, only being given the word “Tenet”, before joining. Now here’s where things start to get a little freaky. After getting an explanation from a scientist, “Laura” (Clémence Poésy), the protagonist learns about “Inversion” (It’s like time travel, but it looks and sounds much cooler), which allows objects or even people to move backwards through time.
Partnered up with “Neil” (Robert Pattinson), the protagonist tracks down a Mumbai arms dealer, “Priya” (Dimple Kapadia), the one has been supplying inverted bullets to a completely unhinged Russian oligarch, “Andrei Sator” (Kenneth Branagh). Sator, who has been communicating with the future (Just go with it), and plans to use inverted weapons to cause what could be an apocalyptic event and it’s up to our protagonist to stop him. Finding a way to Sator by going through Sator’s estranged and abused wife, “Kat” (Elizabeth Debicki), the protagonist is in a literal race against time itself to locate a mysterious inverted weapon from the future and save the world. And then things get even freakier, but I’ll leave the rest for you to figure out on your own.
Both written and directed by Christopher Nolan, “Tenet”, is the kind of big budget blockbuster deserving of the big screen treatment, and one that can only come from Nolan's very distinctive, and dangerously labyrinthine mind. It's also a damn good example of the kind of cinematic enthrallment that we've all been craving all summer. Christopher Nolan is the kind of director that you can't really tell if he's some kind of mad genius or not. Regardless if how much sense everything actually makes, it's all explained intellectually and intricately to the point where you find yourself kind of getting it. Maybe you don't fully get it all the time, or even quite comprehend the entire situation as a whole. (I totally get it if you leave confused by everything you witnessed) However, you can't deny that not only does it sound really, really smart, it's also thoroughly entertaining on both a cerebral and popcorn munching level.
Nolan's eye for mesmerizing cinematography (Done by Oscar nominated cinematographer, Hoyte van Hoytema with glorious 70mm and IMAX film) is something that not even his biggest critics can seem to find issue with. The way his films leap off of the screen, with gripping action scenes, edited together in seamlessly sporadic and elaborate fashion. I'm also baffled by how the filmmakers were able to accomplish certain feats with as little reliance on modern computer generated special effects as possible. I can't tell anyone in good conscience to risk their health to see any movie in a theater right now, though this is one of the few that kind of needs it, at least on a technical level. It's jaw dropping stuff here, with your mind being almost unable to comprehend what you just saw. (Some of the editing choices come across as a little strange, but I think it adds to the deliberately delirious atmosphere) While Nolan's usual composing collaborator isn't here, Ludwig Göransson ("Creed", "Black Panther") takes over to create a nail biting, tension building score that blares from the speakers and shakes the entire theater.
Bill & Ted Face the Music By James Eagan ★★★ ½ out of ★★★★
Image: In "John Wick: Chapter 4", John Wick finally settles into his retirement dream. As a wedding singer, with his little buddy, Bill.
What can you say about the "Bill & Ted" movies? They're uniquely and intentionally stupid on an completely original level, and yet, you can’t help but love the absolute Hell out of them. You know damn well that they might be a danger to themselves (And maybe even those around them), but you like hanging around them, especially since they may be the purest, nicest guys to ever grace our cynical, hate-filled world. Where the Hell have they been!
"Bill & Ted Face the Music" follows the continuing adventures of those two lovable dimwits, "William S. Preston, Esq." a.ka. "Bill" (Alex Winter) and "Theodore Logan" a.k.a. "Ted" (Keanu Reeves), of the rock band, "Wyld Stallyns". They were meant to unite the world through all of time and space with a prophesied song. However, Bill and Ted have reached middle age, haven't had much success, and are basically the same exact guys they were when they were teenagers. Their marriages to their respective princess wives, "Joanna" (Jayma Mays) and "Elizabeth" (Erinn Hayes), are struggling, and their daughters, "Billie" (Brigette Lundy-Paine) and "Thea" (Samara Weaving) are essentially Bill and Ted if they were girls. "Kelly" (Kristen Schaal), the daughter of their old time traveling buddy, "Rufus" (Previously played by the late George Carlin), takes Bill and Ted to the future, where they are instructed to write their world saving song before 7:17 P.M., or else all time and space will completely collapse on itself. Deciding to take the easy way out (And because they are very stupid), Bill and Ted instead travel through time to steal the song from their future selves. Kelly's mother, "The Great Leader" (Holland Taylor), sends a killer robot (Anthony Carrigan), to hunt down Bill and Ted, and destroy them, while Billie and Thea try to help their fathers by bringing the best musicians throughout time to the present.
Directed by Dean Parisot (“Galaxy Quest”, “Red 2”), “Bill & Ted Face the Music” serves as an epic finale to the excellent adventure and bogus journey from the late 80s and early 90s, that’s just as incredibly imbecilic as ever. However, when the screenplay by returning writers, Ed Solomon and Chris Matheson, obviously seems to know that, in a bizarre way, it feels halfway smart. I’ll give it this, just like the titular characters, it’s anything but unoriginal. It’s also just plain a ton of ridiculous fun. Complete with oddly charmingly cheap looking visuals, an onslaught of memorably weird setpieces, and a plot that’s somehow intricate and well thought out, while also giving the feeling that someone set the film on random. It’s unpredictable and insane, and at times, maybe too senseless for some.
Luckily, Keanu Reeves and Alex Winter are as lovable as ever, with really fantastic chemistry (You just know they're friends in real life), and some great reactionary comedic timing. As well put together the movie is, none of it would actually work without them. It would all fall apart. But it's their almost childlike earnestness that firstly, makes the characters endearing rather than annoying, and also makes them feel real. (They're man-children, but they're not offensive or trying to hurt anyone.) Samara Weaving and Brigette Lundy-Paine rather perfectly encompass what female versions of the main leads would look like, and surpringly are given lengthy roles, along with Jayma Mays and Erinn Hayes. There's a lot of great comedy from Kristen Schaal, Jillian Bell (as Bill, Ted, and their wives' therapist in a hilariously cringy scene), and Anthony Carrigan (Whose character takes an unexpected turn partway through). Of course, the big scene-stealer ends up once again like in the second movie, being the returning William Sadler (as "Death", the Grim Reaper, who was once part of Bill and Ted's band), who is an absolute riot. I also had no idea Kid Cudi (as himself) was actually pretty funny.
"Bill & Ted Face the Music" is all kinds of dumb, and lovingly so. In fact, it's so stupidly sweet that you're just can't resist having a good time. I'd say it's the best in the trilogy, knowing what works in today's times, and embracing it with a big, thoroughly brainless grin. It's righteously weird, teaches us to be adequate to each other, and is also certainly, most excellent. Woah! 3 1/2 Stars. Rated PG-13 For Adult Content And For Most Ludicrous Adjectives, Dude.
Image: So this guy does magic tricks, right?
The first time I ever read (Er, mostly read), “David Copperfield”, I was an admittedly stupid freshmen in high school, who both couldn’t follow and just plain couldn’t get into the novel. Chalk it up to my youth, or my inability to appreciate influential literature, but I’ve never gotten around to reading it, and until now haven’t had any interest in doing so. Maybe it just wasn’t for me, or maybe it just took a different interpretation to make me really understand it. Or, maybe it was just a little bit boring? I can’t be the only one who thinks that.
A re-imagining of the novel by Charles Dickens, “The Personal History of David Copperfield”, tells the story of “David Copperfield” (Played as a child by Jairaj Varsani, then as an adult by Dev Patel). Detailing his life from his birth to the present, we see David as he progresses from child to young man, being introduced to the many, many characters in his life, forming him into the man he will one day become. From his wicked, abusive stepfather, “Mr. Murdstone” (Darren Boy), the creditor avoiding “Mr. Micawber” (Peter Capaldi), his wealthy, though easily agitated aunt, “Betsey Trotwood” (Tilda Swinton) and her eccentric cousin, “Mr. Dick” (Hugh Laurie), David’s longtime friend, “Agnes Wickfield” (Rosalind Eleazar), his more troubling friend, “James Steerforth” (Aneurin Barnard), among others, all playing a part in David’s journey to become an author and a gentleman, whether it be major or otherwise.
Directed by Armando Iannucci (“Veep”, “The Death of Stalin”), who also co-wrote the screenplay with Simon Blackwell, “The Personal History of David Copperfield” puts a more modernized (And by that, I mean, diverse), self-aware, and quirkier spin on the well known, classic story, and does so with possibly the most charm I’ve seen in a movie this entire year. Considering how relentlessly brutal and unforgiving 2020 has been, a little old fashioned could probably do us some good. The script quite expertly adapts the 600+ page novel, into something a bit brisker,, similar to a fairy tale-like comedy. Normally condensing something so large would make for a more frenetic, underdeveloped, and disjointed experience. However, the freneticism actually makes the story flow better, with the sense of humor keeping things moving, and the spirit of the original novel remaining perfectly intact, but providing something fresh for the new generation (And those who just didn’t, you know, get it, when they were younger).
A tremendous and award worthy Dev Patel wonderfully carries the film, with so much wit, likability, and delightfully sincerity with his own flaws. It is a great character for sure, but Patel really conveys that with his genuine smile alone. The altogether terrific ensemble isn’t without notable standouts, such as Tilda Swinton (Who we all know has a talent for scenery-chewing), an endearing Hugh Laurie, a hilariously inept Peter Capaldi, an excellent Aneurin Barnard, and a perfectly slimy Ben Whishaw (as “Uriah Heep”, an antagonist to David, who is basically the human personification of a vulture). Other fantastic players include a very appealing Rosalind Eleazar, Morfydd Clark (as two characters, “Dora Spenlow”, David’s ditzy crush, as well as a brief appearance as David’s mother, “Clara”), Benedict Wong (as “Mr. Wickfield”, Agnes’ always drinking father), Gwendoline Christie (as “Jane Murdstone”, David’s even crueler step-aunt), and Daisy May Cooper (as “Mrs. Peggotty”, David’s very motherly housekeeper). What’s so great about the movie is that while there are loads and loads of characters (Not all of them I mentioned),is that everyone is memorable, and that’s both a credit to the screenplay, the direction, and also, the source material itself.
While being the first movie in months that I would say deserves a bigger audience (Though the unending pandemic makes that a little difficult), “The Person History of David Copperfield” is one of this year’s best, and in way, most necessary movies. It’s just so pleasant and fun, with a lot of that great British humor (Priding itself on how it catches you off guard), very human drama, and doing what an adaptation of a source material so ingrained in people’s minds should do. Sure it reinvents itself for today’s audience, but it does so while not forgetting what made the story so iconic in the first place. Even a complete moron like me who couldn’t get into it before, understands what it represents to people. It’s a little like last year’s “Little Women” in how sometimes, a good, classic tale is just too good not to translate for future generations to come. 4 Stars. Rated PG For Some Occasional Mature Content, Though Is Still Perfect For a Family Audience.
Image: Teenage Mutant Ninja Humans.
The ?X-Men? franchise just continues to get a ruthless beating long after death. After suffering a case of a franchise cut short when Disney bought out 20th Century Fox (And also allowing Marvel to get back all of their characters from the studio), the once relevant, acclaimed, and game changing X-Men series ended on the lowest of notes with last year?s ?Dark Phoenix?. Now we have their actual final movie, that was filmed in 2017, got a surprise removal in 2018, sitting on the shelf till the beginning of 2020, with a planned real release earlier this April. Then Sh*t went down.
Set in the X-Men Universe, "The New Mutants" takes place in a mysterious, almost completely abandoned hospital, run only by one doctor, "Dr. Cecilia Reyes" (Alice Braga). A young Native American girl, "Danielle "Dani" Moonstar" (Blu Hunt), awakens in the hospital, being the sole survivor after her reservation is destroyed by a tornado, though she suspects that something more monstrous is responsible. Dr. Reyes tells Dani that she is a new mutant and has been brought to the hospital to get treatment among other new mutants. However, Dani doesn?t know what her powers are yet. Dani meets the rest of the Mutant Breakfast Club, including an invulnerable mutant that can physically rocket himself, "Sam Guthrie" (Charlie Heaton), a friendly wolf girl, "Rahne Sinclair" (Maisie Williams), a cocky one that refuses to talk about his powers, "Roberto da Costa" (Henry Zaga), and a Russian mutant sorceress, "llyana Rasputin" (Anya Taylor-Joy), who is immediately antagonistic towards Dani. The hospital is surrounded by a powerful force field, with Dr. Reyes always keeping an eye on the teens, monitoring them for unseen superiors with possible nefarious intent. The teens all start to experience terrible nightmares, among other strange occurrences, prompting them to retaliate, fighting to survive their worst fears as they come to life around them.
Directed and co-written by Josh Boone (?The Fault in Our Stars?) and based on the characters created by Chris Claremont and Bob McLeod (Who's the film?s end credits hilariously misspell) , ?The New Mutants? has been a source of mockery and disdain due to all the delays and for Disney refusing to allow press screenings with proper social distancing measures in place (Kind of a dick move). I find it unfair and think that a lot of critics have been far too harsh on the movie. It has some cool ideas, and some really good performances, but the final product appears to be missing something. It might come down to the thoroughly unoriginal execution, which makes the film very predictable, with easy to decipher mysteries (I?m sure longtime comic fans were able to deduce what was going on in the first ten minutes). The characters, while likable, feel underdeveloped, along with much of the overcooked story, which does little to explain itself thanks in part to the surprisingly short runtime under an hour and forty minutes.
Blu Hunt makes for a compelling lead, along with an excellent Maisie Williams, with their relationship (Which takes a romantic turn), being a highlight. This is actually the biggest onscreen LGBTQ representation between main characters in a major movie franchise I can think of. (Not even the ?Marvel Cinematic Universe? has had the balls to commit to this) Anya Taylor-Joy is the scene-stealer, getting the most humorous lines, and being one of the most capable characters. Charlie Heaton, though his story arc feels incomplete, is solid, along with Henry Zaga, who is by far the least interesting of the lead characters (One a side note, the character has a much darker skin color in the comics, sparking a little controversy). Alice Braga ends up being a bit of a nothing character, who feels like her storyline is cut short, turning completely villainous almost completely out of nowhere. The special effects range from aesthetically pleasing (Such as the appearance of mask wearing Slenderman monsters, called the ?Smiley Men), or seemingly unfinished (The monstrous Demon Bear, which is a story aspect that should be more interesting than it actually is).
There is some occasional suspense, and clever concepts in ?The New Mutants?, and you can tell that there is something unique in there. It makes the film feel more like a disappointment than anything, coming to a rather inconclusive conclusion, that doesn't remotely feel like that?s where it was all originally meant to end. (Don?t stick around. There?s no post credits scene.) It?s not a bad movie at all, and there are so many moments where I can see one having a good time with it. It just doesn't seem to know where its place in the bigger picture is, and could just be seen as a throwaway movie. Fitting, because in the end, Disney did kind of just throw it away. 2 ½ Stars. Rated PG-13 For Scary Images And Mutant Teen Angst. It?s Like Regular Teen Angst, But With More Explosions.